Friday, October 30, 2015

New Glass Technology Creates Thinner, More Durable Screens

Millions of people in the United States and around the world own smartphones, devices that can cost as much as $800. A huge fear among such individuals is that they will drop or otherwise break their phone, especially its most fragile component: the screen. Dozens of iPhone and Android users break their screens every day, to the extent that there are stores that have been opened specifically to repair smartphone screens and make other repairs. According to Tracey Lien's article, in the L.A. Times, a company called Corning Inc. has a way to make broken screens a thing of the past.

Where windows, soda bottles, and automobile windshields are made of various types of thick glass such as the common soda lime, Corning Inc. has been working on thinner, more durable alternatives for the past several years. Two of Corning's current projects, Willow Glass and Gorilla Glass, are far less breakable than classical glass, and can be made as thin as 0.1 millimeter, In a demonstration, Waguih Ishak, one of Corning's Research Center Directors, showed how a piece of normal glass could be cracked pretty easily whereas even when he exerted his full force on a piece of Willow Glass, he couldn't even leave a scratch.

Glass is formed by the superheating of sand, found mainly on coastlines where it has been created by the erosion of ocean waves on rocks. Glass has been made for thousands of years, and some archeological evidence even shows that ancient Mesopotamian civilizations had found a way to make a form of glass. Corning Inc., however, has advanced so much further than the primitive and brittle glass made accidentally as a byproduct of metalworking. Their products are so thin and flexible that they are able to be rolled up for shipping. Razor-thin willow glass can be shipped in rolls around the world for use in smartphones, televisions, and, one day, maybe even space shuttles.

As Ishak states, while plastic can become yellow and deteriorate, glass won't deteriorate. Furthermore, plastic is far more permeable than glass, meaning that a water can pass through a plastic screen on an electronic device in mere hours where it would take billions of years to pass through glass. So, it seems that Corning's creations really are breakthroughs in the field. A substance that is impermeable to water, can bend without breaking, doesn't deteriorate with age, and is crack and scratch-resistant seems almost too good to be true.

Lien's interview with Ishak provides us with a lot of information on their process while still keeping Corning's trade secrets. For the past few decades, the process involved superheating sand and other materials, then letting it slide down the side of a trough, allowing gravity to form the fused liquid into solid sheets of Willow Glass. Once the sheets are formed, a secret blend of chemicals are used to protect the glass against cracks and scratches. Recently, Corning came up with a method that involves using a roller to make the glass sheet even thinner than what gravity can do, enabling the glass to reach a minimum 0.05-millimeter thickness.

According to Ishak, however, 0.05 millimeter is by no means the thinnest they could make with future advancements in technology. The thinner they can make the glass, the more room there is for a bigger battery, which will extend usage time. Ishak dreams of the day in the not-so-distant future when the the technology inside the device catches up with the glass and allows designers to make smartphones that can fold or tablets that can be rolled up like a piece of paper. Ishak admits that this technology is not around yet, but is certain that when the electronics are ready, Corning Inc. will be on the team, bringing the world the newest technologies of the future. Even so, more durable and longer-lasting electronics are nothing to scoff at, and Corning certainly seems on its way to great things.

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Friday, October 23, 2015

Google to Offer New "YouTube Red" Subscription-Based System

Where YouTube once made all of its income through advertisement sales, the Google-owned company is planning to make a big change. Starting next week, YouTube will be providing an option for viewers to pay $9.99 per month to be a part of a service called YouTube Red. As described by Saba Hamedy and Paresh Dave, in their L.A. Times article, this service will not only remove advertisements from most videos, thereby enhancing the viewer's enjoyment, but will also provide the ability to download content and stream music from Google Play.

YouTube, which first opened in 2005, grew in popularity very quickly and as purchased by Google a year later. Since then, while videos on YouTube get millions of views per month, Google has found that the well-known site is not quite the money-maker it might have been expected to be. Analysts believe that this is because YouTube is free, in general. Artists, musicians, instructors, and entertainers can upload videos for free, and people around the world can watch, like, and comment those videos for free. Only videos with advertisements provide any sort of income to YouTube and the maker of the video.

Now, with YouTube Red, Google's parent company, Alphabet Inc., expects to make far more money from the site without increasing advertisements or drastically changing its currently free setup. Analysts YouTube Red has great potential to become hugely profitable, but only if YouTube finds a way to overcome competition by Facebook, Vimeo, and Snapchat, among several other competitors.

Furthermore, will it really be worth it to viewers? Is the removal of ads, even on top of the addition of all kinds of new content by such YouTubers as The Fine Bros, Lilly Singh, and Pewdiepie, really worth the $10 per month that it will cost. YouTube tends to be targeted more toward teenagers and younger Millennials, so that would also mean that subscription to YouTube Red would probably fall under the jurisdiction of viewers' parents, who may not be willing to spend money on that which used to be free.

Much of the new content will be produced by well-known YouTube stars, who, unlike so-called "traditional actors," tend to come up with the content in their own videos. Many such stars started out with comedy or singing shows, filmed in their bedroom, and since have accrued hundreds of thousands of subscribers. It is these individuals that YouTube Red is going to use to try to pique the interest of potential viewers.

Market research company EMarketer believes that the growth of YouTube's ad revenue will slow over the coming years, which would make now the perfect time for the company to move away from advertisements and toward other forms of income. Many wonder, however, how this new system will affect the YouTube stars, some of whom are making a comfortable living off of payments from advertising sponsors. Will they be willing to give up that security to be a part of this new project? Hamedy and Dave seem to conclude that with YouTube Red, the stars will have more opportunities to create newer and better content that previously would have been cost prohibitive. YouTube executives believe that the stars will see the project's potential and will happily sign on to be a part of this new system.

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Friday, October 16, 2015

Young Adults: Halloween's Growing Demographic

While Halloween was once considered to be mainly for children, statistics show that it has become a major consumer holiday, celebrated by plenty of Millenials and young adults. In fact, it is expected that this year, American will spend approximately $6.9 billion on Halloween and everything it entails. James Peltz, in his L.A. Times article, discusses how spending on such festivities has increased drastically over the years.

It is expected that over 157 million Americans will be participating in the festivities this year. Whether that includes purchasing candy to pass out to trick-or-treaters, or carving a pumpkin and wearing a costume, consumers will be spending a lot of money on their night of fun. The average price per consumer will be around $74, dramatically up from the $48 they spent a decade ago.

Spending, while high on Halloween, is still nowhere near the level during holidays like Christmas, Thanksgiving, Mother's Day, etc. However, for some businesses like costume shops and amusement parks, Halloween provides a significant portion of their yearly revenue. Most of the pumpkins grown in California are used for Halloween, thereby providing a reliable source of income for farmers in the San Joaquin Valley.

Some costume stores like Party City and Spirit Halloween open specific stores only for the six weeks preceding the holiday, thereby getting the most bang for their buck. Even though Party City has year-round stores, Halloween is their biggest season, bringing in about 25% of their annual sales. Even "Knott's Scary Farm" and Six Flags' "Fright Fest" have been known to encompass 15% of the total number of visitors to each amusement park in a given year. American consumers spend over $2 billion in candy alone per year. Generally, Halloween has become very profitable for an array of different kinds of businesses.

Even while consumers reuse decorations and costumes purchased in past years, they can't avoid spending on perishable items like food, candy, and fresh pumpkins, Research has even found that as involvement in social media has grown, so too have holiday-related costs. People share costume ideas via Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter, alerting friends to sales at certain stores. Even more so, young adults, especially Millennials, tend to participate as a group, purchasing matching costumes and attending themed parties, all of which can be shared around the world by social media.

Peltz sees that nationwide spending on the festivities has doubled in the past 10 years. He believes that it is quite likely due to the technological era in which we live. As new devices and new movies/television shows enter our world, we have so much more to use in the celebration. Sure, kids are still participating in the holiday, but Peltz shows that Millennials make up the largest proportion of participants, and he believes that this trend will continue to hold true for many years to come.

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Friday, October 9, 2015

Disney Prices Soar Due to High Demand

Back in 1955, when Disneyland first opened its gates, the one-day admission price for an adult was $3.50. After inflation adjustment, that price would be about $31 today. While that admission price included only 8 ride tickets, extra tickets could be purchased for 35 cents each. To put that in perspective, If a visitor to the park wanted to go on every single one of Disneyland's original 38 rides, it would have cost about $65 in today's money, a stark contrast to the current admission price of $99. In his article, Michael Hiltzik of the L.A. Times investigates some of the reasons why Disney's prices have so greatly outpaced inflation.

Most recently was an increase in the price of Disneyland's unrestricted annual pass, from $779 to $1049. This nearly 35% increase has even the most loyal customers accusing Disney executives of greed, especially since very few new attractions have been added to the park which might help make visitors consider the raised price worthwhile. According to Hiltzik, however, the decision to raise prices is probably not greed-based. Hiltzik believes that Disney's reasons are far more logistic than economical.

Even though Disney's average price of $99 for admission may seem high, especially when measured against the inflation rate, Disneyland still has thousands of visitors per day, from Southern California as well as the rest of the country and the world. Unfortunately, since Disneyland is a park on a limited plot of land, they have a maximum number of guests they can accept at any given time. Sometimes, especially during summer and the holiday season, when people have time off of work and school, Disney has had to close its gates and turn away potential customers simply because it was at maximum capacity.

Hiltzik thinks that this may be why Disney is continuously raising prices to seemingly outrageous levels. Since the $99 cost doesn't seem to be enough to reduce demand, Disney may be raising prices in the hope that people will have to save up money longer and therefore not come to the park as often. While it is not Disney's intention to force customers away, when the park can only house a certain number of people without causing a fire hazard, it needs to find some way to reduce the demand while still maintaining income.

This demand-controlling measure, while upsetting many customers, is not likely to reduce demand as much as some might think, says Hiltzik. While Southern Californians, one of Disneyland's target demographics, may reduce their visits, analysts expect that tourists and other visitors will still bring in enough for Disney to make the same amount of money, if not more, than before while also preventing overcrowding. It's a win-win situation for Disney and for those who can afford the higher prices. As the prices go up, the amusement park will have fewer people, thus enabling visitors to be able to go on more rides and see more attractions without waiting in long lines.

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