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VLC prepares to add AirPlay support as it crosses 3 billion downloads

VLC, the hugely popular media playing service, is filing one of its gaps with the addition of AirPlay support as its just crossed an incredible three billion users.

The new feature was revealed by Jean-Baptiste Kempf, one of the service’s lead developers, in an interview with Variety at CES and it will give users a chance to beam content from their Android or iOS device to an Apple TV. The addition, which is due in the upcoming version 4 of VLC, is the biggest new feature since the service added Chromecast support last summer.

But that’s not all that the dozen or so people on the VLC development team are working on.

In addition, Variety reports that VLC is preparing to add enable native support for VR content. Instead of SDKs, the team has reversed engineered popular hardware to offer features that will include the option to watch 2D content in a cinema-style environment. There are also plans to bring the service to more platforms, with VentureBeat reporting that the VLC team is eying PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch and Roku devices.

VLC, which is managed by non-profit parent VideonLAN, racked up its 3 millionth download at CES, where it celebrated with the live ticker pictured above. The service reached one billion downloads back in May 2012, which represents incredible growth for a venture that began life as a project from Ecole Centrale Paris students in 1996.

Postmates lines up another $100M ahead of IPO

Postmates, one of the earlier entrants to the billion-dollar food delivery wars, has raised an additional $100 million in equity funding at a $1.85 billion valuation, as first reported by Recode and confirmed to TechCrunch by Postmates. The round comes four months after the eight-year-old startup drove home a $300 million investment that finally knocked it into “unicorn” territory.

New investor BlackRock has joined the funding round alongside Tiger Global, which served as the lead investor of Postmates’ September financing. Led by co-founder and chief executive officer Bastian Lehmann, the company has garnered a total of $681 million in venture capital funding from investors, including Spark Capital, Founders Fund, Uncork Capital and Slow Ventures.

In line with several other tech unicorns, Postmates has begun prep for an initial public offering that could come this year, including tapping JPMorgan to advise the float. As Recode pointed out, the $100 million capital infusion was probably less of a necessary funding event but rather an opportunity for existing investors to liquidate stock ahead of an exit.

Postmates, which completes 3.5 million deliveries per month, reportedly expected to record $400 million in revenue in 2018 on food sales of $1.2 billion. The company has not confirmed that figure nor disclosed any other 2018 revenue numbers. The company currently operates in more than 500 cities, recently tacking on another 100 markets to reach an additional 50 million customers.

It will be interesting to see how Wall Street responds to a Postmates public listing. Though it was an early player in what has become an extremely crowded market, Postmates never emerged as the leader in food delivery. Now, with supergiants like Uber dominating via Uber Eats and SoftBank funneling loads of capital into Postmates competitor DoorDash, it shouldn’t count on an oversubscribed IPO.

Californians may get a break on their mobile bills after tax is struck down in court

Californians have a lot to enjoy — great weather, big waves, solid microbreweries, and of course extremely high taxes on prepaid mobile service. But this controversial last feature is being adjusted after a judge found at least part of the state’s Mobile Telephony Surcharge to be unconstitutional. As a result, bills could shrink by a couple bucks starting this month.

The tax, which funds various local services like 911 and so on, was raised in 2016 and depending on various factors could be around 20 percent of the bill. That turns a $50 bill into a $60 bill, which is especially rough when you consider that lower prepaid plans are often preferred by people with limited incomes. So the tax was unpopular from the start — not that many are particularly liked.

In addition to making users angry, it attracted the attention of wireless carriers: MetroPCS filed a lawsuit alleging that the way the tax was calculated conflicted with federal rules set by the FCC. The details are buried in a mound of legalese, but essentially the problem was that California was effectively taxing inter-state services as well as within-state ones, which is not allowed either by state or federal law.

The challenge took its course and although the California government argued that its tax was compliant with the FCC’s rules, the judge ultimately decided otherwise.

“The California Prepaid Mobile Telephony Services Surcharge Collection Act [i.e. the tax increase passed in 2014 and instituted in 2016], in its entirety, conflicts with federal law and therefore is preempted and unconstitutional,” she wrote in the order concluding the case.

Example bills from T-Mobile show how fees could change. The amounts will differ based on region and bill total.

Although California is appealing the case, the judge’s order prevents it from collecting the tax in the meantime. So as long as that injunction remains in place, mobile bills should see a small break.

It won’t be a lot — an example provided by T-Mobile showed total taxes and fees reduced by about $3. But hey, every little bit counts.

The actual amount you pay your carrier shouldn’t change, though. Your $40 or $75 plan will remain the same; it’s only the associated taxes that are effected. The way they’re listed may also change; for instance, AT&T is replacing the “Prepaid MTS Surcharge” line item with “CA Surcharges, Fees & Taxes.” Its announcement doesn’t explicitly mention a change in amount, but unless it adds a fee of its own to make up the difference, it seems that users there and at other carriers will see similarly lowered taxes.

If you’re curious how much your bill will drop, if at all, your best bet is to call customer service and ask them to check.

Research finds heavy Facebook users make impaired decisions like drug addicts

Researchers at Michigan State University are exploring the idea that there’s more to “social media addiction” than casual joking about being too online might suggest. Their paper, titled “Excessive social media users demonstrate impaired decision making in the Iowa Gambling Task” (Meshi, Elizarova, Bender and Verdejo-Garcia) and published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions, indicates that people who use social media sites heavily actually display some of the behavioral hallmarks of someone addicted to cocaine or heroin.

The study asked 71 participants to first rate their own Facebook usage with a measure known as the Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale. The study subjects then went on to complete something called the Iowa Gambling Task (IGT), a classic research tool that evaluates impaired decision making. The IGT presents participants with four virtual decks of cards associated with rewards or punishments and asks them to choose cards from the decks to maximize their virtual winnings. As the study explains, “Participants are also informed that some decks are better than others and that if they want to do well, they should avoid the bad decks and choose cards from the good decks.”

What the researchers found was telling. Study participants who self-reported as excessive Facebook users actually performed worse than their peers on the IGT, frequenting the two “bad” decks that offer immediate gains but ultimate result in losses. That difference in behavior was statistically significant in the latter portion of the IGT, when a participant has had ample time to observe the deck’s patterns and knows which decks present the greatest risk.

The IGT has been used to study everything from patients with frontal lobe brain injuries to heroin addicts, but using it as a measure to examine social media addicts is novel. Along with deeper, structural research, it’s clear that researchers can apply to social media users much of the existing methodological framework for learning about substance addiction.

The study is narrow, but interesting, and offers a few paths for follow-up research. As the researchers recognize, in an ideal study, the researchers could actually observe participants’ social media usage and sort them into categories of high or low social media usage based on behavior rather than a survey they fill out.

Future research could also delve more deeply into excessive users across different social networks. The study only looked at Facebook use, “because it is currently the most widely used [social network] around the world,” but one could expect to see similar results with the billion-plus monthly Instagram and potentially the substantially smaller portion of people on Twitter.

Ultimately, we know that social media is shifting human behavior and potentially its neurological underpinnings, we just don’t know the extent of it — yet. Due to the methodical nature of behavioral research and the often extremely protracted process of publishing it, we likely won’t know for years to come the results of studies conducted now. Still, as this study proves, there are researchers at work examining how social media is impacting our brains and our behavior — we just might not be able to see the big picture for some time.

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