Month: November 2018

E Ink debuts a new electronic drawing technology

E Ink — a name synonymous with e-reader screens — just debuted a new writing Display technology called JustWrite. The tech offers the company’s familiar monochrome aesthetic — albeit in negative this time, with white on black.

The key here, as with most of E Ink’s technology is minimal power consumption and low cost, the latter of which it was able to accomplish by dumping the TFT (thin-film-transistor LCD). Instead, it’s a thin roll that could be used to paper surfaces like conference rooms and schools, in order to let people write on the walls using a stylus with practically no latency, as evidenced in the below GIF. 

“The JustWrite film features one of E Ink’s proprietary electronic inks and offers similar benefits as E Ink’s other product lines: a paper-like experience with a good contrast and reflective display without a backlight,” the company writes. “The JustWrite film is an all plastic display, making it extremely durable and lightweight, with the ability to be affixed and removed easily, enabling writing surfaces in a variety of locations.”

The technology could go head to head with the likes of Sony and reMarkable on drawing tablets, but E Ink appears to be more interested in embedded it in non-traditional surfaces. No word yet on how or when it will come to market, though the company is showing it off in person for the first time this week at an event in Tokyo.

Facebook adds free TV shows Buffy, Angel, Firefly to redefine Watch

Facebook hasn’t had a hit show yet for its long-form video hub Watch, so it’s got a new plan: digging up some deceased cult favorites from television. First up, Facebook is making all episodes of Joss Whedon’s Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly free on Facebook Watch. There’ll be simultaneous viewing Watch Parties where fans can live comment together for Buffy at 3 pm PT today, Angel tomorrow at 12 pm PT, and Firefly on sunday at 12pm PT. Facebook recruited Buffy star Sarah Michelle Gellar to promote the launch.

These shows aren’t original, and they’re far from exclusive since they’re included in a Hulu subscription and are available to rent or buy on other platforms. But at least they’re not run-of-the-mill web content.Wwith Facebook’s remake of MTV’s Real World not arriving until Spring 2019, these sci-fi and horror shows are the most high-profile programs available on the free ad-supported streaming service. The hope is that fans of these shows will come get a taste of Watch, and then explore the rest of its programming.

However, Facebook downplayed this as a change is overarching strategy when I asked if it would be licensing more old TV shows. Instead, it’s trying to build a well-rounded mix of content. A Facbook spokesperson provided this statement:

“No – this doesn’t reflect a strategy shift. We’re focused on bringing content to Watch that people want to discuss and create a community around — whether that’s live sports like UEFA Champions League in Latin America, compelling shows like Sorry For Your Loss, Queen America and Sacred Lies, or even nostalgia content like Real World reboot we’re bringing to Watch next year. Buffy, Firefly and Angel are pop culture favorites with dedicated fan bases, and we’re excited for the opportunity to bring these shows back in a way that enables fans to watch and discuss together on the same platform.”

There’s no guarantee Whedon fans will flock to Watch in droves. [TechCrunch owner] Verizon tried the same thing, bringing Veronica Mars and Babylon 5 to its Go90 streaming service. That failed to move the needle and Go90 eventually shut down. Meanwhile, Watch Party’s simultaneous viewing hasn’t blossomed into a phenomenon, but perhaps bringing the feature to Messenger (which TechCrunch reports Facebook is internally testing) could more naturally spur these social consumption experiences.

Watch has made some progress sicne its lackluster August 2017 debut. 50 million people now spend at least 1 minute per month with Watch. For comparison, over 18 Snapchat Shows have over 10 million unique viewers per month. Facebook Watch users spend 5X longer watching than on clips discovered News Feed videos. But Facebook Watch really needs to pour the cash in necessary to secure a tent-pole series — its Game Of Thrones or House Of Cards. That might mesh well with its new strategy of conceding the younger audience that’s abandon Facebook in favor targeting older users, CNBC reported.

With so much free video content floating around and plenty of people already subscribing to Netflix, Hulu, and/or HBO, it’s been tough for Watch to gain traction when it’s so far outside the understood Facebook use case. Laying a bed of diverse content is a good baby step, but it needs something truly must-see if it’s going to wedge its way into our viewing habits.

PayPal: Black Friday & Cyber Monday broke records with $1B+ in mobile payment volume

Black Friday broke records in terms of sales made from mobile devices, according to reports last week from Adobe. This week, PayPal said it saw a similar trend during the Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday shopping event. PayPal saw a record-breaking $1 billion+ in mobile payment volume for the first time ever on Black Friday – a milestone it hit again on Cyber Monday.

Mobile payment volume on Black Friday was up 42 percent over Black Friday 2017, the company said, and it even outpaced the mobile payment volume on Cyber Monday this year.

However, Cyber Monday saw more total payment volume, likely because much of the shopping that takes place that day comes from office workers back at their desktops, wrapping up a few more purchases.

Worldwide, mobile payment volume from Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday accounted for a significant 43 percent of PayPal’s total payment volume. Between those days, PayPal was processing more than $25,000 per second, with more than $11,000 per second processed on mobile.

The peak hour took place on Black Friday, which shows the sales event has shifted much of its business online. It’s now coming close to topping Cyber Monday in terms of both online and mobile shopping, PayPal noted.

PayPal’s data also pointed to another trend: that of the blurring of the line as to when holiday shopping begins and ends. Many retailers these days are launching their deals on Thanksgiving or even earlier, then allowing them to run for the week of Black Friday or longer.

Amazon, for example, has decided to capitalize on its own Black Friday/Cyber Monday momentum by launching a “12 Days of Deals” event that will feature hundreds of new deals every day from Sunday December 2 through Thursday December 13.

Other times, the shopping starts early, as PayPal’s data shows. Thanksgiving has now become another major shopping day, the company said, having broken into the top 10 shopping days of the year. It also grew 41 percent over last year.

E-commerce spending wasn’t the only thing that’s up year-over-year, PayPal also found. On Giving Tuesday – the event focused on donating to charities and other worthwhile causes – PayPal said over a million customers from 180 markets donated $98 million this year. That’s a 51 percent increase from 2017, it said.

The International Space Station’s new robot is a freaky floating space Alexa

Meet Cimon. The 3D printed floating robot head was developed by Airbus for the German Space Agency. He’s been a crew member of the International Space Station since June, though as Gizmodo notes, this is the first time we’re seeing him in action.

Really the floating, Watson-powered robot face is like an extremely expensive Amazon Echo designed to study human-machine interactions in space. This video highlights an early interaction between Cimon and European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst.

Gerst requests his “favorite song,” leading Cimon to play Kraftwerk’s “Man Machine,” only to shaken by the astronaut, who then demands the robot shoot some video. Once again Cimon complies, though this time he’s clearly a bit annoyed that the music has stopped. Kind of a rough first encounter for the two new coworkers.

“Happy with his initial outing, both Cimon’s developers and Alexander hope to see Cimon back in action again soon,” the ESA says. “While no further sessions are planned during the Horizons mission at this stage, it could mark the beginning of exciting collaboration between astronauts, robotic assistants and possible future artificial intelligence in space.”

Hopefully things go a bit more smoothly next time. Lord knows the last thing you want to do is piss off a space robot.

Niantic confirms that Pokémon GO is getting PvP battles “soon”

Two and a half years after the launch of Pokémon GO, it’s still missing one major staple of the main series games: player versus player battling.

That’s about to change.

In a series of teaser tweets this morning, the company confirmed that the battle system is on the way, noting only that it’s “coming soon”.

Battling is the feature perhaps most demanded by the player base — particularly after the other oh-so-demanded feature, trading, was finally added around six months ago. While players have long been able to battle Pokémon stored in gyms, or work together to take down bigger/badder Pokémon that show up in raids, there’s never been the sort of real time, head-to-head battling system the series is so well known for.

In August of this year, a rep for Niantic mentioned that their goal was to get it out by the end of the year. Given this tweet, it’s looking like that’ll happen.

The Arlo security camera goes 4K

The Arlo line was something of a surprise hit for Netgear, causing the networking company to spin it off into its own business earlier this year. The Arlo ecosystem is one of the most robust in the smart security camera space, and now it’s getting something it had never had before: 4K.

The new Arlo Ultra shoots in ultra high definition, with HDR image processing. At $400, it seems like — and likely is — overkill for most users. Do you need a 4K security camera? Almost certainly not. But there are some instances when getting the extra granular detail ultra high def affords could come in handy.

That price also gets you a free one-year subscription to Arlo’s Smart Premier service (worth $120), along with the Arlo SmartHub for connecting to home Wifi.

Beyond that, the Ultra also sports a 180-degree field of view and a built-in LED spotlight to get a better shot of dark views that night vision car offer. There are dual-mics on board as well, for two-way communications with active noise cancelation built in for clearer conversations.

The system will arrive in Q1 of next year.

AT&T details its streaming service plans as it weighs a sale of its Hulu stake

AT&T may be ready to sell its stake in Hulu, the company revealed in an analyst presentation on Thursday. The company currently owns a 10 percent stake in the service by way of WarnerMedia, as a result of its Time Warner acquisition. But AT&T today is running its own streaming services, including live TV service DirecTV Now aimed at cord cutters, and a more lightweight WatchTV. It’s also preparing to launch yet another direct-to-consumer streaming service in 2019 that leverages its WarnerMedia properties.

The company offered a few more details about this new service during the presentation, noting that it will have three tiers of service.

The entry-level package will be focused on movies, followed by a premium service with original programming and “blockbuster movies.” The third service will include content from the first two tiers, then add an “extensive library of WarnerMedia and licensed content,” including classics, kids & family programing, comedy, and other theatrical releases and niche content.

The service will launch into beta in Q4 2019, AT&T said, and will complement WarnerMedia’s existing business. It will also work across devices, and will expand over time to include third-party content through partnerships.

As for selling its stake in Hulu, the company is “looking for opportunities to monetize assets” that are not essential to its current strategies, explained AT&T CFO John Stephens. He said the company was looking at its “minority investments in things like Sky México or Hulu or a variety of other things.”

The mention of the Hulu sale was a part of a larger discussion about paying down $18 billion of AT&T’s $20 billion in debt by the end of next year, which involved raising up $8 billion in cash by the sale of some assets. The Hulu stake could be worth up to $930 million, Variety notes.

Also of note was the company’s not-so-vague threat that WarnerMedia would not be renewing its licensing deals with rival streaming services when their rights expire.

Asked how the new direct-to-consumer effort will be able to compete with incumbents, WarnerMedia CEO John Stankey responded that over the next 18 to 24 months, “we’re going to see a pretty substantial structural shift that’s going to occur…some of the incumbents in that are in that space today should expect that their libraries are going to get a lot thinner,” he said.

“75 to 80 percent of their total viewing tonnage is sitting on a lot of that licensed content. So their pressure is they’ve got to make this pivot over the next 18 to 24 months to get people off of viewing the licensed content that maybe sits in our library or sits in a Disney/Fox library, and get it onto their own,” Stankey added.

The company believes that, over time, it will be able to bring in enough new subscribers to its streaming offers to offset the declines related to cord cutting, which is impacting its satellite TV company DirectTV. In Q3 2019, the company lost 359,000 net DirecTV subscribers as more consumers dropped pay TV in favor of streaming services, like Netflix.

 

Toyota taps Docomo 5G to remotely control its humanoid robot

Toyota introduced T-HR3 to the world right around this time last year. The humanoid robot is capable of mimicking to the motions of a plugged-in human, a la Pacific Rim and countless other sci-fi franchises. The ‘bot’s learned a few new tricks in the intervening years, including, notably, untethered control via 5G.

Using the next-gen wireless tech, a plot is able to remotely control the robot from a distance of up to 10 kilometers (~6 miles). Toyota notes in a press release tied to the news that, in spite of earlier images, demos have been performed with a tethered robot. Using 5G tech from Japanese carrier  Docomo, however, the robot can be controlled from a distance with low latency.

As for what such a robot might actual be good for (beyond knocking the snot out of pint-sized kaiju), Toyota sees potential in homes and healthcare, with an eye on “a prosperous society of mobility.”

At the very least, it’s a nice little bit of press for the promise of 5G connectivity, which networking companies aim to frame as being a relevant technology well beyond just smartphones and computers. The tech will be demoed at a Docomo event in Tokyo early next year. 

And the winner of Startup Battlefield at Disrupt Berlin 2018 is… Legacy

At the very beginning, there were 13 startups. After two days of incredibly fierce competition, we now have a winner.

Startups participating in the Startup Battlefield have all been hand-picked to participate in our highly competitive startup competition. They all presented in front of multiple groups of VCs and tech leaders serving as judges for a chance to win $50,000 and the coveted Disrupt Cup.

After hours of deliberations, TechCrunch editors pored over the judges’ notes and narrowed the list down to five finalists: Imago AI, Kalepso, Legacy, Polyteia and Spike.

These startups made their way to the finale to demo in front of our final panel of judges, which included: Sophia Bendz (Atomico), Niko Bonatsos (General Catalyst), Luciana Luxiandru (Accel), Ida Tin (Clue), Matt Turck (FirstMark Capital) and Matthew Panzarino (TechCrunch).

And now, meet the Startup Battlefield winner of TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin 2018.

Winner: Legacy

Legacy is tackling an interesting problem: the reduction of sperm motility as we age. By freezing men’s sperm, this Swiss-based company promises to keep our boys safe and potent as we get older, a consideration that many find vital as we marry and have kids later.

Read more about Legacy in our separate post.

Runner-Up: Imago AI

Imago AI is applying AI to help feed the world’s growing population by increasing crop yields and reducing food waste. To accomplish this, it’s using computer vision and machine learning technology to fully automate the laborious task of measuring crop output and quality.

Read more about Imago AI in our separate post.

U.S. mobile app stores had their biggest day ever on Black Friday 2018

Black Friday wasn’t just a boon for e-commerce retailers, it helped the mobile app stores break new records, too. According to a new report from Sensor Tower, the combined consumer spending across the U.S. Apple App Store and Google Play on Black Friday 2018 reached $75.9 million – a record for the most ever spent in a single day on both stores.

The App Store accounted for most of that figure, however, with U.S. consumers spending a record $52 million on Black Friday. That’s a 31.6 percent increase in spending over last year’s shopping event, when consumers then spent $39.5 million.

It’s also notably higher than Christmas 2017, when spending reached $39.8 million – typically a strong day for app purchases and in-app sales, as consumers unwrap new iPhones.

The App Store’s $52 million was more than double the $23.9 million spent on Google Play during the same time.

Sensor Tower attributes the increased spending to a variety of factors, largely driven by mobile gaming. Game makers this year got in on the Black Friday action by offering players discounts on in-app purchases and other special bundles.

On the U.S. App Store, mobile gaming accounted for 68 percent of Black Friday spending, with consumers spending $35.4 million on games. That’s a 63 percent increase from the week prior, the report notes.

Other categories saw a boost, too, including Food & Drink and Sports – both reflective of the leisure time consumers had over the holidays. Food & Drink grew 34 percent while Sports grew 49 percent, Sensor Tower found, with top apps like NYT Cooking and ESPN: Live Sports and Scores benefitting from the surge.

Though the Black Friday shopping holiday is heavily associated with the U.S. because of its ties to Thanksgiving, the sales event is making its way around the world, too.

On the mobile app stores, that meant worldwide consumer spending saw a jump this year, as well.

The firm found that $117.3 million was spent by App Store users outside the United States on Black Friday, bringing the global total to $169.3 million, up 18.4 percent from 2017. The spending outside the U.S. was up 13.9 percent year-over-year, but that’s lower than the U.S.’s year-over-year growth of 31.6 percent between Black Friday 2017 and Black Friday 2018.

Also of note: while Amazon had its biggest day ever on Cyber Monday 2018, Cyber Monday didn’t perform as well on the app stores. In the U.S., app revenue was up about 20 percent versus the previous Cyber Monday to reach an estimated $37 million.

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