Friday, February 28, 2014

After AT&T Merger Was Blocked, T-Mobile Becomes Aggressive Innovator

In 2011, AT&T's attempted merger with T-Mobile would have created a mobile phone giant in the US.  The merger would have given AT&T an almost monopoly in the cellular business, and the Federal Communications Commission saw that as a reason to block the acquisition.  When T-Mobile was set free from its powerful suitor, the smaller carrier began to behave like a real competitor. It has spent the last three years shaking up the industry with its aggressive innovations in mobile pricing.

Now the tail has begun to wag the dog, and the attractive pricing breaks that T-Mobile has offered are being countered by the bigger carriers.  Lucrative schemes like contract phone pricing (where you earn a cheap or free upgraded phone every two years but must lock in a two-year contract at a high price) are getting challenged by no-contract options at AT&T and Verizon, as well as T-Mobile.

Hunter Communicatons Original News Source:
The New York Times

Link to article:

Excerpt: "In 2011, officials at the Federal Communications Commission and the Justice Department moved to block AT&T’s proposed $39 billion acquisition of T-Mobile. That kept the struggling, fourth-place carrier alive as an independent firm. And it led John J. Legere, T-Mobile’s flamboyant, foul-mouthed chief executive, to brand his company the 'uncarrier,' and inaugurate a string of measures that have turned every accepted practice in the mobile business on its head.

T-Mobile’s resurgence, and the effect it has had on the larger market for cellular service, may hold important lessons for regulators who will soon sit in judgment over the latest enormous broadband proposal, Comcast’s deal to gobble up Time Warner Cable.

While T-Mobile executives are reluctant to credit the failed merger with AT&T as the source of the firm’s aggressive new pricing strategy, they admit that they see themselves as disrupters in the market. 'We want to identify every pain point for consumers in this industry and eliminate them all,' said Michael Katz, T-Mobile’s vice president of marketing.

In the last year, T-Mobile has dropped the traditional two-year contract from its lineup; now its plans come without customer lock-in. It has also dropped early termination fees, overage charges and other extra strings that carriers apply to keep you in line. The carrier now allows customers to text and use the Web while traveling in 100 countries at no extra charge. T-Mobile has also offered to pay off the early-termination fees its new customers might incur with their old carriers when switching. Most important, it has unbundled the price of a phone from the price of wireless service. Now, you can pay a separate amount for each piece. This means that if you decide against immediately upgrading when you finish paying off your phone, your monthly bill might — astonishingly — go down.

Former F.C.C. officials say this is exactly what the agency hoped for when, in 2011, it weighed in against AT&T’s plan to purchase T-Mobile. As the agency’s staff explained in a lengthy report, regulators feared that shrinking the four major carriers to three would give providers an incentive to raise prices. Instead, regulators saw an elegant escape hatch for T-Mobile. If AT&T was forced to call off the deal, it would owe T-Mobile a breakup fee worth at least $3 billion in cash, plus an additional $1 billion in rights to wireless spectrum. The money and spectrum would allow T-Mobile to build out its network infrastructure, making it more attractive to new users. Given the right leadership, regulators hoped the fourth-place carrier could play a spoiler’s role in the marketplace. By aggressively courting new users, T-Mobile would act as an agitator prompting change across the industry."

Thursday, February 27, 2014

New Netflix / Comcast Deal Sounds Good, but is it Bad for Consumers?

Netflix has struck a deal with Comcast to streamline the middleman pipeline that directs traffic between Netflix' servers and Comcast's subscribers, a move that should clear up bottlenecks and reduced speeds at prime time.  During peak hours, as much as 30 percent of internet traffic can be taken up by Netflix content streaming, so any decision that manages that traffic will be noticed immediately by subscribers.

But Comcast is in the process of approval for its takeover of Time Warner Cable, crating a near-monopoly on cable and internet to American consumers.  So the deal with Netflix is described as "water in the basement" before a coming flood of similar agreements between giant content providers and internet service providers.  This could choke competition and make sure that new startups will find it hard to compete on a level playing field.

Hunter Communications Original News Source:
The New York Times

Link to article:

Excerpt: "Comcast, the country’s largest cable and broadband provider, and Netflix, the giant television and movie streaming service, announced an agreement Sunday in which Netflix will pay Comcast for faster and more reliable access to Comcast’s subscribers.

The deal is a milestone in the history of the Internet, where content providers like Netflix generally have not had to pay for access to the customers of a broadband provider.

But the growing power of broadband companies like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T has given those companies increased leverage over sites whose traffic gobbles up chunks of a network’s capacity. Netflix is one of those sites, accounting for nearly 30 percent of all Internet traffic at peak hours.

The agreement comes just 10 days after Comcast agreed to buy Time Warner Cable for $45 billion, an acquisition that would make Comcast the cable provider to nearly one-third of American homes and the high-speed Internet company for close to 40 percent. Federal regulators are expected to scrutinize whether that deal would thwart competition among cable and Internet providers.

It is also unclear whether the Comcast-Netflix deal violates the principles of what is known as net neutrality — where all content providers have equal and free access to consumers. People close to the deal characterize it as a common arrangement. Content companies frequently pay a middleman to carry traffic to a broadband provider, which then moves through its pipes and into a consumer’s home.

In a news release announcing the deal, the companies said, “Netflix receives no preferential network treatment under the multiyear agreement.” Details were not disclosed, but a person close to the companies said it involved annual payments of several million dollars.

Others, including Tim Wu, a Columbia Law School professor and advocate for net neutrality, said the interconnection agreement between Comcast and Netflix was one of the first such arrangements where a broadband provider like Comcast has extracted payment to send specific content through the “on ramp” to its network.

'This is the water in the basement for the Internet industry,' Mr. Wu said, the first in what could be a flood of such arrangements. 'I think it is going to be bad for consumers,' he added, because such costs are often passed through to the customer.

One fear is that if such deals become common, only the wealthiest content companies will be able to afford to pay for them, which could stifle the next Netflix from ever getting off the ground.

The agreement also follows a January ruling from a federal appeals court that struck down the Federal Communications Commission’s net neutrality rules, saying the agency overstepped its authority. This type of deal between Comcast and Netflix might have been forbidden under a liberal reading of the F.C.C.’s rules.

The announcement on Sunday confirmed reports that had trickled out late last week, as close watchers of Internet traffic began to detect a more direct Internet path of Netflix videos to Comcast customers. In recent months, Netflix had reported that delivery speed of its content to Comcast subscribers had declined by more than 25 percent, resulting in frequent interruptions and delays for customers trying to stream television shows and movies delivered through Netflix. Customers of other providers, including Verizon, also reported delays."

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Rick Caruso Pronounces the End of the Mall Era

As the keynote speaker of the National Retail Federation's 2014 Big Show, retail development celebrity Rick Caruso predicted that shopping malls have passed their peak and are losing relevance for most American consumers. To stay attractive in the future, shopping malls will have to reinvent themselves and create an experience that evokes a community.  A synthetic mall that closes itself off from the world will continue to lose sales to the internet.

Reacting to Caruso's speech, a roundtable of retail experts convened by Apparel News ponder the future of mall shopping, and what type of approach the mall will need to stay part of the retail equation in the coming decades.

Hunter Communications Original News Source:
Apparel News

Link to article:

Excerpt: "The traditional mall is losing relevance. It might already be a dinosaur.

Making the provocative statements was Rick Caruso of Caruso Affiliated, who popularized mixed-use, lifestyle-center malls such as The Grove in Los Angeles and The Americana at Brand in Glendale, Calif. His comments were made last month as part of the National Retail Federation’s 2014 Big Show keynote address.

'I’ve come to the conclusion that within 10 to 15 years, the typical U.S. mall, unless completely reinvented, will be seen as a historical anachronism that no longer meets the needs of the public, retailers or communities,' Caruso told the crowd of retail executives. 'I believe the rebirth of retail will come as developers, retailers and cities understand the retail paradigm of the future is based on something timeless and enduring. People want to engage and feel a sense of community. They are driven by the experience.'

Caruso’s bombshell comments were accompanied by uncomfortable news for mall operators. ShopperTrak, a market-research firm that measures foot traffic in malls, found that consumer foot traffic plummeted 14.6 percent during the 2013 Christmas retail season despite a 2.7 percent increase in retail sales across several channels. The statistic suggested that while those shopping at malls made more purchases, many more were shopping at home through e-commerce...

California Apparel News spoke with a group of analysts, retailers and real estate players to gauge the state of the mall. While all agreed that the “A”-level mall will continue to thrive, the majority of speakers agreed with Caruso that the business will have to change.
Do malls need to change? How do they need to change?

FRASER ROSS: Malls are not bringing in freshness. You have got to provide more activities, fashion shows and celebrity signings so more people will have a reason to go. They have to be more experiential. Malls need to do a better job of integrating entertainment and dining. The cookie-cutter model is gone.

There are so many things that [mall operators] can do to keep people in malls, but [they] don’t do them. There should be stroller-rental services. You have to create a fun experience for kids in the mall—a kids’ store, a kids’ play area and a toy store. If kids visit the mall and have a great time, they’ll keep asking their parents to bring them back. Happy children equal a happy family. You need coffee shops and theaters. You don’t need another mass chain store in a mall. ... Malls are not looking at longevity, they’re just looking to get the highest rent.

I don’t see a great future for malls that open more stores for publicly traded companies that open their stores to satisfy their investors. In the long term, those stores won’t bring in much money. A lot of branded stores say, “Let’s open our own store and get double margin,” but you’re not getting the same sales. [Shoppers] come out of the store with one small bag—not 20 pieces. People want to diversify their wardrobes. A lot of people don’t know how to diversify stores quickly, and the market changes quickly. One minute, scarves are popular. The next minute, headbands are popular. In a boutique, you have the ability to be much more agile and to respond quickly to changes in taste.

It’s multi-brand stores that bring people to malls. We bring convenience shopping to the shopper. Stores also have to become mini department stores. That’s how you’re going to survive. You edit the best of the best collections. You have a beautiful cashmere sweater and a funny pillow next to it. You have every different price point.

If you don’t have a large, national bookseller in the mall, Kitson can bring people to the mall to buy books. We sold $3 million in books last year in minimal square footage due to the editing and attitude of the selection we provide.

Another point for consumers is that parking is important. [Malls] are overcharging for parking. That is one of the consumers’ biggest issues. Why do people have to pay for parking when they can have merchandise delivered to their home, no questions asked, no hassle?"

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Google App Automatically Logs You In at Starbucks

It doesn't sound that earthshaking.  You would think that logging in to a free wifi server would be pretty simple and self-explanatory.  But go to your local Starbucks and take note of all the hoops you have to jump through to log on, including a semi-deceptive ad clickthrough that takes up a big brightly-colored button on the page (while you have to search for the tiny text link that takes you directly to the wifi).

Now Google, which plans to complete the conversion of Starbucks wifi to its high-speed servers, has revealed that a free app to log on to Google wifi will work at Starbucks locations. The app will be released in iOS and Android versions, and will allow users to detect and log on automatically at Google wifi hotspots, including those at Starbucks.

Hunter Communications Original News Source:
CBS News

Link to article:
Google Wifi App Would Automatically Log Customers Into Starbucks Hotspots

Excerpt: "Google reportedly is developing an app that would automatically connect users with its Google WiFi hotspots. The app would first be used at Starbucks, as Google continues to replace AT&T as the official WiFi network at the coffee chain.

According to Engadget, Google is testing Android and iOS versions at its Mountain View, Calif., headquarters. The site did not have word on if, or when, the app will be publicly released.

Starbucks customers currently have to go to a website and accept terms of service before accessing WiFi. With the app, they'd be connected by simply walking within WiFi range.

Google says the Google WiFi speeds will be 10 times faster than AT&T's. In cities equipped with Google's 1-gigabit broadband service, Google Fiber, the company claims its Starbucks internet speeds will be 100 times faster."

Monday, February 24, 2014

Two Fonts Inspire Line of Eyeglass Frames

So its not so strange to see typography inspired by and inspiring architecture and interior design. The clean lines of midcentury modern fit the equally clean lines and proportions of a typeface like Helvetica, for example.  But a new eyewear line in Japan has taken the cross-pollination of typography and design one step further.

Type is a new line of Japanese eyeglass frames whose shapes, weights and proportions are drawn from the shapes and ornaments of classic typefaces.  The first two models are Helvetica and Garamond, and each come in thicknesses corresponding to type weights of light, regular and bold.

Hunter Communications Original News Source:
Co.Design

Link to article:

Excerpt: "If you're the sort of person who always looks upon the world through the discriminating lenses of type design, great news! You can now literally wear eyeglasses based on fonts thanks to Type a new line of Japanese glasses. Inspired by two classic fonts--Garamond and Helvetica--each family of glasses comes in three separate weights: light, regular, and bold.

The visual association with Garamond and Helvetica isn't just name deep. These glasses really do look like the fonts they are named for. Helvetica's sans-serif design, created in 1957 by Max Miedinger at Switzerland's Haas Type Foundry, was originally meant to be neutral while emphasizing clarity. This aspect of Helvetica as a typeface is reflected quite accurately by Type's eponymous line of glasses, where the character of Helvetica's ascenders, spines, and terminals are mirrored pretty much exactly in the bridge, temples, and fronts of the frame. Just as Helvetica is a font for the unpresumptuous, the Helvetica glasses are for people who don't want to be thought of as wearing glasses.

The character of the Garamond glasses is quite different: they are for bookish intellectuals who revel in wearing a pair of specs. Like the typeface, Garamond features a round, pronounced design, where the link and ear of a Garamond 'g' becomes mirrored in the frame's own end pieces and temple covers. There's something retro but slightly gittish about them: the kind of glasses that Gussie Fink-Nottle would wear to an evening at the Drone's Club."

Friday, February 21, 2014

New Supersonic Private Jet Ditches Windows for Giant Screen

Sure, lots of fliers get a bit nervous in the air.  And looking out the window at the shifting panorama of fluffy clouds and landing to a view of the cityscape is rather reassuring. But trading off that subjective feeling of security for actual structural integrity, a new private jet from Spike Aerospace gets rid of all passenger windows, replacing them with a giant row of video screens that stream live video of the views outside.  This windowless design has for years been used in military and freight transporters to boost strength and speed.

The new S-512 is the first private jet that can fly at supersonic speed, and the subtraction of all those little plastic-windowed portholes is one of the reasons the $80 million new prototype can attain its cruising speed of 1,370 mph (Mach 1.8) with a full load of 18 passengers.

Hunter Communications Original News Source:
WIRED

Link to article:
Supersonic Jet Ditches Windows for Massive Live-Streaming Screens
Excerpt: "The Boston-based aerospace firm is taking advantage of recent advances in video recording, live-streaming, and display technology with an interior that replaces the windows with massive, high-def screens. The S-512’s exterior will be lined with tiny cameras sending footage to thin, curved displays lining the interior walls of the fuselage. The result will be an unbroken panoramic view of the outside world. And if passengers want to sleep or distract themselves from ominous rainclouds, they can darken the screen or choose from an assortment of ambient images. But this isn’t just a wiz-bang feature for an eight-figure aircraft.

While windows are essential for keeping claustrophobia in check, they require engineering workarounds that compromise a fuselage’s simple structure. And that goes two-fold for a supersonic aircraft. An airplane is stronger sans windows, which is one of the reasons why planes carrying military personnel or packages fly without them. Putting passenger windows on an airplane requires meticulous construction — the ovular shape, small aperture, and double-pane construction are all there to maintain cabin pressure and resist cracking while flying 500 mph at 35,000 feet.

It would be much simpler and safer to have a smooth-skinned, window-less fuselage, but frequent fliers have become accustomed to a calming view of the clouds and tiny cities during takeoff and landing.

Spike says that in order to hit their performance goals, they’ve planned to go windowless since the beginning. 'A few advisers and friends are concerned that there are no windows,' Spike founder Vik Kachoria told WIRED. 'But I think that if you give them the screens and give them the visibility, you might be able to get away from that.' "

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Is It Time for Spain to Reset Its Clocks?

Spain is on a unique schedule, where the work day starts late, breaks for a three hour lunch and siesta, and then starts up again until 7 or 8 in the evening. The dinner hour starts at 10pm, along with the prime time television schedule, and most Spaniards are still up watching television until midnight or later.  

Part of the reason for this perennial "lateness" can be traced to Spain shifting from Greenwich Mean Time to Central European Time to be in synch with Hitler during World War 2, when the largely agrarian society timed their day by the sun and not artificial clock time.  But after the war neighboring Portugal shifted their clock back to the earlier GMT while Spain didn't, and their late hours became more ingrained.

Now the economic crisis has Spanish labor experts rethinking productivity and work habits, and considering returning the country to the GMT time zone that it geographically is aligned to.  Then comes the harder work of convincing locals to work an 8 to 5 workday like their European neighbors.

Hunter Communications Original News Source:
The New York Times

Link to article:

Excerpt: "Spain still operates on its own clock and rhythms. But now that it is trying to recover from a devastating economic crisis — in the absence of easy solutions — a pro-efficiency movement contends that the country can become more productive, more in sync with the rest of Europe, if it adopts a more regular schedule.

Yet what might sound logical to many non-Spaniards would represent a fundamental change to Spanish life. For decades, many Spaniards have taken a long midday siesta break for lunch and a nap. Under a new schedule, that would be truncated to an hour or less. Television programs would be scheduled an hour earlier. And the elastic Spanish working day would be replaced by something closer to a 9-to-5 timetable.

Underpinning the proposed changes is a recommendation to change time itself by turning back the clocks an hour, which would move Spain out of the time zone that includes France, Germany and Italy. Instead, Spain would join its natural geographical slot with Portugal and Britain in Coordinated Universal Time, the modern successor to Greenwich Mean Time.

'We want to see a more efficient culture,' said Ignacio Buqueras, the most outspoken advocate of changing the Spanish schedule. 'Spain has to break the bad habits it has accumulated over the past 40 or 50 years.'

For the moment, Spain’s government is treating the campaign seriously. In September, a parliamentary commission recommended that the government turn back the clocks an hour and introduce a regular eight-hour workday. As yet, the government has not taken any action.

A workday abbreviated by siestas is a Spanish cliché, yet it is not necessarily rooted in reality. Instead, many urban Spaniards complain of a never-ending workday that begins in the morning but is interrupted by a traditional late-morning break and then interrupted again by the midday lunch. If workers return to their desks at 4 p.m. (lunch starts at 2), many people say, they end up working well into the evening, especially if the boss takes a long break and then works late."

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

It's a Bird, It's a Plane -- No, It's Downtown LA's new Metropolis!

One urban renewal project that has been on the back burner so long that it has become more of a legend than a serious plan has just got some heat and moved back into reality. Metropolis, the $1 billion cluster of skyscrapers proposed for the yards next to the 110 Freeway between 8th and 9th Streets downtown now has the funding to begin construction, and the first phase is aimed for a 2016 completion.

The Metropolis project has been on the drawing boards since the 1980s, but now that Fig at 7th shopping center is a smashing success and the massive Wilshire Grand skyscraper is under construction, the project's connection between Staples Center/ LA Live and the rapidly developing Metro Center neighborhood  makes a great deal of economic sense.

Hunter Communications Original News Source:
DTLA Rising

Link to article: 

Excerpt: "This past Valentine’s Day was another major, major milestone in Downtown LA’s continued march forward toward urban renewal and revitalization. The Metropolis project, which is a 6.3 acre development site (currently an ugly surface parking lot) on the western edge of downtown abutting the 110 freeway, held a ceremonial ground breaking event that finally secured the fate of the long-delayed project.

For those who have been following the history of the Metropolis project in Downtown LA, the project has had a frustrating track record of numerous false starts. Many of today’s downtown advocates wondered if Metropolis would ever really happen in our lifetimes. First proposed in the 1980s, the stalled Metropolis project has remained a surface parking lot for nearly three decades leaving an ugly scar on the Downtown LA landscape. Surface parking lots are for the car-oriented suburbs, not for an aspiring urban center with a goal to encourage mixed-use density and walkability.

IDS Real Estate Group purchased the Metropolis site back in 2005 and announced in 2011 that Metropolis was ready to break ground after decades of seemingly endless dormancy. Unfortunately, the project was mired in financial uncertainty and thrown off course again this time by the recent Great Recession.

Thank goodness, with the economy improving and investors optimistic once again, the Metropolis project is finally, truly getting off the ground this time. Foreign capital to the rescue. Chinese developer Greenland USA — a subsidiary of Shanghai-based Greenland Group — successfully purchased the site from IDS Real Estate Group closing escrow on Jan 31, 2014 for nearly $150 million. Greenland Group is the largest diversified company in China with major real estate developments around the world including London, Seoul, Sydney and the massive forthcoming $4 billion Atlantic Yards project in New York.

Work will begin shortly on the first phase of Metropolis, which includes two high-rise towers along 9th Street: a 19-story, 350-room Indigo boutique hotel and a 38-story residential tower (rentals or condos have not been determined yet). The trendy Hotel Indigo, part of Intercontinental Hotel Group (IHG), will be the first one in Los Angeles County (they’re also in Anaheim and San Diego). The hotel is slated to open on February 14, 2016, exactly two years from now."

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Google Aims for 10-Gigabit Internet service

Google has been testing a new fiber internet service in Kansas City that provides a blindingly fast 1-Gigabit connection speed.  But now, before that test program has even had a chance to roll out to additional markets, the tech megagiant has revealed its new project to enable a connection speed ten times THAT fast.  Their 10-Gig internet service is projected for the next decade, but a test program could appear as soon as three years from now.  

For comparison purposes, the average high-speed connection in American households is clocked at 9-Megabit speed.  So the Kansas City program and the new 10-Gigabit program attain speeds of more than one hundred and more than one THOUSAND times that current "high-speed" internet connection, respectively.

Hunter Communications Original News Source:
Los Angeles Times

Link to article:

Excerpt: "Google wants to create Internet connections of 10 gigabits per second, 10 times faster than what it already delivers to customers of its Fiber service in the Kansas City area.

Patrick Pichette, chief financial officer of the tech giant, said it could take as long as 10 years to create the technology, but Google hopes to deliver it as early as three years from now.

'That's what we're working on. There's no need to wait,' Pichette said at the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet conference, according to USA Today.

The average Internet speed for U.S. users is about 9 megabits per second. In Kansas City, Mo. and Kansas City, Kan., Google already delivers Internet at speeds of 1 gigabit (about 1,000 megabits) per second. At 10 gigabits per second, Google's futuristic Internet connections would blaze past anything the average U.S. consumer has experienced.

Pichette said 10-gigabit Internet will allow users to run more data-intensive software over the Internet.

'That's where the world is going,' he said. 'It's going to happen.'"

Monday, February 17, 2014

New LED Lights Can Keep You Awake or Put You to Sleep

Mood lighting has been around since the hi-fi 50s.  Dim, soft lighting would set a mood, usually for something romantic. But now that LEDs are replacing traditional tungsten incandescent bulbs, there is a new market niche for lighting that can have an actual physiological effect on users. Lights with a high component of blue spectrum keeps you alert and focused, and lowering the blue components can help you relax and ease into a sleepy state.

Add to that remote-control operation, even by smartphone or internet, and you create an appliance that is far more interactive than a mere bulb.  The future of controlled lighting is just starting.

Hunter Communications Original News Source:
New York Times

Link to article:

Excerpt: " 'There’s a tremendous potential for LED lighting to go beyond illumination,' said John Strainic, General Electric’s general manager for consumer lighting. 'We’re asking people to think about lighting as more than just an impulse purchase.'

Because of the LED manufacturing process, the light that the technology creates is weighted toward the blue end of the spectrum. That is true whether the LED is used in a light bulb, a tablet or a television display.

That blue light has its advantages: Blue stimulates a photoreceptor in the eye that reduces melatonin production and helps a person stay awake.“You have to start thinking of light as a drug,” said Terry K. McGowan, the director of engineering for the American Lighting Association, a trade group.

That is why Lighting Science, an LED manufacturer, is now selling Awake and Alert, an LED lamp that keeps people pumped up by pumping up the blue. Conversely, the company’s Good Night lighting product reduces the blue output, helping people sleep. This summer, Lighting Science will offer its Rhythm Downlight, a lamp controlled by a smartphone app that adjusts blue light based on a user’s sleep schedule.

'The Awake and Alert lamp does not look brighter, but our circadian system sees it as such,' said Robert Soler, Lighting Science’s director of lighting research. 'We always felt that there was so much more you can do with light than just increase vision.'

Philips sells its own range of energy-enhancing lights, including its Wake-up Light and — to combat winter blues — the goLITE BLU, a panel of blue LEDs."

Friday, February 14, 2014

Will Celebrity Branding Bypass News for Sponsored Advertorial Press Releases?

One of the hottest and most competitive areas of modern media is gossip and celebrity "news", often carefully-placed and cultivated by celebrities and their PR representatives themselves.  But a recent celebrity birth announcement may upset the apple cart of the way these stories appear.

Kevin Jonas of Jonas Brothers fame completely bypassed all the weekly star gossip magazines and the nightly entertainment news show to handle the announcement of the birth of his and his wife Danielle's new baby.  The first public birth notice came to light via a new and very unexpected avenue, when detergent brand Dreft used their Twitter, Facebook and social media feeds to handle the announcement. Jonas admitted that he has been exploring ways to use advertising and branding to handle news and press releases that used to be the exclusive province of print and broadcasting media.

Hunter Communications Original News Source:
AdWeek

Link to article:

Excerpt: "Are brands the new celebrity weeklies? A tweet announcing the news and first pic of the birth of pop singer Kevin Jonas' daughter came not from People or OK! Magazine but a nonmedia source altogether: the detergent maker Dreft.

The Jonas Brothers singer and his wife Danielle teamed up with the Procter & Gamble brand to reveal exclusive content on their baby's arrival that was delivered via Dreft's Facebook and Twitter handles.

Increasingly, brands are using social media platforms and bypassing traditional media to connect with potential consumers. Twitter is being a willing enabler as it tries to sell more ads on the network.

But this stunt was particularly noteworthy because the brand was distributing editorial content—in this case, a celebrity's personal milestone—which used to be the sole domain of the media outlet. It speaks to the ongoing challenges facing celebrity weeklies, already facing soft newsstand sales and robust online competition.

'The idea that you would have a sponsored birth isn't new,' said Ted Murphy, CEO and founder of Izea, a company that connects influential bloggers and celebrities to brands. 'It's just typically done by media outlets. We're moving to something that's much more of a sponsored model for everything. I think you're going to see more of these symbiotic relationships where you have the brand looking to gain exposure to the demographic that follows and has an affinity for [the celebrity].'

It's easy to see why celebrities might bypass a media outlet for a brand; apart from the financial advantages, working with a brand could afford them more control over their image.

'It's probably something we're going to see more of as celebrities decide to take their news into their own hands and deciding how they want to break the news about themselves and their lives,' said Bonnie Fuller, editor of HollywoodLife.com. 'You don't have the market you did a couple years ago for celebrity baby pictures. Newsstand sales have dropped. Publications are tightening their budgets. And I think there are so many celebrities getting involved with social media and enjoying communicating with their own fans in their own way.' "

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Website of the Month: Typeset in the Future

This title card is set in Gill Sans, one of the all-time classic sans-serif fonts. 
In the world of feature-length fiction films, no genre presents a better opportunity to use typography to convey moods of optimism and dread in an uncertain future than science fiction.  A new website called Typeset in the Future explores how such masterful film auteurs as Stanley Kubrick deftly manipulate all the written words in their films to enhance and wryly comment on the story's action.  The website's initial foray is to the future that is already past for us, the outer-space world of 2001 as seen through the hopeful lens of 1968's "2001: A Space Odyssey". Thorough and very specific, the site delineates even the fonts used in company logos and to show numerical readouts on computer screens. Reading the essay-length page about "2001" is like a master class in filmic typography packed into a single blog entry.

Hunter Communications Original News Source:
The Verge

Link to article:

Excerpt: "Typography plays a significant role in science fiction on television and in movies: apart from gleaming lens flare and FTL drives, fonts are an easy indicator that the action is happening in the future. Typeset in the Future has dedicated itself to investigating every notable instance of typography in sci-fi. And it recently started with Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Typeset in the Future painstakingly analyzes the typefaces in all the notable scenes in 2001, even investigating the historicity of the corporate fonts used by the likes of IBM, Pan Am, and Howard Johnson's. Kubrick himself, according to the site's analysis, also used fonts to create mood and a sense of time. For instance, the "Dawn of Man" sequence uses the Albertus font, which looks appropriately ancient given the context.

Eurostile Bold Extended vs. Univers 67 Bold Condensed 
What's really interesting is the tension Kubrick apparently creates with the font he uses when everything is fine and what he uses to connote things are going wrong. 2001 makes ample use of Eurostile Bold Extended, which would go on to gain considerable popularity in sci-fi. Later on, however, the fonts Futura and Univers show up more and more — on warning labels and life-sign terminals — to show things as they start going south. When people start dying, you can almost count on Univers 67 Bold Condensed to make an appearance. The site's take definitely shines a new light on the classic film."

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

IKEA Leads in Renewable and Sustainable Energy Utilization

Worldwide furniture and home-decorating retail powerhouse IKEA might not be the first name you would associate with green energy.  But the Swedish corporation has the US' second largest investment in company-owned solar power, with solar panel arrays on 39 or its 44 US locations, representing 550,000 rooftop panels.  It has built 157 wind turbines, and even installed a geothermal heating and cooling system to supply its Kansas City location.  The company believes that as long as it has the capital to invest, owning its energy systems makes economic sense as well as being good for the environment.

Hunter Communications Original News Source:
Forbes

Link to article:

Excerpt: " IKEA owns as many renewable energy resources as some energy companies, with 157 wind turbines (96 of which are already operational), with a capacity rating of 345 megawatts. The company has also installed 550,000 solar panels, totaling 90 MW.

In the U.S., IKEA’s numbers are also pretty formidable, with an investment of $150 million in PV systems, making IKEA the second largest private commercial solar owner. Currently, 39 of their 44 locations are served by solar arrays, with four more installations planned in 2014 (including one on a new store). When completed, the combined capacity of IKEA’s solar portfolio will total 38 megawatts. The company is also working on a geothermal system to heat and cool a soon-to-be-constructed store near Kansas City.

I asked Howard about how IKEA thinks about risk in making this type of investment. After all, IKEA makes furniture and consumer goods. It’s not an energy company.
We think it’s a good long-term investment.  If you take wind or solar, of course there is a degree of risk, as there is in anything, but you can manage the risks. Where else can you invest capital with huge co-benefits and a good return with managable risks? We just need good long-term investments.
All of this makes for good press. It also makes good business sense, as the company is largely isolating itself from the volatilities of electric power markets – the most unpredictable markets on the planet. Essentially, IKEA is building out a long-term ‘green’ hedge, which –among other benefits – will allow them to much more accurately forecast future energy operating costs.

The company also realizes that the cheapest energy is that which is saved through low-cost efficiency measures. IKEA reports having saved $54 million in warehouse energy efficiency programs since 2010. These savings have resulted from a combination of lighting, HVAC, new energy management systems, upgraded boilers, and geothermal.

Howard’s approach to this area is noteworthy. In his view, there are always new opportunities.
I think that the advantage of new technology is that the low-hanging fruit grows back.  Efficiency investments that weren’t commercially viable then become feasible…It’s the same with renewables. We’ve been on a learning curve with renewable energy investments.  Solar PV is also progressing nicely on the cost curve, so we can go back to existing locations and find applications that weren’t cost effective before.  Rooftops are easy, but when panels and associated kit drop in price, then you can go to car-park solar opportunities that now become cost-effective.
How did this laser focus on sustainability come about?  It started with a commitment to culture and planning.
We have a nine person management team for IKEA group.  If you could see the passion, engagement and energy in the room, you would say ‘wow.’ We have a totally engaged management team.  We have a strategic landscape with sustainability as a visible cornerstone.  Then we have 11 guiding group strategies, of which one is sustainability, which runs like a green thread through the others.  We’ve been working with all competencies in the organization so that everybody understands what that means.
Howard is pretty clear that there is both a threat and an opportunity here.
Look, we have 3 billion people over the poverty line, coming in less than 20 years, who will have middle class living standards. We’ve got emissions that have to peak by 2020, and then we need a rapid decline in order to stabilize the climate. And we are building cities like never before. We have resource scarcity and climate change. So you have to say ‘this has to be a transformative agenda.’  Sustainability used to be a ‘nice to do,’ like planting trees, or doing incrementally less bad.  It’s about a mindset.  If you’re trying to reduce impacts here and there, that won’t do –it’s when you go all in that matters."
 (Note: Hunter Communications handles marketing for Burbank Town Center, home of IKEA Burbank.)

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Los Angeles Metro System Proposes Major Fare Hikes Over Next 8 Years

Trying to plug a massive budget shortfall, the Los Angeles Metro proposed two potential fare hikes that could balloon fares for Los Angeles' bus and train commuters.  The first proposal raises the initial fare in two stages, hike subsidized fares for students and the disabled, and nearly double day- and weekly passes. The second would switch prices to a two-tier system, where rush-hour fares would be jacked up and off-peak trips would remain the same (for now).

Associations representing transit riders immediately assailed the proposed hikes, and cited the disproportionate impact they would have on the poor or elderly who rely on mass transit most.

The one silver lining in the proposals? They would end the practice of charging a full-price ride for every transfer from one Metro train or bus line to another, making transfers free.  They would also allow fares paid by TAP card to include a 90-minute free round trip, making short januts and errands less expensive.

Hunter Communications Original News Source:
LA Daily News

Link to article:
Metro bus and train fares could more than double under MTA proposal

Excerpt: "Bus and train fares could more than double over the next eight years, under a Metro proposal aimed at plugging a $36 million annual gap that was released late Friday.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority staff released two alternative fare structure proposals, both of which aimed at increasing overall fares in three phases over the next eight years, possibly increasing those fares by as much as 117 percent overall.

One option would boost the base fare from the current $1.50 to $1.75 this year, eventually hiking it to $2.25. Fares for students and the disabled would double, from 55 cents to $1.10.

Day passes would jump from $5 to $9, and a weekly pass would climb from $20 to $32.

The second option would raise the fares to $2.25 during peak hours, but keep the $1.50 base fare during non-peak hours. The peak hour fee would after four years jump to $3.25.

But the current policy of forcing bus riders to pay a separate fee every time they transfer would be eliminated. Metro Chief Executive officer Art Leahy said encouraging free transfers would be a more efficient use of the system, because riders would be able to use transfers to make their trips faster.

More than half of Metro’s passengers transfer from one train or bus to another on each one-way trip, Leahy said, meaning savings for many.

The proposed fare system would also allow free round trips if made within 90 minutes, allowing someone to take a bus for a brief visit to a store, and back, for one fare. Passengers would have to employ a reusable TAP card, which costs $1, for such trips because it can keep track of the 90-minute window."

Monday, February 10, 2014

Downtown Ace Hotel's Astounding Renovation of United Artists Theatre

In another sign that downtown Los Angeles is ready for prime time, the just-opened Ace Hotel on Broadway at Ninth Street recently unveiled its street-level crown jewel, the unbelievably beautiful United Artists Theatre.  The 1927 movie palace, hailed at its original opening as "the final word in theatre construction", is a gem of plaster gingerbread and ornate murals.  No expense or effort was spared in making the theatre glow with rococo beauty.  Opening engagements at the theatre, which will specialize in live rock concerts and music and dance performance, are the sold-out grand opening event February 14 with the band Spiritualized, then a weekend of the LA Dance Project on February 20 - 22.

Hunter Communications Original News Source:
LA Curbed

Link to article:
Inside the New Ace Hotel's Dazzling Old United Artists Theatre

Excerpt: " When Downtown's United Artists Theatre first opened in late 1927, Motion Picture News pronounced it 'the final word in theatre construction,' and no wonder. Designed by noted theater architect C. Howard Crane and commissioned by United Artists, the film industry powerhouse founded by Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin, and DW Griffith, the Spanish Gothic-style venue provided a visual overload of lavish details reminiscent of the sixteenth-century Segovia Cathedral. Now part of the newly-opened Ace Hotel, the former UA movie palace has been re-christened the Theatre at Ace, and, per press materials, 'will be available for concerts, premieres, private screenings, conferences, seminars, performances and creative gatherings.'

The theater's ornate features include vaulted, arched ceilings, intricate plaster and metalwork, elaborately painted murals depicting Pickford, Fairbanks, and other Hollywood luminaries in scenes from epic myths, and the pièce de résistance—a massive dome above the center of the auditorium, covered with thousands of mirrored discs and crystal pendants and encircled by an enormous sunburst. But alongside the dazzling, Old World craftsmanship, the UA's builders incorporated forward-thinking modern elements, such as a 'refrigeration plant [of] the latest washed-air type, with dehumidifiers automatically controlled to maintain a proper temperature,' installed, Motion Picture News noted, 'at a cost of $100,000.'

After its heyday as a United Artists venue came to an end, the movie palace changed hands several times, and by 1989 was no longer screening films. In its most recent incarnation, the building served as headquarters for the University Cathedral, the church headed by colorful televangelist Dr. Gene Scott until his death in 2005. In addition to installing the building's two famous neon 'Jesus Saves' signs (one of which still remains), Dr. Scott and his church acted as admirable stewards of the 87-year-old structure, to the point where Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation head Hillsman Wright described it as being in 'perhaps the most turn-key shape' out of all of Broadway's dozen historic theaters when it went up for sale in 2009.

In advance of the reincarnated space's official relaunch next Friday, February 14, Curbed was given a tour of the venerable venue last week by Gregory Randall and Janet Olson of Chicago architecture firm GREC Architects, who worked on the restoration and design of the hotel and theater, along with Ace's in-house design team Ace Atelier and locals Commune Design.

Echoing Wright, the GREC team found the 1927 theater to be in remarkably sound shape when they began work. Other than adding subterranean office space, few structural changes were made. The firm consulted with architectural historian Teresa Grimes and brought in restoration specialists from Spectra to revive the exterior, *and Historic Building Services for the interior. The theater's murals—painted by the era's foremost muralist, Anthony Heinsbergen—were restored as well as its intricate plasterwork. The auditorium's showstopping dome was retrofitted with LED lights, while its 1,600 seats were reupholstered. A new, custom-designed carpet featuring a fish-scale pattern that complements the mezzanine's coffered ceilings was installed, along with a new Deco-inspired ticket booth. And, Randall informed us, a connecting passageway was constructed on the theater's upper level that leads to the hotel's private banquet rooms. The theater is also repurposing a lower-level room, once used by Pickford to view rough cuts, into a space that can be reserved for independent film premieres, conferences, or readings."

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Most Unhealthy Starbucks Drinks

So coffee is actually healthy, right? and green tea, that's an antioxidant.  True, true, but there's coffee, and tea, and then there's coffee and tea "drinks". Although a good strong cup of coffee or tea can be quite healthy, the rich, delicious "drinks" of  Starbucks can be shocking sources of sugar and saturated fats.  Here is a list of the coffee giant's worst offenders.

Hunter Communications Original News Source:
Huffington Post

Link to article:

Excerpt: "Starbucks: There's something hypnotically reassuring about the place -- from the placidly smiling mermaid on the logo to the cute barista who has your order ready by the time you get to the front of the line. But while the coffeehouse chain is famous for its laid-back vibe, you may not feel as relaxed once you learn these unnerving details about the nutritional content of some Starbucks favorites.

We combed through the worst offenders on the menu and rounded up the top eight least healthful drinks you can order from Starbucks. While some of these beverages contain enough sugar to induce a diabetic coma in a Shetland pony, others made our naughty list for more surprising reasons -- like magnificent levels of cholesterol.

1. Eggnog Latte
Even without a whipped cream topping, this drink still has more cholesterol than a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder Bacon and Cheese with a Big Mac stacked on top as garnish.

That image, however, doesn’t even begin to illustrate the amount of sugar and carbs in the Eggnog Latte: this drink is so far off the charts nutritionally that if you wanted to recreate it in the form of a solid, you would have to eat a white bread sandwich slathered in bacon grease and chocolate syrup, stuffed with a cronut, and topped with a dozen crushed Dum Dum pops.

Now imagine putting that mess in a blender, and slurping it up through a dark green straw. But, uh, it handles 70% of your recommended daily allowance of calcium? 

2. Caramel Apple Spice Drink
This item, billed as a “kid’s drink,” is basically a gigantic glass of simple syrup: it contains no nutritional benefits and the same amount of sugar as five Hostess Twinkies. Your teeth would prefer you slept with a retainer made out of Twizzlers.

3.  Caramel Brulee Latte
A cup of coffee is like the Caramel Brulee Latte the same way my apartment is like the palace of Versailles. This prime example of end-of-the-empire decadence jams 580 calories, twenty grams of fat, and eighty-five grams of carbs into its scant twenty ounces.

4. White Hot Chocolate
You may as well pour the contents of your local diner’s grease trap directly into your carotid artery. The White Hot Chocolate contains more saturated fat than a six-piece bucket of fried chicken at KFC and about as many calories as a chicken alfredo calzone at the Olive Garden."

Thursday, February 6, 2014

LED Streetlights Will Change How Nighttime LA Looks on Film

A retrofit of all the streetlights in LA is just about finished, and the change in color and quaity of the lighting will change forever the way Los Angeles streetscapes appear in movies and television.  In the 1970s and 80s, old-fashioned tungsten incandescent lighting in streetlights was swapped out for sodium-vapor lighting, replacing a soft yellowish-white light with a bright, harsh yellow light.  That has been the standard look of nighttime cities for the last 30 years.

But now, energy saving LED lighting has been retrofitted to replace the sodium-vapor bulbs in Los Angeles, and the new light is a sharp bluish-white that resembles a daylight hue.  The directional quality of the streetlights also mean that the night sky appears much darker, and light pollution is lessened. This look has a more natural quality, but also presents certain challenges for filmmakers.

Hunter Communications Original News Source:
Gizmodo

Link to article:

Excerpt: "The decision by the city of Los Angeles last year to replace its high-pressure sodium streetlights—known for their distinctive yellow hue—with new, blue-tinted LEDs might have a profound effect on at least one local industry. All of those LEDs, with their new urban color scheme, will dramatically change how the city appears on camera, thus giving Los Angeles a brand new look in the age of digital filmmaking. As Dave Kendricken writes for No Film School, 'Hollywood will never look the same.'

Kendricken specifically uses Michael Mann's 2004 film Collateral as his example of a movie that relied heavily on the depiction of Los Angeles at night. Mann deliberately set the film in L.A.—actually relocating it to L.A. from NYC, where it was originally going to be filmed—not only due to the narrative mechanics of the screenplay but because of the particular color tones of the city's nocturnal streetscape and how they would appear when shot with digital cameras.

Mann's well-known urban aesthetic, and his propensity for shooting films digitally, thus came together in Los Angeles under the unlikely banner of the city's antiquated streetlight infrastructure.

Surely, though, nothing is really being lost in this transition to LEDs? Filmmakers and photographers can simply fake the old color scheme in post-production—after all, that's what things like Photoshop are for.

Not so fast, Kendricken warns.

As he points out, the color effects of LEDs are not, in fact, easy to mask. 'The interesting thing about non-tungsten artificial light sources,' Kendricken writes, 'is that they often produce a non-continuous or incomplete spectral output. This can affect the appearance of certain colors under that output. More simply, you can't really put colors back in that weren't there to begin with, even by gelling such a light source or color correcting in post.'"

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

New Social Media Apps Open Up Opportunities for Marketing

Once upon a time there was Friendster and then Myspace, till Facebook wiped them off the map.  Twitter popped up, and then offshoots Instagram and Vine.  The number of preferred social media apps were small and manageable.

But now the success of social media has spawned a huge new generation of apps to appeal to trendy young users that are quick to decide that last year's must-have app is now officially over. And with every new app comes a more or less welcoming or hostile environment for branding, marketing and advertising.  Adweek offers up a guide to the latest crop of social media apps with a rating of how appropriate or impossible the opportunities are to market your company, brand or product.

Hunter Communications Original News Source:
AdWeek

Link to article:
The Branding Potential Behind Some of Mobile Messaging's Big Players

Excerpt: "There are currently about 1.3 billion smartphones in use globally. By 2017, it’s expected that 2.5 billion users will connect through messaging-based apps.

Snapchat. Line. Whisper. Tango. These are just some of the call names of a new messaging code that advertisers are trying to understand and speak themselves. They are the new social platforms—entirely mobile and thoroughly engaging, particularly for youth.

Until recently, innovative social media marketing meant campaigns built for Facebook and Twitter, and maybe Tumblr. Just as marketers started to get the hang of this new language—redirecting their ad dollars accordingly—they had to contend with Instagram, then Vine and then Snapchat. While those platforms are still relatively new marketing landscapes, the increasingly mobile social media frontier is now exploding with unexpected, and seemingly inhospitable, new inhabitants that look really scary to all but the most daring brands. If advertising on Facebook was thought to be intrusive, try inserting a trademark into a private group conversation or targeting people who don’t want to be identified.

For example, how do you find fans on Whisper, the anonymous mobile message feed best used for broadcasting secrets? How do you campaign on Kik, where millions of users are messaging with friends and strangers? Should marketers bother to post questions on Jelly, yet another app for sending messages and getting feedback?

Already these apps attract massive audiences—WhatsApp alone counts almost a half billion. But to survive, most of these new apps will surely need to monetize some branded experiences. DDB Worldwide, used to pushing into new creative areas, has already embraced six-second video formats for promotions on Vine. The agency’s Oslo office already has branched out into disappearing messages on Snapchat.

These are almost safe ad plays—no-brainers. Still, clients are unsure of even these new modes of social media, says Joseph Cianciotto, DDB’s U.S. chief digital officer. It’s a challenge convincing brands only just now getting accustomed to Twitter that Whisper or Kik is worth a look. 'Every dollar spent on Whisper is a dollar not spent on a known quantity,” Cianciotto says. “That is still nerve-wracking to a client.' "

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Tech Giants Meet to Plan Standards for Multicolor Typography

There are thousands of fonts available for your computer, free and paid. They run the gamut from simple webfonts to professional font families.  What has not been plentiful or easily utilized are multicolored fonts.  The compromise you currently have to work with to achieve more than one color in your typography is the use of several synched-up layers, each adding a color to the overall picture.  But all that is about to change, once a new protocol for multicolor fonts and animated typography is established.  

The MPEG group is merging technology from Mozilla, Google, Adobe and Microsoft into a unified standard that will add multicolor and animation abilities that will work uniformly across software platforms.

Hunter Communications Original News Source:
C|Net

Link to article:

Excerpt: "For a few decades now, fonts have been monochromatic -- just the thing for putting black ink on white paper. But publishing has gone digital, and the era of the multicolored font is beginning.

The Motion Pictures Experts Group (MPEG) standards group last week began a project to standardize chromatic fonts -- those with multiple colors. Vladimir Levantovsky, a Monotype Imaging employee who serves as chairman of the group's font work, said he expects to merge technology from Mozilla, Adobe, Google, and Microsoft into a standard.

The impetus for the work was the need to support emoji, the colorful emoticons, icons, and pictures that gradually are expanding in use. But the work will expand to traditional typography, too, Levantovsky said.

'I am sure this technology will bring us a whole new era of polychromatic fonts,' he said. 'Emoji is just one of the use cases and it is certainly a significant one because it was the catalyst for color font creation, but I am sure there is much more to come.'

Today, it's possible to use multicolored fonts, called chromatic fonts, but it's awkward. Typically, a designer will combine two or more fonts that are designed to work together in layers to form, in effect, a single typeface. To do so, the designer must overlay the different layers of text in exactly the same place, something that can make editing and repositioning awkward.

With color-font support, the hassles of alignment, editing, and other changes disappear. But there's more, too: instead of just using different blocks of a single color, as with current chromatic fonts, the new standard will let people define gradients that gradually change from one color to another or that become gradually transparent."

Monday, February 3, 2014

FDA Meetings Point to a Fitness-Oriented iWatch from Apple

No one is sure, but this concept for the iWatch looks good as any
The long-rumored iWatch that Apple has been planning never materialized in 2013, as tech-watchers had been predicting. Though Apple has a long history of inventing a product that consumers had no idea they needed, then convincing them they can't live without it, maybe the Cupertino giant was waiting to come up with a reason that makes the watch something indispensible.

Now it looks like the killer app that makes the iWatch into something worth having has something to do with fitness and medical monitoring.  FDA meetings this month with Apple suggest that the new gadget will be capable of monitoring everything from blood pressure and hydration to blood glucose levels, and then immediately transferring the data to a user's phone and computers for constant trackiing and analysis.

Hunter Communications Original News Source:
ArsTechnica

Link to article:

Excerpt: "Of all the Apple rumors to circulate during the Tim Cook era, the "iWatch" has been one of the most persistent. The rumors kicked off a year ago, when the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal both reported on Apple's internal smartwatch experimentation. Shortly afterward, Bloomberg reported that Apple had a team of as many as 100 product designers iterating on different versions of the watch and that it might run a version of iOS when finally released. (Rumors that we'd see the watch in 2013 didn't pan out as you may have noticed.)

Now the New York Times is throwing more fuel on the iWatch fire, citing a mid-December 2013 meeting between FDA officials and Apple employees about "mobile medical applications" as evidence that Apple is still pursuing a smartwatch-like device with "health-monitoring" applications. The Times cites the prominence of the people involved as a sign that this was not just a run-of-the-mill meeting. On Apple's side, the list includes SVP of Operations Jeff Williams; VP of Software Technology Bud Tribble; VP of Worldwide Government Affairs Cathy Novelli; Michael O'Reilly, who was previously Chief Medical Officer at a medical technology company called Masimo; and Government Affairs staffer Tim Powderly. The FDA participants were Deputy Commissioner for Policy, Planning, and Legislation Sally Howard; Center for Devices and Radiological Health director Jeff Shuren; Senior Policy Advisor Bakul Patel; and Policy Analyst Jeff Shiffman. 

The Times article was followed shortly afterward by a report from the generally well-sourced 9to5Mac, which claims Apple is working on a built-in application called 'Healthbook' for iOS 8. According to 9to5Mac's sources, Healthbook will take visual cues from the existing Passbook application, and it will be capable of monitoring and tracking 'blood pressure, hydration levels, heart rate, and ... glucose levels' among other things. The app will be able to track weight loss and remind users when they need to take their prescriptions."