posted about 6 hours ago on techcrunch
After gaming chat app startup Discord announced in August that they were building out a games store, today, they’ve detailed that they’ll be pursuing a very competitive 90/10 revenue split for self-published titles in 2019. In addition, the company revealed that they now have 200 million active users on their chat app, up from 130 million users in May. The announcement follows a storefront launch from Epic Games last week with an 88/12 revenue split. Valve’s Steam store had typically offered a constant 70/30 revenue split for all developers regardless of the revenues they were pulling in. The company recently announced that Steam would give a more favorable split to devs pulling in more revenue. Discord called up some of their thinking in a company blog post: Why does it cost 30% to distribute games? Is this the only reason developers are building their own stores and launchers to distribute games? Turns out, it does not cost 30% to distribute games in 2018. Fortnite-maker aims for Steam’s head with Epic Games Store Steam’s efforts are largely focused on holding onto big developers, but indie devs now have to balance what advantages they’re earning by establishing their central home on a platform filled with tons of titles that’s also taking a more substantial cut. This leaves some room for Discord to attract the self-publishing indies, though it’s still an uphill battle for the company that’s up against some big competitors.

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posted about 7 hours ago on techcrunch
Apple has signed a deal with DHX Media that will see the Canadian broadcaster producing new shows, specials and short films about Snoopy, Charlie Brown and the rest of the Peanuts gang. That includes exclusive short-form content for Apple starring astronaut Snoopy, aimed at getting kids excited about STEM. Peanuts was created by Charles Schulz, who wrote and illustrated the popular comic strip for five decades, starting in 1950. The characters moved to television in the 1960s with “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” which was followed by a long list of specials. And they recently returned to the big screen in the computer animated “Peanuts Movie,” which grossed $246 million worldwide. DHX acquired a controlling stake in Peanuts last year (the remaining 20 percent stake is still held by the Schulz family). Apple, meanwhile, has been lining up lots of new, family-friendly content for its upcoming streaming service. That includes also enlisting Sesame Workshop to create original programming (not Sesame Street, which recently moved to HBO). By the way, if you only know Peanuts secondhand, through Snoopy dolls or other merchandise, it’s worth revisiting the early strips (restored to print by Fantagraphics), which are among the finest you’ll ever read. There, you can fully appreciate Schulz’s art, as well as his ability to craft unforgettable jokes from Charlie Brown’s bleak outlook and constant heartbreak. Netflix will create a ‘story universe’ based on the work of Roald Dahl

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posted about 7 hours ago on techcrunch
Facebook is restructuring its experimental hardware efforts and giving its moonshot projects a home within its AR/VR research division. The restructuring, reported by Business Insider (paywalled), didn’t result in any layoffs but did see some shifts of teams as the old Building 8 group rebranded to Portal and some projects moved to the former Oculus Research group (now, Facebook Reality Lab). A Facebook spokesperson confirmed the reorganization to Business Insider. TechCrunch has reached out to Facebook for further comment. This is misleading. We renamed the Building 8 team Portal after that device launch. The research we initially started in Building 8 continues in our Facebook Reality Labs research group. — Boz (@boztank) December 14, 2018 The Building 8 brand is dead but the big change seems to be Facebook moving its more headline-grabbing experiments further away from its nearly ready-for-production ideas. With some of the more experimental hardware projects at Facebook, like a computer brain interface, “soft” robotics, and a project to “hear” through a skin-worn device, moving to Facebook Reality Labs, it’s clear that the organization once centered around AR/VR technologies is seeing its scope expand to more distant reaching technologies that aren’t vaguely ready for consumer products yet. Meanwhile, the Portal group seems to be where some of Facebook’s more in-reach consumer hardware products are living with the newly-released video chat device serving as the foundation. The leader of Building 8, Rafa Carmago, who took over after the departure of Regina Dugan, is the VP of the Portal team now. Meanwhile, Facebook Reality Labs is still led by Michael Abrash who has long held a senior presence in the company’s AR/VR ambitions. Having products like Portal that are already for sale fall under the same leadership as invasive brain chips research probably didn’t make a ton of organizational sense, especially when Facebook has already gone to lengths to separate projects focused on immediate product needs compared to ones that are more far-out in other areas of the company. Facebook’s hardware ambitions are nascent but now that they have a product on shelves, it’s probably more clear that there are some completely different leadership needs and an organizational restructure makes sense.

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posted about 8 hours ago on techcrunch
Propel, maker of the Fresh EBT app for managing food stamps and other benefits, announced today that it has raised $12.8 million in Series A funding. Fresh EBT (the EBT stands for the Electronics Transfer Benefit card, which is how food stamp participants receive their benefits) allows users to check their food stamp/SNAP balance and find stores that accept food stamps. Users can also track their spending. The app is free for consumers and government agencies — the company makes money through digital coupons and a job board. Propel says Fresh EBT is now used by more than 1.5 million Americans each month, and that more than 30,000 people have applied for jobs this year that they discovered through the app. For example, the announcement quotes one user, Tracy B. from Fairland, Virginia — she described Fresh EBT as her “personal financial adviser,” and also said she used it to find discount zoo tickets, and even her current job. When Propel raised its $4 million seed round last year, founder and CEO Jimmy Chen described his mission as building “a more user-friendly safety net.” He argued that there’s no conflict between Propel’s social mission and its structure as a for-profit business, a position he reiterated in today’s announcement. “Our investors are world-class experts in their respective fields,” he said. “They share an understanding of the challenges of low-income Americans and a belief that Propel can build a massive business by fighting poverty.” Those investors include Nyca Partners, which led the round. Andreessen Horowitz, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Omidyar Network, Alexa von Tobel and Kevin Durant’s Thirty Five Ventures also participated. “It’s not hard to see the huge opportunity in building better financial services for low-income people,” said Nyca Managing Partner Hans Morris in a statement. “We just haven’t seen many companies in this space that have an opportunity to have such a large impact at massive scale. That’s why we’re so excited to invest in Propel.” Propel raises $4M to make the social safety net more tech savvy and user friendly

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posted about 9 hours ago on techcrunch
Amazon recently said Apple Music would find its way onto Amazon Echo devices sometime soon — and sure enough, it appears to be rolling out now. To make Alexa work with Apple’s streaming service, you should just have to jump into the newly updated iOS/Android Alexa app and link up your account. You can find the option under Settings > Music. Once done, commands like “Alexa, play music by Halsey on Apple Music” should work. Or, if you don’t want to have to say the “… on Apple Music” bit every time, you can just set Apple Music as the default service. If you don’t have a specific artist in mind, you an also request playlists or genres. One catch: as 9to5mac points out, it appears this currently only works with Amazon Echo speakers, and not yet with third party speakers (like the Sonos ONE or Polk’s Audio Command sounder) that happen to have Alexa-support built in. Not a fan of Apple’s offering? Alexa also works with Spotify, Pandora, Tidal, Deezer, and Amazon’s own Music service. Using Google devices, rather than Amazon’s? Alas, still no word on if/when proper Apple Music support might come to Google Home.

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posted about 10 hours ago on techcrunch
Almost 10 percent of people on the interwebs used at least one of the 25 worst passwords on SplashData’s annual list, which was released this week. And nearly three percent of you are still using “123456,” the worst password of the entire ranking. The eighth annual list of worst passwords of the year is based on SplashData’s evaluation of more than 5 million passwords leaked on the Internet. Most of the leaked passwords evaluated for the 2018 list were held by users in North America and Western Europe. Passwords leaked from hacks of adult websites were not included in the report, according to SplashData, which provides password management applications TeamsID, Gpass, and SplashID. This year revealed the same takeaway as previous ones: computer users continue to use the same predictable, easily guessable passwords. For instance, 2018 was the fifth consecutive year that “123456” and “password” retained their top two spots on the list. The following five top passwords on the list are simply numerical strings, the company said. There were a few newcomers on the list. President Donald Trump debuted on this year’s list with “donald” showing up as the 23rd most frequently used password. “Hackers have great success using celebrity names, terms from pop culture and sports, and simple keyboard patterns to break into accounts online because they know so many people are using those easy-to- remember combinations,” according to Morgan Slain, CEO of SplashData. SplashData does offer some tips to protect your data, including the use of passphrases of 12 characters or more with mixed types of characters, using different passwords for each login, and protecting assets and personal identity by using a password manager to organize passwords, generate secure random passwords, and automatically log into websites.

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posted about 10 hours ago on techcrunch
In recent months, pressure has been mounting for major tech firms to develop strong policies regarding facial recognition. Microsoft has helped lead the way on that front, promising to put in place stricter policies, calling for greater regulation and asking fellow companies to follow suit. Hidden toward the end of a blog post about using artificial intelligence to benefit health clinics in Asia, Google SVP Kent Walker affirmed the company’s commitment not to sell facial recognition APIs. The executive cites concerns over how the technology could be abused. “[F]acial recognition technology has benefits in areas like new assistive technologies and tools to help find missing persons, with more promising applications on the horizon,” Walker writes. “However, like many technologies with multiple uses, facial recognition merits careful consideration to ensure its use is aligned with our principles and values, and avoids abuse and harmful outcomes. We continue to work with many organizations to identify and address these challenges, and unlike some other companies, Google Cloud has chosen not to offer general-purpose facial recognition APIs before working through important technology and policy questions.” In an interview this week, CEO Sundar Pichai address similar growing concerns around AI ethics. “I think tech has to realize it just can’t build it and then fix it,” he told The Washington Post. “I think that doesn’t work,” adding that artifical intelligence could ultimately prove “far more dangerous than nukes.” The ACLU, which has offered sharp criticism over privacy and racial profiling concerns, lauded the statement. In the next paragraph, however, the company promised to continue to apply pressure on these large orgs. “We will continue to put Google’s feet to the fire to make sure it doesn’t build or sell a face surveillance product that violates civil and human rights,” ACLU tech director Nicole Ozer said in a statement. “We also renew our call on Amazon and Microsoft to not provide dangerous face surveillance to the government. Companies have a responsibility to make sure their products can’t be used to attack communities and harm civil rights and liberties — it’s past time all companies own up to that responsibility.” The organization has offered particularly sharp criticism against Amazon for its Rekognition software. This week, it also called out the company’s patent application for a smart doorbell that uses facial recognition to identify “suspicious” visitors.

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posted about 10 hours ago on techcrunch
Electric scooter and bike-share company Lime is not giving up on San Francisco. This afternoon, Lime plans to protest on the steps of SF City Hall to petition the city’s scooter selection process. “We are calling the SFMTA to expand equitable transportation options throughout the City by allowing more choice and greater options, by requiring a scalable low-income program that ensures equal access to scooters and other mobility options, and by working with experienced operators with a proven track record of success,” Lime wrote in its petition. “The SFMTA scooter selection process resulted in an extremely small service area as well as an absence of robust equity options. If you are as frustrated as we are, come let your voice be heard.” In the #BayArea? Frustrated with the SFMTA scooter selection? Join us on the steps of #SanFrancisco City Hall at 1:00pm to deliver thousands of petitions from people from all over San Francisco and let your voice be heard! https://t.co/Rbx2UGtMRo — Lime (@limebike) December 14, 2018 The SFMTA has previously said it was “confident” it picked the right companies. When the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency selected Skip and Scoot as the only two electric scooter companies permitted to operate in the city, competitor Lime took legal steps to attempt to prevent Skip and Scoot from deploying. A San Francisco judge, however, promptly denied Lime’s request for a temporary restraining order. Meanwhile, Lime had officially appealed the SFMTA’s decision. Other companies, including Spin and Uber’s JUMP, have also appealed the scooter selection process. Earlier today, the SFMTA heard Lime’s case. It’s not clear how it went, but I’ve reached out to Lime and the SFMTA to learn more. Based on Lime’s actions, it seems as if it didn’t work out very well for the company.   Electric scooters are back in SF

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posted about 11 hours ago on techcrunch
When Kahoot, the startup that operates a popular platform for user-generated educational gaming, raised $15 million in October of this year, we mentioned that Disney might take a larger stake in the company, beyond the small investment it took after Kahoot passed through the Disney Accelerator. Now with some 60 million games on its platform, today Kahoot announced that this has come to pass: Disney has backed Kahoot to the tune of $15 million — working out to a four percent stake in the startup at a $360 million valuation, based on the current share price of 28 Norwegian kroner (shares of Kahoot are traded on the Norway OTC as an unlisted stock). Kahoot declined to comment for this story beyond the investment announcement posted on the exchange, but for some context, this is a nice bump up in Kahoot’s valuation from October, when it was at $300 million. Other sizeable and notable investors in the company include Microsoft and Nordic investor Northzone (which has backed Spotify and other significant startups out of the region). On the part of Disney, it’s not clear yet whether its Kahoot stake will lead to more Disney content on the platform, or if this is more of an arm’s length financial backing. The entertainment giant has made nearly 50 investments by way of its accelerator program. In some cases it increases those to more significant holdinga, as it has in the case of HQ Trivia, Sphero, Epic Games, the company behind Fortnite (a very different take on gaming compared to Kahoot), Samba TV and more. Disney has been dabbling in both gaming and education as vehicles to market its many brands, and also as salient businesses of their own — no surprise, given that one primary focus for it has been on younger consumers and their needs and interests. In some cases, it seems it may use strategic investments to do this, for example with Disney-themed nights on HQ Trivia. Interestingly, although it doesn’t appear that Disney invests in Byju’s — which itself just raised $300 million — the educational app, which has been described as “Disneyesque”, teamed up with Disney in October to develop co-branded educational content, another sign of Disney’s interest in the field. Kahoot has been around since 2006 but has seen a sharp rise in users in the last few years on the back of strong growth in the US — benefitting from a wider trend of educators creating content on mediums and platforms that they know students already use and love. Kahoot’s last reported user numbers come from January, when it said it had 70 million registrations, but its CEO and co-founder Åsmund Furuseth told TechCrunch in October that it was on track to pass 100 million by this month. Kahoot didn’t release updated figures today, but my guess is that Kahoot has hit its target (maybe even passed it), and that is one reason why Disney decided to exercise its investment option. Kahoot is not your average gaming company: some games are created in-house, but the majority of them are user-generated — “Kahoots” in the company’s parlance — created by the people setting the learning tasks or those trying to create a more entertaining way of remembering or learning something. These, in turn, become games that potentially anyone can use to learn something (hence the name). There have been about 60 million of these games created to date, a pretty massive amount considering this is educational content at the end of the day. Kahoot has developed its business along two avenues, with games for K-12 students and games for business users, building training and other professional development in a wrapper of gamification to engage workers more in the content.  In practice, about half the games in Kahoot’s catalogue are available to the public and half are private, with the split roughly following the company’s business model: games made for corporate purposes tend to be kept private, while the educational ones tend to  be made publicly available. The business model also follows that split, with Kahoot’s business users accounting for the majority of its revenue, too. We have contacted Disney for comment too and will update this post as we learn more.  

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posted about 12 hours ago on techcrunch
Pokémon Go creator Niantic is raising a $200 million Series C at a valuation of $3.9 billion according to a report from Katie Roof at the WSJ. The round is expected to be led by IVP with participation from Samsung and aXiomatic Gaming. The upcoming raise would bring the company’s total funding to $425 million according to Crunchbase. Niantic’s last round was raised at a $3 billion valuation. TechCrunch has reached out to Niantic for comment. The gaming startup which has invested significantly in augmented reality technologies is also behind titles such as its recently updated Ingress title and an upcoming Harry Potter mobile game. The company was founded as a startup within Google in 2010 and was spun out as its own entity in 2015, releasing its hit title Pokémon Go the next year. The company is currently working on its next big augmented reality mobile title Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, aiming to create a proper follow-up hit that can capture the excitement of its Pokémon title. The app’s success will likely be crucial to perceptions that Pokémon Go was more than a fluke breakout success. A release date has not yet been set for the title.

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posted about 12 hours ago on techcrunch
Ryan Craig Contributor Ryan Craig is managing director of University Ventures. More posts by this contributor Facebook is going back to college Broadening education investments to full-stack solutions Although many of the milestones of the digital revolution have sprung directly from the research output of America’s colleges and universities, like Athena from Zeus’s forehead, on the instructional side, American higher education has taken a laid-back approach. Sure, there are more courses in computer science, millions of students taking courses online and MIT just committed $1 billion to build a new college for AI. But a campus-visiting time-traveler from 25 or 50 years ago would find a very familiar setting — with the possible exception of students more comfortable staring at their devices than maintaining eye contact. This college stasis may be even more surprising to visitors from the transformed workplace. Jobs that made no or marginal use of digital devices 10 years ago now tether workers to their machines as closely as today’s students are glued to their smartphones. Processes that involved paper are now entirely digital. And experience with relevant function- and industry-specific business software is required in job descriptions for many entry-level jobs. This hit home a few weeks ago when speaking to an audience of 250 college and university officials. I asked which of their schools provide any meaningful coursework in Salesforce, the No. 1 SaaS platform in American business. Not one hand went up. There are many reasons for this. Few if any faculty have dedicated their careers to (or even get marginally excited about) equipping students with the skills they need to secure and succeed in their first jobs. No one’s losing their job (yet) over failure to help students get jobs. Another is the cost of teaching; with strong employer demand for these skills, finding and hiring capable faculty costs more than teaching non-technical subjects. Finally, there’s the rapid pace of change in technology, and the sense that any educational effort will be obsolete in a few years. (Of course, the reality of business software is quite different; foundational platforms like Salesforce have a long shelf life — 10-plus years and counting — and some platforms are expected to last for a generation.) But the primary reason colleges aren’t educating students on the software they need to launch their careers is the notion that it’s unnecessary because millennials (and now Gen Zers) are “digital natives.” The idea of digital natives isn’t new. It’s been around for decades: Kids have grown up with digital technologies and so are adept at all things digital. It’s certainly true that today’s college students are proficient with Netflix and Spotify and smartphones. But it’s equally true that the smartphones they’ve grown up with haven’t remotely prepared them to use office phones, let alone career-critical business software. Business software is really hard, even for digital natives. Eleanor Cooper, co-founder of Pathstream, a startup partnering with higher education institutions to provide business software training, notes that millennials and Gen Zers are “accustomed to Instagram-like platforms which are both intuitive and instantly gratifying. But without exception, we find the user experience of learning business software to be exactly the opposite: instant friction and delayed gratification. Students first face an often multi-hour series of technical steps just to get the software set up before they begin working through tedious button-clicking instructions, which are at best mind-numbing and at worst outdated and inaccurate for the current version of the software.” In an article in The New Yorker last month, “Why Doctors Hate Their Computers,” Dr. Atul Gawande describes the challenge of implementing Epic, a SaaS platform for managing patient care: “recording and communicating our medical observations, sending prescriptions to a patient’s pharmacy, ordering tests and scans, viewing results, scheduling surgery, sending insurance bills.” First, there’s 16 hours of mandatory training. Gawande “did fine with the initial exercises, like looking up patients’ names and emergency contacts. When it came to viewing test results, though, things got complicated. There was a column of thirteen tabs on the left side of my screen, crowded with nearly identical terms: ‘chart review,’ ‘results review,’ ‘review flowsheet.’ We hadn’t even started learning how to enter information, and the fields revealed by each tab came with their own tools and nuances.” Business software is really hard, even for digital natives. Today’s students are accustomed to simple interfaces. But simple interfaces are possible only when the function is simple, like messaging or selecting video entertainment. Today’s leading business software platforms don’t just manage a single function. They manage hundreds, if not thousands. Gawande references a book by IBM engineer Frederick Brooks, The Mythical Man-Month, which sets forth a Darwinian theory of software evolution from a cool, easy-to-use program (“built by a few nerds for a few of their nerd friends” to perform a limited function), to a bigger program “product” that delivers more functionality to more people, to a “very uncool program system.” Gawande points to the example of Fluidity, a program written by a grad student to run simulations of small-scale fluid dynamics. Researchers loved it, and soon added code to perform new features. The software became more complex, harder to use and more restrictive. And so beyond cumbersome interfaces, the second reason why business software is really hard is that it has become inextricably and tightly wound up with business processes. Salesforce consultants will tell you it’s easier to conform your business practices to Salesforce than to try to customize (or even configure) Salesforce to support the way you do business today. And that’s true for almost all business software. As Gawande notes, “as a program adapts and serves more people and more functions, it naturally requires tighter regulation. Software systems govern how we interact as groups, and that makes them unavoidably bureaucratic in nature.” The myth of the digital native is convenient for colleges and universities, because it allows them to stay focused on what faculty want to teach rather than what students actually need to learn. Software-defined business practices are increasingly standardized across functions and industries, and highly knowable. And because they’re knowable, hiring managers want to see candidates who know them. So it’s not just about educating students on software; inherent in preparing students on business software is equipping them with industry and/or job-function expertise. And that requires much more than 16 hours of training. “Why can’t our work systems be like our smartphones — flexible, easy, customizable? The answer is that the two systems have different purposes,” Gawande explained. “Consumer technology is all about letting me be me. Technology for complex enterprises is about helping groups do what the members cannot easily do by themselves — work in coordination.” The myth of the digital native is convenient for colleges and universities, because it allows them to stay focused on what faculty want to teach rather than what students actually need to learn. But it’s self-centered, superficial and silly. Rather than thinking about technology in terms of Netflix and smartphones, walk down the street and take a look at the software being utilized to manage your college’s admissions, financial aid and human resources functions. Indeed, 95 percent of your graduates will begin their careers working in places that look a lot more like this than like the faculty lounge. And that’s if they’re lucky. Otherwise they’ll begin their careers working in places that look a lot more like Starbucks. In his article, Gawande notes that despite the many challenges of adapting to working (and living) on a business software platform, software is eating the world for a good reason: to improve outcomes for consumers. The Epic implementation should allow hospitals to scan records to identify patients who’ve been on opioids for more than three months in order to provide outreach and reduce risk of overdose, or to improve care for homeless patients by seeing that they’ve already had three negative TB tests and therefore don’t need to be isolated. “We think of this as a system for us and it’s not,” said the hospital system’s chief clinical officer. “It is for the patients.” These improved outcomes are synonymous with the data analytics revolution — a revolution that has colleges and universities excited about new programs and increased enrollment. But all the additional data to improve these outcomes needs to be captured first. And that’s done with complex business software. So it’s unfair, or at least hypocritical, of colleges and universities to attempt to pick the fruit of big data without first sowing the seeds. And sowing the seeds entails a serious investment in preparing students with the technical and business process knowledge they’ll need to use the software that makes big data possible.

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posted about 13 hours ago on techcrunch
Pimcore, an open-source platform for data and customer experience management which has emerged out of Austria, has closed $3.5 million in a Series A funding led by German Auctus Capital Partners AG. The funding will be used for its US expansion. Pimcore is aimed at any channel, device, or industry that wants to manage its digital data and customer experience. While there are several such companies on the market today, Pimcore claims to be an ‘out-of-the-box’ solution and the only open-source platform out there, thus competing with more proprietary products from SAP or Informatica which typically run on licensing business models. CEO of Pimcore, Dietmar Rietsch says: “Our primary goal is to disrupt traditional licensing business models as open-source adoption skyrockets in enterprises. This funding round gives us the resources and tools to be able to stand up to legacy players like SAP and Oracle, and to really transform the customer experience and data management spaces, especially in the US.” Pimcore recently acquired the US-based Pimcore Global Services and its whole outsourcing infrastructure in Delhi. After being founded in 2013, it now has over 82,000 companies across 56 countries, including global enterprises such as Audi, Burger King, Continental and Intersport.

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posted about 13 hours ago on techcrunch
Goldex, a trading app that claims to power so-called ‘ethical pricing’ for retail gold investments, says it has now raised over £1M ($1.25M) in a pre-series A round led by a group of angels and institutional investors. Amongst those participating in the round are Prepaid Financial Services (a European payment card issuer); Gaël de Boissard, former Executive Board Member of Credit Suisse; Richard Balarkas, former President and CEO of Instinets; Nachi Muthu, former global head of IT trading technology at Credit Suisse; Craig James, founder and CEO of Neopay. Goldex was launched in late July this year. The company was founded by former City electronic trading pioneers from Credit Suisse and UBS, Sylvia Carrasco and Fernando Ripolles wanted to remove barriers to retail gold trading and address some of the questionable practices in the gold investment markets. The UK app claims to discover the best price amongst all the gold dealers offering bids and offers within the Goldex platform. Sylvia Carrasco, CEO of Goldex, says the funding “has taken us a step closer to becoming the leading gold trading platform that is both ethical and fully transparent to consumers.” Golden is not alone in the space. Glint is a competitor, but it does not hold any physical gold – whereas Glint does – and Glint sets the price for buying and selling it. Instead, Goldex routes all clients’ orders to the largest global peer-to-peer gold exchange in five international vaults (London, Zurich, New York, Toronto and Singapore). The company claims this ensures an average savings of 8-12% on the trades and attempts therefore to avoid price manipulation as well as improving transparency over charges.

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posted about 13 hours ago on techcrunch
Another round of followups on Nvidia, and then some short news analysis. TechCrunch is experimenting with new content forms. This is a rough draft of something new – provide your feedback directly to the author (Danny at [email protected]) if you like or hate something here. Nvidia / TSMC questions Following up on my analyses this week on Nvidia (Part 1, Part 2) , a reader asked in regards to Nvidia’s risk with China tariffs: but the TSMC impact w.r.t. tariffs doesn’t make sense to me. TSMC is largely not impacted by tariffs and so the supply chain with NVIDIA is also not impacted w.r.t. to TSMC as a supplier. There are many alternate wafer suppliers in Taiwan. This is a challenging question to definitively answer, since obviously Nvidia doesn’t publicly disclose its supply chain, or more granularly, which factories those supply chain partners utilize for its production. It does, however, list a number of companies in its 10-K form as manufacturing, testing, and packaging partners, including: Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company Limited (Taiwan, with a handful of facilities in mainland China) Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd (South Korea, although Nvidia supposedly dropped them for its large-size GPU) Advanced Semiconductor Engineering, Inc. (aka ASE Group, based in Taiwan with Chinese facilities) BYD Auto Co. Ltd. (Shenzhen, China) Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., Ltd. (aka Foxconn, mostly mainland China locations although now has a worldwide network of sites, including in Wisconsin) JSI Logistics Ltd. (shipping logistics with worldwide offices) King Yuan Electronics Co., Ltd. (Taiwan) Siliconware Precision Industries Company Ltd. (mostly Taiwan, with some Chinese facilities) IbidenCo. Ltd. (Japan) Nanya Technology Corporation (Taiwan, with branches in China and elsewhere) Unimicron Technology Corporation (Taiwan, with branches in China and elsewhere) Micron Technology (Idaho) Samsung Semiconductor, Inc. (South Korea, with subsidiaries in China) SK hynix (2 facilities in Korea, 2 in China) To understand how this all fits together, there are essentially three phases for bringing a semiconductor to market: Design – this is Nvidia’s core specialty Manufacturing – actually making the chip from silicon and other materials at the precision required for it to be reliable Testing, packaging and distribution – once chips are made, they need to be tested to prove that manufacturing worked, then packaged properly to protect them and shipped worldwide to wherever they are going to be assembled/integrated For the highest precision manufacturing required for chips like Nvidia’s, Taiwan, South Korea and the U.S. are the world leaders, with China trying to catch up through programs like Made in China 2025 (which, after caustic pushback from countries around the world, it looks like Beijing is potentially scrapping this week). China is still considered to be one-to-two generations behind in chip manufacturing, though it increasingly owns the low-end of the market. Where the semiconductor supply chain traditionally gets more entwined with China is around testing and packaging, which are generally considered lower value (albeit critical) tasks that have been increasingly outsourced to the mainland over the years. Taiwan remains the dominant player here as well, with roughly 50% of the global market, but China has been rapidly expanding. U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods do not apply to Taiwan, and so for the most part, Nvidia’s supply chain should be adept at avoiding most of the brunt of the trade conflict. And while assembly is heavily based in China, electronics assemblers are rapidly adapting their supply chains to mitigate the damage of tariffs by moving factories to Vietnam, India, and elsewhere. Where it gets tricky is the Chinese market itself, which imports a huge number of semiconductor chips, and represents roughly 20% of Nvidia’s revenues. Even here, many analysts believe that the Chinese will have no choice but to buy Nvidia’s chips, since they are market-leading and substitutes are not easily available. So the conclusion is that Nvidia likely has maneuvering room in the short-term to weather exogenous trade tariff shocks and mitigate their damage. Medium to long-term though, the company will have to strategically position itself very carefully, since China is quickly becoming a dominant player in exactly the verticals it wants to own (automotive, ML workflows, etc.). In other words, Nvidia needs the Chinese market for growth at the exact moment that door is slamming shut. How it navigates this challenge in the years ahead will determine much of its growth profile in the years ahead. Rapid fire analysis Short summaries and analysis of important news stories Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images US intelligence community says quantum computing and AI pose an ’emerging threat’ to national security – Our very own Zack Whittaker talks about future challenges to U.S. national security. These technologies are “dual-use,” which means that they can be used for good purposes (autonomous driving, faster processing) and also for nefarious purposes (breaking encryption, autonomous warfare). Expect huge debates and challenges in the next decade about how to keep these technologies on the safe side. Saudi Arabia Pumps Up Stock Market After Bad News, Including Khashoggi Murder – A WSJ trio of reporters investigates the Saudi government’s aggressive attempts to shore up the value of its stock exchange. Exchange manipulation is hardly novel, either in traditional markets or in blockchain markets. China has been aggressively doing this in its stock exchanges for years. But it is a reminder that in emerging and new exchanges, much of the price signaling is artificial. A law firm in the trenches against media unions – Andrew McCormick writes in the Columbia Journalism Review how law firm Jones Day has taken a leading role in fighting against the unionization of newsrooms. The challenge of course is that the media business remains mired in cutbacks and weak earnings, and so trying to better divide a rapidly shrinking pie doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. The future — in my view — is entrepreneurial journalists backed up by platforms like Substack where they set their own voice, tone, publishing calendar, and benefits. Having a close relationship with readers is the only way forward for job security. At least 15 central banks are serious about getting into digital currency – Mike Orcutt at MIT Technology Review notes that there are a bunch of central banks, including China and Canada. What’s interesting is that the trends backing this up including financial inclusion and “diminishing cash usage.” Even though blockchain is in a nuclear winter following the collapse of crypto prices this year, it is exactly these sorts of projects that could be the way forward for the industry. What’s next More semiconductors probably. And Arman and I are side glancing at Yelp these days. Any thoughts? Email me at [email protected] This newsletter is written with the assistance of Arman Tabatabai from New York

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posted about 13 hours ago on techcrunch
Robinhood’s new high-interest, zero-fee checking and savings feature seems to be too good to be true. Users’ money may not be fully protected. The CEO of the Securities Investor Protection Corporation, a non-profit membership corporation that insures stock brokerages, tells TechCrunch its insurance would not apply to checking and savings accounts the way Robinhood claims. “Robinhood would be buying securities for its account and sharing a portion of the proceeds with their customers, and that’s not what we cover” says SIPC CEO Stephen Harbeck. “I’ve never seen a single document on this. I haven’t been consulted on this.” That info directly conflicts with comments from Robinhood’s comms team, which told me yesterday users would be protected because the SIPC insures brokerages and the checking/savings feature is offered via Robinhood’s brokerage that is a member of the SIPC. If Robinhood checking and savings is indeed ineligible for insurance coverage from the SIPC, and since it doesn’t qualify for FDIC protection like a standard bank, users’ funds could be at risk. Robinhood co-CEO Baiju Bhatt told me that “Robinhood invests users’ checking and savings money into government-grade assets like US treasuries and we collect yield from those assets and pay that back to customers in the form of 3 percent interest.” But Harbeck tells me that means users would effectively be loaning Robinhood their money, and the SIPC doesn’t cover loans. If a market downturn caused the values of those securities to decline and Robinhood couldn’t cover the losses, the SIPC wouldn’t necessarily help users get their money back.  Robinhood launches no-fee checking/savings with Mastercard & the most ATMs Robinhood’s team insisted yesterday that customers would not lose their money in the event that the treasuries it invests in decline, and that only what users gamble on the stock market would be unprotected as is standard. But now it appears that because Robinhood is misusing its brokerage classification to operate checking and savings accounts where it says users don’t have to invest in stocks and other securities, SIPC insurance wouldn’t apply. “I have an issue with some of the things on their website about whether these checking and savings accounts would be protected. I refered the issue to the SEC” Harbeck tells me. TechCrunch has reached out to the SEC and will update if we hear back about its perspective on the issue. Robinhood planned to start shipping its Mastercard debit cards to customers on December 18th with users being added off the waitlist in January. That might need to be delayed due to the insurance problem. We’ve repeatedly asked Bhatt and Robinhood’s team for a formal statement and clarification this morning, but have not heard back. Robinhood touted how its checking and savings features have no minimum account balance, overdraft fees, foreign transaction fees, or card replacement fees. It also has 75,000 free-to-use ATMs in its network, which Bhatt claims is more than the top five US banks combined. And its 3 percent interest rate users earn is much higher than the 0.09% average interest rate for traditional savings, and beats  most name brand banks outside of some credit unions. But for those perks, users must sacrifice brick-and-mortar bank branches that can help them with troubles, and instead rely on a 24/7 live chat customer support feature from Robinhood. The debit card has Mastercard’s zero-liability protection against fraud, and Robinhood partners with Sutton Bank to issue the card. But it’s unclear how the checking and savings accounts would be protected against other types of attacks or scams. Robinhood was likely hoping to build a larger user base on top of its existing 6 million accounts by leveraging software scalability to provide such competitive rates. It planned to be profitable from its margin on the interest from investing users’ money and a revenue sharing agreement with Mastercard on interchange fee charged to merchants when you swipe your card. But long-term, Robinhood may use checking and savings as a wedge into the larger financial services market from which it can launch more lucrative products like loans. But that could fall apart if users are scared to move their checking and savings money to Robinhood. Startups can suddenly fold or make too risky of decisions while chasing growth. Robinhood’s valuation went from $1.3 billion last year to $5.6 billion when it raised $363 million this year. That puts intense pressure on the company to grow to justify that massive valuation. In its rush to break into banking, it may have cut corners on becoming properly insured. [DIsclosure: The author of this article knows Robinhood co-founders Baiju Bhatt and Vlad Tenev from college 10 years ago]

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posted about 13 hours ago on techcrunch
The iPod Classic still looms larger as my favorite gadget of all time. Sure, plenty have lapped the device in terms of technology, while any lingering concerns about not owning the music I listen to have faded for the ubiquity of Spotify, but the iPod lives on in the perfect sweet spot for my own musical obsessions. Of course, that device finally gave up the ghost, as all gadget eventually do. After about three or so, I eventually threw in the towel. Apple had long since discontinued the line, and buying them second hand was just getting too pricy. So I moved on to streaming, my MP3s collecting dust inside some external hard drive. We recently wrote up the latest version of the Mighty, a device I spent a bit of time with on a recent trip to Asia, before handing it off to a colleague who was a much bigger fan of the whole iPod shuffle for Spotify model. Before jetting off to Africa this past week, however, it occurred to me that it might be time to give the Palm another shot. We weren’t particularly kind to the device, and the rest of the tech community mostly agreed with that assessment. But it would be a shame to write the product off entirely. Sure, it’s got a lot of issues, and is targeted a sliver of the overall smartphone market, but maybe there’s some redemption to be found in the product. The hardware construction is certainly solid for what largely amounts to shrunk down version of the iPhone. Perhaps there’s something to this whole secondary device thing, after all. Back in the waining days of my iPod dependence, I’d rarely leave home without the Classic in one pocket and a smartphone in another. I might have killed for a touch interface MP3 player with as slim a form factor as the Palm. It’s an ideal size for the task, really. Small enough to slip into a change pocket, with a large screen to navigate through a music library. Staring down a pair of 10+ hour flights and a couple of days of questionable internet connectivity, I dusted off the Palm and loaded it up with songs downloaded from Spotify. That was the first issue. This one’s wholly unrelated to Palm, but man, the way Spotify serves up offline songs is a real pain in the ass. Rather than simply displaying them when the app is offline, you have to jump through hoops to get them to show up. The easiest way to scrolling through to playlists, swiping down to bring up the search bar, then clicking “Filter” to only display offline songs. One has to employ a similar method to get around one of the Palm’s biggest shortcomings as a music player: the lack of volume buttons. Here you have to wait until a song is playing, then swipe down to bring up the volume slider. If music isn’t playing, on the other hand, you’ve got got to navigate through the settings. Even Apple, with all of its animosity toward all thing button, has kept the volume buttons on-board. Battery is another major concern. Of course, sticking the device in airplane mode helps a bit — though even then, it likely won’t getting you through a full international flight. It is, however, enough to get your through a trip to the gym, certainly, and the form factor is small enough to stuff into a pocket when going for a run. At the end of the day, the experiment was ultimately more trouble than it was worth. The fact of the matter is that most of the tech world has moved on from the notion of a devoted music player. Still, I can’t shake the feeling that, with a few hardware (too late to add a headphone jack?) and software tweaks (and a lower, off-contract price point), Palm could help reignite that fire for some.

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posted about 14 hours ago on techcrunch
Facebook AI Research is open sourcing some of the conversational AI tech it is using to power its Portal video chat display and M suggestions on Facebook Messenger. The company announced today that its PyTorch-based PyText NLP framework is now available to developers. Natural language processing deals with how systems parse human language and are able to make decisions and derive insights. The PyText framework, which the company sees as a conduit for AI researchers to move more quickly between experimentation and deployment will be particularly useful for tasks like document classification, sequence tagging, semantic parsing and multitask modeling, among others, Facebook says. The company has built the framework to fit pretty seamlessly into research and production workflows with an emphasis on robustness and low-latency to meet the company’s real-time NLP needs. The product is responsible for models powering more than a billion daily predictions at Facebook. Another big highlight is the framework’s modularity, allowing it to not only to create new pipelines from scratch but to modify existing workflows. PyText connects to the ONNX and Caffe2 frameworks. It also supports training multiple models at once in addition to distributed training to train models over several runs. The company obviously isn’t done with making improvements to its NLP frameworks. Facebook says that going forward they’re paying particular attention to working to build an end-to-end workflow for models running on mobile devices. PyText is available on GitHub.

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posted about 14 hours ago on techcrunch
Starbucks is expanding its partnership with Uber Eats to more than 2,000 stores in the United States next year, about a quarter of all of the company’s locations in the country. The relationship bolsters Uber’s mission for its on-demand food delivery service, Eats. Uber has said it plans to cover more than 70 percent of the U.S. population by the end of 2018. The partnership with Starbucks, while it won’t start in earnest until next year, will help the delivery service meet or even exceed that goal as it battles Postmates for market share. @Starbucks & @UberEats, arriving soon in 2019! https://t.co/ppt8Ckh0de — Uber Eats (@UberEats) December 14, 2018 Starbucks first launched its program, Starbuck Delivers, as a pilot in September, serving people in Miami and Tokyo. Its coffee delivery roots actually began in China through a partnership with Alibaba and on-demand food delivery service Ele.me. The company also piloted a delivery service through two supermarkets in Shanghai and Hangzhou. It’s an experiment that appears to have had some success. Starbucks Delivers has reached 2,000 stores across 30 cities in China since launching three months ago, the company said at its investor conference Thursday. Now it’s taking what it learned in China and applying it to the U.S.

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posted about 15 hours ago on techcrunch
When I visited the GE Global Research Center in Niskayuna, New York in April 2017, I thought I saw a company that was working hard to avoid disruption, but perhaps the leafy campus, the labs and experimental projects hid much larger problems inside the company. Yesterday GE announced that it is spinning out its Industrial IoT business and selling most of its stake in ServiceMax, the company it bought in 2016 for $915 million. For one thing, Jeff Immelt, the CEO who was leading that modernization charge, stepped down six months after my visit and was replaced by John Flannery, who was himself replaced just a year into his tenure by C. Lawrence Culp, Jr. It didn’t seem to matter who was in charge, nobody could stop the bleeding stock price, which has fallen this year from a high of $18.76 in January to $7.20 this morning before the markets opened (and had already lost another .15 a share as we went to publication). It hasn’t been a great year for GE stock. Chart: Yahoo Finance Immelt at least recognized that the company needed to shift to a data-centered Industrial Internet of Things future where sensors fed data that provided ways to understand the health of a machine or how to drive the most efficient use from it. This was centered around the company’s Predix platform where developers could build applications using that data. The company purchased ServiceMax in 2016 to extend that idea and feed service providers the data they needed to anticipate when service was needed even before the customer was aware of it. As Immelt put it in a 2014 quote on Twitter: “If you went to bed last night as an industrial company you’re going to wake up a software & analytics company.” – @JeffImmelt — General Electric (@generalelectric) October 9, 2014 That entire approach had substance. In fact, if you look at what Salesforce announced earlier this month around service and the Internet of Things, you will see a similar strategy. As Salesforce’s SVP and GM for Salesforce Field Service Lightning Paolo Bergamo described in a blog post, “Drawing on IoT signals surfaced in the Service Cloud console, agents can gauge whether device failure is imminent, quickly determine the source of the problem (often before the customer is even aware a problem exists) and dispatch the right mobile worker with the right skill set.” Photo: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images The ServiceMax acquisition and the Predix Platform were central to this, and while the idea was sound, Ray Wang, founder and principal analyst at Constellation Research says that the execution was poor and the company needed to change. “The vision for GE Digital made sense as they crafted a digital industrial strategy, yet the execution inside GE was not the best. As GE spins out many of its units, this move is designed to free up the unit to deliver its services beyond GE and into the larger ecosystem,” Wang told TechCrunch. Current CEO Culp sees the spin-out as a way to breathe new life into the business “As an independently operated company, our digital business will be best positioned to advance our strategy to focus on our core verticals to deliver greater value for our customers and generate new value for shareholders,” Culp explained in a statement. Maybe so, but it seems it should be at the center of what the company is doing, not a spin-off — and with only a 10 percent stake left in ServiceMax, the service business component all but goes away. Bill Ruh, GE Digital CEO, the man who was charged with implementing the mission (and apparently failed) has decided to leave the company with this announcement. In fact, the new Industrial IoT company will operate as a wholly owned GE subsidiary with its own financials and board of directors, separate from the main company. With this move though, GE is clearly moving the Industrial IoT out of the core business as it continues to struggle to find a combination that brings its stock price back to life. While the Industrial Internet of Things idea may have been poorly executed, selling and spinning off the pieces that need to be part of the digital future seem like a short-sighted way to achieve the company’s longer term goals.

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posted about 15 hours ago on techcrunch
I’m heading back to Europe to hang out in Wroclaw and Warsaw so it’s last call for pitch off applications. I’ll be at a Wroclaw event, called In-Ference, which is happening on December 17 and you can submit to pitch here. The team will notify you if you have been chosen. The winner will receive a table at TC Disrupt in San Francisco. The Warsaw event, here, is on the 19th at WeWork in Warsaw. You can sign up to pitch here. I’ll notify the folks I’ve chosen and the winner gets a table at TC Disrupt, as well. Special thanks to WeWork Labs in Warsaw for supplying some beer and pizza for the event and, as always, special thanks to Dermot Corr and Ahmad Piraiee for putting these things together. See you soon!

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posted about 15 hours ago on techcrunch
Smart home items make great gifts and what follows are some of the best. From faster Wifi to smart meat thermometers, there’s something here for everyone on your list. I use everything listed here and can attest to their quality. That’s important to me. I’m not going to recommend something I do not use. Throughout the year, I see a lot of gadgets and most are junk. The nine items listed here work great and are quality products. Netgear Orbi The Netgear Orbi is part of a new class of Wifi routers that use multiple units to blanket a home in Wifi. This one just works. For medium to large size homes, the Orbi will radically improve your Wifi performance. I’ve used a few of Orbi’s competitors and prefer the Orbi for several reasons. Installation was straight forward and follows traditional router setup routines. The units themselves sport more ethernet jacks than competitors, and from what I can tell, the Netgear Orbi app is the most feature-packed yet best designed. The Orbi system is expensive with basic systems starting out around $300 though with holiday sales, they can be found for around $200 and up. Netgear released several new Orbi products in 2018 including one with a built-in cable modem, allowing owners to ditch one more box in their house. Meural Give someone the gift of art. The Meural is a smart LCD screen designed to display works of art. It’s a lovely device that I quickly feel in love with. It’s magical. The idea is simple: Provide owners with a never-ending parade of classical and modern works of art. This is done through a subscription service that features a deep collection of available images. Art is available from the top museums, artists and image makers. It’s easy to get lost in the app. There’s just so much available and the app does a great job explaining about the artists and their works. Owners can also send their own images to the display. The unit can be mounted vertically or horizontally and features a crisp display. There’s a small, somewhat unwieldy sensor to navigate the controls, but most often, the owner will use the smartphone app to change the art. AcuRite Atlas Weather Station This is the best home-based weather station I’ve used. It’s loaded with features. The station measures rain, wind speed, lightening strikes, UV levels and more. All the data is sent to a large touchscreen monitoring station. Be warned. The weather station is large and needs to be mounted in a central location. There are a lot of weather stations on the market. The AcuRite Atlas is one of the most expensive but from what I’ve seen, it’s one of the most accurate too. AcuRite says it accurate to 1 degree of temperature and 3 degrees of wind direction. Good data is expensive. But if this unit is out of your price range, AcuRite and a few other companies have less expensive models available too. Sure, someone can always look at their phone for the weather, but this is a bit more fun. Amazon Echo Dot The Echo Dot is fantastic. It’s small, cheap and still works like its bigger siblings. The retail price is $50 but it can be had for much less with holiday sales. The Echo Dot can do everything: play music, tell the weather, control smart home devices and output audio to an audio system. Because of this vast amount of functions there’s something here for everyone. Have someone on your list that just wants to listen to music? Get them the Dot. Do they already have another Alexa device but have a large house? Get them another Dot; I have six throughout (and outside) of my home. Do they listen to a lot of music through a big audio system? The Dot can send the audio out through the 3.5mm jack. SnapPower Outlet Covers SnapPower’s outlet covers are amazing. I backed the Kickstarter back in 2014 and have been a customer since. The products just work. The idea is crazy simple: Built into the outlet cover are LED lights or USB outlets or child-proof outlet covers. Simply take off the old outlet cover and snap this one in its place. It’s the snap itself that powers the device; the covers sport metal clips that grab onto the outlet’s conductors and powers the light or USB outlet (they’re UL listed in the US). I have a couple of the LED plates throughout the house and a USB outlet cover in the kitchen. Prices start around $15. A boring gift? Yeah, but an amazing gift. Philips Wake-up Light I’m convinced waking up to a loud alarm will shorten a person’s life, but this alarm is different. Made by Philips and available in several different models, this device slowly starts getting brighter as the alarm nears. Philips says it helps a person wake up in a more natural way. All I know is it works. I bought one of these devices last year and it improved my morning routine. However it works, I tend to wake up more refreshed and in a better mood though it’s not perfect. The on-device controls are touchy and the clock can be hard to read. It could use Alexa integration. Also, why is the women in the stock photo staring at the light? Don’t do that. Sonos Beam The Sonos Beam is a fantastic soundbar that provides more than just an improved audio experience. It also gives owners an easy way to control all the boxes stored under their TV. The speaker includes Alexa — and promises Google Assistant support — and it improves your TV sound immensely. Designed as an add-on to your current TV, it can stand alone or connect with the Sonos subwoofer and a few satellite surround speakers for a true surround sound experience. It truly shines alone, however, thanks to its small size and more than acceptable audio range. Sonos’ surround sound systems install quickly and run seamlessly. You can buy a few speakers, tap a few buttons and have 5.1 sound in less time than it takes to pull a traditional home audio system out of its shipping box. Meater This is a meat thermometer. That’s why it’s called Meater. I have one and love it. The Meater is a wireless thermometer, but unlike the cheap versions available in hardware stores, this one works well and features a smartphone app. There are two thermometers on the Meater. One monitors the meat’s temp and the other monitors the ambient temperature. That’s critical. The companion app gives accurate readings and provides estimates of when the item will be done cooking. I found the Meater is most helpful when cooking something low and slow. I don’t use it for steak, but when barbecuing a pork butt, it’s handy. Nest Hello Video doorbells change everything. I have one on my house and it’s invaluable. The Nest Hello is one of the best on the market. The Hello is easy to install and use. Anyone can do it. The Hello provides great video quality and records constantly. That’s key. Most other video doorbells only record when triggered and sometimes key moments are not captured because they don’t trigger the camera. The Hello even features facial recognition and can send smartphone alerts when it detects someone it knows. At $229 it’s not the cheapest on the market, but it’s one of the best.

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posted about 15 hours ago on techcrunch
TF International Securities Apple analyst extraordinaire Ming-Chi Kuo delivered a less than stellar iPhone forecast this week with the straight forwardly titled note, “2019 iPhone shipments likely to be under 190 million units.” The letter puts the number of Apple handsets well below previous analyst predictions of 212 million for next year. Kuo is largely regarded as the most influential analyst for the company, both with regards to sales figures and a stellar track record of predicting future products, thanks in part to relationships with Apple suppliers. His forecasts have the ability to impact Apple stock, which has already take a hit this past quarter. “The increase in orders of legacy iPhone models cannot offset the decline of XR and XS series shipments because of the low season impact,” Kuo writes in the note. The analyst also singles out the XR, which many anticipated would be a hit for the company, courtesy of a considerably low price point. Of course, Apple’s not alone in this. The smartphone industry has been seen an overall decline this past year. After years of explosive growth, things have begun to slow for many. In February, Gartner noted its first year-over-year decline since it began tracking the category. A perceived lack of upgrade worthy features have contributed to a slow down. That could ultimately be reversed, in part, by the arrival of 5G. A small number of companies have committed to bringing the technology to handsets next year, with Apple’s 5G handset expected to arrive in 2020.

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posted about 16 hours ago on techcrunch
Researchers at the University of Zurich and EPFL have created a robot that shrinks to fit through gaps, a feature that could make it perfect for search and rescue missions. The researchers initially created a drone that could assess man-made gaps and squeeze through in seconds using only one camera. This extra feature – a scissor like system to shrink the drone in flight – makes it even more versatile and allows these drones to react to larger or smaller gaps in nature. “The idea came up after we worked on quadrotor flight through narrow gaps,” said PhD candidate Davide Falanga. “The goal of our lab is to develop drones which can be in the future used in the aftermath of a disaster, as for example an earthquake, in order to enter building through small cracks or apertures in a collapsed building to look for survivors. Our previous approach required a very aggressive maneuver, therefore we looked into alternative solutions to accomplish a task as passing through a very narrow gap without having to fly at high speed. The solution we came up with is the foldable drone, a quadrotor which can change its shape to adapt to the task.” The system measures the gap and changes its shape without outside processing, a feat that is quite exciting. All of the processing is done on board and it could be turned into an autonomous system if necessary. The team build the drone with off the shelf and 3D-printed parts. “The main difference between conventional drones and our foldable drone is in the way the arms are connected to the body: each arm is connected through a servo motor, which can change the relative position between the main body and the arm. This allows the robot to literally fold the arms around the body, which means that potentially any morphology can be obtained. An adaptive controller is aware of the drone’s morphology and adapts to it in order to guarantee stable flight at all times, independently of the configuration,” said Falanga. The team published a report on their findings in Robotics and Automation Letters. As IEEE notes, this is no flying drone dragon but it is a far simpler, cooler, and more effective product.

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posted about 16 hours ago on techcrunch
Reset the “days since the last Facebook privacy scandal” counter, as a Facebook has just revealed a Photo API bug gave app developers too much access to the photos of up to 5.6 million users. The bug allowed apps users had approved to pull their timeline photos to also receive their Facebook Stories, Marketplace photos, and most worryingly, photos they’d uploaded to Facebook but never shared. Facebook says the bug ran for 12 days from September 13th to September 25th. Facebook initially didn’t disclose when it discovered the bug, but in response to TechCrunch’s inquiry, a spokesperson says that it was discovered and fixed on September 25th. They say it took time for the company to investigate whch apps and people were impacted, and build and translate the warning notification it will send impacted users. The delay could put Facebook at risk of GDPR fines for not promptly disclosing the issue within 72 hours that can go up to 20 million pounds or 4 percent of annual global revenue. Facebook provided merely a glib “We’re sorry this happened” in terms of an apology. It will provide tools next week for app developers to check if they were impacted and it will work with them to delete photos they shouldn’t have. The company plans to notify people it suspects may have been impacted by the bug via Facebook notification that will direct them to the Help Center where they’ll see if they used any apps impacted by the bug. It’s recommending users log into apps to check if they have wrongful photo access. Here’s a look at a mockup of warning notifcation users will see: The privacy failure will further weaken confidence that Facebook is a reponsible steward for our private data. It follows Facebook’s massive security breach that allowed hackers to scrape 30 million people’s information back in September. There was also November’s bug allowing websites to read users’ Likes, October’s bug that mistakenly deleted people’s Live videos, and May’s bug that changed people’s status update composer privacy settings. It increasingly looks like the social network has gotten too big for the company to secure. That it keeps photos you partially uploaded but never posted in the first place is creepy, but the fact that these could be exposed to third-party developers is truly unacceptable. And it seems Facebook is so tired of its failings that it couldn’t put forward even a seemingly heartfelt apology is telling. This company’s troubles are not only souring users on Facebook, but employees and the tech industry as large as well.

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posted about 17 hours ago on techcrunch
Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines. This week we had the regular crew back together which was good fun. Connie took point, we had Danny mic’d up in New York, and I was onsite to help the crew natter along with Bubba Murarka, a former VC and founder who now cuts checks on his own. Thematically, this was a week of mega rounds so we had little choice but to go over more than a few. And Uber is out there doing its IPO thing. So, we started with cars and pivoted to rounds. Regarding Uber and Lyft, it’s mostly been said, but we took a noodle through the historical context of two other temporally close IPOs between rivals, Visa and Mastercard, and talked about the impending offerings for a minute, as we couldn’t resist. Do they lose too much money? Is there an advantage to going first? That sort of thing. After, we got to the new funding rounds. First up was the Luckin Coffee $200 million round. The rise of Luckin in China has been simply astounding. I wanted to know some boring financial results, which our guest found a bit old-fashioned, but we all agreed that the company has hit on something big. And something big in China to boot, which means the company has been heading straight north. Next, we touched on Plaid and its own $250 million infusion. The Kleiner-sourced round was far more money than the financial API company had raised before. It was a staggering amount of capital. Coming on the heels of the recent public-market success of Twilio and the private-market success of Stripe, both API-based companies, may have played a part in the rounds construction. The good times are not merely coffee and software-focused, however. Zymergen also picked up a nine-figure round: $400 million. So much for a seasonal slowdown. Hang tight, we’ll be right back. Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Pocket Casts, Downcast and all the casts.

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