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With $4B food delivery acquisition, Korea poised to enter upper tier of startup hubs

Seoul and South Korea may well be the secret startup hub that (still) no one talks about.

While often dwarfed by the scale and scope of the Chinese startup market next door, South Korea has proven over the last few years that it can — and will — enter the top-tier of startup hubs.

Case in point: Baedal Minjok (typically shortened to Baemin), one of the country’s leading food delivery apps, announced an acquisition offer by Berlin-based Delivery Hero in a blockbuster $4 billion transaction late this week, representing potentially one of the largest exits yet for the Korean startup world.

The transaction faces antitrust review before closing, since Delivery Hero owns Baemin’s largest competitor Yogiyo, and therefore is conditional on regulatory approval. Delivery Hero bought a majority stake in Yogiyo way back in 2014.

What’s been dazzling though is to have witnessed the growth of this hub over the past decade. As TechCrunch’s former foreign correspondent in Seoul five years ago and a university researcher locally at KAIST eight years ago, I’ve been watching the growth of this hub locally and from afar for years now.

While the country remains dominated by its chaebol tech conglomerates — none more important than Samsung — it’s the country’s startup and culture industries that are driving dynamism in this economy. And with money flooding out of the country’s pension funds into the startup world (both locally and internationally), even more opportunities await entrepreneurs willing to slough off traditional big corporate career paths and take the startup route.

Baemin’s original branding was heavy on the illustrations.

Five years ago, Baemin was just an app for chicken delivery with a cutesy and creative interface facing criticism from restaurant franchise owners over fees. Now, its motorbikes are seen all over Seoul, and the company has installed speakers in many restaurants where a catchy whistle and the company’s name are announced every time there is an online delivery order.

(Last week when I was in Seoul, one restaurant seemingly received an order every 1-3 minutes with a “Baedal Minjok Order!” announcement that made eating a quite distracted experience. Amazing product marketing tactic though that I am surprised more U.S.-based food delivery startups haven’t copied yet).

The strengths of the ecosystem remain the same as they have always been. A huge workforce of smart graduates (Korea has one of the highest education rates in the world), plus a high youth unemployment and underemployment rate have driven more and more potential founders down the startup path rather than holding out for professional positions that may never materialize.

What has changed is venture capital funding. It wasn’t so long ago that Korea struggled to get any funding for its startups. Years ago, the government initiated a program to underwrite the creation of venture capital firms focused on the country’s entrepreneurs, simply because there was just no capital to get a startup underway (it was not uncommon among some deals I heard of at the time for a $100k seed check to buy almost a majority of a startup’s equity).

Now, Korea has become a startup target for many international funds, including Goldman Sachs and Sequoia. It has also been at the center of many of the developments of blockchain in recent years, with the massive funding boom and crash that market sustained. Altogether, the increased funding has led to a number of unicorn startups — a total of seven according to the The Crunchbase Unicorn Leaderboard.

And the country is just getting started – with a bunch of new startups looking poised to driven toward huge outcomes in the coming years.

Thus, there continues to be a unique opportunity for venture investors who are willing to cross the barriers here and engage. That said, there are challenges to overcome to make the most of the country’s past and future success.

Perhaps the hardest problem is simply getting insight on what is happening locally. While China attracts large contingents of foreign correspondents who cover everything from national security to the country’s startups and economy, Korea’s foreign media coverage basically entails coverage of the funny guy to the North and the occasional odd cultural note. Dedicated startup journalists do exist, but they are unfortunately few and far between and vastly under-resourced compared to the scale of the ecosystem.

Plus, similar to New York City, there are also just a number of different ecosystems that broadly don’t interact with each other. For Korea, it has startups that target the domestic market (which makes up the bulk of its existing unicorns), plus leading companies in industries as diverse as semiconductors, gaming, and music/entertainment. My experience is that these different verticals exist separately from each other not just socially, but also geographically as well, making it hard to combine talent and insights across different industries.

Yet ultimately, as valuations soar in the Valley and other prominent tech hubs, it is the next tier of startup cities that might well offer the best return profiles. For the early investors in Baemin, this was a week to celebrate, perhaps with some fried chicken delivery.

Volkswagen to bring self-driving electric shuttles to Qatar by 2022

Volkswagen Group and Qatar have agreed to develop a public transit system of autonomous shuttles and buses by 2022 for the capital city of Doha.

The agreement signed Saturday by VW Group and the Qatar Investment Authority is an expansive project that will involve four brands under VW Group, including Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, Scania, its shared ride service MOIA and Audi subsidiary Autonomous Intelligent Driving, or AID.

The aim is to develop the entire transport system, including the electric autonomous shuttles and buses, legal framework, city infrastructure and ride-hailing software required to deploy a commercial service there. The autonomous vehicles will be integrated into existing public transit.

“For our cities to progress we need a new wave of innovation,” QIA CEO Mansoor Al Mahmoud said in a statement. “AI-enabled, emission-free transportation technologies will help advance urban mobility, while diminishing congestion and improving energy efficiency.

The fleet will include 35 autonomous electric ID. Buzz vehicles from the Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles unit, which will shuttle up to four passengers on semi-fixed routes in a geo-fenced area of Doha. Another 10 Scania buses will be used for larger groups.

Closed testing of the shuttle vehicles and buses is expected to begin in 2020. Trials could start as early as 2021. VW and QIA said the project will go live by the end of 2022.

Fortnite gets lightsabers, courtesy of ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ promo

The final installment of the sequel trilogy is getting a lot of creative promotion — even by Star Wars standards. With The Rise of Skywalker out in just under a week, J.J. Abrams (and some spotty server issues) paid a visit to Fortnite. The director showed off an exclusive clip from the upcoming film featuring the familiar trio of Rey, Finn and Poe Dameron.

That and watching a bunch of stormtroopers dance around is all well and good, but the real fun came next. Darth Galactic Empire Lord Palpatine-Sidious kicked off a final segment that found players rushing to grab the latest Fortnite weapon: a lightsaber.

As The Verge notes, there are a bunch of other in-game Star Wars challenges added to the title as part of the promo, but honestly, lightsabers. Just lightsabers. The game now sports a variety of different colors of the iconic kyber crystal-powered weapon, including a crossguard version like the kind sported by Kylo Ren in the new films.

The lead up to the film has seen a slew of different Star Wars add-ons, including skins of Stormtroopers, main characters Rey and Finn and a TIE Interceptor-style glider.

Let’s talk Samsung Galaxy S11

We’ve officially entered the mid-December hardware doldrums. Obviously no major hardware maker in its right mind is going to be announcing anything major in the next few weeks, for fear of preemptively cannibalizing holiday sales. Things will, however, heat up immediately after the new year with the kick off of CES. Then, a little over a month later, comes MWC.

Sandwiched somewhere in there is the launch of Samsung’s next flagship. This is the device that sets the ton for the company for the whole year. Samsung’s six month flagship release cycle (S series, followed by the Note) affords the company the ability to offer more frequent refreshes, but this first one is really a standard setter for both the company and the industry at large.

A February 18 launch date has been floated for the next flagship. The timing certainly makes sense. Samsung has broken away from MWC — and big tech shows in general — for its biggest announcements. Doing so puts the spotlight on its own devices and beats the MWC news glut for a few weeks. Likely available for the devices will begin the following month.

As for the name — there’s no reason to believe the company would use this opportunity to break away from the S11/S11+ scheme this time out. So we’re going to stick with that until credibly informed otherwise.

The recently announced Snapdragon 865 will be powering the device in a number of markets, making the S11 among the first devices to launch with the latest flagship SoC. A recent report also suggests that the configuration will be available in even more markets, including, potentially its native South Korea. Standardized 5G seems possible across the board, though that’s likely going to mean an even more prohibitively expensive starting price. It’s a big jump, especially with a still-spotty rollout in many markets.

An under-screen front-facing camera has been rumored, but the more familiar hole punch seems a lot more likely for this gen. Renders (courtesy of OnLeaks) of the device point to a design similar to the most recent Note, only with an even more trypophobia-inducing design than the most recent iPhone and Google Pixel (which is saying something). The camera bump appears downright massive, monopolizing an impressive portion of the rear.

An impossible large 108 megapixel camera has been rumored for the device, along with 8K video. Either way, imagining is no doubt going to once again be a major focus for the line. So, too, is a healthy battery increase.

EVLeaks, meanwhile, is suggesting an EVEN LARGER screen, with the S11e measuring either 6.2 or 6.4 inches, the S11 at 6.7 inches and the S11+ at a huge 6.9 inches. Plenty more leaks sure to come between now and mid-February. Stay tuned. 

New Orleans declares state of emergency following ransomware attack

New Orleans declared a state of emergency and shut down its computers after a cyber security event, the latest in a string of city and state governments to be attacked by hackers.

Suspicious activity was spotted around 5 a.m. Friday morning. By 8 a.m., there was an uptick in that activity, which included evidence of phishing attempts and ransomware, Kim LaGrue, the city’s head of IT said in a press conference. Once the city confirmed it was under attack, servers and computers were shut down.

While ransomware was detected there are no requests made to the city of New Orleans at this time, but that is very much a part of our investigation, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said during a press conference.

Numerous local and state governments have been plagued by ransomware, a file-encrypting malware that demands money for the decryption key. Pensacola, Florida and Jackson County, Georgia are just a few examples of the near-constant stream of ransomeware attacks over the past year. Louisiana state government was attacked in November, prompting officials to deactivate government websites and other digital services and causing the governor to declare a state of emergency. It was the state’s second declaration related to a ransomware attack in less than six months.

Governments and local authorities are particularly vulnerable as they’re often underfunded and unresourced, and unable to protect their systems from some of the major threats.

New Orleans, it appears was somewhat prepared, which officials said was the result of training and its ability to operate without internet. The investigation is in its early stages, but for now it appears that city employees didn’t interact with or provide credentials or any information to possible attackers, according to officials.

“If there is a positive about being a city that has been touched by disasters and essentially been brought down to zero in the past, is that our plans and activity from a public safety perspective reflect the fact that we can operate with internet, without city networking,” said Collin Arnold, director of Homeland Security, adding that they’ve gone back to pen and paper for now.

Police, fire and EMS are prepared to work outside of the city’s internet network. Emergency communications are not affected by the cybersecurity incident, according to city officials. However, other services such as scheduling building inspections are being handled manually.

New Orleans’s Real-Time Crime Center does work off the city network, however the cameras throughout the city record independently, so right now all of those cameras are still recording regardless of connectivity to the city’s network, Arnold added. 

Federal, state and local officials are now involved in an investigation into the security incident.

 

Gift Guide: Gifts for the commuters in your life

Welcome to TechCrunch’s 2019 Holiday Gift Guide! Need help with gift ideas? We’re here to help! We’ll be rolling out gift guides from now through the end of December. You can find our other guides right here.

Remote working has become a new normal in the life of an employee. Spurred by ubiquitous broadband and mobile connectivity, lighter and smaller computers, and everything you need in the cloud, a lot of people have felt a lot less of a need to be in the same physical space as everyone else, day in day out, to get things done.

And yet, there remains a critical mass of people in and near big towns and cities who continue to commute.

For this guide, we’re focusing on commuters who eschew cars for all the obvious reasons — traffic, parking, gas costs, and more traffic — and instead opt for buses, trains, subways and bikes to travel to their “offices” — be they actual offices, or cafes or other workspaces — on a regular or semi-regular basis.

Daily commutes around most of the world’s metro areas can stretch into more than an hour per day on average, according to research from Moovit. In other words, these are presents that go to the heart of how your special people spend significant chunks of their days, weeks, months and years.

This gift guide is to help make that time more well spent. 

These products are the epitome of the genre-crossing, “prosumer” lives many of us seem to live today: they straddle the worlds of practicality and of fun, presents that might help them work during their commute, or get their minds off work, or to make their work trip a little safer or easier. Happy shopping (and hopefully, happier commuting).

This article contains links to affiliate partners where available. When you buy through these links, TechCrunch may earn an affiliate commission.

Smart bike lights

There’s been a big shift in these over the last decade or so. The bike lights of yesterday were barely-visible front and rear lights, semi-permanently attached to your handlebars and backseat, powered by batteries that always seemed to run out. Today, you can buy much brighter LED-based lights, which work on USB chargers to keep doing their job and easily attach and detach wherever you choose to buckle them.

Smart lights are the next gear up on that trajectory, with app-based controls and so.much.more. UK company See.Sense’s version packs a strong punch: on top of the being brighter, easier to remove and recharge, the lights link up with an app to alert you when someone appears to be stealing your bike, and they sense when you are cycling faster and slower and blink more rapidly when there’s more traffic to make sure the cyclist is better seen. The downside is that hills won’t be the only steep thing on your horizon.

Price: $120 on Amazon for a Front/Rear set

Bike-mounted speaker

A worrying number of cyclists get around the streets with headphones in their ears to pick up navigation instructions, listen to music or podcasts, or talk on the phone. This is not ideal, though, as it means they cannot fully hear the noise of traffic in their midst. A bike-mounted speaker is a way to let the rider continue to listen to their audio, but not at the detriment of hearing other important traffic noises.

This Celtic Blu speaker is one of the more fancy of the dozens of bike speakers that are on the market today. Alongside the basics of offering a Bluetooth connection to play music or other media from your phone and being waterproof, it doubles as a charging bank for other devices, can work as a microphone to take calls, and has an additional set of controls that you access from the handlebars to adjust sound, answer calls and other actions more safely. The downside is that it’s one of the bigger of the speakers,  potentially taking up space you migh have mounted a water bottle.

Price: $80 on Amazon

Streaming, podcast or audiobook gift cards

Streaming services from Spotify, Apple, Amazon and others have been growing in ubiquity by leaps and bounds, but if your commuter isn’t already subscribing to one of these, or if they’re only using the free tier, giving them a chance to test out the premium service with a giftcard could be a welcome present. It can also be one to personalise: find a mix of podcast programs you think your commuter might like to hear, or pick out a selection of books for the listening, to give alongside the card. (See some book recommendations here and here.)

Price: Audible starts at $15/month; Spotify Gift Cards are widely available from retailers including Amazon.

Wireless ear buds and headphones

Airpods Pro

I personally worry about how safe these are for cycling, so I won’t endorse them for bike usage. But they have quickly become one of the must-haves for commuters on other transportation modes who are mad as hell about tangled cords and not going to take it anymore. Apple’s Air Pods Pro, at $249, are a noticeable improvement on the previous generation of their wireless buds, and the world has noticed: they have been a huge sell-out success, with orders now only shipping in January. There are dozens of others now on the market if you don’t want to wait, or pay the premium to own an Apple product.

Price: Airpods Pro, $249 on Amazon | For a more classic (and cheaper) headphone style, try these from Sony.

E-Reader

No, not everyone has one of these. Yes, they are still a huge seller for Amazon, underscoring their enduring popularity. We like the Kindle Paperwhite (pictured above) or the Kindle Oasis, the latter of which is around $145 more but brings in a bigger screen, an adjustable-warmth backlight, and physical page turning buttons.

Read some of our book recommendations here.

Price: Kindle Paperwhite, $105 on Amazon | Kindle Oasis, $250 on Amazon

Panniers

I’m a bike commuter myself and have been toughing it out (literally and figuratively) with a pair of Ortlieb Back-Roller Classics for years. These monsters are so durable that the set I have now are as old as my oldest child (14) and they still look nearly new.

But I’m going to be honest. They’re not beautiful, and even with two inside pockets, they can be hard to peer inside when you’re looking for something smallish. (The blood has rushed out of my hands more than once thinking I’d somehow lost my wallet or phone, only to find them deep down inside the bag.)

The cool thing is that there is now a huge range of options on the market for new bags, whether you want them for leisurely use, for work commuting, for a fashion statement, to make them easier to carry when you’re off your bike, or all of the above.

Arkel’s bag is laptop-focused (but sells as a single); Timbuk2 (pictured above) if you’re after a “tandem” style; and if you are looking for a stylish pannier to replace purely functional ones used by your commuter, you can consider the Norfolk model from Brooks or the Sac from Linus.

Price: Arkel Commuter bag, $189 | Timbuk2 Tandem bag, $129 on Amazon | Brooks Norfolk, $120 on Amazon | Linus Sac, $70

Activity tracker

These are not just for the people who cycle, run or walk to work. While a lot of a commuter’s journey might take place sitting or standing on public transportation, there is actually quite a bit of walking that comes at the start and finish of the route. A good activity tracker can help a person track how they rack up the miles and feel a little better about all the hours they subsequently spend sitting at a desk.

You can go for a premium Apple Watch starting at around $400, or you can opt for a basic Fitbit at under $100.

Price: Apple Watch, from $384 on Amazon | Fitbit Inspire, $80 on Amazon

Privacy Screen

Borrowing one from Zack, who has a much more extensive list of privacy-related gifts, to draw one out for those who pull out their laptops during their morning commutes, whether it’s to work or do something else. Whatever it is: wandering eyes sitting nearby can see what you’re doing. A special screen that blocks all angular views except straight on in front on the machine is a good way to keep the nosey parkers out of your business.

Price: Around $17 on Amazon.

Touchscreen gloves

Not strictly (nor even loosely) a gadget, but something that will help you keep using your screen-based companions as the weather turns cooler. You can buy beautiful leather, cashmere-lined versions of these; or you can buy them in acrylic. You can go colourful or stay basic in black. People lose or rip gloves all the time, so even having an extra pair is not a bad thing.

Price: Downholme Leather/cashmere gloves, $60 on Amazon here | knit gloves (a little more modest but still perfectly good),  $8 on Amazon.

 

FBI secretly demands a ton of consumer data from credit agencies. Now lawmakers want answers

Recently released documents revealed the FBI has for years secretly demanded vast amounts of Americans’ consumer and financial information from the largest U.S. credit agencies.

The FBI regularly uses these legal powers — known as national security letters — to compel credit giants to turn over non-content information, such as records of purchases and locations, that the agency deems necessary in national security investigations. But these letters have no judicial oversight and are typically filed with a gag order, preventing the recipient from disclosing the demand to anyone else — including the target of the letter.

Only a few tech companies, including Facebook, Google, and Microsoft, have disclosed that they have ever received one or more national security letters. Since the law changed in 2015 in the wake of the Edward Snowden disclosures that revealed the scope of the U.S. government’s surveillance operations, recipients have been allowed to petition the FBI to be cut loose from the gag provisions and publish the letters with redactions.

Tech companies have used “transparency reports” to inform their users of government demands for their data. But other major data collectors, like credit agencies, have failed to publish their figures altogether.

Three lawmakers — Democratic senators Ron Wyden and Elizabeth Warren, and Republican senator Rand Paul — have sent letters to Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, expressing their “alarm” as to why the credit giants have failed to disclose the number of government demands for consumer data they receive.

“Because your company holds so much potentially sensitive data on so many Americans and collects this information without obtaining consent from these individuals, you have a responsibility to be transparent about how you handle that data,” the letters said. “Unfortunately, your company has not provided information to policymakers or the public about the type or the number of disclosures that you have made to the FBI.”

Spokespeople for Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion did not respond to a request for comment outside business hours.

It’s not known how many national security letters were issued to the credit agencies since the legal powers were signed into law in 2001. The New York Times said the national security letters to credit agencies were a “small but telling fraction” of the overall half-million FBI-issued demands made to date.

Other banks and financial institutions, as well as universities, cell service and internet providers, were targets of national security letters, the documents revealed.

The senators have given the agencies until December 27 to disclose the number of demands each has received.

Wearable band shipments grew globally, driven by Xiaomi

Apple may dominate the wearable conversation here in the States, but things look a fair bit different on the other side of the world. In Asia, Xiaomi is the giant in the room. According to new numbers form Canalys, the Chinese manufacturer was the key driver in global growth.

Wearable band shipments grew 65%, year over year for Q3. Xiaomi continues to top the list, with an even more impressive 74% versus this time last year. That puts gives the company 27% of the total global wearable band market — its highest number since 2015.

Low prices have been the key to the company’s success, which have helped grow shipments in China by 60% overall. The company’s strategy has also rubbed off on competitors like Samsung and Fitbit (soon to be counted among Google’s numbers), which have sought to offer low cost devices in order to appeal to those users, particularly in Asia.

Huawei saw substantial growth for the quarter, as well, at 243% year over year, courtesy of strong sales in its native China. Those numbers helped the company hold onto third place globally, just ahead of Fitbit.

Even Apple is offering up lower cost devices by keeping older model Apple Watches around, hitting the $200 price point The company’s new, premium devices continue to dominate, however. The Series 5 comprise upwards of 60% of the company’s global shipments for the quarter.

Startups Weekly: This year in startups

Welcome back to Startups Weekly, a weekend newsletter that dives into the week’s noteworthy startups and venture capital news. Before I jump into today’s topic, let’s catch up a bit. Last week, I wrote about U.S. VC activity in Europe. Before that, I noted Chinese investor activity in Africa.

Remember, you can send me tips, suggestions and feedback to kate.clark@techcrunch.com or on Twitter @KateClarkTweets. If you’re new, you can subscribe to Startups Weekly here.


Hello from Berlin, where we’ve just wrapped our annual conference, TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin. Top investors shared insight into European venture capital, well-known individuals and firms made announcements (large and small), and entrepreneurs pontificated about the future of startups in their respective regions.

As I spoke with various early-stage startup founders presenting at the event, chatted with U.S. and European venture capitalists and brain-stormed with my colleagues, I reflected on my last 12 months inside the tech bubble. Soon, I’ll be publishing an extended look at what I see as the 10 biggest themes in startups and VC in 2019. But for now, here’s a sneak peek at my top picks.

  1. SoftBank screw ups. From WeWork to Wag to Fair.com, SoftBank made headlines over and over again this yearfor all the wrong reasons.
  2. WeWork woes. SoftBank’s star portfolio company struggled the most. This was the biggest story of the year and its complete with drugs, private jets, burned cash and upset employees.
  3. CEO exodus. From Away co-founder Steph Korey to WeWork’s Adam Neumann, a whole lot of executives exited their posts this year.
  4. Unicorn IPO struggles. Uber, Lyft, Pinterest, Zoom and more unicorns went public this year. Some fared better than others.
  5. The fight for seed. There was more competition than ever at the earliest stage of venture capital. As a result, investors got creative, hired fresh faces, raised new funds and even gave founders lavish gifts.
  6. Y Combinator growth. Everyone’s favorite accelerator got a whole lot bigger this year. Not only did its cohorts swell, but its president, Sam Altman, stepped down and the firm cemented changes to its investment process.
  7. VCs + direct listings = <3. When venture capitalist weren’t busy gossiping about WeWork and SoftBank, they were debating a new and innovative path to the public markets: direct listings.
  8. Every startup is a bank. Brex raised hundreds of millions, Stripe launched a corporate card, credit card startup Deserve nabbed $50 million. 2019 was the year that consumer banking upstarts became the new e-scooter businesses.
  9. VC isn’t the only option. While VCs were going crazy for consumer financial services, companies like Clearbanc and Capital expanded to give founders alternatives to venture capital, like revenue-based financing and venture debt.
  10.   The diversity disaster persists. Women still only raise 2.8% of venture capital in the U.S., up from 2.2%. Enough said.

If you like this newsletter, you will definitely enjoy Equity, which brings the content of this newsletter to life — in podcast form! Join myself and Equity co-host Alex Wilhelm every Friday for a quick breakdown of the week’s biggest news in venture capital and startups.

This week, I sat down with Chris Mayo, head of primary markets at the London Stock Exchange, to discuss the rise of direct listings.

Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

Apple and Spotify’s podcasts come to Echo devices in the US

Amazon Alexa can now play podcasts from Apple, making Amazon’s line of Echo devices the first third-party clients to support the Apple Podcasts service without using AirPlay. Before, this level of support was limited to Apple’s HomePod. According to Amazon, the addition brings to Alexa devices Apple’s library of more than 800,000 podcasts. It also allows customers to set Apple Podcasts as their preferred podcast service.

The move is the latest in a series of partnerships between the two rivals, which also included the launch of the Apple TV app on Amazon’s Fire TV platform, as well as the launch of Apple Music on Echo devices and Fire TV. Amazon, in response, has expanded its assortment of Apple inventory to include Apple TV, iPad, iPhone, Apple Watch and more.

To get started, Apple users who want to stream from Apple Podcasts will first need to link their Apple ID in the Alexa app. Customers can then ask Alexa to play or resume the podcasts they want to hear. Other player commands, like “next” or “fast forward,” work, too. And as you move between devices, your progress within each episode will also sync, which means you can start listening on Alexa, then pick up where you left off on your iPhone.

In the Alexa app’s Settings, users will also be able to specify Apple Podcasts as their default player, which means any time they ask Alexa for a podcast without indicating a source, it will stream from the Apple Podcasts service.

Not to be outdone, Spotify also today announced its support for streaming podcasts on Alexa in the U.S.

Of course, Spotify Premium users have been able to use Spotify Connect to stream to Echo before today.

But now, Spotify says that both Free and Premium U.S. customers will be able to ask Alexa for podcasts as well as set Spotify as their default player.

Alexa’s support for Spotify podcasts was actually announced in September (alongside other news) at Amazon’s annual Alexa event in Seattle, so it’s less of a surprise than the Apple addition.

At the time, Amazon said it was adding support for Spotify’s podcast library in the U.S., which would bring “hundreds of thousands” of podcasts to Alexa devices. That also includes Spotify’s numerous exclusive podcasts — something that will give Echo users a reason to set Spotify as their default, perhaps.

Shortly after that announcement, Spotify said its free service would also now stream to Alexa devices, instead of only its paid service for Premium subscribers.

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