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If you buy a new smartphone from Google Play in the near future, you will be able to use Google as your new wireless carrier. The company has just ironed out agreements with Sprint and T-Mobile to sell voice and data plans directly to consumers.

Google has been experimenting with internet access with its Fiber program in a very limited capacity and via their Loon project sought to provide free WIFI access in remote places. This new endeavor is positioning Google to become a top tier wireless carrier in the US.

Currently, there are four major carriers in the United States: T-Mobile, Sprint, AT&T, and Verizon, and while T-Mobile has made efforts to shake up the wireless industry with its Un-Carrier initiatives, wireless service in the United States remains much pricier than in other countries, with subscribers getting less data for more money. The thought behind the Google branded service is to be able to directly bundle their data enabled phones at a discounted rate if you buy them from Google Play.

Google will not actually be competing against these big players but has engaged in a licensing program. They will be quite similar to other players in this sector, including Boost Mobile, FreedomPop, and Straight Talk.

The Wall Street Journal has verified this rumor, writing “Google hinted at its wireless ambitions in a letter to the FCC last week, which said higher-frequency spectrum might be used for ‘the next generation of unlicensed broadband services,’ including complements to Wi-Fi networks, ‘or entirely new technologies and innovations.’ ”

It remains to be seen how the Google wireless plans unfold in the real world. We don’t have an actual date or in what capacity users will be able to signup. It looks dubious if Apple will include them as a carrier option to opt into for unlocked iPads and iPhones. Many industry experts seem to agree that the best strategy is to sign up customers who buy Google branded devices, such as the Nexus Phone or Nexus tablet for data.

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When consumers and experts alike think of the travel industry, transportation giants usually come to mind. But what savvy industry watchers are learning is that transportation is only one small part of the equation. Accommodations providers are driving the real shift in the travel industry, and of those, it’s the smaller companies and startups that are generating actual change.

Accommodations used to refer to the hotel sector, and in some regards, the vacation rental side of business. But the booming privately owned homeshare concept is getting a lot of consumer attention and edging in on the market share for accommodations, largely due to digital and tech amenities that hotels and rental condos—and now homeshares—have to offer.

There’s been a shift in how the hospitality industry handles consumer engagement. With the move to things like mobile apps, online booking and check-in, and even a catalog of hundreds of titles to choose from for the typical guest newspaper that now appears seamlessly each morning on a guest’s mobile device, today’s traveler expects not only convenience and price, but a greater level of affordability and value thanks to the self-service, digital concepts.

A newly launched magazine that tracks the hospitality industry, Megatrends Shaping Travel In 2015 takes a closer look at how consumers are responding to what the travel and hospitality sectors have to offer in the digital age. One of the chief findings of the publication from Skift if that whole new levels of connectivity and convenience have become the norm. The days of cable-based ethernet connections in hotel rooms or paying a premium for in-room wifi are gone, even if not all hotel and rental chains have adapted. Travelers are no longer content with a complimentary print copy of USA Today thrown on the lobby desk in the morning, and instead of booking their stays with hotels that can offer local news, but also the news from back home while guests are away.

“As consumers become self-serve and mobile-dependent, new models and approaches to both customer relations and local discovery are emerging, and hospitality is the big crucible where all of this is playing out,” says Rafat Ali of Skift. “We see this at every touchpoint in the hospitality industry: From how hotels are building direct links to customers in digital, to how customer service is being rethought through social and mobile tools. Within the confines of a property we see this in how hotels are redoing lobbies and how customers check in, as well as everything about the customer experience inside a hotel room, entertainment inside the hotel, and food & beverage offerings, too. Brands are also questioning customer interaction pre-, during and post-trip, as they examine and rebuild it in new ways.”

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The Crunchyroll anime and manga streaming service continues to have intermittent connection issues and has been down the last twelve hours. The website and streaming video library has been experiencing a Denial Of Service Attacks by malicious hackers.

Crunchyroll has incurred the ire of computer hackers when it started sending out DMCA notices to internet service providers and the users. Also, the anime company has been really going after hacking forums that specialize in password generators or selling user account information. These two things combined has resulted in a massive botnet attacking them.

During the last few days videos have worked sporadically but many users are facing constant freezing every few minutes. Sometimes the video will freeze but the timer will continue and then fast forward five or ten seconds. In other cases just the audio will be playing but the video will be blank.

Currently all platforms such as xbox 360 and Xbox One, Apple TV, Chromecast, PS4, PC and the official mobile apps are not working. The official e-commerence store is also down, so no purchases can be made and some of the incentives the company was providing due to the outages cannot be redeemed.

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Amazon had a very productive year and managed to keep themselves in the news with ton of product releases and business maneuverings. Today, we take a look back at the 10 most notable things Amazon did in 2014.

Amazon Buys Twitch

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Amazon acquired the video-game streaming site Twitch Interactive Inc. in August for $970 million. The company doesn’t make a lot of acquisitions, so one of this size was notable. The video streaming service will complement Amazon’s Prime Music streaming service, which is part of its Amazon TV system. Already Twitch culture has changed since Amazon bought it, when partial nudity is no longer allowed.

Send in the Drones – Meet Amazon Air Prime

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Amazon took over the blogosphere by storm when it announced their futuristic Prime Air program. It promises a quad helicopter will drop off your package 30 minutes after ordering it. Amazon wants to get it running in the next few years but FAA restrictions are not making it easy.

Fire TV

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In April Amazon announced Fire TV which allows you to install apps and watch Amazon-produced content on their TVs. It is similar to Apple TV and Roku, except it has more of an emphasis on playing games.

The main Fire TV unit came with a remote and optional game controller. At the tail end of 2014 the company unveiled the Fire Stick, which is an alternative to the Google Chromecast.

The Golden Globes

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Amazon produced “Transparent” receives two Golden Globe nominations. The success of the show marks Amazon’s real entrance into the competitive online television network. The show is available via Amazon Prime, which Amazon mentioned got 10 million new members during the holiday season.

Kindle Voyage

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The Kindle Voyage is widely considered the best e-reader ever made. It has the highest resolution e-paper screen in the world and the PPI is unparalleled. It has buttons built into the bezel, an ambient light sensor and employs a new hybrid magnesium alloy. This not only makes the e-reader lighter than previous iterations, but prevents scuffs and fingerprints. Family Sharing allows you to share purchases with your friends and family.

Fire Phone Flops

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Amazon admitted that their first ever smartphone was a flop, but that is not going to dissuade them from releasing more in the future. The phone suffered from a very high price and exclusivity with AT&T when it first launched. Its fairy cheap now and the unlocked version has fallen from its $699 launch price.

AWS Lowers its Price

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Amazons cloud computing network powers Netflix and other major companies all over the world.  They cut their data transfer rates by 43% starting in December 2014, which is halving many startups bills that can’t afford their own server farms.  The reduction in price was made to help combat competition from Microsoft, Google and the giant VMware, not to mention the hundreds of cloud companies sprouting up around the world.

Hachette Dispute Dominated the headlines

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Amazon and major publisher Hachette were locked in a six month long contract dispute which polarized the entire publishing industry. Never before have we seen pop culture and various author groups lambaste Amazon as being a money grabbing empire, who is bad for authors.

Kindle Unlimited Launches

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Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited, the ebook and audiobook subscription service that lets members pay a flat monthly fee for unlimited access to its catalog, went live during the summer. It offers users a thirty day free trial and the option to pay $9.99 a month for the service.  There are over 700,000 e-Book and audiobook titles available. Major publishers have yet to embrace the platform and the vast majority of titles are from indie authors who publish on Amazon via Kindle Direct Publishing. This service has been in the news in the last few months as  many authors are seeing a huge decline in sales.

Construction

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Amazon added nearly 4 million square feet of office space in Seattle in 2014. The company is constructing two 38-story high-rise buildings and a five-story “bubble” building in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood. It is on track to have enough space for more than 71,000 employees in the city in the next five years.


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The Crunchyroll streaming service has been down the last few days as the company is a victim of a massive DDOS attack. This is the same type of Distributed Denial of Service that plagued Sony and Microsoft gaming networks for approximately three days around Christmas.

The online media service Crunchyroll  is likely the largest company in the world that exclusively shows anime and mange television episodes and movies. Most of their content is aimed at people outside of Japan, because the vast majority are subtitled.  The streaming company has over 400,000 reported paid subscribers — doubling its total in about one and a half years. Crunchyroll previously announced that it had over 200,000 subscribers at Tokyo International Anime Fair in March 2013.

The companies apps for iOS, Android, Roku, Apple TV and everything else went down late Monday evening. It is currently unknown whether or not Lizard Squad is also responsible for this attack.

One of the big concerns from the  Crunchyroll user base is what will happen to the weekly simulcast release schedule? Will everything be delayed a few days? Will the company is posting all of the new content as soon as the server situation as been stabilized? No one really knows at this point.

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Apple has designed and patented a new stylus that will digitize drawings and notes drawn on physical paper. This will appeal to authors who prefer to write their novels or designers who have a brilliant idea while jotting something down on a napkin.

The new patent Apple was awarded will translate notes written down on papers to an iPhone or iPad. It also details various exchangeable tips for the stylus, including actual ink, markers for a whiteboard, or a rubberized nub akin to most popular tablet styli. The stylus activates when various motion-sensing hardware, including accelerometers, detects when the pen is picked up out of its dock, pressed to a writing surface, or simply turned on manually.

Thanks to motion sensors able to detect a 3D plane, the stylus uses an initial zero point to transmit the movement and flow of handwriting as varying changes in position to the desired computing device. This technology also means an actual surface isn’t needed to transmit data — simply writing notes in the air would suffice. The patent even details ways for users to choose how the data is transmitted, including continuously or at chosen intervals, allowing battery life to be preserved.

I think a smart stylus is a great idea. It would certainly have a place in schools, as students continue to make notes on paper, while preserving a digital backup for editing. I think authors, designers and artists might find this technology especially compelling.

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Hotels these days are embracing technology in order to appeal to the seasoned traveler. Instead of having a wake-up call, new touchscreen devices wake you with with melodic sounds. Room keys are a thing of the past, as smartphones are becoming the new norm and when guests enter a room, the curtains open and music plays while climate control switches on.

A Chicago hotel called theWit has pioneered a new way for guests to wake up in the morning. Instead of relying on a call from the front desk the touchscreen display allows you to customize the voice to suit their needs. Some of the stock options include Muddy Waters, Ann Landers or even Chicago villain Al Capone.  The hotel also has motion sensors that reset the thermostat to an energy-efficient temperature when you leave and readjust it to your own setting when you return. There’s even a voice that offers a personal greeting when you enter your room, bidding you a good morning, afternoon or evening.

The Peninsula Hong Kong opened in 1928 and just spent $58 million on renovations to make the hotel more digital friendly.The Wi-Fi is fast and complimentary, and all calls (local or international) are free, thanks to the sophisticated in-room VoIP phone system. In addition to Samsung Galaxy tablets that allow guests to control assorted room features and place service requests, rooms boast in-wall touchscreen panels that can control lighting and temperature; in the bathroom, these panels also control entertainment options like TV and music. All electrical outlets are now “world” outlets, meaning you won’t need any adapters. Conveniently, a charging dock pops out of the desk, making it easy to juice up all of your devices in one place. In addition, all rooms come equipped with a touchscreen-controlled Nespresso machine, offering complimentary coffee and tea. Perhaps most impressively, every room now sports a 46-inch, 3-D flat-screen television (loaner 3-D glasses and movies can be ordered via the tablets); hi-fi surround-sound system; and Blu-ray.

When guests enter a room at the Aria Resort & Casino in Las Vegas the curtains open and music plays while climate control switches on. Everything reverts back to the hotel’s setting when they leave the room and returns to the guest’s preferences when they come back. Preferences are also recorded and stored for the next visit.

One hotel does something totally amazing, and is sure to impress. At the Hotel 1000 in Seattle they are employing body-heat-detecting infrared sensors let the housekeeping staff know when guests have left their rooms.

The Trump Hotel in Chicago, Shangri-La Hotel, and 3,500 Accor hotels are all offering complimentary digital newspapers to their guests by Pressreader. Thousands of international papers are available business travelers and have the ability to conveniently keep up-to-date with the latest global or hometown news.  In addition to being available to overnight hotel guests all of these locations also give access to visitors attending corporate meetings and events at the hotel.

Not all hotels are including in-room features to lure travelers but some are taking advantage of the technology in your pocket.  At select Starwood hotel brands around the world, guests will no longer have to fumble for their room key card at the bottom of their bag now that the chain has rolled out keyless technology that opens doors with the swipe of a smartphone. Starwood’s SPG Keyless program is being called a first for the hotel industry and will roll out to 10 hotels around the world in markets like Beijing, Doha, Hong Kong, New York, and Singapore. Starwood is not the only company experimenting with being able to open your hotel doors with an app. HotelTonight has also developed a mobile app-enabled feature that allows guests to open their doors with a swipe of their phone which is being negotiated with hotels worldwide.

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Amazon Prime Now is a pilot project in Manhattan and it promises to deliver books and anything else the website sells within two hours. If two hours is too much time, you can pay an extra $7.99 to get it within one hour.

In order to take advantage of the Prime Now program you must subscribe to the $99.99 per year Amazon Prime membership. Amazon has promised that more cities will receive this service in in 2015. Anyone who downloads the mobile app for iOS or Android can receive a notice when the service arrives in their area.

When using the app to order products, Amazon is not reinventing the wheel. If you have ever used the Amazon Shopping app, Prime Now functions the exact same way. You can search for and browse items and then add them to your shopping cart. After you order your item, you can track its delivery. Amazon has confirmed that over 10,000 items are eligible for the Prime Now program.

Amazon is facing increased competition from established players, who have launched new programs. Google has been experimenting with its own delivery service, which in October expanded beyond its early outposts in New York and California to Chicago, Boston, and Washington, D.C. For same-day service, users of Google Express must pay $95 per year, or $10 per month. Online auction site eBay, has also expressed interest about faster deliveries using their own in-house solution.

Free two hour shipping on 10,000 items is very compelling if you are already an Amazon Prime member. Sadly, the only postal code its delivering to right now is 10001.

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Hotels are embracing digital in a big way, as they seek to distinguish themselves from the competition by offering compelling reasons to stay with them, over the competition.

One of the emerging trends is taking advantage of the technology in your pocket.  At select Starwood hotel brands around the world, guests will no longer have to fumble for their room key card at the bottom of their bag now that the chain has rolled out keyless technology that opens doors with the swipe of a smartphone. Starwood’s SPG Keyless program is being called a first for the hotel industry and will roll out to 10 hotels around the world in markets like Beijing, Doha, Hong Kong, New York, and Singapore.

Starwood is not the only company experimenting with being able to open your hotel doors with an app. HotelTonight has also developed a mobile app-enabled feature that allows guests to open their doors with a swipe of their phone which is being negotiated with hotels worldwide.

One of the benefits about this automatic door entry program is that some hotels are bypassing the need to check in at the front desk altogether, except in regions that require an ID check at the front desk. This is actually drawing praise by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak who recently stayed at an W Hollywood Hotel citing that ““And I didn’t have to talk to anybody to do this.”

Hotels are also turning to digital newspapers and magazines to offer guests the ability to read their own local papers, even if they are thousands of miles away. Recently  Accor has announced that their entire chain of 3,500+ hotels across 92 countries have signed a deal with PressReader. “This is one of our biggest announcements yet and it demonstrates the direction we’re going,” said Igor Smirnoff, Chief Commercial Officer for PressReader. “We think this is indicative of a huge change in the way that newspapers and magazines are being consumed.”

The fifth annual Hotel Technology Conference in Singapore just spent the last few days discussing what type of advancements the hospitality industry will face in 2015. One of the most exciting things was Turning OFF and ON the lights and controlling Air-conditioning with the of apps. IT departments in major hotels are also looking at TV based motion and voice controls, and presence detectors to allegedly making it easy for the guests, while at the same time – controlling energy.

The other key take away from the conference was the focus on wearable tech, such as smart watches, smart bands and how they can play a role in opening doors and automatically checking in and out.

I think the big trend in the hotel sector in 2015 is to take advantage of the fact that guests bring their own smartphones and tablets with them. The challenge is being able to develop and market a range of apps to open doors, control the environment and bypass the check in counter to expedite the entire process.

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Amazon UK Distribution Centre

ICANN has been running a series of auctions over the course of the last year for a new series of custom domain names. Amazon has been battling it out against rival publishing and self-publishing companies in an effort to attain the lucrative .book TLD. Amazon has just won the auction despite a filing by the Association of American Publishers in 2013 that opposed its bid, and described the possible control of the .book TLD by the retailer, or by any private company, to be counter to the public interest.

Reportedly Amazon won the domain with a closing bid of $10 million dollars and was competing against Google and Bowker in the late stages.  There is no knowledge currently if Amazon gave an incentive to these two companies to dropout or if they did it willingly.

It will be interesting to see what Amazon intends on doing with the .book domain name, if they intend on providing vanity URL’s for authors who self-publish under the KDP program.

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When young artists and small business owners are just starting out they tend to sell their content on platforms with the largest audience. Amazon Marketplace, Alibaba, eBay, and ETSY are all the most notable examples of being able to reach a huge audience and generate revenue without the need to setup a dedicated website and maintain strong social media. The downfall of these sites is that you may be known in a small niche segment online, but are completely unknown in your own backyard.

I see small business owners and young entrepreneurs feel lost and deflated because they never get to meet their customers face to face and seldom do you ever see jubilation or a simple smile. Normally a customer dispute and angry emails are the everyday norm and it’s rare that someone actually sends you a thank you email. I think in order to broaden your base and have a sense of real world accomplishment you have to get out there and develop a local presence.

The one big concern about selling local is getting a distribution deal through an existing store and requires a lot of wheeling and dealing. If you live in a small town, your prospects might be bleak, which is why they turned online in the first place.

A number of artists and authors end up going on tours to conventions or trade shows to get their name out there. I know a number of self-published authors that religiously visit the Romance Writers of America show and sell their books directly. The one big problem is people really don’t carry a lot of cash around on them and instead rely on their credit and debit cards. I hear lots of authors complaining that the process of selling directly to readers is too hard.

This problem has been remedied by mobile credit card readers such as Square that can not only process payments directly on your tablet or smartphone directly with customers, but can also be used online in conjunction with your Shopify account to take orders.

I really recommend if you’re a young writer or artist trying to make a name for yourself, don’t rely entirely on the online world. You need to meet your target base directly and cultivate relationships and get that sense of satisfaction that someone is legitimately excited about what you got.

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The Amazon Fire TV up until now has been a US exclusive and now the streaming television and app box has just hit the UK. Customers will be able to order it online or found on the shelves of Tesco, Dixons and Argos.

Fire TV is a streaming multimedia box that allows users to watch television and movies from the Amazon Instant Video service. It also has a number of apps users can install, such as Curzon Home Cinema, Netflix, YouTube, Demand 5, BBC iPlayer, BBC News and Sport, Sky News, and Spotify.

Unlike Apple TV, the Fire TV has a huge library of games that have been optimized for large screen televisions. You will likely want to invest in the official Game Controller,  priced at £34.99.

I actually like the overall design and UI of Fire TV, it gives you a ton of value if you live in the US or UK. It features a quad-core processor and pumping out 1080p HD video with Dolby Digital Plus surround sound. Gaming, listening to music or watching a movie is a solid experience.

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Harry Potter fans should be enamored with the fact that the upcoming spinoff film “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” is going to be the first film in a new trilogy, with more potential films on the way.

The movies will be directed by veteran filmmaker David Yates, who directed The Order Of The Phoenix, The Half-Blood Prince and the concluding chapters, Deathly Hallows Part One and Part Two.

The “Fantastic Beasts” movies are based on an original story by author J.K. Rowling and was originally released in 2001. The book contains the history of Magizoology and describes 75 magical species found around the world. Newt Scamander, says that he collected most of the information found in the book through observations made over years of travel and across five continents. He notes that the first edition was commissioned in 1918 by Mr Augustus Worme of Obscurus Books. However, it was not published until 1927. It is now in its 52nd edition. First year Hogwarts students are all provided a copy of the book.

If more films are to be made in this universe, it will be totally dependent on JK, who continues to exercise total creative control over the franchise. Release dates are slated for 2016, 2018, 2020 and perhaps beyond.

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