Demand Curve: How to get social proof that grows your startup

When people are uncertain, they look to others for behavioral guidance. This is called social proof, which is a physiological effect that influences your decisions every day, whether you know it or not.

At Demand Curve and through our agency Bell Curve, we’ve helped over 1,000 startups improve their ability to convert cold traffic into repeat customers. We’ve found that effectively using social proof can lead to up to 400% improvement in conversion.

This post shares exactly how to collect and use social proof to help grow your SaaS, e-commerce, or B2B startup.

Surprisingly, we’ve actually seen negative reviews help improve conversion rates. Why? Because they help set customer expectations.

How businesses use social proof

Have you ever stopped to check out a restaurant because it had a large line of people out front? That wasn’t by chance.

It’s common for restaurants to limit the size of their reception area. This forces people to wait outside, and the line signals to people walking past that the restaurant is so good it’s worth waiting for.

But for Internet-based businesses, social proof looks a bit different. Instead of people lining up outside your storefront, you’re going to need to create social proof that resonates with your target customers — they’ll be looking for different clues to signal whether doing business with your company is “normal” or “acceptable” behavior.

Social proof for B2B

People love to compare themselves to others, and this is especially true when it comes to the customers of B2B businesses. If your competitor is able to get a contract with a company that you’ve been nurturing for months, you’d be upset (and want to know how they did it).

Therefore, B2B social proof is most effective when you display the logos of companies you do business with. This signals to people checking out your website that other businesses trust you to deliver on your offer. The more noteworthy or respected the logos on your site, the stronger the influence will be.

Social proof for SaaS

Depending on the type of SaaS product or service you’re selling, you’ll either be selling to an individual or to a business. The strategy remains the same, but the channels will vary slightly.

The most effective way to generate social proof for SaaS products is through positive reviews from trusted sources. For consumer SaaS, that will be through influential bloggers and YouTubers speaking highly of your product. For B2B SaaS, it will be through positive ratings on review sites like G2 or Capterra. Proudly display these testimonials on your site.

Social proof for e-commerce brands

E-commerce brands will typically sell directly to an individual through ads, but because anyone can purchase an ad, you’re going to need to signal trust in other ways. The most common way we see e-commerce brands building social proof is by nurturing an organic social media following on Instagram or TikTok.

This signals to new customers that you’ve gotten the seal of approval from others like them. Having an audience also allows you to showcase user-generated content from your existing customers.

How to collect social proof

There are five avenues startups can tap to collect social proof:

  1. Product reviews
  2. Testimonials
  3. Public relations and earned media
  4. Influencers
  5. Social media and community

Here are a few tactics we’ve used to help startups build social proof.

#assistant, #cloud, #column, #e-commerce, #e-sports, #ec-column, #ec-growth-marketing, #ecommerce, #growth-marketing, #marketing, #review-tools, #saas, #social-media, #social-networks, #social-proof, #startups, #user-generated-content, #verified-experts

The cocktail party problem: Why voice tech isn’t truly useful yet

On average, men and women speak roughly 15,000 words per day. We call our friends and family, log into Zoom for meetings with our colleagues, discuss our days with our loved ones, or if you’re like me, you argue with the ref about a bad call they made in the playoffs.

Hospitality, travel, IoT and the auto industry are all on the cusp of leveling-up voice assistant adoption and the monetization of voice. The global voice and speech recognition market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 17.2% from 2019 to reach $26.8 billion by 2025, according to Meticulous Research. Companies like Amazon and Apple will accelerate this growth as they leverage ambient computing capabilities, which will continue to push voice interfaces forward as a primary interface.

As voice technologies become ubiquitous, companies are turning their focus to the value of the data latent in these new channels. Microsoft’s recent acquisition of Nuance is not just about achieving better NLP or voice assistant technology, it’s also about the trove of healthcare data that the conversational AI has collected.

Our voice technologies have not been engineered to confront the messiness of the real world or the cacophony of our actual lives.

Google has monetized every click of your mouse, and the same thing is now happening with voice. Advertisers have found that speak-through conversion rates are higher than click-through conversation rates. Brands need to begin developing voice strategies to reach customers — or risk being left behind.

Voice tech adoption was already on the rise, but with most of the world under lockdown protocol during the COVID-19 pandemic, adoption is set to skyrocket. Nearly 40% of internet users in the U.S. use smart speakers at least monthly in 2020, according to Insider Intelligence.

Yet, there are several fundamental technology barriers keeping us from reaching the full potential of the technology.

The steep climb to commercializing voice

By the end of 2020, worldwide shipments of wearable devices rose 27.2% to 153.5 million from a year earlier, but despite all the progress made in voice technologies and their integration in a plethora of end-user devices, they are still largely limited to simple tasks. That is finally starting to change as consumers demand more from these interactions, and voice becomes a more essential interface.

In 2018, in-car shoppers spent $230 billion to order food, coffee, groceries or items to pick up at a store. The auto industry is one of the earliest adopters of voice AI, but in order to really capture voice technology’s true potential, it needs to become a more seamless, truly hands-free experience. Ambient car noise still muddies the signal enough that it keeps users tethered to using their phones.

#apple, #artificial-intelligence, #assistant, #column, #google, #healthcare-data, #natural-language-processing, #nuance, #speech-recognition, #tc, #united-states, #voice-technology, #wearable-devices, #wearables

Apple launches a new iOS app, ‘Siri Speech Study,’ to gather feedback for Siri improvements

Apple recently began a research study designed to collect speech data from study participants. Earlier this month, the company launched a new iOS app called “Siri Speech Study” on the App Store, which allows participants who have opted in to share their voice requests and other feedback with Apple. The app is available in a number of worldwide markets but does not register on the App Store’s charts, including under the “Utilities” category where it’s published.

According to data from Sensor Tower, the iOS app first launched on August 9 and was updated to a new version on August 18. It’s currently available in the U.S., Canada, Germany, France, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, and Taiwan — an indication of the study’s global reach. However, the app will not appear when searching the App Store by keyword or when browsing through the list of Apple’s published apps.

The Siri Speech Study app itself offers little information about the study’s specific goals, nor does it explain how someone could become a participant. Instead, it only provides a link to a fairly standard license agreement and a screen where a participant would enter their ID number to get started.

Reached for comment, Apple told TechCrunch the app is only being used for Siri product improvements, by offering a way for participants to share feedback directly with Apple. The company also explained people have to be invited to the study — there’s not a way for consumers to sign up to join.

Image Credits: App Store screenshot

The app is only one of many ways Apple is working to improve Siri.

In the past, Apple had tried to learn more about Siri’s mistakes by sending some small portion of consumers’ voice recordings to contractors for manual grading and review. But a whistleblower alerted media outlet The Guardian that the process had allowed them to listen in on confidential details at times. Apple shortly thereafter made manual review an opt-in process and brought audio grading in-house. This type of consumer data collection continues, but has a different aim that what a research study would involve.

Unlike this broader, more generalized data collection, a focus group-like study allows Apple to better understand Siri’s mistakes because it combines the collected data with human feedback. With the Siri Speech Study app, participants provide explicit feedback on per request basis, Apple said. For instance, if Siri misheard a question, users could explain what they were trying to ask. If Siri was triggered when the user hadn’t said “Hey Siri,” that could be noted. Or if Siri on HomePod misidentified the speaker in a multi-person household, the participant could note that, too.

Another differentiator is that none of the participants’ data is being automatically shared with Apple. Rather, users can see a list of the Siri requests they’ve made and then select which to send to Apple with their feedback. Apple also noted no user information is collected or used in the app, except the data directly provided by participants.

WWDC 2021 on device privacy

Image Credits: Apple WWDC 2021

Apple understands that an intelligent virtual assistant that understands you is a competitive advantage.

This year, the company scooped up ex-Google A.I. scientist Samy Bengio to help make Siri a stronger rival to Google Assistant, whose advanced capabilities are often a key selling point for Android devices. In the home, meanwhile, Alexa-powered smart speakers are dominating the U.S. market and compete with Google in the global landscape, outside China. Apple’s HomePod has a long way to go to catch up.

But despite the rapid progress in voice-based computing in recent years, virtual assistants can still have a hard time understanding certain types of speech. Earlier this year, for example, Apple said it would use a bank of audio clips from podcasts where users had stuttered to help it improve its understanding of this kind of speech pattern. Assistants can also stumble when there are multiple devices in a home that are listening for voice commands from across several rooms. And assistants can mess up when trying to differentiate between different family members’ voices or when trying to understand a child’s voice.

In other words, there are still many avenues a speech study could pursue over time, even if these aren’t its current focus.

That Apple is running a Siri speech study isn’t necessarily new. The company has historically run evaluations and studies like this in some form. But it’s less common to find Apple’s studies published directly on the App Store.

Though Apple could have published the app through the enterprise distribution process to keep it more under wraps, it chose to use its public marketplace. This more closely follows the App Store’s rules, as the research study is not an internally-facing app meant only for Apple employees.

Still, it’s not likely consumers will stumble across the app and be confused — the Siri Speech Study app is hidden from discovery. You have to have the app’s direct link to find it. (Good thing we’re nosy!)

#android, #app-store, #apple, #apple-inc, #apps, #artificial-intelligence, #assistant, #bank, #canada, #france, #germany, #google, #google-assistant, #google-now, #homekit, #homepod, #india, #ireland, #italy, #itunes, #japan, #mexico, #new-zealand, #sensor-tower, #siri, #smart-speaker, #software, #speaker, #taiwan, #the-guardian, #united-states, #virtual-assistant

Google to introduce increased protections for minors on its platform, including Search, YouTube and more

Weeks after Instagram rolled out increased protections for minors using its app, Google is now doing the same for its suite of services, including Google search, YouTube, YouTube Kids, Google Assistant, and others. The company this morning announced a series of product and policy changes that will allow younger people to stay more private and protected online and others that will limit ad targeting.

The changes in Google’s case are even more expansive than those Instagram announced, as they span across an array of Google’s products, instead of being limited to a single app.

Though Congress has been pressing Google and other tech companies on the negative impacts their services may have on children, not all changes being made are being required by law, Google says.

“While some of these updates directly address upcoming regulations, we’ve gone beyond what’s required by law to protect teens on Google and YouTube,” a Google spokesperson told TechCrunch. “Many of these changes also extend beyond any single current or upcoming regulation. We’re looking at ways to develop consistent product experiences and user controls for kids and teens globally,” they added.

In other words, Google is building in some changes based on where it believes the industry is going, rather than where it is right now.

On YouTube, Google says it will “gradually” start adjusting the default upload setting to the most private option for users ages 13 to 17 in the weeks ahead, which will limit the visibility of videos only to the the users and those they directly share with, not the wider public. These younger teen users won’t be prevented from changing the setting back to “public,” necessarily, but they will now have to make an explicit and intentional choice when doing so. YouTube will then provide reminders indicating who can see their video, the company notes.

YouTube will also turn on its “take a break” and bedtime reminders by default for all users ages 13 to 17 and will turn off autoplay. Again, these changes are related to the default settings  — users can disable the digital well-being features if they choose.

On YouTube’s platform for younger children, YouTube Kids, the company will also add an autoplay option, which is turned off autoplay by default so parents will have to decide whether or not they want to use autoplay with their children. The change puts the choice directly in parents’ hands, after complaints from child safety advocates and some members of Congress suggested such an algorithmic feature was problematic. Later, parents will also be able to “lock” their default selection.

YouTube will also remove “overly commercial content” from YouTube Kid, in a move that also follows increased pressure from consumer advocacy groups and childhood experts, who have long since argued that YouTube encourages kids to spend money (or rather, beg their parents to do so.) How YouTube will draw the line between acceptable and “overly commercial” content is less clear, but the company says it will, for example, remove videos that focus on product packaging — like the popular “unboxing” videos. This could impact some of YouTube’s larger creators of videos for kids, like multi-millionaire Ryan’s Toy Review.

youtube kids laptop red1

Image Credits: YouTube

Elsewhere on Google, other changes impacting minors will also begin rolling out.

In the weeks ahead, Google will introduce a new policy that will allow anyone under the age of 18, or a parent or guardian, to request the removal of their images from Google Image search results. This expands upon the existing “right to be forgotten” privacy policies already live in the E.U., but will introduce new products and controls for both kids and teenagers globally.

The company will make a number of adjustments to user accounts for people under the age of 18, as well.

In addition to the changes to YouTube, Google will restrict access to adult content by enabling its SafeSearch filtering technology by default to all users under 13 managed by its Google Family Link service. It will also enable SafeSearch for all users under 18 and make this the new default for teens who set up new accounts. Google Assistant will enable SafeSearch protections by default on shared devices, like smart screens and their web browsers. In school settings where Google Workspace for Education is used, SafeSearch will be the default and switching to Guest Mode and Incognito Mode web browsing will be turned off by default, too, as was recently announced.

Meanwhile, location history is already off by default on all Google accounts, but children with supervised accounts now won’t be able to enable it. This change will be extended to all users under 18 globally, meaning location can’t be enabled at all under the children are legal adults.

On Google Play, the company will launch a new section that will inform parents about which apps follow its Families policies, and app developers will have to disclose how their apps collect and use data. These features — which were partially inspired by Apple’s App Store Privacy Labels — had already been detailed for Android developers before today.

Google’s parental control tools are also being expanded. Parents and guardians who are Family Link users will gain new abilities to filter and block news, podcasts, and access to webpages on Assistant-enabled smart devices.

For advertisers, there are significant changes in store, too.

Google says it will expand safeguards to prevent age-sensitive ad categories from being shown to teens and it will block ad targeting based on factors like age, gender, or interests for users under 18. While somewhat similar to the advertising changes Instagram introduced, as ads will no longer leverage “interests” data for targeting young teens and kids, Instagram was still allowing targeting by age and gender. Google will not. The advertising changes will roll out globally in the “coming months,” the company says.

All the changes across Google and YouTube will roll out globally in the coming weeks and months.

 

#android, #app-developers, #assistant, #computing, #congress, #google, #google-play, #google-search, #instagram, #operating-systems, #search-results, #software, #spokesperson, #tc, #web-browsers, #youtube, #youtube-kids

Android announces six new features, emphasizing safety and accessibility

Android shared information today about six features that will roll out this summer. Some of these are just quality of life upgrades, like starring text messages to easily find them later, or getting contextual Emoji Kitchen suggestions depending on what you’re typing. But other aspects of this update emphasize security, safety, and accessibility.

Last summer, Google added a feature on Android that basically uses your phone as a seismometer to create “the world’s largest earthquake detection network.” The system is free, and since testing in California, it’s also launched in New Zealand and Greece. Now, Google will introduce this feature in Turkey, the Philippines, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. The company says that they’ll continue expanding the feature this year, prioritizing countries with the highest earthquake risk.

Image Credits: Google

Google is also expanding on another feature released last year, which made Google Assistant compatible with Android apps. In the initial update, apps were supported like Spotify, Snapchat, Twitter, Walmart, Discord, Etsy, MyFitnessPal, Mint, Nike Adapt, Nike Run Club, eBay, Kroger, Postmates, and Wayfair. Today’s update mentioned apps like eBay, Yahoo! Finance, Strava, and Capital One. These features are comparable to Apple’s support of Siri with iOS apps, which includes the ability to open apps, perform tasks, and record a custom command.

When it comes to accessibility, Google is ramping up its gaze detection feature, which is now in beta. Gaze detection allows people to ask Voice Access to only respond when they’re looking at their screen, allowing people to naturally move between talking with friends and using their phone. Now, Voice Access will also have enhanced password input — when it detects a password field, it will allow you to input letters, numbers, and symbols by saying “capital P” or “dollar sign,” for example, making it easier for users to more quickly enter this sensitive information. In October, Google Assistant became available on gaze-powered accessible devices, and in the same month, Google researchers debuted a demo that made it so people using sign language could be identified as the “active speaker” in video calls. Apple doesn’t have a comparable gaze detection feature yet that’s widely available, though they acquired SensoMotoric Instruments (SMI), an eye-tracking firm, in 2017. So, hopefully similar accessibility features will be in the works at Apple, especially as Google continues to build out theirs.

Today’s Android update also lets Android Auto users customize more of their experience. Now, you can set your launcher screen from your phone, set dark mode manually, and more easily browse content on media apps with an A-Z scroll bar and “back to top” button. Messaging apps like WhatsApp and Messages will now be compatible on the launch screen – proceed with caution and don’t drive distracted – and EV charging, parking, and navigation apps will now be available for use.

#android, #apps, #assistant, #california, #computing, #ebay, #etsy, #google, #google-assistant, #google-now, #google-play, #greece, #kazakhstan, #kroger, #mobile-linux, #myfitnesspal, #new-zealand, #nike, #operating-systems, #philippines, #postmates, #siri, #smartphones, #snapchat, #software, #spotify, #turkey, #walmart, #wayfair, #whatsapp, #yahoo

Voice AIs are raising competition concerns, EU finds

The European Union has been digging into the competition implications of AI-powered voice assistants and other Internet of Things (IoT) connected technologies for almost a year. Today it’s put out a first report discussing potential concerns that EU lawmakers say will help inform their wider digital policymaking in the coming years.

A major piece of EU legislation introduced at the back of last year is already set to apply ex ante regulations to so-called ‘gatekeeper’ platforms operating in the region, with a list of business practice ‘dos and don’ts’ for powerful, intermediating platforms being baked into the forthcoming pan-EU Digital Services Act.

But if course applications of technology don’t stand still. The bloc’s competition chief, Margrethe Vestager, has also had her eye on voice assistant AI technologies for a while — raising concerns about the challenges being posed for user choice as far back as 2019, when she said her department was “trying to figure out how access to data will change the marketplace”.

The Commission took a concrete step last July when it announced a sectoral inquiry to examine IoT competition concerns in detail.

It’s now published a preliminary report, based on polling more than 200 companies operating in consumer IoT product and services markets (in Europe, Asia and the US) — and is soliciting further feedback on the findings (until September 1) ahead of a final report due in the first half of next year.

Among the main areas of potential competition concern it found are: Exclusivity and tying practices in relation to voice assistants and practices that limit the possibility to use different voice assistants on the same smart device; the intermediating role of voice assistants and mobile OSes between users and the wider device and services market — with the concern being this allows the owners of the platform voice AI to control user relationships, potentially impacting the discoverability and visibility of rival IoT services.

Another concern is around (unequal) access to data. Survey participants suggested that platform and voice assistant operators gain extensive access to user data — including capturing information on user interactions with third-party smart devices and consumer IoT services as a result of the intermediating voice AI.

“The respondents to the sector inquiry consider that this access to and accumulation of large amounts of data would not only give voice assistant providers advantages in relation to the improvement and market position of their general-purpose voice assistants, but also allow them to leverage more easily into adjacent markets,” the Commission writes in a press release.

A similar concern underlies an ongoing EU antitrust investigation into Amazon’s use of third party merchants’ data which it obtains via its ecommerce marketplace (and which the Commission believes could be illegally distorting competition in online retail markets).

Lack of interoperability in the consumer IoT sector is another concern flagged in the report. “In particular, a few providers of voice assistants and operating systems are said to unilaterally control interoperability and integration processes and to be capable of limiting functionalities of third-party smart devices and consumer IoT services, compared to their own,” it says.

There’s nothing very surprising in the above list. But it’s noteworthy that the Commission is trying to get a handle on competitive risks — and start mulling potential remedies — at a point when the adoption of voice assistant AIs is still at a relatively early stage in the region.

In its press release, the Commission notes that usage of voice assistant tech is growing worldwide and expected to double between 2020 and 2024 (from 4.2BN voice AIs to 8.4BN) — although only 11% of EU citizens surveyed last year had already used a voice assistant, per cited Eurostat data.

EU lawmakers have certainly learned lessons from the recent failure of competition policy to keep up with digital developments and rein in a first wave of tech giants. And those giants of course continue to dominate the market for voice AIs now (Amazon with Alexa, Google with its eponymous Assistant and Apple’s Siri). So the risks for competition are crystal clear — and the Commission will be keen to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.

Still, quite how policymakers could look to tackle competitive lock-in around voice AIs — whose USP tends to be their lazy-web, push-button and branded convenience for users — remains to be seen.

One option, enforcing interoperability, could increase complexity in a way that’s negative for usability — and may raise other concerns, such as around the privacy of user data.

Although giving users themselves more say and control over how the consumer tech they own works can certainly be a good idea, at least provided the platform’s presentation of choices isn’t itself manipulative and exploitative.

There are certainly plenty of pitfalls where IoT and competition is concerned — but also potential opportunities for startups and smaller players if proactive regulatory action can ensure that dominant platforms don’t get to set all the defaults once again.

Commenting in a statement, Vestager said: “When we launched this sector inquiry, we were concerned that there might be a risk of gatekeepers emerging in this sector. We were worried that they could use their power to harm competition, to the detriment of developing businesses and consumers. From the first results published today, it appears that many in the sector share our concerns. And fair competition is needed to make the most of the great potential of the Internet of Things for consumers in their daily lives. This analysis will feed into our future enforcement and regulatory action, so we look forward to receiving further feedback from all interested stakeholders in the coming months.”

The full sectoral report can be found here.

 

#alexa, #amazon, #ambient-intelligence, #artificial-intelligence, #assistant, #digital-competition, #europe, #european-union, #gadgets, #google, #internet-of-things, #iot, #margrethe-vestager, #policy, #privacy, #smart-device, #smart-devices, #technology, #virtual-assistant, #voice-assistant

Google hires former SiriusXM CPO/CTO to lead its Maps team

Almost exactly a year ago, Google announced a couple of leadership changes that saw Prabhakar Raghavan, who joined the company back in 2012, take over the lead of Search, Assistant and Maps. Now, sources familiar with the hiring tell us, the company has hired Christopher Phillips, who was previously the chief product and technology officer at SiriusXM, to lead its geo team, which is responsible for products like Google Maps, Google Earth and Google Maps Platform, the company’s enterprise business around these products. Google has confirmed his hire but declined to share any additional information. Phillips will officially join the company later this month.

Christopher Phillips

Image Credits: Christopher Phillips/LinkedIn

Phillips came to SiriusXM after the company acquired music service Pandora last year. Before the acquisition, he spent six years as Pandora’s CPO and head of Technology, a role he took after leading product and design for Amazon Music from 2012 to 2014 and executive roles at Workspeed and Intuit before that.

In his new role at Google, Phillips will lead both product and engineering for the Geo team and report directly to Raghavan, who will continue to oversee Search, Assistant, Geo, Commerce and Ads. Before last year’s leadership shuffle, Jen Fitzpatrick essentially played a similar role for the Geo team.

According to Search Engine Land, Dane Glasgow and Liz Reid became the leads for the Geo team after her departure. Glasgow has since departed Google and is now at Facebook, while Reid recently took on a new role to lead Google’s search experiences. That obviously left a bit of a vacuum, which Phillips will now fill.

While Phillips doesn’t have any direct experience in building geo products, he does bring with him extensive experience in managing product-oriented engineering teams. His hiring also comes at an interesting time for Google Maps, which only recently announced a number of major updates and which is becoming an increasingly important part of Google’s product portfolio.

 

 

#amazon, #artificial-intelligence, #assistant, #christopher-phillips, #computing, #facebook, #google, #google-maps, #intuit, #pandora, #personnel, #prabhakar-raghavan, #sirius-xm, #software, #tc, #world-wide-web, #xm-satellite-radio

Interactio, a remote interpretation platform, grabs $30M after seeing 12x growth during COVID-19

Interactio, a remote interpretation platform whose customers include massive institutions like the United Nations, European Commission and Parliament along with corporates like BMW, JP Morgan and Microsoft, has closed a whopping $30 million Series A after usage of its tools grew 12x between 2019 and 2020 as demand for online meeting platforms surged during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Series A funding is led by Eight Roads Ventures and Silicon Valley-based Storm Ventures, along with participation from Practica Capital, Notion Capital, as well as notable angels such as Jaan Tallinn, the co-founder of Skype, and Young Sohn, ex-chief strategy officer of Samsung.

The Vilnius, Lithuania-based startup offers digital tools to connect meetings with certified interpreters who carry out real-time interpretation to bridge language divides between participants. It does also offer a video conferencing platform which its customers can use to run remote meetings but will happily integrate with thirty party software like Zoom, Webex etc. (Last year it says its digital tools were used alongside 43 different video streaming platforms.)

Interactio’s interpreters can be in the room where the meeting is taking place or doing the real-time interpretation entirely remotely by watching and listening to a stream of the meeting. (Or, indeed, it can support a mix of remote and on-site interpretation, if a client wishes.)

It can also supply all the interpreters for a meeting — and it touts a strict vetting procedure for onboarding certified interpreters to its platform — or else it will provide training to a customer’s interpreters on the use of its tools to ensure things run smoothly on the day.

At present, Interactio says it works with 1,000+ freelance interpreters, as well as touting “strong relations with interpretation agencies” — claiming it can easily quadruple the pool of available interpreters to step up to meet rising demand.

It offers its customers interpretation in any language — and in an unlimited number of languages per event. And last year it says it hosted 18,000+ meetings with 390,000 listeners spread across more than 70 countries.

Now, flush with a huge Series A, Interactio is gearing up for a future filled with increasing numbers of multi-lingual online meetings — as the coronavirus continues to inject friction into business travel.

“When we started, our biggest competition was simultaneous interpretation hardware for on-site interpretation. At that time, we were on the mission to fully replace it with our software that required zero additional hardware for attendees besides their phone and headphones. However, for institutions, which became our primary focus, hybrid meetings are the key, so we started partnering with simultaneous interpretation hardware manufacturers and integrators by working together on hybrid events, where participants use hardware on-site, and online participants use us,” a spokeswoman told us.

“This is how we differentiate ourselves from other platforms — by offering a fully hybrid solution, that can be integrated with hardware on-site basically via one cable.”

“Moreover, when we look at the market trends, we still see Zoom as the most used solution, so we compliment it by offering professional interpretation solutions,” she added.

A focus on customer support is another tactic that Interactio says it relies upon to stand out — and its iOS and Android apps do have high ratings on aggregate. (Albeit, there are bunch of historical complaints mixed in suggesting it’s had issues scaling its service to large audiences in the past, as well as sporadic problems with things like audio quality over the years.)

While already profitable, the 2014-founded startup says the  Series A will be used to step on the gas to continue to meet the accelerated demand and exponential growth it’s seen during the remote work boom.

Specifically, the funds will go on enhancing its tech and UX/UI — with a focus on ensuring ease of access/simplicity for those needing to access interpretation, and also on upgrading the tools it provides to interpreters (so they have “the best working conditions from their chosen place of work”).

It will also be spending to expand its client base — and is especially seeking to onboard more corporates and other types of customers. (“Last year’s focus was and still is institutions (e.g. European Commission, European Parliament, United Nations), where there is no place for an error and they need the most professional solution. The next step will be to expand our client base to corporate clients and a larger public that needs interpretation,” it told us.)

The new funding will also be used to expand the size of its team to support those goals, including growing the number of qualified interpreters it works with so it can keep pace with rising demand.

While major institutions like the UN are never going to be tempted to skimp on the quality of translation provided to diplomats and politicians by not using human interpreters (either on premise or working remotely), there may be a limit on how far professional real-time translation can scale given the availability of real-time machine translation technology — which offers a cheap alternative to support more basic meeting scenarios, such as between two professionals having an informal meeting.

Google, for example, offers a real-time translator mode that’s accessible to users of its smartphone platform via the Google voice assistant AI. Hardware startups are also trying to target real-time translation. The dream of a real-life AI-powered ‘Babel Fish’ remains strong.

Nonetheless, such efforts aren’t well suited to supporting meetings and conferences at scale — where having a centralized delivery service that’s also responsible for troubleshooting any audio quality or other issues which may arise looks essential.

And while machine translation has undoubtedly got a lot better over the years (albeit performance can vary, depending on the languages involved) there is still a risk that key details could be lost in translation if/when the machine gets it wrong. So offering highly scalable human translation via a digital platform looks like a safe bet as the world gets accustomed to more remote work (and less globetrotting) being the new normal.

“AI-driven translation is a great tool when you need a quick solution and are willing to sacrifice the quality,” says Interactio when we ask about this. “Our clients are large corporations and institutions, therefore, any kind of misunderstanding can be crucial. Here, the translation is not about saying a word in a different language, it’s about giving the meaning and communicating a context via interpretation.

“We strongly believe that only humans can understand the true context and meaning of conversations, where sometimes a tone of voice, an emotion and a figure speech can make a huge difference, that is unnoticed by a machine.”

#android, #artificial-intelligence, #assistant, #covid-19, #eight-roads-ventures, #europe, #european-commission, #european-parliament, #fundings-exits, #interactio, #jaan-tallinn, #jp-morgan, #lithuania, #machine-translation, #microsoft, #notion-capital, #online-meetings, #practica-capital, #remote-work, #saas, #samsung, #silicon-valley, #skype, #storm-ventures, #translation, #translator, #united-nations, #video-conferencing, #web-conferencing, #webex, #young-sohn, #zoom

Otter.ai’s new assistant can automatically transcribe your Zoom meetings

A.I.-powered voice transcription service Otter.ai wants to make it even easier for its business users to record their meetings. The company is today introducing a new feature, Otter Assistant, which can automatically join the Zoom meetings on your calendar, transcribe the conversations, and share the notes with other participants. Though Otter.ai is already integrated with Zoom, the assistant is designed to make using transcription something you don’t have to constantly remember to enable at the meeting’s start or stop at the end, while also serving as a place where participants can collaborate by asking questions, sharing photos and more, as the meeting is underway.

The feature also works around the earlier limitation with Zoom, where only the meeting host could use the Otter.ai integration directly.

The idea to automate meeting transcription makes sense for the remote work environment created by the pandemic, where people have been splitting their time between work, parenting, homeschooling and other duties. This can often lead to meetings where users are pulled away and miss things that had been said. That’s one area where Otter.ai can help. But it can also help with issues like overlapping meetings, or larger meetings were only a few topics are directly relevant to your work — but where you’d like to be able to review the rest of the meeting discussion later, instead of in real-time.

To use the new Otter Assistant, users first synchronize their Google Calendar or Microsoft Calendar with Otter’s service. The assistant will then automatically join all Zoom meetings going forward, where it appears as an additional meeting participant, for transparency’s sake.

The assistant also posts a link to the transcription in the Zoom chat for everyone to access. In other words, this is not a feature to use to skip meetings without your boss knowing — it’s designed for those times when everyone has already agreed the meeting will be transcribed.

As the meeting continues, attendees can use Otter’s live transcript to highlight key parts, add photos, and make notes. They can also ask questions via the commenting feature, as opposed to speaking up — which may be helpful if you’re in a noisy place at the time of the meeting.

Once the assistant is enabled, you don’t have to remember to turn on Otter.ai for each meeting, and you can even use your headphones to listen to the meeting in progress. The Otter Assistant will still be able to record both sides of the conversation.

However, you are able to turn Otter Assistant off on a per-meeting basis via the “My Agenda” section on the Otter website, which will include new toggles next to each meeting you have scheduled.

When meetings wrap, you can also have Otter.ai configured to automatically share the meeting notes with all the attendees.

The Otter Assistant is available to Otter.ai Business users, which are upgraded plans that start at $20 per month, and include features like two-factor authentication, SOC2 compliance, advanced search, export, custom vocabulary, shared speaker identification, centralized data and billing, and more.

To date, Otter.ai says it has transcribed over 150 million meetings, up from 100 million in the beginning of 2021 . The company doesn’t provide details on its total subscriber base, but did note earlier it saw a sizable 8x increase in revenues in 2020, leading up to its $50 million Series B, announced in February.

#ai, #artificial-intelligence, #assistant, #hybrid-office, #meeting, #meetings, #office, #otter, #otter-ai, #productivity, #remote-work, #speaker, #startups, #voice, #web-conferencing, #zoom

Chrome now uses Duplex to fix your stolen passwords

Google announced a new feature for its Chrome browser today that alerts you when one of your passwords has been compromised and then helps you automatically change your password with the help of… wait for it… Google’s Duplex technology.

This new feature will start to roll out slowly to Chrome users on Android in the U.S. soon (with other countries following later), assuming they use Chrome’s password-syncing feature.

It’s worth noting that this won’t work for every site just yet. As a Google spokesperson told us, “the feature will initially work on a small number of apps and websites, including Twitter, but will expand to additional sites in the future.”

Now you may remember Duplex as the somewhat controversial service that can call businesses for you to make hairdresser appointments or check opening times. Google introduced Duplex at its 2018 I/O developer conference and launched it to a wider audience in 2019. Since then, the team has chipped away at bringing Duplex to more tasks and brought it the web, too. Now it’s coming to Chrome to change your compromised passwords for you.

Image Credits: Google

“Powered by Duplex on the Web, Assistant takes over the tedious parts of web browsing: scrolling, clicking and filling forms, and allows you to focus on what’s important to you. And now we’re expanding these capabilities even further by letting you quickly create a strong password for certain sites and apps when Chrome determines your credentials have been leaked online,” Patrick Nepper, senior product manager for Chrome, explains in today’s announcement.

In practice, once Chrome detects a compromised password, all you have to do is tap the “change password” button and Duplex will walk through the process of changing your password for you. Google says this won’t work for every site just yet, but “even if a site isn’t supported yet, Chrome’s password manager can always help you create strong and unique passwords for your various accounts.”

It’ll be interesting to see how well this works in the real world. Every site manages passwords a little bit differently, so it would be hard to write a set of basic rules that the browser could use to go through this process. And that’s likely why Google is using Duplex here. Since every site is a little bit different, it takes a system that can understand a bit more about the context of a password change page to successfully navigate it.

In addition to adding this feature, Google is also updating its password manager with a new tool for important passwords from third-party password managers, deeper integration between Chrome and Android and automatic password alerts when a password is compromised in a breach.

#android, #assistant, #chrome, #chrome-os, #freeware, #google, #google-i-o-2021, #google-chrome, #operating-systems, #password, #password-manager, #product-manager, #security, #software, #united-states, #web-browsers, #web-browsing

Instreamatic, which inserts interactive voice ads into audio streams, raises $6.1M Series A round

Interactive voice advertising startup Instreamatic, which can insert interactive voice ads into an audio stream, has raised $6.1 million in a Series A funding led by Progress Ventures led the round, joined by Accomplice, and Google Assistant Investments.

SF-HQ’d Instreamatic lets brands that advertise through streaming music apps and podcasts (for instance) have interactive voice-based dialogues with consumers. So instead of an audio ad playing in a one-way experience (as all adverts currently do), the listener can talk to, and interact, with the ad.

For example, when an Instreamatic advert says “Hello! Need help sleeping?” the microphone on the device it’s playing on opens, and the listener can respond however they like. If they say “Yes” then the brand’s voice (perhaps it’s a mattress brand) will respond with “Then we will sing you a lullaby”. If the user doesn’t respond then the ad experience is over and the content resumes playing. There are also more complex versions of this scenario. The key is that Instreamatic knows what happened and can tailor future ads to match the listener’s past engagement. Here’s an example.

The company says its technology can understand the ‘intent and tone’ of consumers’ natural responses to take the next action.

The upshot is that this AI-fueled voice ad could be coming to an audio stream near you soon. And with audio exploding following the pandemic, the platform is likely to benefit.

CEO Stas Tushinskiy, CEO, Instreamatic said in a statement: “Consumers don’t like being fed annoyingly repetitive ads. Brands are under ever-increasing pressure to make those moments meaningful while supporting strong ROI demands. On the publisher side, audio and video platforms need a better way to prove their audiences and ad inventory deliver their promise to brands. Our voice AI infrastructure, deployed by brands such as IKEA, Infiniti, and HP and across platforms like Pandora and Gaana, is empirically demonstrating that conversational marketing benefits brands, consumers, and publishers alike.”

Instreamatic says its voice ads can reach an average of 12% engagement, with some campaigns reaching 19%. These figures are quite unusual for the online advertising industry – the average CTR of mobile advertising is 0.6%.

The company says that a recent campaign by Infiniti saw 5.5% of listeners who declined the offer in the first conversation ask to receive more information about the vehicle after the second (and more personalized) chat.

Instreamatic also says it can achieve what it calls ‘continuous dialogues’ with consumers, not dissimilar to an Alexa or Siri device.

Because of the platforms complexity, Instreamatic also says it can build up a profile of the user based on an individual consumer’s previous interactions with a brand, allowing it to customize future campaigns.

So far brands that have used the platform include Pandora, Salem Media, Gaana (the Indian streaming music service), as well as a recent deal with Universal Electronics to expand voice ads into the smart-TV industry. It is also working with Triton Digital, one of the larger audio ad networks.

 
“Consumer demand for audio and video content, and the ubiquity of smart devices delivering that content on-demand, continues to accelerate,” said Nick MacShane, the founding partner at Progress Ventures, the venture capital arm of Progress Partners, a full-service merchant bank. “What hasn’t caught up is how brands and publishers can effectively engage those audiences in the same medium and analytically prove the ROI of their audio and video platform ad spend.”
 
A competitor to Instreamatic is AdsWizz, which, instead of voice, allows users to shake their phones when they are interested in an ad. But its interactions are obviously, therefore, more limited.

According to Juniper Research, the voice-based ad market will grow to $19 billion in the U.S. by 2022, growing the market share from the $17 billion audio ad market and the $57 billion programmatic ad market. Voice assistant usage is booming. Some estimates put it at over at 3 billion right, and half of all searches are expected to be done via voice. Some 55% of teens use voice search daily.

As well as Tushinskiy, the Instreamatic team also includes cofounder Simon Dunlop (former CEO/Founder of Bookmate, a subscription-based reading and audiobook platform, and Zvuk; Victor Frumkin (co-founder at Zvuk, a mobile music streaming app in Eastern Europe and Bookmate); Ilya Lityuga, CTO, one of the original team members at RuTube; and Andy Whatley, U.S. radio industry veteran.

#artificial-intelligence, #assistant, #ceo, #co-founder, #cofounder, #eastern-europe, #europe, #gaana, #hp, #ikea, #instreamatic, #juniper-research, #marketing, #mobile-advertising, #online-advertising, #pandora, #partner, #rutube, #sirius-xm, #smart-devices, #social-media-marketing, #tc, #triton-digital, #united-states, #voice-search

Apple said to be developing Apple TV/HomePod combo and iPad-like smart speaker display

Apple is reportedly working on a couple of new options for a renewed entry into the smart home, including a mash-up of the Apple TV with a HomePod speaker, and an integrated camera for video chat, according to Bloomberg. It’s also said to be working on a smart speaker that basically combines a HomePod with an iPad, providing something similar to Amazon’s Echo Show or Google’s Nest Hub in functionality.

The Apple TV/HomePod hybrid would still connect to a television for outputting video, and would offer similar access to all the video and gaming services that the current Apple TV does, while the speaker component would provide sound output, music playback, and Siri integration. It would also include a built-in camera for using video conferencing apps on the TV itself, the report says.

That second device would be much more like existing smart assistant display devices on the market today, with an iPad-like screen providing integrated visuals. The project could involve attaching the iPad via a “robotic arm” according to Bloomberg, that would allow it to move to accommodate a user moving around, with the ability to keep them in frame during video chat sessions.

Bloomberg doesn’t provide any specific timelines for release of any of these potential products, and it sounds like they’re still very much in the development phase, which means Apple could easily abandon these plans depending on its evaluation of their potential. Apple just recently discontinued its original HomePod, the $300 smart speaker it debuted in 2018.

Rumors abound about a refreshed Apple TV arriving sometime this year, which should boast a faster processor and also an updated remote control. It could bring other hardware improvements, like support for a faster 120Hz refresh rate available on more modern TVs.

#apple, #apple-inc, #apple-tv, #assistant, #computing, #hardware, #homepod, #ios, #ipad, #portable-media-players, #siri, #smart-speaker, #speaker, #tablet-computers, #tc, #touchscreens, #video-conferencing

Sonos delivers a near-perfect portable speaker with the new Sonos Roam

Sonos has a new speaker that starts shipping later this month, and it’s a significant departure from the company’s usual offerings in a number of ways. The all-new Sonos Roam is a compact, portable speaker with a built-in battery and Bluetooth connectivity — but still very much a Sonos system team player, with wifi streaming, multi-room feature, voice assistant support and surprisingly great sound quality.

The basics

Priced at $179, the Sonos Roam is truly diminutive, at just over 6 inches, by roughly 2.5 inches for both height and depth. It weighs under a pound, and is available in either a matte white or black finish, which is par for the course for Sonos in terms of colorways. Roam is also IP67-rated, meaning it’s effectively waterproof, with a resistance rating of up to 30 minutes at depths of up to 1 meter (3.3 feet).

Sonos has placed the speaker’s control surface at one end of the device, including a microphone button, volume controls and a play/pause button. These are actual, tactile buttons, rather than touch-sensitive surfaces like you’d find on other Sonos speakers, which makes sense for a speaker designed to be used on the go, and in conditions where touch controls might get flummoxed by things like rain and water.

The Roam also has a power button on the back, next to a USB-C port for charging. It also offers wireless charging, via a receiver found in the base of the speaker, which can be used with Sonos’ own forthcoming magnetic charging adapter (sold separately), or with any standard Qi-powered wireless charger you want.

In addition to wifi streaming, Sonos Roam can also connect to any device via Bluetooth 5.0. It also features AirPlay 2 for connecting to Apple devices when on wifi, and it works out of the box with Spotify Connect. The built-in battery is rated for up to 10 hours of playback on a full charge, according to Sonos, and can also provide up to 10 days of its sleep-like standby mode.

Design and performance

This is the smallest speaker yet released by Sonos, and that’s definitely a big plus when it comes to this category of device. The dimensions make it feel like a slightly taller can of Red Bull, which should give you some sense of just how portable it is. Unlike Sonos’ first portable speaker with a built-in battery, the Sonos Move, the Roam truly feels like something designed to be thrown in a bag and brought with you wherever you happen to need it.

Despite its small size, the Sonos Roam offers impressive sound — likely the best I’ve yet encountered for a portable speaker in this size class. Inside, it manages to pack in dual amplifiers, one tweeter and a separate custom racetrack mid-woofer, which Sonos developed to help deliver both lows and mids with a faithfulness that normally escapes smaller speakers. The Roam also gets a lot louder than you’d probably expect it could, while keeping audio quality clear and free of distortion at the same time.

One of the keys to the Roam’s great sound quality is Sonos’ Automatic Trueplay tech, which tunes the audio to best suit its surroundings actively and continually. This feature requires that the mic be enabled to work, but it’s well worth having on in most settings, and makes a big difference while streaming in both Bluetooth and wifi modes. This also helps the speaker adjust when it’s switched from horizontal to vertical orientation, and it’s one of the main reasons that the Roam punches above its weight relative to other speakers in this size and price category.

The Roam would be a winner based on audio quality alone for the price, but the extra Sonos system-specific features it boasts really elevate it to a true category leader. These include a standby mode that preserves battery while keeping the Roam available to your system for wifi streaming via the Sonos app (handy, and also optional since you can hold the power button down for five seconds to truly power off and preserve your charge for even longer, which is great for travel).

One of Roam’s truly amazing abilities is a hand-off feature that passes playback of whatever you’re using it to listen to on to the nearest Sonos speaker in your system when you long press the play/pause button. This works almost like magic, and is a great speaker superpower for if you’re wandering around the house and the yard doing chores with the Roam in your pocket.

Bottom line

Sonos waited a long time to release their first travel-friendly portable speaker, but they obviously used that time wisely. The Sonos Roam is the most thoughtfully-designed, feature-rich and best-sounding portable speaker you can get for under $200 (and better than many more expensive options, at that). Even if you don’t already have a Sonos system to use it with, it’s an easy choice if you’re in the market for a portable, rugged Bluetooth speaker — and if you’re already a Sonos convert, the decision gets that much easier.

#airplay, #assistant, #bluetooth, #computing, #gadgets, #hardware, #play3, #reviews, #smart-speakers, #sonos, #speaker, #spotify, #tc, #technology, #wireless-charger, #wireless-speaker

BMW debuts the next generation of its iDrive operating system

For modern cars, the standalone, photo frame-like display in the center of the dashboard has become something of a default. But with its next-generation iDrive 8 system, BMW is moving away from this design language by introducing what it calls the “BMW Curved Display,” which takes this idea to the next level by expanding that center display all the way through the cockpit. It’s actually still two screens, the 12.3-inch information display and 14.9-inch control display, but it looks like a single curved display that BMW describes as giving an “appearance of almost floating.”

The new curved display with the new iDrive 8 system will debut in the upcoming all-electric iX and i4, which should arrive later this year.

While the company isn’t sharing any details about the underlying technology stack just yet, BMW is willing to say that its new stack is able to process 20 to 30 times more data than the previous system. The company plans to share more details about the stack after July, Frank Weber, BMW’s head of development, told me during a press roundtable earlier today.

Image Credits: BMW

The company provided a first glimpse of the new layout when it announced the iX last November, but at the time, it didn’t provide any details about the new iDrive system. At the core of it is, unsurprisingly, a wholesale redesign of the user interface. Drivers will be able to choose between different layouts, for example. There’s a standard “Drive” layout for example, which will feature “a dynamically changing area in the center of the information display to show individually selectable information.” There’s also a “focus” mode for “dynamic driving situations,” a “gallery” layout that minimizes driving info in favor of other widgets from apps like your media source and, for when you just want to drive and be left in peace, a “calm” mode that only shows your vehicle speed in the center of the information display, and virtually nothing else.

Image Credits: BMW

There also are three different driving modes: efficient, sport and personal, which allows you to change some of the core driving experience settings like engine throttle, steering characteristics and chassis settings, as well as the audio characteristics of the car.

For maps, which are probably still the most-often used app in any car, there are also three different modes (adaptive, reduced and expanded), all going back to the central idea that the drivers should be able to decide how much information they want to see.

That’s a lot of personalization options and Weber acknowledged as much, but he also argues that the company has made them easy to use so that they don’t overwhelm the driver — and that a lot of drivers really want this functionality.

“When you test our system in China, you cannot do enough for personalization, they almost want to personalize everything,” Weber explained. “And then there are other people who say: I just want to drive my vehicle, I don’t want to see any of that. Therefore, what we did is, we have included a ‘My Mode’ function — a very simple surface in the vehicle. When you push My Mode, you find Sport and you find Efficiency and you find Personal here. And there, it is very easy to almost say ‘Do I want something that is very reduced? Or do I want something that has all the possibilities of personalization?’ There are very artful things that we have included in here. And there are very simple choices.”

Image Credits: BMW

And talking about personalization, with the BMW ID, the company now offers a new system for saving those personalized settings on your smartphone and the new My BMW app.

With this update, BMW is also launching the next generation of its BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant, which made its debut at TechCrunch Disrupt a few years ago. Built on top of Microsoft’s Azure Cognitive Services, the improved in-car assistant will get better at interacting with drivers through a more natural dialog, but in addition to voice interactions, BMW is now also adding more visual components and integrating the assistant with its gesture recognition capabilities. We’ll have to see this in action to see how this works in practice. So far, BMW hasn’t shared a lot of details about these features.

Image Credits: BMW

“In communication between people, a great deal of information is conveyed non-verbally,” the company explains. “The BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant has thus been upgraded with a greater focus on how it is presented visually. This new visualization approach features spheres of light in differing sizes and brightness levels, giving the assistant more space and new ways of expressing itself. This visual image also gives it a “face” with a clearly visible point of focus and identifiable states of activity.”

Like with the iDrive 7 system, this new operation system will also support remote software upgrades, either over the air thanks to the car’s built-in SIM card and cell connectivity (up to 5G for the iX) or through the My BMW app.

As for current cars with the iDrive 7, Weber noted that those cars will get some of the features from iDrive 8 that can be ported back to it — and iDrive 7 will continue to get updates as well.

Image Credits: BMW

“It’s a little bit like in the smartphone world,” Weber said. “All the things — and the good and interesting new things from iD8 that can be transferred to iD7, iD7 we’ll get those upgrades. But like a particular function on a phone, not all of them can be transferred back to the previous generation. So most of it can be transferred, but not all of them. But certainly, we will continue to work on updating the previous generation. We won’t stop that.”

As a side note, Weber also addressed the current chip shortage that has led some car manufacturers to slow down production. He noted that since about Christmas, BMW is “fighting for every single production day” but hasn’t lost a single production day yet. He wasn’t willing to make any forecasts, but noted that the company has started to develop alternative solutions on the engineering side. “So far, we are really able and capable of adjusting our pipeline, so that we didn’t have to stop any production at this point,” he said.

 

#assistant, #automotive, #bmw, #cars, #idrive, #in-car-entertainment, #smartphone, #tc

Apple discontinues original HomePod, will focus on mini

After 4 years on the market, Apple has discontinued its original HomePod. It says that it will continue to produce and focus on the HomePod mini, introduced last year. The larger HomePod offered a beefier sound space but the mini has been very well received and clearly accomplishes many of the duties that the larger version was tasked with. The sound is super solid (especially for the size) and it offers access to Siri, Apple’s assistant feature.

The original HomePod was a feat of audio engineering that Apple spent over 5 years developing. In order to accomplish its development, the team at Apple built out a full development center near its headquarters in Cupertino, with a world-class development environment with a dozen anechoic chambers, including one of the bigger anechoic chambers outside of academic use in the US. I visited the center before its release, noting that Apple took it the extra mile to get the incredibly complex series of tweeters and woofer that built its soundspace:

But slathered on top of that is a bunch of typically Apple extra-mile jelly. Apple says that its largest test chamber is one of the biggest in the US, on a pad, suspended from the outside world with nothing to pollute its tests of audio purity. Beyond testing for the acoustic qualities of the speaker, these chambers allowed Apple to burrow down to account for and mitigate the issues that typically arise from having a high excursion subwoofer in such a small cabinet. Going even further, there are smaller chambers that allow them to isolate the hum from electronic components (there is a computer on board after all) and make attempts to insulate and control that noise so it doesn’t show up in the final output.

I found it to be one of the best speakers ever made for the home when I reviewed it in 2018. From the booming base and well-shaped nature of the tweeter assembly inside; the cloth cover that was specially shaped to avoid interfering with sound quality in any way; the way that it sensed the way that audio was being shaped by walls and other obstructions and adjusted its output to compensate. It was the definition of ‘no effort spared’ in the speaker department.

The major gripe for the speaker at the time was the $349 price, which was at the top end of the home speaker market, especially those with embedded home assistants. A price drop to $299 mitigated that somewhat, but still put it at the top of the pricing umbrella for the class. Apple’s HomePod mini, launched last year, has been well received. Our Brian Heater said that it had ‘remarkably big sound’ for the $99 price.

Apple gave TechCrunch a statement about the discontinuation:

HomePod mini has been a hit since its debut last fall, offering customers amazing sound, an intelligent assistant, and smart home control all for just $99. We are focusing our efforts on HomePod mini. We are discontinuing the original HomePod, it will continue to be available while supplies last through the Apple Online Store, Apple Retail Stores, and Apple Authorized Resellers. Apple will provide HomePod customers with software updates and service and support through Apple Care.

Existing HomePods will continue to be sold but Apple’s website is already out of Space Gray. It will continue to provide support for existing HomePods. Apple seems to be betting on the mini going forward, which could point to their desire to fill every room with ‘good enough’ sound rather than to focus on the living room with ‘truly unbelievable’ sound. The HomePod itself never quite got to the level where it could act as a full home theater replacement, though paired in their multi-speaker configurations.

The HomePod research and production efforts will live on in some ways through Apple’s advanced audio rendering systems that led to things like Spatial Audio in AirPods. I quite enjoy the ones in my home and have yet to add any minis to the mix. Maybe a last minute hunt is in order.

#airpods, #apple, #apple-inc, #applecare, #assistant, #computing, #cupertino, #homekit, #homepod, #intelligent-assistant, #siri, #smart-speakers, #speaker, #tc, #united-states

Ibex Medical Analytics raises $38M for its AI-powered cancer diagnostic platform

Israel-based Ibex Medical Analytics, which has an AI-driven imaging technology to detect cancer cells in biopsies more efficiently, has raised a $38 million Series B financing round led by Octopus Ventures and 83North. Also participating in the round was aMoon, Planven Entrepreneur Ventures and Dell Technologies Capital, the corporate venture arm of Dell Technologies. The company has now raised a total of $52 million since its launch in 2016. Ibex plans to use the investment to further sell into diagnostic labs in North America and Europe.

Originally incubated out of the Kamet Ventures incubator, Ibex’s “Galen” platform mimics the work of a pathologist, allowing them to diagnose cancer more accurately and faster and derive new insights from a biopsy specimen.

Because rates of cancer are on the rise and the medical procedures have become more complex, pathologists have a higher workload. Plus, says Ibex, there is a global shortage of pathologists, which can mean delays to the whole diagnostic process. The company claims pathologists can be 40% more productive using its solution.

Speaking to TechCrunch, Joseph Mossel, Ibex CEO and Co-founder said: “You can think of it as a pathologist’s assistant, so it kind of prepares the case in advance, marks the regions of interest, and allows the pathologist to achieve the efficiency gains.”

He said the company has secured the largest pathology network in France, and LD path, which is five pathology labs that service 24 NHS trusts in the UK, among others.

Michael Niddam, of Kamet Ventures said Ibex was an “excellent example of how Kamet works with founders very early on.” Ibex founders Joseph Mossel and Dr. Chaim Linhart had previously joined Kamet as Entrepreneurs in Residence before developing their idea.

#assistant, #cancer, #dell-technologies-capital, #europe, #france, #imaging, #kamet-ventures, #nhs, #north-america, #octopus-ventures, #outer-space, #pathology, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #tc, #united-kingdom

Google updates Workspace

Google Workspace, the company’s productivity platform you’ll forever refer to as G Suite (or even ‘Google Docs’), is launching a large update today that touches everything from your calendar to Google Meet and how you can use Workspace with the Google Assistant.

Image Credits: Google

Indeed, the highlight here is probably that you can now use the Assistant in combination with Google Workspace, allowing you to check your work calendar or send a message to your colleagues. Until now, this feature was available in beta and ever after it goes live, your company’s admins will have to turn on the “Search and Assistant” service. And this is a bit of a slow rollout, too, with this capability now being generally available on mobile but still in beta for smart speakers and displays like Google’s own Nest Hub. Still, it’s been a long time coming, given that Google promised these features a very long time ago now.

The other new feature that will directly influence your day-to-day work is support for recurring out-of-office entries and segmentable working hours, as well as a new event type, Focus Time, to help you minimize distractions. Focus Time is a bit cleverer than the three-hour blocks of time you may block off on your calendar anyway in that limits notifications during those event windows. Google is also launching a new analytics feature that tells you how much time you waste spend in meetings. This isn’t quite as fully featured (and potentially creepy) as Microsoft’s Productivity Score, since it only displays how much time you spend in meetings, but it’s a nice overview of how you spend your days (though you know that already). None of this data is shared with your managers.

For when you go back to an office, Google is also adding location indicators to Workspace so you can share when you will be working from there and when you’ll be working from home.

And talking about meetings, since most of these remain online for the time being, Google is adding a few new features that now allow those of you who use their Google Nest Hub Max to host meetings at home and a laptop to set up their own second-screen experiences. What’s far more important, though, is that when you join a meeting on mobile, Google will now implement a picture-in-picture mode so you can be in that Meet meeting on your phone and still browse the web Gmail and get important work done during that brainstorming session.

Mobile support for background replace is also coming, as well as the addition of Q&As and polls on mobile. Currently, you can only blur your background on mobile.

Image Credits: Google

For frontline workers, Google is adding something it calls Google Workspace Frontline, with new features for this group of users, and it is also making it easier for users to build custom AppSheet apps from Google Sheets and Drive, “so that frontline workers can digitize and streamline their work, whether it’s collecting data in the field, reporting safety risks, or managing customer requests.”

 

#assistant, #computing, #enterprise, #gmail, #google, #google-nest-hub-max, #google-workspace, #google-calendar, #google-drive, #mobile-software, #software, #tc, #workspace

Qualcomm’s new chipset for wireless earbuds promises improved noise cancellation, all-day battery life

There are now so many wireless earbuds, it’s hard to keep track, but one of the reasons why we’ve seen this explosion in new and existing manufacturers entering this business is the availability of Bluetooth Audio SoCs from Qualcomm, including the QCC5100 and QCC30xx series. Today, the company is launching the latest chipset in its wireless portfolio, the QCC305x.

Unsurprisingly, it’s a more powerful chip, with four more powerful cores compared to the three cores of its 304x predecessor. But the real promise here is that this additional processing power will now enable earbud makers to offer features like adaptive active noise cancellation and support for using wake words to active Alexa or the Google Assistant.

The new chipset now also supports Qualcomm’s aptX Adaptive with an audio resolution of up to 96kHz and aptX Voice for 3-microphone echo canceling and noise suppression for clearer calls while you are on the go (or on a Zoom call, which is more likely these days). And despite the increased power, Qualcomm promises all-day battery life, too, though, at the end of the day, it’s up to the individual manufacturer to tune their gadgets accordingly.

Image Credits: Qualcomm

The new chipset has also been designed to support the upcoming Bluetooth LE Audio standard. This new standard hasn’t been finalized just yet, but it promises features like multi-stream for multiple synchronized audio streams from a single device — useful for wireless earbuds — and support for personal audio sharing, so that you can share your music from your smartphones with our people around you. There’s also location-based sharing to allow public venues like airports and gyms to share Bluetooth audio with their visitors.

It’s still early days for Bluetooth LE Audio, but during a press conference ahead of today’s announcement, Qualcomm continuously stressed that its new chips will be ready for it once the standard is ratified.

“Not only do our QCC305x SoCs bring many of our latest-and-greatest audio features to our mid-range truly wireless earbud portfolio, they are also designed to be developer-ready for the upcoming Bluetooth LE Audio standard,” James Chapman, vice president, and general manager, Voice, Music, and Wearables at Qualcomm, said in the announcement. “We believe this combination gives our customers great flexibility to innovate at a range of price points and helps them meet the needs of today’s audio consumers, many of whom now rely on their truly wireless earbuds for all sorts of entertainment and productivity activities.”

Image Credits: Qualcomm

#alexa, #aptx, #assistant, #bluetooth, #google, #hardware, #qualcomm, #smartphones, #telecommunications, #voice, #wireless, #wireless-earbuds

Google adds support for Apple Music to its Google Assistant-enabled smart speakers and displays

Google announced this morning it’s adding support for Apple Music to its Google Nest smart speakers, and other Google Assistant-enabled smart speakers and displays in the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, and Japan. This means Google’s flagship smart speaker devices, including Nest Audio, Nest Hub Max, and Nest Mini, will now be able to play Apple Music songs, albums and playlists by way of voice commands, as will others.

The update makes Google’s own smart speakers more competitive with both Apple’s HomePod and newer HomePod Mini, as well as Alexa-enabled smart speakers like the Echo, which has supported Apple Music since late 2018.

To stream from Apple Music, Google device owners will need to first link their Apple Music account in the Google Home app then optionally set it as their default music service. After doing so, they’ll be able to use voice commands like “Hey Google, play New Music Daily playlist” or “Hey Google, play Rap Life playlist,” for example, or ask for any other specific song, artist or playlist the service offers.

Users will also be able to ask Google Assistant to stream music based on genre, mood, or activity, or they can request Apple Music to stream from their own library of songs by saying, “Hey Google, play my library.”

Apple Music will also work in multi-device households, allowing Google device owners to stream across all their speakers at once, or to move music from one device to the others.

Today, many Google smart speakers owners may use a third-party service like Spotify, Pandora or Deezer — which are already supported in the Google Home app. But those who had been longtime Google Play Music customers have more recently had to make a decision as to whether to jump ship to a new service or stay within Google’s ecosystem, following the Google Play Music service shut down which saw the service merge with YouTube Music. As a result, some former Google Play Music customers moved to Apple Music to leverage its library feature.

Apple Music allow users to have up to 100,000 songs in their music library, which appeals to some of Google Play Music’s past customers. It also offers over 70 million songs for on-demand, ad-free streaming.

Google says the new Apple Music support is rolling out starting today to supported devices.

#apple-music, #assistant, #google, #google-nest, #google-play-music, #nest-audio, #nest-hub-max, #nest-mini, #smart-speakers, #tc

Diagnoss launches its coding assistant for medical billing

Diagnoss, the Berkeley, Calif.-based startup backed by the machine learning-focused startup studio The House, has launched its coding assistant for medical billing, the company said.

The software provides real-time feedback on documentation and coding.

Coding problems can be the difference between success and failure for hospitals, according to Diagnoss. Healthcare providers were decimated by the COVID-19 outbreak, with hospitals operating below 60% capacity and one-fourth of them facing the potential for closing in a year if the pandemic continues to disrupt care.

The cost pressures mean that any coding error can be the financial push that forces a healthcare provider over the edge.

“For every patient encounter, a physician spends an average of 16 minutes on administration, which adds up to several hours every single day. In addition, codes entered are often wrong – up to a 30% error rate – resulting in missed or delayed reimbursements. We believe that, with the great progress we’ve seen with artificial intelligence and machine learning, we can finally address some of these inefficiencies that are leading to physician burnout and financial strain,”  said Abboud Chaballout, founder and chief executive of Diagnoss, in a statement.

Diagnoss acts like a grammar checking tool, but its natural language processing software is focused on reading doctor’s notes. The company’s tools can provide evaluation and management code for patient encounters; point out missing information in doctors’ notes; and provide predictions about the diagnosis and procedure codes that could apply after reviewing a doctor’s notes.

In a study of 39,000 de-identified EHR charts, the company found that its machine coding service was about 50% more accurate than human coders, according to a Diagnoss review.

Physician practices are already using Diagnoss’ service through a previously announced partnership with the mobile EHR vendor, DrChrono .

#assistant, #california, #coding, #drchrono, #electronic-health-records, #health, #healthcare, #knowledge, #machine-learning, #natural-language-processing, #physician, #tc

Google updates Maps with more COVID info and finally launches its Assistant driving mode

Google today announced an update to Google Maps that includes a number of new COVID-related features, as well as the ability to see the live status of your takeout or delivery orders, as well as the launch of the long-expected new Assistant driving mode.

In addition, the company shared a few new stats around Google Maps today. The company says that it makes 50 million updates to Maps each day now, for example, though that includes user-generated content like user reviews, photos and ratings. The company also now features “popular times” information for 20 million places around the globe.

Image Credits: Google Maps

As far as COVID is concerned, there are two announcements here. First, Google is updating the COVID layer in Google Maps on Android and iOS with some new information, including the number of all-time detected cases in an area and links to COVID resources from local governments. Second, Google Maps can now tell you, in real time, how busy a given transit line is so you can avoid packed trains or busses, for example. That’s based on real-time feedback from Google Maps users and will feel familiar if you are aware of how Google Maps can already show you how busy a given store or restaurant currently is.

Image Credits: Google Maps

Semi-related — delivery services are booming during the pandemic, after all (even as they continue to struggle to make a profit) — Google Maps on mobile will now be able to show you the live delivery status of your takeout and delivery orders in the U.S., Canada, Germany, Australia, Brazil and India. To do so, you have to book your order from Google Maps on Android or iOS.

For Google Maps users who don’t have an Android Auto-compatible car, the new Google Assistant driving mode in Maps has long been something to look forward to. The company first talked about this set of new features at its I/O developers conference in May 2019, but as is so often the case, features announced at I/O take a while to get to market. Originally, this was supposed to launch last summer.

Image Credits: Google Maps

The idea here is to allow drivers to get alerts about incoming calls, have the Assistant read out text messages and control your music right inside of Google Maps. Using the Assistant ideally reduces driver distractions. For now, this new mode is only coming to Android users in the U.S., though, and the number of features it supports remains limited. Google promises to support more features over time, but it’s not clear which features it plans to add to this mode.

#android, #apps, #assistant, #australia, #brazil, #canada, #computing, #covid-19, #driver, #germany, #google, #google-maps, #india, #operating-systems, #software, #tc, #united-states

Josh.ai launches a ‘nearly invisible’ Amazon Echo competitor that’s the size of a coin

In the past several weeks we’ve seen refreshes and product expansions from about every facet of the smart home virtual assistant world. Apple launched the HomePod Mini, Google offered a long-overdue refresh of the Google Home, and Amazon found even more speaker shapes to shove Alexa into.

Today, we’re getting an addition from a startup competitor. Josh.ai has aimed to build out a niche in the space by building a smart assistant product that’s designed to be professionally installed alongside other smart home wares and they announced a new product this afternoon.

The device, Josh Nano, fully buys into a more luxury home-focused niche with a low-profile device that appears to be a little bit bigger than a half-dollar, though the bulk of the device is embedded into the wall itself and wired back to a central unit via power-over-ethernet. The device bundles a set of four microphones eschewing any onboard speaker, instead opting to integrate directly with a user’s at-home sound system. Josh boasts compatibility with most major AV receiver manufacturers in addition to partnerships with companies like Sonos . There isn’t much else to the device, a light for visual feedback, a multi-purpose touch sensor, and a physical switch to cut power to the onboard microphones in case users want extra peace of mind.

Image via Josh.ai

The aim of the new hardware is to hide the smart features of a home and move away from industry standard touch screen hubs with dated interfaces. By stripping down a smart home product to its essential feature, Josh.ai hopes it can push more users to buy in more fully with confidence that subsequent hardware releases won’t render their devices outdated and ugly. The startup is taking pre-orders for the device (available in black and white color options) now and hopes to start shipping early next year.

Powering these devices is a product the company calls Josh Core, a small serve