Friday, February 23, 2018

Uber Express Pool Expected to be a Cheaper and More Efficient Ride-Sharing Option



Especially in crowded metropolitan areas like San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles, fewer and fewer people are choosing to drive. Between the cost of gas/maintenance and often the complete inability to find parking anywhere, many would-be drivers opt to use ride-sharing services like Uber or Lyft instead. For those who drive long distances on a daily basis, it still makes more sense to own a car, but for those who don't drive often, ride-sharing is the cheaper alternative. The cheapest variation of ride-sharing is UberPool, which lets multiple riders share an Uber and split the cost. According to an L.A. Times article written by Tracey Lien, an even cheaper and more efficient alternative, called Uber Express Pool, is on its way to LA.

Uber Pool, while great in that it can save a rider a few dollars on a trip and can give the driver the ability to pick up more fares in a shorter time, also has its downsides. One of the biggest complaints about the Uber Pool service is that it isn't a very fast way of getting anywhere. Inherently, when you opt to allow the driver to pick up other riders on the way to your destination, there will be a little bit of time added to your commute. However, because of the way Uber Pool is set up, it ends up being even longer, as the driver is directed to strange circuitous routes that the app calculates to "maximize efficiency," but which actually does the exact opposite. Additionally, for people taking a longer distance Uber Pool, the driver may pick up multiple passengers along the way, and then will have to go out of the way to drop them off before ever reaching the original rider's destination.

Uber Express Pool is expected to retain Uber Pool's upsides (especially its lowered prices) with fewer of its drawbacks. Some have compared Express Pool to a bus service in that it has designated pick-up and drop-off locations along routes created at a rider's request. Riders will have to walk a bit to get to where they're going, but this system avoids the wasted time of giving each rider door-to-door service, which makes each ride more efficient. It also allows riders to have a better approximation as to the time frame of their arrival. If the car isn't going off in random directions to pick up extra fares, then it's pretty easy to figure out how long the ride will take, even with multiple stops in the middle.

A somewhat similar system is already in place on several college campuses and airports, but that's more for ease of use and to ease traffic congestion. At those locations, there are designated pick-up and drop-off locations. By having those locations, the schools and airports don't have drivers constantly blocking up traffic, and drivers and riders are more easily able to find each other. When riders used to be able to request a pick-up anywhere on campus, it was often difficult for drivers to find them, as the routes through many college campuses tend to be difficult to navigate for people not accustomed to them. In all, it seems that the updated Express Pool will be beneficial to both riders and drivers, and is, therefore, a positive addition to Uber's array of services.

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Friday, February 16, 2018

Tech Companies Aim to Get Rid of Alphanumeric Passwords in the Near Future



As technology continuously becomes more advanced, and new innovations incorporate such technology, devices require more in-depth security measures. With the massive influx of "smart" devices, which collect a ton of personal information from their users, people find themselves forced to come up with new passwords all the time. Companies suggest that users choose different passwords for all of their different accounts, but an average user has dozens of different accounts, which makes having different passwords pretty infeasible. According to Hayley Tsukayama's L.A. Times article, that problem may be well on its way to being solved.

Several companies, but especially Microsoft Inc., have been pushing to get rid of passwords once and for all. While they do support the careful protection of online accounts from being targeted by cyber-criminals, research has found that passwords don't accomplish that goal well enough. Many people use the same password or some similar variation of it for all of their accounts because they simply can't remember dozens of different passwords. There is an inherent difficulty in choosing passwords that most would rather avoid: a password must be complex enough that a criminal can't easily figure it out, but should be simple enough that the user will be able to remember it easily.

Apple, Google, and Microsoft have all been making a push in recent years to rely on alternatives to passwords, such as biometric scans or temporary codes sent to the user's mobile device. Those alternatives make the accounts more secure, as a fingerprint scan is harder to hack than an alphanumeric password. At the same time, they make the process much simpler for the user and don't force the user to have to remember and type in a password every time they want to log in. Already, Apple and other smartphone companies have integrated facial recognition and fingerprint scanning in the unlock feature of their phones: a feature that many users love.

The main issue with changing up the security protocols, says Tsukayama, is that people don't like to adjust to a new routine. Even though having to remember a password all the time is annoying, many users (especially older users) are wary about using fingerprint scanning and other biometric markers to log into their accounts. They worry about sharing that kind of very personal information with a company that they don't necessarily trust to keep the data safe (both from criminals and from the criminal justice system). Getting users to make the switch will likely require slow changes, over a long period of time, to educate users while letting them acclimate to the changes.

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Friday, February 9, 2018

Amazon-Whole Foods Partnership to Offer Two-Hour Grocery Delivery



Many people strongly prefer to go to a brick-and-mortar grocery store and pick out their foods themselves. Often, they have preferences on the level of ripeness they're looking for. Others worry that anything picked out by someone else may be dented or bruised or otherwise rendered unusable. On the other hand, there are many shoppers, especially of younger, more tech-savvy generation, who would prefer the efficiency and time-saving of ordering groceries online. Well, according to a recent L.A. Times article, the Amazon-Whole Foods partnership may make that a commonplace reality for the latter demographic.

This year, Amazon is planning to add two-hour Whole Foods grocery deliveries as another benefit for Prime customers. While some Prime customers have already experienced similar benefits through Amazon Fresh, this is different in that Prime customers only have to pay $99 per year versus the $299 per year cost of Amazon Fresh. Additionally, the Whole Foods service delivers within two hours, while Amazon Fresh deliveries often have to be scheduled for the next day. However, the Whole Foods Prime option will likely have a much more limited selection than that offered on Amazon Fresh, so there is a trade-off involved.

Many potential shoppers consider Whole Food's groceries to be of high quality and therefore doubt that they will have any problems with the service, even though they aren't picking out and handling the foods themselves. Others, who have their doubts about smashed cookies or bruised fruit would prefer to shop online, then pick up in the store, thereby saving some time while still ensuring better quality. Currently, about 7% of households in the United States purchase groceries online, with most of those opting to have the groceries shipped. This new deal through Amazon Prime may drive those numbers even higher.

Amazon isn't the only company looking into the only grocery-shopping business. WalMart has developed a system whereby shoppers can order groceries ahead of time and just come into the store to pick them up. Kroger, the company that owns some grocery stores, including Ralph's and Smith's, has offered in-store pickup and is testing out delivery options. Target recently bought grocery-delivery company Shipt, and Whole Foods has even been delivering products through a company called Instacart. Amazon Prime's move is just increasing the prevalence, and will likely lead to a greater number of people ordering groceries from home.

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Friday, February 2, 2018

PayPal- eBay Split Expected to Significantly Benefit Both Companies in the Long Run



PayPal, which is one of the world's largest online payment companies, was created in 1998, had its initial public offering in 2002, and was acquired by eBay later that year. The system can be used to transfer money over the internet without the need for checks or money orders and is mainly associated with online shopping sites, where they are well-known for security and ease-of-use. In 2015, when eBay decided to make PayPal a separate entity once more, it was intended to diversify the company's investments. Now, according to James Peltz's L.A. Times article, eBay is committing deeper to that goal by cutting PayPal free from its position as eBay's primary payments processor.

For years, shoppers on eBay have been forced to use PayPal when checking out, and sellers have had to pay a commission to PayPal on top of the commission they already have to pay to eBay for using their site. eBay's relationship with Adyen, which will begin in 2020, will give customers more payment options to choose from, which will enable people to pick the one that suits them most economically. The massive online retailer also believes that the change to Adyen will create a "more seamless experience" for customers.

PayPal's stock took a dive and eBay's went the opposite direction after the announcement this week. However, analysts believe that PayPal's issues are only for the short-term. Executives have pointed out that the portion of PayPal's business connected to eBay has been steadily shrinking over the years, and that this break-up will have little impact. eBay's business was about 13% of PayPal's total volume last year (down 3% per year for the past few years). However, PayPal doesn't seem to be worried about the loss of volume. They are choosing instead to focus on profitability.

 According to PayPal executives, although the partnership with eBay had led to a large volume of money transferring for the payment company, they made very little per transaction, which didn't make it so profitable. One of PayPal's subsidiaries, Venmo, saw a huge jump in quarterly profits: 59% higher than last year, by some measurements. PayPal has other similar projects in the works that have the potential for profitability, so it seems that the split with eBay may be beneficial to both companies in the end.

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Friday, January 26, 2018

Comcast Replacing Cable Customers With Internet Customers



Especially in recent years, many people have been looking for clever ways to cut some of their higher utilities costs. For some, that means taking shorter showers or keeping the air conditioner off during the hotter months. Many others have found that cable is a pretty substantial monthly expense that they can go without relatively easily. "Cutting the cord," as it's commonly referred to, can save consumers well over $100 per month, depending on the package of channels they had. According to Gerry Smith's L.A. Times article, they opt instead to use their internet connections, paired with streaming services like Netflix or Hulu, to watch their favorite shows.

Comcast Inc. is just one of the many cable providers that have suffered losses to their bottom line due to the cord-cutting frenzy sweeping the nation. However, on the other hand, Comcast has also observed that as much as people are removing cable, they are getting more new customers for their internet plans. This quarter, the number of cable customers dropped yet again, but an additional 350,000 customers bought broadband internet service, which helped to balance out Comcast's profits.

People aren't only getting more into internet because of its ability to replace their cable entertainment. In the modern age, it is incredibly difficult to have a job, attend school, or do pretty much anything else without a reliable internet connection. Everything these days is online, so Comcast and companies like it are naturally going to keep getting new customers and are going to be getting demands from their customers for increased internet speeds. Some of their new features, including personalized home Wi-Fi networks, have led hundreds of thousands of new users to try out their internet connections.

Some cable giants are offering cheaper cable packages with fewer channels, which is attractive to some users. To many others, paying anything for any amount of cable is simply too much, because they can get access to anything they want to watch via the internet. Why pay more for something you can get elsewhere for less? Comcast's profits went up this year due to the influx of internet customers, and they expect to increase their shareholders' dividends by around 20% in 2018, while increasing stock value at the same time.

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Friday, January 19, 2018

Amazon Expects Advertising Revenue to Improve Profit Margin



Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon Inc., recently took over the spot of "richest man in the world" from Bill Gates, the creator of Microsoft. To many, Bezos' wealth doesn't make much sense, because, for the past 20 years, Amazon has not brought in a profit. That may seem pretty cut and dry: profit means financial success. However, for Bezos, that's not exactly how it works. For many years, Bezos' financial strategy has been to choose business growth over profit, reinvesting any revenue into expanding Amazon. In that manner, Amazon's stock value has steadily gone up, even without paying any dividends to shareholders. According to an L.A. Times article by Spencer Soper and Mark Bergen, Amazon's latest shift, to focus on sources of advertising revenue, could help to push the company into profit territory.

Over the past few years, Amazon has been losing money in its e-commerce business but has been able to recoup those losses due to its profitable business of providing cloud services. However, the differences between gains and losses are tight: Amazon's average profit is only around 1%. Up until now, Amazon's advertising business has been pretty small, at $1.7 billion in revenue compared with Google's $35 or Facebook's $17.4 billion. Amazon has nowhere to go but up when it comes to advertising. It is likely that the growth will be among companies trying to get priority placement for their products on Amazon's website. That kind of business plan pivot is unlikely to have high costs and has huge potential for billions more in revenue.

Amazon is in a good place for advertisements. Often, on Google or Facebook, an advertisement appears that tries to push a user toward another site, where the user might purchase the product being advertised. The problem with that system is that users get annoyed by incessant advertisements when they aren't looking to buy anything. The difference for Amazon is that its users are already looking to buy something. Advertisements would be both helpful to the shopper, would benefit the advertiser, and would give Amazon more revenue. Everyone wins!

Food companies spend millions each year to put advertisements on television and in magazines to try to generate more interest in their products among potential customers. The same effect can be achieved on Amazon's website for far lower cost, with less work, simply by adding in suggested searches or sponsored search results. Of course, putting actual images and videos as advertisements can also help, but if someone is looking to buy a product, they're going to choose the one that seems to be at the best price. Through Amazon advertisements, companies can make their products more interesting to the average user. Perhaps one day, Amazon's advertisements could replace those on television entirely. Amazon does have its own video streaming capabilities, after all.

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Friday, January 12, 2018

Verizon and AT&T Both Plan to Introduce 5G Internet This Year



It's only been about 20 years since cell phones started to become popular among the common person. At around the same time, the internet became a commodity many people had in their homes. Yet, even though the history of both technologies is so recent, you would be hard-pressed to walk down any street in this day and age and not see someone surfing the internet from their cell phone. Smartphones have pervaded our society, providing entertainment, convenience, and connectivity to pretty much everyone around the country. According to David Lazarus's L.A. Times article, the newest update, 5G wireless, is coming soon.

In Las Vegas this week, there was a huge tech show called CES (which used to stand for Consumer Electronics Show). Many new electronic devices were debuted to the public for the first time. From fitness wearables to computers, tablets, and smartphones, the latest in tech was there for visitors to check out. One of the main innovations that is drawing major interest is that of the newest level of high-speed wireless internet: 5G. Both AT&T and Verizon Wireless, two of the top mobile phone providers in the world, have announced that they will be making 5G mobile internet available in several major cities, including Sacramento, before the end of the year.

For people who download or stream a lot of material on their phone, 5G seems like it will be exactly what they need. The 5G connections are expected to be much faster than the current standard 4G ones, and the connections will be far more reliable and less prone to lag. On the other hand, there are also some downsides to the faster connection. It is probable that the 5G connectivity will require that the user purchase a new phone, one that is designed specifically to use 5G. Additionally, the monthly cell phone bill will probably be significantly higher, and analysts believe that most average users won't need so much speed anyway.

Currently, mainly users who play a lot of high-bandwidth games or those who download large, high-definition movie would benefit the most from a 5G connection, but technologists expect that developers will rise to the occasion. Once 5G becomes commonplace, 4K video streaming, driverless vehicles, and immersive virtual reality are likely to follow quickly. 5G could unlock untold innovations of the future. Unfortunately, that path is likely to be expensive. Economic analysts expect the development of 5G to cost hundreds of billions of dollars, and those costs will be pushed onto the consumer with higher cell phone plan costs, but to many, the better internet connection is well worth a higher bill each month.

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