posted about 1 hour ago on techcrunch
Apple is making its Mac Pro and Apple Pro Display available in December, it announced today. The machine was announced earlier this year but no availability window had been set. In addition to the previously announced specs, Apple also noted that it would be able to be ordered with up to an 8TB SSD. Apple’s Pro Workflow Team continues to take feedback about wants and needs of its pro customers and Apple says that the MacBook Pro can now handle up to 6 streams of 8K Pro Res vide, up from 3 streams quoted back in June.  Apple also says that Blackmagic will have an SDI to 8K converter for productions using a serial digital interface workflow on set or in studio. This was a question I got several times after Apple announced its reference monitor to go along with the Mac Pro. This makes it more viable for many on-set applications that use existing workflows.  I was able to get a look at the Mac Pro running the SDI converter box as well as a bunch of other applications like Final Cut Pro and it continues to be incredibly impressive for pro workflows. One demo showed 6 8K Pro Res streams running with animation and color coding in real time in a pre-rendered state. Really impressive. The hardware is also still wildly premium stuff. The VESA mount for the Pro Display XDR alone feels like it has more engineering behind it than most entire computers. The new Mac Pro starts at $5,999 for tis base configuration, which includes 32GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD and a Radeon Pro 570X graphics card, and the Pro Display XDR 32-inch reference quality monitor that Apple will sell alongside it starts at $4,999.

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posted about 1 hour ago on techcrunch
In poker, complacency is a quiet killer. It can steal your forward momentum bit by bit, using the warm glow of a winning hand or two to cover the bets you’re not making until it’s too late and you’re out of leverage.  Over the past few years, Apple’s MacBook game had begun to suffer from a similar malaise. Most of the company’s product lines were booming, including newer entries like the Apple Watch, AirPods and iPad Pro. But as problems with the models started to mount — unreliable keyboards, low RAM ceilings and anemic graphics offerings — the once insurmountable advantage that the MacBook had compared to the rest of the notebook industry started to show signs of dwindling.  The new 16” MacBook Pro Apple is announcing today is an attempt to rectify most, if not all, of the major complaints of its most loyal, and vocal, users. It’s a machine that offers a massive amount of upsides for what appears to be a handful of easily justifiable tradeoffs. It’s got better graphics, a bigger display for nearly no extra overall size, a bigger battery with longer life claims and yeah, a completely new keyboard. I’ve only had a day to use the machine so far, but I did all of my research and writing for this first look piece on the machine, carting it around New York City, through the airport and onto a plane where I’m publishing this now. This isn’t a review, but I can take you through some of the new stuff and give you thoughts based on that chunk of time.  This is a re-think of the larger MacBook Pro in many large ways. This is a brand new model that will completely replace the 15” MacBook Pro in Apple’s lineup, not an additional model.  Importantly, the team working on this new MacBook started with no design constraints on weight, noise, size or battery. This is not a thinner machine, it is not a smaller machine, it is not a quieter machine. It is, however, better than the current MacBook Pro in all of the ways that actually count. Let’s run down some of the most important new things.  Performance and thermals The 16” MacBook Pro comes configured with either a 2.6GHz 6-core i7 or a 2.3GHz 8-core i9 from Intel . These are the same processors as the 15” MacBook Pro came with. No advancements here is largely a function of Intel’s chip readiness.  The i7 model of the 16” MacBook Po will run $2,399 for the base model — the same as the old 15” — and it comes with a 512GB SSD drive and 16GB of RAM.  Both models can be ordered today and will be in stores at the end of the week. The standard graphics configuration in the i7 is an AMD Radeon Pro 5300M with 4GB of memory and an integrated Intel UHD graphics 630 chip. The system continues to use the dynamic handoff system that trades power for battery life on the fly.   The i9 model will run $2,699 and comes with a 1TB drive. That’s a nice bump in storage for both models, into the range of very comfortable for most people. It rolls with an AMD Radeon Pro 5500M with 4GB of memory. You can configure both models with an AMD Radeon Pro 5500M with 8GB of GDDR6 memory. Both models can also now get up to 8TB of SSD storage – which Apple says is the most on a notebook ever – and 64GB of 2666 DDR4 RAM but I’d expect those upgrades to be pricey. The new power supply delivers an additional 12w of power and there is a new thermal system to compensate for that. The heat pipe that carries air in and out has been redesigned, there are more fan blades on 35% larger fans that move 28% more air compared to the 15” model.  The fans in the MacBook Pro, when active, put out the same decibel level of sound, but push way more air than before. So, not a reduction in sound, but not an increase either — and the trade is better cooling. Another area where the design process for this MacBook focused on performance gains rather than the obvious sticker copy.  There’s also a new power brick which is the same physical size as the 15” MacBook Pro’s adapter, but which now supplies 96w up from 87w. The brick is still as chunky as ever and feels a tad heavier, but it’s nice to get some additional power out of it.  Though I haven’t been able to put the MacBook Pro through any video editing or rendering tests I was able to see live demos of it handling several 8K streams concurrently. With the beefiest internal config Apple says it can usually handle as many as 4, perhaps 5 un-rendered Pro Res streams. A bigger display, a thicker body The new MacBook Pro has a larger 16” diagonal Retina display that has a 3072×1920 resolution at 226 ppi. The monitor features the same 500 nit maximum brightness, P3 color gamut and True Tone tech as the current 15”. The bezels of the screen are narrower, which makes it feel even larger when you’re sitting in front of it. This also contributes to the fact that the overall size of the new MacBook Pro is just 2% larger in width and height, with a .7mm increase in thickness.  The overall increase in screen size far outstrips the increase in overall body size because of those thinner bezels. And this model is still around the same thickness as the 2015 15” MacBook Pro, an extremely popular model among the kinds of people who are the target market for this machine. It also weighs 4.3 lbs, heavier than the 4.02 lb current 15” model. The display looks great, extremely crisp due to the increase in pixels and even more in your face because of the very thin bezels. This thing feels like it’s all screen in a way that matches the iPad Pro. This thick boi also features a bigger battery, a full 100Whr, the most allowable under current FAA limits. Apple says this contributes an extra hour of normal operations in its testing regimen in comparison to the current 15” MacBook Pro. I have not been able to effectively test these claims in the time I’ve had with it so far.  But it is encouraging that Apple has proven willing to make the iPhone 11 Pro and the new MacBook a bit thicker in order to deliver better performance and battery life. Most of these devices are pretty much thin enough. Performance, please. Speakers and microphone One other area where the 16” MacBook Pro has made a huge improvement is the speaker and microphone arrays. I’m not sure I ever honestly expected to give a crap about sound coming out of a laptop. Good enough until I put in a pair of headphones accurately describes my expectations for laptop sound over the years. Imagine my surprise when I first heard the sound coming out of this new MacBook and it was, no crap, incredibly good.  The new array consists of six speakers arranged so that the subwoofers are positioned in pairs, antipodal to one another (back to back). This has the effect of cancelling out a lot of the vibration that normally contributes to that rattle-prone vibrato that has characterized small laptop speakers pretty much forever. The speaker setup they have here has crisper highs and deeper bass than you’ve likely ever heard from a portable machine. Movies are really lovely to watch with the built-ins, a sentence I have never once felt comfortable writing about a laptop.  Apple also vents the speakers through their own chambers, rather than letting sound float out through the keyboard holes. This keeps the sound nice and crisp, with a soundstage that’s wide enough to give the impression of a center channel for voice. One byproduct of this though is that blocking one or another speaker with your hand is definitely more noticeable than before. The quality of sound here is really very, very good. The HomePod team’s work on sound fields apparently keeps paying dividends.  That’s not the only audio bit that’s better now though, Apple has also put in a 3-mic array for sound recording that it claims has a high enough signal-to-noise ratio that it can rival standalone microphones. I did some testing here comparing it to the iPhone’s mic and it’s absolutely night and day. There is remarkably little hiss present here and artists that use the MacBook as a sketch pad for vocals and other recording are going to get a really nice little surprise here. I haven’t been able to test it against external mics myself but I was able to listen to rigs that involved a Blue Yeti and other laptop microphones and the MacBook’s new mic array was clearly better than any of the machines and held its own against the Yeti.  The directional nature of many podcast mics is going to keep them well in advance of the internal mic on the MacBook for the most part, but for truly mobile recording setups the MacBook mic just went from completely not an option to a very viable fallback in one swoop. It really has to be listened to in order to get it.  I doubt anyone is going to buy a MacBook Pro for the internal mic, but having a ‘pro level’ device finally come with a pro level mic on board is super choice.  I think that’s most of it, though I feel like I’m forgetting something… Oh right, the Keyboard Ah yes. I don’t really need to belabor the point on the MacBook Pro keyboards just not being up to snuff for some time. Whether you weren’t a fan of the short throw on the new butterfly keyboards or you found yourself one of the many people (yours truly included) who ran up against jammed or unresponsive keys on that design — you know that there has been a problem. The keyboard situation has been written about extensively by Casey Johnston and Joanna Stern and complained about by every writer on Twitter over the past several years. Apple has offered a succession of updates to that keyboard to attempt to make it more reliable and has extended warranty replacements to appease customers.  But the only real solution was to ditch the design completely and start over. And that’s what this is: a completely new keyboard. Apple is calling it the Magic Keyboard in homage to the iMac’s Magic Keyboard (but not identically designed). The new keyboard is a scissor mechanism, not butterfly. It has 1mm of key travel (more, a lot more) and an Apple-designed rubber dome under the key that delivers resistance and springback that facilitates a satisfying key action. The new keycaps lock into the keycap at the top of travel to make them more stable when at rest, correcting the MacBook Air-era wobble.  And yes, the keycaps can be removed individually to gain access to the mechanism underneath. And yes, there is an inverted-T arrangement for the arrow keys. And yes, there is a dedicated escape key. Apple did extensive physiological research when building out this new keyboard. One test was measuring the effect of a keypress on a human finger. Specifically, they measured the effect of a key on the pacinian corpuscles at the tips of your fingers. These are onion-esque structures in your skin that house nerve endings and they are most sensitive to mechanical and vibratory pressure.  Apple then created this specialized plastic dome that sends a specific vibration to this receptor making your finger send a signal to your brain that says ‘hey you pressed that key.’ This led to a design that gives off the correct vibration wavelength to return a satisfying ‘stroke completed’ message to the brain. There is also more space between the keys, allowing for more definitive strokes. This is because the keycaps themselves are slightly smaller. The spacing does take some adjustment, but by this point in the article I am already getting pretty proficient and am having more grief from the autocorrect feature of Catalina than anything else.  Notably, this keyboard is not in the warranty extension program that Apple is applying to its older keyboard designs. There is a standard 1 year warranty on this model, a statement by the company that they believe in the durability of this new design? Perhaps. It has to get out there and get bashed on by more violent keyboard jockeys than I for a while before we can tell whether it’s truly more resilient.  But does this all come together to make a more usable keyboard? In short, yes. The best way to describe it in my opinion is a blend between the easy cushion of the old MacBook Air and the low profile stability of the Magic Keyboard for iMac. It’s truly one of the best feeling keyboards they’ve made in years and perhaps ever in the modern era. I reserve the right to be nostalgic about deep throw mechanical keyboards in this regard, but this is the next best thing.  Pro, or Pro In my brief and admittedly limited testing so far, the 16” MacBook Pro ends up looking like it really delivers on the Pro premise of this kind of machine in ways that have been lacking for a while in Apple’s laptop lineup. The increased storage caps, bigger screen, bigger battery and redesigned keyboard should make this an insta-buy for anyone upgrading from a 2015 MacBook Pro and a very tempting upgrade for even people on newer models that have just never been happy with the typing experience.  Many of Apple’s devices with the label Pro lately have fallen into the bucket of ‘the best’ rather than ‘for professionals’. This isn’t strictly a new phenomenon for Apple, but more consumer centric devices like the AirPods Pro and the iPhone Pro get the label now than ever before.  But the 16” MacBook Pro is going to alleviate a lot of the pressure Apple has been under to provide an unabashedly Pro product for Pro Pros. It’s a real return to form for the real Mack Daddy of the laptop category. As long as this new keyboard design proves resilient and repairable I think this is going to kick off a solid new era for Apple portables.

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posted about 2 hours ago on techcrunch
Sometimes it seems like you can hear a song all the way in your toes. With these new sneakers, you actually can. Meet the new EP 01 sneakers out of DropLabs. Yes, you read that right. We’re talking about sneakers. Invented by a man named Brock Seiler, and led by former Beats by Dre CEO Susan Paley, DropLabs aims to take audio to a whole new level by syncing music, movies and other audio to shoes that vibrate the soles of your feet. It started when Seiler, who works in the music industry, was standing in a side room at a recording studio while a band was recording. He could feel every beat and low note in the song in his feet while standing over this particular patch of floor, and wanted to experience all music like that, as though he could feel the energy of the stage itself. Eventually, Paley signed on as CEO of DropLabs and the EP 01 was born. The EP 01 is a slightly chunky sneaker that’s equipped with Bluetooth, a speaker-grade transducer, and a power source to sync with almost any audio. As a movie or music or video game plays, the sneaker picks up the audio and sends it as a perfectly synced vibration right to the soles of your feet. For big, thunderous steps of a T-Rex in Jurassic World, the vibrations are heavy and full. For the pitter patter of the townspeoples’ footsteps in Red Dead Redemption II, the vibrations are light and muted. What’s more, the vibrations are slightly directional. Noise that’s coming from the right vibrates on the right, and vice versa, which can be particularly impactful while playing video games. Indeed, Paley sees gaming as a huge opportunity to enter the market. Audio, and particularly good directional audio, is incredibly important for gamers who compete at a high level. The growth of esports has allowed a number of brands to emerge as the “X for gamers”, not least of which being energy drinks. DropLabs has an opportunity to market to gamers, offering a more immersive experience across their games and potentially even a competitive advantage. Paley explained to TechCrunch that the brain actually functions at a higher level when three or more of the senses are engaged. Feeling something, alongside hearing and seeing it, flips a switch when it comes to processing information. For this reason, Paley sees a huge potential to target gamers as an early demographic, particularly big name streamers and gaming influencers. In fact, DropLabs has given the shoes to various researchers and universities around the country to learn more about how these shoes might be used. After meeting with them, Paley believes that there are applications that extend well beyond entertainment and into the health space. I got a chance to try on the shoes and play around with them for a little while last week, and while I’d like to reserve my complete thoughts for a proper review, it goes without saying that wearing the shoes surely leaves an impression. [gallery ids="1911372,1911373,1911374,1911375,1911376"] But the EP 01 have challenges ahead. For one, the shoes cost upwards of $500. It’s a mighty high price point for a gadget that most folks will need to try before they feel committed to buying. “Whenever you create a new category and a new product, you have the challenge of asking consumers to change their behavior,” said Paley. “And this, in particular, is so visceral. How do you communicate viscerally what is an emotional experience? You can talk about it, but it’s very different to put someone in the shoe.” The EP 01 must also find their place in a category that’s defined by fashion and personal style. Our shoes say something about us, and for now, the EP 01 comes in one style and one color (black). It’s as universal a shoe as it can be, considering all the electronics packed in there, but it doesn’t leave customers many options to change up their own look. Of course, DropLabs is deep in the learning phase, soaking up as much information about its first-gen sneaker as possible as it looks to iterate for v2. The EP 01 is available for pre-order now, and DropLabs has plans to launch pop-up shops and other IRL experiences for folks interested in the shoes. Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story mistakenly identified Brock Seiler as Ross Seiler. It has been corrected for accuracy.

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posted about 2 hours ago on techcrunch
Google is the latest big tech company to make a move into banking and personal financial services: The company is gearing up to offer checking accounts to consumers, as first reported by the Wall Street Journal, starting as early as next year. Google is calling the projected “Cache,” and it’ll partner with banks and credit unions to offer the checking accounts, with the banks handling all financial and compliance activities related to the accounts. Google’s Caesar Sengupta spoke to the WSJ about the new initiative, and Sengupta made clear that Google will be seeking to put its financial institution partners much more front-and-center for its customers than other tech companies have perhaps done with their financial products. Apple works with Goldman Sachs on its Apple Card credit product, for instance, but the credit card is definitely pretend primarily as an Apple product. So why even bother getting into this game if it’s leaving a lot of the actual banking to traditional financial institutions? Well, Google obviously stands to gain a lot of valuable information and insight on customer behavior with access to their checking account, which for many is a good picture of overall day-to-day financial life. Google says it’s also intending to offer product advantages for both consumers and banks, including things like loyalty programs, on top of the basic financial services. It’s also still considering whether or not it’ll charge service fees, per Segupta – not doing so would definitely be and advantage over most existing checking accounts available. Google already offers Google Pay, and its Google Wallet product has hosted some features beyond simple payments tracking, including the ability to send money between individuals. Meanwhile, rivals including Apple have also introducing payment products, and Apple of course recently expanded into the credit market with Apple Card. Facebook also introduced its own digital payment product earlier this week, and earlier this year announced its intent to build its own digital currency called ‘Libra’ along with partners. The initial financial partners that Google is working with include Citigroup and Stanford Federal Credit Union, and their motivation per the WSJ piece appears to be seeking out and attracting younger and more digital-savvy customers who are increasingly looking to handle more of their lives through online tools. Per Sengupta’s comments, they’ll also benefit from Google’s ability to work with large sets of data and turn those into value-add products, but the Google exec also said the tech company doesn’t sue Google Pay data for advertising, nor does it share that data with advertisers. Still, convincing people to give Google access to this potentially sensitive area of their lives might be an uphill battle, especially given the current political and social climate around big tech.

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posted about 3 hours ago on techcrunch
Pull your heads out of the trenches, startup fans. You have just 72 hours to save up to €500 with early-bird pricing on passes to Disrupt Berlin 2019. When the clock strikes 11:59 p.m. (CEST) on Friday, 15 November, the early bird is no more. Three days will fly by in a flash, so don’t wait. Take 10 minutes now, buy your early-bird pass and save today. Disrupt Berlin offers two programming-packed days of opportunity and education. On top of classic events like the Startup Battlefield pitch competition and the Hackathon, you’ll find hundreds of boundary-pushing startups on display in Startup Alley, including our recently announced TC Top Picks. We have an outstanding line up of speakers, workshops, fireside chats, panel discussions Q&A Sessions and interviews with some of the greatest minds and makers, doers and shakers in tech and investment. Check out the Disrupt Berlin agenda and find the topics most relevant to your interests. Here’s a peek at just some of the awesome presentations you can attend. Curious about investing in South African growth markets or tapping the pool of talented developers across Africa? Don’t miss either of these compelling discussions. Investing and Operating in Growth Markets with Bob van Dijk (Prosus and Naspers). Prosus is a global consumer internet company with interests in food delivery, payments and fintech, classifieds, travel, retail, media, social platforms and a dedicated ventures team, not to mention a huge stake in Tencent. CEO Bob van Dijk discusses what Prosus believes is around the corner in these growth markets and why Naspers, a South African internet company, listed Prosus on the Euronext Amsterdam stock exchange in September, thus creating Europe’s largest listed consumer internet company in 2019. Investing in Africa’s Tech Talent with Jeremy Johnson (Andela) and Lila Preston (Generation Investment Management). Generation Investment Management, the firm co-founded by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, was built on the premise of backing sustainable startups. The fund’s lead, Lila Preston, brings their portfolio company Andela to discuss how they have harnessed the booming talent in Africa to solve global outsourcing issues and what’s next in building sustainable companies. Perhaps you want a better understanding of what investors look for when it comes to prospective startups. We’ve got you covered. What does it take to raise a Series A with Jessica Holzbach (Penta), Louise Samet (Blossom Capital) and Hannah Seal (Index Ventures). Venture capital funds have boomed this decade, but raising money is still hard for young companies. What are investors today looking for in teams, metrics and products? Fireside Chat with Atomico with Sophia Bendz, Siraj Khaliq, Hiro Tamura and Niall Wass (Atomico). From a single London base a few years ago, European VC firm, Atomico has spread to the U.S. and Asia. Hear from key partners about this global VC’s strategy going forward. Disrupt Berlin 2019 takes place in one month, but you have only until Friday, 15 November at 11:59 p.m. (CEST) — that’s just three days — to buy your pass at the best possible price. Don’t wait, act. And we’ll see you in Berlin! Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt Berlin 2019? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form. ( function() { var func = function() { var iframe = document.getElementById('wpcom-iframe-c98bc66ab504d3407da982a3cb4a6527') if ( iframe ) { iframe.onload = function() { iframe.contentWindow.postMessage( { 'msg_type': 'poll_size', 'frame_id': 'wpcom-iframe-c98bc66ab504d3407da982a3cb4a6527' }, "https:\/\/tcprotectedembed.com" ); } } // Autosize iframe var funcSizeResponse = function( e ) { var origin = document.createElement( 'a' ); origin.href = e.origin; // Verify message origin if ( 'tcprotectedembed.com' !== origin.host ) return; // Verify message is in a format we expect if ( 'object' !== typeof e.data || undefined === e.data.msg_type ) return; switch ( e.data.msg_type ) { case 'poll_size:response': var iframe = document.getElementById( e.data._request.frame_id ); if ( iframe && '' === iframe.width ) iframe.width = '100%'; if ( iframe && '' === iframe.height ) iframe.height = parseInt( e.data.height ); return; default: return; } } if ( 'function' === typeof window.addEventListener ) { window.addEventListener( 'message', funcSizeResponse, false ); } else if ( 'function' === typeof window.attachEvent ) { window.attachEvent( 'onmessage', funcSizeResponse ); } } if (document.readyState === 'complete') { func.apply(); /* compat for infinite scroll */ } else if ( document.addEventListener ) { document.addEventListener( 'DOMContentLoaded', func, false ); } else if ( document.attachEvent ) { document.attachEvent( 'onreadystatechange', func ); } } )();

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posted about 4 hours ago on techcrunch
Convoy, the digital freight network that connects truckers with shippers, has raised $400 million in a Series D funding round as it aims to scale its business amid an increasingly competitive market. The funding round brings Convoy’s post-money valuation to $2.75 billion. The round was co-led by Generation Investment Management and previous Convoy investor T. Rowe Price Associates. Asset management firm Baillie Gifford, which has fondness for pre-IPO tech companies, Fidelity and Durable Capital Partners as well as Series C investors CapitalG and Lone Pine Capital also participated in the round. Convoy has managed to attract a slew of high-profile investors— and their capital — such as Jeff Bezos, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff and even U2’s Bono and the Edge. In the four years since its founding, Convoy has raised a total of more than $668 million. Early investors include Greylock Partners, Y Combinator, Cascade Investment (the private investment vehicle of Bill Gates) and  Code.org founders Hadi and Ali Partovi. And that money has been put to work. Convoy co-founders Dan Lewis and Grant Goodale set out in 2015 to modernize freight brokerage, a fragmented and oftentimes analog business that matches loads from shippers with truckers. The company has gone from hundreds of loads per week in 2016 to tens of thousands per week across the U.S. Notably, Convoy’s platform handles 100% of the matching, as opposed having humans complete the task. Convoy also has about 100 routes, many of them concentrated around economic hubs such as Chicago. Michigan and California, Lewis told TechCrunch. The 850-person company wants to accelerate those efforts with capital raised in this latest round. Although it’s bound to face more competition. Uber Freight, Loadsmart and Flexport are just a few online marketplaces that are targeting freight. Convoy has added new features to its platform as part of its scaling strategy. The company launched in 2019 an automated reloads feature that allows truckers book multiple loads at a time. It also added Convoy Go, which allows drivers to bring their truck cab and hook up to a trailer pre-filled with cargo.

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posted about 6 hours ago on techcrunch
Meet The Garage, a new incubator in Paris that is all about blockchain projects. Co-founded by Cyril Paglino from Starchain Capital, Fabrice Le Fessant from Dune Network and Oussama Ammar from The Family, the company will support blockchain startups, help big companies launch blockchain projects and educate engineers about blockchain development. The Garage is a sort of puzzle made out of multiple pieces. First, it wants to create a community of startups and support those startups in different ways. “We copy and paste The Family’s model, which means that it’s built on trust. We take 5% of equity after six months if the startup and The Garage are happy,” The Garage director Damien Daübe said during a small press conference yesterday. In exchange for 5%, startups that are part of The Garage community get some help when it comes to product, engineering, press relations, marketing, etc. Eventually, The Garage wants to tap its network of investors to make some introductions and help them get some funding and traction. There are already five startups participating in the program, such as Ipocamp, Ticket721 and Elite Chain. Eventually, The Garage wants to help 25 startups per year. The Family receives a lot of applications. You could imagine that The Family might recommend The Garage to some of them. But taking some equity isn’t going to generate revenue from day one. The Garage is also going to work with Dune Network, the new blockchain from OCamlPro. According to The Block, OCamlPro was working with the Tezos Foundation but decided to part ways, create a fork and start a new blockchain. The Garage is going to work with big corporate clients on some blockchain projects. This could generate some revenue much more quickly. Finally, The Garage is also going to teach software engineers about blockchain development. The company will host with free lessons in the evening. There will be some online resources as well. All of this is going to happen in a recently renovated building that looks like a hybrid between an Apple Store and a movie set. If you’re into concrete, metal and industrial design, it’s a beautiful place. It was mostly used for fashion week events until The Garage started renting it. [gallery ids="1911098,1911099,1911100,1911101,1911102,1911103,1911104,1911105,1911106"]

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posted about 6 hours ago on techcrunch
Plum, the U.K.-based “AI assistant” to help you manage your money and save more, has raised $3 million in additional funding — money it plans to use for further growth, including European expansion. The London company has also quietly launched its app for Android phones, adding to an existing iOS app and Facebook Messenger chatbot. Backing this round — which is essentially a second tranche to Plum’s earlier $4.5 million raise in the summer — is EBRB, and VentureFriends, both existing investors. Christian Faes, founder and CEO of LendInvest has also participated It brings the fintech startup’s total funding to $9.3 million since being founded by early TransferWise employee Victor Trokoudes, and Alex Michael in 2016. The new investment is said to come at the end of a year of “rapid expansion for Plum” in both London and Athens, including growing the team to 31 employees. Senior hires include Max Mawby, Plum’s Head of Behavioural Science, who previously worked for the U.K. government and ran the fintech sector-focused Behavioural Insights Team. In a call, Trokoudes told me that take up for Plum’s iOS app has been high and Android is also following a similar trajectory, proof that the startup’s AI assistant has perhaps outgrown its chatbook and Facebook Messenger beginnings (competitor Cleo has also released dedicated iOS and Android apps as an alternative to Facebook Messenger). He also says Plum now has 650,000 registered users, of which around 70% are active monthly. In recent user feedback sessions conducted by the startup, the biggest draw to the app is that it’s aim of changing financial behaviour to help people save more appears to be working. When users stick around using Plum for long enough, Trokoudes says they are surprised (and delighted) that it actually works. Like similar apps, Plum’s “artificial intelligence” deems what you can afford to save by analysing your bank transactions. It then puts money away each month in the form of round-ups and/or regular savings. You can open an ISA investment account and invest based on themes, such as only in “ethical companies” or technology. Another related feature is “Splitter,” which, as the name suggests, lets you split your automatic savings between Plum savings and investments, selecting the percentage amounts to go into each pot from 0-100%. Trokoudes says that Plum recently launched two new “intelligent” saving rules: the 52 Week Challenge, which aims to help you save £1367 over a year; and the Rainy Day Rule, which puts aside money whenever it rains (yes, really!). “Saving rules use automation to help people save more effectively without overloading them with information,” adds the Plum founder in a statement. “We have good evidence that this approach works: our automated round-ups feature, that we launched earlier this year has become a firm favourite among Plum users, boosting their savings by 50% on average”. Meanwhile, another one of Plum’s competitors, Chip recently raised £3.8 million in equity crowdfunding on Crowdcube. It was part of a round targeting $7.3 million in total, although it isn’t clear if all of that has closed yet (last time I checked the company had so far secured $5 million). Noteworthy, the equity crowdfund gave Chip a pre-money valuation of £36.78 million based on “over 153,000” accounts opened.

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posted about 6 hours ago on techcrunch
We’re just about one month away from opening the doors to infinite early-stage startup opportunity. We’re talking about Disrupt Berlin 2019, which takes place on 11-12 December. But today we’d like to highlight a specific opportunity you might not be familiar with — the Wild Card. Why is this opportunity a big deal? The startup that earns the Wild Card designation gets to compete in Startup Battlefield, our epic pitch competition with a $50,000 prize. Ka-ching! How do you qualify? Every early-stage startup that exhibits in Startup Alley, our expo floor and the heart of every Disrupt — has a shot at the Wild Card. And we mean every startup — Startup Alley Exhibitor Package holders, our recently announced TC Top Picks, members of a Country Pavilion — no matter how you come to exhibit in Startup Alley, you’re eligible. Here’s how it all works. The day before Disrupt Berlin 2019 opens, TechCrunch editors will review the exhibiting startups and select one standout to join the cadre of Startup Battlefield competitors. The Wild Card team receives roughly 24 hours’ notice before they step out onto the Main Stage to pitch their product and company in front of a live audience — and a panel of expert VCs and technologists waiting to be impressed. Talk about pressure. But startuppers don’t back away from a potentially life-changing opportunity — they rise to the occasion, amirite? Case in point: the little startup that could. Legacy earned the Wild Card at Disrupt Berlin 2018 and went on to win Startup Battlefield, beau coup love and attention from investors and media — not to mention that $50,000 equity-free cash infusion. Here’s the good news: There’s still time for you to be an exhibitor at Disrupt Berlin 2019 — and have a shot at competing in Startup Battlefield. Simply buy a Startup Alley Exhibitor Package and you’re good to go. Here’s even better news. Exhibiting in Startup Alley holds tremendous potential to move your business forward — whether you get the Wild Card or not. This is how David Hall, co-founder of Park & Diamond, describes his experience in Startup Alley. “Exhibiting in Startup Alley was a game-changer for us. We received insight on our product development process, and we got to engage with media and potential investors. The chance to have those discussions and to potentially form relationships was invaluable.” The opportunity that is Disrupt Berlin 2019 takes place on 11-12 December. Make the most of that opportunity — exhibit in Startup Alley and take your shot at the Wild Card and Startup Battlefield. We’ll see you in Berlin! Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt Berlin 2019? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

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posted about 7 hours ago on techcrunch
Africa focused payment startup PalmPay has launched in Nigeria after raising a $40 million seed-round led by Chinese mobile-phone maker Transsion. The investment came via Transsion’s Tecno subsidiary, with participation from China’s NetEase and Taiwanese wireless comms hardware firm Mediatek — a Transsion spokesperson confirmed to TechCrunch. PalmPay had piloted its mobile fintech offering in Nigeria since July, before going live today at a launch in Lagos. The startup aims to become Africa’s largest financial services platform, according to a statement.  As part of the investment, PalmPay enters a strategic partnership with mobile brands Tecno, Infinix, and Itel that includes pre-installation of the startup’s app on 20 million phones in 2020. The UK headquartered venture — that was also founded with Chinese seed investment — offers a package of mobile based financial services, including no fee payment options, bill pay, rewards programs, and discounted airtime. In Nigeria, PalmPay will offer 10% cashback on airtime purchases and bank transfer rates as low as 10 Naira ($.02). In addition to Nigeria, PalmPay will use the $40 million seed funding to grow its financial services business in Ghana. The payments startup has plans to expand to additional countries in 2020, PalmPay CEO Greg Reeve told TechCrunch on a call. PalmPay received its approval from the Nigerian Central Bank as a licensed mobile money operator in July. During its pilot phase, the payments venture registered 100,000 users and processed 1 million transactions, according to a company spokesperson. With its payments focus, the startup enters Africa’s most promising digital sector, but also one that has become notably competitive and crowded  — particularly in the continent’s largest economy and most populous nation of Nigeria.  By a number of estimates, Africa’s 1.2 billion people represent the largest share of the world’s unbanked and underbanked population. An improving smartphone and mobile-connectivity profile for Africa (see GSMA) turns this scenario into an opportunity for mobile-based financial products. That’s why hundreds of startups are descending on Africa’s fintech space, looking to offer scalable solutions for the continent’s financial needs. By stats offered WeeTracker, fintech now receives the bulk of VC capital and deal-flow to African startups. Nigeria has multiple new digital-payments entrants — see Chippercash — and several firmly rooted later stage fintech players, such as Paga and recently confirmed unicorn Interswitch. PalmPay CEO Greg Reeves believes the company can compete in Nigeria and across Africa based on several strategic advantages. A big one is the startup’s support from Transsion and partnership with Tecno. “On channel and access, we’re going to be pre-installed on all Tecno phones. Your’e gonna find us in the Tecno stores and outlets. So we get an immediate channel and leg up in any market we operate in,” said Reeve. Tecno’s owner and PalmPay’s lead investor, Transsion, is the largest seller of smartphones in Africa and maintains a manufacturing facility in Ethiopia. The company raised nearly $400 million in a Shanghai IPO in September and plans to spend roughly $300 million of that on new R&D and manufacturing capabilities in Africa and globally. Africa’s top mobile phone seller Transsion lists in Chinese IPO In addition to Transsion’s support and network, Reeves names PalmPay’s partnership with Visa . “We signed a strategic alliance with Visa so now I can deliver Visa products on top of my wallet, link my wallet to Visa products and give access to someone who’s completely unbanked to the whole of the Visa network,” he said. Another strategic advantage PalmPay may have as a newcomer in Africa’s fintech space is Reeve’s leadership experience. He comes to the CEO position after serving as Vodaphone’s global head of M-Pesa — one of the world’s most recognized mobile-money products. Reeve was also a GM for Millicom‘s fintech products across Africa and Latin America. “I’ve had my fingers in mobile financial services for the last 10 years,” he said. Reeve confirmed that PalmPay has local teams (and is hiring) in Nigeria and Ghana. With the company’s launch and $40 million raise — which is potentially the largest seed-round for an Africa focused startup in 2019 — PalmPay’s bid to gain digital payment market share is on. The Transsion led investment also serves as a big bold marker for China’s pivot to African tech in 2019. It follows several big moves by Chinese actors in the continent’s digital space. These include Opera’s $50 million investment in multiple online verticals in Nigeria and a major investment by Chinese investors in trucking logistics startup Lori Systems this week. China’s growing digital influence in Africa

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posted about 8 hours ago on techcrunch
Fintech startup Chaka aims to open up online investingd to Africa’s most populous nation, Nigeria. The seed-stage company recently went live with its mobile-based platform that offers Nigerians stock trading in over 40 countries. Chaka positions itself as a passport to local and global investing. The startup has created an API and interface that allows Nigerians with a bank account (and who meet KYC requirements) to create trading accounts to purchase global blue chip and local Nigerian stocks. Investors can get started with as little as 1000 Naira or $10 to create a local and global wallet to trade, according to Chaka founder and CEO Tosin Osibodu. The platform has partnerships with two brokers to facilitate stock purchases: Citi Investment Capital and U.S. based DriveWealth. “Embedded in our offer is the ability to buy on the local stock market…we make it more seamless than usual, and assets…from this whole universe outside the continent,” said Osibodu. The Nigerian Stock Exchange has been upgrading its platform to digitize and accommodate more listings. It has a five-year partnership with NASDAQ and Airtel Africa listed on the NSE in July.  On the Chaka’s addressable market, “Our outlook is that within Nigeria…between one and two million people are strongly in the market for this product,” Osibodu said. Tosin Osibodu Chaka looks to offer more than stocks. “Our product road-map includes not just equities, but other investment products people are interested in — mutual funds, fixed income products, and eventually even cryptocurrencies — so that really expands our bounds,” said Osibodu. Chaka’s fee structure is 100 Naira (or 3%) for local trades and $4.00 for global trades. To mitigate the FX risk of the often volatile Nigerian Naira, the startup converts locally to dollars and funds client trades in USD. Chaka agrees to intra-day forward rates at 9am each day and locks them in until 2pm for transactional activity on its platform, according to Osibodu Chaka hasn’t disclosed amounts, but confirms its has received pre-seed funding from Nigerian founder and investor Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, aka E. The startup is in a unique position in African fintech. The sector receives the bulk of the continent’s VC (according WeeTracker), but most of it is directed toward P2P payments startups — vs. personal investment platforms. An alum of U-Penn and Dartmouth, Chaka’s founder got the idea to form the venture, in part, due to challenges attempting to access well-known trading platforms, such as E-Trade. “I tried to open these accounts and whenever I…disclosed I was Nigerian very shortly after those accounts were closed or denied,” said Osibodu.  For decades, Nigeria has been known as an originating country for online fraud, commonly referred to as 419 scams. This is something for which the country’s legitimate business operators pay an undue reputational cost, according to Osibodu.  In recent years, Nigeria has also become a magnet for legitimate business in Africa. The country has the continent’s leading movie and entertainment industry and has emerged as a hotspot for startup formation and VC activity. Chaka backer Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, who confirmed his investment in the company to TechCrunch, believes progressive trends in Nigeria will open up a new investor class. In addition to Aboyeji, Chaka has also received seed-funds from Microtraction, a Lagos located early-stage investment shop founded by Yele Bademosi and supported by Y-Combinator CEO Michael Seibel. Chaka allows for API integrations and has a developer team. The company has created an automated customer verification process. “It sounds trivial compared to the American market, but it’s a bit of a first in Nigeria,” said CEO Tosin Osibodu. On Chaka’s long-game, “The grand mission of the company is to reduce capital market access barriers,” cording to Osibodu. “With a two to five million customer base — and a $40 to $200 ARPU — on the really conservative end that’s a $100 million revenue opportunity,” he said. Africa can list more gazelles at home than unicorn IPOs abroad                        

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posted about 14 hours ago on techcrunch
Xpeng Motors, the Chinese electric vehicle startup backed by Alibaba and Foxconn, has raised a fresh injection of $400 million in capital and has taken on Xiaomi as a strategic investor, the company announced. The Series C includes an unidentified group of strategic and institutional investors. XPeng Motors Chairman and CEO He Xiaopeng, who also participated in the Series C, said the received strong support from many of its current shareholders. Xiaomi founder and CEO Lei Jun previously invested in the company. “Xiaomi Corporation and Xpeng Motors have achieved significant progress through in-depth collaboration in developing technologies connecting smart phones and smart cars,” Xiaomi’s Jun said in a statement. “We believe that this strategic investment will further deepen our partnership with Xpeng in advancing innovation for intelligent hardware and the Internet of Things.” The company didn’t disclose what its post-money valuation is now. However, a source familiar with the deal said it is “better” than the 25 billion yuan valuation it had in its last round in August 2018. The announcement confirms an earlier report from Reuters that cited anonymous sources. XPeng also said it has garnered “several billions” in Chinese yuan of unsecured credit lines from institutions such as China Merchants Bank, China CITIC Bank and HSBC. XPeng didn’t elaborate when asked what “several billions” means. Brian Gu, Xpeng Motors Vice Chairman and President added that the company has been able to hit most of its business and financing targets despite economic headwinds, uncertainties in the global markets and government policy changes that have had direct impact on overall auto sales in China. The round comes as XPeng prepares to launch its electric P7 sedan in spring 2020. Deliveries of the P7 are expected to begin in the second quarter of 2020. Xpeng began deliveries of its first production model the G3 2019 SUV in December and shipped 10,000 models by mid-June. The company has since released an enhanced version of the G3 with a 520 km NEDC driving range. The company plans to launch the P7 sedan in the spring 2020 and will start delivery in 2Q 2020. XPeng has said it wants to IPO, but it’s unclear when the company might file to become a public company. No specific IPO timetable has been set and a spokesperson said the company is monitoring market conditions closely, but its current focus is on building core businesses.

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posted about 16 hours ago on techcrunch
Microsoft’s big experiment in real-world augmented reality gaming, Minecraft Earth, is live now for players in North America, the U.K., and a number of other areas. The pocket-size AR game lets you collect blocks and critters wherever you go, undertake little adventures with friends, and of course build sweet castles. I played an early version of Minecraft Earth earlier this year, and found it entertaining and the AR aspect surprisingly seamless. The gameplay many were first introduced to in Pokemon GO is adapted here in a more creative and collaborative way. You still walk around your neighborhood, rendered in this case charmingly like a Minecraft world, and tap little icons that pop up around your character. These may be blocks you can use to build, animals you can collect, or events like combat encounters that you can do alone or with friends for rewards. Minecraft Earth makes the whole real world your very own blocky realm Ultimately all this is in service of building stuff, which you do on “build plates” of various sizes. These you place in AR mode on a flat surface, which they lock onto, letting you move around freely to edit and play with them. This sounded like it could be fussy or buggy when I first heard about it, but actually doing it was smooth and easy. It’s easy to “zoom in” to edit a structure by just moving your phone closer, and multiple people can play with the same blocks and plate at the same time. Once you’ve put together something fun, you can take it to an outdoors location and have it represented at essentially “real” size, so you can walk around the interior of your castle or dungeon. Of course you can’t climb steps, since they’re not real, but the other aspects work as expected: you can manipulate doors and other items, breed cave chickens, and generally enjoy yourself. The game is definitely more open-ended than the collection-focused Pokemon GO and Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. Whether that proves to be to its benefit or detriment when it comes to appeal and lasting power remains to be seen — but one thing is for sure: People love Minecraft and they’re going to want to at least try this out. And now they can, if they’re in one of the following countries — with others coming throughout the holiday season.   United States United Kingdom Canada South Korea Philippines Sweden Mexico Australia New Zealand Iceland You can download Minecraft Earth for iOS here and for Android here.  

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posted about 17 hours ago on techcrunch
Twitch today publicly launched Twitch Studio, its new software designed to help new streamers get started broadcasting. The idea behind the app is to make it simple for someone new to the space to get started, by offering a quick setup process and other tools to make the stream both look and sound more professional — even if the streamer doesn’t have broadcasting experience. The software, which was only available in closed beta until today, will detect the user’s mic, webcam, monitor resolution, bitrate and more through a guided setup process. Streamers can then choose from a variety of starter layouts and overlays that will help them personalize their stream’s look-and-feel. Once live on Twitch, the software will also help streamers to interact with the online community and viewers, including by way of built-in alerts, an activity feed, and integrated Twitch chat. As the company previously explained, many people have thought about streaming but gave up on doing so because the process was too difficult. The new software aims to get them over that hurdle of setting up a stream for the first time. As the streamer becomes more knowledgable and capable, they may outgrow their need for Twitch Studio — and that would be fine. The goal was to get them involved with Twitch streaming in the first place, not necessarily keep them on the platform longer-term. Twitch Studio is currently available only on Windows PCs, not Mac, iOS or Android “at this time,” Twitch says — a hint that cross-platform support could come further down the road. However, in the near-term, Twitch is working to better integrate the software with other Twitch functionality as well as roll out tools that make it easier to chat and engage viewers. The launch timing is notable as Twitch has recently lost its biggest streamer, Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, to Microsoft’s Mixer. The loss was then followed by the exit of Michael “Shroud” Grzesiek, also to Mixer. Meanwhile, Google’s Stadia, which is about to launch on Nov. 19, will make it easy to stream directly to YouTube.  Twitch says the new Twitch Studio software is available today, in beta, for anyone on Windows 7 or newer.

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posted about 18 hours ago on techcrunch
The man who oversaw the creation of some of HBO’s most highly-praised ‘prestige TV’ could soon be making shows for Apple TV+, according to a new report from the Wall Street Journal. Richard Plepler, who was HBO’s Chairman and CEO up until he parted ways with the company last February following its acquisition by AT&T, is nearing an exclusive production deal with Apple’s new original content streaming service, the report says. Plepler, who spent almost 30 years at HBO, including six as its CEO during which the media company aired some of its biggest hits, including ‘Game of Thrones,’ would definitely bring some big-name industry influence to Apple’s efforts. Not that Apple TV+ lacks for that in its early offing, either: The premiere slate of original shows include Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon-led ‘The Morning Show,’ and and a show centred around Oprah’s Book Club, just to name a couple of examples. The deal, which isn’t yet final but might be signed officially “within the next few weeks,” per the report, would be between Apple and Plepler’s RLP & Co., a production company he established after leaving HBO. There’s nothing yet to indicate what kind of projects he’d be working on for Apple TV+, but it’s a logical target for Apple’s new original content enterprise to pursue, given that its focus thus far appears to be on fewer, big budget and high-profile projects, but critical reception hasn’t been up to par with the kind of TV that HBO has a track record of producing.

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posted about 18 hours ago on techcrunch
A federal court in Boston has ruled that the government is not allowed to search travelers’ phones or other electronic devices at the U.S. border without first having reasonable suspicion of a crime. That’s a significant victory for civil liberties advocates, who say the government’s own rules allowing its border agents to search electronic devices at the border without a warrant are unconstitutional. The court said that the government’s policies on warrantless searches of devices without reasonable suspicion “violate the Fourth Amendment,” which provides constitutional protections against warrantless searches and seizures. The case was brought by 11 travelers — ten of which are U.S. citizens — with support from the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who said border agents searched their smartphones and laptops without a warrant or any suspicion of wrongdoing or criminal activity. The border remains a bizarre legal grey area, where the government asserts powers that it cannot claim against citizens or residents within the United States but citizens and travelers are not afforded all of their rights as if they were on U.S. soil. The government has long said it doesn’t need a warrant to search devices at the border. Any data collected by Customs & Border Protection without a warrant can still be shared with federal, state, local and foreign law enforcement. Esha Bhandari, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, said the ruling “significantly advances” protections under the Fourth Amendment. “This is a great day for travelers who now can cross the international border without fear that the government will, in the absence of any suspicion, ransack the extraordinarily sensitive information we all carry in our electronic devices,” said Sophia Cope, a senior staff attorney at the EFF. Millions of travelers arrive into the U.S. every day. Last year, border officials searched 33,000 travelers’ devices — a fourfold increase since 2015 — without any need for reasonable suspicion. In recent months, travelers have been told to inform the government of any social media handles they have, all of which are subject to search prior to being let in to the United States. But some have been denied entry to the U.S. for content on their phones shared by other people. A spokesperson for Customs & Border Protection did not immediately comment. US border officials are increasingly denying entry to travelers over others’ social media

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posted about 18 hours ago on techcrunch
Elon Musk said Tuesday during an awards ceremony in Germany that Tesla’s European gigafactory will be built in the Berlin area. Musk was on stage to receive a Golden Steering Wheel Award given by BILD. “There’s not enough time tonight to tell all the details,” Musk said during an on stage interview with Volkswagen Group CEO Herbert Diess. “But it’s in the Berlin area, and it’s near the new airport.” Tesla is also going to create an engineering and design center in Berlin because “I think Berlin has some of the best art in the world,” Musk said. Diess thanked Musk while on stage for “pushing us” towards electrification. Diess later said that Musk and Telsa is demonstrating that moving towards electrification works. “I don’t think Germany is that far behind,” Musk said when asked about why German automakers were behind in electric vehicles. He later added that some of the best cars in the world are made in Germany. “Everyone knows that German engineering is outstanding and that’s part of the reason we’re locating our gigafactory Europe in Germany,” Musk said.

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posted about 19 hours ago on techcrunch
  Who shot first? Han? Greedo? Who cares. MACLUNKEY! Disney+ launched this morning, and with it comes a mostly inexplicable change to one of cinema’s most debated scenes — the encounter between Han and Greedo at the Mos Eisley Cantina. For reasons unknown to anyone but George Lucas right now, a super brief but newly inserted clip has Greedo shout what the Internet has decided is “MACLUNKEY!” before taking his failed shot at Han. The change was first noted by StarWarsVisComp, a wonderful Twitter account that tears apart the countless different editions of Star Wars and highlights their endless (and sometimes quite subtle!) differences. Before you go and get too mad at Disney for changing things for the sake of changing things: apparently this edit came from George Lucas — the uncontested champion of post-release cinematic change himself — with the new clip purportedly being inserted years ago during a 4K restoration that didn’t see the light of day until now. Comparison clips have already started hitting YouTube: And yes, for the curious: the “Maclunkey” line really is in the Disney+ release. If you’ve got Disney+, you can find it at around the 50:52 mark in A New Hope. So what’s a Maclunkey? No one knows. As Uproxx points out, the rest of the dialog throughout the conversation is captioned. But Maclunkey? That’s left to the viewer’s interpretation. Until we get further explanation, I like to think that it’s the Rodian/Huttese equivalent of “Eh, screw it.” Found a stain on your shirt ten minutes after getting to work? Maclunkey. Gonna take a cheap shot at the baddest smuggler in the galaxy without bothering to, you know, aim? Maclunkey. Edited a new bit of alien dialogue into your classic film but forgot to come up with a translation before it shipped? Maclunkey! BREAKING: Greedo shouting "Maclunkey" isn't the only major change to the Original #starwars trilogy on #DisneyPlus pic.twitter.com/7HMRKGQkc0 — Eric Fell (@ericfell) November 12, 2019 Looks like the seed money that Maclunkey Toilet Pucks gave to Disney+ is really paying off. #maclunkey https://t.co/ttgwz1BZLV — Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) November 12, 2019

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posted about 19 hours ago on techcrunch
When Samsung announced the Space Monitor, I knew in an instant that it was going to be something I had to try out in person. Now that I’ve had time to do so, I’m happy to say it’s much as advertised, a streamlined and solid monitor with a smart new design — but not necessarily one for everybody. Samsung Space Monitor Pros: Clever space-saving design Quiet, attractive look Solid color out of the box Cons: Doesn’t rotate and height depends on distance from wall Sub-par viewing angles Doesn’t work with every desk Price: $400 (27-inch); $500 (32-inch) We don’t review a lot of monitors at TechCrunch — none, really. This was more of a curiosity to me. I’m interested in design and monitors are usually ugly at best. But I was impressed with Samsung’s approach here and wanted to see if it worked in real life. The big advance of the Space Monitor is its very low-profile mount, which grips the edge of your desk on the wall side and can be folded up flat against it. It can rotate up and down, the monitor tilting to taste — not so far as the Surface Studio but with that same general range of motion. The monitor itself comes in two varieties: a larger 32-inch 4K one and a smaller 27-inch one at 2560×1440. I reviewed the smaller one, as the large one has a lower refresh rate and I really don’t have any use for 4K in my workflow. The ideal situation for this thing is a relatively small work space where having the monitor actually sitting on your desk kind of invalidates all the space around it. With the Space Monitor, the stand is flush with the wall, clearing up the area below and in front of it even when it’s folded outwards. It’s easier than piercing the wall for a free-floating display The performance of the monitor, as far as I am able to tell, is good but not great. The colors are vibrant and the default settings are solid, if perhaps a little warm (easily adjusted, of course). The refresh rate goes up to 144 Hz, which is more than enough for gaming, and can easily be tweaked to 120 for those of us who are very picky about video pulldown and other deep frame rate stuff. One thing that isn’t impressive is the viewing angle. I feel like the sweet spot for this monitor is far narrower than on the Dell Ultrasharp IPS panel I’ve used for years. If you’re not sitting directly in front of it, you’re going to get color and brightness falloff at the edge you’re farthest from. The bezel is narrow, a bit more than a quarter inch, a little thicker on the bottom side. It’s also nearly flush on the top and sides so you don’t feel like the bezels protrude towards you. All in all it’s a very handsome and understated design, as these things go. It’s worth noting that Samsung appears to have fudged the press imagery a bit and the microscopic bezel you see in official images is not actually what you get. Installation isn’t quite as easy as just setting something down on your desk, but if you have a compatible desk, it’s literally as easy as sliding the clamp on and tightening it. A custom cable (optional, but convenient) combines HDMI and power into one, and fits into a groove on the back of the stand, eliminating clutter. But you’ll want to take a good look at your desk to make sure it is compatible. I didn’t, and had to jury-rig a solution. Basically, unless your desk is more or less solid and has a ledge that the clamp can close down on, you might have a problem. My desk is solid and about an inch and a half thick, but has a sort of wall that juts down about two more inches. I removed and reattached the bottom part of the clamp so it could just barely be slipped around the wall, but then the screw wouldn’t reach the bottom surface of the desk, so I had to fill the gap with a book. (It’s okay, I’ve got lots.) The stand is plenty stiff and the monitor stays exactly where you’ve put it, but it is a little wobbly — understandable given that it sits at the very tip of a 14-inch-long arm. I only really noticed when I was typing very hard or bumped the desk, when I noticed it wobbled more and longer than the Dell on its traditional stand. Now, if you’ve looked closely at the way this monitor and stand is set up, you may have noticed something else: this thing can’t rotate. Yes, unfortunately, the nature of the Space Monitor means that it must always be parallel to the desk edge it’s attached to, and can only move directly perpendicular to it. There is also no way to slide the monitor up and down, or rather to do so you must also move it towards or away from you. For some this is unacceptable. And although it’s fine for me as a primary monitor, it would never work as a secondary one, like the Dell I now have angled toward me adjacent to the Samsung. That does significantly limit its use cases, and the spaces in which it works well. But I still feel it’s a great option for some. If you have limited space and plan to primarily work from the sweet spot directly in front of it, this is a solid monitor big enough for productivity, movies, and games. For those seeking a low-profile, space-saving alternative to the usual monitors, the Space Monitor is a great option. But for multiple-monitor setups or people who shift the angle a lot, it probably isn’t the best. At $400 it has strong competition from the usual suspects, but for some people the slight increase in image quality or the ability to slide the monitor up and down isn’t worth losing the desk space or having a clunky design. The Space Monitor is available now, at Samsung’s site or your usual electronics retailer.

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posted about 20 hours ago on techcrunch
Electrification in the automotive industry isn’t just about consumer cars: There are plenty of commercial and specialist vehicles that are prime candidates for EVs, including in the healthcare industry. Take the new UCLA mobile surgical lab developed by Winnegbago, for instance – it’s a zero-emission, all-electric vehicle that will move back and forth between two UCLA campuses, collecting, sterilizing and repairing surgical instruments for the medical staff there. Why is that even needed? The usual process is sending out surgical instruments for this kind of service by a third-party, and it’s handled in a dedicated facility at a significant annual cost. UCLA Health Center estimates that it can save as much as $750,000 per year using the EV lab from Winnebago instead. The traveling lab can operate for around eight hours, including round-trips between the two hospital campuses, or for a total distance traveled of between 85 and 125 miles on a single charge of its battery, depending on usage. It also offers “the same level of performance, productivity and compliance” as a lab in afixed location building, according to Winnebago. Aside from annual savings on operating costs, UCLA also got some discounts towards the purchase of the lab from a few grant programs, including the Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and and Bus Voucher Incentive Project (an admitted mouthful, but it does have its own acronym luckily – HVIP). These programs all encourage the adoption of electric vehicles through financial incentives that help defray the upfront costs, which is yet another good reason for industries like health care to look at EVs as a way to not only reduce costs long-term, but up-front as well.

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posted about 20 hours ago on techcrunch
Sowmiya Chocka Narayanan Contributor Sowmiya Chocka Narayanan is Co-founder and CTO at Lily AI, a leading AI platform helping brands & retailers understand individual customer’s emotional context. Prior to joining Lily AI, Sowmiya helped to build Box and worked on numerous projects at Yahoo! and Pocket Games. Consumer expectations are higher than ever as a new generation of shoppers look to shop for experiences rather than commodities. They expect instant and highly-tailored (pun intended?) customer service and recommendations across any retail channel. To be forward-looking, brands and retailers are turning to startups in image recognition and machine learning to know, at a very deep level, what each consumer’s current context and personal preferences are and how they evolve. But while brands and retailers are sitting on enormous amounts of data, only a handful are actually leveraging it to its full potential. To provide hyper-personalization in real time, a brand needs a deep understanding of its products and customer data. Imagine a case where a shopper is browsing the website for an edgy dress and the brand can recognize the shopper’s context and preference in other features like style, fit, occasion, color etc., then use this information implicitly while fetching similar dresses for the user. Another situation is where the shopper searches for clothes inspired by their favorite fashion bloggers or Instagram influencers using images in place of text search. This would shorten product discovery time and help the brand build a hyper-personalized experience which the customer then rewards with loyalty. With the sheer amount of products being sold online, shoppers primarily discover products through category or search-based navigation. However, inconsistencies in product metadata created by vendors or merchandisers lead to poor recall of products and broken search experiences. This is where image recognition and machine learning can deeply analyze enormous data sets and a vast assortment of visual features that exist in a product to automatically extract labels from the product images and improve the accuracy of search results.  Why is image recognition better than ever before?   While computer vision has been around for decades, it has recently become more powerful, thanks to the rise of deep neural networks. Traditional vision techniques laid the foundation for learning edges, corners, colors and objects from input images but it required human engineering of the features to be looked at in the images. Also, the traditional algorithms found it difficult to cope up with the changes in illumination, viewpoint, scale, image quality, etc. Deep learning, on the other hand, takes in massive training data and more computation power and delivers the horsepower to extract features from unstructured data sets and learn without human intervention. Inspired by the biological structure of the human brain, deep learning uses neural networks to analyze patterns and find correlations in unstructured data such as images, audio, video and text. DNNs are at the heart of today’s AI resurgence as they allow more complex problems to be tackled and solved with higher accuracy and less cumbersome fine-tuning. How much training data do you need?

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posted about 21 hours ago on techcrunch
Time to reset your “days since last major chip vulnerability” counter back to zero. Security researchers have found another flaw in Intel processors — this time it’s a new variant of the Zombieload attack they discovered earlier this year, but targeting Intel’s latest family of chips, Cascade Lake. Intel calls the vulnerability Transactional Asynchronous Abort, or TAA. It’s similar to the microarchitectural data sampling vulnerabilities that were the focus of earlier chip-based side-channel attacks, but TAA applies only to newer chips. The new variant of the Zombieload attack allows hackers with physical access to a device the ability to read occasionally sensitive data stored in the processor. The vulnerability is found in how the processor tries to predict the outcome of future commands. This technique, known as speculative execution, makes the processor run faster, but its flawed design makes it possible for attackers to extract potentially sensitive data. Zombieload was discovered by the same researchers who found Meltdown and Spectre, a set of flaws that could be used to pick out secrets — like passwords — from the processor. It was believed later chip architectures, like Cascade Lake, were toughened against speculative execution attacks, while Intel rolled out software patches to reduce the attack surface. Neither of the other vulnerabilities in the same family as Zombieload — notably Fallout and RIDL — work on Cascade Lake, they added. But the researchers said that Intel’s efforts to change the chip design in Cascade Lake are “not sufficient” to protect against these kinds of side-channel attacks. The same researchers warned Intel about the vulnerability in April — as it did with the other flaws they discovered that were patched a month later. Intel took until this month to investigate, the researchers said. Intel released patches again for its vulnerable chips on Tuesday, acknowledging that its newest chips are vulnerable to the newest Zombieload variant. But the chip making giant recognizes that the mitigations “may not completely prevent the inference of data through a side channel using these techniques.” The chip maker said there have been “no reports” of real-world exploits of the vulnerabilities. New secret-spilling flaw affects almost every Intel chip since 2011

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posted about 21 hours ago on techcrunch
  Square. Venmo. PayPal. Apple Pay. Google Pay. There’s really no shortage of ways to give people money via your phone, but that — nor growing calls that the company is already getting too damned big — isn’t stopping Facebook. Facebook has just announced Facebook Pay, a single payment system that ties into all of the things under the FB umbrella — Messenger, Instagram, WhatsApp, and, of course, Facebook proper (for sections like Marketplace). Add a payment method once, and it’ll work across any of the Facebook apps you enable it for. Facebook says that Pay should start rolling out this week, albeit only on Facebook/Messenger at first, and only for folks in the US. The company says it should work with most major credit/debit cards and PayPal, and they’re being careful to note that this is separate from its whole cryptocurrency wallet effort. Does anyone need this? Probably not. It removes some friction from the Facebook Marketplace process and will probably find a natural user base there — but, honestly, when it comes to paying a friend back for dinner or paying for that used guitar, there’s an absolutely monstrous mountain of alternatives here.

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posted about 21 hours ago on techcrunch
Facebook has faced a barrage of concern over an apparent bug that resulted in the social media giant’s iPhone app exposing the camera as users scroll through their feed. A tweet over the weekend blew up after Joshua Maddux tweeted a screen recording of the Facebook app on his iPhone. He noticed that the camera would appear behind the Facebook app as he scrolled through his social media feed. Several users had already spotted the bug earlier in the month. One person called it “a little worrying”. Today, while watching a video on @facebook, I rotated to landscape and could see the Facebook/Instagram Story UI for a split second. When rotating back to portrait, the Story camera/UI opened entirely. A little worrying… pic.twitter.com/7lVHHGedGf — DFC (@neo_qa) November 2, 2019 Some immediately assumed the worst — as you might expect given the long history of security vulnerabilities, data breaches and inadvertent exposures at Facebook over the past year. Just last week, the company confirmed that some developers had improperly retained access to some Facebook user data for more than a year. Will Strafach, chief executive at Guardian Firewall, said it looked like a “harmless but creepy looking bug.” The bug appears to only affect iPhone users running the latest iOS 13 software, and those who have already granted the app access to the camera and microphone. It’s believed the bug relates to the “story” view in the app, which opens the camera for users to take photos. One workaround is to simply revoke camera and microphone access to the Facebook app in their iOS settings. Despite the apparent widespread concern from users on social media, Facebook did not respond to repeated requests for comment from TechCrunch. That said, Facebook vice president of integrity Guy Rosen tweeted this morning that it “sounds like a bug” and the company was investigating. “I guess it does say something when Facebook trust has eroded so badly that it will not get the benefit of the doubt when people see such a bug,” said Strafach. Mark Zuckerberg is ‘proud’ of how Facebook handled its scandals this year

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posted about 21 hours ago on techcrunch
Earlier this year, Google’s in-house incubator launched CallJoy, a virtual customer service phone agent for small businesses that could block spammers, answer calls, provide callers with basic business information, and redirect other requests like appointment booking or to-go orders to SMS. Today, CallJoy is rolling out its first major update, which now enables the computer phone agent to have more of a conversation with the customer by asking questions and providing more information, among other improvements. Originally, CallJoy could provide customers with information like the business hours or the address, or could ask the customer for permission to send them a link over text message to help them with their request. With the update, CallJoy’s phone agent can answer questions more intelligently.  This begins by CallJoy asking the customer, “can I help you?,” which the customer then responds to, as they would usually. Their answer allows CallJoy to offer more information than before, based on what the caller had said. For example, if a caller asked a restaurant if they had any vegetarian options, the phone agent might respond: “Yes! Our menu has vegetarian and vegan-friendly choices. Can I text you the link to our online menu?” This isn’t all done through some magical A.I., however. Instead, the business owner has to program in the sort of customer inquiries it wants CallJoy to be able to respond to and handle. While some, like vegetarian options, may be common inquiries, it can be hard to remember everything that customers ask. That where CallJoy’s analytics could help. The service already gathers call data — like phone numbers, audio and call transcripts– into an online dashboard for further analysis. Business owners can tag calls and run reports to get a better understanding of their call volume, peak call times, and what people wanted to know. This information can be used to better staff their phone lines during busy times or to update their website or business listings, for example. And now, it can help the business owner to understand what sort of inquiries it should train the CallJoy phone agent on, too. Once trained, the agent can speak an answer, send a link to the customer’s phone with the information, or offer to connect the caller to the business’s phone number to reach a real person. (CallJoy offers a virtual phone number, like Google Voice, but it can ring a “real” phone line as needed to get a person on the line.) Another feature launching today will allow business owners to implement CallJoy as they see fit. Some business owners may prefer to answer the phone themselves and speak to their customers directly, for example. But they could still take advantage of a service like this at other times — like after hours or when they’re too busy to answer. The updated version now allows them to program when CallJoy will answer, including by times of day, or after the phone rings a certain number of times, for example. The business owner will also receive a daily email recap of everything CallJoy did, so they know how and when it was put to use. The product to date has been aimed at small business owners, who can’t afford the more expensive customer service phone agent systems. Instead, it’s priced at a flat $39 per month. A spokesperson for CallJoy says the service has signed up “thousands” of small businesses since its initially invite-only launch in May 2019.  Google’s Area 120 incubator is a place for Google employees to try out new ideas, while still operating inside Google instead of leaving for a startup. It’s considered a separate entity — some the apps produced by Area 120 don’t even mention their Google affiliation in their App Store descriptions, for instance. CallJoy, however, has received more of a spotlight than some. It’s even being featured on Google’s main corporate blog, The Keyword, today. However, if CallJoy makes the leap to Google — something that hasn’t been decided yet — it wouldn’t be the first Area 120 project to do so. Area 120’s Touring Bird recently landed inside Google as did learn-to-code app Grasshopper and others. We understand that joining Google is something that’s still on the table for CallJoy, but it’s not at the point of making that switch just yet.

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