There’s money in those grainy homemade podcasts.

Patreon, a platform where DIY creators can crowdsource financial sponsors or subscribers, said Thursday that it’s doubled in size in the past year. It now boasts 1 million active backers and 50,000 creators — twice the number of each it had in May of last year.

The platform — named for the wealthy aristocrats who funded Renaissance artists — has attracted a growing community of podcasters, artists, writers, and game developers looking for an alternative to the scale-hungry world of advertising-supported media.

There, popular creators can replace the nickel-and-dime trickle of cheap ads with donations from fans who are happy to shell out the cost of a cup of coffee each month to fund their work.

Unlike crowdfunding rivals like Indiegogo, GoFundMe, and Kickstarter, the site traffics in monthly commitments rather than one-time donations. Creators can lock their content behind a paywall and create membership tiers for various donation amounts.

The freedom from the demands of chasing a massive audience allows for niche or esoteric projects to break through that might not otherwise be made, for better or for worse.

The political comedy podcast Chapo Trap House has hovered near the top of a third-party chart that tracks Patreon popularity with a mix of obscure internet humor, inside jokes, and far-left politics. Not far below it is the podcast of author Sam Harris, whose Islamophobia and views on race have alienated him from much of the traditional media.   

The site’s popularity is perhaps helped by the constant tensions between big ad-driven platforms and the users who make their most popular content.  

Phillip DeFranco's fundraising page on Patreon.

Phillip DeFranco’s fundraising page on Patreon.

YouTube angered many of its stars recently when its crackdown on unsavory ad placements led to drops in ad revenue across the board. Instagram and Snapchat don’t offer creators any cut of the advertising income they generate, and Facebook only recently started granting select video makers a share of a little more than half.

Patreon, on the other hand, skims up to one tenth of income generated on the site, depending on the size of a given creator’s audience.

YouTube personality Phillip DeFranco said last fall that he was shutting down his channel to start a “news and entertainment network.” His Patreon is currently listed as the site’s most popular.

The company has raised $47 million from its own investors to date and is reportedly considering another round. 

 

For people with diabetes, the Apple Watch could soon become indispensable. 

BGR claims to have “exclusive” information from a source “familiar with Apple’s plans” about the company’s efforts to develop groundbreaking new ways to harness the Watch’s health-tracking potential.  

Apple aims to introduce the first-ever method for non-invasive glucose monitoring as a feature in an upcoming version of the Watch, according to the source. The introduction of tech like that would be a major breakthrough for those living with diabetes, who are typically forced to track their glucose through a variety of more invasive means, like pricking their fingers for blood tests.

The source for WannaCry ransomware, which has spread to 150 countries, may be Pyongyang or those trying to frame it, security analysts say, pointing to code similarities between the virus and a malware attributed to alleged hackers from North Korea.

The speculation over a North Korean connection arose Monday, after the well-known Google security researcher Neel Mehta revealed a resemblance between the code used in what is said to be an early version of WannaCry ransomware and that in a hacker tool attributed to the notorious Lazarus Group in a Twitter post. 

Containing what might look like a random set of figures and letters to an outsider accompanied by the hashtag #WannaCryptAttribution, the post has immediately drawn attention of cybersecurity experts and has been since extensively shared. Shedding light on the otherwise cryptic message, Kaspersky Lab explained in a blog post that Mehta drew parallels between “a WannaCry cryptor sample from February 2017” and “a Lazarus APT [Advanced Persistent Threat] group sample from February 2015.”

Labelling Mehta’s revelation “the most significant clue to date regarding the origins of WannaCry,”Kaspersky researches at the same time acknowledged that the apparent use by the WannaCry attackers of the similar code is not enough to come to definitive conclusions about its origin, as there is a possibility of it being a false flag operation and more international effort is necessary to unearth its roots.

“It’s important that other researchers around the world investigate these similarities,” the post reads.

At the same time, they said there is little doubt that February 2017 code, referenced by Mehta, “was compiled by the same people, or by people with access to the same source code” as the current spree of attacks.

Another renowned researcher, Matthieu Suiche from Comae Technologies, also said on Twitter that the discovered code similarities might have put security experts on the trail of the hackers.

“WannaCry and this [program] attributed to Lazarus are sharing code that’s unique. This group might be behind WannaCry also,” Suiche said, as cited by Wired.

However, he agreed with Kaspersky researchers that it would be wrong to rush to pin the blame on North Korea, based on these assumptions.

“Attribution can always be faked, as it’s only a matter of moving bytes around,” Suiche said, as cited by Cyberscoop.

Meanwhile, American security giant Symantec voiced a similar opinion in a statement Monday. Saying that it had discovered a code used in the malware that “historically was unique to Lazarus tools,” the company refused to speculate on North Korea’s role in the attack.

“We have not yet been able to confirm the Lazarus tools deployed WannaCry on these systems,” it stressed.

The Lazarus Group is believed to be behind numerous high-profile hacking attacks on banks’ SWIFT servers, including an attempt to steal $851 million from Bangladesh Central Bank last February and is deemed to be responsible for the November 2014 Sony Pictures hack.

READ MORE: Like letting Tomahawk missiles get stolen’: Microsoft slams NSA mishandling of exploits

While no compelling proof that would implicate North Korea or other state actor in the array of cyber heists has been revealed, some of the evidence uncovered by Russian multinational cybersecurity and anti-virus provider, Kaspersky Lab, last month, appears to support the speculation.

In an April 3 blog post, Kaspersky Lab’s Global Research & Analysis Team said that it had traced some of the IPs used by the Lazarus attackers back to North Korea, thus for the first time establishing “a direct link” between the suspected cyber criminals involved in the Lazarus operations and the rogue state. However, Kaspersky experts then fell short of naming North Korea a culprit, citing lack of evidence.

“Now, is it North Korea behind all the Bluenoroff attacks after all? As researchers, we prefer to provide facts rather than speculations,” they wrote.  

 

The ransomware began its global spread on Friday. Dubbed WannaCry, it exploits vulnerability in the Windows operating system that was first discovered by the National Security Agency (NSA) and was later leaked to public by the hacker group the Shadow Brokers last month, prompting Windows to close the loophole and issued an update. Once the malware infects the system, it sends the user a text file with a ransom demand for some $300 worth of Bitcoins. It also installs a countdown timer on the victim’s wallpaper, demanding to pay the ransom if one does not want private files deleted.

Among the notable victims affected by the virus were the National Health Service (NHS) hospitals in the UK, Russia’s Interior Ministry, Spain’s telecommunications company Telefonica and reportedly some Chinese government agencies.

 Speaking in Beijing on Sunday, Russian President Vladimir Putin called on the international community to offer a coordinated response to the cybersecurity threats at “the highest political level”and lamented the US’s refusal to discuss the issue with Russia. The Russian leader also cited another theory on the origin of the malware, stating that “Microsoft’s management has made it clear that the virus originated from US intelligence services.”

Meanwhile, cyber security firm Check Point Software Technologies Ltd said that it had discovered and neutralized the updated version of the WannaCry on Monday by successfully initiating what it called a “kill switch” inside the software.

The spread of WannaCry ransomware seems to be well past its peak, the 22-year-old security expert Marcus Hutchins who is in the forefront of the battle against the virus told AP. The attack is “done and dusted” thanks to the accumulated effort of hundreds of specialists over the weekend, he said.

Snapchat is hustling to stay one step ahead of Facebook — and that means some snazzy new advertising features.

Snapchat announced on Monday three new advertising offerings, including lenses that take advantage of the company’s efforts to move the feature beyond the user’s face. 

Snapchat helped pioneer lenses — computer-generated visuals that augment whatever a user is shooting through their smartphone’s camera — which have primarily been used for things that alter a user’s appearance, such as the famous puppy filter. 

More recently, Snapchat introduced “World Lenses” that can add digital objects to the surroundings. As of Monday, that technology is now available to advertisers in the form of “Sponsored World Lenses.”

Skyscanner has been announced as one of the first ever third party skills to be launched on Microsoft’s Cortana.

The flight search skill will allow users to ask a range of handy, direct questions through the personal assistant.

Live from today to users on all Cortana powered devices in the US – including on Windows 10 desktop and phone, Cortana for iOS and Android – the brand new skill will give users the opportunity to get quick and up-to-date information on flight queries.

Skyscanner’s Cortana skill includes the ability to ask about indicative pricing on any flight route, in addition to the best time to book routes, and live flight status information.

Skyscanner has become a pioneer in the bots and conversational search space, having been among the first to launch chat bots on both Facebook’s Messenger platform and Skype, as well as on Amazon’s Alexa voice service.

 

 

The artificial assistant for Cortana is able to conduct the conversation and surface answers about flights via both voice and visual cues, depending on which device the user engages with the skill on, creating a rich experience for those needing quick and convenient flight information.

Filip Filipov, product director at Skyscanner, commented: “This is our first Artificial Intelligence skill using short interactions which is uniquely capable of conducting conversations and handling queries over voice and via text on screen.

“Once again, Skyscanner has taken a trail-blazing approach when it comes to building the most innovative conversational search tools for travel search.

“We believe that having the ability to ask simple, direct questions relating to flight information on any device enabled with the Cortana personal assistant is another step in offering a truly dynamic and informed eco-system of information to travellers on an unrivalled range of devices and contexts.”

Saturday, 13 May 2017 00:00

WhatsApp Fined 3m Euros In Italy

U.S.-based mobile messaging service, WhatsApp, was fined 3 million Euros (3.3 million dollars) on Friday in Italy for insufficient transparency on data sharing with its parent company, Facebook.

WhatsApp was taken over by Facebook in 2014 and two years later, it introduced new terms of service and privacy policies that gave Facebook access to WhatsApp users’ data.

Italy’s Antitrust Regulator — AGCM — said in a statement that “the opportunity for WhatsApp users to refuse the handover of data to Facebook was available `but it was inadequately flagged.”

The regulator also criticised WhatsApp for introducing “unfair clauses” to its term of service, such as giving the company the right to cut off services or start charging customers without warning.

In December, the European Commission, which regulates antitrust matters in the EU, launched an investigation into Facebook’s conduct prior to the WhatsApp buyout.

The EU executive accused Facebook of misleadingly telling the commission that it could not smoothly integrate its own users’ data with that of WhatsApp.

However, Facebook denied any wrongdoing and promised to explain its actions.

The commission said it could slap a fine of up to 1 per cent of annual turnover, around 280 million dollars, if it is not satisfied by the internet giant’s answers.

WhatsApp, was incorporated in 2009 by Brian Acton and Jan Koum, both former employees of Yahoo!. After Koum and Acton left Yahoo! in September 2007, the duo traveled to South America as a break from work.

At one point they applied for jobs at Facebook but were rejected.

WhatsApp 2.0 was released with a messaging component and the number of active users suddenly increased to 250,000.

WhatsApp Inc., based in Mountain View, California, was acquired by Facebook in February 2014 for approximately US$19.3 billion.

By February 2016, WhatsApp had a user base of over one billion, making it the most popular messaging application at the time.

It took hours for the popular Facebook-owned messaging service WhatsApp to fix outages around the world that began Wednesday evening. The situation sent shockwaves around social media as disconnected users had to resort to using alternative messengers and even SMS.

WhatsApp users in Mexico, Spain, Chile, Israel, Russia, Ireland, Switzerland, Aruba, Turkey, the US and other locations experienced problems, according to social media reports.

“Earlier today, WhatsApp users in all parts of the world were unable to access WhatsApp for a few hours. We have now fixed the issue and apologize for the inconvenience,” WhatsApp said in an email to Reuters.

Just before the announcement, numerous people continued to report problems with the app’s connections, sending and receiving messages.

DownDetector.com, which provides a realtime overview of outages online, reported WhatsApp had been experiencing issues since 8pm GMT.

The messaging service, which has more than 1.2 billion users worldwide, told Reuters that it was "aware of [the] outage issue and [was] working to fix it."

Social media users have responded to the outage with horror, and lots of memes, with the hashtag 'WhatsAppDown' trending in a number of areas.

WhatsApp’s last major outage happened on New Year’s Eve 2015, when the service was knocked offline for a brief period in a number of locations around the globe.

A WhatApp spokesperson said at the time: "Some people have had trouble accessing WhatsApp for a short period today. We're working to restore service back to 100 percent for everyone and we apologize for the inconvenience."

The company’s new “Status” feature has enjoyed success, with 10 percent of the app’s users trying WhatsApp’s version of Snapchat Stories.

It is understood that the company is working on an update and is testing a new feature to allow users to pin conversations to the top of the app menu. It’s also experimenting with a “Change Number” feature to allow users easily change the phone number associated with an account.

 

Twitter users worldwide were unable to access the social media platform for around 15 minutes early Friday – which was enough to instill horror in thousands of users not knowing where to check if Twitter was really down.

The outage, although brief, was reported in multiple countries, with uptrends.com showing the entire world cut off from the social media except for the US. Tweets in English, Spanish, German and other languages sprang up after the network went up, with people wondering what has just happened.

On Wednesday evening, it took hours for the popular Facebook-owned messaging service WhatsApp to fix outages around the world. The situation sent shockwaves around social media as disconnected users had to resort to using alternative messengers, or simply freak out and panic.

Twitter did not immediately comment on the reason of the website’s crash.

However, as some tweets suggest, what followed the May the Fourth WhatsApp outage might have been the Revenge of the Fifth.

At the International Travel Goods Show, held this month in Las Vegas, I saw the future of travel. We will always know the whereabouts of our checked luggage. We will sleep as comfortably on planes as kittens in a basket. And we will never again experience the horror of watching our gadgets power down with no outlets in sight.

Fortunately, we don’t have to wait long for this futuristic world. At most, till June.

“Manufacturers are innovating to keep up with the changing traveller,” said Michele Marini Pittenger, president of the Travel Goods Association, which organises the annual event. “Luggage is increasingly lightweight, carry-on [makers] are considering the needs of the connected mobile user and security is going higher tech.”

More than 300 exhibitors, including nearly 100 from abroad, filled the convention hall for the largest show in the event’s 70-year history.

The expo featured big fish (Samsonite, Briggs & Riley, Eagle Creek) and little minnows (Walter + Ray, YaY Novelty, Dandy Nomad) and one singing mermaid, Céline Dion, who unveiled a new collection from European luggage designer Bugatti.

I spent two days roaming 15,000 square metres of space, searching for trends and sampling products that can help improve the travel experience – or, at the very least, dull the pain of the middle seat. Here is what tomorrow holds:

Luggage

Hard-side luggage falls in and out of favour as often as clogs. This year, the carapace is back in vogue, but with some embellishments. You will see exterior pockets (check out Delsey or Lojel), USB charging ports and a backlash to black, with bold colors, nubby textures and artful designs (see Heys). It luggage, for one, stops the people-mover with its statement bags, such as Grillz, a black or white skull image with a gold tooth, or Smooch, a spray of red lips. Travellers planning to visit Scandinavia in the winter should consider the Crate Reflex by Sweden-based Epic. The pink, gray and blue pieces reflect light and shimmer like the Milky Way on a cloudless night.

If our phones can juggle multiple tasks, so should our luggage. Visionair has two models working double time as a drink cart or an entertainment center. The Beverage Pal contains a cup holder and the Podpal incorporates a stand for a tablet. Delay-lay, which is in the prototype phase, comes with a sleeping pad that you can inflate with the luggage handle and detach for a quick nap in a quiet corner of the airport. During waking moments, JetKids’ BedBox, winner of TGA’s Product Innovation Award, is a wheeled suitcase that kids can ride like a miniature pony. Once aboard the plane, it converts into a Murphy-like bed suitable for drowsy youngsters up to seven-years-old.

The brainiest luggage, or maybe the most boastful, is Planet Traveller’s Space Case 1. During a demonstration, Hontus chief executive and product architect Haroon Sheikh showed a small audience how you can pop the lock with the press of a fingerprint (via a biometric scanner) or through an app on your phone; how you can weigh the bag with an app, avoiding back strain; how you can charge your electronics on a power bank with two external USB ports and a USB charging port in the front pocket; how you can hold a dance party with its bluetooth speakers and chat with friends through its speakerphone. And how you can indulge your helicopter-parent tendencies: A texting alert system lets you know when your bag has arrived on the carousel or if a stranger has absconded with it. In addition, a GPS system tracks your bag’s journey, an especially important feature if your paths happen to diverge during, say, your connection in Dubai or London.

For many luggage makers, the jangle of security accoutrements drowns out the jingle of the other bells and whistles.

“Chargers are standard and scales are nice to have,” said a representative with Aerolite, “but security is the biggest issue facing luggage.”

In March, the US Department of Homeland Security announced its electronics ban on planes departing from 10 airports in eight countries, including Turkey and Egypt. Travellers now fret over packing expensive gear (computers, cameras) in their checked bags. Another concern: strangers sneaking illicit items into luggage. In countries with extreme drug laws, such as Malaysia and Thailand, or living under an embargo, such as Cuba, rogue individuals might try to tuck contraband into your bags, turning the innocent vacationer into an unknowing mule.

The Aerolite employee explained how thieves won’t typically waste time fiddling with the lock but will simply cut the zipper. To foil villains, the London company introduced an anti-tamper zipper with a double layer of metal.

Another set of safety issues arises beyond the airport doors. Certain cities are known for their bag-nabbers and -slashers. Lewis N. Clark’s response to the “purse piñata” issue: the Secura anti-theft collection. The Chicago firm places Magnaloft, a cut-resistant fabric used in firemen’s uniforms, in vulnerable areas such as the bottom of the bag. (Choose from five styles.) A stainless-steel cable runs through the shoulder strap, which also comes with a lock so you can wrap the fortified strip around an immobile object while you dine at a French cafe or people-watch in an Italian piazza. “We want the industrial hardware to create a visual deterrent,” said Jen Panattoni, director of business development. Other Keep Out measures include locking zippers and material that shields your personal digital information from snoops by blocking radio-frequency identification (RFID).

Here’s a familiar scenario: You plan to engage in an activity – swimming, volleyball, beach-napping – that pulls your eyes away from your belongings. Short of nailing the bag to a street lamp, what can you do? Travelon has created a pouch called the LockDown (available in June) that you can secure around a sturdy object without fear of it becoming the next victim in a slasher movie.

Airlines’ stringent luggage policies are the knee in the back of the latest trend: bags that comply with the personal-item guidelines but perform like a larger carry-on. (The one destined for the overhead bin.) Mia Toro’s companion bag, for instance, has a spacious storage area with bifurcated compartments, an outer sleeve for devices and a USB charging port. You could easily pack a long weekend’s worth of items inside, with room for several (flat) souvenirs. Once on board, simply roll the bag into its parking spot by your feet.

The Fly InTransit Travel Bag was born under slight duress. Walter + Ray founder Tania Rodrigues travelled frequently for her family’s mannequin business and was desperate for a carry-on with the multi-functionality of a Swiss Army knife. A quick dissection of her solution reveals an insulated food bag, a pocket for backup outfits, a pouch for cords, a clear TSA-friendly insert, a carabiner for water bottles and an RFID-protected enclosure for IDs. “There are so many features,” she joked, “it gives me a headache.”

The Adjustable Bag knows our habits well (or, at least, mine): Pack with a light touch, shop with a heavy hand and hope that you can squeeze it all in. The nylon bag expands and shrinks with your shopping and tossing habits. In its resting state, it is no bigger than a blob of bread dough. Uncinch the side ties a wee bit for the small version, a bit more for the medium and way out for the larger. (In company vernacular, grow from Overnight to Weekend to Travel.) In addition, with the versatile strap system, wear it as a tote, a cross-body or a backpack, depending on your mood or the stuffing inside. The bag, which received $340,000 in Kickstarter funding, will be available by the end of June.

Luggage accessories

At the ticket counter, do you treat your checked luggage as if it is going off to war and you’ll never see it again? LugLoc, a GPS tracking device, calms the nerves of overprotective (or maybe just frequently burned) travellers. Place the gadget in the interior, download the app and follow your bag’s journey. The map displays its location in real time, so you can see if it’s freezing in Anchorage, sweating it out in Bangkok or waiting for you like a good bag at Washington Dulles.

The inelegant approach to securing your bag is to mummify it in plastic wrap. A more fashionable solution is to dress it in a Dandy Nomad cover. The French company celebrates the continents with its emblematic designs. There’s an Eiffel Tower against a blue checkerboard for Europe; an Aboriginal-inspired pattern with a kangaroo for Australia; and an ethnic print honouring elephants and the Masai for Africa.

MotoArt Studio co-founder Dave Hall started with furniture built out of retired planes before moving onto his next creation, PlaneTags. The artist uses fuselage skin, with the original paint finish, for the body of the ID tag. He also includes the serial and tail numbers of each plane, which you can search online to learn about your tag’s previous life. The company offers nearly 20 aircraft, including the B-26 Marauder, the F-86 Sabre and Virgin Airlines’s “Lady Penelope” Boeing 747, and unveils a new one each month.

Sleep support

At least two dozen exhibitors showcased neck pillows. In the New Products Pavilion alone, I saw Cloudz’s cool gel and bamboo microbead pillow, Sutton Home Fashions’ gel-memory foam pillow, Travel Pal’s auto-inflating pillow, Cardiff Wings (like a car’s sun visor that attaches to the seat) and, because all cheeks deserve extra padding, Airopedic’s self-inflating portable seat.

Cabeau won last year’s Buzz Award for the Evolution Cool, whose packaging reads like a gear list for an extreme-sports sleeper: air-circulation vents; moisture-wicking material. Some of the more ambitious aids could double as playground equipment for monkeys. Consider the Lapnap, which is basically a U-shaped pillow on a metal easel. Creator Andrew Comley said it was good for people who sleep face down. “It stretches out your back and relieves pressure on the spine,” he said of his product, which he launched the week before the event. The FaceCradle, which is shaped like a plush toilet seat, accommodates travellers who switch around positions from side to front to face plant. One of my favorite discoveries in this category was Travel Heads, due to its low embarrassment grade. The thick wedge of memory foam rests on your shoulder like an overstuffed parrot and catches your head when gravity calls. Passengers in the aisle seat can secure the pillow with a strap worn seatbelt-style. It is a much better version of my ball-up-my-coat approach.

In-flight amenities

Yes, economy class is dehumanising, but you can still beautify your space. Don’t fulminate, decorate!

Craig Rabin invented the Air Hook so passengers can “better utilize their existing airline seat space.” The contraption, which hooks over the seat back tray, contains a beverage holder that fits any airline cup or soda can and a perch for electronics measuring up to 8 1/2 inches tall. A bungee cord secures the gadget, in case the person in the forward seat flings an arm into your movie theatre.

The TAB Messenger Seatback Organizer, by Walter + Ray, is the tool belt of airplane pouches. The slender bag, which features multiple compartments, attaches to the seat pocket or the tray table legs, for easy in-flight dipping. Once you land, flip the magnetic flap over the main body, slide on the cross-body strap and wear your “organiser” off the plane. The company’s BendyMan turns your public seat into a private viewing room. The blue or green fella, who is also a flashlight (what bright eyes you have, BendyMan), holds smaller electronics in his lap. Set him on your tray or hang him on the seat back – he’s flexible enough for both. If you are stuck in the middle seat, placing tacks on the arm rest is not very neighbourly. Walter + Ray’s ArmPillow is a kinder, gentler way of saying, “Mine!” The plush log of memory foam soothes tired limbs – it also doubles as lumbar support – and asserts your territory against invaders from the aisle and window.

The majority of airlines no longer hand out blankets, and even if they did, you might want to wear a hazmat suit underneath. The Tucker Travel Cover combines the coverage of a blanket with the snuggly-ness of baby bunting. Wrap the flannel fabric around your back, pull on the hood (with removable neck pillow) and slip your arms inside the elastic pouch – and enjoy microbe-free slumber.

At-destination comforts

Smartphones and water go as well together as cabernet and white pants. (Unless you are drinking from GSI Outdoors’s Glacier Stainless Nesting Red Wine Glass.) The WaterSeals Magnetic Waterproof Pouch by Lewis N. Clark doesn’t just protect valuables; it turns your gadget into an amphibious creature. You can submerge the pocket to up to 30 metres (two bands of magnetic seals keep the liquid out) and still access the screen to snap photos of the sea life or text your snorkelmate with a shark alert. Of course, dry (and hard) land can be equally detrimental to your phone. American Jewel, creator of scented bags, safeguards smaller electronics from broken bones with its Rockin Candy Phone Flashers. The cases, which are made of stretchy material, rely on four corner balls to absorb the brunt of the tumble. LED lights on the tips flash with any slight-to-abrupt movement, a sign that your phone is going to be A-OK.

Many environments – Beijing on a red-alert day, a smoky bar in Istanbul, a flowering arboretum in Memphis – stress the lungs. DetoxAir uses a HEPA-rated filter to turn bad air (smoke, exhaust, dust, pollen) into daisy-fresh breath. The product fits in your mouth like a scuba regulator, but without the Darth Vader sound effects.

The water bottle, so brittle and tall, can be onerous when empty. You can’t tuck it in your back pocket between refillings. HydraPak solves the portable problem with Stash, a flexible container that collapses to the size of a hockey puck. When you are ready to replenish, squeeze the tabs, untwist the bottom and pull up the BPA- and PVC-free midsection. Then fill the litre with your liquid of choice.

You don’t want to be one of those tourists, do you? Running around in a clear garbage bag because you didn’t check the weather forecast that morning? Always be prepared – and chic – with a poncho by Reisenthel, a German family-run company. The outergear folds into its own breast pocket and, at the first drop of rain, expands into a hooded cape. The eye-popping designs – polka dots, starfish, stripes – will bring sunshine to any cloudy day.

And now, a moment of silence for all of those sunglasses that lost an arm or cracked a lens after you hastily stuffed them in a coat pocket or overpacked tote. Popticals, which won this year’s Buzz Award, solves the unwieldy specs issue with its optical transformers. With a few clicks and slides, the sporty sunglasses fold up into a palm-size object, housed in a case that is as small as a change purse.

Tooletries, of Australia, civilises tiny bathrooms (think cruise ship cabins or shared bed-and-breakfast facilities) with its toiletry holders. The silicon organisers grip onto mirrors, tiles and glass, and don’t leave any trace of their presence post-removal. The Amazing Mighty Toothbrush Holder holds up to nine kilos and compartmentalises oral implements, razors and rings. The koala- and kangaroo-shaped containers remind kids that brushing can be fun, even when they are thwacking their elbows against the shower stall.

All travellers should throw a spare bag into their luggage – the nesting-doll approach to travel. YaYbag hits all the marks for a backup carrier: It is water resistant, carries up to 25 kilos and can be stored like a fruit roll-up secured by an elastic band. Sunchea Phou, a Cambodian refugee who lives in Seattle, adorns her totes with more than 180 prints, including birds and flowers. In addition, 20 per cent of the company’s profits go to charity, so you are bag-nesting for a cause.

Travel agents? Who needs one when you have a smartphone. Planning a trip can be a pain, but it’s 2017 and you have all the necessary tools to make your vacation a breeze. From the App Store to Google Play, we’ve rounded up some of the best apps to keep stress to a bare minimum.

Booking and getting around

Finding the most affordable flight and hotel, while making sure you’ll have plenty of spending cash during your trip, can be a little tough. Check out these travel booking apps to be a master planner. You’ll also need some directions, once you’ve arrived, to make sure you get to your hotel and see everything that you want to see.

Skyscanner

skyscanner

 

Flights, hotels, rental cars — Skyscanner has got you covered. The app searches for the most affordable and best options via its travel partners. Like with Google Flights, you can see the cheapest dates to fly through a month view calendar, and you can also get alerts when prices change. If you’re not sure where exactly you want to go, Skyscanner offers a category that lets you explore “Top Deals” from your nearest airport, as well as a curated list of destinations at affordable prices.

Download now for: 

iOS Android

Kayak

kayak

For many, Kayak has been the go-to trip planning destination for quite a while — and for good reason. Like Skyscanner, Kayak searches across various travel sites for rental cars, hotels, and flights. Kayak often has exclusive deals you won’t find on other sites, and you can set price alerts and use Price Forecast to see whether you should buy now or wait. Kayak also acts as a trip planner, offering up important details at a glance like your hotel confirmation number or gate number. You can also access these details in real-time, and on other devices such as the Apple Watch.

Download now for: 

iOS Android

Hopper

hopper

If you’re really looking to get the cheapest possible price for a plane ticket, you need to download Hopper. Like Kayak and Skyscanner, you can look at the cheapest dates to fly via a month-view calendar, but Hopper prides itself on telling you when to buy your tickets via push notifications. The company claims it can save you up to 40 percent on your next flight, and that’s all done by analyzing and tracking billions of flights. The user interface is simple, and Hopper says you can book a flight in 60 seconds or less. Apple added it to the App Store’s Best of 2015 list, and Google made it a 2016 Google Play Award winner.

Download now for: 

iOS Android

Airbnb

airbnb

Whether legal in the city you’re visiting or not, Airbnb is a household name. The app undercuts hotels by offering far cheaper prices, and a more authentic experience by staying with a local, or their home. The app recently added a new feature called Trips, which offers Experiences to choose from during your stay — these are curated events you can partake in with local guides. Eventually the app will become an all-in-one travel app that lets you plan your day, book a car, and more.

Download now for: 

iOS Android

Hotel Tonight

hotel-tonight

Airbnb fall through? Flight get delayed at your layover? You never know what will happen with your booking, and Hotel Tonight is a reliable service that thrives on last minute deals. The company says its partnered hotels offer it discounts on empty rooms, and you’ll be able to book one in under 10 seconds. You also get 24/7 customer service from the Hotel Tonight team, in case something goes awry.

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iOS Android

Uber

uber

Active in about 77 countries and 527 cities, Uber is the global king of ride-sharing apps. The app pioneered on-demand services, and it can be particularly handy when you’re abroad. You can quickly request a car directly within the app after perusing an assortment of differing vehicle rates and fare quotes. Afterward, you can connect with your personal driver, track the approaching car’s location, and securely pay your fair using a credit card — no cash needed. Rather than trying to find a taxi or a taxi stand, just bring one straight to you.

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iOS Android

Google Maps

google-maps

Google Maps is widely-regarded as one of the best navigation apps around, and it has reigned king for quite a while. You’ll find it fairly reliable in offering up local public transportation options in many countries, and you can also download specific areas for offline use. You can also use Maps to look at when places like museums or restaurants close, and as of a recent update, you can check to see how busy a place is in real time.

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iOS Android

Citymapper

citymapper

With a growing list of countries under its belt, Citymapper is one of the best tools to find and utilize public transportation. It connects with a few ride-sharing services, offers the fastest way to arrive at your destination, and best of all, you can check out subway and train times offline for a number of cities. You can subscribe to specific train or bus lines, and the app can even alert you when you need to get off — handy when you’re riding for the first time in a new country.

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iOS Android

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