New York City’s economy has traditionally been dominated by finance, real estate, and media. But tech may be taking hold as a staple of the private sector, according to a new report, "Building a Digital City: the Growth and Impact of New York City’s Tech / Information Sector," commissioned by Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s private foundation. The study gives some clues as to how New York pulled off what many other cities are desperately attempting to do: invent a tech startup scene.
Rapid job growth has made the city’s tech and information industry the second-largest contributor to the private sector economy by wages, according to the study. The tech sector is also booming in the outer boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, while the national tech industry is attracting Hispanic and black workers faster than white ones.
Tech is often billed as the solution to waning job growth in the US, and this study appears to confirm that. In 2009, New York City’s Independent Budget Office forecast that the city’s economic recovery from the Great Recession would lag behind the rest of the nation’s. Instead, New York pulled out of the recession faster than the rest of the country, in part due to the growth in the tech sector, says economist Michael Mandel, who conducted the study.
New York pulled out of the recession faster than the rest of the country, in part due to the tech scene
"New York City rapidly reinvented itself as a world-class, urban tech / information hub, uniting tech startups with world-class publishing, media, design, and entertainment companies," the study concludes. "Now, the New York tech / information sector is a critical engine to the city’s economy, creating thousands of jobs and supporting economic growth across the city."
Dr. Mandel counts 262,000 well-paying jobs in tech and information, an 11 percent jump since the economy crashed in 2007. The $30 billion in annual wages generated by the tech sector is small compared to the $90 billion in wages paid to the still-dominant financial sector, but tech wages have grown since 2007 while finance wages decreased.
New York City’s tech sector is consumer-facing and often converges with other industries. Jobs are growing at e-commerce, web, and media startups like Etsy, Tumblr, and BuzzFeed, as well as at large companies with New York operations such as Amazon, Google, and Facebook. App development shops like FiftyThree and Tendigi also accounted for a significant number of jobs, as did infrastructure companies like Verizon and advertising companies like AppNexus.
While most of these jobs are in Manhattan, Brooklyn’s tech sector grew faster from 2007 to 2012 than in any other urban center except for San Francisco. Tech employment in Brooklyn grew by 24 percent while wages grew by 54 percent. There was a noticeable impact from the $604 million acquisition of MakerBot, a 3D printing company based in downtown Brooklyn, Mandel says, but the job growth was evenly distributed and not dominated by single events or companies. In Queens, employment grew by 6 percent and wages grew by 20 percent.
Brooklyn’s tech sector grew faster than anywhere else but San Francisco
These new information and tech workers may also be more diverse than those the industry has traditionally attracted, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The number of Hispanic and Latino workers nationally working at computer or math-related occupations has risen by 28 percent in the last two years, while the number of black workers rose 23 percent and the number of Asian workers rose 18 percent. The number of white workers rose by just 5.5 percent.
The study was commissioned for the second annual Bloomberg Tech Summit, a closed-door meeting in New York arranged by Mayor Bloomberg that brings together CEOs and industry leaders such as Twitter’s Dick Costolo and AOL’s Tim Armstrong. This year’s theme, "building digital cities," will address how growth in New York’s and San Francisco’s tech sectors can be replicated around the country.
The report concludes that tech-friendly policies such as funding tech incubators and marketing the startup sector were a "key catalyst" in the industry’s growth. The Bloomberg administration has made a significant effort to foster tech and information companies, and the mayor wants a robust tech sector to be part of his legacy. Considering Bloomberg’s philanthropic foundation paid for the study, its rosy conclusions should be taken with a degree of skepticism.
The rise of New York City’s tech sector has been a topic of conversation for a few years, prompting a barrage of headlines about New York’s booming startup scene and more than a little Silicon Alley cheerleading. However, Mandel’s conclusion that the tech scene was spurred by city policies is conjecture based on the fact that the city’s economy was on track for a longer rebound.
The mayor wants a robust tech sector to be part of his legacy
"No one would have guessed in the fall of 2008 that the New York City economy was going to outperform the national economy so conclusively," Mandel told The Verge. "That’s a testament on the one hand of the power of the tech / information boom to propel growth, and it also tells us that good policy actually makes a difference."
New York techies might disagree, however. Many cornerstones of the local tech scene, like the New York Tech Meetup (NYTM), which now has 33,000 members, or the coworking space General Assembly, started as grassroots initiatives longer before the Bloomberg administration got involved in the tech scene. "I'm sure there are legitimate criticisms as to how much impact policy had versus other factors," entrepreneur and local tech luminary Anil Dash said in an email. "But my bias there is to think the community (especially NYTM) was self-organizing and then the policy sort of followed."
Industry leaders are bullish on New York tech, however, and they’re optimistic that economically depressed cities like Detroit, Kansas City, and New Orleans can follow its lead. "Over the past five years, I have seen the phenomenal growth of the urban tech boom in both San Francisco and New York," Ron Conway, an influential investor in Silicon Valley, said in an email. "It’s important to uncover what worked in New York and San Francisco so we can bring these lessons to other cities, grow our economy, and create jobs across the country."
Facebook is trying to prove to major television networks that it's home to the best viewership data around — or at the very least, viewership data that's better than Twitter's. According to The Wall Street Journal, Facebook is beginning to deliver reports to ABC, NBC, Fox, CBS, and a small number of other partners about the level of activity their shows are seeing across its entire network, both public and private. The reports will be delivered weekly, and will include aggregated details on how many likes, comments, and shares occur around a given TV episode.
A battle for the best data
Though Facebook will be including data based off of private activities, it's said to all be anonymized, with the final metric simply being a measurement of how many total social interactions have occurred. One example given by the Journal is that a recent episode of Dancing With the Stars received 1 million interactions from 750 thousand people.
While Twitter has been the go-to social network for measuring real-time engagement for a while now, Facebook is seemingly hoping that these reports can help to prove its worth. It's been working on opening up more data to television networks of late, including granting some networks access to a searchable firehose of public posts. By anonymously counting private interactions, Facebook will be able to start tapping into the breadth of its network, much of which isn't public and accessibly like on Twitter.
Naturally, Facebook thinks it has better overall data. "The conversation is being generated by a group that is much more representative of the general population," Daniel Slotwiner, the head of Facebook's TV metrics team, tells the Journal, "That means we should have a better signal as it relates to ratings." If Facebook can prove itself to major television networks, it could help the network evolve into the hottest place to be during real-time events — and for Facebook, that might result in the type of big advertising dollars its been seeking.
Over the past 18 months, CEO Kaz Hirai has been on a mission to unify the sprawling empire entrusted to him into a more cohesive and focused One Sony. On the mobile front, that’s resulted in Cyber-shot cameras and Bravia-branded displays appearing in handsets like the former flagship Xperia Z. Today’s Xperia Z1 continues that cross-pollination push with an even more comprehensive set of borrowed features, including its headline-grabbing 20.7-megapixel Exmor RS camera. The Z wasn't a phone without its flaws, however, so the more pressing issue is whether Sony can continue building on what worked and solve what didn’t.
A waterproof beauty
The thing that’s changed least between the Xperia Z and Xperia Z1 is the external design. Though the new phone keeps the same 5-inch screen size and 1920 x 1080 resolution, it’s actually a little larger and heavier than the older model. For the 16 percent increase in weight, you gain a 29 percent bigger battery (now at 3,000mAh) and enough room to fit a new 20.7-megapixel Exmor RS camera sensor. Visually and in day-to-day use, however, you’ll struggle to tell the difference between the two Xperias. Both are flat, rectangular slabs with glass on the front and back. Both feature machined aluminum power buttons on the side, and both look utterly gorgeous when set against the sea of plastic you usually have to wade through in your local phone store.
While the design is mostly undisturbed, the Xperia Z1 does have a few tangible improvements to offer. Firstly, there’s now a one-piece aluminum frame inside the handset that forms its skeleton and makes it that extra bit more rigid. Secondly, Sony has improved the Z1’s water resistance and no longer needs the annoying flappy cover protecting the headphone jack. Thirdly, and this will be important to shutterbugs eyeing the Xperia Z1 as a prosumer’s cameraphone, the new handset includes a two-stage shutter button that works well.
A less happy distinction that I found between the two phones was a series of scratches that collected on the glass back of the Z1, an issue that I didn’t have with the original Z. I can’t imagine Sony is using a less durable material in the newer model, but keep in mind that the Z1’s scratch resistance isn’t on the same level as its water and dust resistance.
As gorgeous and sophisticated as the Xperia Z1 may look, it also carries on the unfortunately awkward ergonomics of the Xperia Z. Nothing is fundamentally broken, but the perfectly rectangular shape and large size just never sit comfortably in the hand. Even with its imperfections, I still much prefer the Xperia Z1 over its most direct competitor, LG’s G2, which tries to reinvent smartphone ergonomics with a weirdly positioned power button.
The Z1 is right up to speed in the spec wars
Nothing about the Xperia Z1’s spec sheet suggests an abatement in the perennial Android spec race. Sony’s opted for the fastest processor around with the 2.2GHz Snapdragon 800, and added 2GB of RAM, microSD storage expansion, Bluetooth 4.0 and NFC connectivity, MHL support, and a heaping of LTE bands. This sort of unbridled spec lust is echoed in the 5.2-inch G2, which is why I consider it such a close rival to the Xperia Z1. Another commonality between LG and Sony’s flagships is an abundance of dubiously useful software layered atop Android, but more on that later.
Has a whole lot of pixels, but the quality is lacking
X-Reality distortion field
Where the Xperia Z1 seeks to distinguish itself from both the competition and its predecessors is with Sony’s display technologies. Trickling down from the Bravia HDTV unit, the Z1 benefits from a Triluminos display, augmented with X-Reality for Mobile image and video processing. The former is a fancy way of saying the new screen has a wider color palette, while the latter is a compilation of sharpness, saturation, and noise-reduction adjustments that aim to improve the quality of media playback. There’s even an Intelligent Super Resolution technology that tries to fill in missing pixels in lower-resolution video.
For all its branding bluster, the Xperia Z1’s 5-inch display is a letdown, just as the Xperia Z was. The expanded color range is nice to have, but it doesn’t offer distinguishably better images than any of the leading competitors such as HTC’s One series. It also does nothing to rectify Sony’s chronic weakness with displays: poor viewing angles. Colors start washing out as soon as you tilt the phone away from you, and seeing the Z1 sitting side by side with Samsung’s Galaxy Note 3 really puts the Sony phone to shame. So it’s the same old story: a pixel-dense 1080p display that is nevertheless a clear step behind the competition.
X-Reality, the big ace up Sony’s sleeve, turns out to actually do more harm than good. Watching The Great British Bake Off on BBC’s iPlayer, I noticed lots of excess sharpness added to the footage, which lent the show a very artificial look. Perhaps this kind of post-processing excess will work well with dark and moody sci-fi movies, but it really ruins the look of more natural and realistic scenes.
Oversampling and over-processing
Sony has taken the motto of “go big or go home” literally with the Xperia Z1’s camera. The Exmor RS sensor inside is a 1/2.3-inch unit that’s among the biggest in any cameraphone, and the max resolution of 20.7 megapixels is testament to that. The vast majority of people will never need such huge pictures, however, so Sony has wisely set the Z1 to take 8-megapixel oversampled photos by default. The f/2.0 G Lens and BIONZ image processing are the other two components that Sony has adapted from its Cyber-shot point-and-shoot camera range. It’s another deluge of brand names, but what’s the bottom line?
The photos above were all shot using the Intelligent Auto shooting mode, producing 8-megapixel stills. Click the thumbnails on the right for full 20-megapixel samples from the Z1 camera.
The Xperia Z1 can produce truly excellent images, but is held back by Sony’s penchant for excessive post-processing and a habit for overexposing outdoor shots. The most common artifices you’ll find in your pictures are a noise-reduction algorithm that produces artificially uniform blocks of color and an associated sharpening treatment that enhances edges. The exposure issue is sadly common among smartphone cameras: you get a sort of haze in outdoor photos where the camera shutter is kept open for too long.
Ultimately, though, these downsides are trifling compared to the Xperia Z1’s upside. An impressive amount of detail is kept even after Sony’s done its best to destroy it. The LED flash works well and doesn’t whitewash nearby subjects. Nighttime photos keep image noise competently suppressed, and even the full 20-megapixel pictures can look good under the right circumstances. It’s just a very capable piece of hardware that could’ve done with some smarter software.
Speaking of software, Sony does provide a plethora of functionality-extending camera apps. The headliner among them is the Bambuser-powered Social live, which allows you to stream up to 10 minutes of video directly to your Facebook profile. The feed can be public or limited to just your friends and the whole thing works very well. Also nice is the Timeshift burst feature, which grabs 30 frames before the shutter is pressed and 30 after, giving you a quick choice of the full 61 to pick your favorite. Although there’s a lot of filler in among these extra apps, they’re not entirely without merit and add some value to the camera experience.
The headline says 20 megapixels, but you'll mostly be shooting at 8 megapixels
Software and performance
Same old Xperia
Beyond the camera augmentations, very little has changed in Sony’s Xperia software. Once you unlock the phone through the familiar window blinds animation, you’re met with a richly customizable set of homescreens, a wide variety of available widgets, and a typical set of app tray and notifications options. A customizable set of quick toggles in the notifications tray puts your most common settings within easy reach and the multitasking menu lets you launch mini-apps, such as a calculator, that hover atop the usual content. At this point, pretty much every Android manufacturer has rolled out some version or another of these features and users of previous Xperia phones will feel right at home.
This is the first phone since the Nokia N9 to get haptic feedback right
The onscreen keyboard hasn’t changed, however the Xperia Z1 has a lovely new haptic feedback system that I really enjoyed using. Not since the exceptional Nokia N9 have I cared about haptic feedback, but Sony’s implementation even sounds great. Start typing at speed and you’ll be transported to the middle of a laser gun fight in progress.
The Z1’s vibration motor, which provides the tactile feedback when typing, is amusingly overpowered. You won’t be missing any calls or messages with this amount of rumble in your pocket. That’s just part of Sony’s fastidiousness with the mechanics of its phones — the audio hardware is similarly robust, with crystal-clear phone calls and an above-average loudspeaker.
Shipping with Android 4.2.2, the Xperia Z1 is one small step behind the latest Android version. That omission actually holds the phone back a bit — Bluetooth Low Energy and OpenGL ES 3.0 support comes as part of the Android 4.3 package, which the Z1 is ideally positioned to benefit from, thanks to its Bluetooth 4.0 chip and beastly processor. With the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 already on sale and running 4.3 quite competently, Sony’s failure to fully capitalize on the Z1’s laudable specs isn’t entirely forgivable.
The Snapdragon 800 processor at the Xperia Z1’s heart offers reliably quick and lag-free performance. It’s especially noticeable when using the camera or browsing through large photo albums — everything happens at a satisfyingly snappy pace. I struggle to find too many scenarios where the full power of a souped-up quad-core processor proves necessary, but Sony doesn’t seem to have made too many sacrifices to make it fit.
Sony still lacks uniquely compelling software
The generous 3,000mAh power reserve and Snapdragon system-on-chip are identical to the ones inside the LG G2, so you won’t be surprised to hear that the Z1 lasts through a day’s use with relative ease. Having used an iPhone 5 extensively over the past few months, I can say the Z1 lasts at least as long. To give that endurance a boost, you can turn on Sony’s Stamina mode, which disables the wireless radios and any background apps when the screen is turned off. I still consider this the best power-saving mode from any Android phone maker — mostly because, once I whitelist the Gmail and Twitter apps in order to receive notifications from them, I struggle to tell the difference between it and regular operation.
The final One Sony aspect of this phone comes from the company’s entertainment division. A free 60-day subscription to Music Unlimited, 10 free PlayStation Mobile games, and six free movies will be bundled with every Xperia Z1 purchase — intended both as an incentive to buy the phone and a stimulus to tap into Sony’s content consumption ecosystem. This would be a far bigger deal if Sony’s services were more competitive, but I find little reason to lock myself into a single Android phone vendor’s ecosystem when Google and others provide better alternatives.
The days of an ad-free Gmail experience on Android may be coming to an end. According to Android Police, the latest version of Google's email app contains references to built-in advertisements. The uncovered code hints that users will be able to save ads that catch their interest as messages, but little else is known about the company's approach to mobile ads — or how intrusive they'll be. As part of Google's broad overhaul of Gmail back in May, it introduced a new Promotions tab that displays ads closely resembling regular inbox messages. At the time, Google insisted that most users would expect to find ads in a specialized Promotions section. Many users weren't happy with the change, even though it often results in fewer ads for those who ignore Promotions. We'd expect to see Google take a similarly careful and mindful approach to ads in Gmail for Android, whenever they finally appear. We've reached out to the company for more details.
The NSA has a long history of tapping into overseas communications, and it turns out that some of its targets have been widely known public figures. Newly declassified documents show that both Martin Luther King Jr. and Muhammad Ali were targets of NSA surveillance during a portion of the Vietnam War, from 1967 to 1973, reports The Washington Post. A New York Times columnist and a Washington Post satirist also landed on the list, alongside two senators.
The surveillance effort reportedly traces back to a request from then-president Lyndon B. Johnson, who wanted to find out if the domestic antiwar movement was "receiving help from abroad." During that six-year timeframe, over 1,600 people were under the NSA's watch as part of a surveillance program named Minaret. The program caused some controversy within the NSA itself, with some NSA officials apparently calling it "disreputable if not outright illegal." The Post has more details on the early spying effort, while a full report on the declassified documents is available at The National Security Archive.
Huawei, the multi-billion dollar Chinese telecom infrastructure and mobile device maker, just announced a new CEO — but only for the next six months. Eric Xu will be the acting CEO of Huawei from October 1st to March 31st under the Huawei Rotating CEO system, an experimental management strategy that the company revealed last year.
Under the system, three executives take turns acting as CEO. The temporary position entails leading meetings with the board of directors and executive management as well as taking the primary role in operations and crisis management. The executives bring expertise from different parts of the company, such as marketing, wireless, and research and development. Their normal duties do not change while acting as CEO, and they retain "considerable authority" even when not acting as CEO.
Three executives take turns as CEO
The reasoning for this highly unorthodox system? Huawei and China are in a period of rapid change, and having three CEOs will keep the company nimble. Founder and longtime CEO Ren Zhengfei wrote in April of 2012:
In times when social changes were not so dramatic, emperors could reign for several decades and create periods of peace and prosperity. Such prosperous periods existed in the Tang, Song, Ming, and Qing dynasties. The rotational period for each emperor lasted several decades...
Today, tides rise and surge; companies are springing up all over the place while others are quickly being swept away. Huawei hasn't found a way to adapt well to a rapidly changing society. Time will tell if the rotating CEO system is the right move or not.
Xu, a ten-year veteran of the company, is the third acting CEO to be named under the new system. He will take over for Guo Ping, who took over in March of 2012 from Ken Hu. Hu took over in late 2011 from Ren, who founded the company in 1987.
IKEA is now selling solar panels at its stores in Britain. The housewares retailer has already announced plans to switch over to solar and wind power by 2020, but now it wants to help customers incorporate renewable energy at home. "It's the right time to go for the consumers," said IKEA's sustainability Steve Howard, speaking to the Associated Press. According to Howard, falling prices for solar panels led the company to bring them to retail. But you won't be buying these solar panels on a whim; a 3.36 kilowatt system is priced at £5,700 ($9,200), though that investment includes an in-store consultation, installation costs, and maintenance services. Despite the high ticket price, Howard says the panels will essentially have paid for themselves after about seven years of ownership. "If you are going to be in your house that long, your energy will be free after seven years."
Retailers in the US like The Home Depot and Loewe's already sell solar panels, but choices can prove less abundant elsewhere. IKEA is starting with one UK store today, planning to expand availability across all of its 17 stores in Britain within 10 months. And IKEA's environmental push doesn't end with solar power; the company has previously said it will halt sales of traditional lighting in favor of LED bulbs by 2016.