Microsoft Releases “Band”, a Smartwatch that will “Make You a Better Human”

Microsoft’s new smartwatch, the Band, boasts that it will “know you better than yourself [and] help you be a better human”, according to a Microsoft blog post. The Band is similar to the fitness band by Nike, the Fuelband, in both form and function. Both the Nike Fuelband and the Microsoft Band are sleek, slim, and offer a lot of information about your health.

What exactly does the Band do? Here’s a brief list of the functionality garnered from Microsoft’s blog post.

  • It monitors your heart rate
  • It tracks your location with GPS, allowing you to map your runs or bike trips.
  • It monitors incoming UV levels and determines when you need to wear sunscreen.
  • It can access workout guides from various sources to supplement your workout.
  • It shows you how many calories you are burning.
  • It measures your sleep quality.
  • The Band can be synced with your smartphone, whether iOS, Android, or Windows, to display your calendar appointments, emails, and text messages.
  • And of course it can tell you the time—it is a watch after all.

This is Microsoft’s first stab at creating a smartwatch, and it appears they have done a solid job. They should be commended for the cross-platform functionality, though this is become more and more a standard rather than a bonus.

Microsoft appears to be using the same tactics with the Band that HTC did when they announced their new camera the RE earlier this season. Both of these devices claim to allow you to “live in the moment.” The RE accomplishes this by eliminating its viewfinder, while the Band lets you “leave you phone in your pocket and miss nothing.”

With already crowded smartwatch and fitness band markets, Microsoft must be confident that their Band, and its ability to let you live in the moment, will be special enough to succeed.

The Band is currently available online and in stores and is priced at $199.

Is Facebook Becoming a Conglomerate?

Facebook has been on a streak of acquiring tech companies with increasingly higher and higher bids as they expand their hold on the technology industry. Over the past few years, Facebook has acquired Instagram, Oculus Rift, and most recently WhatsApp.

First was Instagram, the picture-sharing app. Facebook purchased Instagram in 2012. When Facebook made their purchase, Instagram was valued at $500 million. However, Facebook paid $1 billion, twice the valued price. Then, the little utilized virtual reality headset company Oculus Rift was purchased for $2 billion.

The most recent of these purchases was WhatsApp. WhatsApp, a mobile messaging app that had 450 million users at the time of purchase, was purchased for $22 billion. What is most interesting about the purchase of WhatsApp is the fact that Facebook opened their wallets in a big way. Facebook valued WhatsApp at $6.7 billion, including value they added for the number of non-paying customers and potential news customers—in a $22 billion deal, that’s accounting $15.3 billion of the purchase as essentially good will.

Clearly, CEO Mark Zuckerberg and others at Facebook believe that WhatsApp will be worth the investment. At Facebook’s quarterly conference call, Zuckerberg spoke about the purchase. “For us, products don’t get that interesting to turn into businesses until we get about a billion people using them,” Zuckerberg said.

Some have suggested that Facebook is looking to turn into conglomerate. In a Forbes article from April 2014, it was keenly acknowledged that Facebook might be growing at such a fast rate—and why companies with a large number of users are at a premium—because they acknowledge that not everyone likes Facebook. Given the apparently short life of social media websites (look to MySpace), it makes sense that Facebook would look to invest in technology that would improve their longevity.

Ultimately, only time will tell if these purchases were worth the heavy sticker price.

What do you think about Facebook’s high profile purchases?

Third Point’s 2nd Quarter Success Shows the Power of Activist Investing

When most people think of investors, they think of Wall Street and Warren Buffett. However, the most recent trend in the investment world has been the rise of activist investors. Activist investors are becoming more common and successful. According to Activist Insights, there were less than 30 activist investor campaigns in the year 2000. Compare that to present day, and the 237 campaigns launched in 2013, and you’ll see just how successful activist investors have been during the past few years.

One example of an extremely successful activist investor is Daniel Loeb of Third Point LLC. Third Point, Loeb’s hedge fund, pulled in $2.5 billion in fresh cash from investors in just two weeks this past August. This increases the firm’s total assets to $17.5 billion, up from $15 billion. Loeb’s investments include shares in Dow Chemical, T-Mobile, Twenty-First Century Fox, Disney, FedEx, Yahoo!, and several others.

stock marketThe most well known example of activist investor influence to date is the $45.4 billion bid to purchase Allergan by activist investor Bill Ackman in partnership with Valeant Pharmaceuticals. Allergan, the company that gave the world Botox, is still considering the bid, but it is already being viewed as a watershed moment in the relationship between activist investors and big businesses.

“It’s not new for an investor to team up with an established company to make an offer, but I think this sets the precedent here for large companies to do it,” said Damien Park, managing partner at Hedge Fund Solutions. Ackman is another formidable activist investor, and his partnership with major companies like Valeant Pharmaceuticals will only strengthen his investment strategies.

While activist investors are undoubtedly becoming more successful and larger in number, there still remains the question of whether they are a good or bad influence on our economy. The debate rages on, though many have fallen in line to support the notion that activist investors and their actions keep companies on their toes, if nothing else.

“I think some aspects of activism have gone too far, and in some cases activism does breed corporate efficiency because corporations are made more vigilant than usual in anticipation of it,” said Evercore founder Roger Altman. “You can’t say activism is good or activism is bad.”

Learn more about activist investors by visiting Investopedia.

Facebook and Apple Now Offer Egg Freezing to Female Employees

Two technology giants, Apple and Facebook, are now offering women a phenomenal new perk: they are now offering to freeze the eggs of their female employees. This is a great benefit because it allows women to have “high-powered” careers without having to sacrifice the choice of having a family.

Facebook began covering egg freezing very recently, while Apple will begin to offer the benefit in January. This benefit allows women to effectively put their fertility “on ice” until they are ready to become parents. To have a successful career it is often difficult for women to compete because they want to have a family before they grow older. Now, the female employees of these companies shouldn’t have to choose.

While an incredible benefit it is very expensive: each round can cost up to $10,000 and it can cost upwards of $500 to keep the eggs frozen every year.

This is a great benefit for women, which will likely be beneficial for Apple and Facebook as well. These companies hope that offering these great new benefits will attract women to apply for jobs with them. Consider that women make up roughly 51 percent and you can see that having a leg-up on the competition for over half of the population is a huge benefit for recruiting the best talent.

It is important to note that while these techniques do have high success rates, there is no guarantee that this will guarantee women with children in the future. Therefore, doctors recommend that women freeze at least 20 eggs to cover their bases, which requires two rounds.

This comes in the midst of what some are calling a “benefits arms race” in Silicon Valley. Some companies offer their employees as much as $10,000 a year in benefits. 17 percent of surveyed high-tech companies say that they cover gender reassignment surgery.

Apple Releases OS X Yosemite, A Snazzy-Looking New Operating System

On Thursday October 16th Apple announced their new operating system: OS X Yosemite. So far, Yosemite has been getting good press from reviewers. Yosemite is the successor to Mavericks, and is being toted the biggest Apple upgrade since OS X Lion, which launched in July of 2011.

The first thing you’ll notice about Yosemite is that it has a sleek new look that sets it apart from Mavericks right away. Safari has had a redesign to match the snazzy-looking new OS. It also has improved functionality, my favorite being that third party developers can now create plugins that allow users to share web pages on social media websites with a few simple clicks, directly from the browser!

One of Apple’s goals was to make connecting all of your Apple devices incredibly easy. Now, once you have both an iPhone and a Mac running iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite respectively on the same Apple account, you can make phone calls on your computer as if it were your iPhone—your iPhone doesn’t even need to be in the same room as you! This is also true for text messages, regardless of the carrier of the person you are texting.

Handoff is another new feature that allows you to easily move documents from one device to another. Apple is hailing the seamlessness of the transition users will experience, and boasts that it works on many Mac apps, including Mail, Safari, Maps, Messages, and the Mac equivalents to the Microsoft Office Suite including Pages, Numbers, and Keynote. Apple has also insinuated that app developers could easily make their apps compatible with Handoff.

While Handoff only works on files you were recently working on, Apple also expanded AirDrop to cover their bases. Now, AirDrop allows users to take files from any of their Mac or iOS devices and conveniently send them to another nearby device. Users on the receiving end will receive a status update.

Overall, OS X Yosemite appears to be an overall improvement of OS X Mavericks. The overhauled appearance and the increased ability to link devices and provide a seamless experience across all Apple devices make this update very attractive if you have more than one Apple product. And because it’s free, there is no risk in trying it out—which I highly recommend.

HBO to Join Streaming Market

HBO announced this week that it will start a stand-alone Internet streaming service in the United States in 2015. Unlike HBO’s previous offering, HBO GO, this new service will not require a subscription.

This announcement marks the beginning of HBO’s turn away from traditional television and into the field currently owned by services like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu. HBO hopes to capture a whole new generation of TV viewers who have canceled or never even had cable or satellite service.

Mentioning the 10 million homes in the US that pay for broadband connections but not traditional cable TV services, Richard Plepler, chief executive of HBO, called it “a large and growing opportunity that should no longer be left untapped. It is time to remove all barriers to those who want HBO.”

In fact, HBO’s move was predicted—or perhaps merely encouraged—as much as two years ago, when the website TakeMyMoneyHBO.com launched. More than 163,000 viewers in the first 48 hours, and many more afterward, determined that the average person would pay $12 a month for a non-subscription, online HBO option—cheaper than the $120 or more a month users typically pay for HBO-enhanced cable now.

Calling this a “new era,” HBO executives hope this streaming service, along with more original programming, buying into digital business opportunities, expanding international assets, and cutting costs across TV and film properties, will help parent company Time Warner stay relevant and active in today’s market. In fact, they expect to more than double their earnings in the coming years.

HTC Unveils RE Camera: A Peculiar Camera For Average Consumers

HTC has just unveiled the peculiar looking HTC RE camera: a device that many have said resembles a periscope or an inhaler. The selling point for the RE is allowing users to “live in the moment” instead of viewing life through the lens of a viewfinder, which you will not find on an RE. This quirky device will be priced at $200 and is set to hit stores in the US by the holiday season.

The main selling point of the RE is its convenience to use. One of the first things you might notice about the RE, aside from the odd shape, is that it does not have a viewfinder, a feature that is commonplace in most other cameras. The device also doesn’t have a power button. It is “always on” in the sense that it activates when you are holding it, which should allow users to quickly take the RE out and snap pictures or record video while preventing it from taking pictures while in your pocket or in a bag. The device is also compatible with Android and iOS devices, so it can be used with smartphones and in a way is not in direct competition with them.

The RE is being marketed at parents who want to capture memories of their children, youthful people with an active social life, and frequent travelers who don’t want to carry a bulky camera with them.

The device will eventually have a live broadcasting feature, allowing the device to record and upload live events. With this functionality, and the overall convenience of the device, the RE could catch on with journalists and activists seeking to quickly capture footage and get it online as soon as possible. The live broadcasting feature could become popular among aspiring or already popular YouTubers who want to easily stream a live event while away from their computer.

While HTC claims to not be in competition with the popular GoPro, the RE will have to find a place in the camera market despite doing many of the same things as the GoPro. The price of the RE is currently set at $200, which has drawn concern among critics. $200 is too expensive to be an “impulse buy” and many fear that at this price most consumers will not choose the RE over simply using the phone function on their smartphones.

The release date of the RE is not announced in the US, though HTC hopes to have it on the market in time for the holiday season. In the UK, it appears that some retailers will see the product by early November. HTC plans to release the device on Amazon, and partner with Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile; the company also wants to partner with Best Buy where they have already begun advertising the device.

Hewlett-Packard to Split Into Two Companies

business meeting

American technology company Hewlett-Packard will split into two separate companies, it was announced Monday October 6th. Hewlett-Packard will be divorcing its computer and printer business, from its corporate hardware and cloud services operations in hopes of improving the long-term business practices of each new company. At present, Hewlett-Packard has targeted the end of the fiscal year 2015 as a deadline for complete separation of the two companies.

The computer company will be called HP Inc. and the business-focused company will be called Hewlett-Packard Enterprise. HP Inc. will be retaining the current Hewlett-Packard logo. The computer and printer business has been the more successful of the two divisions in recent years. The split gives both companies the opportunity to specialize in what they do best and hopefully increase their success through innovation and investment in research and development.

Meg Whitman, current CEO of Hewlett-Packard who will be taking over Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, praised the gutsy decision. In a statement following the announcement on Monday morning, she said “In short, by transitioning now from one HP to two new companies, created out of our successful turnaround efforts, we will be in an even better position to compete in the market, support our customers and partners, and deliver maximum value to our shareholders.”

Investors are excited about the news, resulting in a 5% gain in stock prices in the early hours of trading on Monday. Shareholders have been informed that they will be given a stake in both businesses.

The company, founded in 1939 by Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, brought personal computers to the everyday consumer and currently employ more than 300,000 employees worldwide. However, there will be growing pains in the form of layoffs. Hewlett-Packard will be cutting roughly 5,000 jobs and instead investing in research and development; this is in addition to the nearly 50,000 they are already planning to trim.

Journalism’s First Trek into Virtual Reality

oculus rift virtual reality headset

The Des Moines Register has become one of the first newspapers to move into the realm of virtual reality, recreating a desolate farm to accompany a series of newspaper articles.

Gannett, the publisher of USA Today and other regional publications, has released a report made specifically for viewing with the Oculus virtual reality headset. The project, called Harvest of Change, involves an interactive view of a farm in Iowa; the virtual reality program is an asset meant to accompany a series of newspaper articles published by the Register.

Users can interact with the landscape just as an avatar in a video game would: As you walk around, you can interact with certain objects, which will open archival photographs, short passages, and even 360-degree videos about farming in modern-day America. The simulation serves as a way to navigate through and interact with multimedia content related to the farm’s history and story.

The team assembled by the Register and Gannett, including a former Electronics Arts designer, was tasked with creating a faithful representation of the Dammanns’ family farm. This was accomplished by using family photos at the farm as well as multimedia content collected on-location, including audio files and panoramic pictures. After all of the assets were collected, the simulation was created using the Unity 3D game engine.

The goal of projects like this is to bridge the gap between conventional journalism and a video game atmosphere to create a visceral experience for users. Virtual reality’s greatest power is that it provides its users the feeling of being transported somewhere else. While that feeling might not be very exciting in the form of a farm in Iowa, the potential impact on the entire journalism industry is very exciting.

What do you think about virtual reality in journalism? Would you pay more attention to virtual reality news stories?

How to Be a Great Negotiator

negotiation

In business careers, there are many times throughout the day when most of us are confronted with differing opinions and are forced to convince others of our ideas and negotiate. Most of us struggle in finding the right way to negotiate and either experience situations that quickly escalate or find ourselves backing off unhappily. Below are some easy tips to remember when approaching a situation that involves negotiation.

Learn how to say no. This is something many of us, especially women, struggle to do. The power of no is great; it was Lois Wyse who once said, “The single and most dangerous word to be spoken in business is no.” Be it just to take some “you” time rather than rushing off to another social gathering or saying “no” to adding yet another task to your plate at work, using this word can be incredibly empowering and effective. In all negotiations, big or small, give yourself some time to think about it, rather than just going with what others want.

Always come to the table prepared. Know exactly what you are going to say before the negotiation takes place. Make a list of the things you want to talk about and the points you want to make, and be assertive in your delivery. If you are more prepared than the person you are negotiating with, chances are the outcome will be in your favor.

Meet halfway. Understanding that not all negotiations will tilt in your favor is part of being a good coworker, leader, and negotiator. “The most important trip you may take in life is meeting people half way,” noted Henry Boyle. Regardless of the outcome of a negotiation or debate, it is important to always be honest and say exactly what is you want and why. Being a good negotiator means being authentic and able to back up whatever it is you are bringing to the table, as well as being flexible.

Most importantly, don’t forget the bigger picture. It is good to consider that though you might not always favor the outcome of a negotiation, the important thing is that you were able to effectively articulate your wants and needs. For most, being a good negotiator is only one part of a career in business. Keep the big picture in mind and allow negotiations to be a supplementary way to achieve your goals.

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