Turbotodd

Ruminations on tech, the digital media, and some golf thrown in for good measure.

Archive for April 2019

Robots Never Die

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I have personally been looking forward to the age of robots and artificial intelligence. Despite all the advances we’ve made in science and technology in the last few centuries, we seem to still be on the verge of living in a populist, nationalist, non-science driven dystopia.

I want my robots.

But I’m not apparently going to be getting them from Anki, a “once-hot” robotics startup that is shutting down after raising more than $200M.

Recode’s coverage indicated that close to 200 employees of the company would be paid a week of severance, and that CEO Boris Sofman had told employees the company was scrambling to find more money after a new round of financing fell through.

Anki had produced consumer robots like “Cozmo,” but had also raised what Recode described as “serious money” from the likes of Andreesen Horowitz.

The company said in a statement to Recode that it was left “without significant funding to support a hardware and software business and bridge to our long-term product roadmap.”
“Despite our past successes, we pursued every financial avenue to fund our future product development and expand on our platforms,” a company spokesperson said. “A significant financial deal at a late stage fell through with a strategic investor and we were not able to reach an agreement. We’re doing our best to take care of every single employee and their families, and our management team continues to explore all options available.”

Anki robots had been popular at stores like Toys R Us, but had more recently attempted to pivot from toys to a “developed robotics” company based on AI.

Company employees were being given only a week of severance pay. As for the company robots still lying around? I hope somebody removed their power source!

Written by turbotodd

April 30, 2019 at 9:16 am

Posted in 2019, AI, startups

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The Long Night of White Walkers and Home Shares

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It’s Monday, and if you’re a loyal “Game of Thrones,” you’re dreams were probably filled with the lingering aftermath of the battles of “The Long Night,” the most recent episode in the series’ final season and one that stretched out well over its typical hour.

I’m not going to give away any of the plot points but will say this: After watching that episode, do you think either Daenerys Targaryen or John Snow are prepared for future leadership??!

And I’d be remiss without a hat tip to “Avengers: Endgame,” which debuted at theatres around the world and broke a new record for all time box office open: $1.2B! Showings in Austin were pretty much sold out, and it sounds like that may have been the case around the world.

Now on to some of the key tech and marketing news of the day. SearchEngineLand is reporting that Bing Ads is rebranding itself as “Microsoft Advertising,” with the new name reflecting a broader focus on ad inventory, data and targeting capabilities.

And SEL tells us we should care because:

The rebrand emphasizes a focus on personalization and AI. “In the next year, we’re introducing more advertising products with built-in AI, more connected to your data and your business,” Rik van der Kooi, corporate VP for Microsoft Advertising, said in a blog post Monday.

The AI backbone that powers Bing has given the company the “right to innovate,”David Pann, general manager of global search business at Microsoft said during a keynote discussion at SMX East last year. He cited MSAN and LinkedIn integrations as one example.

The story cites Microsoft Advertising as having 500K advertisers (Google apparently passed the 1M mark in 2009). By comparison, Facebook said last week that 3M advertisers are using Stories Ads.

On the homesharing front, Marriott has announced it is officially getting into the homesharing business, after having run a small pilot entitled “Hostmaker” in 2018 in London.

Its new homesharing business now operates in more than 100 different markets, and of these, 40 were in markets where Marriott had not previously had a presence (Amalfi Coast, North Lake Tahoe, Saint-Tropez, among them).

As to the pilot results:

Nearly 90 percent of guests who booked a Tribute Portfolio Home as part of the Hostmaker pilot were loyalty members, and more than 75 percent were traveling for leisure with family and friends. The average length of stay for Tribute Portfolio Homes guests was more than triple the normal hotel stay, at 5.1 nights, and the average size of home booked was more than two bedrooms.

And as to the new, full-fledged operation:

In running this new business unit, Marriott will act more like an online travel agency or distribution platform, like Airbnb or Booking or HomeAway, for the selected property management companies it has chosen to work with. The company would not disclose the commission structure it has put into place.

Homeaway and AirBNB, you’d better keep the lights on!

Speaking of keeping the lights on, Amazon made a noteworth investment in India today, according to a report from TechCrunch.

Amazon announced the launch of a person-to-person (P2P) payment capability via Amazon Pay for Android users in the country.

Using this tech, customers will now be able to:

…make instant bank-to-bank transactions through the UPI platform on the localized version of the Amazon app, allowing them to settle bills and other expenses with friends, lend or return money to family, pay for services and more. Notably, the new P2P service also will allow customers to make payments from their bank account to local stores or to Amazon delivery associates at the doorstep, who will scan a UPI QR code within the Amazon app.

The globaly e-payments war, like the GOT’s long night battle, is just getting enjoined, and it’s going to be interesting to watch the potential nexus of that battle with the one going on with cryptocurrency.

Keep those Valyrian steel swords sharp!

Written by turbotodd

April 29, 2019 at 11:08 am

Unicorns Fold

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Well this has been a week.

If you’ve not been keeping up with the Samsung Galaxy fold saga, The Verge’s latest report indicates that iFixit has “decided to honor a Samsung request to pull its Galaxy Fold teardown off the Internet,” even though the company apparently didn’t make the request directly.

Why is Samsung doing this? We’ve asked for comment, obviously, but we suspect an answer may not be forthcoming. That leaves us with a whole pile of possible reasons we can only speculate on.
On the charitable end of the interpretation scale is that Samsung is definitely reworking the Fold, the design will change, and Samsung doesn’t want to have a teardown out there for a device it isn’t ever going to ship. Possibilities get successively less charitable from there. Perhaps the partner who provided the Fold to iFixit wasn’t supposed to, and Samsung is just enforcing a contract.

It’s too easy, I know, but I can’t help myself…

You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run
You never count your money
When you’re sittin’ at the table
There’ll be time enough for countin’

When the dealin’s done

Thank you, Kenny Rogers.

Okay, well, now that the country music interlude is over, let’s see what’s up on the unicorn IPO front.

CNBC is reporting that Slack has filed for an IPO via a direct listing, indicating the company took a loss of $138M on $400M in revenue.

What, all those free Zooms I do aren’t making Zoom zoom faster??

Uber, on the other hand, has set an IPO range of $44 to $50 per share, and is expecting to raise up to $10.35B on an $84B valuation.

And here’s a blast from your DoCoMo past. For those of you remember NTT’s DoCoMo iMode phone service from Japan, one of the world’s first mobile app ecosystems way back in 1998…well, NTT DoCoMo (which is now Japan’s biggest cellphone service provider) is backing the magic AR unicorn Magic Leap to the tune of $280M.

Magic Leap has already raised $2.3B, so what’s $280M more among unicorns?

This move would obviously allow ML to make the magic leap right into the Japanese market.

The New York Times is reporting that the company is already planning to reopen its Series D fund-raising, acknowledging the “costs of its business.”

Damn, those unicorns are expensive, though some more than others.

Written by turbotodd

April 26, 2019 at 12:21 pm

Show Me the Money

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Facebook had a big quarter. Or, should I say, a BIG quarter.

Despite all the privacy snafus and regulatory chafing, the company reported Q1 revenue of $15.08B, with advertising revenue up 26% at $14.91B. 

Also, Facebook explained it would set aside $3B to cover expenses associated with a fine from the Federal Trade Commission over its privacy practice (although the fine apparently could go as high as $5B).

Facebook also indicated that its Facebook stories feature now has 500M daily users across both FB and Messenger, and WhatsApp’s status has 500M daily users (poor Snapchat has a paltry 190M DUs by comparison).

In other words, Facebook sneezes, the rest of the ad industry still catches cold.

Microsoft also announced big earnings, reporting Q3 revenue was up 14% to $30.6B and net income was up 19% to $8.8B. Intelligent Cloud Revenue was up 22% to $9.7B. 

Earlier today, the company became only the third U.S. company ever to pass a market cap of $1T (the other two were Apple and Amazon).

But it’s not just the techs who are in tech.

TechCrunch reported that Walmart announced earlier today a new “store of the future,” a sort of proving ground for emerging tech, including A.I.-enable cameras and interactive displays.

Code-named “IRL” (for, the “Intelligent Retail Lab”), the store operates out of a Walmart Neighborhood Market and contains over 30,000 items. Not unlike Amazon Go’s convenience stories:

the store has a suite of cameras mounted in the ceiling. But unlike Amazon Go, which is a grab-and-go store with smaller square footage, Walmart’s IRL spans 50,000 square feet of retail space and is staffed by over 100 employees.

Plus, in Walmart’s case, these A.I.-powered cameras are not being used to determine what items customers are buying in order to automatically charge them. It still has traditional checkout stations. Instead, the cameras will monitor inventory levels to determine, for example, if staff needs to bring out more meat from the backroom refrigerators to restock the shelves, or if some fresh items have been sitting too long on the shelf and need to be pulled.

The idea is that the A.I. will help the store associates know more precisely where and when to restock products. And this, in turn, means customers will know the produce and meat is always fresh and in stock when they arrive.

The system apparently generates so much data, 1.6TB per second, that it necessitates a big data center on site.

And yet it seems to be obviously avoiding getting into the business of automated checkout solutions (which Amazon has tackled head on), instead “using the A.I. system to ensure that there are shopping carts available at all times and that registers are open and staffed.”

But don’t kid yourself…it’s probably only a few years before we’ll be seeing a virtual Sam hologram himself welcoming you to the new and improved Ai-driven Walmart.

Save Money. Live Better.

Written by turbotodd

April 25, 2019 at 10:41 am

Keep on Truckin’

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10-4, good buddy.  You got a bear on your back door and your comic book is full.  I’m 10 and on the side.

That’s about all the CB talk I’m good for, but KeepTruckin is good for plenty more.

The developer of both hardware and software that helps truck drivers manage their vehicles and cargo has raised $149 million in Series D funding, with Greenoaks Capital leading the round and including participation from GV, IVP, Index Ventures, and Scale Venture Partners.

According to a report in TechCrunch, this Series D round values KeepTruckin at $1.25B, and the company was founded in 2013 and has garned some 55K unique customers, and deployed its software in hundreds of thousands of vehicles.

“Our technology really improves the life of the driver,” [CEO Shoaib] Makani told TechCrunch. “These are real people doing work that keeps our economy moving. Trucking is really the foundation of the American economy. More than 70 percent of all freight is moved over the road in a truck. This is how we eat, consume and produce; without it, our economy wouldn’t thrive.”

KeepTruckin’s software is intended to bring the antiquated trucking industry into the digital age. Its platform provides electronic logs and fleet management tools, including GPS tracking and driver performance monitoring for fleet managers and dispatchers to track and communicate with their drivers.

“We are competing against paper and pencil,” Makani explained

East bound and down, loaded up and truckin’…into the 21st century.

Written by turbotodd

April 23, 2019 at 9:58 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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The Folding Fold

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Happy Monday.

As I expected would happen, Samsung is apparently folding on the rollout this Friday of its Galaxy Fold smartphone this Friday due to folding issues with the new device.

According to a report from Reuters, it has cancelled media events for the Fold in both Hong Kong and Shanghai.

And The Wall Street Journal is reporting that “the company’s internal investigation remains ongoing,” and that the Galaxy Fold’s reported issues “stem from problems affecting the handset’s hinge and extra pressure applied to the internal screen.”

Whatta ya think, is the Fold a solution looking for a problem? Whatever the case, the price point ($1,800) could still care off even the most audacious of early adopters.

Over at AWS, it seems that Apple has become a huuuugeee customer of theirs, having spent $350M in 2018 and now at a $30M/month run rate in 2019.

According to CNBC, Apple has a multiyear agreement with AWS, and spends more on Amazon’s cloud than Lyft and Pinterest, even as the company invests heavily in its own cloud infrastructure.

Apple’s cloud expenditure reflects the company’s determination to deliver online services like iCloud quickly and reliably, even if it must depend on a rival to do so.

The company is investing heavily to build its own infrastructure: In January 2018, Apple announced plans to spend $10 billion on data centers in the U.S. within five years. In December, Apple said it would spend $4.5 billion of that amount through 2019. The company also depends on smaller third-party cloud providers. But it also relies on the big cloud providers, including Amazon Web Services and Alphabet subsidiary Google. Microsoft has also provided cloud tools to Apple in the past.

So when Apple wins, Amazon does, too.  Coopetition is your friend!

Also on the Apple front, 9to5Mac is gathering some early leaks on the company’s coming WWDC developer event. 

What’s expected to be announced thus far? New Siri intents, APIs to port apps to Mac, a new AR content creation app (does this mean we can play Pokemon again??), support for stereo AR headsets. All the leaks thus far can be found here.

And if you’ve been wondering how the Mueller Report is going over, as I was, editions from Skyhorse Publishing and The Washington Post now a best-seller and ranked #1 and #2 on Amazon’s best-seller list. 

Which is funny that people are signing up to buy the printed book, when you consider it’s available in PDF format at any number of institutions, including here at WAPO.

I’m just curious if anyone’s actually reading it.

Written by turbotodd

April 22, 2019 at 12:00 pm

Posted in 2019, samsung, smartphone

Tagged with , ,

Floating Unicorns and Robert Mueller

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This is a big news day. Too much to keep up with.

Yes, the long awaited Mueller investigation report has been made public, and we mere mortals can finally read about what did or didn’t happen in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. I got my copy from the "failing" New York Times.

But there’s also big news in Tech. Pinterest and Zoom went public today, and Zoom shares are already zooming up some 75%. Pinterest began trading up 25%. Will these unicorns continue to prosper? Stay tuned.

I’ve got bad news for those of you who were excited about the coming Samsung Galaxy Foldable phones. The Verge (and other reviewers) have indicated the Folds have started to…well…uh…fold. Actually, the pictures they’ve shared show more of a crease, bu The Verge author indicated whatever you call it that "its just enough to slightly distort the screen."

Here’s more:

It’s a distressing thing to discover just two days after receiving my review unit. More distressing is that the bulge eventually pressed sharply enough into the screen to break it. You can see the telltale lines of a broken OLED converging on the spot where the bulge is.

FYI, the list price for the Fold is $1,980, and is expected to be available next week. Could we soon see a repeat of earlier Samsung recalls?

Me, personally, I’m find with my perfectly flat iPhone 7 plus for the time being, and I’m not an Android (although some might argue otherwise).

If you’re looking for a place to invest, you might want to look towards the future of crypto. Not necessarily just the currency, but also the pick and shovel plays that plan on putting the blockchain to work for business.

According to a report from Reuters, VC investments in crypto and blockchain startups this year have surpassed $850M, and reached $2.4B over 117 investments last year. Blockchain may be struggling to find a place it can call home, but that’s not keeping away the angel wolves willing to throw it a few million Bitcoins its way!

And whoopsie, I almost forgot: Facebook had another privacy breach. This time, they "unintentionally uploaded" 1.5 million people’s email contacts without their consent.

Writes Business Insider:

Since May 2016, the social-networking company has collected the contact lists of 1.5 million users new to the social network, Business Insider can reveal. The Silicon Valley company said the contact data was "unintentionally uploaded to Facebook," and it is now deleting them.

The more things change…

Written by turbotodd

April 18, 2019 at 11:27 am

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