Technology

The business and culture of our digital lives,
from the L.A. Times

Category: Andrea Chang

Facebook's Timeline will become mandatory soon

Facebook Timeline

Love it or hate it, Facebook's Timeline will be mandatory on your profile soon.

The social network said in a blog post Tuesday that it would roll out the feature -- currently available on an opt-in basis -- to all users "over the next few weeks."

You'll have seven days to preview your Timeline before it goes live, which "gives you a chance to add or hide whatever you want before anyone else sees it," the company said. When it's your turn to get Timeline, you'll see an announcement at the top of your home page.

Introduced late last year, Timeline has been touted by Facebook as an "entirely new kind of profile" that is more visual and comprehensive.

"Timeline gives you an easy way to rediscover the things you shared, and collect your most important moments," the company said in a December blog post. "It also lets you share new experiences, like the music you listen to or the miles you run."

Among the most noticeable differences: Past activity is easily accessible via an archive panel on the right side of your screen, and in addition to your smaller profile photo you can choose another image that will be prominently featured across the top of your page.

So far, reviews for Timeline have been mixed, with critics saying they didn't like having all their previous activity dredged back up (you can remove it) or the scattered layout.

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Image: Facebook's Timeline. Credit: Facebook

Start-up spotlight: Capsule aims to be group events' one-stop app

Capsule
Capsule, an event-based sharing platform, launched out of private beta with a website and free iPhone and Android apps this week.

The Manhattan Beach start-up provides a suite of tools to help users capture the "entire life-cycle of group events," including invites and RSVPs, group texting, instant photo-sharing in real time and archiving. 

During a demo for The Times, co-founders Cyrus Farudi, who is chief executive, and Omri Cohen, who is chief technology officer, said they were trying to create a central location for events that would enable participants to better plan and share their experiences together. Before Capsule, they said, the process was much more disjointed -- for instance, receiving an invite through Evite, texting friends individually before and tweeting during the event, and checking each participant's individual Facebook accounts afterward to see photos. 

"No one has that complete solution over the marketplace, and I think that's one thing that sets us apart," said Farudi, formerly of Flipswap. Capsule "solves the event life-cycle management problem."

Farudi, 31, and Cohen, 29, said they came up with the idea after having to attend 14 weddings and nine bachelor parties in one year. Founded less than a year ago, the start-up is angel-funded and joins a fast-growing group of emerging tech companies in the Los Angeles area, which some people have dubbed Silicon Beach.

On Friday, a day after Capsule was released to the public, Farudi declined to say how many people had joined but said the launch was "going really well." Capsule can be found at www.trycapsule.com.

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-- Andrea Chang

Twitter.com/byandreachang

Image: Screen shot of Capsule's home page. Credit: Capsule

Advertising spending online expected to surpass print this year

Ad spending

U.S. online advertising spending is expected to grow 23.3% to $39.5 billion this year, pushing it ahead of total advertising spending in print newspapers and magazines, according to an eMarketer report.

Meanwhile, print advertising spending is expected to fall to $33.8 billion in 2012 from $36 billion last year, the market research company said.

"Advertisers' comfort level with integrated marketing is greater than ever, and this is helping more advertisers -- and more large brands -- put a greater share of dollars online," said David Hallerman, eMarketer's principal analyst.

The 2012 estimates come after a robust year for U.S. advertising in 2011. eMarketer said online ad spending grew 23% to $32.03 billion last year while total ad spending rose 3.4% to $158.9 billion.  

The market research company said firms are funneling more advertising money online because of the growing amount of time that consumers spend with digital platforms and advertisers' view of the Internet as a more measurable medium, especially as the soft economy "forces businesses to be more accountable with their ad dollars."

Overall, total media ad spending in the U.S. is expected to grow an estimated 6.7% to $169.48 billion this year, boosted by the elections and summer Olympics in London, eMarketer said.

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-- Andrea Chang

Twitter.com/byandreachang

Image: Print versus online advertising spending. Credit: eMarketer

Steve Jobs doll withdrawn after objections by his family, Apple

Steve Jobs doll

An eerily lifelike Steve Jobs doll will not be sold because the company behind the product received "immense pressure" from Apple's lawyers and the late CEO's family to not sell the figurine.

"We understand that this decision will cause many of the fans disappointment, but please forgive us as there is no other alternative unless to have the blessing from Steve Jobs family," In Icons said in a rambling statement on its website, which features quotes from Jobs and numerous images of the doll prototype. "We will aim to have full refund to the fans who have pre-ordered."

In Icons had been taking pre-orders of the 12-inch doll, which cost $100 and came with "one realistic head sculpt and two pairs of glasses," "one highly articulate body and three pairs of hands," one black turtleneck, one pair of blue jeans and two apples -- one with a bite taken out of it. 

The company had planned to start shipping the dolls in February and said on its website that it was running out of stock. 

In the statement announcing the company's decision to not offer the doll, In Icons said the figurine was adjusted "countless times" to achieve the Apple visionary's likeness. The company said making the doll was a tribute to Jobs.

"Regardless of the pressure, I am still Steve's fan, I fully respect Steve and his family, and it is definitely not my wish or intention that they be upset," said the statement, which was signed "inicons.com." "Though we still believe that we have not overstepped any legal boundaries, we have decided to completely stop the offer, production and sale of the Steve Jobs figurine out of our heartfelt sensitivity to the feelings of the Jobs family." 

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-- Andrea Chang

Image: A screenshot showing In Icons' Steve Jobs doll. Credit: In Icons

Zappos website hacked; credit card database not affected, CEO says

Zappos

Zappos.com, the popular online shoe site, was the victim of a cyber attack by a hacker who gained access to part of the company's internal network through one of its servers, Chief Executive Tony Hsieh said in an email to employees Sunday. 

Hsieh said the Henderson, Nev., company was cooperating with law enforcement to undergo "an exhaustive investigation" and that the database that stores customers' credit card and other payment data was not affected or accessed.

"We've spent over 12 years building our reputation, brand, and trust with our customers. It's painful to see us take so many steps back due to a single incident," Hsieh said in a separate email to customers. "Over the next day or so, we will be training everyone on the specifics of how to best help our customers through their password change process now that their passwords have been reset and expired. We need all hands on deck to help get through this." Tony Hsieh

The company said it would notify the more than 24 million customer accounts in its database about the incident and provide instructions on how to choose a new password; the company has already reset and expired existing passwords. 

In the email to shoppers, Zappos said customers' personal information -- including their name, email address, billing and shipping addresses, phone number, the last four digits of their credit card number and/or the cryptographically scrambled password on their account -- may have been compromised.

"In order to service as many customer inquiries as possible, we will be asking all employees at our headquarters, regardless of department, to help with assisting customers," Hsieh said. "We have made the hard decision to temporarily turn off our phones and direct customers to contact us by email because our phone systems simply aren't capable of handling so much volume."

The company is directing customer concerns and questions to an internal Web page.

Zappos, which sells shoes and has since expanded to other retail categories, was bought by Amazon.com in 2009. The company has become known for its customer service and for its quirky company culture led by Hsieh -- including head-shaving events, impromptu parades around the cubicles and employee birthday pranks.

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-- Andrea Chang

Twitter.com/byandreachang

Top photo: Zappos' company headquarters in 2010. Credit: Isaac Brekken / For The Times

Lower photo: Zappos Chief Executive Tony Hsieh. Credit: Isaac Brekken / For The Times

CES 2012: Eliza Dushku's can't-live-without tech devices -- BlackBerry, iPad, Bug Vac [Video]

Eliza Dushku served as the official celebrity ambassador for the Entertainment Matters program at the Consumer Electronics Show this week. 

We caught up with the actress -- known for playing Faith on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and roles in movies including "Bring It On" -- at the Wynn in Las Vegas, where she was hosting Spike TV's VIP CES party at Tryst nightclub. Her gig as ambassador was intended to promote the relationship between the tech and entertainment industries. Eliza Dushku

"You're seeing kids that watch all their programming on iPhones or whatever smartphones they have," Dushku said. "So it's important that we're on top of that."

Dushku said she planned to walk the show floor with her boyfriend, former Laker Rick Fox, and wanted to check out the 4K and 8K televisions. "I remember last year going home [from CES] and looking at my own televisions and feeling like it was completely Stone Age," she said.  

Calling herself a bit of a techie, Dushku, who has done voice work for video games in the past, rattled off a long list of her favorite tech products, including her BlackBerry and iPad. But her No. 1 item is her Bug Vac, the kind you buy from those SkyMall airline shopping magazines, she said. 

"If a bug's on the wall, you extend the telescope-y thing and you suck the bug and it pulls it in and it fries it on a little metal plate," she said. "I love that thing. I can't live without it."

And it works?

"Oh, full on, you smell the bugs burning on the plate," she said. "Sorry, but better than crawling up my face." 

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-- Andrea Chang in Las Vegas

Photo: Eliza Dushku at Tryst nightclub at the Wynn in Las Vegas during the Consumer Electronics Show. Credit: Andrea Chang / Los Angeles Times

CES 2012: Television makers push Google TV in Las Vegas

Vizio Google TV

When Google TV first launched a little more than a year ago, it had few hardware partners and failed to resonate with a wide consumer market. But the technology was back at the Consumer Electronics Show this year, with major tech companies promoting the software and saying its time had come. 

"You've got to reorient customers to look at TVs as an actual smart device, as a device just like a tablet or a PC or a phone," said Matthew McRae, chief technology officer at Vizio, during an interview with The Times. "It takes a little bit of time, but I think that bridge has been crossed."

At CES in Las Vegas this week, Vizio was showcasing its 65-inch, 55-inch and 47-inch V.I.A. Plus HDTVs with Theater 3D; the VBR430 Blu-ray player; and the VAP430 stream player -- all of which incorporate Google TV's 2.0 platform. V.I.A. stands for Vizio Internet Apps.

The V.I.A. Plus experience features an app-centric interface on every device, "making it easy for consumers to understand and navigate as they move between devices," the company said in a news release. Users can also access thousands of apps from the Android Market.

McRae said the company was encouraged by the advances in the second generation of Google TV, saying the earlier version of the software "missed on the simplicity front."

"When people sit down at a TV, it's got to be intuitive, it's got to be a few button clicks to whatever you're looking for," McRae said. "If you make it any more complex than that, they'll just give up.... So the user interface I think is actually more challenging to get right on a TV than it is on a tablet or PC."

The prospects for Google TV -- which combines traditional television, the Internet, apps and search capabilities -- are growing rapidly among developers, who are rolling out thousands of apps built specifically for televisions. 

Vizio was especially excited to show off its new VAP430 stream player with Google TV, a media player that turns any HDTV into an enhanced V.I.A. Plus smart TV. Vizio's stream player, a small black box about the size of a wallet, features built-in HDMI ports that let users connect existing components like gaming consoles or set-top boxes for unified access to all media sources through the V.I.A. Plus touchpad remote. It also supports 3-D content and 3-D streaming. Vizio stream player

Vizio officials said the stream player was expected to be released in the first half of the year, but declined to say how much the device would cost. Sales of stream players are poised to pass Blu-ray players in unit volume sales by 2013, Vizio said, making the devices the "perfect solution" for media multitaskers. 

LG is also showing off sets with Google TV software that will launch in the U.S. in the first half of 2012 and later for the rest of the world. Among LG's Google TV offerings will be a 55-inch model, and each Google TV set from LG will include a "magic remote" with a built-in keyboard.

Google TV will run on LG's TVs alongside its Smart TV platform unveiled last year. Since last year's CES, LG said it had added more than 1,200 apps to its Smart TV offerings.

Sony too heavily hyped its Google TV products at CES and said it was expanding its line of devices that included the software. 

The tech giant said it was rolling out two new set-top boxes powered by Google TV -- one connected Blu-ray disc player and one Network Media Player. Enhanced features include access to the Android Market as well as a redesigned remote control for improved functionality, new linkage with the Sony Entertainment Network platform and a new mobile device interface that allows consumers to use smartphones and tablets as a content source. 

"As a result more consumers will be able to enjoy multiple content sources from broadcast to streaming video and various apps through one easy-to-use seamless interface by connecting to any HDTV," Sony executive Kaz Hirai said during the company's CES news conference.

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-- Andrea Chang in Las Vegas

Upper photo: A Vizio HDTV shows off Google TV software, with live television and a panel of apps sharing space on the screen. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles Times

Lower photo: Vizio's VAP430 stream player with Google TV, a media player that turns any HDTV into an enhanced smart TV. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles Times

CES 2012: 50 Cent sounds off on new headphone line [Video]

50 Cent's branding empire already includes energy shots, cologne and books, but his latest products are all about the music.

The rapper was at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week to promote his new line of headphones: the wireless Sync by 50, the wired Street by 50 and the soon-to-be-released Street by 50 wired ear buds.

The audio products, he told The Times during an interview at the Las Vegas Convention Center, are "an extension of my passion for music."

VIDEOS: 2012 Consumer Electronics Show

"I'll spend 30 or 40 minutes when I'm really inspired and have an idea, and the song will be done. And then we'll spend a week making sure it sounds right afterwards," he said. "Then to have it go out to the general public and them listen to it on things that don't actually allow them to hear it with the same qualities –- not so cool. So I want to try to be a part of [how] they consume it the right way. And maybe they'll feel like I'm as good as I think I am, when they hear it that way." 50 Cent wears Sync by 50 headphones at CES.

Both headphones are already available in stores and online after a soft launch during the holiday season.

The $400 Sync by 50, which 50 Cent was wearing around his neck during our interview as "a fashion statement," promises to give users "crystal-clear wireless sound" up to 50 feet away and the ability to sync as many as four pairs of headphones to a single audio source. The headphones are professionally tuned and feature 40-mm drivers, 16-bit lossless digital sound and on-board controls with bass boost, volume control and mute. 

The Street by 50 headphones are priced at $300 and feature professional studio sound, enhanced bass, soft memory foam cushions, passive noise cancellation and a detachable cord.

The ear buds, expected to be launched later this year, have a professionally tuned 11-mm driver and an ergonomically designed Apple control mic with volume control and reinforced cables. The wires on the ear buds are flat, which 50 Cent said prevented tangling. They are expected to cost $130.

The products are made by 50 Cent's SMS Audio; he created the company and is its chief executive. Down the line, he said, SMS Audio will expand its offerings to include home audio systems, professional audio equipment, speakers, iPod docks and DJ headsets. 

"I love music," he said. "Why would I not want to make the best possible way to hear it?"

The celebrity headphone market has taken off in recent years, led by the Beats by Dr. Dre line. Dr. Dre was in Las Vegas for CES, as were Ludacris and "Jersey Shore" star Snooki -- both of them hyping headphones.

50 Cent signed autographs for fans Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at CES and said he was excited to check out the latest technology at the trade show.

"My girlfriend, in my office, she's a massage chair. She doesn't talk much, she just works," he said. "And I'm interested to go see what the new version of that does."

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-- Andrea Chang in Las Vegas

Twitter.com/byandreachang

Photo: 50 Cent wears a pair of his Sync by 50 headphones at CES in Las Vegas. Credit: Andrea Chang / Los Angeles Times

CES 2012: LL Cool J hypes Boomdizzle -- and no, it's not headphones [Video]

LL Cool J wanted to make one thing clear at the Consumer Electronics Show this week: He's got a new product, and it's not a line of celebrity headphones.

Instead, the rapper-actor wanted to talk about the Boomdizzle Virtual Recording Studio, which he said eliminated the need for an artist and his or her team to be in the same place to record music. LL Cool J co-founded Boomdizzle, an online community for artists, in 2008.

"The problem was: I'm in L.A.; my producer or my engineer's in New York. I want to go in the studio tonight, but I want to collaborate," LL Cool J said at a press gathering at the Las Vegas Convention Center. "I don't want to email you my track and then you email me back your bass line, then I email you back a vocal and then you email me back a drum and then we email back and forth and back and forth."

VIDEOS: 2012 Consumer Electronics Show

The Virtual Recording Studio provides the digital production, mixing and sound tools for artists to create music, LL Cool J said. To demonstrate the technology, he recorded a song Tuesday in front of an audience at CES while his engineer was in New York.  Llcoolj

The platform will be completely Web-based and feature a "simple, accessible user interface," he said. Users will be able to upload tracks and see each other over a video chat feature. He noted that the Virtual Recording Studio was not just for professional musicians, but for casual users as well -- such as friends who wanted to get together online and sing karaoke.

"I think that that basically revolutionizes the world of music," he said. "If LL Cool J was 16, 17 years old and I was just starting out, I think I would grow vampire teeth to sink my teeth into this product."

When the software launches, LL Cool J said, part of it will be free, another part will be pay-as-you-go and yet another portion will be subscription based. "I want to make sure that as many people have access to it as possible, and I also want to make sure that it does well as a business."

The initial launch of the technology will be by invitation only.

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-- Andrea Chang in Las Vegas

Twitter.com/byandreachang

Photo: LL Cool J announces Boomdizzle's Virtual Recording Studio at CES. Credit: Andrea Chang / Los Angeles Times

CES 2012: Former Laker Robert Horry talks tech, basketball

Like many celebrities, Robert Horry is at the Consumer Electronics Show this week to help promote a tech company. Problem is, when we sat down with him Tuesday to chat about Haier America, basketball's Big Shot Rob conceded he hadn't yet seen the appliance brand's latest products. 

In fact, he says he's not much of a techie.

"I try to keep my life as simple as possible," he said. "[If] I get all this high-tech, I'm going to buy more stuff and more stuff."

No matter. The affable former Laker, who won three of his seven championships with the team, was happy to talk generally about the brand, which is a sponsor for the NBA, and his hopes for his partnership with the company: "Haier has a lot of good products, and I'm just trying to get in good with the family so they can remodel my kitchen," he joked.

He was also eager to chat about his basketball days, saying he still keeps in touch with Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher. Although he's a Lakers fan, he said he sees challenges ahead for the team this year, including "a lot of young cats on their team," tough competition from the Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat, and leftover issues from the trade drama at the start of the season. 

"I just think sometimes, with the way the season started out with them and all the turmoil and the guys being traded and them trading guys and trades not going through, you put a wall up as a player," he said. "Even though you go out there and play, it's still not the same because in the back of your mind, you always got that fear of being traded, so you don't play as well." 

These days, Horry works as a sports commentator and lives in Houston -- though he noted that "everybody thinks I live in L.A."

"L.A. is just too expensive for me," he said. "That's one thing about me: I'm from the South and I'm cheap."

Horry said he goes to a lot of Houston Rockets games now that he's retired and has free time. "I try to keep my face in there just in case one day I want to try to venture into the coaching realm or the GM realm or something of that nature," he said. "I'm waiting for my son to turn 13 and go to high school, and then I want to get back into it."

But back to tech: Horry, who has attended CES a number of times in the past, said he loves coming to the show to see what new products are coming out. "My favorite part is going to booths and coming home with a bag of stuff," he said.

One device he won't be going home with: a 3-D television. 

"I can't watch 3-D. It gives me a headache," he said. "I just saw a guy with a 3-D camera and that was cool, but after looking at it for 2, 3 seconds, my head started to hurt."

But Horry said he loves watching television shows -- "The Closer" is a top choice -- and has three Apple TVs in his home. As expected, he said Haier's TVs "are great." His favorite model?

"The big ones," he said. "The thing about them is they're slim and you can put them anywhere. Right now, I'm working on getting one to put in my bathroom. Sometimes you like to sit back and take a nice bubble bath and watch NBA TV."

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-- Andrea Chang in Las Vegas

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