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Week-in-Review: Apple’s shipping a refresh for its worst device, but why?

Posted by on Jun 2, 2019 in Apple, iPod touch, TC, Week in Review | 0 comments

Hello, weekend warriors. This is Week-in-Review where I get hopped up on caffeine and scour the hundred of stories that emerged on TechCrunch this week and surface my favorites for your reading pleasure.

First, an update on my newsletter last week: I dove into Trump’s Huawei ban and talked about some of the ill effects it could spell for American tech companies caught in the fray. Well, it looks like China is starting to build a list of “unreliable” foreign firms, most likely the partners that are severing ties with Huawei. This might just be a preliminary step, but I’m sure U.S. companies on the list won’t be psyched to be at the frontlines of a massive trade war/ tech cold war…

Onto this week’s topic, which is a new iPod from Apple. There’s really not much to it, it’s an iPod Touch with an A10 chipset, so why do I think this was even vaguely interesting?

Nobody was expecting an update for this device, it hadn’t been updated since 2015 and it remains Apple’s last pocketable mobile device without access to a mobile network. It’s the dumbest device Apple sells — a total anomaly — so why throw it a new refresh? As with every perplexing move that Apple makes lately, it comes down to how the Cupertino giant is acquiring customers and making revenue in 2019.

It doesn’t take much scouring through Apple’s marketing materials to understand who the new iPod Touch is for, the answer hits you in the face, it’s for kids. It’s a starter iPhone.

The company needs to wrench more revenue from high-value users buying their most expensive devices, but that equation doesn’t bode well for the youngest Apple users getting their first device. When the iPod Touch was last refreshed in 2015, the iPhone 6S had just been announced and 2-year carrier contract deals meant you could get your hands on one for $199. That’s not the case anymore.

In 2016, an oft-quoted study declared 10.3-years-old as the average age that kids got their first smartphone, there hasn’t been anything too serious done since then but it’s not unreasonable to suspect that number has gone anywhere but down. Parents are likely already on the fence about taking the plunge on the device that comes even earlier than a smartphone and devices running Android are cheaper and more plentiful. While Apple has maintained the $329 entry price of the iPad, the iPad Mini has jumped in price and the higher-end iPads are more expensive than ever.

The crazy thing is that as Apple and Google’s cloud services are getting more sand-boxed, it’s becoming more and more likely that these first devices could determine what operating system a kid sticks with once they have more of a say in what smartphone they’re getting. Where are their photos stored? What can they play the games they’ve already bought? At a certain point, will higher upfront costs for these entry-level devices hamper iOS growth further down the road?

Shoot me tips or feedback
on Twitter @lucasmtny or email
lucas@techcrunch.com

It’s all just an interesting head-scratcher, but more fundamentally while Apple is trying to wrench more cash out of its hardware acolytes, it still can’t afford to shy away from low-cost devices that entice people into high-cost services. In this way its torn between two strategies, and left in this strange evolutionary stage where it has to ensure it doesn’t screw itself over down the road.

Something like Apple Arcade could theoretically be a great sell for parents, games can be played offline and there are none of the pesky in-app purchases, but that only works when the parents aren’t buying a bargain Android tablet in the first place.

We’ll see how much Apple continues to support older hardware with its iOS 13 release Monday, but we’ll also see how much they continue to build out features and products to get kids engaged with Apple and iOS earlier and earlier. Likely with the goal of keeping them away from the cheap stuff that their skyrocketing hardware prices might push them towards.

What to expect at Apple’s WWDC 2019

On to the rest of the week’s news…

JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images

Trends of the week

Here are a few big news items from big companies, with green links to all the sweet, sweet added context.

  • Your Uber rating is: go order a Lyft
    Every Uber driver has a horror story and there’s a decent chance that for a lot of Uber drivers those horror stories involve some of the same riders. The company announced this week that they’re just straight-up banning some of the lowest-rated users, though it sounds like you’ll get a few warnings to clean up your act before any action takes place. Previously, drivers have faced potential deactivations if they drop below a 4.6 rating, but there’s no specific word on what the threshold is for unruly riders.
  • RIP: BBM
    This generation of tech giants has been riding high for the better part of the past decade, but it’s important to remember that everything has a way of crumbling. Case in point, Blackberry Messaging officially shut down on Friday. You can read more about the gradual degradation of the once-ubiquitous platform in our story.
  • Google harshes legal weed’s mellow
    Google is chasing after weed smokers and the reefer inclined with its latest announcement that companies can’t sell weed products through their apps if they’re downloaded off the Play Store. The apps will still be able to exist and showcase products, but the apps can’t host a shopping cart for users. The company isn’t leading the way in being a narc, Apple had already banned in-app purchases like these.
  • Leap Motion throws up its hands
    After $94 million in funding, missed opportunities and Apple acquisition offers, Leap Motion is packing its hand-tracking tech away and shipping it to London, after being acquired by UK-based UltraHaptics for a reported $30 million. That number might not sound too awful, but considering Leap Motion’s status as the rising star of the consumer tech world not too long ago, it’s hard to see the exit as anything but a disappointing end for the startup.

PreShow facial recognition

GAFA Gaffes

How did the top tech companies screw up this week? This clearly needs its own section, in order of awfulness:

  1. Amazon punts taking stance on facial recognition
    [Amazon defeated shareholder’s vote on facial recognition by a wide margin]
  2. Apple gets defensive after Supreme Court ruling:
    [Apple’s new App Store website takes aim at antitrust anti-competitive claims]

NOAH BERGER/AFP/Getty Images

Extra Crunch

Our premium subscription service had another week of interesting deep dives. TechCrunch’s Kate Clark wrote about Slack’s odd beginnings as a weird little online game studio called Tiny Speck and how some of the young startup’s storied investors weren’t thrilled about its dramatic pivot into enterprise messaging.

The Slack origin story: How a whimsical online game became an enterprise software giant

“With the support of more than $15 million in venture capital funding — all before the game began beta testing — Tiny Speck hired more than 40 employees, wrote hundreds of lines of code and concocted big dreams for its zany, whimsical and absurdist universe.”

Here are some of our other top reads this week for premium subscribers. This week TechCrunch writers talked a bit about SoftBank, and how to get VCs fighting over your startup idea…

Want more TechCrunch newsletters? Sign up here.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Last chance to sign up and save €200 off Disrupt Berlin

Posted by on Jun 2, 2019 in Disrupt Berlin 2019, Events, TC, TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin 2019 | 0 comments

We’re trotting out our lousy German to remind you that es ist jetzt oder nie — it’s now or never. This is your last chance to slash €200 off the super early-bird price on passes to Disrupt Berlin 2019. If you want to keep those euros in your pocket, you have to sign up for our mailing list before registration officially opens tomorrow, 3 June.

When you join our mailing list, we’ll send you a limited-time discount code to buy your passes. Founders can buy Founder passes for as low as €145 + VAT. Not a founder? Don’t worry, you can buy an Innovator pass for as low as €245 + VAT.

You score solid savings, and you’ll be kept in the loop about all the cool stuff at Disrupt Berlin. We’ll announce world-class speakers and panelists, awesome workshops and demos, Q&A Sessions and all manner of programming taking place across our Disrupt stages — and you’ll be among the first to know.

Every Disrupt has classic elements, and Berlin will not disappoint. Explore Startup Alley, where hundreds of early-stage startups exhibit the latest tech products, platforms and services. Innovation meets opportunity and makes for prime networking. Be sure to take advantage of CrunchMatch, our free business match-making platform. It lets you connect with the right people based on your specific criteria, goals and interests.

While you explore the mysteries of Startup Alley, make sure you check out the TC Top Picks. These early-stage startups, hand-chosen by TechCrunch editors, represent the best in their respective tech categories. Other than competing in Startup Battlefield, there’s no better way to garner global media and investor attention at Disrupt.

Ah yes, Startup Battlefield — the epic pitch-off that never disappoints. You’ll see some of the most fascinating startups compete for $50,000 cash. Last year, Legacy emerged as champion with a way to address reduced sperm motility. Who will win this year’s battle?

Maybe your startup has what it takes to compete in the Startup Battlefield or be selected for the TC Top Picks program. Applications open later this summer, but you can get a jump on things by filling out an application at apply.techcrunch.com.

Disrupt Berlin 2019 takes place on 11-12 December, but if you want to save an extra €200, sign up for our mailing list before registration opens tomorrow, 3 June. This is your last chance, people — es ist jetzt oder nie — it’s now or never.

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt Berlin 2019? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Meet the first private companies that NASA has selected to deliver stuff and things to the Moon

Posted by on Jun 1, 2019 in TC | 0 comments

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has selected Astrobotic, Intuitive Machines, and Orbit Beyond as the first three private companies to deliver science and technology payloads under the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) as part of its Artemis program.

In an announcement yesterday, the administration said that each lander will carry NASA-provided payloads to conduct science investigations and demonstrate technologies on the lunar surface to pave the way for NASA astronauts lunar return in 2024. In all NASA will dole out up to $253 million in contracts to the three companies for their respective missions.

“Our selection of these U.S. commercial landing service providers represents America’s return to the Moon’s surface for the first time in decades, and it’s a huge step forward for our Artemis lunar exploration plans,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. ”Next year, our initial science and technology research will be on the lunar surface, which will help support sending the first woman and the next man to the Moon in five years. Investing in these commercial landing services also is another strong step to build a commercial space economy beyond low-Earth orbit.”

As part of the submissions, each company proposed flying specific instruments including gear to predict lander positions; measure lunar radiation; assess lander impact on the Moon; and assist with navigation.

It’s not only a win for NASA, and the companies, but another feather in the cap for XPRIZE — given that Astrobotic was initially spun out of Carnegie Mellon University to compete for the Google Lunar XPRIZE (GLXP) in 2007.

The Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic, which is backed by the Space Angels Network, was awarded $79.5 million to fly up to 14 payloads to Lacus Mortis, a large crater on the near side of the moon by July 2021.

Intuitive Machines, out of Houston, received $77 million to fly five payloads to Oceanus Procellarum, a dark spot on the moon in the same timeframe. While Edison, N.J.-based Orbit Beyond is flying four payloads to the lunar lavea plain of Mare Imbrium, in one of the Moon’s many craters by September 2020.

“These landers are just the beginning of exciting commercial partnerships that will bring us closer to solving the many scientific mysteries of our Moon, our solar system, and beyond,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in a statement. “What we learn will not only change our view of the universe, but also prepare our human missions to the Moon and eventually Mars.”

NASA’s partners have agreed to provide end-to-end commercial payload delivery services including: payload integration and operations, and launch and landing.

These first steps from NASA pave the way for not only the Administration’s lunar efforts, but also its eventual intentions to spacecraft and astronauts on Mars.

“This announcement starts a significant step in NASA’s collaboration with our commercial partners,” said Chris Culbert, CLPS program manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, in a statement from Houston. “NASA is committed to working with industry to enable the next round of lunar exploration. The companies we have selected represent a diverse community of exciting small American companies, each with their own unique, innovative approach to getting to the Moon. We look forward to working with them to have our payloads delivered and opening the door for returning humans to the Moon.”


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Equity transcribed: Is the tech press too positive in its coverage of startups?

Posted by on Jun 1, 2019 in Brex, Equity podcast, paul graham, SoFi, TC, Uber | 0 comments

Welcome back the latest transcribed edition of Equity, the TechCrunch podcast that takes a closer look at the startup headlines from the week.

Kate Clark and Alex Wilhelm kick this week off by discussing comments on Twitter made by Y Combinator co-founder Paul Graham about the tech press. They then took a look at Uber’s first-quarter numbers, Brex raising, SoFi raising (and entering talks to buy the naming rights for the upcoming Los Angeles Rams stadium) and a lot more.

Here’s a sample:

Alex: Uber’s expectations were low. They had set, in their last S-1/A, these figures out and they came in the middle of revenue and loss expectations. I think the phrase is priced in, and that’s an odd place to be.

Kate: Yeah. It’s good that they came in on expectations. Lyft, you remember, had losses that were way, way, way higher than expected. But I would just say bottom line is, none of these companies, particularly I’m thinking of like Uber, Pinterest and Lyft, which are just recent unicorns to have gone public that are not enterprise software businesses. Is that they’re not profitable, and they’re not really showing clear paths to profitability yet. So, it’s just a little bit like, well, not looking so hot.

Alex: Just a little bit more about this. Because I know people aren’t going to go read the earnings reports because it’s boring. But if you dig into it, gross bookings rose 34% year over year. But adjusted net rev only grew 14%. Which means that of that new gross bookings, Uber’s take rate probably went down a little bit. Which implies that probably Uber Eats grew a lot and Uber’s percent cut of that revenue is smaller. So, the gross bookings growth looks great, but it doesn’t translate.

Click play below to have a listen and subscribe on Apple PodcastsOvercast, Pocket Casts, Downcast or wherever you listen to podcasts. 

Want more Extra Crunch? Need to read this entire transcript? Then become a member. You can learn more and try it for free. 


Alex: If you’re looking to sell your private company stock, SharesPost has a solution for you. With more than 4 billion in company approved transactions, SharesPost is the leading marketplace for private company shares. To learn more, visit us at sharespost.com/equity.

Kate: Hello, and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital focus podcast. I’m back this week with Crunchbase news Editor in Chief, Alex Wilhelm Hey Alex, how’s it going?

Alex: Things are good. It’s cold out in the East Coast. But I’m more excited to hear about things on your end because you are in the new TechCrunch podcast studio. What is it like?


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Foxconn halts some production lines for Huawei phones, according to reports

Posted by on Jun 1, 2019 in android, Apple, Companies, Donald Trump, Foxconn, Google, Huawei, mobile phones, operating system, president, shenzhen, smart phone, smartphone, Smartphones, TC, telecommunications, United States, Xiaomi | 0 comments

Huawei, the Chinese technology giant whose devices are at the center of a far-reaching trade dispute between the U.S. and Chinese governments, is reducing orders for new phones, according to a report in The South China Morning Post.

According to unnamed sources, the Taiwanese technology manufacturer Foxconn has halted production lines for several Huawei phones after the Shenzhen-based company reduced orders. Foxconn also makes devices for most of the major smart phone vendors including Apple and Xiaomi (in addition to Huawei).

In the aftermath of President Donald Trump’s declaration of a “national emergency” to protect U.S. networks from foreign technologies, Huawei and several of its affiliates were barred from acquiring technologies from U.S. companies.

The blacklist has impacted multiple lines of Huawei’s business including it handset manufacturing capabilities given the company’s reliance on Google’s Android operating system for its smartphones.

In May, Google reportedly suspended business with Huawei, according to a Reuters report. Last year, Huawei shipped over 200 million handsets and the company had a stated goal to become the world’s largest vendor of smartphones by 2020.

These reports from The South China Morning Post are the clearest indication that the ramifications of the U.S. blacklisting are beginning to be felt across Huawei’s phone business outside of China.

Huawei was already under fire for security concerns, and will be forced to contend with more if it can no longer provide Android updates to global customers.

Contingency planning is already underway at Huawei. The company has built its own Android -based operating system, and can use the stripped down, open source version of Android that ships without Google Mobile Services. For now, its customers also still have access to Google’s app store. But if the company is forced to make developers sell their apps on a siloed Huawei-only store, it could face problems from users outside of China.

Huawei and the Chinese government are also retaliating against the U.S. efforts. The company has filed a legal motion to challenge the U.S. ban on its equipment, calling it “unconstitutional.”  And Huawei has sent home its American employees deployed at R&D functions at its Shenzhen headquarters.

It has also asked its Chinese employees to limit conversations with overseas visitors, and cease any technical meetings with their U.S. contacts.

Still, any reduction in orders would seem to indicate that the U.S. efforts to stymie Huawei’s expansion (at least in its smartphone business) are having an impact.

A spokesperson for Huawei U.S. did not respond to a request for comment.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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U.S. State Department begins social media screening for nearly all visa applicants

Posted by on Jun 1, 2019 in TC | 0 comments

Yesterday the U.S. State Department began implementing its requirement that nearly all U.S. visa applicants submit their social media usernames, previous email addresses and phone numbers as part of the application process. The new requirement, which could affect up to 15 million would-be travelers to the U.S., is part of a broad expansion of enhanced screening under the Trump administration.

First proposed in March 2018, the State Department only just updated the application forms to request the additional information, according to a report from the Associated Press.

“National security is our top priority when adjudicating visa applications, and every prospective traveler and immigrant to the United States undergoes extensive security screening,” the department said in a statement to the AP. “We are constantly working to find mechanisms to improve our screening processes to protect U.S. citizens, while supporting legitimate travel to the United States.”

In the past, this enhanced screening information, including email, phone numbers and social media had only been required for applicants who had been identified for extra scrutiny — primarily people who had traveled to areas with a high degree of terrorist activity. Roughly 65,000 applicants per-year had fallen into that category, according to the AP.

When the State Department first filed its notice of the changes, it estimated that 710,000 immigrant visa applications and 14 million nonimmigrant visa applicants would be affected — including business and student travelers.

New questions on the visa application forms list social media platforms and require applicants to provide any account names they may have had on them for a five-year period. The forms also request phone numbers and email addresses applicants have used over the past five years, along with their international travel and deportation status and whether any family members have been involved in terrorist activities.

These new obstacles to immigration come at a time when competition for highly-skilled talent is at an all-time high. And according to data from the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development, the U.S. is no longer the top-ranked destination for highly skilled workers or entrepreneurs.

Increasingly, immigrants are turning to countries like Canada,  Norway, Switzerland, Germany, Australia and New Zealand as destinations to settle and start businesses or find work, OECD data suggests.

It’s a (not unexpected) turn of events that could have significant consequences for the country as tensions with China continue to rise.

As The Economist noted earlier this week, putting up obstacles to immigration is exactly the wrong thing for the country to do.

It would be just as unwise for America to sit back. No law of physics says that quantum computing, artificial intelligence and other technologies must be cracked by scientists who are free to vote. Even if dictatorships tend to be more brittle than democracies, President Xi Jinping has reasserted party control and begun to project Chinese power around the world. Partly because of this, one of the very few beliefs which unite Republicans and Democrats is that America must act against China. But how?

For a start America needs to stop undermining its own strengths and build on them instead. Given that migrants are vital to innovation, the Trump administration’s hurdles to legal immigration are self-defeating. So are its frequent denigration of any science that does not suit its agenda and its attempts to cut science funding (reversed by Congress, fortunately).


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Startups net more than capital with NBA players as investors

Posted by on Jun 1, 2019 in Alexa, Andre Iguodala, Basketball, Carmelo Anthony, Column, Dan Porter, david stern, Facebook, Golden State Warriors, Google, Kevin Durant, Messenger, national basketball association, NBA, overtime, player, SMS, Snap, Snapchat, snaptravel, Social Media, Spark Capital, Startups, stephen curry, TC, Telstra Ventures, toronto, twitch | 0 comments

If you’re a big basketball fan like me, you’ll be glued to the TV watching the Golden State Warriors take on the Toronto Raptors in the NBA finals. (You might be surprised who I’m rooting for.)

In honor of the big games, we took a shot at breaking down investment activities of the players off the court. Last fall, we did a story highlighting some of the sport’s more prolific investors. In this piece, we’ll take a deeper dive into just what having an NBA player as a backer can do for a startup beyond the capital involved. But first, here’s a chart of some startups funded by NBA players, both former and current.

 

In February, we covered how digital sports media startup Overtime had raised $23 million in a Series B round of funding led by Spark Capital. Former NBA Commissioner David Stern was an early investor and advisor in the company (putting money in the company’s seed round). Golden State Warriors player Kevin Durant invested as part of the company’s Series A in early 2018 via his busy investment vehicle, Thirty Five Ventures. And then, Carmelo Anthony invested (via his Melo7 Tech II fund) earlier this year. Other NBA-related investors include Baron DavisAndre Iguodala and Victor Oladipo, and other non-NBA backers include Andreessen Horowitz and Greycroft.

I talked to Overtime’s CEO, 27-year-old Zack Weiner, about how the involvement of so many NBA players came about. I also wondered what they brought to the table beyond their cash. But before we get there, let me explain a little more about what Overtime does.

Founded in late 2016 by Dan Porter and Weiner, the Brooklyn company has raised a total of $35.3 million. The pair founded the company after observing “how larger, legacy media companies, such as ESPN, were struggling” with attracting the younger viewer who was tuning into the TV less and less “and consuming sports in a fundamentally different way.”

So they created Overtime, which features about 25 to 30 sports-related shows across several platforms (which include YouTube, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, Twitter and Twitch) aimed at millennials and the Gen Z generation. Weiner estimates the company’s programs get more than 600 million video views every month.

In terms of attracting NBA investors, Weiner told me each situation was a little different, but with one common theme: “All of them were fans of Overtime before we even met them…They saw what we were doing as the new wave of sports media and wanted to get involved. We didn’t have to have 10 meetings for them to understand what we were doing. This is the world they live and breathe.”

So how is having NBA players as investors helping the company grow? Well, for one, they can open a lot of doors, noted Weiner.

“NBA players are very powerful people and investors,” he said. “They’ve helped us make connections in music, fashion and all things tangential to sports. Some have created content with us.”

In addition, their social clout has helped with exposure. Their posting or commenting on Instagram gives the company credibility, Weiner said.

“Also just, in general, getting their perspectives and opinions,” he added. “A lot of our content is based on working with athletes, so they understand what athletes want and are interested in being a part of.”

It’s not just sports-related startups that are attracting the interest of NBA players. I also talked with Hussein Fazal, the CEO of SnapTravel, which recently closed a $21.2 million Series A that included participation from Telstra Ventures and Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry.

Founded in 2016, Toronto-based SnapTravel offers online hotel booking services over SMS, Facebook Messenger, Alexa, Google Home and Slack. It’s driven more than $100 million in sales, according to Fazal, and is seeing its revenue grow about 35% quarter over quarter.

Like Weiner, Fazal told me that Curry’s being active on social media about SnapTravel helped draw positive attention and “add a lot of legitimacy” to his company.

“If you’re an end-consumer about to spend $1,000 on a hotel booking, you might be a little hesitant about trusting a newer brand like ours,” he said. “But if they go to our home page and see our investors, that holds some weight in the eyes of the public, and helps show we’re not a fly-by-night company.”

Another way Curry’s involvement has helped SnapTravel is in terms of the recruitment and retainment of employees. Curry once spent hours at the office, meeting with employees and doing a Q&A.

“It was really cool,” Fazal said. “And it helps us stand out from other startups when hiring.”

Regardless of who wins the series, it’s clear that startups with NBA investors on their team have a competitive advantage. (Still, Go Raptors!)


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Apple bumps the App Store cell connection download cap up to 200 MB

Posted by on Jun 1, 2019 in Apple, iOS, TC | 0 comments

Good news: Apple now allows you to download bigger apps over a cellular connection than it used to.

Bad news: there’s still a cap, and you still can’t bypass it.

As noticed by 9to5Mac, the iOS App Store now lets you download apps up to 200 MB in size while on a cell network; anything bigger than that, and you’ll need to connect to WiFi. Before this change, the cap was 150 MB.

And if you’ve got an unlimited (be it actually unlimited or cough-cough-‘unlimited’) plan, or if you know you’ve got enough monthly data left to cover a big download, or you just really, really need a certain big app and WiFi just isn’t available? You’re still out of luck. That 200 MB cap hits everyone. People have found tricky, fleeting workarounds to bypass the cap over the years, but there’s no official “Yeah, yeah, the app is huge, I know.” button to click or power user setting to toggle.

The App Store being cautious about file size isn’t inherently a bad thing; with many users only getting an allotment of a couple gigs a month, a few accidental downloads over the cell networks can eat up that data quick. But it really does suck to open up an app you need and find it’s requiring some update that exceeds the cap, only to realize you’re nowhere near a friendly WiFi network. At least give us the choice, you know?

On the upside, most developers seem to be pretty aware of the cap; they’ll hack and slash their app install package until it squeaks under the limit, even if it means downloading more stuff through the app itself post-install. Now, at least, they’ve got 50 more megabytes of wiggle room to start with.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Teams autonomously mapping the depths take home millions in Ocean Discovery Xprize

Posted by on May 31, 2019 in Artificial Intelligence, conservation, Gadgets, Hardware, Robotics, Science, TC, XPRIZE | 0 comments

There’s a whole lot of ocean on this planet, and we don’t have much of an idea what’s at the bottom of most of it. That could change with the craft and techniques created during the Ocean Discovery Xprize, which had teams competing to map the sea floor quickly, precisely and autonomously. The winner just took home $4 million.

A map of the ocean would be valuable in and of itself, of course, but any technology used to do so could be applied in many other ways, and who knows what potential biological or medical discoveries hide in some nook or cranny a few thousand fathoms below the surface?

The prize, sponsored by Shell, started back in 2015. The goal was, ultimately, to create a system that could map hundreds of square kilometers of the sea floor at a five-meter resolution in less than a day — oh, and everything has to fit in a shipping container. For reference, existing methods do nothing like this, and are tremendously costly.

But as is usually the case with this type of competition, the difficulty did not discourage the competitors — it only spurred them on. Since 2015, then, the teams have been working on their systems and traveling all over the world to test them.

Originally the teams were to test in Puerto Rico, but after the devastating hurricane season of 2017, the whole operation was moved to the Greek coast. Ultimately after the finalists were selected, they deployed their craft in the waters off Kalamata and told them to get mapping.

Team GEBCO’s surface vehicle

“It was a very arduous and audacious challenge,” said Jyotika Virmani, who led the program. “The test itself was 24 hours, so they had to stay up, then immediately following that was 48 hours of data processing after which they had to give us the data. It takes more trad companies about 2 weeks or so to process data for a map once they have the raw data — we’re pushing for real time.”

This wasn’t a test in a lab bath or pool. This was the ocean, and the ocean is a dangerous place. But amazingly there were no disasters.

“Nothing was damaged, nothing imploded,” she said. “We ran into weather issues, of course. And we did lose one piece of technology that was subsequently found by a Greek fisherman a few days later… but that’s another story.”

At the start of the competition, Virmani said, there was feedback from the entrants that the autonomous piece of the task was simply not going to be possible. But the last few years have proven it to be so, given that the winning team not only met but exceeded the requirements of the task.

“The winning team mapped more than 250 square kilometers in 24 hours, at the minimum of five meters resolution, but around 140 was more than five meters,” Virmani told me. “It was all unmanned: An unmanned surface vehicle that took the submersible out, then recovered it at sea, unmanned again, and brought it back to port. They had such great control over it — they were able to change its path and its programming throughout that 24 hours as they needed to.” (It should be noted that unmanned does not necessarily mean totally hands-off — the teams were permitted a certain amount of agency in adjusting or fixing the craft’s software or route.)

A five-meter resolution, if you can’t quite picture it, would produce a map of a city that showed buildings and streets clearly, but is too coarse to catch, say, cars or street signs. When you’re trying to map two-thirds of the globe, though, this resolution is more than enough — and infinitely better than the nothing we currently have. (Unsurprisingly, it’s also certainly enough for an oil company like Shell to prospect new deep-sea resources.)

The winning team was GEBCO, composed of veteran hydrographers — ocean mapping experts, you know. In addition to the highly successful unmanned craft (Sea-Kit, already cruising the English Channel for other purposes), the team did a lot of work on the data-processing side, creating a cloud-based solution that helped them turn the maps around quickly. (That may also prove to be a marketable service in the future.) They were awarded $4 million, in addition to their cash for being selected as a finalist.

The runner up was Kuroshio, which had great resolution but was unable to map the full 250 km2 due to weather problems. They snagged a million.

A bonus prize for having the submersible track a chemical signal to its source didn’t exactly have a winner, but the teams’ entries were so impressive that the judges decided to split the million between the Tampa Deep Sea Xplorers and Ocean Quest, which amazingly enough is made up mostly of middle-schoolers. The latter gets $800,000, which should help pay for a few new tools in the shop there.

Lastly, a $200,000 innovation prize was given to Team Tao out of the U.K., which had a very different style to its submersible that impressed the judges. While most of the competitors opted for a craft that went “lawnmower-style” above the sea floor at a given depth, Tao’s craft dropped down like a plumb bob, pinging the depths as it went down and back up before moving to a new spot. This provides a lot of other opportunities for important oceanographic testing, Virmani noted.

Having concluded the prize, the organization has just a couple more tricks up its sleeve. GEBCO, which stands for General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans, is partnering with The Nippon Foundation on Seabed 2030, an effort to map the entire sea floor over the next decade and provide that data to the world for free.

And the program is also — why not? — releasing an anthology of short sci-fi stories inspired by the idea of mapping the ocean. “A lot of our current technology is from the science fiction of the past,” said Virmani. “So we told the authors, imagine we now have a high-resolution map of the sea floor, what are the next steps in ocean tech and where do we go?” The resulting 19 stories, written from all 7 continents (yes, one from Antarctica), will be available June 7.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Slack narrows losses, displays healthy revenue growth

Posted by on May 31, 2019 in Accel, Airbnb, Andreessen Horowitz, Earnings, economy, Finance, initial public offering, Kleiner Perkins, operating systems, slack, Softbank, SoftBank Group, Spotify, t.rowe price, TC, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission | 0 comments

Workplace messaging powerhouse Slack filed an amended S-1 with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Friday weeks ahead of a direct listing expected June 20.

In the document, Slack included an updated look at its path to profitability, posting first-quarter revenues of $134.8 million on losses of $31.8 million. Slack’s Q1 revenues represent a 67% increase from the same period last year when the company lost $24.8 million on $80.9 million in revenue.

For the fiscal year ending January 31, 2019, the company reported losses of $138.9 million on revenue of $400.6 million. That’s compared to a loss of $140.1 million on revenue of $220.5 million the year prior.

Slack is in the process of completing the final steps necessary for its direct listing on The New York Stock Exchange, where it will trade under the ticker symbol “WORK.” A direct listing is an alternative approach to the stock market that allows well-known businesses to sell directly to the market existing shares held by insiders, employees and investors, instead of issuing new shares. The method lets companies bypass the traditional roadshow process and avoid a good chunk of Wall Street’s IPO fees.

Spotify completed a direct listing in 2018; Airbnb, another highly valued venture capital-backed business, is rumored to be considering a direct listing in 2020.

Slack is currently valued at $7 billion after raising $1.22 billion in VC funding from investors, including Accel, which owns a 24% pre-IPO stake, Andreessen Horowitz (13.3%), Social Capital (10.2%), SoftBank, T. Rowe Price, IVP, Kleiner Perkins and many others.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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