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Mobile Technology News, December 13, 2013

As developers for tablets and smartphones we like to keep abreast of the latest mobile technology developments . This is a daily digest of mobile development and related technology news gathered from the BBC, the New York Times, New Scientist and the Globe and Mail to name a few. We scour the web for articles concerning, iPhone, iPad and android development, iOS and android operating systems as well as general articles on advances in mobile technology. We hope you find this useful and that it helps to keep you up to date with the latest technology developments.

  • Prairie Dogs Can Describe Your Clothes (and Other Fun Facts)
    Click here to watch the TEDTalk that inspired this post.

    Denise Herzing’s TED talk and video about dolphin language shows both the promise and challenge of learning to talk to animals. The promise is that more people are becoming open to the idea that some animals have language.

    Language has long been considered unique to humans, and many biologists and linguists still believe that other species merely communicate by instinct, without awareness or intent. Although this argument is by no means settled, more scientists like Denise Herzing are giving animals the benefit of the doubt.

    In my book, Chasing Doctor Dolittle: Learning the Language of Animals, I show that many species have language-like systems: they have specialized signals for different kinds of food, for different kinds of aggressive situations, for assessing the quality of potential mates, for identifying themselves, and for providing information about potential predators.

    I think that communication grades into language along a continuum, just as evolution has moved along a continuum from the simplest organisms to the most complex. The simplest functional communication is an exchange of signals: One animal produces a signal, and another animal responds to it in exactly the same fixed way. In some species where it’s vital that both individuals produce and respond to the signals exactly right, evolution has hard-wired the exchange into their genetic codes. To put it more scientifically, for a given stimulus there is a fixed response.

    If we abandon the old paradigm that we are intrinsically different and superior to all other life forms, it’s possible to look at animals with greater respect and, like Denise Herzing, start working towards decoding their language. — Con Slobodchikoff

    But I don’t think this is true in all species. I believe that many insect, lizard, bird and mammal species–such as Denise Herzing’s dolphins–go so far enough beyond unconscious stimulus-response patterns that they can be said to have language.

    While linguists have a set of criteria for what a language should have, I see language as something that can be reduced to four basic elements: flexibility, intentionality, novelty, and structure. Flexibility means that animals are capable of producing many different signals, almost like a “toolbox” from which they can select the best signal, or combination of signals, to fit a particular situation. Intentionality means that they intend to inform others, which implies that they are aware, not only of themselves as individuals, but of others as beings different than themselves. Novelty means that they can come up with new signals for new situations, and structure means that they have some kind of organized framework in which these signals are used, something that we might call grammar.

    If we abandon the old paradigm that we are intrinsically different and superior to all other life forms, it’s possible to look at animals with greater respect and, like Denise Herzing, start working towards decoding their language.

    But there’s the rub: Most animals aren’t interested in talking to us, and we haven’t been very good at learning their language. What we need is a key, a Rosetta Stone, that allows us to understand the meaning of animal signals because we know context in which those signals are produced.

    In my work with the language of Gunnison’s prairie dogs in Arizona, I was fortunate to have a Rosetta Stone in the form of the alarm calls that the prairie dogs produce when a predator approaches. In this situation, my research team and I could see an approaching predator and know exactly what a prairie dog was calling about. We could also witness the reactions of listening prairie dogs and use computer analysis to help us understand the content of the message.

    We could then do experiments by changing the context. We had different predators appear, we had different sizes, shapes, and colors of predators, and we presented the prairie dogs with novel situations such as ovals, circles, and triangles that simulated the behavior of predators. A YouTube video of our experiments can be found here.

    These experiments showed that prairie dogs have a very sophisticated language. Their alarm calls contain words, equivalent to nouns, for the species of predator: coyote, dog, human, red-tailed hawk. The calls also contain descriptions, equivalent to adjectives, of the individual features of a predator: the size, shape, and color. For example, for a human they can describe the size and shape of a person and the color of the person’s clothes. The prairie dogs can also come up with words for novel objects, equivalent to us making up new words.

    Once we start giving animals the benefit of the doubt, we can start designing clever experiments that will allow us to decode their language. Maybe someday in the near future, we will actually be able to talk to them.

    Ideas are not set in stone. When exposed to thoughtful people, they morph and adapt into their most potent form. TEDWeekends will highlight some of today’s most intriguing ideas and allow them to develop in real time through your voice! Tweet #TEDWeekends to share your perspective or email tedweekends@huffingtonpost.com to learn about future weekend’s ideas to contribute as a writer.

  • WATCH: Did This Expert Just Figure Out How to Talk to Dolphins?
    What if you could spend your summers swimming with dolphins in turquoise seas? Behavioral biologist Denise Herzing does just that. In this beautiful video, meet some of the dolphins she’s befriended along the way. Watch a mother dolphin play with her infant, and learn what such magical moments can teach us about how dolphins communicate — and how we might join the conversation.

    Ideas are not set in stone. When exposed to thoughtful people, they morph and adapt into their most potent form. TEDWeekends will highlight some of today’s most intriguing ideas and allow them to develop in real time through your voice! Tweet #TEDWeekends to share your perspective or email tedweekends@huffingtonpost.com to learn about future weekend’s ideas to contribute as a writer.

  • Bitcoin start-up raises $25m funding
    Coinbase, a start-up that lets people trade Bitcoins, raises $25m (£15m) in venture capital funding.
  • Microsoft reportedly considering Qualcomm COO as new CEO
    Just as Ford’s Alan Mulally is said to be off the tech giant’s shortlist to replace Steve Ballmer, Qualcomm’s Steve Mollenkopf is said to be on it.
  • Study: 76 percent of business mobile activations were iOS devices
    A new study by Microsoft Exchange services firm Intermedia has shown that Apple devices being activated on its Microsoft Exchange-based network accounted for 76 percent of all small- and medium-business (SMB) activations across 2013 — some 190,000 iPhones and iPads in total. This was more than six times the 29,000 activations seen with Samsung Android devices, providing some insight into a continuing trend in business that favors Apple products.

        



  • Bitcoin: Price v hype
    How much of virtual currency’s worth is down to hype?
  • VIDEO: Is this the home and office of 2023?
    A hi-tech vision of how we will live in a decade’s time
  • Anthony Foxx, U.S. Transportation Secretary, May Move Against In-Flight Calls
    * Communications agency looking into looser rules on mobile phone use
    * DOT has heard outpouring of opposition to in-flight phone calls
    * U.S. regulations lagging those in some European countries
    By Alina Selyukh
    WASHINGTON, Dec 12 (Reuters) – The U.S. Department of Transportation said on Thursday it might ban the use of cellphone calls by passengers during flights, even as the nation’s communications regulator voted to consider loosening rules that now ban connecting to wireless services onboard aircraft.
    The competing efforts by the two agencies could result in a middle ground, under which passengers may before long be able to use their mobile phones to text and surf the Internet, but not make phone calls.
    In a 3-2 vote, the Federal Communications Commission’s Republican commissioners dissented from their three Democratic colleagues in opting to initiate a review.
    All five commissioners expressed reservations about the negative social implications of allowing phone calls during flights – and any move in that direction seems likely to be stymied anyway by the transportation department.
    “Over the past few weeks, we have heard of concerns raised by airlines, travelers, flight attendants, members of Congress and others who are all troubled over the idea of passengers talking on cell phones in flight – and I am concerned about this possibility as well,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement.
    “USDOT will now begin a process that will look at the possibility of banning these in-flight calls,” Foxx said.
    A majority of the flying public is said to dislike the prospect of in-flight phone calls – especially those made by somebody else.
    FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler termed Thursday’s move merely “the beginning of a process” to seek input, and said he was sympathetic to those who opposed any step toward in-flight mobile phone use.
    “I get it. I don’t want the person in the seat next to me yapping at 35,000 feet any more than anyone else,” Wheeler said.
    The FCC’s proposal would leave it up to airlines to decide whether to allow passengers to use their own wireless data and call services.
    Wheeler, in statements and in an essay published in USA Today on Thursday, termed the FCC’s proposal purely technical and would give airlines the flexibility, but not a mandate, to use the latest technology.
    “The proposed new rules maintain the ban on cellular service in-flight on planes unless the aircraft is equipped with new specialized onboard equipment,” Wheeler wrote.
    At a Congressional hearing, Wheeler said the FCC was “proposing to continue the ban on mobile devices that can interfere with terrestrial networks. But where there’s new onboard technologies that eliminates that potential for interference, then there’s no need for an interference rule. This is the responsible thing to do.”
    The FCC’s proposal has launched a heated debate over the social implications of letting passengers chatter during flights.
    A Quinnipiac University national poll released on Thursday found 59 percent of American voters opposed the use of cell phones on airlines, while 30 percent were in support.
    Some carriers, such as Delta Air Lines, have said they would not let fliers use cell phones in flight even if regulators allow it, and several lawmakers have introduced bills to block in-flight phone calls.
    “Historically our research data has told us that customers and our flight attendants feel voice calls will negatively impact the onboard experience,” Delta spokesman Paul Skrbec said in a statement.
    The FCC’s review has been under way for years, as the technology has advanced and made the restrictions – driven by concerns about interference to wireless networks on the ground – outdated.
    “The commission correctly determined the first necessary step is to investigate whether or not it is technically feasible to operate devices without causing harmful interference to avionics or to wireless networks,” said Scott Bergmann, vice president of regulatory affairs at wireless association CTIA.
    Some airlines in Europe, the Middle East and Asia already allow in-flight mobile phone use. “The Commission believes that these systems can be successfully deployed in the United States,” the FCC said.
    Both the commission and the Transportation Department deliberations are expected to take some time and including the opportunity for public comment.
    Some of the strongest opposition is expected to come from flight attendants.
    “In far too many operational scenarios, passengers making phone calls could extend beyond a mere nuisance, creating risks that are far too great,” said Veda Shook, president of the Association of Flight Attendants.
  • Rooftops to Deserts: How Policy Directs the Growth of Renewables
    Dropping costs and increasing consumer demand are expanding the market for renewable energy. Policy is shaping it.

    Specific policies are designed to drive growth of particular types of renewable projects. This piece will provide an overview of the major policies that impact the three different types of grid-connected projects: retail distributed generation, wholesale distributed generation, and central generation.

    2013-12-12-WDGMarketSegment1.jpg

    Globally, the most effective market-based policy to bring cost-effective renewable energy online focuses on wholesale distributed generation. In the U.S., well-known federal tax credits, like the Investment Tax Credit (ITC), apply across these market segments. Most of our energy policies, however, focus either on retail distributed generation or central generation.

    Retail Distributed Generation (‘Retail DG’)

    Retail DG refers to small renewable projects installed by utility customers to reduce the amount of power they purchase from the utility. Residential rooftop solar is the best example of this market segment.

    To promote the growth of retail DG, 43 states and the District of Columbia have instituted net metering policies. Net metering applies to energy systems that connect “behind the meter” and serve on-site electrical demand. Under this policy, a system owner’s meter spins backwards if more energy is produced than is being used on-site, providing a credit against electricity consumed. Therefore, the system owner only pays for their ‘net’ energy use.

    2013-12-12-nemmap.jpg

    Net metering has proven an effective policy for deploying retail DG projects across the country. In fact, 99 out of 100 solar systems installed in 2012 were net metered, and these systems comprised nearly 50% of total installed solar capacity. Net metering policy works best for residential installations as it avoids tax complications for system owners and credits customers at full retail rates, which are generally higher than wholesale rates.

    The success of net metering has not been without controversy. Over the past year, debates over this policy raged around the country as more and more utility customers have installed retail DG systems. Utilities, worried by an eroding customer base, are arguing that net metering allows customers with renewable systems to avoid paying their fair share for use of the grid. Under this logic, the costs for building, operating, and maintaining the power grid are shifted onto non-net metered customers. Contrary to this ‘cost-shifting’ argument, numerous independent studies have shown that the value of distributed generation outweighs the costs — generating net benefits for all energy consumers including those without net metered systems. Nonetheless, Arizona energy regulators recently instituted a small monthly fee for solar owners as part of a deal to preserve net metering. This ruling may set a precedent as other states determine the future of their net metering policies.

    Outside of the U.S., net metering has been successful in Denmark and the Netherlands. Yet, net metered projects are responsible for only 2% of installed solar capacity worldwide.

    Central Generation

    On the opposite end of the spectrum from retail DG is central generation. This market segment includes facilities like Alta Wind Energy Center — a huge wind farm located in Kern County, California. These types of projects generate up to hundreds of megawatts (MW), or in the case of Alta Wind, more than a 1,000 MW. Like net metering, current polices support the development of this segment.

    2013-12-12-Alta_Wind_Energy_Center_from_Oak_Creek_Road.jpg

    Alta Wind Energy Center

    Competitive solicitations for new electrical generation, which utilities and states use often, tend to favor central generation over distributed generation (both retail and wholesale). Due to their sheer size, central generation projects offer significant economies of scale – meaning they can generate electricity at a lower cost per kilowatt. To determine winning projects, many competitive solicitations consider only the cost of generation. The significant costs of transmitting energy to where it is used are frequently ignored in the solicitation process, even though consumers ultimately pay for all transmission-related investments through regulated energy rates. As a result, central generation renewables excel in competitive solicitations.

    Central generation projects were responsible for more than 46% of all new U.S. solar capacity in 2012, as well as the majority of wind capacity installed nationwide.

    Wholesale Distributed Generation (‘Wholesale DG’)

    Nestled between central generation and retail DG is wholesale DG. This market segment refers to distributed generation projects that connect to the local distribution grid and sell the electricity they produce to the local utility. The energy produced from wholesale DG projects serves local energy demand, rather than on-site load like retail DG.

    Wholesale DG projects offer significant benefits for both consumers and utilities. Typically bigger than residential-scale projects, wholesale DG projects can generate electricity more cheaply. Yet, wholesale DG projects are located close to where energy is needed — avoiding the expensive and inefficient long-distance transmission of energy that is inherent with central generation projects.

    2013-12-12-WholesaleDG_SuperiorValue.jpg
    Once the costs of transmission and distribution (T&D) are factored in, wholesale DG solar is the most cost-effective.

    CLEAN Programs, which are feed-in tariffs with streamlined interconnection procedures, are the world’s most effective policy for bringing wholesale DG online. This policy enables anyone — individuals, farmers, small business, community organizations, etc. — to participate in energy generation by making it easier to build renewable projects, connect to the grid, and sell all the energy produced to the local utility.

    Wholesale DG dominates the global market. More than 70% of worldwide solar PV installed capacity is wholesale DG. Despite global success, this segment has been largely overlooked in the United States. Less than 7% of all new solar capacity installed in the U.S. last year was wholesale DG. It’s a similar story for wind power.

    Looking Ahead

    Over the past few years, the U.S. has seen tremendous growth of renewable energy capacity — mostly from retail DG and central generation projects. While policies must continue to support this development, new policies are needed to open the wholesale DG market.

    Forward-thinking utilities, recognizing that local renewable generation is a smart economic investment, are voluntarily opening the wholesale DG market segment. Over the past year, utilities in California, Colorado, Georgia and New York have created hundreds of megawatts of wholesale DG market opportunity.

    Sacramento’s municipal utility brought 100 MW of local solar online — enough to power over 21,000 homes — at no additional cost to its customers. Now, Los Angeles’ utility is also embracing local solar through its 100 MW CLEAN LA Solar Program. Across the country, Georgia Power will bring at least 190 MW of local solar online, while Long Island Power Authority is guiding the development of wholesale DG solar projects to critical points on its grid. By utilizing wholesale DG (rather than new centralized generation and transmission) to meet rising demand for electricity, the New York utility will save its customers nearly $84 million by 2020. Utilities elsewhere should follow suit.

    To accelerate wider adoption of wholesale DG, the Clean Coalition recently launched its CLEAN Resource Hub. The Hub offers a wealth of free tools to ensure that policymakers, utilities, and advocates design the best wholesale DG policies available.

    As renewables continue to meet an increasing share of the nation’s electrical demands, the right policies will ensure a quick, cost-effective transformation on our power system.

  • Google convinces standards group to take on Dart
    Google’s Dart language alternative to JavaScript inches forward as it earns the right to face standards-deciding body ECMA.
  • Google designing its own server chips? Well, maybe
    A source tells Bloomberg that Google is “considering” designing its own ARM-based server chips. It’s possible, but Intel need not panic just yet.
  • Studies: iPhone 5s dominating US; tablet buyers choose iPads
    Surging on the strength of its new models, Apple’s premium iPhone 5s and mid-range iPhone 5c continued to dominate sales with all the major US wireless carriers, with only Samsung’s flagship Galaxy S4 positioned as a challenger. US sales data also showed an unsurprising dominance by the iPad in tablet sales, with a new study suggesting that 72 percent of future tablet buyers plan on getting an iPad.

        



  • Robot Sperm May Allow Remote-Control Fertilization, Scientists Say (VIDEO)
    Robots are becoming more human-like all the time, but will they ever help, well, make a baby? Creepy maybe, but a new study suggests that such a thing may soon be in the offing.

    Researchers at the Institute for Integrative Nanosciences in Dresden, Germany say they have created “robot sperm” using bull sperm and tiny metal cylinders.

    By placing sperm cells within these magnetic micro-tubes, the researchers were able to use magnetic fields to steer the sperm, as seen in the video above. The team also controlled the speed of the sperm’s movement by altering the temperature of the environment. (The spermbots move faster when heated and slower when cooled.)

    But why make robot sperm in the first place? Though assisted fertilization of human eggs is one possibility, the researchers say the micro-bots may aid with drug delivery, New Scientist reported. In essence, sperm cells would carry drugs to precisely targeted areas.

    “The combination of a biological power source and a microdevice is a compelling approach to the development of new microrobotic devices with fascinating future application,” the researchers wrote in their study’s abstract.

    In previous research, scientists struggled to find a means to adequately control a single cell. But, “this type of hybrid approach could lead the way in making efficient robotic micro-systems,” Eric Diller, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Toronto told New Scientist. He was not involved in the study.

    The Institute for Integrative Nanosciences team published their robot sperm research in the scientific journal Advanced Materials.

  • If Cell Phone Radiation Were Visible, The World Would Look Like This
    What would the world look like if you could see cell phone radiation?

    Artist Nickolay Lamm has tried to answer that question.

    In July, Lamm released a series of illustrations imagining a Washington, D.C., where Wi-Fi was visible, bathing famous sites in a rainbow of colors. On Wednesday, he finished a sequel of sorts — a series of pictures of U.S. cities and landmarks, this time with cell phone radiation visible as a hazy, multicolored, strangely geometric overlay.

    Lamm worked with two professors of electrical and computer engineering — Danilo Erricolo at the University of Illinois at Chicago and Fran Harackiewicz at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale — to get his illustrations right. (The pictures can be seen with more technical explanation at MyVoucherCodes.com.)

    In an email to The Huffington Post, Lamm explained what was going on with each picture.

    chicago

    Here, a “hexagonal grid of cellular base-station sites” covers the city of Chicago. Base stations, more commonly called cell phone towers, sit at the corner of each hexagonal “cell” in Chicago’s huge network. The picture also shows “antenna signal extending beyond the original cells” that provides coverage over part of Lake Michigan.

    An earlier article in The Atlantic Cities explained that cell phone networks across the country are made up of multiple hexagonal areas, each of which is called a cell. The hexagonal grid is efficient: Each cell tower sits at the intersection of three cells and each of the three directional antennas on top of the tower covers a 120-degree slice of the landscape.

    hoover

    Lamm’s rendering of the Department of Commerce headquarters in Washington focuses on the tridirectional nature of radiation emanating from a single cell phone tower. The different colors represent the radiation’s different frequencies, which allow mobile users to make calls without experiencing interference.

    new york

    This illustration of the New York skyline shows how cellular base stations on top of buildings provide much of the coverage in the crowded city.

    hollywood

    Here’s how a long-distance cell tower radiates over the Hollywood Hills.

    For good and ill, finding places where cell phones don’t reach is becoming increasing difficult. In 2012, the World Bank announced that mobile signals reached three-quarters of the people on earth, and that number is only getting bigger. Radio Quiet Zone, anyone?

  • The Great Messaging War of 2013
    By Noah J. Nelson (@noahjnelson)

    Oh, we’re in it now.

    The past few weeks have seen a series of moves and counter-moves in what has become the hottest visible war in Silicon Valley: image messaging.

    The first shot across the bow were reports that Facebook was willing to throw down three billion dollars for the upstart Snapchat. The offer was rebuffed by Snapchat founder Evan Spiegel, leading many to wonder just what the hell the Snapchat founder was thinking. (More on that in a moment.)

    Snapchat, for those of you who are over the age of 25 is a service that let’s users send pictures and videos that quickly expire after being viewed. Think “Mission Impossible” but with more sexting.

    A lot more sexting.

    The transitory nature of Snapchat is the defining feature of the service. The images not only disappear, they are engineered so that they cannot be saved. That’s why so many people use it for flirting: it’s an “of the moment” thing. Not that this doesn’t stop people–the kind of scum of the earth who grow up to run revenge porn sites–from circumvent the app’s limitations.

    Facebook almost certainly sees the company as an existential threat, given the number of young people who have flocked to Snapchat, and sought to acquire them the same way that they picked up last year’s image-based threat: Instagram.

    Today the Facebook-owned Instagram added in a feature that bumps up against Snapchat’s turf: direct messages.

    Rumored for a few weeks, as if it were some kind of active reaction to Snapchat’s rejection of Facebook’s offer. The new direct message feature doesn’t match-up exactly with what Snapchat offers. In fact, from a photography standpoint it’s even better. Snapchat picture quality is dubious at best, and Instagram DM’s are fully functioning Instagram pictures.

    Unlike Snapchat you can revisit the images you sent as well as the one’s that your friends send you. Up to 15 people can receive the same image, and this creates a private thread where the group can comment on the picture. Everyone who gets the pic can see who else gets the image.

    This is a far cry from Snapchat, and as some note it is more in line with the promise of another social media upstart: Path. That service focuses on creating small sharing groups. Path, however, has struggled with a series of public relations set-backs thanks to overly aggressive marketing. Some folks swear by it, but enough users have had their trust burned by Path to bring its long-term prospects into doubt.

    What Instagram released today is not a Snapchat replacement. The permanent, if semi-private, nature of the photos precludes some of the racier activities Snapchat users pursue. That doesn’t mean that it won’t have an effect on the growth of Snapchat.

    Swing through the profiles of younger Instagram users and you’ll find that many of them feature their Snapchat and Kik (another messaging service) profiles. In essence Instagram is the public field and Snapchat serves as a temporary autonomous zone. A step between meeting online and exchanging more intimate details like phone numbers, emails, or Facebook information.

    Instagram’s DMs intrude on that part of Snapchat’s turf. Flirting could kick off in private, and then jump to text messages, bypassing Snapchat altogether.

    Facebook isn’t the only social media giant looking to get a piece of the picture pie this week. Rival Twitter, itself riding a hot streak of good buzz coming out of their Initial Public Offering, updated their infrastructure this week to allow for picture sharing in Direct Messages.

    These are one-to-one affairs between pairs of users who mutually follow each other. Like the Instagram pictures, the images will remain in the private thread and can be easily extracted by the receiver. The Twitter update has the aura of being something that should have been there from the beginning.

    Snapchat retains its killer function of being a fully “of the moment” experience. There’s something fully impulsive about the use of Snapchat, and the fact that messages “self-destruct” creates its own kind of safety. A nude picture, an off-color joke, a badly angled selfie: all of these can having a damning effect on a Facebook or Twitter profile.

    Hell, just look at the reaction that came about when a pool photographer caught President Obama taking a selfie with the Prime Minsters of Denmark and England at Nelson Mandela’s funeral service.

    By creating space for people to experiment with their identities, even for a few moments, Snapchat taps into the original power of the internet. The youthful buzz of a fluid identity that drew so many early adopters online in the first place. This is something that entities like Facebook have moved away from in their desire to create a large audience for corporate sponsors.

    There’s still money to be made by providing people with a means of connecting that doesn’t require buckling on their public personas. This, I believe, is why investors are lining up at Snapchat’s door. The company has given folks a way to create those moments, now all that’s left is to cash in.

    Which is where everything will go wrong, undoubtedly.

    Public media’s TurnstyleNews.com, covers tech and digital culture from the West Coast.

    Go to Turnstylenews.com | Like us on Facebook | Follow us on Tumblr

  • Facebook Drives Nearly 17 Percent of Overall Traffic for Publishers
    Last month, Facebook announced its first redesign of the Like and Share buttons believing the new buttons would increase social engagement among readers.

    Data released Tuesday by Shareaholic, a discovery and sharing platform that helps sites promote their content, suggests they were right.

    The Facebook Referrals Report analyzed 13 months of data collected from 200,000+ publishers who reach 250+ million unique monthly visitors to observe general trends in inbound traffic sites receive.

    Here’s the data (click to enlarge):

    Shareaholic facebook share of visits chart Dec 2013

    The discovery and sharing platform tracked how many referrals Facebook drove to its network of publishers and displayed those figures as “share of visits,” a percentage of overall traffic — direct traffic, social referrals, organic search, paid search, etc. — sites received.*

    The two main findings from the report include:

    1) Facebook’s share of visits skyrocketed (increasing 169.88%) in the past year. From November 2012 through October 2013, there was steady, incremental growth in Facebook’s share of visits. Then, the social network saw its share of visits really take off during November 2013.

    2) In the last month alone, its share of visits jumped 47.44%. Increasing share of visits by 5.60 percentage points in a month is no small feat. But it’s Facebook we’re talking about, and Zuckerberg probably isn’t done shocking the world.

    mark zuckerberg

    Wednesday, Facebook announced it has finally rolled out the new Like and Share buttons to all publishers and reported, “New buttons drive over 5% more Likes and Shares across the web.” The announcement also introduced flexible widths for embedded posts.

    Although Shareaholic does not provide the new FB offerings within its share buttons, the firm still tracks inbound traffic on sites that use any of its other platform tools (analytics and related content). Some publishers have adopted the new Like and Share buttons from Facebook and are obviously reaping the benefits. Others that use Shareaholic’s share buttons still see gains in Facebook referral traffic.

    And those gains are remarkable.

    Shareaholic facebook share of visits graph Dec 2013

    How is it that even though Shareaholic does not offer the new Like and Share buttons that network publishers still realize such substantial gains in Facebook referral traffic?

    I hypothesize that FB users have developed more natural inclinations towards sharing — and interacting with — content for four reasons:

    1) Facebook’s news feed is more engaging than ever (thus, more clicks, likes and shares). Like Google with it’s mercurial search ranking algorithm, Facebook’s news feed has seen a couple of noteworthy tweaks which keep users highly engaged with their feeds.

    2) Active user counts continue to grow. Facebook’s 3rd quarter announcement revealed daily active user numbers jumped 25% year-over-year to 728 million. Monthly active users grew 18% in that same timeframe to a staggering 1.19 billion. A growing number of active users increases Facebook’s utility for users as well user dependency on FB for social interactions. The network effect at its finest.

    3) The omnipresence of the new Like and Share buttons impacts behavior. Given the usable nature of the new buttons and their widespread availability — Facebook’s buttons are viewed 22+ billion times a day across 7.5+ million sites around the web — people have developed a habit of sharing content they enjoy. Although not all share buttons are created equal, share buttons in general are being utilized more often by readers, thus driving more traffic to sites.

    4) Sharing is now an ego-gratifying activity that’s socially acceptable and universally commonplace. Sites such as Buzzfeed, Thought Catalog and Elite Daily produce super viral content that make sharing such a reflexive activity — that also injects you with a healthy dose of serotonin when all your friends like, share and comment on your post. Effectively, sharing great content is now a no-brainer.

    Of course, I can be wrong about all of these points.

    In any case, the data suggests Facebook now drives more than 1/6 (17.41%) of an average site’s overall traffic. Given that Facebook is one of millions of possible traffic referral sources, that’s pretty significant.

    How have you witnessed referrals from Facebook grow over time?

    * Our data is represented as “share of visits” because the volume of visits (and uniques) our publishers receive changes month-to-month. Last year, we tracked ~250mm monthly uniques; last month, we gathered data from ~320mm unique visitors. Visits grew by a comparable clip too. Ultimately, sharing our raw data — hundreds of millions of visits — wouldn’t enable site owners to appropriately benchmark their site’s traffic against what publishers received.

    ** This report originally appeared on the Shareaholic Content Marketing Blog.

  • Anyone Anywhere Can Build the Next Google — There Are No Barriers
    Vivek.jpgBy Vivek Wadhwa
    Vice President of Academics and Innovation, Singularity University.

    A common excuse that entrepreneurs make for not being able to innovate is the lack of venture capital in their region. They argue that because investors are not ready to take a risk, they can’t succeed. Policy makers all over the world make the same excuse.

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    Access to venture capital may have been a problem as recently as a decade ago, but is no longer an inhibitor. The cost of developing world-changing startups has dropped dramatically. With the exponential advances in technologies such as computing, storage, and sensors, entrepreneurs can do what only governments and big research labs could do before: solve big problems.

    When Google was founded in 1998, for example, the DEC AlphaServer 8400, a minicomputer with the same processing power the iPad enjoys today, cost close to $1 million. Storage necessitated installing a server farm and rack upon rack of hard disks. It cost millions of dollars to start a technology company. Today, anyone can buy computing power and storage for practically nothing from companies such as Amazon and Google. The iPhone 5S is more powerful than the Cray supercomputers of yesteryear–which the U.S. placed tight export restrictions on. Today we carry supercomputers in our pockets and use them to check e-mail and make phone calls every now and then.

    It cost more than a billion dollars to sequence a full human genome a decade ago. It costs less than three thousand dollars to do now. Soon it will cost less than a cup of coffee. Genome data are available from millions of people already; soon this will be in the billions. Anyone anywhere can now write computer code that compares one person’s DNA with another; learn what diseases people with similar genes have had; and analyze the correspondences between genomes and the effectiveness with which different medications or other interventions have treated a given disease.

    The same advances are happening with sensor-based devices. Sensors such as those in our iPhones cost tens of thousands of dollars a few years ago but now cost practically nothing. They are allowing us to build devices to monitor our health–so that we can prevent disease and dramatically reduce health-care costs. Entrepreneurs are building iPhone apps that act like medical assistants and detect disease; smart pills that we swallow in order to monitor our internals; and body sensors that monitor heart, brain, and body activity. Sensors are also being used to monitor soil humidity, pressure in oil pipelines, and traffic patterns.

    One device that I recently tested is by Alivecor. The prototype that Alivecor gave me worked with India’s $40 Aakash tablet. It provides the same information as expensive EKG machines do, and the data can be uploaded to the cloud and analyzed by software.

    An entrepreneur I know in Chile also built a water sanitization system that can help reduce the incidence of disease caused by waterborne viruses in the developing world as well as in the developed world. Alfredo Zolezzi’s $500 Plasma Water Sanitation System does what even the most expensive water sanitization systems don’t–kills 100% of the bacteria and viruses in water. This device can help save the millions of lives that are lost because of unsanitary water. It could also earn billions in revenue. Zolezzi built this with a small team in Chile–with no venture capital.

    Students I have mentored at Singularity University also came up with some amazing advances. Here are some examples of what they are building–without venture capital.(You can watch videos of from these students here.)

    Matternet. One team built a drone-based transportation system that can deliver medicine, food, goods, and supplies to wherever they are needed. This is particularly applicable to parts of Africa, where roads either don’t exist or get washed away. (Watch this TED Talk to learn more.)

    MirOculus. Another team designed and tested a device and method that detect cancer at an early stage, quickly and at low cost, by using microRNA fingerprinting to screen for multiple types of cancer in a single blood test. This paves the way toward a new era in which microRNAs serve as cancer biomarkers.

    Lifestock. What if we could “3D print” real meat, slaughter-free, to feed the 21st century, one team asked. The team prototyped a new method for synthetically producing meat that cost 1/40 of current culture methods.

    BluBox. Imagine of you could use discarded DVD players to do blood tests and the results were instant. That is what this team did–build a $100 lab on a DVD player. Anyone will be able to do complex tests at home using these devices when they become commercially available.

    So there are no more excuses. All it takes to build an innovation ecosystem is determined entrepreneurs, experienced and helpful mentors, and a government and society that encourage experimentation and risk-taking. Many regions can provide these ingredients.

    Image credit: Shutterstock

    Visit XPRIZE at xprize.org, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Google+, and get our Newsletter to stay informed.

    This material published courtesy of Singularity University.

  • Can I Share My Netflix Account?
    When I first saw the Netflix Profiles pop-up I thought it was a trick: “Who’s watching?” it asked. Eek! Not me! Sorry! I’d been using a friend’s account for two years and thought my day of reckoning had arrived.

    The site wasn’t trying to fool me into revealing my transgression, but to set up a unique profile so my taste for Say Yes to the Dress won’t pollute my paying friend’s recommendation stream. The Netflix Profiles feature seemingly embraces the fact that an estimated 10 million people have been accessing the site through credentials shared with them by friends and family members.

    Netflix now allows five unique user profiles per account, and up two of those users may stream content simultaneously from different devices. Sharing passwords to subscription services is illegal in some U.S. states, like Tennessee, but legal experts doubt that Netflix will go after account-sharing users in these states.

    Aside from delighting users, Netflix Profiles preserves the integrity of the site’s revered recommendation machine. The company’s most valuable asset is that it has a really keen idea of who is watching what and what else. Netflix openly uses our viewing data to craft original series that people are crazy about, like House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black, and to recommend content that users are likely to watch and enjoy; approximately 75 percent of content viewed on Netflix was recommended to the viewer by the recommendation engine, according to an interview with Chief Product Officer Neil Hunt.

    Having a cleaner data set about unique users’ preferences will improve Netflix’s ability to recommend appropriate content and win more of viewers’ time and attention. The company’s decision to acknowledge the sharing economy is as much about protecting their bread and butter as it is about making customers happy.

    It remains to be seen whether other subscription services will follow suit. The Hulu Pluses and HBO GOs of the world will have to decide whether they value unique sign-ups and associated revenue over increased engagement from existing users (paying and otherwise) and a purer data set about their preferences. It will be fascinating to see whether these companies choose our money or our attention. The success of Facebook and Twitter prove that the latter, at critical mass, is powerful currency easily exchanged for dollars.

    The sharing company I work for, Splitwise, is making a bet that subscription sharing will continue to rise, by explicitly catering to people splitting subscription costs/access. Splitwise is also a fairness company, so I’m compelled to ask: Is sharing subscriptions fair? Should we be happy that Netflix has legitimized account sharing, or upset at the 10 million people (myself included!) who think they’re above paying for a service they frequently use?

    Companies and people making awesome stuff for the web are consistently stymied by consumers’ pervasive attitude that everything online should be free. It’s possible that this development will weaken the subscription model, one of the only models working on the web right now.

    What do you think?

  • We Need To Restore Internet User Trust After Surveillance
    This week the Senate Judiciary Committee examined ways to reform government surveillance programs that have made headlines in recent months. During my testimony, I asked for limits to better protect Internet users here and around the world. My concern is our surveillance policy is myopic — focusing on short-range national security goals while undermining our national security in the long-term by jeopardizing trust in the Internet, which impacts our longer-term economic and diplomatic goals.

    Trust has been at the core of the U.S. approach to Internet policy for more than a decade and should not be squandered. While many intuitively understand why this must be preserved for human rights reasons, there are also vital economic concerns that rely on a free, dynamic Internet.

    Sixteen years ago the White House charted the course for a vibrant Internet economy in the perceptive Magaziner Report, the first U.S. government policy statement addressing the needs of Internet commerce. That policy statement correctly identified user trust as the foundation of Internet commerce. It noted:

    “If Internet users do not have confidence that their communications and data are safe from unauthorized access or modification, they will be unlikely to use the Internet on a routine basis for commerce.”

    That may sound rudimentary, but we should not take for granted decades of progress in creating security and fostering user trust — and we should not discount how easily that foundation can be damaged.

    The broad NSA surveillance regime, and the way it has been received internationally has harmed U.S. companies, U.S. competitiveness, and the Internet itself. The U.S. government must be proactive in addressing these concerns.

    Status quo acquiesce tolerating expanding surveillance is no longer an option, and eight leading tech companies asked Congress and the Obama administration to support specific rules to rein in surveillance in an open letter this past week.

    If we do not act now to limit surveillance and increase oversight for all Internet users, we put at risk our economic security and undercut our diplomatic ability to influence the future of the Internet.

    We are heartened that Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy has introduced the USA Freedom Act to limit bulk collection, to increase transparency, to allow companies to report more statistical information about the number of national security demands they receive, and to reform the secret court overseeing these national security requests by including a special advocate.

    My tech trade association supports this legislation, which would improve the checks and balances on the surveillance system and boost trust online. Decreasing trust in the Internet impacts not just individual U.S. companies, but U.S. competitiveness in the digital economy.

    Economists predict the Internet economy among G-20 nations will reach $4.2 trillion by 2016.
    Estimates show 21 percent of economic growth, in mature economies, over the past 5 years is attributable to the Internet.

    And it’s not just Internet companies that reap the economic benefits of good Internet policy. Traditional industries are the beneficiary of 75 percent of the economic value derived from the Internet. Thus, we should not underestimate the Internet’s role in global economic development, which in turn has its own security benefits for the United States and the rest of the world.

    It would be dangerously myopic to focus narrowly on some security concerns without consideration of the other vital national interests including the widespread economic damage from excessive Internet surveillance. This has led us precariously down a more-is-better path of crafting surveillance policy that had few checks and balances on power and little cost/benefit analysis of the goals of the strategy versus the results.

    We need to once again place trust at the center of U.S. Internet policy both for our own interests — and for the sake of Internet users in Internet restricting countries, which would too readily use our policy failings as an excuse to seize greater control of the Internet.

    Last years WCIT conference showed us there is a deep international division over whether to subordinate the open Internet to the political machinations of world governments, including repressive regimes. The U.S. needs to be a beacon for freedom and openness in this battle.

    Given these risks, we propose:
    • enhanced transparency and procedural reform;
    • clearer protection for Americans; and
    • baseline protections for international users

    First – transparency and procedural reform.
    All governments should share with citizens meaningful information about their surveillance laws, their legal interpretations and the judicial procedures that govern the exercise of this powerful authority. Of course, the U.S. cannot demand this from others until it leads by example. Furthermore, companies should be permitted to disclose, publicly to their users, the precise volume of requests from governments. Businesses should not only be permitted to release transparency reports, but be encouraged to do so. We categorically reject the notion that open government will cause undue damage to security. Transparency in criminal surveillance has been the norm for years and does not appear to have materially affected law enforcement. In order to present a robust check on the government, the FISC must also evolve to include a committed and well-resourced advocate to provide an alternate viewpoint, particularly in situations involving novel questions of law.

    Second, protection for Americans.
    Federal laws addressing the circumstances in which the government may collect Americans’ data for national security purposes are badly in need of reform. Bulk collection of metadata is one area where that is most obvious, as it reveals a great deal of sensitive private information. Furthermore, important 1st Amendment rights of association are implicated by the government assembling its own version of your social network for their own analysis. The USA FREEDOM Act addresses this problem by explicitly prohibiting this type of bulk collection both on the Internet and on telephone networks — and that is one reason we support it.

    Third, protections for foreigners.
    Despite the global interconnected nature of the Internet, U.S. national security policy continues to presume U.S. citizens deserve protection from unwanted surveillance, while others do not. If foreigners lack baseline privacy assurances, foreign competitors will supplant U.S. leadership in Internet innovation and digital commerce, thus undermining strategic economic and other security interests. This is especially true going forward, as foreign markets are increasingly important.

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