You know that rule when you’re on a plane that you have to shut down your electronic devices for takeoff and landing? It’s up for review by an FAA panel with everyone from government regulators to airlines and device makers.
The group just met for the first time in January and plans to recommend new standards for devices on planes by July, but Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill thinks that’s not fast enough.
“If somebody is not being the squeaky wheel on this, it could be years, knowing how long this process typically takes,” McCaskill says. She points out that the FAA lets pilots use iPads in the cockpit instead of paper flight manuals, and she says there’s no hard evidence that other devices like e-readers and laptops interfere with planes.
“Unless and until somebody shows me that data I feel sense of obligation to keep pushing to make this rule change as quickly as possible,” says McCaskill, who is already drafting legislation to change the policy.
“Makes me wonder what are we doing there if people like herself have already decided that she wants a certain result and we better come up with it,” says Doug Kidd, of the National Association of Airline Passengers.
He’s on the FAA panel and he argues that there’s no evidence today’s devices don’t affect planes, and new devices hit the market every day. Kidd adds that most people don’t mind reasonable rules during takeoff and landing.
“It’s the most dangerous part of any flight,” he says. “It’s also the time when most accidents occur, so we’d rather not take a chance on distracting the flight crew at this point in time.”
The FAA would not comment on McCaskill’s push for action. Kidd says the panel’s progress might seem slow, but Congress is not exactly known for its efficiency either.
Number-four U.S. mobile-phone carrier T-Mobile is rolling out new pricing plans, and will begin offering the iPhone 5 (on April 12), in a bid to regain market share. It's been losing ground steadily to industry leaders AT&T and Verizon.
T-Mobile will offer plans that don’t lock customers into two-year contracts with a costly early-cancellation penalty. And it will stop subsidizing the price of new smartphones when customers sign up for service and purchase a new mobile device.
Today at an Internet café in Portland, Ore., there were plenty of hard-working smartphones on display, including builder Andy Powell’s iPhone. “I got it with the two-year plan,” said Powell. “I think it probably cost $200.”
Only, really, it cost quite a bit more. Because every month, Powell is paying AT&T a little extra to cover the company’s marketing subsidy for the phone. That’s what makes the new iPhone seem cheap at $200, instead of offering the iPhone at its actual cost of $600 or more.
“It’s a financial equation that you don’t see as a customer -- they’re not explicit with it,” says Richard Karpinski, a technology analyst at the Yankee Group. “But a company like AT&T or Verizon has fairly high-priced mobile broadband service. And what they’re doing by cashing in on those high prices, is getting back some of their marketing costs.” Subsidies fall under 'marketing' on companies’ balance sheets.
And this is what T-Mobile is trying to change, says CNET senior writer Maggie Reardon, author of the ‘Ask Maggie’ column.
“Finally we have a carrier who’s really being honest about what it costs to actually get a phone in your hand,” says Reardon. “Now people can pay for their phone up-front, or they can finance it over 24 months, and they don’t have a contract. Once you finish paying off your phone, then the cost of your monthly bill actually goes down.”
Reardon and Karpinski both say bills at T-Mobile will be lower on average than at AT&T and Verizon.
Equity analyst James Moorman at S&P says those competitors have to make up all the money they spend on subsidies with higher monthly bills. But they will be watching T-Mobile’s experiment in no-subsidy service pricing.
“If it’s successful,” says Moorman, “I think everybody would like to get rid of the subsidy model.”
Moorman thinks customers should certainly want to end the practice. “With a contract plan, you’re still paying that amount [for the subsidy] even after you’ve paid for the device,” says Moorman. “So if you don’t buy another device and you stay on longer than that two-year contract, that’s all gravy for the big national providers.”
Karpinski says savvy mobile customers -- especially those who already own their own smartphones -- may be T-Mobile’s most promising target market with the new pricing plan. “If you can buy a used phone that’s pretty high-quality for $100,” says Karpinski, “and then have total freedom and T-Mobile’s cheap rates -- it takes a little work to get to that point, but you’re getting a pretty nice bargain as well.”
T-Mobile may face a challenge convincing customers that its network service quality and coverage are up to the level of Verizon and AT&T, which have been investing heavily for years.
And T-Mobile also may have trouble finding a lot of new customers ready to plop down the full unsubsidized cost of a smartphone. Andy Powell isn’t ready to do that yet. “Whether I want to drop $600 for a phone, kind of competes with a lot of other interests at the same time,” he said. “So I’m not so sure.”
T-Mobile may find a lot of us like getting something cheap now, even if we pay more later.
The music streaming service Spotify lets you listen to millions of songs any time you want for free, as long as you listen to the occasional ad. Or you can pay a subscription fee of $10 a month to get the songs without the ads. But despite its rapidly growing user base, the company is hemorrhaging cash. For every dollar Spotify takes in, it pays 98 cents in licensing fees.
Sam Hamadeh is CEO of the research firm PrivCo. He says Spotify's problem is that it's underpricing its service. He likens Spotify to an all-you-can-eat buffet. "Well, obviously there are those people who are going to eat an enormous amount," says Hamadeh.
I have to be honest here. I am one of those people. I listen to a ton of music on Spotify -- everything from '60s pop songs to Italian dinner music. And every time I play a song, Spotify has to pay a licensing fee. Even though I'm a paid subscriber, chances are, I'm costing Spotify money. The good news for Spotify is that subscriptions are up.
"And that's actually quite an encouraging sign for their long term health" says Dan Cryon, senior director of digital media at IHS. Cryon thinks that one thing Spotify has done well is create a platform where people can listen to music on all their devices. "The question becomes once you've got music to where people want to listen to it, what else can you do to add value."
One possible way is to offer video. Spotify could create its own music-related show like "American Idol" or "The Monkees." Cryon suggests that a better model for Spotify to follow is The Metropolitan Opera.
The Met has been successful at getting users to pay to watch performances online. Spotify, for example, could offer the same service for concerts.
New York is now known for pricey restaurants and celebrity chefs. But there are still a few folks who remember buying food from horse-drawn wagons in the city. An audio project aims to preserve these memories, and the voices that share them.
Farhad Manjoo really, really loves his hoodie from American Giant. So much so, he reviewed it for Slate, where he writes a technology column. The headline pretty much summed it up: This is the Greatest Hoodie Ever Made.
What should have been a marketer’s dream posed significant problems for American Giant. Readers bought it -- the headline, and the hoodie. Sweatshirts sold out. Pre-orders sold out. And the company was forced to scale up before it was ready, at a cost of millions of dollars in investment.
Manjoo talked to the CEO of American Giant, who said that since the article appeared in December, those upgrades have allowed their pipeline to operate at 15 to 20 times its prior capacity.
Although the backlog persists. A look at American Giant’s site today shows a four-to-six week wait for hoodies to ship.
Unlike app or software development companies that are able to quickly scale up when a viral story turns a small business into a overnight success, manufacturers are limited by making a tangible object.
“For a business that makes stuff in the real world, for them to scale up takes much more resources, planning and time,” Manjoo said. “It takes a long time to make sweatshirts.”
Because American Giant stakes its reputation on bringing manufacturing back the U.S., the company wasn’t prepared to move operations overseas to try to scale up more quickly.
And, Manjoo says, they think it wouldn’t have been any faster. Quality was one concern. And unlike Apple or other megacorporations known for taking on workers quickly, American Giant didn’t have contacts in the region.
“It’s difficult for a small American business to quickly get new facilities to figure out where to produce more stuff,” he said.
But despite the wait for his second hoodie, the love isn’t gone for Manjoo. He says he still wears his every day.
Read the full column, The Only Problem with the Greatest Hoodie Ever Made, on Slate.
As oral arguments were held Tuesday in the first of two same-sex-marriage cases inside the Supreme Court, the steps and sidewalks outside were transformed into a public forum of sorts on the issue.
America's minorities are quickly becoming the majority, and the population shift is happening sooner than expected. That's coming as a surprise to older Americans according to demographer William Frey of the Brookings Institution. Host Michel Martin talks with Frey about what challenges might come from this 'cultural generation gap.'
Tell Me More continues the conversation about America's increasingly diverse population. Host Michel Martin looks at how communities and governments are responding to the changes with Danielle Belton of Clutch Magazine, Univision's Fernando Vila, and Howard Dodson, a Howard University historian.
Some areas of the country are barely feeling the impact of sequestration cuts, but the effects are very real in Indian nations. Host Michel Martin finds out more from Amber Ebarb of the National Congress of American Indians and Lacey Horn, Treasurer of the Cherokee Nation.
Millions of Americans are officially jobless, but that doesn't mean they're not earning money. To help make ends meet, many unemployed and underemployed people are working in what economists call the 'shadow economy.' Host Michel Martin speaks with Bloomberg economics reporter Joshua Zumbrun about this trend.