The Best Smartwatches for Android – January 2018

The first Huawei Watch was a homerun by most standards. Despite the brand lacking a sense of clout in the United States, the watch took what worked from watches like the Moto 360 and improved on both the design and the featureset. With a fully round display (without the flat-tire design that plagued Motorola’s series of watches) and a gorgeous design that made plenty of Android Wear users upgrade to the device. When it came time to refresh the watch, Huawei followed Samsung’s lead, splitting their watch into two distinct categories. The first, the Huawei Watch 2 Sport, is perfect for anyone looking for a great fitness watch—we’ll discuss that more below—but it’s the Huawei Watch 2 Classic that takes after its older brother. With a great design, a gorgeous AMOLED circular display, and incredible battery life, the Watch 2 Classic is the way to go if you’re looking for a fashion-focused watch that can do it all.

Outside of cellular connectivity, which is offered in the Watch 2 Sport but not this model, the Classic has nearly everything you could ever want in a smartwatch for Android devices. With support for NFC and built-in GPS, it’s easy to use the Huawei Watch 2 in pretty much any scenario, including for tracking your runs and for paying for groceries with the Android Pay app through Android Wear 2.0. The device features Bluetooth support as well, which allows for a pair of Bluetooth earbuds to be connected to the device in order to properly allow for listening to music playback while on the go. With 4GB of storage and an included 10 week subscription to Google Play Music, you can easily store both local and streaming music to the device for playback without your phone’s connection, making it ideal for anyone looking to run or exercise with the app.

Of course, this is a fashion-focused watch, so while it’s great that it can do all of the fitness things one would look for in a smartwatch, it’s also perfectly designed to fit into any number of outfits or styles you might find. This is a big watch, measuring in at 45mm compared to the smaller 38mm and 42mm sizes of the Apple Watch, which means you’re looking at a large device taking up much of your wrist. This, unfortunately, may make it difficult for those with smaller wrists to wear comfortably, though you can take some pride in the fact that larger watches are indeed in vogue right now. Compared to larger watches like the 2015 Moto 360, the watch still manages to come out larger, thanks to the chronometer bezel around the device that, unfortunately, is the only portion of the design we don’t much care for. Still, the titanium-colored metal and leather bands (available in brown and, in our opinion, a much better-looking black) wrapped around the device feel great, and the rubber underside of the leather band helps make it viable for exercise and fashion equally. It’s a great, versatile watch that can be used for basically any activity.

In terms of software, Android Wear 2.0 is a bit of a mixed bag. After being delayed for months, the update rolled out earlier in 2017, and while the platform still has its fair share of fans, we’d argue there’s a lot wrong with the operating system that Google has left unfixed between devices. The addition of features like Android Pay or Google Assistant are nice, but the whole ecosystem feels like a mess, and browsing for apps on the watch display still feels a bit rough. There are improvements here though, with everything from new watchfaces to improved gestures making the watch a little easier to browse, but these aspects come at the price of complicated notifications that occasionally don’t work well (for example, bundling is completely removed here, which is disappointing considering that’s one of the main draws when it comes to Android’s own standard operating system. Overall, Android Wear 2.0 is a better version than the original operating system, but it’s still seems unfocused overall. It’s certainly usable for sending texts, checking the weather, or tracking your activity, but you should adjust your expectations accordingly.

Overall, the Huawei Watch 2 Classic is the best Android Wear device on the market today, and the best smartwatch that can sync with your Android device. The flexibility offered by the device, from its classy leather-and-metal appearance to the rubber underside of its band that allows for the watch to be used without ruining the leather with your sweat, makes it the ideal crossover device. At $369, the Watch 2 Classic doesn’t come cheap. For anyone looking to experiment with smartwatches without dropping nearly $400, you’ll want to look elsewhere on this list. That said, the device occasionally goes on sale for up to $150 off, and the original Huawei Watch can be found for around $200 on eBay. The Sport version of the Huawei Watch 2 didn’t quite earn the critical acclaim we originally saw with the first Watch, but the Watch 2 Classic more than makes up for it, and manages to score our top recommendation.

Pros

  • Solid design
  • Android Wear 2.0
  • Leather/rubber combination

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Minor software bugs
  • May not fit small wrists

How To Fix Sound Problems with Chromecast

How to Turn Off Chromecast

Google’s Chromecast is one of our favorite ways to watch movies, TV shows, and other content straight from your phone, tablet, or laptop. Instead of having to fuss around with a remote and an interface on your television, Chromecast allows you to beam content directly from your device through the web from nearly any Android (and some iOS) application, including Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and Google Play Movies. Since everything you play is straight from your phone, you don’t have to worry about dealing with menu systems and other services that are difficult to navigate. And with the current generation Chromecast devices only costing $35, it’s one of the cheapest ways to get into streaming videos and music on your devices.

If you recently picked up a Chromecast but are having difficulties hearing any sort of sound from your television while watching or listening to your favorite shows and movies, it can be a frustrating experience. Sure, the Guardians are saving the galaxy all over again on your display, but what’s the point if you can’t hear the killer soundtrack as they crack jokes and defeat evil. Don’t stress too much, though—fixing sound problems through your Chromecast isn’t as difficult as you might think it is. All we have to do is pinpoint the problem causing an error in sound playback, and we’ll be back to your movie night in no time.

Checking Your Television’s Settings

Let’s start with some basic sound solutions to kick things off. Technology is often buggy and imperfect, and this includes when you’re using a device as simple as a Chromecast. Ensure the sound issue isn’t coming from your television by checking your volume level and testing a different device for sound output (such as a game console or a cable box). Also make sure to check the settings of your television to make sure your speakers are enabled, and that your audio output is set to “fixed.” Most modern televisions have a built-in option to disable the television speakers in order to use a home theater or surround sound system. You can also try turning off and unplugging your television for a few minutes, as well as factory resetting your television inside the settings menu of your monitor. Finally, if you’re using a stereo system to power the audio side of your home theater, ensure that your audio system isn’t malfunctioning.

Once you’ve checked your television, try switching your Chromecast to a different HDMI port on your television. Your Chromecast is also powered by a microUSB cable, and so to ensure your Chromecast device is receiving enough power, make sure it’s plugged into a fully-functioning USB port. Some televisions have a “service” USB port built into them; this won’t work on your Chromecast. If you’re unsure whether the USB port on your television is supplying your Chromecast with enough power, you can switch to using an AC adapter. The 4K-supported Chromecast Ultra, meanwhile, uses a dedicated AC adapter, which means you might want to try a different outlet.

Troubleshooting Your Chromecast

After you’ve ensured your device is being supplied with enough power to function correctly, you can also try to restart your device to ensure that it’s functioning properly. To do this, open (or install) the Google Home application on your device, tap the Devices button in the top-right corner of your display to view your currently-available Chromecast devices on your network. Select your device, tap the triple-dotted menu button in the top-right corner, and select Settings. Tap the “More” button to view additional settings, and tap on “Reboot.” This will begin the reboot process for your Chromecast, which should fix any issues with both visuals and sound. Alternatively, you can simply unplug the device from its power source, forcing a reset.

 

If sound is still an issue from your device, make sure that the volume on your phone is turned up for Chromecast. Though you can control the volume of your Chromecast streams with your standard volume control on your remote, Google also allows you to change the volume of the Chromecast device by using the volume buttons on your phone. Just make sure that you have some kind of content playing from your phone or tablet on your Chromecast, and use the volume rocker on your device to increase the volume as you normally would.

Alternatively, try to stop the stream from your phone or device to the Chromecast and restart the stream. If the sound problem is spawning from the application, restarting the stream will force Chromecast to reload the URL from which it’s accessing the video or audio feed. You can also try force closing the application on your device to see if the problem is coming from the app itself, instead of the Chromecast device. Finally, if you’re streaming from Chrome on your Chromebook or other computer, you can use the built in Chromecast extension to ensure audio is optimized for sound. Tap on the extension in Chrome, select your Chromecast device, and select “Cast this tab (optimize for audio).”

Finally, you may want to attempt to factory reset your device. We have a full article on all the methods for this here, including how to factory reset the device without it being connected to your home network, but the main method for resetting the device uses the Google Home app we already discussed. To reset your device using the app on your phone, tap on the Device icon inside the app and select the Chromecast device in your app. After selecting your device’s settings menu, you’ll want to click on the triple-dotted icon inside the settings to select the factory reset option. Google Home will prompt you to ensure that you want to reset your device; once you confirm your selection, you’ll be able to completely reset your device with preferences to test the audio again.

If you’re still experiencing problems with your Chromecast after you’ve tested these solutions, and you’ve ensured it isn’t another piece of A/V equipment in your setup, the next-best step is to contact Google for a warranty replacement.

Fixing Chromecast Audio Devices

We should also mention some Chromecast Audio-specific tips for fixing your audio streams. The Chromecast Audio is less popular than its older, video-friendly brother, but it’s no less an interesting device and can be great for those who have excellent sound systems and are looking for something that functions better than Bluetooth ever could. Having audio issues on a device made specifically for audio can be a real pain, even more so than the traditional Chromecast device, but you aren’t out of luck if your Chromecast Audio device is giving you a headache. In addition to most of the tips above, here’s a few Chromecast Audio-specific tips you may want to consider with your device.

First, we need to dive back into the settings menu of your device in Google Home. Open up your Chromecast Audio settings as described in our previous section and find the Sounds section. Unlike a traditional Chromecast device, the Chromecast Audio provides you with a new, never-before-seen setting here: full dynamic range. If you’re unsure about whether or not you want to enable this setting, you should leave it off. Full dynamic range is designed for premium audio hardware, like HiFi audio systems and AV receivers. If you’re trying to pump sound through a $30 pair of computer speakers from Amazon, this setting can actually cause distortion and improper volume increases on your device, and therefore, you should leave it off. If you’re having difficulty listening to your music, ensure this setting is disabled.

If you’re still having issues with sound on your Chromecast Audio, you’ll also want to ensure there’s no problem with the 3.5mm cable used by the device. Unlike on typical Chromecasts, the Chromecast Audio uses a modular, analog 3.5mm jack and cable that can be damaged, but also can be replaced. Ensure the cable is pushed into both your receiver or speaker and the Chromecast Audio unit, and also try testing the unit with a different aux cable. If you can’t get any sound out of the device, you may need to consider replacing the unit, as the 3.5mm jack may be dead or damaged.

***

Like most technology, Google’s Chromecast has its faults, including occasional hiccups and glitches when attempting to stream media. Since your Chromecast device is simply loading a URL onto your television to playback your favorite Netflix shows, it’s no surprise that problems can occur from time to time, and there’s nothing quite as infuriating as the sound on your entertainment cutting out. Typically, this issue can be fixed simply by turning your television off and on, or by switching the USB port powering your Chromecast, but of course, these problems can often have all sorts of causes and fixes, so keep trying our solutions above until you’ve solved the problem. You can do a lot with your Chromecast once you get it working properly, so let us know which fixes worked for you in the comments below.

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A dark mode for YouTube’s mobile app is spotted in the wild


Last spring, YouTube rolled out a massive update to its desktop site that included a redesign, faster underlying framework, and the addition of a dark mode. Now, that dark theme may be making its way to the YouTube mobile app, as well.

The change was recently spotted by MacRumors (by way of Reddit), and is already appearing for some users of the most recent version (13.0.1) of the YouTube mobile app.

It’s not clear at this point which YouTube users have already received the dark mode option, though a number of commenters on the original Reddit posting chimed in to say that they’ve just received the new setting, too, along with the original poster.

If available, you’d find the option to turn on dark mode – called “Dark Theme” – in the YouTube app’s Settings screen, just above the Restricted Mode setting.

One Redditor claimed they were able to force the Dark Theme to appear by force-closing the app, then relaunching it. However, it could have been a coincidence that the setting appeared after they took that step – it didn’t work in our tests, we should note.

Another said they didn’t receive the option in Settings, but were rather prompted to try the dark mode via a pop up message that appeared.

Dark Theme screenshot, via Reddit user OustedHoChiMinh

While a relatively minor tweak, a dark mode has been among the top requests from YouTube users for a variety of reasons, beyond it just looking cool. When staring at a screen for long periods of time, dark mode can be easier on the eyes, for starters, and it allows users to better focus on the content itself, not the various controls and other navigational elements. Some tests have also shown dark modes to save on battery life. That’s useful, given that over half of YouTube’s views come from mobile, and users are spending more than an hour per day watching videos on mobile devices.

At the time YouTube originally launched the Dark Theme on desktop, the company wouldn’t confirm if it would port the theme to other devices, including mobile. Instead, YouTube said that it would track usage of the Dark Theme to see if the feature was widely adopted before determining if it made sense to roll out further.

Even if the Dark Theme on mobile is just a test at this time, it does at least indicate that YouTube saw enough traction on desktop to warrant trialing the option on mobile.

If YouTube were to launch a dark mode on mobile, it wouldn’t be the only app do so. Twitter also has a dark mode available, as do other apps like podcast player Overcast, Reddit client Apollo, and Twitter client Twitterific.

YouTube hasn’t yet responded to requests for comment on the appearance of Dark Theme, but we’ll update if we hear back.

Featured Image: nevodka/iStock Editorial

How To Factory Reset Your Google Chromecast

There are few gadget categories hotter than the streaming set top box. It seems there’s an endless amount of options available for anyone looking to stream their favorite television shows, movies, music, and more to their television and home theater setup. Roku, Google, Amazon, and Apple TV have all contributed to the market with more than a dozen options for streaming between the companies, flooding living rooms everywhere with options to watch Netflix or Hulu in the comfort of their own homes. Everyone has their own favorite ecosystem and interface, but for our money, you simply can’t beat Google’s Chromecast platform, thanks to its affordable price for both 1080p and 4K content ($35 and $69, respectively), and the simplicity of streaming content straight from your phone, tablet, or computer. The Chromecast has seen several iterations since it first launched in 2013, from new 2nd generation models to devices that focus solely on audio. One thing’s for sure: it’s hard to go wrong with Chromecast, whether you’re looking to listen to your favorite album, stream a film on Netflix, or catch up on your favorite television shows.

Of course, Chromecast’s simple interface also means it can occasionally be difficult to troubleshoot if you’re having difficulties with a certain feature. If your Chromecast refuses to connect to the internet, or you’re unable to stream content to your device using your mobile device, it can be a real pain to try to solve an issue without any sort of settings menu or troubleshooting guide. Though there are plenty of traditional ways to solve these problems, from restarting the device to checking your network compatibility, sometimes your device needs to be properly reset to its factory settings in order to flush out any problems or bugs you’re running into at any give time. Despite the lack of visual interface with your Chromecast device, it’s easy to factory reset any of the Chromecast lineup quickly and easily. Let’s take a look at each possibility.

Using the Google Home App

The Google Home app (previously known as Google Cast) is a brilliant, must-have utility for any Chromecast or Google Home owner. It allows you to adjust the settings on your device properly change what’s streaming at any given time, pause or resume playback at will, discover tools and new ways to control your device, and even browse new content that might be of interest to you. It all works surprisingly well, but the Google Home app also serves a second purpose. Since your Chromecast’s visual interface is basically limited to a wallpaper backdrop with nothing else to show, the Google Home app on both iOS and Android (pictured) is a must-have for changing how your device works. It’s also the easiest and fastest way to reset your device right from the mobile app. Let’s take a look.

You’ve probably used the Google Home app at some point to setup your Chromecast, even if you don’t use it on a regular basis. The basic design of the app is pretty easy to browse through, with a minimal, material design-styled interface and a focus on using cards to show information. To head into your Chromecast settings, however, you’ll need to tap on the menu icon in the top-left corner. There are some minor differences in design between the iOS and Android versions of the app, but for the most part, you’ll be able to follow these exact instructions on the platform of your choice.

Inside the sliding menu to the left of the app, tap on Devices. You’ll be able to see a list of every device on your network connected with the Google Home app. Find your Chromecast based on the name you gave the device during setup, and tap on the triple-dotted icon in the top right corner of the card. From this display, tap on the Settings option.

There’s a whole list of options you can use to adjust your device, but thankfully, we won’t need to scroll through them at all. At the top of the list, you’ll see another menu button in the top-right corner of your display. Tapping on this icon will display four hidden options for your Chromecast or Chromecast Audio: Help and Feedback, Reboot, Factory Reset, and Open Source Licenses. If you were trying to fix a problem with your Chromecast, it’s worth attempting to restart your device before you completely wipe it. However, if you have already tried to restart your device, or you’re looking to sell your Chromecast and need to restore it to its factory default settings, tap on the Factory Reset option. You’ll receive a prompt on your device asking if you’re sure you wish to reset your Chromecast. To continue with the process, select Yes. Your Chromecast device will begin to reset itself to factory default settings, and you can either set up the device as new or power it down to sell it without including your personal data.

Using Your Computer and Chrome

Though Google offers its Google Home application on both iOS, you’ll be hard-pressed to find it anywhere on your PC or Mac. However, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to change your streaming settings from your computer. If you mostly use Chromecast as a way to control your television from your laptop or Chromebook, and you don’t have a phone or tablet to install the Google Home application on, you can still use the desktop version of Chrome on your PC and your local Chromecast network to factory reset your device. Here’s how to do it.

Google’s forums seem to point users to the Google Home application for all support issues with Chromecast, but there’s a hidden menu inside of Chrome that makes it easy to take advantage of your Chromecast device. You won’t have the same breadth of options as you do through the Google Home app on your phone, but you can use this hidden network to factory reset your Chromecast. You’ll need to be using Chrome as your browser for this to work; using Firefox or Edge will fail to open the hidden Chrome menu. If you’ve ever had to adjust your router settings and have typed in a local IP address to configure your device, you’ll be familiar with the instructions listed below.

Start by copying and pasting (or typing) the following URL into a new tab in Chrome:

chrome://cast/#devices

This URL tells your device to go into the Chrome menu of your browser (instead of the internet, which is typically designated by “http://”), and to enter the Cast menu. The tab display will show “Google Cast,” and you’ll be able to view your Cast devices on your network, along with anything currently playing at the moment. In the corner of the Chromecast option, you’ll see a small Settings icon. Click or tap on it to load the settings for your device.

Here, you’ll be able to see a fairly-rudimentary menu for your Chromecast device. This menu allows us to change most of the settings you can access directly on the Google Home app, but straight from your PC. You can view the name of your device, the wireless network your device is running on, your time zone and language settings, MAC and IP addresses, firmware versions, and finally, several options that allow you to command the Chromecast device over your network. In the lower-left hand corner of your display, you’ll see options to Reboot, Factory Reset, Show Open Source Licenses, and Show Other Licenses. Click or tap on the Factory Reset option, then accept the prompt to confirm your selection (if one appears). Your device will begin to factory reset, signing you out of your Google account synced with the device and forgetting your preferences and saved networks.

When the factory reset process is over, you can continue through your settings to set up as a new device on your network, or you can unplug the device from its power source to sell or disable. Don’t unplug the device from its power source until the factory reset is complete.

Factory Resetting Your Device Without a Network

Both of the above solutions are great if your device is able to connect to your network in order to receive the command to reset itself. But unfortunately, if the problem with your device spawned from an inability to connect to the internet, you’ll need to find a different way to factory reset your device without using the network. Thankfully, as with most electronic devices that lack visual interfaces, there is a hardware method to reset your device without having to be on the internet at all.

Head behind your television or your stereo speakers—wherever you keep your device plugged in. You’ll need to make sure the Chromecast is receiving power; unfortunately, there’s simply no way to reset the device unless it’s powered and turned on. Unplug the device from your television or your stereo speakers (if necessary) and hold the device in your hand, but ensure that the light is still on and that your device is still receiving power. Look for a small button on the device. All four models of the Chromecast, from the first-gen Chromecast to the second-gen Chromecast and Chromecast Ultra, and even on the Chromecast Audio. Once you find the button, press and hold it on your Chromecast model.

Google Chromecast

On first-gen Chromecast devices (identifiably by the stick model with “Chrome” written in text on the device), you’ll need to hold the power button down for a full 25 seconds. The white LED on your device will switch from its typical solid display to a blinking white light. If you left the device plugged into your television, you’ll see your display go blank. The reboot sequence will begin, and you’ll have a fresh, fully-restored Chromecast to setup and play with.

On second-gen Chromecast and Chromecast Ultra devices, the method is similar but not exact. You’ll need to hold the power button down on these devices as well, but instead of holding the button for a full 25 seconds, you’ll simply have to wait for the LED to turn orange and start blinking. Keep holding the power button until the light turns white again. Once that happens, you can let go of the button, and your Chromecast will begin the reboot sequence. This same method applies to the Chromecast Audio, which features a similar design to the basic second-gen Chromecast.

***

To some, the lack of an actual interface on your Chromecast device may seem like a missing feature, or a drawback to using the device day to day. But thanks to the utility of your smartphone or tablet and your PC, it’s easy to control all your settings and preferences right from the device in your hand, negating the need for a physical remote. Most of the time, this acts as an awesome feature, as your phone automatically connects to your Chromecast device without the need for any kind of additional effort on the user’s part. Of course, it becomes a problem when your device begins to fail to properly playback content from your phone, or when your Chromecast can no longer connect to the internet.

Thankfully, with three major ways to factory reset your device—including the ability to reset the device using a physical button as opposed to controlling it over the network—you’re never out of luck when it comes to fixing potential problems with the device. For most recurring issues that spawn from your Chromecast device, a quick reset should solve any issues with streaming and casting content. If you’re still having problems with your device after a full reset, you may want to contact Google for additional support or a replacement device.

Everyone hates us, and it’s not because of our sex parties


It was, briefly, the zeitgeist’s perfect Silicon Valley story: a sex-and-drugs party hosted hosted by since-ousted top-tier VC Steve Jurvetson, at an official Draper Fisher Jurvetson event,attended by multiple billionaires including Elon Musk. So said Paul Biggar, founder of CircleCI, in a widely read Medium post, expanding on Vanity Fair’s excerpt of Emily Chang’s new book.

(To be clear, it was Axios who subsequently named Jurvetson and DFJ.)

Is that actually what happened? Did a major Valley VC firm host a decadent sex-and-MDMA party as part of one of its official events smack in the midst of last year’s widespread sexual-harassment revelations? Uhhhhhh. Well. As it turns out, not so much. Biggar notes that he didn’t actually see anything outrageous or salacious happening by the time he left, and, it seems others have vouched that, afterwards … such things continued to not happen:

In fairness to Chang, she was writing about secret Valley sex parties in general, mentioned in passing that “while some parties may be devoted primarily to drugs and sexual activity, others may boast just pockets of it,” and cited this particular event — and a woman there being given drugs by one man, and then hit on by another in an inappropriate and exploitative way — as an example.

So what happened at that party? It sounds like the answer is “at least two instances of shitty behavior which are basically, infuriatingly, pretty typical examples of how the tech industry treats women.” But it also sounds like it was basically a fairly tame, if themed and Burning-Man-ish, event which some culturally conservative people saw and immediately misinterpreted as a sex party.

Which is exactly why I call it the perfect Silicon Valley story: everyone is looking for lightning-rod reasons to hate the Valley right now. The sex-party narrative is like a Rorschach excuse. Right-wingers can condemn it as an example of tech’s corrupt, decadent liberalism. Leftists can excoriate it as an instance of tech’s bone-deep sexism and exploitative hegemony of privileged white men.

This is just one especially vivid example. Slings and arrows from across the political spectrum are being aimed at tech. Liberals point out that it has treated women abominably for decades, while Asians face a “bamboo ceiling” and other nonwhite people are all but excluded; they blame Facebook for the election, Twitter for allowing Donald Trump and neo-nazis to run rampant, Amazon and Google for avoiding taxes, etc.

Conservatives, meanwhile, accuse tech of a lack of “viewpoint diversity” — which bespeaks a bizarre miscomprehension that their belief systems are rejected purely because they’re different, when in fact they are rejected because climate-change denialism, and denying the systemic oppression of people who weren’t born white men, are as demonstrably & morally incorrect as e.g. flat-eartherism and eugenics, and treated accordingly. Slightly more plausibly, they accuse Facebook of censoring conservative news, while targeting Twitter for shadow-banning right-wingers.

But wait, there’s more! As the rent crisis wracks America, its victims, desperate for affordable housing in desirable places, hate the tech industry for gentrifying the cities — San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles, NYC, Boston, etc — where people most want to live.

Meanwhile, as the media hemorrhages money, it becomes ever more reliant on Facebook and Google — even as that duopoly devours most of the advertising dollars that used to go to the media. And as both media and finance go tech, East Coasters (and Londoners) see that their center-of-the-universe influence, which they once thought unassailable, has moved to California and beyond. Is it really that surprising, when you follow the money, that the American media’s love affair with the tech industry is coming to a bitter and increasingly furious end?

The reason why is obvious. We have the money, now. Seven of the ten largest publicly traded companies in the world are tech companies, and three of them are headquartered within cycling distance of one another in Silicon Valley, surrounded by a nimbus of dozens of unicorns. With that wealth comes huge (at least perceived) power — not just financial, but the power to shape the future, to influence the masses, to shape mass political movements.

Do you see a lot of popular narratives whose heroes are privileged, unelected engineers and investors whose previously sizable wealth has grown into immense riches and enormous power? Uh, no. In fact you may have noticed that, in virtually every popular story, such people are the bad guys. There’s a reason for that: historically, power corrupts.

People everywhere are already eager for lightning-rod trumped-up reasons to hate the Valley and the tech industry as a whole. And it’s not like we haven’t given them at least a few real ones. So it might be time to start thinking less about money and power, and more about values, and how we might actually make sacrifices in service of those values — because history indicates that blatant, widespread hypocrisy is one of several effective ways to transform a lightning rod into an angry mob wielding pitchforks and torches.

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The cryptocurrency bubble is strangling innovation


Sure, fine, maybe it’s a bubble. OK it’s definitely a bubble, but that’s a good thing, a bubble brings attention and investment in infrastructure, which breeds real innovation. Right? Look at the dot-com boom. A lot of people lost a whole lot of paper money, but it brought us a cheap worldwide fiber backbone and companies like Amazon and Google. Today’s crypto bubble is just like that. Right?

…So goes the theory, by which I mean, desperate rationalization. And it was somewhat true, for a while; but not any more. Cryptocurrencies have now ascended to speculative values that actually preclude any non-speculative uses. They have become so expensive that they are preventing innovation.

Most “crypto tokens” are, in fact, just glorified hash values stored on the Ethereum blockchain — literally nothing more than a table of numbers like “address A: 10,000. address B: 20,000,” wrapped in standard blocks of code (the ERC20 and ERC721 standards, for fungible and non-fungible tokens respectively) so that they can be easily transacted.

…Which means that every transfer of such tokens requires a transaction to be performed on the Ethereum blockchain. And as the price of ether has skyrocketed — to more than $1,000 as I write this — transaction fees have done so as well, so that the average fee for an Ethereum transaction is now around US$2.50.

(Ethereum’s variable-gas-price mechanism doesn’t really help; fees are driven by supply and demand. And of course it’s not just Ethereum. Blockstack’s DNS uses the Bitcoin blockchain as its source of truth, and Bitcoin transaction costs have also gone through the roof. SegWit transactions are cheaper / more efficient but that’s noise compared to the overall trend.)

This is fine if you’re just speculating, trading hundreds/thousands of dollars worth of tokens at a time. But it is crippling if you’re actually trying to build an app that people use for anything else.

If you’re trying to build a decentralized name / identity service … your names now cost more than many top-level Internet domains that automatically resolve in browsers. If your tokens represent ownership of virtual entities, or access to decentralized storage … suddenly just using the token at all, never mind transferring the value associated with the tokens, makes your cost structure somewhere between punitive and prohibitive.

So if you’re trying to build anything even remotely high-volume atop an Ethereum token — forget it. Your entire business model is catastrophically doomed at today’s prices. (Ethereum’s “sender-pays” model doesn’t help either, although that’s due to change sometime soonish.) Only very-low-volume, very-high-value applications need apply. Like the current wave of speculation.

As a result, entire categories of cryptocurrency experimentation and innovation are on hold until the bubble bursts, or until / unless Ethereum finds a way to scale such that transaction fees plummet. Oh, people can still write and deploy code. But nobody will use it. Curious would-be users will be repelled by the nontrivial expense of mere experimentation, never mind ongoing usage.

So developers won’t be able to find real-world users, and get any feedback from real-world use; they won’t discover any emergent properties; and nobody will use and then iterate on their work. That whole continent of the blockchain ecosystem is now essentially in a deep freeze, covered by glaciers.

It remains an open question whether even much, much lower fees would be viable in the long run. Proponents of micropayments don’t seem to realize that the fundamental problem with micropayments is not their cost, or the absence of supporting infrastructure; it’s the cognitive load that they induce. Parker Thompson of AngelList argues that fee-free decentralized apps are the only ones which might possibly succeed in consumer markets, and I think he’s right, but that raises the question of how you prioritize and prevent spam blockchain transactions in the absence of fees.

Today that’s a moot point, though. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying the sky is falling, the feepocalypse is upon us, and every decentralized application is doomed forevermore. A lot of interesting work and research has in fact been done regarding scaling Ethereum: sharding, Raiden, Plasma. Hopes for them remain justifiably high.

But until and unless they roll out, and/or the cryptocurrency markets stop being voting machines and start being weighing machines, most non-speculative token projects are doomed to indefinite hibernation. If you care about actual innovation, the inevitable popping of today’s bubble won’t mark the onset of crypto winter; rather, it will bring a crypto spring.

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Quartet raises $40M Series C to help healthcare providers collaborate on patient care


Healthcare in America is a mess with no quick solutions and many people aren’t getting the help they need. Created to bridge mental and physical healthcare, New York City-based Quartet Health wants to make life better for patients with a platform that allows providers to collaborate on treatment plans. Currently available in six U.S. markets, Quartet announced today that it has raised $40 million in Series C funding to expand throughout the rest of the country.

All of Quartet’s previous investors returned, including F-Prime Capital Partners and Polaris Partners, which both led the round, Oak HC/FT and GV. It also added a new investor, healthcare investment firm Deerfield Management. This brings Quartet’s total raised so far to $87 million. In addition to expanding its geographic reach (it currently has operations in California, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Washington), Quartet will use the capital on its tech platform, hiring for its machine learning team and building its provider network.

The startup was founded in 2014 by chief executive officer Arun Gupta, a former advisor at Palantir Technologies. Gupta wanted to solve inefficiencies in the healthcare system that prevent patients who have chronic health conditions from getting comprehensive medical care. Quartet’s platform makes it easier for primary care doctors to collaborate with mental health professionals, including therapists, on treatment plans, since many psychological conditions have physical symptoms and vice versa. Quartet also uses machine learning to help providers identify potential health issues, while its network of providers allows doctors to make referrals to mental healthcare providers who also use the platform.

Quartet also announced that it is adding three new directors to its board: F-Prime Capital executive partner Carl Byers; Ken Goulet, the former executive vice president and president of commercial and specialities business at health insurance provider Anthem Inc.; and former Rackspace CEO and BuildGroup co-founder Lanham Napier.

Featured Image: RoBeDeRo/Getty Images

Facebook, not Twitter, will live stream this year’s Golden Globes’ red carpet pre-show


Facebook has scored the exclusive rights to live stream this year’s Golden Globes’ red carpet pre-show – a deal that last year went to Twitter. On Tuesday, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) and dick clark productions announced the two-hour event would be exclusively available on the Golden Globes Facebook page from 6 to 8 p.m. ET (3 to 5 p.m. PT) on Sunday, January 7, 2018.

This is not the main awards show, mind you, but rather the official red carpet where celebrities are photographed and asked softball questions about their wardrobes, plus-ones, and who they’re hoping will win. When Twitter live streamed the event, the company collaborated with the Hollywood Foreign Press to source questions from fans’ tweets.

This time around, the HFPA will leverage Facebook’s technologies and platforms to enhance the experience for viewers.

For starters, the Golden Globes Facebook Page will post exclusive live footage, including 360-degree videos captured at the event along with other backstage content. In addition, the @goldenglobes Instagram account will offer similar exclusive footage, and the main @Instagram Story will be hosted by one of the red carpet hosts, Laura Marano.

The other event hosts include AJ Gibson, Jeannie Mai, and Scott Mantz.

The ability to post to both Facebook and Instagram likely sweetened the deal for the HFPA. For example, the main Instagram account today has 230 million followers – or 230 million potential viewers for the red carpet Instagram story. Twitter, meanwhile, has 330 million monthly actives in total. The Golden Globe Awards Facebook Page is followed by 2.3 million users, though it may acquire more viewers for the red carpet event, as anyone can visit the page to watch – not just those who explicitly “liked” it.

Plus, as Variety notes, the Golden Globes’ other media partners will post to Facebook and use Instagram Live for sharing photos and videos from the event, as well, providing even more exposure.

“Facebook has had a long collaborative relationship with the entertainment community, and we’re thrilled to be able to extend that through our work with the Golden Globes,” Sibyl Goldman, head of Facebook’s Entertainment Partnerships in a statement. “We always aim to create unique experiences which bring communities together, and partaking in the kickoff of award season in conjunction with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, is a demonstration of our commitment to bring fans together through entertainment they enjoy.”

Twitter ended the year on a fascinating run


It’s been pretty easy to point at Twitter and, with each quarterly moment when it discloses its financial guts, let out a long exasperated sigh.

Twitter since going public at a now in retrospect astounding valuation has for much of its public life been quite the disappointment to Wall Street. But then something interesting happened in the back half of 2017: it went on a rather spectacular run, and though ending on a bit of a slump, it looks like it could finish the year up more than 25 percent — which, by Twitter terms, is pretty good.

Much of that is thanks to a (finally) good report in October this year and a blessing from a Wall Street firm, but we could potentially chalk up getting to those events to some actual things Twitter has done. The product updates haven’t been absolutely transformative (like the earth-shattering bump to a 280-character limit per tweet), but since the introduction of the algorithmic timeline last year, it would seem that Twitter is getting slightly less allergic to changes to its core product — even if it alienates part of its very loud user base.

Twitter has also seemingly begun taking more action when it comes to enforcing new rules around harassment and abuse, a problem that has been hounding the company for years and is even more visible this year. Earlier this month it said it would begin enforcing new rules around how it handles hateful conduct and abusive behavior. Twitter’s strategy here has been often opaque, and while it’ll take a while to reach some kind of middle ground, it’s actually doing stuff.

And doing stuff, it seems, is currently enough for Twitter to figure out how to get a nice up-and-to-the-right-ish chart like this one:

While these stocks — especially volatile ones — will swing often, sometimes the general idea is to try to gauge the future potential of the company. For Twitter, that means it’s going to have to figure out a way to re-ignite growth and get users coming back and using the platform. It has some very deep core issues, and sometimes seems to flip-flop on its own actions and have troubles communicating. But if Twitter is somehow able to right this ship, it may have an opportunity to get that growth engine moving again.

Most executives will probably give the boilerplate “we are committed to delivering long-term value for shareholders” argument for stock swings in the near term, but those swings are really significant for the company. It’s the closest thing to a near-term public barometer for the company’s success, which means it does a lot for employee morale. And it also can be significant for attracting talent, as the company may need to offer more generous compensation packages to rip people away from companies that are high-growth or well-established.

Twitter, going forward, it appears, needs to keep doing stuff. It’s made a lot of moves in the video space in addition to building business tools — like a video-centric ad format. And it certainly has done that to some extent, trying to extend its pitch as a real-time communications platform to video. It needs to continue cracking down on harassment and abuse if it’s going to attract new, more casual users. It needs to keep making tweaks to its products even under the risk of alienating some of its users to make it more user-friendly. In short, there’s a lot of stuff to be done.

What’s arguably the richest part of this whole story, however, is that Twitter now has roughly the same market cap as Snap following its back-of-the-year run. Hovering at around $18 billion, it’s the tale of two runs here: Twitter found some way to turn its story around, and Snap is still having some pretty dramatic issues telling its story to Wall Street. Both have the specter of user growth over them, but somehow Twitter has been able to at least throw a rock in the opposite direction to get the attention of investors temporarily.

Will Twitter get its wish of finally escaping the MAU? Probably not. But for now, it looks like Dorsey and the rest of them have figured out at least some small way to sell the promise of Twitter to Wall Street and get them on board for the time being.

Featured Image: Yana Paskova/Bloomberg/Getty Images