The best vacuums for any kind of mess

Vacuums for every type of mess

Pet-hair-sucking robots, at your service.

Pet-hair-sucking robots, at your service. These vacuums will keep your dwelling's floors dust-mite and crumb-free.

Tesla sues former employee who allegedly stole confidential data

Today, CNBC reported that Tesla is suing a former employee named Martin Tripp. The lawsuit centers around the alleged theft of gigabytes worth of proprietary information from the electric car company. Tesla had no comment, but did provide Engadget wi...

Hyundai and Audi team up on hydrogen fuel cell technology

Hyundai and Audi have reached a deal that will allow the two to share their hydrogen car technology, Reuters reports. Both companies will have access to the other's intellectual property and they'll share components, with the goal being to push hydro...

Bose gets into the business of sleep

You know you’ve got a problem sleeping when someone tells you that 35-percent of US adults aren’t get seven hours of sleep a night, and the number sounds remarkably low. I’m not a good sleeper. I never have been, and I’m a sucker for any gadget that comes along promising to make things better.

Sleep deprivation costs the US economy $411 billion a year. It’s bad for your health and generally turns you into a cranky piece of garbage no one want to be around. So, naturally, Bose wants to be in the sleep business. Tomorrow, the company launches SleepBuds, its first foray into helping people fall and stay asleep.

The wireless earbuds are the result of Bose’s recent acquisition of Hush, a San Diego startup behind the $150 “smart earplugs.” Among other things, the deal gave the headphone giant expertise in cramming all of the necessary components into a small footprint that sits comfortably in the ear, even when the wearer is sleeping on his or her side. The resulting hardware is roughly half the size of a penny, when you subtract the tip and hook that helps it stay firmly in place.

According to a rep I spoke with at today’s launch event, Bose was also toiling away on its own sleep solution, at the time of the acquisition. The resulting product is essentially those Hush components with the kind of polished finish one expects from Bose products, right down to the brushed aluminum charging case.

Hush’s involvement had another interesting impact on the product, resulting in Bose’s first crowdfunding effort. The original smart earplugs were the result of a Kickstarter campaign, and the companies went back to the well, launching Sleepbuds on Indiegogo as a way of essentially publicly beta testing the product.

The resulting $249 Sleepbuds are a bit of a mixed bag. They’re surprisingly comfortable, and are tough to knock loose. The silicone tips go a ways toward passive blocking ambient sound. There’s no active noise cancelling on-board, unlike Bose’s better known efforts. Instead, the on-board soundscapes (things like leaves rustling and trickling waterfalls) are designed to essentially drown out noise.

The company put us through a brief demo at a Manhattan hotel that felt more like a truncated laboratory sleep study than hands-ons on experience, running through some common New York city ambient sounds like street noise and loud neighbors.

The Sleepbuds never blocked the sound altogether. Instead it was more of a mix of sounds with the strange effect of hearing someone snoring off in the distance in a wind-swept field. You can always adjust the sound levels on the app, but you don’t want to make things too loud, for obvious reasons.

Interestingly, the company opted not to offer streaming here, instead storing files locally. There are ten preloaded sounds, with the option of adding more. This was primarily done for battery reasons. You should get about 16 hours on a charge, with 16 additional hours via the charging case. That’s about four nights of sleep for most people and seven or eight for us perpetual insomniacs.

The downside is pretty clear here. If you like to fall to sleep to music or podcasts or anything aside from the pre-loaded sounds, you’re out of luck. And since there’s no active noise canceling on board, these may not be the best choice for falling asleep on a long flight. In fact, plane noise is actually one of the options on-board. Apparently some people find it soothing.

There aren’t really too many non-sleeping applications here, which makes that $249 price tag a bit more prohibitive. That said, I could certainly see using these to use for meditation, if Bose ever sees fit to include a timer or maybe partner with a Headspace or Calm. But again, no streaming on board, making that a bit tougher to accomplish.

New system connects your mind to a machine to help stop mistakes

How do you tell your robot not do something that could be catastrophic? You could give it a verbal or programmatic command or you could have it watch your brain for signs of distress and have it stop itself. That’s what researchers at MIT’s robotics research lab have done with a system that is wired to your brain and tells robots how to do their job.

The initial system is fairly simple. A scalp EEG and EMG system is connected to a Baxter work robot and lets a human wave or gesture when the robot is doing something that it shouldn’t be doing. For example, the robot could regularly do a task – drilling holes, for example – but when it approaches an unfamiliar scenario the human can gesture at the task that should be done.

“By looking at both muscle and brain signals, we can start to pick up on a person’s natural gestures along with their snap decisions about whether something is going wrong,” said PhD candidate Joseph DelPreto. “This helps make communicating with a robot more like communicating with another person.”

Because the system uses nuances like gestures and emotional reactions you can train robots to interact with humans with disabilities and even prevent accidents by catching concern or alarm before it is communicated verbally. This lets workers stop a robot before it damages something and even help the robot understand slight changes to its tasks before it begins.

In their tests the team trained Baxter to drill holes in an airplane fuselage. The task changed occasionally and a human standing nearby was able to gesture to the robot to change position before it drilled, essentially training it to do new tasks in the midst of its current task. Further, there was no actual programming involved on the human’s part, just a suggestion that the robot move the drill left or right on the fuselage. The most important thing? Humans don’t have to think in a special way or train themselves to interact with the machine.

“What’s great about this approach is that there’s no need to train users to think in a prescribed way,” said DelPreto. “The machine adapts to you, and not the other way around.”

The team will present their findings at the Robotics: Science and Systems (RSS) conference.

Facebook tests ‘subscription Groups’ that charge for exclusive content

Facebook is starting to let Group admins charge $4.99 to $29.99 per month for access to special sub-Groups full of exclusive posts. A hand-picked array of parenting, cooking and “organize my home” Groups will be the first to get the chance to spawn a subscription Group open to their members.

During the test, Facebook won’t be taking a cut, but because the feature bills through iOS and Android, they’ll get their 30 percent cut of a user’s first year of subscription and 15 percent after that. But if Facebook eventually did ask for a revenue share, it could finally start to monetize the Groups feature that’s grown to more than 1 billion users.

The idea for subscription Groups originally came from the admins. “It’s not so much about making money as it is investing in their community,” says Facebook Groups product manager Alex Deve. “The fact that there will be funds coming out of the activity helps them create higher-quality content.” Some admins tell Facebook they actually want to funnel subscription dues back into activities their Group does together offline.

Content users might get in the exclusive version of groups includes video tutorials, lists of tips and support directly from admins themselves. For example, Sandra Mueller’s Declutter My Home Group is launching a $14.99 per month Organize My Home subscription Group that will teach members how to stay tidy with checklists and video guides. The Grown and Flown Parents group is spawning a College Admissions and Affordability subscription group with access to college counselors for $29.99. Cooking On A Budget: Recipes & Meal Planning will launch a $9.99 Meal Planning Central Premium subscription group with weekly meal plans, shopping lists for different grocery stores and more.

But the point of the test is actually to figure out what admins would post and whether members find it valuable. “They have their own ideas. We want to see how that is going to evolve,” says Deve.

Here’s how subscription Groups work. First, a user must be in a larger group where the admin has access to the subscription options and posts an invitation for members to check it out. They’ll see preview cards outlining what exclusive content they’ll get access to and how much it costs. If they want to join, the admin vets their application, and if they’re approved they’re charged the monthly fee right away.

They’ll be billed on that date each month, and if they cancel, they’ll still have access until the end of the month. That prevents anyone from joining a group and scraping all the content without paying the full price. The whole system is a bit similar to subscription patronage platform Patreon, but with a Group and its admin at the center instead of some star creator.

Back in 2016, Facebook briefly tested showing ads in Groups, but now says that was never rolled out. However, the company says that admins want other ways beyond subscriptions to build revenue from Groups and it’s considering the possibilities. Facebook didn’t have any more to share on this, but perhaps one day it will offer a revenue split from ads shown within groups.

Between subscriptions, ad revenue shares, tipping, sponsored content and product placement — all of which Facebook is testing — creators are suddenly flush with monetization options. While we spent the last few decades of the consumer internet scarfing up free content, creativity can’t be a labor of love forever. Letting creators earn money could help them turn their passion into their profession and dedicate more time to making things people love.

YouTube woos brands with its new Creative Suite of ad tools

YouTube hopes a new set of creative tools will help it win back advertisers who may have grown disenchanted with the video network due to its ongoing content scandals. The company announced this morning a suite of tools that will allow brands and agencies to test ads, target specific audiences with customized versions of the same ad, and tell stories over a series of ads.

One new tool, Video Experiments, offers AdWords advertisers a way to test video ads on YouTube’s site, as an alternative to using focus groups to determine the impact of creative on metrics brands care about like awareness or purchase intent.

The service, which launches in beta later this month, will allow marketers to shift funds usually put towards those focus groups and their “simulated ad environments,” to real ad environments.

The ads will run in cleanly segmented experiments on YouTube at no extra cost beyond the media investment, the company says, and turn around results in as little as three days’ time.

The idea here is to allow brands to test their video ad campaigns before committing the funds to roll them out more broadly – something that could help them to tweak the creative material, or even pull back on an ad rollout that could have ended up being a total misfire that draws consumer backlash.

That’s a critical factor to consider in today’s social media landscape, where one bad ad can spread virally beyond just those who directly watched it, leading to negative consumer sentiment and even brand boycotts.

Another new tool, Director Mix, was already announced last year, and is now being tested by brands like Kellogg’s in an alpha phase, ahead of its general availability.

This tool lets advertisers create many versions of their same ad using swappable elements. They can customize the text, while using the existing images, sound and videos across a variety of ads. These ads can be far more personalized to YouTube viewers, as a result.

For example, in a test with Campbell’s Soup, bumper ads appeared for those watching “Orange is the New Black” clips that said “does your cooking make prison food seem good? We’ve got a soup for that.” But the same ad customized for Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” instead included the line “Dinner for One?”

McDonald’s had also used Director Mix in the past to create 77 pieces of content from one ad.

Related to this, a tool for Video Ad Sequencing, also in alpha, lets brands spread their story over a series of ads. The idea here is that YouTube viewers could actually follow along with a narrative of sorts, or just see a longer story told over several ads.

Ubisoft tested this to promote “Assassin’s Creed Origins,” which showed several different elements of the game’s trailer over different ads. 20th Century Fox is also now using this tool, along with experimentation.

YouTube didn’t offer an update as to when Director Mix or sequencing were exiting alpha or launching more broadly, however.

In terms of better understanding how ads are working with different groups of viewers, YouTube says it’s adding audience segmentation to retention reports. Later this year, it will also allow advertisers to annotate different parts of their video – for example, the part where the brand’s logo displays or a shot of the product – so they can then see what percentage of the audience saw those key moments.

Combined, this set of tools aim to give video advertisers a reason to continue spending on YouTube at a time when brands may have become hesitant to invest due to YouTube’s inability to properly police the billions of hours of content on its site.

While that’s clearly a hard problem to solve at YouTube’s scale, the fallout has been seriously damaging. Brands have found their ads displaying against extremist content, white nationalist channels, and other obscenities. And some even suspended advertising on YouTube entirely, at times.

Meanwhile, YouTube is facing increasing threats from Facebook, which has rolled out a video hub called Watch. Facebook is directly investing in video from news publishers, and has just launched a creative gameshow platform to capitalize on the interactive video craze. Facebook-owned Instagram, too, is preparing to roll out longer-form video in a new hub on its network, as soon as today.

Despite Facebook’s threat, YouTube is still a massive network for advertisers to consider with its 1.9 billion monthly users, and a shift in how people – particularly younger users – watch video content. A generation of viewers is growing up without linear TV, and is instead during to video networks and streaming services for entertainment.

Though some of YouTube’s tools have already been in testing, YouTube is today positioning the combination of resources as its “Creative Suite” with this more formal introduction.

All Amazon Prime members can now try clothes before they buy

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LG’s G7 and V35 are available for pre-order on Project Fi

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Facebook will air live PGA Tour coverage on its Watch tab

One of the ways that Facebook has been highlighting its Watch tab is through exclusive streaming deals with sports leagues. Now, the PGA Tour joins the roster of sports that will air coverage on Facebook exclusively. Live competition coverage of eigh...

Sunrise Gold Galaxy S9 and S9+ launching in the U.S. on June 24th

Samsung Galaxy S9 Sunrise Gold official

Samsung's new Sunrise Gold Galaxy S9 and S9+ are coming soon to the U.S.

Samsung says that the Sunrise Gold versions of the Galaxy S9 and S9+ will launch in the U.S. on June 24th. They'll be available exclusively in Best Buy stores, at BestBuy.com, and at Samsung.com. Here's how the pricing will break down:

  • 64GB Galaxy S9: $719.99
  • 128GB Galaxy S9: $769.99
  • 256GB Galaxy S9: $839.99
  • 64GB Galaxy S9+: $839.99
  • 128GB Galaxy S9+: $889.99
  • 256GB Galaxy S9+: $959.99

You can save up to $300 on select carrier models when they buy from Best Buy. If you'd prefer to buy from Samsung, you'll be able to save up to $400 when you buy an unlocked Sunrise Gold S9 or S9+ from Samsung and trade in your existing phone.

Samsung describes the Sunrise Gold Galaxy S9 and S9+ as having a "satin gloss finish which wraps the smartphone in a tranquil glow and glimmer." Like the other S9 color options, the Sunrise Gold color completely covers the back of the phone and wraps around to the edges.

Chan Zuckerberg Initiative hires to donate tech, not just money

A cell atlas. AI that reads science papers. Personalized learning software. Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan’s $45 billion philanthropy organization wants to build technology that can do good at scale rather than just trying to drown problems in cash. Now 2.5 years after its launch, CZI has finally filled out its tech leadership team.

Today CZI announced the hire of Jonathan Goldman as its head of Data. He was formerly the Director of Data Science and Analytics at Intuit after selling it his startup Level Up Analytics. Before that he picked up a PhD in Physics at Stanford, and he’s on the Khan Academy board. Phil Smoot has been named CZI’s head of engineering. He was the VP of eng for Microsoft OneDrive and SharePoint, and previously worked on Hotmail and Outlook.

CZI’s tech leadership team with its founders (from left): Sandra Liu Huang, Phil Smoot, Jonathan Goldman, Priscilla Chan, Mark Zuckerberg

Together with CZI’s head of product Sandra Liu Huang who’d been acting as its interim head of technology, they’ll be tackling massive technology products that could improve medicine, research, and education. Critics have asked whether the Zuckerberg family philanthropy has brought its money to issues that might be more complex than just needing funding. But tech is what Zuckerberg does, and Chan’s experience as a doctor and teacher could focus their impact where its most critical.

When asked about the challenges Goldman and Smoot would tackle, a CZI spokesperson told me “Figuring out how to create a strong technical culture within philanthropy, which hasn’t really been done before. Also keeping ourselves rigorous in how we approach the work even though there aren’t conventional market indicators.”

For example, its data coordination platform for the Human Cell Atlas could help doctors map out our biology in a new level of detail that could help fight disease. The Meta tool uses AI to analyze and prioritize research papers so scientists don’t miss out on important new findings. CZI is also supporting the Summit Learning Platform, a tool for teachers to personalize their instruction for students with different learning styles, from those that excel from solo reading to those who prefer group projects.

“We’re putting engineers, data scientists and product managers side by side with bench scientists, educators and policy advocates. Translating these different languages can be challenging at times, but we all know the breakthroughs that come out of these efforts will be well worth it” a spokesperson concluded.

Grove just raised $8 million to make traditional financial planning affordable to pretty much everyone

Financial advisors aren’t cheap to use. They aren’t always seen as trustworthy, either, with many advisors receiving — or perceived as receiving — incentives for recommending certain products over others.

Grove, a two-year-old, San Francisco-based startup, is taking on both of these issues through software that makes it easier to its own financial advisors – who are paid a straight salary — to help greater numbers of people, and more cost-effectively.

Specifically, for $600 a year, a customer can talk with or email his or her financial advisor about all kinds of big and small decisions, from which index funds are worth considering, to whether a particular house is within reach given that person’s retirement goals.

So far, the company has just 12 employees, half of whom are financial advisors and the other half of whom are working on the product itself.

Cofounder and CEO Chris Hutchins won’t reveal how many people each financial advisor is working with currently out of fear that it might give away too much about the young company’s revenue. But generally speaking, the number of clients who advisors work with can vary widely, from tens to many hundreds. (In a 2016, Barron’s article of the “best” 1,200 financial advisors in the U.S., the advisors worked on average with a stunning 520 families.)

Either way, Grove’s investors — many of whom are athletes — think the company is on to something. Just five months after announcing $2.1 million in seed funding (money that Hutchins says was raised a bit earlier, in 2017), Grove has closed on $8 million in fresh funding.

Defy Ventures, launched last year by veteran VCs Trae Vassallo and Neil Sequeira, led the financing, with participation from Tusk Ventures, Bullish, and Winklevoss Capital. The round also included, among others, NBA star Kevin Durant; former football player Patrick Kearny; and former football player Ryan Nece, who today runs the venture firm NextPlay Capital.

Asked about Grove’s connection to star athletes, Hutchins — who’d earlier spent several years as an investor with GV — says Grove “struck a chord with them. Many know people who had a lot of money and worked with financial advisors but who didn’t always get the best advice or work with people who had their best interests in mind.”

They like the idea of unbiased advice, suggests Hutchins. They also like that one needn’t be a professional athlete to afford it.

Apple picks up the immigrant anthology series ‘Little America’ for its streaming service

Apple’s latest addition to its upcoming video streaming service is a timely one. The company has picked up “Little America,” a half-hour anthology series which looks at the “funny, romantic, heartfelt, inspiring, and surprising stories” of immigrants in America. The series comes from Oscar-nominated screenwriters of “The Big Sick,” Kumail Nanjiani (“Silicon Valley”) and Emily V. Gordon, and Emmy-nominated producer and writer Lee Eisenberg (“The Office,” “SMILF”).

Eisenberg will also exec produce alongside Emmy winning producer, writer and director Alan Yang (“Master of None,””Parks and Recreation”), and he will serve as showrunner.

Joshuah Bearman and Joshua Davis will executive produce for Epic Magazine, where the stories originated, alongside co-executive producer Arthur Spector.

“Little America” is being produced by Universal Television for Apple. 

The series, which was previously in development, was inspired by the true stories featured in Epic Magazine which aim to humanize immigrants at a time when nationalism and distrust of outsiders has taken root in the U.S.

As the “Little America” website explains:

Everyone here came from somewhere else. Even Native Americans crossed the Bering Strait at some point. This is the basic American idea — an identity open to all — but it can be easy to forget from inside. And that’s when politics can turn ugly, as it has recently, with our political narrative becoming a story of blame and fear. “Little America” is meant to counter that narrative with a fuller portrait of our most recent arrivals.

This is arguably Apple’s first show that has a political undertone, in the sense that it aims to increase empathy around the topic of immigration in a nation that’s currently lacking.

Apple CEO Tim Cook recently spoke out against the family separation taking place at the U.S. border, calling the situation “inhumane” and “heartbreaking,” so it’s not surprising that Apple would direct some of its investment towards a series like this.

Apple began developing the series in February, and has now given it a straight-to-series order. It’s only the second show at Apple to go that route, Deadline reports. (Octavia Spencer’s “Are You Sleeping” is the other.)

The show joins Apple’s growing roster of TV shows for its Netflix-like streaming service, reporting arriving in 2019.

Others in its lineup include s a reboot of Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Storiesa Reese Witherspoon- and Jennifer Anniston-starring series set in the world of morning TVan adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation books, a thriller starring Octavia Spencer, a Kristen Wiig-led comedy, a Kevin Durant-inspired scripted basketball show, a documentary about extraordinary homes, a series from “La La Land’s” director, a series about Emily Dickinson, and a show inspired by kid report Hilde Lysiak.

 

EU narrowly passes copyright law requiring internet filtering

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GoFundMe now allows team fundraising, where multiple people collaborate to raise money for causes

GoFundMe, the popular service for raising money for causes with some $5 billion raised to date, is expanding its platform to serve more community efforts: today the company is launching GoFundMe Team Fundraising, which lets groups of people collectively raise money for a single effort. The idea is that it will make it possible for schools, churches, sports teams, and other groups to set up fundraising campaigns on GoFundMe.

In many cases, groups have traditionally relied on people to use offline methods to raise money for a single cause, or if people have used digital platforms, harnessing those individual campaigns has not been straightforward.

The idea with GoFundMe’s team product is that the organization that is raising the money can create the main repository, and then link up individuals to that anchor so that they can collect contributions directly. Then those contributions can all feed into the main goal as they go along, and campaign leaders can run leaderboards to show how they are progressing. Early tests of the Team feature have included sports teamsschool groups raising money for travel to an event; work teams raising for a cause; and local communities.

As with GoFundMe’s other fundraising options, there is no platform fee for starting or running a team campaign, as GoFundMe has now switched to a “tips” model. (There are still standard card processing fees.)

“Before, when a sports team, school club, professional organization or other group was looking to raise money together, the options were limited and could take a lot of time and resources in order to execute successfully,” said Rob Solomon, CEO of GoFundMe, in a statement. “With GoFundMe Team Fundraising, we’re introducing an easy social fundraising solution to maximize reach and success for groups.These new tools will also give our existing community another way to fundraise. Our goal is to make fundraising faster, easier and more efficient for anyone looking to raise money, whether an individual, nonprofit or team.”

The move to expand to a team option is somewhat overdue for GoFundMe: fundraising in groups either for something for that group, or for a cause supported by that group, is one of the more popular ways of driving and getting donations. GoFundMe has built a strong business around individuals starting campaigns for specific causes, so this, in a way, is part of a second wave of expansion for the company.

It’s not coming a moment too soon. GoFundMe is currently the market leader when it comes to fundraising platforms, but it is facing very strong competition in the form of Facebook. The social networking behemoth has been working hard to expand its own fundraising services (which also has a team element) as part of its strategy to highlight its role as a community builder and strengthener (and not just a place to get your entertainment and news fixes). A move today to build stronger bridges with non-profits — it launched Workplace for Good, a free tier of its Slack-competing enterprise product for publicly-focused organisations — will only strengthen its credibility with them.

And separate to that, Facebook is in the process of scoring a huge win for its team-based fundraising efforts at the moment, as three people (who all happen to be ex-Facebook employees) are using Facebook to raise money to support the families who are getting separated at the US/Mexico border. The campaign has gone viral and is now close to raising $10 million, originally aiming for a mere $1,500. Given GoFundMe’s extremely astute use of social media to help spread the word about its own campaigns, it will well understand the significance of that turn of events.

GoFundMe is also running several campaigns related to the wider effort to help these families.

The best home Wi-Fi and networking gear

Editor’s note: This post was done in partnership with Wirecutter. When readers choose to buy Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, Wirecutter and TechCrunch earn affiliate commissions.

It’s safe to say that for many, a world without internet is hard to imagine. When you need a solid internet connection for work, studying or for catching up on your favorite shows, having a poor connection is almost as bad.

While fast and reliable internet starts with having a good provider, owning the right gear helps to support it. From network storage to the best router, we’ve compiled picks for helping you set up and secure a dependable home Wi-Fi network.

Wi-Fi router: Netgear R7000P Nighthawk

More than anything, when it comes to setting up a home Wi-Fi network, it’s important to have a good Wif-Fi router. If you don’t rent one from your internet service provider, you’ll want one that’s easy to use, has a decent connection range, and that’s able to handle a crowded network.

Our top pick, the Netgear R7000P Nighthawk, is a dual-band, three stream 802.11ac router and it offers solid speed and throughput performance across long and moderate ranges. Its load-balancing band steering automatically kicks in when networks are busy, which means you won’t sit around clicking refresh and resending requests. We like that its toggles and features are easy to find. This router is ideal for larger spaces, including homes that experience coverage issues.                                                                                                           

Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald

Cable modem: Netgear CM500

If you have cable internet, a cable modem is one of the pieces of equipment that’s supplied by your service provider. As with a router, you may be paying an additional fee outside of the cost of internet service to have one. While a router helps your wireless devices communicate and use an internet connection, a modem is the device that connects your home network to the wider internet.

If you plan on, or have recently opted out of renting a modem, you’ll like that our top recommendation, the Netgear CM500, pays for itself in about six months. It’s compatible with a most cable Internet service providers, it’ll last for years, and you can rely on it to support Internet plan speeds of up to 300 Mbps.

Photo: Michael Hession

Wi-Fi mesh-networking kit: Netgear Orbi RBK50

In some homes, it isn’t uncommon to try moving a router around to find the best signal. However, with spaces larger than 2,000 square feet — or small to large spaces with brick, concrete, or lath-and-plaster interior walls — relocating a router may not do the trick. Instead of just using a single router, a Wi-Fi mesh-networking kit uses multiple access points improving overall Wi-Fi performance and range.

Our top pick, the Netgear Orbi RBK50, comes with a base router and satellite, each unit a tri-band device. We think these two units are enough for supporting a solid home Wi-Fi network in most spaces, but you can add another unit to this kit if necessary. It’s equipped with more than enough Ethernet ports, and it’ll work without an internet connection during setup or an internet outage.

Photo: Michael Hession

Wi-Fi extender: TP-Link RE200

For an even simpler, budget-friendly solution to bolstering a home Wif-Fi signal, we recommend the dual-band TP-Link RE200, our top pick for Wi-Fi extenders. It doesn’t extend the range of a network per se, but it increases throughput and decreases latency for a better Wi-Fi experience. It should be paired with a good router and is best for improving the speed of one device at a time over a network that isn’t too busy.

It’s compact, plugs into a power outlet and has an Ethernet port for easily connecting nearby devices. It’s a helpful middle-ground option for strengthening a Wi-Fi connection when you don’t need a mesh-networking kit and already have a decent router that doesn’t need to be replaced.                

Photo: Rozette Rago

VPN service: IVPN

A virtual private network, or VPN, helps to ensure that a connection is secure. It’s an extra layer of protection that encrypts your online activity and should be used in addition to password managers, browser plug-ins that support privacy and encrypted hardware. While network security is necessary, a service that’s transparent and trustworthy with helpful support is more important.

Out of the 12 VPN services that we tested, we think IVPN is the best provider. IVPN doesn’t log or monitor activity, and we like that it’s stable, fast and works across platforms. In situations where your network isn’t protected, or when you join an unsecure network, its “firewall” and OpenVPN protocol features will keep you covered.

Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald

NAS for most home users: Synology DS218+

For homes and spaces where multiple computers are used, network-attached storage (NAS) devices back up data and files to devices on one local network, or a cloud service. It’s a small computer equipped with one or two hard drive bays, and it always stays on using less power than a repurposed computer. Our top recommendation, the Synology DS218+, is easy to manage, and it has three USB ports and the fastest writing speeds of any NAS we tested.

For those with a massive database of files, a NAS device is a better option than an external drive. With the DS218+, you can play back media and conveniently access your data as it supports FTP protocol, VPN server capabilities, SSDs and more. The biggest plus with owning a NAS device is having the option to use it as a storage device, website-hosting device, a media streamer, or anything else that a Linux computer can function as.

This guide may have been updated by Wirecutter.

Note from Wirecutter: When readers choose to buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn affiliate commissions that support our work.

AMC’s ‘Stubs A-List’ subscription is a direct attack on MoviePass

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Facebook previously admitted that it's running out of places for ads in the News Feed, which doesn't sound good for a company making billions of dollars from them. To solve that issue, the social network turned to its other apps and properties -- las...

Atul Gawande, the doctor and writer, named CEO of Amazon’s employee healthcare JV

Amazon, BerkshireHathaway and JPMorgan Chase have not been especially public about their plans for how they plan to take on employee healthcare in the US with their new joint venture, but now they have announced a big move that could see all of that change. The trio have announced that Dr Atul Gawande, the noted writer, doctor and researcher, will be the first CEO of the as-yet unnamed company.

The business will be based in Boston, where Gawande is already based, and it will operate as an independent entity, “free from profit-making incentives and constraints.” Gawande will take on the role starting July 9.

“I’m thrilled to be named CEO of this healthcare initiative,” said Gawande in a statement. “I have devoted my public health career to building scalable solutions for better healthcare delivery that are saving lives, reducing suffering, and eliminating wasteful spending both in the US and across the world. Now I have the backing of these remarkable organizations to pursue this mission with even greater impact for more than a million people, and in doing so incubate better models of care for all. This work will take time but must be done. The system is broken, and better is possible.”

It’s not clear whether Gawande will be stepping down from all of his other positions, or if this will be added to what is already a roster that doesn’t seem possible for a single person to handle (and yet he does). Gawande is a surgeon, practicing general and endocrine surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He is a professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School. He is a staff writer for The New Yorker magazine, and he is an author of books, namely no less than four New York Times bestsellers: Complications, Better, The Checklist Manifesto, and Being Mortal. (He is one of my very favourite writers medical subjects; I recommend reading him if you do not already.) He’s also involved with medical companies like Ariadne.

We’ve asked Amazon about the name of the new company, and what this appointment will mean for the rest of Gawande’s roles.

Amazon, BerkshireHathaway and JPMorgan Chase are coming together in this JV to apply some of their private-sector and entrepreneurial knowledge to see how and if they can take a new approach to healthcare in the US. For those in the US, where private healthcare is the dominant norm, insurance is a central aspect of how people see doctors and get treatments and more serious medical interventions. And oftentimes that insurance comes through your workplace.

This system costs billions to maintain and is far from perfect. On top of that, there are many reasons to look closer at how the innovations in medicine today might be used to keep us healthier and avoid needing to go to doctors in the first place. The idea with this company, it seems, is to tie some of this together, to rethink how it works, and to see if there is a way forward by starting from scratch.

“We said at the outset that the degree of difficulty is high and success is going to require an expert’s knowledge, a beginner’s mind, and a long-term orientation,” said Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, in a statement. “Atul embodies all three, and we’re starting strong as we move forward in this challenging and worthwhile endeavor.”

“As employers and as leaders, addressing healthcare is one of the most important things we can do for our employees and their families, as well as for the communities where we all work and live. Together, we have the talent and resources to make things better, and it is our responsibility to do so. We’re so grateful for the countless statements of support and offers to help and participate, and we’re so fortunate to have attracted such an extraordinary leader and innovator as Atul,” added Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase, in his statement.

“Talent and dedication were manifest among the many professionals we interviewed. All felt that better care can be delivered and that rising costs can be checked. Jamie, Jeff and I are confident that we have found in Atul the leader who will get this important job done,” said Berkshire Hathaway Chairman and CEO, Warren Buffett.

We’ll update this post as we learn more.

Amazon Prime Wardrobe officially launches to all U.S. Prime members

Prime Wardrobe, Amazon’s “try before you buy” shopping service first announced last summer, is officially out of beta and open to all Prime members in the U.S. as of today. The service has been gradually opening up to more customers over the course of the year, so many Prime members may have already had access before today’s official unveiling.

Prime Wardrobe is Amazon’s answer to the increasingly popular personalized shopping services like Stitch Fix and Trunk, which send a curated box of clothing to customers on a regular basis. These services allow consumers to try on clothing and other items in the home, then keep what they like and send back the rest.

However, Amazon’s service is more of a DIY version – instead of using stylists, you fill your own box with at least three and as many as eight items at a time. You then have a week to try on the items and return those you don’t want before being charged.

Like many of its rivals, Prime Wardrobe isn’t just aimed at women – it features collections for men, children, and baby, too.

The service is largely meant to help address one of the biggest problems with shopping for clothes online: fit.

Clothing designers have their own interpretation of sizing, and it’s often difficult for shoppers to get a sense of how something will really look without trying it on. Items may be too short or long, too long or tight in some spots, or shoppers might have an issue with how the fabric feels, the draping, the hemline, the quality of the workmanship, and other concerns.

Home try-on eliminates this obstacle to online clothing shopping, because it makes it easy to send items back when they don’t work.

Not all of Amazon’s online inventory is included in Prime Wardrobe, which means you can’t just browse the site and pick anything you want for home try-on.

Instead, you have to visit the Prime Wardrobe section to fill your box.

The site favors Amazon’s in-house clothing brands, but also features a good handful of bigger names, like Lilly Pulitzer, Tommy Hilfiger, Adidas, Guess, Levi’s, Calvin Klein, Nine West, Fossil, Lacoste, Hugo Boss, Stride Rite, Disney, Puma, Crazy 8, Gymborree, New Balance, Stuart Weitzman, Rebecca Taylor, J Brand, A|X Armani Exchange, and many more.

The retailer says that during its beta period Prime members have ordered “thousands of styles.” Women have bought denim and dresses; men bought tops, jeans and casual pants; for kids, shoes have been most popular.

Also of note, Amazon says its private label brands Lark & Ro, Daily Ritual, Amazon Essentials, and Goodthreads are the top-ordered items. That means Prime Wardrobe is doing well for Amazon, at least, even if it’s a more limited selection of clothing than online shoppers may have wanted.

A smartphone camera is the most boring device for documenting your life

These three cameras are interesting alternatives to the ubiquitous smartphone shooters.

A stand-alone camera—from any generation—can capture distinctive memories worth keeping. These three cameras are interesting alternatives to the ubiquitous smartphone…

HTC U12+ review: Fundamentally flawed

Once a big player in smartphones, HTC is now better known for its Vive VR headsets than anything else. The firm offloaded the team responsible for the Pixel phones to Google earlier this year, shortly before the chief of its smartphone division r...

Microsoft News launches on Android and iOS as rebranded MSN app – The Verge


The Verge

Microsoft News launches on Android and iOS as rebranded MSN app
The Verge
Microsoft is launching rebranded Microsoft News apps for both iOS and Android today, alongside using its news engine to power news across a variety of Microsoft products. While the MSN name is going away on Android and iOS, the site itself will remain ...
Polished Microsoft News app joins rivals Google and Apple NewsSearch Engine Land

Microsoft News launches for Android and iOS, uses AI to recommend storiesVentureBeat
The best news apps on iPhone and AndroidKXXV News Channel 25
Droid Life -Windows Central -Windows Blog
all 22 news articles »

Google Podcasts is pretty but basic – Engadget


Engadget

Google Podcasts is pretty but basic
Engadget
Google has a long and disappointing history with podcasts. With Apple and iTunes, they were always an integral part of the experience. For Android, though, it was an afterthought. Google Listen was barely usable, but basically the only option for ...
Google's Flutter SDK moves out of beta with Release Preview 1Ars Technica

Google adding 'distributed by Google Play' metadata to APKsAndroid Police
How to Get Started in Google's New Podcasts AppLifehacker
SlashGear -Android Headlines -SDTimes.com -TechSpot
all 112 news articles »

Google Podcasts is pretty but basic

Google has a long and disappointing history with podcasts. With Apple and iTunes, they were always an integral part of the experience. For Android, though, it was an afterthought. Google Listen was barely usable, but basically the only option for get...

Blinkist raises $18.8M for its condensed reading platform for non-fiction books

We are living in the information age, but that doesn’t mean that we have all the time in the world to ingest everything that we want. A startup that is aiming to help with that has raised a round of funding to grow its business. Blinkist, a Berlin-based startup that presents condensed versions of non-fiction literature — each title can be read or listened to in about 15 minutes — has raised $18.8 million in funding led by Insight Venture Partners (a firm that is leading no less than three investments on this very day: see here and here).

Holger Seim, the company’s co-founder and CEO, told TechCrunch that the funding will be used to continue to expand the product. That will include localising content into more languages beyond English and German; adding more titles — there are now 2,500 titles with a rate of about 40 being added each month; and perhaps moving into more delivery formats beyond text and audio, which are the two ways you can consume a “Blink” — as its content is called — today.

The company has around 6 million users today and notes that they are equally consuming written and audio formats, although audio is growing faster. From what we’ve heard, it has also spoken informally with potential buyers, including a certain Seattle-based e-commerce leviathan that made its name in books, so the interest in its platform ranges beyond that of consumers, which may have also been some of the motivation behind this round of funding, a substantial round by Berlin and European startup standards.

While Blinkist has plans for how it will grow and evolve, one area will be holding fast on in its expansion is a commitment to human-powered content. That is, there are no plans to use all of the advances in artificial intelligence to produce Blinks in place of humans doing the condensing, a la Summly or others that have tried this approach.

“We believe the human element is always important and it is here to stay,” Seim said. The company uses a network of editors today to summarize and narrate those summaries for its users. Seim added that the company is “digging into AI,” but mainly for the purpose of seeing how it could help with recommendations of titles to readers, and also making recommendations to Blinkist itself: one challenge is to figure out what content it should add to the platform and what might prove most popular.

Having popular content is key for Blinkist’s business model: the app is free for 30 days but then costs $79.99/year or $12.99/month to use — meaning, it needs to have something that will lure people back again, and again. Currently, Blinkist doesn’t really make a lot of money from referrals, since on iOS as one example, it cannot link to Amazon purchasing (only iTunes), which cuts out one of the most popular platforms for buying books.

That will potentially be something Blinkist might try to figure out how to work around, since as Seim describes it, the purpose is not to replace reading the actual book or other work, but to get enough information about it to see whether you would like to buy it.

“Everyone likes to make the comparison to Cliffs Notes,” he said, referring to those yellow-covered books that many a student in the US used and uses to work around reading turgid texts, or at least to help understand them. Although Blinkist lacks substantial referral data — again because of platform limitations for its apps — “we do survey our users frequently and we are used by avid book readers, not by people who want to read books less.”

He said that almost 50 percent of its users say they read more books thanks to Blinkist and only nine percent say they read less.

Although there are obvious competitive threats to Blinkist, the most obvious of these — Amazon — is not a worry at this point, Seim noted. “W are not worried about Amazon,” he said. “It is a big player in the book space for reading, and listening also with Audible, so we are watching themn, but so far we are in a different business. We’re trying to inspire people and make it easier to take the first step and engaging in literature. We are a complementary business in that regard.”

That is how the investors see it, too. “As a concept and an investment opportunity, Blinkist offers something genuinely unique. The company presents an exciting model which is defining and spearheading a whole new category of self-development.” comments Harley Miller, Vice President at Insight Venture Partners. “We only want to work with the brightest and most ambitious teams, and we know that Blinkist and its founders share our vision for making a positive, global impact.”

You can read more about Blinkist in our interview with them here.

You aren’t alone; U.S. adults broadly think around 40 percent of the news is misinformation

A new survey underscores what you already know. People don’t trust traditional media as they once did. They trust social media even less. And certain groups in particular, including Republicans and people with a high school education or less, are the most suspicious that what they read isn’t accurate.

The Gallup/Knight Foundation breaks it down in a new survey of 1,440 American recruited randomly to assess how pervasive U.S. adults believe misinformation is, and how responsible major internet companies are for preventing its dissemination.

The findings aren’t pretty. Overall, Americans think that 39 percent of the news they see on TV or hear on the radio or read in newspapers is deliberately intended to deceive. U.S. adults think it’s even worse when it comes to news they’ve discovered via social media; according to this same survey, participants said that fully two-thirds of the news they discover through social media is misinformation in some form.

Political leanings have an impact on perceptions, as you might imagine. Politically, for example, 51 percent of Republicans and 54 percent of self-described conservatives are more likely to perceive misinformation when it comes to legacy media, compared with just 23 percent of Democrats and 24 percent of liberals. 

Exposure also plays a role. Americans who say they pay a “great deal” of attention to traditional news say 37 percent of it is in misinformation, compared with those who pay little or no attention to national news and consider that 53 percent of it is intentionally misleading.

Education is another factor when it comes to perceptions about how effective, or not, the news is. To wit, people with postgraduate degrees estimate that 29 percent of traditional media (meaning TV, radio, and newspapers) is misinformation; people with a college degree say 35 percent is misinformation; and people with a high school education or less say upwards of 43 percent of traditional media stories are intentionally wrong on some level.

If you’re a reporter feeling lousy about these findings, take heart; social media companies have it far worse.

For reasons obvious to anyone who followed the story of Facebook’s involvement in election meddling in 2015 and 2016, the number of people who trust social media to find reliable accurate information is  . . . not high! In fact, 65 percent of U.S adults take whatever they read on social media with a grain of salt.

So what to do with this new world, where so many suspect they are reading “fake news?” Social media is easier to tackle than traditional news, suggest survey recipients, 76 percent of whom said they think internet companies have an obligation to alert users when they’re positive that a story on their site or platform or app is misinformation.

Indeed, a slim majority of respondents said that identifying misinformation is one of social media companies’ important responsibilities. They might have had in mind Facebook’s January decision to prioritize “trustworthy” news in its feed of social media posts, using member surveys to identify high-quality outlets and fight sensationalism and misinformation. They might have been encouraged by that development, too. According to the survey, 70 percent or more of respondents said that methods to counteract the spread of misinformation, including giving greater prominence to stories from reputable news sources, could be at least “somewhat effective.”

If you’re interested in learning more, you can find the study on misinformation here, and the survey on bias in media and social networks here.

Hired raises $30M to build an easy subscription pipeline for company hiring

Recruiting is one of the latest industries to get a data science makeover through companies like Hired and Triplebyte, but the former hopes to turn it into a subscription business just like other enterprise software companies — and has raised a new pile of funding to do that.

Hired looks to serve as a one-stop recruiting point for both companies and potential candidates. The startup collects information like a basic profile, some thoughts on what those candidates are looking for, and your resume information, and then crunches that through a series of back-end algorithms and processes in order to figure out the best match for that candidate. It then points those candidates to hiring managers at companies that are looking for a strong pipeline of candidates, though the company now hopes that they will be able to build a kind of recurring revenue model for those companies with its subscription business. Hired today also said it has raised $30 million in new financing led by the Investment Management Corporation of Ontario.

“Outside of your choice of life partner your choice of where to work is the second most important decision to make,” CEO Mehul Patel said. “You spend most of your time at work, and any misery or joy you take back to your life partner. When you look at recruiting, it’s a massive industry, and to companies it’s existential to find great talent — but it’s massively broken. Ask anyone who searches for a job whether it works great, and you are going to get a unanimous answer that it doesn’t.”

Chances are you’ve gotten a few pitches on LinkedIn to go throw your information on Hired, but that’s all part of the performance marketing that the company hopes to use to get a robust set of candidates onto the platform. By doing that, it can continue to not only have a steady stream of candidates, but also collect more and more information on what candidates might be the best fit. For example, a school might not be the best indicator of future success, while the number of followers on a Github account could be a better barometer for the performance of the candidate. It’s a pretty intuitive result, but not one that hiring managers are likely actively tracking unless they already know that’s the best protocol.

Through that, Hired tries to compress the amount of time it takes for a company to say it needs a candidate and then that candidate actually getting hired. The subscription idea is that hiring managers will be able to just post a position — whether it’s new or back-filling an existing role — and keep that steady stream of candidates coming. Patel said the company has been able to squish that threshold down to around 25 days, which was one data point they could flag investors on in order to convince them that the model was working. (The company, which did not disclose its bookings, also said its bookings grew 300% year-over-year, which is a big number but without a point of reference isn’t so useful.)

“We’re seeing the importance of data not just to drive the outcomes — that data lets you compare against other companies and makes sure you’re better hiring for any company,” Patel said. “We have data about which companies are successful, or why aren’t they successful, and we can share that and help companies figure out their best practices. That combination of helping companies hire predictably, or using high quality talent and doing that with great insight, is [where we think we’ll succeed].”

That subscription model is also going to be an important one as a hedge against a potential downturn, where hiring might slow. If the startup is able to convince companies that it is a viable pipeline that they should be paying a recurring fee, it might be able to absorb the shock of a recession and a slowdown in hiring and prove useful in cases like incremental hiring and back-filling old roles. The company also said that it has hired John Kelly to be its vice president of revenue, who previously worked at companies like SAP, Oracle, and FindView.

There’s going to be plenty of competition, especially as these companies are able to collect more and more data. There’s Recruit Holdings, the mega-Frankenstein of companies that include Indeed and GlassDoor (which the company acquired for $1.2 billion), that would likely provide the largest hurdle to cover. Patel said Hired should be able to close the time gap between finding the candidate and the hiring process, which would be the primary metric of success for the company, faster than other companies.

Nginx lands $43 million Series C to fuel expansion

Nginx, the commercial company behind the open source web server, announced a $43 million Series C investment today led by Goldman Sachs Growth Equity.

NEA, which has been on board as an early investor is also participating As part of the deal, David Campbell, managing director at Goldman Sachs’ Merchant Banking Division will join the Nginx board. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $103 million, according to the company.

The company was not willing to discuss valuation for this round.

Nginx’s open source approach is already well established running 400 million websites including some of the biggest in the world. Meanwhile, the commercial side of the business has 1500 paying customers, giving those customers not just support, but additional functionality such as load balancing, an API gateway and analytics.

Nginx CEO Gus Robertson was pleased to get the backing of such prestigious investors. “NEA is one of the largest venture capitalists in Silicon Valley and Goldman Sachs is one of the largest investment banks in the world. And so to have both of those parceled together to lead this round is a great testament to the company and the technology and the team,” he said.

The company already has plans to expand its core commercial product, Nginx Plus in the coming weeks. “We need to continue to innovate and build products that help our customers alleviate the complexity of delivery of distributed or micro service based applications. So you’ll see us release a new product in the coming weeks called Controller. Controller is the control plane on top of Nginx Plus,” Robertson explained. (Controller was launched in Beta last fall.)

But with $43 million in the bank, they want to look to build out Nginx Plus even more in the next 12-18 months. They will also be opening new offices globally to add to its international presence, while expanding its partners ecosystem. All of this means an ambitious goal to increase the current staff of 220 to 300 by the end of the year.

The open source product was originally created by Igor Sysoev back in 2002. He introduced the commercial company on top of the open source project in 2011. Robertson came on board as CEO a year later. The company has been growing 100 percent year over year since 2013 and expects to continue that trajectory through 2019.

Bag Week 2018: Chrome’s MXD Pace Tote is the perfect little hybrid backpack

I admit I was a little reluctant to try this pack out, but in the end it was my favorite of the Chrome bags I tested for TechCrunch Bag Week 2018, perhaps not coincidentally, one of the least Chrome-like. If you’re familiar with Chrome’s bike messenger bag roots, the Pace feels like an abrupt departure, but it’s one you might fall in love with.

Wearing the Pace just feels…. fun? I don’t really know another way to describe it. For one, you can wear it as a tote bag or as a backpack and that is surprisingly liberating.

Plenty of bags, including Chrome’s oversized, industrial-strength packs, feel a bit like readying for a battle when you put them on. With a big pack on, you are no longer a person just shopping for groceries or going to the bookstore, you’re a person with a very serious backpack who is also doing those things. Maybe you’re some kind of hardcore bike person. And whether you are or not, wearing a huge backpack around town can just look like you take yourself very seriously.

The Pace is the opposite of that, while still managing that efficient, industrial thing that Chrome does so well. At 18L, it’s like you barely remembered to grab a bag at all, but here you are with a practical way (two ways!) to carry just the essentials. At first glance, the Pace looks tiny, but for me it comfortably fit a laptop, a 16oz water bottle, various pens, a book, my phone, charging cables and assorted other stuff I compulsively drag around every single day just in case because my anxiety medicine doesn’t work all the way.

Photo via Chrome Industries

The Pace, like the MXD Fathom, its less convertible twin, is tough black pack made from 1680d ballistic nylon and seatbelt-style webbing. The pack has a tote-style top-loading interior that zips up (why don’t all totes zip up?) and two stowaway backpack straps hidden behind a zipper on the back.

The Pace’s two external pockets are super thoughtful and great for a phone and sunglasses and keys or whatever other instant access stuff you need. From my experience, you need to be mindful about making sure those particular zippers are closed all the way around because it’s easy to leave them a little open. The zippers all felt great, though the main top zipper, which I didn’t even close most of the time because i’m living that #hybridbaglife, did snag on the material under it sometimes. It wasn’t hard to get loose, but still worth mentioning since it happened two or three times over five days or so of regular use.

My cat was inexplicably obsessed with the Pace. TechCrunch/Taylor Hatmaker

One complaint I had because I did get so comfortable carrying this pack around is that an optional sternum strap would be nice, even if it’d harsh the vibe a little. The pack is super comfy somehow, in spite of its relative lack of structure, but did slide out toward my shoulders occasionally. This might be because most Chrome stuff is designed for broad dudes doing broad dude stuff, but on the whole the Pace felt like one of the least big dude-centric designs that I’ve ever seen from the company. The Pace’s ability to casually transform into a sturdy little tote bag should be a selling point for women and other smaller-bodied folks who aren’t built like tree trunks.

TechCrunch/Taylor Hatmaker

Aside from carrying my laptop around (one complaint: no padding on the bottom of the laptop sleeve), I mostly used the Pace to haul a small assortment of stuff back and forth at a weeklong event and it performed well all around. I also managed to take it on a short, steep hike and it did just fine, though it’s such a breeze to carry I actually didn’t notice that I wasn’t wearing it, left it at the top of the hike and had to re-hike back up there to get it. It must have been pretty comfortable because forgetting my pack is not a thing that happens to me.

I’m usually a rigid-backed pack person but I actually liked how unstructured this bag is. One night I went out to cover an event and was surprised to realize that the Pace carried my Sony A7S II and a change of lens just fine, distributing its weight and carrying it so well I forgot it was in there. I’m not sure what kind of dark tote bag magic is to thank here, but usually carrying any kind of camera in a non-camera bag makes for an awkward, lumpy experience.

What else? The Pace has some great internal organization pockets, though a few felt redundant enough that I couldn’t ever remember where I’d put my chapstick or my notebook or whatever I was reaching for at the moment, leading me to check the non-mesh internal pocket, the main internal compartment, the outside zippered area and the zip area that the straps tuck back into, which was convenient enough that I accidentally stuck stuff in there a lot.

She’s still doing it. TechCrunch/Taylor Hatmaker

I liked the Pace enough that I’d consider picking up the Fathom just to see what it feels like. There’s something special about this design. The Pace is a clever, lighthearted bag and it genuinely feels fun to carry. If that sounds dumb, then get the hell out of here, why are you reading bag reviews instead of checking your altcoin portfolio or whatever?

The Pace is an excellent casual city bag for when you want to run out the door to do something fun and carefree and mildly edgy, but you don’t want to look too prepared or like you brought your laptop even though you totally did. Like you’re showing up to a music video shoot that you’re not cast in or just want to look casual lowkey famous at brunch. Or like sleeping over at a date’s house but looking like you are playing it very cool and not carrying a change of clothes, a toothbrush and your Kindle. It’s unassuming and cool and might just be my new everyday pack.

What it is: A small tote/backpack hybrid that is very cool and not dorky.

What is isn’t: Capable of hauling many massive, heavy things. Run-of-the-mill.

Read more reviews from TechCrunch Bag Week 2018 here.

A closer look at the BlackBerry KEY2’s new dual camera

It'll still be a little while yet before the first BlackBerry KEY2s wind up on people's doorsteps, and we're currently putting our review unit through its paces. For now at least, we've grown quite fond of the thing: even a few Engadget staffers who...

Up close with the Galaxy S9 in ‘Sunrise Gold’

Samsung teased a gold color variant of the Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus two days ago, and now it's officially announced the availability. Starting June 24th, you'll be able to get the "Sunrise Gold" version of the flagship at Best Buy (in stores and online)...

Other tech giants join Apple in condemning separation of children from parents – 9to5Mac


9to5Mac

Other tech giants join Apple in condemning separation of children from parents
9to5Mac
Tim Cook yesterday described the Trump administration's new policy of separating children from the parents of asylum speakers and suspected illegal immigrants as 'inhumane' – and the leaders of a long list of other tech companies are expressing similar ...
Read the letter 100 Microsoft staff reportedly sent to Satya Nadella protesting the firm's $19 million deal with ICEmySanAntonio.com

Microsoft Employees Protesting the Company for Working With ICEThe Source
Satya Nadella speaks out against 'cruel and abusive' border detention policy; calls America a nation of immigrantsFirstpost
Livemint -PCMag -Telegraph.co.uk -International Business Times, India Edition
all 283 news articles »

TouchPal built an AI for its alternative Android keyboard

Over the years, TouchPal has remained one of the most popular Android keyboards with its generous bundle of features, including gesture typing, neural network-powered prediction, multilingual support, GIF search, themes and more; though some of these...

Facebook launches Workplace for Good, a free version of its enterprise product for non-profits

Workplace is making a push into the non-profit segment. Today the enterprise communications app from Facebook is launching a new tier of the product called Workplace for Good, which will let non-profits use the product for no fee.

To be completely clear, Facebook has never charged non-profits to use Workplace, and it’s already used by over 2,500 of them out of the 30,000 or so organisations using Workplace. The ranks include Oxfam, Save the Children, and many educational institutions, who use it to link up their employees, contractors, students with teachers, stakeholders in their groups and more. There is even a Workplace group started by non-profits for all the nonprofits to access to swap stories, advice and so on. But, as of today, Facebook is going to be making a bigger push to open the product up to charities, educational institutions and non-governmental organisations, regardless of their size.

(Pricing for regular, for-profit businesses is on a freemium basis, with a premium tier that gives access to some 52 apps and services starting at is $3 per active user, per month up to 5,000 users.)

Facebook been increasingly focused on non-profits and how it can work with them in recent times. The company now has a fundraising platform that they can use to collect money for charitable causes, and most recently it has been promoting it by encouraging people to raise money for causes on their birthdays and other occasions.

That user-led fundraising push is actually in the middle of a major viral campaign at the moment: three people (all of whom happen to be former Facebook employees) are raising money to give legal support to families detained and separated at the border between the US and Mexico by way of collecting donations for RAICES, a legal organization. Originally aimed at raising $1,500, it’s now at $8.5 million and counting.

More generally, courting non-profits also fit into the company’s bigger strategy to refocus the site not just as a place to get your entertainment and news fix, but as a place to find and build out your community, and so a turn to accommodating and providing a space for non-profit groups is also a strong connection to that.

Julien Codorniou, who heads up Workplace out of London, said that one of the reasons why Facebook is also interested in working more with non-profits is that they have proven to be some of the best testers of all the product’s features.

“When we look at how they use the product, non-profits really push it to its limits, using it in scenarios and ways we never imagined,” he said. One example was a migrant rescue operation that was filmed in the Mediterranean Sea using 360, with the organisation on the boats livestreaming everything as it happened for people to monitor elsewhere. “We want to serve these scenarios,” he said. “We learn a lot from them. Who could have guessed that 360 video would be such a big thing in Workplace? We want to keep learning with them.”

For the organisations, oftentimes employees and those working with them are in far-flung places, and so they rely on platforms (and network connectivity) that can help bring them into closer communication.

“Workplace has made a huge difference in the way our staff can communicate with each other, visually and in real time,” said Ric Sheldon, Interim CIO at Unicef, in a statement. “This means that anyone can share important information instantly, crowd-source answers or opinions at the touch of a button and live stream from every corner of the world. It’s helped our colleagues to stay in the loop and engaged with different parts of our work and find the information they need when they need it. And all of this ultimately helps us to work more effectively and make even more of a difference for children in danger who are in desperate need of Unicef’s help.”

Mario Tennis Aces Review: Gameplay Videos, Impressions and Esports Appeal – Bleacher Report


Bleacher Report

Mario Tennis Aces Review: Gameplay Videos, Impressions and Esports Appeal
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Nintendo continues to serve gamers with must-have hits for the Nintendo Switch. The latest offering in the Mario Tennis series, Mario Tennis Aces, which releases on June 22, is a smash hit every Switch owner needs to play. Mario Tennis Aces isn't just ...
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Steam lets game developers customize their homepages

Steam has put its new Creator Homepages into open beta, letting developers and publishers customize their homepages to better show off their game catalogs. There's a lot of flexibility -- publishers can divide their portfolios up however they wish, s...

Taiwan-based media startup The News Lens raises Series C for its international growth plans

The News Lens launched in 2013 as an independent news site for Taiwanese readers disenchanted with the country’s tabloid-ridden media. Now it has 9 million monthly unique readers, offices in Taipei and Hong Kong and just announced it has raised a Series C. The Taipei-based startup did not disclose the exact amount of the round, but founder and CEO Joey Chung told TechCrunch it’s between $3 million to $4 million.

The round includes participation from Dorcas, Hazel Asset Management, Walden International and returning investor North Base Media. Individual investors in the round include Steve Chen, co-founder and former chief technology officer of YouTube, Twitch co-founder Kevin Lin and Charles Huang, the co-creator of Guitar Hero.

At the very beginning, The News Lens was a Facebook page that shared news and analysis before launching its eponymous site with original content and videos. Now the startup envisions its future as a media group, with several brands. Earlier this year, The News Lens acquired two Taiwanese content producers, tech news site Inside and sports site Sports Vision, which still operate as separate brands. The News Lens’ two other verticals are its flagship news site, which now has Chinese-language editions for Taiwan, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia, as well as an English version for international readers, and ELD, which covers lifestyle and fashion.

The News Lens will use some of its new capital to launch its in-house content management and data analytics platform and plans to gain more international readers through strategic partnerships or acquisitions of other Chinese-language online media companies.

 

Aaptiv raises $22M from Amazon, Disney and more for its “Netflix for fitness”, now valued over $200M

Health and wellness has been one of the biggest categories for development in the tech industry, with huge range of wearable devices and connected equipment being built to track how we are moving and helping us stay fit. Now, a startup whose app offers users a selection of audio-based, personal-trainer-led workouts that also monitors users as they progress through them, has closed a major round of funding that underscores how software — and specifically apps — are also capitalising on that trend. Aaptiv, which makes what its founder and CEO Ethan Agarwal described to me as “the Netflix of fitness” — providing streams of music-based fitness training on demand — has raised $22 million in funding.

(It’s not the only big wellness software app that’s announcing funding today: Calm, the meditation app, announced a $27 million round of funding today, too.)

The Series C round brings the total raised by New York-based Aaptiv to $52 million, and while the company is not disclosing its valuation, sources close to it tell me that it is now over $200 million. The company has picked up 200,000 paying members in the last two years, and says that its audio classes have been streaming more than 14 million times.

The funding is significant not only because it will give Aaptiv some firepower to expand its product and user base further — more on that below — but also because of who is in this round.

It was led by Millennium Technology Value Partners (backer of illustrious tech names like Spotify, Facebook and Alibaba); with e-commerce investor 14W and Insight Venture Partners also participating. There is also a list of notable strategic investors, including Amazon’s Alexa Fund, Disney, Warner Music Group and NWS Holdings.

Investors say they were attracted by the company’s growth.

“We are most excited by how fast Aaptiv has established itself as a category leader in the wellness and fitness space,” said Ray Cheng, Partner at Millennium, in a statement. “The company’s growth and user engagement metrics over the past two years are some of the best we have seen, and we believe a large opportunity awaits as Aaptiv continues deliver the best in class workout experience.”

The strategic investors are likely to manifest in a number of ways. Agarwal noted that there was a lot of potential to develop training services that could work with Amazon’s Alexa voice-based assistant and more specifically Amazon’s Echo devices: bringing more sticky content to the platform is a priority, given that discovery and retention have already been highlighted to be big issues with this shiny new tech, and regular fitnesss workouts could be the “killer app” for some people. Similarly, as Amazon starts to offer more perks as part of its Prime subscription package, it will be interesting to see how and if it extends to fitness content, too.

“Connected fitness is emerging as a compelling new domain for consumers,” said Paul Bernard, director of Amazon’s Alexa Fund, in a statement. “We’re excited about Aaptiv’s voice-first approach to personal training and look forward to helping them explore innovative ways to bring that experience to Alexa.”

Warner Music also has a clear connection here, given that the workouts and other classes are all music-based, meaning Aaptiv needs to license that content (and Warner itself, like other music industry players, must be eyeing up the growth of podcasts and wondering how and where it might play in them).

Lastly, Aaptiv will become a part of the Disney Accelerator this summer as part of the entertainment giant’s investment.

In terms of the product, Agarwal says that today Aaptiv covers 22 fitness categories, from boxing to jogging to yoga, and it will be looking to expand to more. It’s also hiring a lot of engineers to help build out the data science component of the product: figuring out how to improve recommendations and better tailor classes to individuals. Today, the audio files are static — meaning a workout does not modify on the fly if you are hitting a wall or finding it too easy — but the longer-term intention is to bring this sort of technology to bear to make the experience more personalised, tapping into diagnostics that the app will pick up from wearables like the Apple Watch.

Where engineers will not be working, however, is in creating “trainers” that will design or lead workouts. While Aaptiv competes against the likes of ClassPass in providing a way for individuals to find and partake in more fitness workouts, the end point is never a physical class or group workout. It’s a digital-only, audio-based, training session with a personal trainer hired by Aaptiv to create it. That is not likely to change any time soon.

“We might the only people willing to acknowledge that we will not use AI to replace trainers,” said Agarwal. “The trainers create the classes and that will be always the same. That relationship and drive and the passion cannot be matched by anyone or anything.”

“As evidenced by their strong growth, Aaptiv is running toward becoming the next big name in the fitness tech market, due substantially to a rather advanced technology strategy and approach to growth,” said Harley Miller, Vice President, Insight Venture Partners. “We are thrilled to further our investment in Aaptiv and look forward to working together to continue scaling their innovative product.”

India’s budget hotel network unicorn OYO expands into China

The tech world sees plenty of Chinese companies move into India — including the likes of Alibaba and Xiaomi — but few expand the other way. OYO Rooms, the billion-dollar Indian startup that pioneered budget hotel networks, is looking to buck the trend, however, after it launched operations in China.

Today the company officially announced its arrival in China, where it says it covers 11,000 (exclusive) rooms across 26 cities, including Hangzhou, Xian, Nanjing, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Shenzhen, Xiamen and Kunming. That selection includes a combination of franchises and managed hotels. OYO is initially launching its ‘hotels’ product, and it isn’t saying whether others — which include ‘rooms’ and ‘townhouses’ — will also expand to China.

Interestingly, an OYO representative confirmed that this expansion wasn’t conducted in partnership with China Lodgings, the Nasdaq-listed hotel firm that invested $10 million in the startup last year. OYO said China Lodgings is assisting with the overall strategy in China, however. Make of that what you will.

OYO — which stands for On Your Own — was founded in 2013 by then-teenager Ritesh Agarwal, a Thiel Fellow who got the idea for the business after a stint backpacking across India staying budget hotels. The service helps bring the long-tail of small hotels online to generate bookings whilst also ensuring (often absent) minimum standards for travelers, such as hot water, clean towels and linen and Wi-Fi.

The company counts SoftBank among its backers and it has raised over $450 million in capital to date, including a $250 million round led by SoftBank’s Vision Fund last year.

OYO founder and CEO Ritesh Agarwal [image via OYO, Facebook]

OYO claims over 100,000 rooms in Inda, and it has been busy investigating new growth opportunities. The China launch is the third overseas foray from OYO, coming after expansions to Nepal and Malaysia. Given the size of the Chinese market and strong competition, this is a daunting challenge for OYO.

Just ask Airbnb .

While the two don’t compete directly on product, they target a similar consumer bracket — consumers seeking an alternative to conventional hotels and lodgings. In China, Airbnb’s big rival is Tujia, which is valued at $1.5 billion and pushing the U.S. company hard. Tujia and Airbnb were one final signature away from calling off their war and merging, Bloomberg recently reported, but ultimately Airbnb opted to go it alone in China. Tujia is determined to battle it so hard that it returns to the negotiation table.

So, how then, will OYO — which is well-funded but lacking the capitalization and experience of Airbnb — navigate the Chinese market? Time will tell but you’d suspect it will need to call on some local allies if it is to make an impact.

Canaan Partners gives $20 million to its two youngest employees to invest in consumer startups

Canaan Partners, the venture capital firm that has backed companies like Skybox Imaging, Match.com and Lending Club, has a new investment strategy. Called Canaan Beta, it entails setting aside $20 million of its $800 million fund to its two youngest employees, and then empowering them to make their own investment decisions as a duo. The bet is that, just how Jeremy Liew found out about Snapchat from his teenage daughter, Canaan’s youngest staffers will find other potentially lucrative opportunities.

As the speed of technological innovation continues to increase, the barriers to starting a tech company decline and the demographics in the U.S. go in the direction of non-white, Canaan envisions its Beta program being potentially game-changing for the firm. Since January, Hootan Rashidifard (28 years old) and Adina Tecklu (27 years old) have invested in five seed stage startups, with checks ranging in size from $250,000 – $500,000 each. Before Canaan Beta kicked off, Rashidifard and Tecklu worked as analysts at Canaan, where they have supported partners and founders but have not been autonomous check writers. By empowering its two youngest employees with decision-making power, Canaan hopes to better tap into the non-white, younger consumer market.

Rashidifard and Tecklu, both people of color, have joined an industry where 73 percent of investment professionals are white, according to a report from the Kapor Center for Social Impact. Meanwhile, just 12 percent of all investment professionals are women.

“We can use our backgrounds and our perspectives to see opportunities that others might overlook, which is really awesome,” Rashidifard told TechCrunch. “We might be seeing something that other people aren’t.”

More specifically, Rashidifard and Tecklu are looking at companies in blockchain, gaming, digital media, social and digital health.

“We’re not looking for incremental improvements to products or services,” Tecklu told TechCrunch. “We’re looking at category defining and category creating companies here. So the scope feels quite large but what they all have in common is that we’re really backing tenacious founders with audacious visions for what the future looks like and they’re building towards that.”

To hear more about Tecklu’s new role, and her take on all-things technology and culture, check out the latest episode of CTRL+T.

Meditation app Calm hits a $250M valuation amid an explosion of interest in mindfulness apps

Just a few years ago, it might have been a bit of a challenge to convince investors that a mindfulness app would end up being a big business — but thanks to an increasing focus on mental health from both startups and larger companies, companies like Calm are now capturing the excitement of investors.

From meditation sessions like you might find on other apps to tracks called “sleep stories” designed to help people get control of their sleep, Calm serves as a suite of content for users focusing on mental wellness. It’s one of an increasingly hot space centered around mental wellness and maintaining a sort of mindfulness in the hope that it’ll convert into a daily habit and help people just generally feel, well, more calm. The company says it has raised $27 million in a new financing round that values it at a $250 million pre-money led by Insight Venture Partners with Ashton Kutcher’s Sound Ventures also participating. Before this, Calm raised around $1.5 million in seed funding.

“There’s definitely a bias toward the physical body in fitness,” co-founder Michael Acton Smith said. “For a long time there’s been a certain amount of embarrassment and shame talking about our own feelings. A lot of people are realizing that we’re all, at different times, going through tough times. I think that’s part of the culture we’ve grown up in. Everything’s been about improving the efficiency and improving the effectiveness and the external circumstances. We haven’t considered the internal circumstances the same way. The same thing isn’t true of eastern philosophies. This crossover is just beginning to happen in a big way.”

Calm, at its core, is a hub of content centered around mindfulness ranging from in-the-moment sessions to tracks that are designed to soothing enough to help people get ready to go to sleep. Everything boils down to trying to help teach users mindfulness, which is in of itself a skill that requires training, co-founder Alex Tew said. This itself has morphed into a business in of itself, with the company generating $22 million in revenue in 2017 and reaching an annual revenue run rate of $75 million.

And the more content the company creates, and the more people come back, the more data it acquires on what’s working and what isn’t. Like any other tech tool or service, some of the content resonates with users and some doesn’t, and the startup looks to employ the same rigor that many other companies with a heavy testing culture to ensure that the experience is simple for users that will jump in and jump out. For example, it turns out a voice named Eric reading stories about being on a train struck a chord with users — so the company invested more in Eric.

“It’s a tricky balance,” Tew said. “Sometimes we’ll launch things that we think are popular but don’t end up being popular, but there’s never been any kind of dramatic errors. We try to create content that will appeal to the biggest range of users. We speak to our customers and find out what they would like.”

Calm’s focus is built off of an increasingly important topic the technology industry is grappling with — mental health. As more and more users pick up Calm and start listening to the tracks, the company can start to figure out what kinds of sessions or tools are helping people want to come back more often and, in theory, start feeling better with those kinds of practices. If you talk to investors in the valley, helping founders manage the highs and lows of starting a company is increasingly part of the discussion, with the refrain that ‘people are at least talking about it now’ showing up more and more often. That’s also helping companies like Calm and Headspace attract funding from the venture community.

“It does feel like a major societal shift,” Acton Smith said. “Just a few years ago no one talked about mental health, it was very much in the shadows. As more politicians talk about it, as the media treat it as something normal and healthy to do, more and more people step out of the shadows and into the light. We realize the brain is pretty much the most complex thing in the known universe, it’s not surprising it goes wrong every now and then. To be able to talk about that and understand it is a very healthy and positive thing. It just feels like we’re at the start, 50 years ago the wave began around physical fitness, jogging, aerobics, and now we’re at the start of this new wave.

Calm and other mindfulness apps are not the only companies at play here. Indeed, the two largest direct owners of smartphone platforms — Apple and Google — this year announced a suite of tools geared toward trying to manage the amount of time users end up glued to their screens. While those are centered around helping users manage their time on their phones, it does show that even the largest companies in the world are increasingly aware of the potential negative effects their devices may have spawned from people spending all their time on their phones.

But by extension, Calm is not the only app where people can throw on some headphones and listen to a soothing voice with a British accent. Headspace is another obvious player in the space, having also raised a substantial amount of funding. Tew said the goal is to remain focused on simplicity, which in the end will keep people coming back over and over — and then end up continuing to drive that business.

“There was a lot of skepticism around Calm and this category as recently as a year ago,” Acton Smith said.” People were concerned that there was a lot of competition, and wondered whether people would really pay for this. We’ve quite convincingly shown we’ve answered all those questions with the growth we’ve had in our user numbers and our revenue. This is a successful business with very high margins and a huge addressable market. If you think about Nike, and the physical exercise boom being worth tens of billions, there’s no reason why mental wellness won’t be.”

Ford’s future transportation plans include an iconic Detroit train station

As Ford notches its 115th anniversary, the company celebrated its purchase of an iconic Detroit landmark with an eye toward the "smart cities" future we heard about at CES. Michigan Central Station served as a main passenger hub for the city once it...

Europe takes another step towards copyright pre-filters for user generated content

In a key vote this morning the European Parliament’s legal affairs committee has backed the two most controversial elements of a digital copyright reform package — which critics warn could have a chilling effect on Internet norms like memes and also damage freedom of expression online.

In the draft copyright directive, Article 11; “Protection of press publications concerning online uses” — which targets news aggregator business models by setting out a neighboring right for snippets of journalistic content that requires a license from the publisher to use this type of content (aka ‘the link tax’, as critics dub it) — was adopted by a 13:12 majority of the legal committee.

While, Article 13; “Use of protected content by online content sharing service providers”, which makes platforms directly liable for copyright infringements by their users — thereby pushing them towards creating filters that monitor all content uploads with all the associated potential chilling affects (aka ‘censorship machines’) — was adopted by a 15:10 majority.

MEPs critical of the proposals have vowed to continue to oppose the measures, and the EU parliament will eventually need to vote as a whole.

EU Member State representatives in the EU Council will also need to vote on the reforms before the directive can become law. Though, as it stands, a majority of European governments appear to back the proposals.

European digital rights group EDRi, a long-standing critic of Article 13, has a breakdown of the next steps for the copyright directive here. It’s possible there could be another key vote in the parliament next month — ahead of negotiations with the European Council, which could be finished by fall. A final vote on a legally checked text will take place in the parliament — perhaps before the end of the year.

Derailing the proposals now essentially rests on whether enough MEPs can be convinced it’s politically expedient to do so — factoring in a timeline that includes the next EU parliament elections, in May 2019.

Last week, a coalition of original Internet architects, computer scientists, academics and supporters — including Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Vint Cerf, Bruce Schneier, Jimmy Wales and Mitch Kapor — penned an open letter to the European Parliament’s president to oppose Article 13, warning that while “well-intended” the requirement that Internet platforms perform automatic filtering of all content uploaded by users “takes an unprecedented step towards the transformation of the Internet from an open platform for sharing and innovation, into a tool for the automated surveillance and control of its users”.

“As creators ourselves, we share the concern that there should be a fair distribution of revenues from the online use of copyright works, that benefits creators, publishers, and platforms alike. But Article 13 is not the right way to achieve this,” they write in the letter.

“By inverting this liability model and essentially making platforms directly responsible for ensuring the legality of content in the first instance, the business models and investments of platforms large and small will be impacted. The damage that this may do to the free and open Internet as we know it is hard to predict, but in our opinions could be substantial.”

The Wikimedia Foundational also blogged separately, setting out some specific concerns about the impact that mandatory upload filters could have on Wikipedia.

“[A]ny sort of law which mandates the deployment of automatic filters to screen all uploaded content using AI or related technologies does not leave room for the types of community processes which have been so effective on the Wikimedia projects,” it warned last week. “As previously mentioned, upload filters as they exist today view content through a broad lens, that can miss a lot of the nuances which are crucial for the review of content and assessments of legality or veracity.”

More generally critics warn that expressive and creative remix formats like memes and GIFs — which have come to form an integral part of the rich communication currency of the Internet — will be at risk if the proposals become law…

Regarding Article 11, Europe already has experience experimenting with a neighboring right for news, after an ancillary copyright law was enacted in Germany in 2013. But local publishers ended up offering Google free consent to display their snippets after they saw traffic fall substantially when Google stopped showing their content rather than pay for using them.

Spain also enacted a similar law for publishers in 2014, but its implementation required publishers to charge for using their snippets — leading Google to permanently close its news aggregation service in the country.

Critics of this component of the digital copyright reform package also warn it’s unclear what kinds of news content will constitute a snippet, and thus fall under the proposal — even suggesting a URL including the headline of an article could fall foul of the copyright extension; ergo that the hyperlink itself could be in danger.

They also argue that an amendment giving Member States the flexibility to decide whether or not a snippet should be considered “insubstantial” (and thus freely shared) or not, does not clear up problems — saying it just risks causing fresh fragmentation across the bloc, at a time when the Commission is keenly pushing a so-called ‘Digital Single Market’ strategy.

“Instead of one Europe-wide law, we’d have 28,” warns Reda on that. “With the most extreme becoming the de-facto standard: To avoid being sued, international internet platforms would be motivated to comply with the strictest version implemented by any member state.”

However several European news and magazine publisher groups have welcomed the committee’s backing for Article 11. In a joint statement on behalf of publishing groups EMMAENPAEPC and NME a spokesperson said: “The Internet is only as useful as the content that populates it. This Publisher’s neighbouring Right will be key to encouraging further investment in professional, diverse, fact-checked content for the enrichment and enjoyment of everyone, everywhere.”

Returning to Article 13, the EU’s executive, the Commission — the body responsible for drafting the copyright reforms — has also been pushing online platforms towards pre-filtering content as a mechanism for combating terrorist content, setting out a “one hour rule” for takedowns of this type of content earlier this year, for example.

But again critics of the copyright reforms argue it’s outrageously disproportionate to seek to apply the same measures that are being applied to try to clamp down on terrorist propaganda and serious criminal offenses like child exploitation to police copyright.

“For copyrighted content these automated tools simply undermine copyright exceptions. And they are not proportionate,” Reda told us last year. “We are not talking about violent crimes here in the way that terrorism or child abuse are. We’re talking about something that is a really widespread phenomenon and that’s dealt with by providing attractive legal offers to people. And not by treating them as criminals.”

Responding to today’s committee vote, Jim Killock, executive director of digital rights group, the Open Rights Group, attacked what he dubbed a “dreadful law”, warning it would have a chilling effect on freedom of expression online.

“Article 13 must go,” he said in a statement. “The EU Parliament’s duty is to defend citizens from unfair and unjust laws. MEPs must reject this law, which would create a Robo-copyright regime intended to zap any image, text, meme or video that appears to include copyright material, even when it is entirely legal material.”

Also reacting to the vote today, Monique Goyens, director general of European consumer rights group BEUC, said: “The internet as we know it will change when platforms will need to systematically filter content that users want to upload. The internet will change from a place where consumers can enjoy sharing creations and ideas to an environment that is restricted and controlled. Fair remuneration for creators is important, but consumers should not be at the losing end.”

Goyens blamed the “pressure of the copyright industry” for scuppering “even modest attempts to modernise copyright law”.

“Today’s rules are outdated and patchy. It is high time that copyright laws take into account that consumers share and create videos, music and photos on a daily basis. The majority of MEPs failed to find a solution that would have benefitted consumers and creators,” she added in a statement.

‘PUBG’ celebrates 50 million sales with first Steam discount

PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds is now enjoying its first Steam sale since launch. According to a recent Steam update, the price reduction -- a 33% discount which brings the price of admission down to $19.99 -- honors an important milestone: 50 million...

BBVA and Repsol to build blockchain finance apps, BBVA issues record €325M credit line on its blockchain network

Spanish banking giant BBVA has an early adopter when it comes to exploring and using blockchain in its legacy business, being the first global bank to use its blockchain network, built with distributed ledger architecture, to issue a corporate loan earlier this year. Now it is taking the next step: BBVA has inked a partnership with Repsol, the Spanish energy giant, to build blockchain-based corporate finance solutions, and as first step BBVA has transferred a credit facility of €325 million ($375 million) using its blockchain network.

BBVA says that this is the first time that distributed ledger technology has been used to issue a credit facility, and as with the loan it issued, the incentive for doing so is to reduce the time it takes to do this: the process takes “a matter of hours rather than days in a fully transparent operation that allowed the tracking and approval of the documentation involved.” It said “different types of blockchain” were used in the transfer, including a Hyperledger private blockchain network, with the signed contract registered using the Ethereum test network through a hash, a “unique document identifier that guarantees its immutability”.

“This operation is the fruit of BBVA’s pursuit of integrating innovative and disruptive financial products for corporate clients and to offer them the best solutions that meet their needs,” said Alicia Pertusa, the head of strategy and blockchain at BBVA, in a statement. The company also announced this week that it wants to extend its blockchain loan facilities and will start to test negotiating and contracting syndicated loans on the network — again, to reduce the time and steps it takes for these, which can be particularly long, given that they involve multiple parties.

Repsol and BBVA are large and very incumbent players, and the sums of money we are talking about here are, relatively speaking, small beer for them. But at the same time, they are all facing the threat of disruption from smaller and more nimble organisations, and so this could be one way of jumping into the fray of innovation to improve how they work, if not find new business opportunities altogether.

“Repsol wants to actively take part in collaborative environments. Blockchain is a disruptive technology that is here to stay and the agreement with BBVA advances our strategy of driving digitization in all areas of our activity”, said Nuria Ávalos, head of Blockchain and Digital Experimentation at Repsol, in a statement.

Repol, like BBVA, has earmarked blockchain as a technology that it wants to explore further, both for helping to run its energy business more efficiently, and to underpin the extensive financing operation that it runs around that effort.

It’s notable to see how legacy players increasingly willing to put a little money on the table to test out new technologies and approaches like blockchain, which initially gained popularity through grassroots efforts before being taken up by startups — and not without a very large dose of controversy and ongoing questions, particularly around cryptocurrencies that are built on blockchain ledgers and how they should be regulated. Even BBVA’s own leaders have admitted as much.

The Morning After: Another all-screen phone

Hey, good morning! You look fabulous. In case you needed another sign that we're at the height of this console cycle, Sony is rolling out a greatest hits lineup for the PS4. At the same time, GameStop is looking over its options, and Google finally...

Privacy browser Brave pays ‘crypto tokens’ for watching its ads

Ad-blocking browser Brave is getting ready to test its Basic Attention Token (BAT) platform, which has been designed to reward users for looking at adverts. The company, founded by Mozilla's controversial former CEO Brendan Eich, launched the first p...

Google teams with the CIJ in the UK for free workshops for journalists on investigative journalism

Google has been the target of many an investigative journalism scoop, but today in the UK it’s sitting on the other side of the table. The search giant’s Digital News Initiative — the division that was created to give millions in funding to startups and new projects that are pushing the boundaries of digital news — has announced a new partnership with the Centre for Investigative Journalism to help journalists learn how use digital tools to dig up news.

The two will be jointly running 20 free workshops in the UK under the name “Access to Tools,” available both to freelancers and staff editors and writers, that will train them on some of the tricks of the trade when it comes to using digital media to find and report a story, including data analysis on spreadsheets, finding and ‘reading’ minutes from public meetings, and tracking down sources for images. Google says the workshops will use “technology from a range of providers” — not just Google. As for the content: the focus here seems to be on using these tools for digging up local news stories, not dirt on Google.

The efforts are Google’s latest moves to position itself as a friend, and not a foe, to the news industry. Over the years, the company has raised the hackles of many a publisher that has been unhappy with how Google either summarizes stories in Google News, or simply provides enough links around a subject from other sources that a user potentially never needs to visit a publication online to read the original source of the information — thereby depriving the news organisations of traffic and subsequent revenues that come with that traffic from advertising.

That scuffle between Google and the news industry has been going on for years, with the latest frontier being mobile. Google has developed a format for viewing stories on pages with accelerated loading times on mobile, but those stories (signified with a lightning bolt when you search on Google for a story on you mobile device) all get delivered on Google URLs. Now, as Google plans to expand its so-called AMP project to desktop, it has said it’s working on fixing that URL situation, although I’ve checked just now and those Google URLs are still there.

All of this comes at the same time that company is already under investigation by European regulators for its anticompetitive practices in areas like search and mobile.

Google’s News Initiative is one example of how Google is trying to offset all this controversy. Aimed at news organisations in Europe, the group provides no-strings-attached grants to businesses that are aiming to bring more innovation to the field using tech like AI, mobile and more. Google has also run training on its own steam through its News Lab, and also offers online courses. The CIJ association adds another layer of impartiality to the wider strategy.

For the CIJ, it gives the group some funding to bring more of their expertise to a wider set of journalists, and that on balance can only be a good thing.

“Our leading concern is to put the best tools in the hands of investigative journalists, and then grow their expertise in using them,” said CIJ director James Harkin. “Building on our 15 years of expertise in data journalism, advanced internet research, financial search, and internet-powered fact-checking and our relationships of trust with the corporate and independent local media, ‘Access to Tools’ is the perfect way to extend the already impressive reach of our regional network and to get out there into more regional newsrooms, communities, and universities.”

Blockchain browser Brave starts opt-in testing of on-device ad targeting

Brave, an ad-blocking web browser with a blockchain-based twist, has started trials of ads that reward viewers for watching them — the next step in its ambitious push towards a consent-based, pro-privacy overhaul of online advertising.

Brave’s Basic Attention Token (BAT) is the underlying micropayments mechanism it’s using to fuel the model. The startup was founded in 2015 by former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich, and had a hugely successful initial coin offering last year.

In a blog post announcing the opt-in trial yesterday, Brave says it’s started “voluntary testing” of the ad model before it scales up to additional user trials.

These first tests involve around 250 “pre-packaged ads” being shown to trial volunteers via a dedicated version of the Brave browser that’s both loaded with the ads and capable of tracking users’ browsing behavior.

The startup signed up Dow Jones Media Group as a partner for the trial-based ad content back in April.

People interested in joining these trials are being asked to contact its Early Access group — via community.brave.com.

Brave says the test is intended to analyze user interactions to generate test data for training its on-device machine learning algorithms. So while its ultimate goal for the BAT platform is to be able to deliver ads without eroding individual users’ privacy via this kind of invasive tracking, the test phase does involve “a detailed log” of browsing activity being sent to it.

Though Brave also specifies: “Brave will not share this information, and users can leave this test at any time by switching off this feature or using a regular version of Brave (which never logs user browsing data to any server).”

“Once we’re satisfied with the performance of the ad system, Brave ads will be shown directly in the browser in a private channel to users who consent to see them. When the Brave ad system becomes widely available, users will receive 70% of the gross ad revenue, while preserving their privacy,” it adds.

The key privacy-by-design shift Brave is working towards is moving ad targeting from a cloud-based ad exchange to the local device where users can control their own interactions with marketing content, and don’t have to give up personal data to a chain of opaque third parties (armed with hooks and data-sucking pipes) in order to do so.

Local device ad targeting will work by Brave pushing out ad catalogs (one per region and natural language) to available devices on a recurring basis.

“Downloading a catalog does not identify any user,” it writes. “As the user browses, Brave locally matches the best available ad from the catalog to display that ad at the appropriate time. Brave ads are opt-in and consent-based (disabled by default), and engineered to operate without leaking the user’s personal data from their device.”

It couches this approach as “a more efficient and direct opportunity to access user attention without the inherent liabilities and risks involved with large scale user data collection”.

Though there’s still a ways to go before Brave is in a position to prove out its claims — including several more testing phases.

Brave says it’s planning to run further studies later this month with a larger set of users that will focus on improving its user modeling — “to integrate specific usage of the browser, with the primary goal of understanding how behavior in the browser impacts when to deliver ads”.

“This will serve to strengthen existing modeling and data classification engines and to refine the system’s machine learning,” it adds.

After that it says it will start to expand user trials — “in a few months” — focusing testing on the impact of rewards in its user-centric ad system.

“Thousands of ads will be used in this phase, and users will be able to earn tokens for viewing and interacting with ads,” it says of that.

Brave’s initial goal is for users to be able to reward content producers via the utility BAT token stored in a payment wallet baked into the browser. The default distributes the tokens stored in a users’ wallet based on time spent on Brave-verified websites (though users can also make manual tips).

Though payments using BAT may also ultimately be able to do more.

Its roadmap envisages real ad revenue and donation flow fee revenue being generated via its system this year, and also anticipates BAT integration into “other apps based on open source & specs for greater ad buying leverage and publisher onboarding”.

Instagram reportedly launching ‘IGTV’ video hub for online creators later today – The Verge


The Verge

Instagram reportedly launching 'IGTV' video hub for online creators later today
The Verge
According to multiple reports, Instagram is launching a big new video venture later today: a new hub for longer-form content that's designed to compete with videos from YouTube creators. TechCrunch reports that the hub will be named “IGTV” and will be ...
Instagram's “IGTV” video hub for creators launches tomorrowTechCrunch

Instagram could launch its 'IGTV' long-form video hub todayEngadget

all 12 news articles »

Loupedeck makes welcome improvements to its photo-editing controller

When Loupedeck smashed its Indiegogo target in 2016, the media controller gave both aspiring photographers and professionals a chance to edit pictures on Adobe Lightroom more quickly and intuitively. That formula will be further refined in Loupedeck+...

Instagram could launch its ‘IGTV’ long-form video hub today

Instagram will launch its long-form video hub very, very soon -- maybe even some time today -- and according to TechCrunch, it will be called IGTV. The hub will reportedly be part of the platform's Explore tab and will feature YouTube-like vlogs arou...

Italian grocery delivery service Supermercato24 picks up €13M Series B

Supermercato24, an Italian same-day grocery delivery service, has raised €13 million in Series B funding. Leading the round is FII Tech Growth, with participation from new investor Endeavor Catalyst, and current investors 360 Capital Partners, and Innogest.

Similar to Instacart in the U.S. and claiming to the leader in Italy, Supermercato24 lets customers order from local supermarkets for delivery. The startup uses gig economy-styled personal shoppers who go into the store and ‘pick’ the products ordered and then deliver them same-day, or for an added cost within an hour.

The company charges a delivery fee to consumers, but also generates revenue from fees charged to partnering merchants, and, notably, through advertising. Supermercato24 says it has more than 15 partnerships with merchants, and has more than 50 consumer packaged goods customers (CPGs) advertising on its platform.

“Our customers represent that increasing share of the population that would love to spend their time differently rather than doing grocery shopping,” says Supermercato24 CEO Federico Sargenti, who was previously an Amazon Executive and launched the Amazon FMCG Business in Italy and Spain.

“Going to the store, pushing a cart through the alleys, queuing up, checking out and lifting heavy grocery shopping bags from the store’s register all the way up to your apartment can take lots of energy and up to 3 hours every week. Plenty of people would prefer to do all of that in a few minutes”.

Specifically, Sargenti says that Supermercato24’s customers span “hip youngsters to elderly people, single professionals to parents and working couples,” and that more than 65 percent of customers are women. “Customers have high expectations on their groceries, because they are used to choose from a wide product range at supermarkets, with competitive prices and qualitative fresh products; plus, they expect a comfortable, convenient and same-day delivery. And that’s what we offer them,” he adds.

The company’s grocery ordering and delivery service is active in more than 23 Italian cities, and Supermercato24 says a number of cities are already profitable at contribution margin level. That said, Sargenti concedes it is still early days in terms of the switch from offline grocery shopping to online. He also says that Southern Europe has been historically limited by a lack of supply and that the way to address this is a collaboration between traditional grocery retailers and tech companies like Supermercato24, a model that he insists can scale in both big and small cities.

The Italian grocery market is particularly fragmented, too, with the top 5 retailers owning less than 40 percent of the national grocery market, apparently. This arguably makes it more ripe for a marketplace rather than traditional e-grocery delivery model. One challenge is that the majority of people in Italy don’t live in large cities or other high population density areas of the country. It is Supermercato24’s ability to scale in low density areas — or so it claims — that gives it an edge.

Meanwhile, I’m told the new funding will be used to improve operations and product both for customers and for merchants, as well as to expand the service to new markets. “In Europe, Supermercato24 is already the biggest on-demand e-grocery marketplace in terms of revenues and it’s already in discussion with current and prospect retailers to expand the service across Europe to successfully replicate Instacart’s case,” says the company, unashamedly.

Feed raises $17.4 million for its Soylent-like food products

French startup Feed is raising a $17.4 million funding round (€15 million) from Alven and Otium Brands. Feed has been selling meal replacement products in Europe and now plans to expand to other countries.

There are multiple variations of Feed. The company started with a powder-based product that represents the equivalent of one meal. You add some water, shake it a bit and drink it. You can now also buy the equivalent of a cereal bar with everything you need to stay alive.

It sounds a bit like Soylent, which itself sounds a bit like SlimFast and all those products from the 1980s and 1990s. It’s worth noting that Soylent only sells in the U.S. and Canada. Feed products are vegan, gluten-free, lactose-free, GMO-free and made in France.

A few months ago, I bought a bottle of Feed powder to give it a try — I wasn’t particularly convinced. But it sounds like many people like it — the company has sold 1 million kilograms of powder, which represents over 6.5 million bottles in total. In 2018, Feed plans to generate $11.6 million in revenue.

Feed doesn’t think you should replace all your meals with a Feed product. But if you’re in a rush or you want to lose some weight, you could swap your lunch for a Feed product every now and then. Feed competes with another French startup selling meal replacement products, So Shape.

Beyond the product itself, Feed is the perfect example of a strong online brand. The company has built an online community with hundreds of thousands of followers. There are dozens of videos of people testing Feed on YouTube. And the company knows how to target online customers using the right channel.

While you can find Feed products in many French supermarkets, the company also sells its products on its website and delivers in 30 countries. By building a strong brand and attracting online customers, the company can generate bigger margins than in selling through your local supermarket.

And the brand is the reason why Feed is valuable and can attract funding. Now, Feed can launch its product in new countries and could sign new partnerships with supermarkets across Europe.

Feed raises $17.4 million for its Soylent-like food products

French startup Feed is raising a $17.4 million funding round (€15 million) from Alven and Otium Brands. Feed has been selling meal replacement products in Europe and now plans to expand to other countries.

There are multiple variations of Feed. The company started with a powder-based product that represents the equivalent of one meal. You add some water, shake it a bit and drink it. You can now also buy the equivalent of a cereal bar with everything you need to stay alive.

It sounds a bit like Soylent, which itself sounds a bit like SlimFast and all those products from the 1980s and 1990s. It’s worth noting that Soylent only sells in the U.S. and Canada. Feed products are vegan, gluten-free, lactose-free, GMO-free and made in France.

A few months ago, I bought a bottle of Feed powder to give it a try — I wasn’t particularly convinced. But it sounds like many people like it — the company has sold 1 million kilograms of powder, which represents over 6.5 million bottles in total. In 2018, Feed plans to generate $11.6 million in revenue.

Feed doesn’t think you should replace all your meals with a Feed product. But if you’re in a rush or you want to lose some weight, you could swap your lunch for a Feed product every now and then. Feed competes with another French startup selling meal replacement products, So Shape.

Beyond the product itself, Feed is the perfect example of a strong online brand. The company has built an online community with hundreds of thousands of followers. There are dozens of videos of people testing Feed on YouTube. And the company knows how to target online customers using the right channel.

While you can find Feed products in many French supermarkets, the company also sells its products on its website and delivers in 30 countries. By building a strong brand and attracting online customers, the company can generate bigger margins than in selling through your local supermarket.

And the brand is the reason why Feed is valuable and can attract funding. Now, Feed can launch its product in new countries and could sign new partnerships with supermarkets across Europe.

Porsche just took a 10% stake in electric car maker Rimac Automobili

Porsche AG is taking a 10% stake in Rimac Automobili, the Croatian hypercar and electric vehicle components company behind the world’s fastest electric car. 

This isn’t just a big-storied-automaker-takes-an-interest-in-a-startup kind of story. Rimac has street cred and not just because of its latest electric hypercar, the C Two, which debuted at the Geneva Motor Show in March 2018. 

The two-seater C Two is certainly a standout. The electric hypercar has a 1,914-horsepower engine that enables the vehicle to reaches a top speed of 256 miles per hour and accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 1.85 seconds. That’s faster than Tesla’s next-generation Roadster prototype that CEO Elon Musk unveiled in November. The Rimac’s battery is no slouch either and gets 405 miles to a single charge, nearly double other EVs on the market. 

But Rimac Automobili is more than a startup that plans to produce 150 or so $2.1 million C Two hypercars. The company, which was founded by Mate Rimac in 2009, also engineers and manufactures high-performance electric vehicle powertrain systems and battery systems. The company has already worked with Renault, Jaguar, and Aston Martin. The company’s tech was even used in the E-Type Zero Jaguar driven by Prince Harry and the Duchess of Sussex at their wedding last month.

Now Porsche wants a piece of Rimac’s electric vehicle magic. Porsche says its seeking a development partnership with the company.

Porsche has its own electric ambitions. The German automaker’s first electric sports car—the Taycan, once called Mission E, is expected to go on sale at the end of 2019. The electric vehicle is seen (in some circles) as a threat to Tesla, which has dominated the luxury electric vehicle market. Porsche is clearly looking for an edge.

“By developing the purely electric two-seaters super sports cars, like the ‘Concept One’ or ‘C Two’, as well as core vehicle systems, Rimac has impressively demonstrated its credentials in the field of electromobility,” said Lutz Meschke, deputy chairman of Porsche’s executive board and member of its executive finance and IT board. 

Rimac, which employs about 400 people, is focused on high-voltage battery technology and electric powertrains. It also works on the digital interfaces in the car and even has a separate electric bikes subsidiary called Greyp Bikes.

Porsche invests in EV supercar-maker Rimac

Just recently, luxury automaker Porsche teased its electric Mission E sports car, showing its shadowy silhouette that's not unlike its other non-EV cars. Now, the company has shown that it's getting even more serious about electric vehicles and its M...

Uber will pay drivers in some cities to use electric cars

Uber would like its drivers to go electric, but it knows that practical realities like high prices and hours of charging time make that difficult. Its solution? Give those drivers a helping hand. It's launching an EV Champions pilot program in sev...

Korean crypto exchange Bithumb says it lost over $30M following a hack

Just weeks after Korean crypto exchange Coinrail lost $40 million through an alleged hack, another in the crypto-mad country — Bithumb — has claimed hackers made off with over $30 million in cryptocurrency.

Coinrail may be one of Korea’s smaller exchanges, but Bithumb is far larger. The exchange is one of the world’s top ten ranked based on trading of Ethereum and Bitcoin Cash, and top for newly-launched EOS, according to data from Coinmarketcap.com.

In a now-deleted tweet, Bithumb said today that 35 billion won of tokens — around $31 million — were snatched. It didn’t provide details of the attack, but it did say it will cover any losses for its users. The company has temporarily frozen deposits and trading while it is in the process of “changing our wallet system” following the incident.

Days prior to the hack, Bithumb said on Twitter that it was “transferring all of asset to the cold wallet to build up the security system and upgrade” its database. It isn’t clear whether that move was triggered by the attack — in which case it happened days ago — or whether it might have been a factor that enabled it.

A tweet sent days before Bithumb said it had been hacked

There’s often uncertainty around alleged hacks, with some in the crypto community claiming an inside job for most incidents. In this case, reports from earlier this month that Bithumb was hit by a 30 billion won tax bill from the Korean government will certainly raise suspicions. Without an independent audit or third-party report into the incident, however, it is hard to know exactly what happened.

That said, one strong takeaway, once again, is that people who buy crypto should store their tokens in their own private wallet (ideally with a hardware key for access) not on an exchange where they could be pinched by an attacker. In this case, Bithumb is big enough to cover the losses, but it isn’t always that way and securely holding tokens avoids potential for trouble.

2019 Honda Insight first drive review: The 55-mpg Civic – CNET


CNET

2019 Honda Insight first drive review: The 55-mpg Civic
CNET
The Honda Insight is back, though it has more in common with a Civic than it does with the two prior generations of its namesake. Honda chose to revive the Insight name for a variety of reasons. The main intent is to draw connections between this new, ...
2019 Honda InsightCar and Driver

2019 Honda Insight first drive reviewDigital Trends
2019 Honda Insight First DriveEdmunds.com
ConsumerReports.org -Autoweek -Autoblog (blog) -Automobile
all 22 news articles »

MIT uses brain signals and hand gestures to control robots

Robotic technology has a staggering range of applications, but getting it to perform adequately can be a challenge, requiring specific programming based around the way humans communicate with language. But now, researchers from MIT have developed a w...

Snapchat Lenses bring coral reefs to your neighborhood

How do you make nature exciting to a generation growing up with Snapchat and Instagram? The California Academy of Sciences has an idea: bring the nature to the apps that generation is using. It just trotted out a series of augmented reality Snapcha...

TP-Link squeezed a smart home hub into its new mesh WiFi router

Mesh WiFi routers are no longer all that special, so how do you stand out? If you're TP-Link, you roll in a smart home hub. It just introduced a Deco M9 Plus router that builds on last year's model with a hub for ZigBee- and Bluetooth-based devices l...

Instagram’s “IGTV” video hub for creators launches tomorrow

TechCrunch has learned that the Instagram longer-form video hub that’s launching tomorrow is called IGTV and it will be part of the Explore tab, according to multiple sources. Instagram has spent the week meeting with online content creators to encourage them to prepare videos closer to 10-minute YouTube vlogs than the 1-minute maximum videos the app allows today.

Instagram is focusing its efforts around web celebrities that made their name on mobile rather than more traditional, old-school publishers and TV studios that might come off too polished and processed. The idea is to let these creators, who have a knack for this style of content and who already have sizeable Instagram audiences, set the norms for what IGTV is about.

Instagram declined to comment on the name IGTV and the video hub’s home in app’s Explore tab. We’ll get more information at the feature’s launch event in San Francisco tomorrow at 9am Pacific.

Following the WSJ’s initial report that Instagram was working on allowing longer videos, TechCrunch learned much more from sources about the company’s plan to build an aggregated destination for watching this content akin to Snapchat Discover. The videos will be full-screen, vertically oriented, and can have a resolution up to 4K. Users will be greeted with collection of Popular recent videos, and the option to Continue Watching clips they didn’t finish.

The videos aren’t meant to compete with Netflix Originals or HBO-quality content. Instead, they’ll be the kind of things you might see on YouTube rather than the short, off-the-cuff social media clips Instagram has hosted to date. Videos will offer a link-out option so creators can drive traffic to their other social presences, websites, or ecommerce stores. Instagram is planning to offer direct monetization, potentially including advertising revenue shares, but hasn’t finalized how that will work.

We reported that the tentative launch date for the feature was June 20th. A week later, Instagram sent out press invites for an event on June 20th our sources confirm is for IGTV.

Based on its historic growth trajectory that has seen Instagram adding 100 million users every four months, and its announcement of 800 million in September 2017, it’s quite possible that Instagram will announce it’s hit 1 billion monthly users tomorrow. That could legitimize IGTV as a place creators want to be for exposure, not just monetization.

IGTV could create a new behavior pattern for users who are bored of their friends’ content, or looking for something to watch in between Direct messages. If successful, Instagram might even consider breaking out IGTV into its own mobile app, or building it an app for smart TVs

The launch is important for Facebook because it lacks a popular video destination since its Facebook Watch hub was somewhat of a flop. Facebook today said it would expand Watch to more creators, while also offering new interactive video tools to let them make their own HQ trivia-style game shows. Facebook also launched its Brand Collabs Manager that helps businesses find creators to sponsor. That could help IGTV stars earn money through product placement or sponsored content.

Until now, video consumption in the Facebook family of apps has been largely serendipitous, with users stumbling across clips in their News Feed. IGTV will let it more directly compete with YouTube, where people purposefully come to watch specific videos from their favorite creators. But YouTube was still built in the web era with a focus on horizontal video that’s awkward to watch on iPhones or Androids.

With traditional television viewership slipping, Facebook’s size and advertiser connections could let it muscle into the lucrative space. But rather than try to port old-school TV shows to phones, IGTV could let creators invent a new vision for television on mobile.

Project Fi launches LG G7 ThinQ and LG V35 ThinQ pre-orders with special offers

LG G7 ThinQ hands-on video

After confirming last month that the LG G7 ThinQ and LG V35 ThinQ were coming to Project Fi, Google has begun taking pre-orders for both devices.

The LG G7 ThinQ is available for pre-order at a price of $31.21 per month for 24 months or $749 full price. Meanwhile, the LG V35 ThinQ is $37.46 per month for 24 months or $899 full retail.

If either of these LG phones piques your interest, then you should know that Google is offering a special pre-order deal for Project Fi customers that buy a G7 or V35. Specifically, you can get a $100 service credit with the pre-order and activation of either model. This offer will be available from June 19th through July 7th.

It's good to see more flagship-tier devices coming to Project Fi, giving consumers more choice both in terms of specs and pricing but also when it comes to device maker. To get a closer look at the LG G7 ThinQ and LG V35 ThinQ and their Project Fi deals, hit the links below. 

Superhero epic ‘Invincible’ heads to Amazon as an animated series

Amazon Studios has greenlit an animated series based on the comic Invincible, which was created by artist Cory Walker and writer Robert Kirkman, who made The Walking Dead. The new show's source material tells the story of Mark Grayson, an ordinary te...

Superhero epic ‘Invincible’ heads to Amazon as an animated series

Amazon Studios has greenlit an animated series based on the comic Invincible, which was created by artist Cory Walker and writer Robert Kirkman, who made The Walking Dead. The new show's source material tells the story of Mark Grayson, an ordinary te...

Bag Week 2018: Chrome’s BLCKCHRM Bravo 2.0 backpack is a burly, stylish beast

If you needed to pick a bag to have your back in a street fight, you should probably choose Chrome’s Bravo 2.0.

I tested a version of this pack from the company’s higher-end BLCKCHRM line. The BLCKCHRM version of the Bravo 2.0 replaces the normal pack’s 1050 denier nylon exterior with a slightly rubbery, Navy-grade material called Hypalon, a full-grain leather back panel and a sleek all-black look. The result is as visually impressive as it is brawny.

Taylor Hatmaker/TechCrunch

To test the Bravo 2.0, I took it on a trip to Los Angeles that required me to fill every available cubic inch of my luggage with necessary gear. For the Bravo 2.0, that meant clothing that didn’t fit in my checked bag, a 13″ MacBook, a Sony RX-100, some medium-size notebooks, two lenses for my Sony A7S II and all of the other weird odds and ends that usually end up in a carry-on.

Over the course of packing, I figured out a few things. For one, since the Bravo 2.0’s main compartment lacks organization and is a bit hard to see into when opened, it works best if you stuff things into it that you won’t need to access on the go. Another thing I noticed is that beyond its black hole-like interior, the Bravo 2.0’s pockets don’t have a lot of depth, so they’re better suited for flat and rectangular stuff (mobile battery pack, thin books, magazines, a Kindle or iPad) and can’t expand to hold objects of less standard shapes. The material doesn’t have any give at all, but then again, it’s basically indestructible — so no, you can’t have it all.

Taylor Hatmaker/TechCrunch

The Bravo 2.0 also includes one external side pocket that seems intended for a water bottle, though mine wasn’t nearly slender enough to fit, rendering the pocket pretty much useless. For laptop storage, Chrome made an interesting choice with this pack. The design requires you to nestle your computer into a slender, flap-protected slot on the outside of the pack rather than in the innermost tarpaulin-lined compartment next to your back. I have TSA Pre so I didn’t have to do the stressful pulling-laptop-out-while-in-line airport thing, but the other times I needed my laptop that external pocket meant that it wasn’t a hassle. Still, it wasn’t quite as convenient as a side-zip dedicated laptop pocket, which remains my preferred way to stash a laptop.

Though at more than three pounds the bag itself is way heavier than what I’m used to carrying (the BLCKCHRM version adds some extra weight, though I’m not sure how much), my carry-on electronics and other valuables felt more snug and secure than they have in almost any other pack I’ve traveled with. Impressively, the Bravo’s weight must have been well-distributed through its fairly wide and flat design because, in spite of my dense packing job, my back never hurt. A screwed-up back is an instant pack disqualifier, but the Bravo 2.0 carried a heavy load admirably.

Taylor Hatmaker/TechCrunch

In my travel, I never used the outside cross-buckles for anything, but they did look cool, so there’s that. If you were biking, you could probably get a helmet or whatever else you needed (a jacket or other compressable item) strapped in there if you were willing to fiddle with the little metal hooks, but I wasn’t.

I’m not a fan of velcro securing the main portion of a pack, but the Bravo’s velcro roll top didn’t drive me crazy, though that feat did require thoughtful packing. The pack’s velcro closure would be fine unless you really topped out the amount of stuff in the main compartment, in which case you wouldn’t quite be able to seal the velcro unless you want to rock the open rolltop bike messenger look. In the end, you can just repack your situation more carefully and move on with your life.

Taylor Hatmaker/TechCrunch

I’ll admit that at 5′ 4″, Chrome’s BLCKCHRM Bravo 2.0 was just too much bag for me, though a taller person would probably feel less dwarfed by its width and overall profile. Still, the pack distributed a full load’s weight well, kept it secure and ultimately made me look kind of badass, like a tactical ninja turtle or an urban prepper or something.

It’s hard to overstate how good-looking this bag is. Like quality leather, the Hypalon breaks in with wear, picking up surface marks that fade into a kind of weathered patina over time. Between that material, the all-black mini Chrome buckle chest strap and central black leather panel, it’s a very sleek, sexy looking bag. Still, for anyone who digs the Bravo 2.0’s vibe but is wary of its heavy construction, the regular edition Bravo 2.0 might be a better choice. But if you like your packs fancy, serious and black on black on black, well, you know what to do.

Taylor Hatmaker/TechCrunch

The normal version of the Bravo 2.0 retails for $160 and comes in black, red, navy and green. The all-black BLCKCHRM Bravo 2.0 is usually a steep $200, but it’s on sale right now for $160.

What it is: A stylish, heavy-duty weatherproof rolltop pack with an easy-access laptop sleeve.

What it isn’t: Lightweight or casual.

Read more reviews from TechCrunch Bag Week 2018 here.

Tiny MIT chip helps bee-sized drones navigate

You may have seen drones that behave like bees, but drones the size of bees are another matter. How do you help it navigate when virtually any conventional computing power would be too heavy and power-hungry? Make it incredibly tiny, that's how. M...

Arizona man gets 20 months in prison for emergency system DDoS attacks

Denial of service attacks are serious by themselves, but doubly so when they target vital systems... and one perpetrator is finding that out first-hand. A court has sentenced Arizona resident Randall Charles Tucker (who nicknamed himself the "Bitcoi...

Startup Grind founders raise $6.4M for community event platform Bevy

The founders of entrepreneurial community Startup Grind have a startup of their own — Bevy, which announced today that it has raised $6.4 million in Series A funding.

The funding comes from Upfront Ventures, author Steve Blank, Qualtrics founders Ryan Smith and Jared Smith, and Pluralsight CEO Aaron Skonnard.

CEO Derek Andersen (who founded and runs both Bevy and Startup Grind with CTO Joel Fernandes) said that the product was created to deal with Startup Grind’s challenges as the team tried to organize events using a mix of Eventbrite, Meetup and MailChimp,

“It worked fine at first, but a few years later, we looked up and we had hundreds of cities, and we had maybe 500 people that were working on it, and it was too much,” Andersen said. “For the first time in many years, we started to get smaller instead of bigger. We were spending all of this time just running triage and maintenance on the platform.”

So in early 2016, the team built its own event management software, with what Andersen said was “no intention of anyone else using it.” But eventually, he realized that other companies were facing similar problems, so he launched Bevy as a separate startup to further develop and commercialize the product.

“We really focus on the smaller, community events,” Andersen added. “If you just do a conference, Eventbrite is great — I’ve hosted thousands of events on Eventbrite. But if you want to host five or 10 events a month or jack that number up anywhere above that, and you don’t want to hire 10 people, then that’s really what we’re perfect to do.”

Bevy Analytics

Usually, these are events where community members play a big role, or are even doing most of the organizing themselves. So beyond supporting tasks like creating event listings, sending out promotional emails and managing sponsorships, Andersen said one of Bevy’s big differentiators is the ability to precisely control which users are authorized to perform different roles at different events.

In addition, Andersen said that with Bevy, companies can create fully branded experiences and get full access to the customer data around their events. Customers include Atlassian, Duolingo, Docker, Evernote and Asana.

Andersen also suggested that the company is taking advantage of a broader shift in marketing, where companies are relying more on their own customers and communities.

“All the best companies do it today,” he said. He predicted that in the future, “Every company will have a customer-to-customer marketing strategy. Now we’ve made it affordable and turnkey.”

PayPal is shelling our $400 million in cash for this 18-year-old company that helps gig workers get paid

PayPal announced today that it’s paying $400 million in cash for Hyperwallet, an 18-year-old, Bay Area-based company that helps people and small businesses receive payments for products and services that they sell, including through the vacation rental platform HomeAway and Rodan & Fields, the multi-level marketing company that specializes in skincare products and employs an army of consultants to sell toners and the like.

Hyperwallet interlinks cash networks, card schemes, and mobile money services with domestic ACH networks around the world to enable what it characterizes as “disruptively priced” and, as crucially, compliant mass payments.

It isn’t clear as of this writing how much money Hyperwallet had raised over the years, though the WSJ notes that Primus Capital, the private equity firm, is a major shareholder.

According to Crunchbase, the company has also received funding from the financial services company Raymond James.

Hyperwallet was founded by Lisa Shields, an MIT-trained engineer who originally launched the company in Vancouver, where she last year founded a second company called FI.SPAN, which is an API management platform that aims to allow banks to quickly deploy new business banking products. Shields seemingly keeps a low profile compared with many founders. When she was presented with an Entrepreneur of the Year award by EY in 2015, she said, “I am honored and humbled, not to mention surprised.” (Hyperwallet has been led since 2015 by CEO Brent Warrington, who previously served as CEO of a company called SecureNet Payment Systems that was acquired.)

As for why PayPal acquired it, it says it enhances its ability to provide payment solutions to e-commerce platforms and marketplaces around the world, noting in a release about the deal that marketplace sales accounted for more than 50 percent of global online retail sales last year.

The acquisition is just the latest in a long string of companies that PayPal has acquired over the years. Just last month, it shelled out a whopping $2.2 billion to acquire the European payments company iZettle in an all-cash deal that’s believed to be PayPal’s biggest.

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