Here’s what Google’s $149 Home Hub smart display will reportedly look like

Google is reportedly getting ready to launch some new hardware at its October 9 hardware event and we just learned a lot more about a new product that might be launching.

It was rumored that Google was working on its own Smart Display, now we’ve got images of the Google Home Hub and details about its price tag via a report from AndroidAuthority.

via Android Authority

The device certainly looks like a Google Home product with all the fabric anyone could ask for and then far, far more on top of it.

It’s rocking a 7-inch screen and will cost just $149, which is quite a bit cheaper than the 8-inch Lenovo Smart Display which is currently the cheapest option at $199 while its 10-inch varietal ships for $249 as does the stereo-speakered JBL Link View.

Having played around with Lenovo’s product, Google has some very pretty software for their Smart Displays but there are some strange quirks given that the screen is basically superfluous by design as it can’t ever assumed that the speaker can see the screen when an answer is being given. Google has their work cut out for them, but it might be in their best interest to introduce some light touch interactions that allow you to perform more actions without speaking at all, otherwise the screen is always going to feel a bit misplaced aside from pulling up a YouTube video or watching a slideshow.

What will be interesting to see is what exclusive software wizardry the device has, if anything. The report details that the device will not have a camera like other Smart Displays which is a bit funny given that the whole point of it was to bolster its Duo video call service, which Google seems to realize either isn’t worth the inexpensive components or the potential privacy overhead.

If the rumored price of $149 proves accurate and Google opts for most of the internals that the partner Smart Displays have, this will be a very cool device at a great deal that will not get used very often. It is wildly unclear what the point is of this product vertical, and without breaking it free of its software prison Google seems to be missing a big opportunity that could be fulfilled by whatever the big G’s competitors eventually release.

This report seems pretty solid, but we only have to wait a couple more weeks to see what Google has in store, TechCrunch will be keeping up with the details at the company’s Pixel 3 hardware event on October 9.


Source: Tech Crunch

Amplify Partners locks in $200 million to transform technical founders into people who can actually lead a startup

Sunil Dhaliwal has had a solid run in his 20 years so far as a VC. Just two years out of Georgetown, Dhaliwal landed at Battery Ventures, a highly regarded venture firm. Fifteen years later, in 2012, he struck out on his own, creating Amplify Partners. It wasn’t so easy at first. His first fund required 18 months of on-again, off-again fundraising before closing with $49.1 million in capital commitments. But things have picked up substantially since. In fact, today, Amplify, once a micro fund, is taking the wraps off a third fund that it just closed with $200 million.

Some early bets made this newest fund much easier to raise than even its second fund, which closed with $125 million in 2015.

In addition to Dhaliwal’s personal track record, which includes leading deals at Battery like Netezza, acquired by IBM, and CipherTrust, acquired by Secure Computing,  Amplify has already seen four of its portfolio companies get acquired, including: the breach-detection software company LightCyber, which sold last year to Palo Alto Networks for $105 million; the sale of Conjur, which made DevOps security software, to publicly traded CyberArk Software last year for $42 million in cash;  the sale of the app development service Buddybuild to Apple (for undisclosed terms); and the sale of AppNeta, an end-user experience performance monitoring startup, to the private equity firm Rubicon Technology Partners.

Two others portfolio companies, which represent the firm’s biggest bets, look like they could eventually represent even bigger outcomes for the firm: Fastly, which operates a content delivery network to speed up web requests, is already talking about going public, after raising $220 million from investors over the last few years. Meanwhile, DataDog, which offers monitoring and analytics for cloud-based workflows, said five months ago that it had already surpassed $100 million in recurring revenue and that it has been doubling that amount every year so far.

A growing team has helped, too. In addition to David Beyer, a cofounder of Chartio who joined as a principal early on and is today a partner with Amplify, the firm features general partner Mike Dauber, who, like Dhaliwal, previously worked at Battery; partner Lenny Pruss, who was previously principal with Redpoint Ventures; principals Lisha Li and Sarah Catanzano. Li has a PhD from UC Berkeley and worked previously as a data scientist at both Pinterest and Stitch Fix; Catanzano was previously head of data at Mattermark and, before that, as a data partner at the venture firm Canvas Ventures.

Yet perhaps most helpful, Amplify would argue, is the opportunity it is chasing, which is broadly: distributed computing and developer-centric and data analytics companies, because they increasingly cheaper to launch, and they get their products into the hands of technical buyers faster than ever. In fact, roughly 80 percent of the teams with which Amplify is working are led by first-time founders and 90 percent of these are “hyper technical domain experts” who Amplify aims to help evolve from “technical founders to just founders and CEOs who know how to build out a organization,” says Dhaliwal on a call yesterday.

It’s become increasingly competitive for some of that talent, Dhaliwal acknowledged. But staking out Amplify’s territory from the get-go has helped, he suggests. “We work with technical founders on novel applications of computer science at the seed and Series A stages. When you draw a box around that, a lot of people will gladly identify out. Some will say, ‘You really aren’t me.’ But for others who do self-identify, it’s clearly a fit on both sides. We tend to have a deep and powerful connection early on.”

Amplify, which writes checks ranging from $500,000 to upwards of $10 million, has backed roughly 50 companies to date. You can check out its porfolio here.


Source: Tech Crunch

Kayak’s new AR feature will tell you if your carry-on bag fits the overhead bin

Popular travel app Kayak has put augmented reality to clever use with a new feature that lets you measure the size of your carry-on bag using just your smartphone. Its updated iOS app now takes advantage of Apple’s ARKit technology to introduce a new Bag Measurement tool that will help you calculate your bag’s size so you can find out if it fits in the overhead bin – you know, before your trip.

The tool is handy because the dimensions of permitted carry-on luggage can differ from airline to airline, Kayak explains, so it’s not as simple these days to figure out if your bag will fit.

In the new Kayak iOS app, you can access the measurement tool through the Flight Search feature.

The app will first prompt you to scan the floor in order to calibrate the measurements. You then move your phone around the bag to capture its size. Kayak’s app will do the math and return the bag’s size, in terms of length, width, and height.

And it will tell you if the bag “looks good” or not to meet the carry-on size requirements.

Plus, the company says it compares all the airlines’ baggage size requirements in one place, so you’ll know for sure if it will be allowed by the airline you’re flying.

Augmented reality applications, so far, have been a mixed bag. (Sorry).

Some applications can be fairly useful  – like visualizing furniture placed in a room or trying on new makeup colors. (Yes, really. I’m serious). But others are more questionable – like some AR gaming apps, perhaps. (For example, how long would you play that AR slingshot game?)

But one area where AR has held up better is in helping you measure stuff with your phone – so much so that even Apple threw in its own AR measuring tape with iOS 12.

Kayak’s tool, also timed with the release of iOS 12, is among those more practical applications.

The company says the AR feature is currently only live on updated iOS devices.


Source: Tech Crunch

Microsoft launches new AI applications for customer service and sales

Like virtually every other major tech company, Microsoft is currently on a mission to bring machine learning to all of its applications. It’s no surprise then that it’s also bringing ‘AI’ to its highly profitable Dynamics 365 CRM products. A year ago, the company introduced its first Dynamics 365 AI solutions and today it’s expanding this portfolio with the launch of three new products: Dynamics 365 AI for Sales, Customer Service and Market Insights.

“Many people, when they talk about CRM, or ERP of old, they referred to them as systems of oppression, they captured data,” said Alysa Taylor, Microsoft corporate VP for business applications and industry. “But they didn’t provide any value back to the end user — and what that end user really needs is a system of empowerment, not oppression.”

It’s no secret that few people love their CRM systems (except for maybe a handful of Dreamforce attendees), but ‘system of oppression’ is far from the ideal choice of words here. Yet Taylor is right that early systems often kept data siloed. Unsurprisingly, Microsoft argues that Dynamics 365 does not do that, allowing it to now use all of this data to build machine learning-driven experiences for specific tasks.

Dynamics 365 AI for Sales, unsurprisingly, is meant to help sales teams get deeper insights into their prospects using sentiment analysis. That’s obviously among the most basic of machine learning applications these days, but AI for Sales also helps these salespeople understand what actions they should take next and which prospects to prioritize. It’ll also help managers coach their individual sellers on the actions they should take.

Similarly, the Customer Service app focuses on using natural language understanding to understand and predict customer service problems and leverage virtual agents to lower costs. Taylor used this part of the announcement to throw some shade at Microsoft’s competitor Salesforce. “Many, many vendors offer this, but they offer it in a way that is very cumbersome for organizations to adopt,” she said. “Again, it requires a large services engagement, Salesforce partners with IBM Watson to be able to deliver on this. We are now out of the box.”

Finally, Dynamics 365 AI for Market Insights does just what the name implies: it provides teams with data about social sentiment, but this, too, goes a bit deeper. “This allows organizations to harness the vast amounts of social sentiment, be able to analyze it, and then take action on how to use these insights to increase brand loyalty, as well as understand what newsworthy events will help provide different brand affinities across an organization,” Taylor said. So the next time you see a company try to gin up some news, maybe it did so based on recommendations from Office 365 AI for Market Insights.


Source: Tech Crunch

Microsoft is putting HoloLens to work with new Dynamics 365 applications

Microsoft HoloLens mixed reality glasses have always been interesting technology, but it’s never been clear how the company would move from novelty device to actual viable business use cases. Today, it made a move toward the latter, announcing a couple of applications designed to put the HoloLens to work in Dynamics 365, giving it a real business purpose.

Dynamics 365 is Microsoft’s one-stop shop for CRM and ERP, where a company can work on some of its key business software functions including field service in an integrated fashion. The company has been looking at for HoloLens to bring computing power to a group of field workers like repair technicians for whom even a tablet would be awkward because they have to work with both hands free.

For these people, having a fully functioning Windows 10 computer you can wear on your face could be a big advantage and that’s what Microsoft is hoping to provide with HoloLens. The problem was finding use cases where this would make sense. One idea is providing remote assistance for people out in the field to get help from subject experts back at the office, and today the company announced Dynamics 365 Remote Assist.

In this scenario, the worker is wearing a HoloLens either to understand the repair scenario before they go to the site or to get remote help from a subject expert while they are at the site. The expert  can virtually see what the technician is seeing through the HoloLens, and walk them through the repair without leaving the office, even circling parts and providing other annotations in real time.

Microsoft Remote Assist in action with expert walking the technician through the task. Photo: Microsoft

Microsoft is not the first company to create such a solution. ScopeAR announced RemoteAR 4 months ago, a similar product, but Microsoft has the advantage of building it natively into Windows 10 and all that entails including data integration to update the various repositories with information after the repair is complete.

The other business scenario the company is announcing today is called Dynamics 365 Layout. A designer can create a 3D representation of something like a store or factory layout in CAD software, view the design in 3D in HoloLens, and adjust it in real time before the design goes live. As Microsoft’s Lorraine Bardeen, who has the cool title of General Manager for Microsoft Mixed Reality says, instead of creating cardboard mockups and adjusting your 3D CAD drawing on your computer as you find issues in your design, you can put on your HoloLens and make adjustments in a virtual representation of the layout and it adjusts the CAD drawing for you as you make changes.

Laying out the pieces on a factory floor using Dynamics 365 Layout. Photo: Microsoft

Bardeen says the company has worked with customers to find real-world use cases that would save time, effort and money using mixed reality with HoloLens.  They cite companies like Chevron, Ford and ThyssenKrupp Elevators as organizations actively embracing this kind of technology, but it still not clear if HoloLens and mixed reality will become a central component of business in the future. These two solutions GA on October 1st and we will begin the process of finding out.


Source: Tech Crunch

Apple Watch and other hardware reportedly spared by new Trump tariffs

The latest round of Trump administration tariffs is set to affect a number of different industries. At least one category previously expected to be impacted, however, is likely to be spared, according to a new report from Bloomberg.

According to anonymous sources, the tariffs impacting a slew of consumer electronics, running the gamut from the Apple Watch to Fitbit trackers to Sonos speakers, has not made it into the final language. That means, for this round at least, those products should be spared the tax that would drive up the cost of such imports.

Trump administration tariffs have been the centerpiece of a looming trade war between the U.S. and China. Earlier today, China was reportedly set to cancel further trade talks, should the U.S. announce additional tariffs. They’ve been a domestic issue as well, as companies like Harley-Davidson have announced plans to move some production overseas to avoid the fee.

Apple has been a vocal critic of the tariffs, noting the resulting price hike. Earlier this month, the company wrote a letter to the Office of the United States Trade Representative, noting, “Tariffs increase the cost of our US operations, divert our resources, and disadvantage Apple compared to foreign competitors. More broadly, tariffs will lead to higher US consumer prices, lower overall US economic growth, and other unintended economic consequences.”

CEO Tim Cook also met with the president and first lady at their New Jersey golf resort earlier this month, in what much have been one of the more awkward meals in recent memory.

The new tariffs are expected to be announced as early as today.


Source: Tech Crunch

Instagram Shopping gets personalized Explore channel, Stories tags

Instagram is embracing its true identity as a mail-order catalog. The question will be how much power merchants will give Instagram after seeing what its parent Facebook did to news outlets that relied on it. In a move that could pit it against Pinterest and Wish, Instagram is launching Shopping features across its app to let people discover and consider possible purchases before clicking through to check out on the merchant’s website.

Today, Instagram Explore is getting a personalized Shopping channel of items it thinks you’ll want most. And it’s expanding its Shopping tags for Instagram Stories to all viewers worldwide after a limited test in June, and it’s allowing brands in 46 countries to add the shopping bag icon to Stories that users can click through to buy what they saw.

Instagram clearly wants to graduate from where people get ideas for things to purchase to being a measurable gateway to their spending. 90 million people already tap its Shopping tags each month, it announced today. The new features could soak up more user attention and lead them to see more ads. But perhaps more importantly, demonstrating that Instagram can boost retail business’ sales for free through Stories and Explore could whet their appetite to buy Instagram ads to amplify their reach and juice the conversion channel. With 25 million businesses on Instagram but only 2 million advertisers, the app has room to massively increase its revenue.

For now Instagram is maintaining its “no comment” regarding whether it’s working on a standalone Instagram Shopping app as per a report from The Verge last month.  Instagram first launched its Shopping tags for feeds in 2016. It still points users out to merchant sites for the final payment step, though, in part because retailers want to control their relationships with customers. But long-term, allowing businesses to opt in to offering in-Instagram checkout could shorten the funnel and get more users actually buying.

Shopping joins the For You, Art, Beauty, Sports, Fashion and other topic channels that launched in Explore in June. The Explore algorithm will show you shopping-tagged posts from businesses you follow and ones you might like based on who you follow and what shopping content engages you. This marks the first time you can view a dedicated shopping space inside of Instagram, and it could become a bottomless well of browsing for those in need of some retail therapy.

With Shopping Stickers, brands can choose to add one per story and customize the color to match their photo or video. A tap opens the product details page, and another sends them to the merchant’s site. Businesses will be able to see the number of taps on their Shopping sticker, and how many people tapped through to their website. Partnerships with Shopify (500,000+ merchants) and BigCommerce (60,000+ merchants) will make it easy for retailers of all sizes to use Instagram’s Shopping Stickers. 

What about bringing Shopping to IGTV? A company spokesperson tells me, “IGTV and live video present interesting opportunities for brands to connect more closely with their customers, but we have no plans to bring shopping tools to those surfaces right now.”

For now, the new shopping features feel like a gift to merchants hoping to boost sales. But so did the surge of referral traffic Facebook sent to news publishers a few years ago. Those outlets soon grew dependent on Facebook, changed their news room staffing and content strategies to chase this traffic, and now find themselves in dire straights after Facebook cut off the traffic fire hose as it refocuses on friends and family content.

Retail merchants shouldn’t take the same bait. Instagram Shopping might be a nice bonus, but just how much it prioritizes the feature and spotlights the Explore channel are entirely under its control. Merchants should still work to develop an unmediated relationship directly with their customers, encouraging them to bookmark their sites or sign up for newsletters. Instagram’s favor could disappear with a change to its algorithm, and retailers must always be ready to stand on their own two feet.


Source: Tech Crunch

British cave rescuer sues Elon Musk for calling him a pedophile

The British diving expert, who Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk called a “pedo guy” in a public attack on Twitter, is striking back.

Vernon Unsworth filed a lawsuit Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California against Musk for defamation. The lawsuit alleges that between July 15 and August 30, Musk periodically used Twitter and emails to the media to publish false and defamatory accusations against Unsworth, including accusations of pedophilia and child rape.

The lawsuit is seeking compensatory damages of at least $75,000 and punitive damages in “an amount shown to be reasonable and just under the evidence to punish Musk and deter him from repeating such conduct.”

Unsworth was one of many people directly involved in the efforts to extract 12 boys and their soccer coach from the Tham Luang Nang Non cave system located in Northern Thailand after flooding trapped the group for weeks. The rescue effort drew global media coverage, even attracting Musk, who got involved by sending a mini submarine built out of rocket parts that he thought could help.

The initial “pedo guy” attack came after Unsworth gave a critical interview to the media saying Musk’s mini sub “had absolutely no chance of working.” The diving expert ended an interview segment by suggesting Musk should “stick his submarine where it hurts.”

Musk lashed out on Twitter and insinuated that Unsworth was a pedophile. He later deleted the offending tweet and tried to backpedal — even offering an apology of sorts on Twitter. And it could have all ended there. But then Musk dug it all up again during a debate with ex-TechCrunch journalist Drew Olanoff — once again on Twitter. Olanoff had brought up the “pedo guy” attack as an example of Musk telling untruths.

Musk then took it further and exchanged a series of emails with BuzzFeed about Unsworth.

A Tesla spokesperson could not be immediately reached for comment.


Source: Tech Crunch

Surveillance camera vulnerability could allow hackers to spy on and alter recordings

In newly published research, security firm Tenable reveals how popular video surveillance camera software could be manipulated, allowing would-be attackers the ability to view, disable or otherwise manipulate video footage.

The vulnerability, which researchers fittingly dubbed “Peekaboo,” affects software created by NUUO, a surveillance system software maker with clients including hospitals, banks and schools around the globe.

The vulnerability works via a stack buffer overflow, overwhelming the targeted software and opening the door for remote code execution. That loophole means that an attacker could remotely access and take over accounts with no authorization, even taking over networked cameras connected to the target device.

“This is particularly devastating because not only is an attacker able to control the NVR [camera] but the credentials for all the cameras connected to the NVR are stored in plaintext on disk,” Tenable writes.

Tenable provides more details on potential exploits tested with one of NUUO’s NVRMini2 devices on its GitHub page. One exploit “grabs the credentials to the cameras that are connected to the NVR, creates a hidden admin user, and disconnects any cameras that are currently connected to the NVR.” Not great.

Tenable set its disclosure to NUUO in motion on June 1. NUUO committed to a September 13 patch date to fix the issue but the date was later pushed to September 18, when anyone with affected equipment can expect to see firmware version 3.9.0.1. Organizations that might be vulnerable can use a plugin from the researchers to determine if they’re at risk or contact the manufacturer directly. TechCrunch reached out to NUUO about its plans to push a patch and notify affected users.

What what makes matters worse with this vulnerability is that NUUO actually licenses its software to at least 100 other brands and 2,500 camera models. Tenable estimates that the vulnerability could put hundreds of thousands of networked surveillance cameras at risk around the world, and many of the groups that operate those devices might have no idea that the risk is even relevant to the systems they rely on.


Source: Tech Crunch

Boom’s chief test pilot on the thrill and challenge of going supersonic (again)

“There’s nothing like it out there,” says Commander Bill “Doc” Shoemaker (Ret.), chief test pilot for Boom Supersonic, the startup aiming to make a passenger airliner for transoceanic flights at speeds (as you might guess from the name) faster than sound. Shoemaker, a former Navy aviator, fighter pilot and aeronautics engineer, will have the daunting privilege of being the first to fly the company’s proof of concept single-seater during tests next year.

That there’s nothing like Boom is not exactly a controversial opinion — there aren’t a lot of companies out there trying to resurrect supersonic flight. The Concorde is, after all, so well known a cautionary tale of engineering ambition exceeding the constraints of reality that it verges on hackneyed. But Shoemaker isn’t a Silicon Valley startup commentator, he’s a test pilot, and his perspective is that of someone who has worked on and flown dozens of aircraft, including supersonic ones, over his decades-long career.

The first question I asked (though not entirely a serious one) when I had a chance to chat with Shoemaker was whether it was a bit premature to have a chief pilot at a company that doesn’t yet have a plane to fly.

“There’s a good reason to have a pilot at this point,” Shoemaker said. As he delicately put it: “Among the team, the pilots are… uniquely committed to the outcome.”

Among other things, test pilots seem to have a knack for understatement. But it’s certainly true.

“You want the operator’s perspective, like how to build the cockpit, how you’ll operate the aircraft. The designer will come to me for that perspective — he’ll say, ‘how can I tweak the design to be more suitable for you?’ You want that cross-industry expertise.”

Boom is making a supersonic airliner, but it’s still mostly a paper plane, if you will. The company’s test craft, the XB-1, however, is being built and should be taking to the air about a year from now. That’s where many of the components, materials and design choices will be flight-proven. Interestingly, however, actually flying the test craft is a rather analog affair.

“The aircraft is definitely designed around a philosophy, which is ‘keep it simple.’ We’re not trying to introduce any more tech than we really need to. The flight controls are not fly-by-wire, they’re mechanical,” explained Shoemaker. “It’s going to be an interesting airplane to fly. It goes from 150 knots up to Mach 2.2, and up to 45,000 feet. It’ll be a challenge because of that mechanical stuff, but with what we’re trying to do, keeping it simple makes a lot of sense.”

That’s not to say nothing has changed over the last few decades of aeronautics, a topic in which, if you’ll recall, Shoemaker has a doctorate. Although he said he considers his role as being separate from the flight test engineers who put together the craft he’s flown, he’s still an important part of the team.

He suggested a few areas where he’s seen or expects improvements to the aircraft creation and testing process.

“One is composite materials. That’s huge,” he said, referring to things like carbon fiber and more exotic weaves and alloys that combine a number of desirable characteristics. “The strength and weight improvements offer new opportunities. You know, the Concorde would contract like a foot during flight temperatures, then expand again. Composites don’t do that. All these things make the aircraft lighter, faster and stronger.”

Second, he briefly noted, engine technology these days is “brisk,” especially combined with the materials advances.

“Last,” he said, “the Concorde design was wind-tunnel based, but a lot of the work we do is computation. We can do all the testing they did for the Concorde in a couple days.”

Wind tunnels are still involved, of course, but the models are so good that it’s more for verification than testing. But it also lets designers speed through ideas, evaluating but skipping wild ones without wasting time: “You can look at all these weird corner cases, and explore those very quickly.”

Basic advances in tech mean the team can avoid quirks like the Concorde’s drooping nose, which was there so that pilots could see the runway. “You can imagine all the mechanical complexity that comes with that,” said Shoemaker. “For us we’ll be going with a direct camera or some kind of vision system that’s integrated with all the systems.”

“The airliner itself,” he said, “will be highly augmented [compared to the test jet]. It’ll be fly-by-wire. Its handling qualities are really quite benign across the envelope. It’s surprising, but the way the aircraft handles on one side of the speed of sound isn’t so different from how it handles on the other side.”

Ultimately Shoemaker was optimistic about the whole enterprise, both the company and the prospect of supersonic passenger flight.

“As far as an ambitious project with an ambitious goal, there’s nothing like it out there,” he said. “That’s the value and reward of working with a team this size, a team that really believes they can reinvent and do it better. And it’s well within what we can do with technology — we can do it better than Concorde did, possibly by orders of magnitude.”

As for his part, the test flights set to take place next year, he’s more than a little excited.

“It’ll be a challenge to fly for sure — but it’ll be nice to go that fast again.”


Source: Tech Crunch