Valve shows off final packaging, carrying case for the Steam Deck

Valve’s Steam Deck hardware might have been recently delayed by a couple of months, but the portable PC gaming device is still barreling toward release. As evidence of this, Valve posted some quick pictures late Thursday evening of the final packaging that will hopefully be reaching preorder customers early next year.

Unlike <a href="https://www.cnbc.com/2020/10/14/apple-praised-for-removing-earpods-and-charger-from-iphone-12-box.html">recent iPhone packaging</a>, the Steam Deck will come with a region-appropriate power supply to enable the unit's USB-C charging.

Unlike recent iPhone packaging, the Steam Deck will come with a region-appropriate power supply to enable the unit’s USB-C charging. (credit: Valve)

From the outside, the shipping packaging is a standard plain brown box, but Valve joked about the usual warnings on the side, urging customers to “not use the shipping box as an umbrella, smash [it] on the ground, or use [it] as a magnet.” On the inside of the box, meanwhile, the design includes recommendations for where to play in multiple languages. Among the English suggestions: “On the toilet, on the subway, on a ferris wheel, on the moon, in a test chamber, on the couch, in a hammock, in a tent.”

Valve also provided a look at the form-fitting carrying case that will accompany the lower-end 64GB and 256GB editions of the system. The new case, which includes an understated Steam Deck logo on the front outside, differs from the Valve-logoed carrying cases the company showed when Valve started shipping dev kits in September. Those who purchase the 512GB system, meanwhile, have been promised an “exclusive carrying case,” likely this one, which has a white lining and an embedded Valve logo. The case was first shown when the Deck was announced.

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#gaming-culture, #hardware, #packaging, #steam-deck, #valve

#Brandneu – 9 ziemlich spannende (neue) Startups aus München


deutsche-startups.de präsentiert heute wieder einmal einige junge Startups, die zuletzt, also in den vergangenen Wochen und Monaten an den Start gegangen sind, sowie Firmen, die zuletzt aus dem Stealth-Mode erwacht sind. Übrigens: Noch mehr neue Startups gibt es in unserem Newsletter Startup-Radar.

servail
servail aus München entwickelt eine “adaptierbare Robotik-Plattform die sich im Gleisschotter bewegt”. Die Gründer schreiben dazu: “The robots move along the tracks and collect data that describes the condition of tracks, trains, track surroundings and the interaction of train and track itself”.

Unikube
Das Münchner Unternehmen Unikube möchte Entwickler:innen dabei helfen, “sich auf das zu konzentrieren, was sie am besten können: Code schreiben”. Mit Unikube müssen sich Entwickler:innen “nicht mehr in die komplexe Kubernetes-Logik einarbeiten oder mit Infrastruktur beschäftigen”.

Libati
Das Jungunternehmen Libati möchte chronisch kranken Menschen den Aufenthalt in Restaurants, Hotels etc. erleichtern. Nutzer:innen geben in der App ein, von welcher Krankheit sie betroffen sind oder welche Lebensmittel sie nicht vertragen, daraufhin liefert die App Ortsvorschläge, die zu diesen Bedürfnissen passen. 

Floy
Das Münchner Startup Floy greift Mediziner:innen unter die Arme. “Our first AI product helps radiologists to detect rare and deadly diseases that are typically overlooked in medical images”, teilt die Jungfirma mit. Das Startups wurde von Benedikt Schneider und Leander Märkisch gegründet.

finanzrecruiter
finanzrecruiter aus München positioniert sich als “Matching-Plattform für Finanzdienstleister, Makler, Versicherungen und Unternehmen”. finanzrecruiter übernimmt dabei “das komplette Matching, die Kunden können sich auf ihr Kerngeschäft konzentrieren”.

Flexxi
Flexxi aus München möchte sich als “Alternative zu Vermittlungsagenturen in der Pflege” etablieren. “Flexxi verbindet über eine Buchungsplattform selbständige Pflegefachkräfte und Krankenschwestern mit Krankenhäusern, Pflegefirmen und pflegenden Angehörigen zum kurzfristigen Einsatz”, schreibt das Team.

Lesido
Das Münchner Startup Lesido lässt sich am besten als digitale Bilderbuch-Bibliothek, die mittels Video-Chat funktioniert, beschreiben. “Jetzt können Großeltern ihren Lieben Lauras Stern, Fiete oder die Olchis vorlesen. So fördern sie – auch digital – die kognitive und sprachliche Entwicklung der Kinder”, schreiben die Münchner.

Detailify
Detailify bietet nachhaltige Fahrzeugpflege, die binnen 28 Tagen biologisch abbaubar sein soll. Die Produkte sind für die Reinigung und Pflege von Fahrrädern, Motorrädern und Autos entwickelt worden. Aktuell ist die umweltfreundliche Pflege online und in ausgewählten Baumärkten sowie Fahrradhändlern erhältlich.

Oh my Fantasy
Oh my Fantasy bietet Erlebnisboxen für Paare. In jeder Box ist ein “Date Guide” enthalten, der unter anderem Hinweise zur Vorbereitung, stimmungsvolle Playlisten und Audio-Anleitungen bietet. Nutzer:innen können aus 15 verschiedenen Boxen auswählen, die jeweils mit Sex-Toys und Accessoires bestückt sind.

Tipp: In unserem Newsletter Startup-Radar berichten wir einmal in der Woche über neue Startups. Alle Startups stellen wir in unserem kostenpflichtigen Newsletter kurz und knapp vor und bringen sie so auf den Radar der Startup-Szene. Jetzt unseren Newsletter Startup-Radar sofort abonnieren!

Startup-Jobs: Auf der Suche nach einer neuen Herausforderung? In der unserer Jobbörse findet Ihr Stellenanzeigen von Startups und Unternehmen.

Foto (oben): Shutterstock

#aktuell, #app, #brandneu, #d2c, #detailify, #e-health, #finanzrecruiter, #flexxi, #floy, #hardware, #hr, #lesido, #libati, #medien, #munchen, #oh-my-fantasy, #pflege, #robotik, #servail, #streaming, #unikube

Valve provides a deep dive into Steam Deck’s custom hardware design

Valve’s full, hours-long, developer-focused presentation.

Valve’s portable Steam Deck hardware may be delayed by a couple of months, but that didn’t stop Valve from discussing plenty of interesting details about the system during a wide-ranging developer-focused livestream Friday. That included a lot of nitty-gritty talk about hardware specs and software interpolation, but also design decisions surrounding how to balance hardware-power and battery-power concerns.

AMD’s custom-built Steam Deck APU, dubbed Aerith after the Final Fantasy VII character, is the core of the system and was a focus of the presentation. AMD says the system is the company’s first mobile chip to feature an RDNA2 GPU architecture, so it should have full support for DirectX 12 and the latest Vulkan APIs. That also means that not only will Steam Deck be compatible with the entire Steam library, but many Steam games will already be optimized for the specific chip configuration found inside, Valve says.

The CPU portion of the Aerith chip features four Zen 2 cores capable of running eight threads at 3.5 Ghz. Meanwhile, the GPU features eight RDNA2 compute units running at 1.6 Ghz.

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#amd, #apu, #cpu, #gaming-culture, #gpu, #hardware, #steam, #steam-deck, #valve

John Carmack pushes out unlocked OS for defunct Oculus Go headset

Ars' own Sam Machkovech, shown here modeling the Oculus Go's bright future.

Enlarge / Ars’ own Sam Machkovech, shown here modeling the Oculus Go’s bright future.

Oculus may have officially discontinued its low-end Oculus Go headset last year, but the company has one more “official” update to help future-proof the hardware. On Thursday, Oculus released an unlocked build of the Oculus Go operating system, allowing for “full root access” on more than 2 million existing units.

Oculus CTO (and former id Software co-founder) John Carmack announced his plans for this update last month, saying it was something he had “been pushing on for years.” In part, the unlocking is an attempt to guarantee that Go hardware will continue to be fully functional well into the future, allowing for “a randomly discovered shrink wrapped headset twenty years from now [to] be able to update to the final software version, long after over-the-air update servers have been shut down,” Carmack wrote.

Before that, though, the update will allow tinkerers to “repurpose the hardware for more things today,” as Carmack puts it. Go hardware running the unlocked OS will no longer check for a Facebook signature at the kernel level, meaning developers can create new versions of low-level system software for the entire Android-based OS. That could allow for custom versions of low-level features like the app launcher and the removal of otherwise locked system apps. The update also allows for easy sideloading of apps outside of Go’s store interface, though this was already possible on older OS versions.

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#carmack, #gaming-culture, #hardware, #john-carmack, #oculus, #oculus-go, #tech, #unlocking

Facebook adds a battery-powered smart screen to the Portal line

The Portal line has always been a kind of odd duck in the world of smart screens. Facebook’s most significant contribution to the category is almost certainly Smart Camera, which uses AI to track a subject and pan and zoom accordingly to keep them in frame. It was the first big line to bring the clever feature to market, though Google, Amazon and even Apple have since offered their own takes on the category.

Portal’s other primary appeal (versus a Nest or Echo) is its integration with Facebook’s own software like Messenger and WhatsApp. Beyond that, the line has struggled to differentiate itself from Amazon and Google’s head start in the world of connected home hardware and smart assistants.

Image Credits: Facebook

Today’s news brings an interesting new layer to the conversation, with the arrival of the Portal Go, a battery-powered portal smart screen. The 10-inch device sports a handle on the back for quick gripping and a battery that promises five hours of standard usage and up to 14 hours of music playback with the screen off (there’s currently no specific battery-saving mode).

It’s a clever addition to the line. We are, no doubt, pushing further into tablet territory here, but I’ve felt the impulse to pick up and bring my Nest Home into the other room more than once. Your mileage will vary.

Image Credits: Facebook

I haven’t seen the thing in person yet, but I do dig the design. It’s got rounded edges around some big black bezels and a fabric-covered backing that’s been all the rage in the smart home category for several years now. The Go is propped up in a wedged design, with two front-facing speakers and a rear-facing woofer.

It’s got an ultrawide front-facing 12-megapixel camera that does the aforementioned smart panning, along a with a physical lens cover for privacy. The screen can also be titled up and down for an optimized viewing angle. The system doesn’t currently support far-field technology for a multiple speaker setup, which could complicate things as you move it around the house.

There’s also a new version of the Portal+, which features the same camera setup, coupled with a thin 14-inch tiltable display that can view up to 25 people at a time on a Zoom call. The Portal Go runs $199, while the new Portal+ is $349. Both devices are available for preorder today and start shipping October 19.

Image Credits: Facebook

Today’s news also finds Faceboook launching Portal for Business, aimed at positioning the smart screens as teleconferencing products. Per a release:

With Portal for Business, SMBs will be able to create and manage Facebook Work Accounts for their teams. This is a new account type that allows businesses to use their own company email addresses to set up Portal. These Work Accounts will also provide access to other popular Facebook work products in the coming year.

Using Portal Device Manger, IT departments can set up and remotely wipe employee machines. The system is available now as a closed beta.

#facebook, #facebook-portal, #hardware, #smart-display, #tc

Raspberry Pi gets $45M to meet demand for low-cost PCs and IoT

Turns out COVID-19 lockdowns have been good for the indoor hobby of hardware hacking: The U.K.-based foundation behind the low-price microprocessor Raspberry Pi announced close of a $45 million funding round yesterday.

The cash injection into the trading arm of the (nonprofit) Raspberry Pi Foundation values it at $500 million (pre-money), founder Eben Upton confirmed.

The funding round was led by London-based Lansdowne Partners and The Ezrah Charitable Trust, a private charitable foundation based in the US.

“We are pleased to welcome Lansdowne Partners and The Ezrah Charitable Trust as our first outside shareholders to help us achieve the next steps in our growth,” said Upton in a statement. “We are seeing strong demand from consumers as they use our PCs to access the internet for work and entertainment, and even faster growth from industrial companies globally as they design Raspberry Pi into their innovative IoT applications. This funding will enable us to scale to meet future demand.

“Our new investors will not only add value to our strategy and help support our growth but they also understand the rationale and ethos of our business model, aimed at enabling access to hardware and software tools for everyone and delivering a consumer PC experience from only $35 as well as building partnerships with a growing range of OEMs across the world.”

The Pi Foundation said the financing will be used to expand what is already an ample product line of Pi microprocessors.

Spending on marketing is also planned, across both the consumer (“build it yourself” PC) and industrial (IoT) sectors.

Its trading arm ships 7 million+ devices a year at this point.

While, in total, the Pi Foundation also said it’s shipping over 42 million (Pi-powered) PCs to more than 100 countries.

“We certainly saw increased interest in Raspberry Pi during lockdown,” Upton told TechCrunch. “It was satisfying to be able to supply units to young people who needed machines to study from home on, and we had some great philanthropic support (notably from the Bloomfield Trust) to roll kits out to disadvantaged young people in the U.K.”

“Our current sustained increase in demand is driven primarily by industrial customers as the economy rebounds from COVID-19,” he added.

“In the short term the focus is on investing in manufacturing and supply chain to meet demand,” he also said, expanding on the plan for the funding. “In the longer term, this funding is going to allow us to invest more in product development: As our products become more sophisticated, they become much more expensive and time-consuming to develop, so being able to hire more engineers is a key driver of future growth.”

Commenting in a supporting statement, Peter Davies of Lansdowne Partners, added: “We are very excited to be investing with Raspberry Pi, an organisation we have followed and admired for many years. The commercial and human impact it has achieved in its first decade has been extraordinary and we look forward to assisting the company to expand this even further in coming years as new capital is deployed.”

#eben-upton, #europe, #fundings-exits, #gadgets, #hardware, #internet-of-things, #iot, #lansdowne-partners, #raspberry-pi, #the-ezrah-charitable-trust, #united-kingdom

Amazon’s Kindle Paperwhite returns with a bigger screen, USB-C and wireless charging

We’ve entered the throes of hardware season, with big events from all of the industry’s big names. Amazon has already announced a number of new Fire TVs, with plans for a big (likely Echo-focused) event a week from today. In the meantime, the retail giant just dropped a sizable surprise on our heads in the form of a brand new Kindle Paperwhite.

I say “surprise” primarily because the whole of the Kindle hardware division has been quiet for a while now. When the Paperwhite got its last major upgrade in 2018, we noted, “The Voyage may be dead, but the Kindle line still has some life left in it.” Because, let’s face it, the whole of the devoted e-reader market isn’t exactly bustling. Sure Kobo is still hanging around the edges, but Amazon more or less sits alone as a monolith these days.

Image Credits: Amazon

There were some rumblings, however, including a UI update for the line and a smattering of leaks, precipitating today’s news. And sure enough, here’s a new Paperwhite, representing the biggest update to the mid-tier Kindle in recent memory.

The star of the show is a long-awaited increase to the display — up from six to 6.8 inches, while maintaining the 330 PPI pixel density. That’s edging into the seven-inch 300 PPI Kindle Oasis territory. Like the Oasis, the bezels are flush with the device and they’ve been shaved down 12% from the previous generation (to 10.2mm) to help maintain the device’s footprint.

Image Credits: Amazon

Honestly, though, the most exciting addition here is USB-C charging. I realize that sounds a bit silly, but the Kindle line has been the last vestige of microUSB — it’s one of the few reasons I keep those cables around anymore. I fully expected the pricier Oasis to be the first device to adopt the new (well, newer) connector, but, then, that would require Amazon to release a new Oasis.

Charging is faster, requiring 2.5 hours to go from zero to full. The battery itself has also been improved, up to 10 weeks on a charge from six — but what’s a month between friends, right? The other surprise on the battery side of things is the arrival of wireless charging. That’s available with the new Paperwhite Signature Edition, which also bumps the base-level 8GB of storage up to 32GB. Amazon is also introducing a $30 charging dock, which is available separately — it should work with any standard Qi charging pad.

Image Credits: Amazon

Max brightness on the screen has been bumped up 10%, coupled with an auto-adjusting light based on ambient light. Like the Oasis, the light will adjust to a warmer color to save your eyes closer to bedtime. The processor has been improved since the last gen (no specifics there at the moment), promising 20% faster page turning. The device is made from with 60% post-consumer recycled plastics and 70% recycled magnesium.

The new Paperwhite runs $140 for standard and $190 for the Signature Edition. They come with four free months of Kindle Unlimited and are up for preorder today. Also up for preorder is the first-ever Kids edition of the device. The Kindle Paperwhite for Kids features a kid-friendly cover, a year of Amazon Kids+ and a two-year warranty. That runs $160.

#amazon, #e-reader, #hardware, #kindle, #kindle-paperwhite, #paperwhite

Roku debuts new Streaming Stick 4K bundles, software update with voice and mobile features

Weeks after Amazon introduced an updated Fire TV lineup that included, for the first time, its own TVs, Roku today is announcing its own competitive products in a race to capture consumers’ attention before the holiday shopping season. Its updates include a new Roku Streaming Stick 4K and Roku Streaming Stick 4K+ — the latter which ships with Roku’s newer hands-free voice remote. The company is also refreshing the Roku Ultra LT, a Walmart-exclusive version of its high-end player. And it announced the latest software update, Roku OS 10.5, which adds updated voice features, a new Live TV channel for home screens, and other minor changes.

The new Streaming Stick 4K builds on Roku’s four-year-old product, the Streaming Stick+, as it offers the same type of stick form factor designed to be hidden behind the TV set. This version, however, has a faster processor which allows the device to boot up to 30% faster and load channels more quickly, Roku claims. The Wi-Fi is also improved, offering faster speeds and smart algorithms that help make sure users get on the right band for the best performance in their homes where network congestion is an increasingly common problem  — especially with the pandemic-induced remote work lifestyle. The new Stick adds support for Dolby Vision and HDR 10+, giving it the “4K” moniker.

This version ships with Roku’s standard voice remote for the same price of $49.99. For comparison, Amazon’s new Fire TV Stick Max with a faster processor and speedier Wi-Fi is $54.99. However, Amazon is touting the addition of Wi-Fi 6 and support for its game streaming service, Luna, as reasons to upgrade.

Roku’s new Streaming Stick 4K+ adds the Roku Voice Remote Pro to the bundle instead. This is Roku’s new remote, launched in the spring, that offers rechargeability, a lost remote finder, and hands-free voice support via its mid-field microphone, so you can just say things like “hey Roku, turn on the TV,” or “launch Netflix,” instead of pressing buttons. Bought separately, this remote is $29.99. The bundle sells for $69.99, which translates to a $10 discount over buying the stick and remote by themselves.

Image Credits: Roku

Both versions of the Streaming Stick will be sold online and in stores starting in October.

The Roku Ultra LT ($79.99), built for Walmart exclusively, has also been refreshed with a faster processor, more storage, a new Wi-Fi radio with up to 50% longer range, support for Dolby Vision, Bluetooth audio streaming, and a built-in ethernet port.

Plus, Roku notes that TCL will become the first device partner to use the reference designs it introduced at CES for wireless soundbars, with its upcoming Roku TV wireless soundbar. This device connects over Wi-Fi to the TV and works with the Roku remote, and will arrive at major retailers in October where it will sell for $179.99.

The other big news is Roku’s OS 10.5 software release. The update isn’t making any dramatic changes this time around, but is instead focused largely on voice and mobile improvements.

The most noticeable consumer-facing change is the ability to add a new Live TV channel to your home screen which lets you more easily launch The Roku Channel’s 200+ free live TV channels, instead of having to first visit Roku’s free streaming hub directly, then navigate to the Live TV section. This could make the Roku feel more like traditional TV for cord-cutters abandoning their TV guide for the first time.

Other tweaks include expanded support for launching channels using voice commands, with most now supported; new voice search and podcast playback with a more visual “music and podcast” row and Spotify as a launch partner; the ability to control sound settings in the mobile app; an added Voice Help guide in settings; and additional sound configuration options for Roku speakers and soundbars (e.g. using the speaker pairs and soundbar in a left/center/right) or in full 5.1 surround sound system).

A handy feature for entering in email and passwords in set-up screens using voice commands is new, too. Roku says it sends the voice data off-device to its speech-to-text partner, and the audio is anonymized. Roku doesn’t get the password or store it, as it goes directly to the channel partner. While there are always privacy concerns with voice data, the addition is a big perk from an accessibility standpoint.

Image Credits: Roku

One of the more under-the-radar, but potentially useful changes coming in OS 10.5 is an advanced A/V sync feature that lets you use the smartphone camera to help Roku make further refinements to the audio delay when using wireless headphones to listen to the TV. This feature is offered through the mobile app.

The Roku mobile app in the U.S. is also gaining another feature with the OS 10.5 update with the addition of a new Home tab for browsing collections of movies and shows across genres, and a “Save List, which functions as a way to bookmark shows or movies you might hear about — like when chatting with friends — and want to remember to watch later when you’re back home in front of the TV.

The software update will roll out to Roku devices over the weeks ahead. It typically comes to Roku players first, then rolls out to TVs.

#amazon, #amazon-fire-tv, #apple-tv-app, #computing, #digital-media-players, #ethernet, #gadgets, #hardware, #internet-radio, #internet-television, #luna, #media, #mobile, #netflix, #now, #roku, #smartphone, #speaker, #spotify, #telecommunications, #united-states, #voice-search, #walmart, #wi-fi, #wireless-headphones, #wireless-soundbar

SOSV is building a New Jersey HAX facility for industrial, healthcare and climate startups

SOSV this morning announced work on a $50 million HAX facility in Newark, New Jersey focused on growing industrial, healthcare and climate startups. The five-year development plan utilizes $25 million from the New Jersey Economic Development Authority.

The facility is set to open in June of 2022, with an eye on early-stage U.S. companies working toward their seed round. SOSV notes that, while HAX’s earliest focus was on wearables, in more recent years, the accelerator has largely shifted to industrial and healthcare, which currently comprise 70- and 20% of its portfolio, respectively.

“Since 2015, HAX started investing in more industrial & health startups and today make up 90% of our new investments,” HAX Partner Garrett Winther told TechCrunch. “These hard tech startups, at their earliest stages, tend to rely on more deep science R&D, high precision prototyping, and only require one to two of their first product before raising funding. These companies also take up a lot of space, easily filling a room with their equipment and prototypes.”

Newark was chosen for myriad reasons, including proximity to New York City and universities like Princeton and Rutgers. It also, frankly, has more space than, say, Manhattan – which is a clear necessity for industrial startups. That’s a big part of the reason companies like AeroFarms and Bowery have looked toward to the area to host their massive vertical farming facilities.

The fact that the state was willing to put up around half the cost of the project likely didn’t hurt, either. New Jersey no doubt has a vested interest in welcoming hardware startups with open arms. It will be interesting to see what sort of incentives the local governments can offer to help keep them there to avoid the allure of nearby NYC.

“Growing New Jersey’s innovation economy both creates high-quality jobs today and generates opportunities for exponential returns in the future,” NJEDA CEO Tim Sullivan said in a release. “As startups become successful and scale-up in New Jersey, they build buildings, hire more employees, and become anchors for vibrant communities and small-business supply-chains.”

SOSV says the Newark location will effectively operate as a U.S. equivalent to its offices in Shenzhen, China, which afford easy access to the global supply chain. HAX also operates satellites in San Francisco, Tokyo and New York.

#hardware, #hax, #health, #logistics, #newark, #sosv

GoPro debuts the HERO10 Black action camera

GoPro today announced a new flagship action camera for its lineup, the HERO10 Black. The main update for the camera is a brand new processor inside, called the GP2, which enables big improvements to image quality and video captures, including recording at 5.3K revolution at up to 60 frames per second, 4K video capture bumped to a max of 120 FPS, and 2.7K video at 240 FPS which enables awesome slow-mo capabilities.

The new HERO10 Black also offers better still images, with 23.6 megapixel captures, and better performance in low light. That improved low-light capture applies to video, too, with 3D noise reduction applied so that even nighttime scenes have a lot less grain. The improved processing capabilities of the GP2 chip also mean that using the GoPro interface and software on the camera is generally much snappier, too.

Another new feature made possible by the improved processor is the 4.0 version of HyperSmooth, which is GoPro’s tech for offering gimbal-like stabilization via software. HyperSmooth was already impressive, and based on our initial testing (a full review will follow soon), it’s fantastic on this new generation of camera. HERO10 also packs an upgraded horizon levelling system, which locks the horizon even when the camera is tilted up to 45 degrees in either direction.

DCIM100GOPROG0053711.JPG

The GoPro HERO10 includes a front-facing screen as well as a rear touch screen, with better frame rates on the front selfie screen. The new lens cover has a hydrophobic treatment to improve its ability to get wet and shed water, and it works with the existing Media Mod, Display Mod and Light Mod for GoPro cameras. It works as a webcam out of the box, has fast-charging support, and now offers wired content transfers to your smartphone or device in addition to cloud uploading and wireless transfer.

Also returning is GoPro’s SuperView lens, which offers an even wider angle capture, and which will be available in new 5.3K 30/25/24 FPS capture modes when a firmware update arrives on November 16. That will also delivers support for GoPro’s Max Lens Mods, as well as the following additional capture modes:

  • 5K 4:3 24fps
  • 4K 4:3 30/25/24fps
  • 5.3K 24fps
  • 1080 24fps

GoPro’s HERO10 is available now, priced at $399.98 with a bundled one-year GoPro subscription or for existing subscribers, or you’ll pay $499.99 without the recurring sub, which will cost $49.99 annually or $4.99 per month after the trial. There’s a HERO10 Black bundle that includes a Shorty tripod mount, a magnetic swivel clip, an additional battery and a 32GB microSD card for $549 without subscription, or $449 with one. GoPro subscribers can also upgrade to the bundle from their existing camera for a further discounted $399.

The company will continue to offer both the GoPro HERO9 Black and the HERO8 Black alongside the HERO10, at lower price points, as well as its MAX 360 action camera.

#action-camera, #gadgets, #gopro, #hardware, #tc

Tile secures $40 million to take on Apple AirTag with new products

Tile, the maker of Bluetooth-powered lost item finder beacons and, more recently, a staunch Apple critic, announced today it has raised $40 million in non-dilutive debt financing from Capital IP. The funding will be put towards investment in Tile’s finding technologies, ahead of the company’s plan to unveil a new slate of products and features that the company believes will help it to better compete with Apple’s AirTags and further expand its market.

The company has been a longtime leader in the lost item finder space, offering consumers small devices they can attach to items — like handbags, luggage, bikes, wallets, keys, and more — which can then be tracked using the Tile smartphone app for iOS or Android. When items go missing, the Tile app leverages Bluetooth to find the items and can make them play a sound. If the items are further afield, Tile taps into its broader finding network consisting of everyone who has the app installed on their phone and other access points. Through this network, Tile is able to automatically and anonymously communicate the lost item’s location back to its owner through their own Tile app.

Image Credits: Tile

Tile has also formed partnerships focused on integrating its finding network into over 40 different third-party devices, including those across audio, travel, wearables, and PC categories. Notable brand partners include HP, Dell, Fitbit, Skullcandy, Away, Xfinity, Plantronics, Sennheiser, Bose, Intel, and others. Tile says it’s seen 200% year-over-year growth on activations of these devices with its service embedded.

To date, Tile has sold over 40 million devices and has over 425,000 paying customers — a metric it’s revealing for the first time. It doesn’t disclose its total number of users, both free and paid combined, however. During the first half of 2021, Tile says revenues increased by over 50%, but didn’t provide hard numbers.

While Tile admits that the Covid-19 pandemic had some impacts on international expansions, as some markets have been slower to rebound, it has still seen strong performance outside the U.S., and considers that a continued focus.

The pandemic, however, hasn’t been Tile’s only speed bump.

When Apple announced its plans to compete with the launch of AirTags, Tile went on record to call it unfair competition. Unlike Tile devices, Apple’s products could tap into the iPhone’s U1 chip to allow for more accurate finding through the use of ultra-wideband technologies available on newer iPhone models. Tile, meanwhile, has plans for its own ultra-wideband powered device, but hadn’t been provided the same access. In other words, Apple gave its own lost item finder early, exclusive access to a feature that would allow it to differentiate itself from the competition. (Apple has since announced it’s making ultra-wideband APIs available to third-party developers, but this access wasn’t available from day one of AirTag’s arrival.)

Image Credits: Tile internal concept art

Tile has been vocal on the matter of Apple’s anti-competitive behavior, having testified in multiple Congressional hearings alongside other Apple critics, like Spotify and Match. As a result of increased regulatory pressure, Apple later opened up its Find My network to third-party devices, in an effort to placate Tile and the other rivals its AirTags would disadvantage.

But Tile doesn’t want to route its customers to Apple’s first-party app — it intends to use its own app in order to compete based on its proprietary features and services. Among other things, this includes Tile’s subscriptions. A base plan is $29.99 per year, offering features like free battery replacement, smart alerts, and location history. A $99.99 per year plan also adds insurance of sorts — it pays up to $1,000 per year for items it can’t find. (AirTag doesn’t do that.)

Despite its many differentiators, Tile faces steep competition from the ultra-wideband capable AirTags, which have the advantage of tapping into Apple’s own finding network of potentially hundreds of millions of iPhone owners.

However, Tile CEO CJ Prober — who joined the company in 2018 — claims AirTag hasn’t impacted the company’s revenue or device sales.

“But that doesn’t take away from the fact that they’re making things harder for us,” he says of Apple. “We’re a growing business. We’re winning the hearts and minds of consumers… and they’re competing unfairly.”

“When you own the platform, you shouldn’t be able to identify a category that you want to enter, disadvantage the incumbents in that category, and then advantage yourself — like they did in our case,” he adds.

Tile is preparing to announce an upcoming product refresh that may allow it to better take on the AirTag. Presumably, this will include the pre-announced ultra-wideband version of Tile, but the company says full details will be shared next week. Tile may also expand its lineup in other ways that will allow it to better compete based on look and feel, size and shape, and functionality.

Tile’s last round of funding was $45 million in growth equity in 2019. Now it’s shifted to debt. In addition to new debt financing, Tile is also refinancing some of its existing debt with this fundraise, it says.

“My philosophy is it’s always good to have a mix of debt and equity. So some amount of debt on the balance sheet is good. And it doesn’t incur dilution to our shareholders,” Prober says. “We felt this was the right mix of capital choice for us.”

The company chose to work with Capital IP, a group it’s had a relationship with over the last three years, and who Tile had considered bringing on as an investor. The group has remained interested in Tile and excited about its trajectory, Prober notes.

“We are excited to partner with the Tile team as they continue to define and lead the finding category through hardware and software-based innovations,” said Capital IP’s Managing Partner Riyad Shahjahan, in a statement. “The impressive revenue growth and fast-climbing subscriber trends underline the value proposition that Tile delivers in a platform-agnostic manner, and were a critical driver in our decision to invest. The Tile team has an ambitious roadmap ahead and we look forward to supporting their entry into new markets and applications to further cement their market leadership,” he added.

#airtag, #airtags, #android, #apple, #apple-inc, #apps, #bluetooth, #ceo, #computing, #dell, #find-my, #fitbit, #funding, #gadgets, #hardware, #intel, #iphone, #mobile, #plantronics, #recent-funding, #sennheiser, #skullcandy, #smartphone, #startups, #tc, #technology, #tile, #u1-chip, #ultra-wideband, #united-states

Europe plans a Chips Act to boost semiconductor sovereignty

The EU will use legislation to push for greater resilience and sovereignty in regional semiconductor supply chains.

The bloc’s president trailed a forthcoming ‘European Chips Act’ in a state of the union speech today. Ursula von der Leyen suggested that gaining greater autonomy in chipmaking is now a key component of the EU’s overarching digital strategy.

She flagged the global shortage of semiconductors, which has led to slow downs in production for a range of products that rely on chips to drive data processing — from cars and trains to smartphones and other consumer electronics — as driving EU lawmakers’ concern about European capacity in this area.

“There is no digital without chips,” said von der Leyen. “While we speak, whole production lines are already working at reduced speed — despite growing demand — because of a shortage of semi-conductors.

“But while global demand has exploded, Europe’s share across the entire value chain, from design to manufacturing capacity has shrunk. We depend on state-of-the-art chips manufactured in Asia. So this is not just a matter of our competitiveness. This is also a matter of tech sovereignty. So let’s put all of our focus on it.”

The Chips Act will aim to link together the EU’s semiconductor research, design and testing capacities, she said, calling for “coordination” between EU and national investments in this area to help boost the bloc’s self-sufficiency.

“The aim is to jointly create a state-of-the-art European chip ecosystem, including production. That ensures our security of supply and will develop new markets for ground-breaking European tech,” she added.

The EU president couched the ambition for bolstering European chip capacity as a “daunting task” but likened the mission to what the bloc did with its Galileo satellite navigation system two decades ago.

“Today European satellites provide the navigation system for more than 2 billion smartphones worldwide. We are world leaders. So let’s be bold again, this time with semi-conductors.”

In follow up remarks, the EU’s internal market commissioner, Thierry Breton, put a little more meat on the bones of the legislative plan — saying the Commission wants to integrate Member State efforts into a “coherent” pan-EU semiconductor strategy and also create a framework “to avoid a race to national public subsidies fragmenting the single market”.

The aim will be to “set conditions to protect European interests and place Europe firmly in the global geopolitical landscape”, he added.

Per Breton, the Chip Act will comprise three elements: Firstly, a semiconductor research strategy that will aim to build on work being done by institutions such as IMEC in Belgium, LETI/CEA in France and Fraunhofer in Germany.

“Building on the existing research partnership (the KDT Joint Undertaking), we need to up our game, and design a strategy to push the research ambitions of Europe to the next level while preserving our strategic interests,” he noted.

The second component will consist of a collective plan to boost European chipmaking capacity.

He said the planned legislation will aim to support chip supply chain monitoring and resilience across design, production, packaging, equipment and suppliers (e.g. producers of wafers).

The goal will be to support the development of European “mega fabs” that are able to produce high volumes of the most advanced (towards 2nm and below) and energy-efficient semiconductors.

However the EU isn’t planning for a future when it can make all the chips it needs itself.

The last plank of the European Chip Act will set out a framework for international co-operation and partnership.

“The idea is not to produce everything on our own here in Europe. In addition to making our local production more resilient, we need to design a strategy to diversify our supply chains in order to decrease over-dependence on a single country or region,” Breton went on. “And while the EU aims to remain the top global destination of foreign investment and we welcome foreign investment to help increase our production capacity especially in high-end technology, through the European Chips Act we will also put the right conditions in place to preserve Europe’s security of supply.”

“The US are now discussing a massive investment under the American Chips Act designed to finance the creation of an American research centre and to help open up advanced production factories. The objective is clear: to increase the resilience of US semiconductor supply chains,” he added.

“Taiwan is positioning itself to ensure its primacy on semiconductor manufacturing. China, too, is trying to close the technological gap as it is constrained by export control rules to avoid technological transfers. Europe cannot and will not lag behind.”

In additional documentation released today, the EU said the Chips Act will build on other digital initiatives already presented by the Von der Leyen Commission — such as moves to contain the power of “gatekeeper” Internet giants and increase platforms’ accountability (the Digital Markets Act and Digital Services Act); regulate high risk applications of AI (the Artificial Intelligence Act); tackle online disinformation (via a beefed up code of practice); and boost investment in regional digital infrastructure and skills.

#consumer-electronics, #digital-markets-act, #digital-services-act, #europe, #european-chips-act, #european-commission, #european-union, #fraunhofer, #hardware, #semiconductor, #semiconductors, #supply-chain, #thierry-breton, #ursula-von-der-leyen

Apple brings macro, low light and cinema-focused updates to the iPhone 13 Pro camera

Apple continues its tradition of improving the photography capabilities of consumer devices with today’s announcement of the iPhone 13 and 13 Pro, available on September 24.

Last year’s iPhone 12 had two rear camera lenses, while the iPhone 12 Pro had three; the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro follow suit. The iPhone 13 features a wide (f/1.6 aperture) and an ultra wide (f/2.4 aperture) lens, which are the same specs as the iPhone 12. But the iPhone 13 Pro unveils an entirely new camera system.

Compared to the iPhone 12 Pro, the iPhone 13 Pro improves low-light performance by allowing for apertures as wide as f/1.5 on the main lens, compared to f/1.6 on the previous model. The ultra wide lens follows the same trend, boasting f/1.8, improved from f/2.4 on the iPhone 12 Pro. These wide apertures should collect more light in darker settings like bars and concerts, hopefully leading to improved image quality. Apple claims that the ultra wide lens will have “up to 92% improvement in low light,” but… we’ll just have to test that ourselves.

Image Credits: Apple

Perhaps the most notable lens upgrade is the improvement to the telephoto lens. Though this lens has a smaller aperture than its predecessor (f/2.8 compared to f/2.0), the new telephoto lens is 77mm-equivalent, while the iPhone 12 Pro’s telephoto was 52mm. This allows users to zoom closer in on far-away scenes without sacrificing image quality. The telephoto lens also now supports night mode, which it didn’t previously.

Apple also announced Macro mode, which will be available on the iPhone 13 Pro. The ultra wide lens and autofocus system work together to magnify subjects as close as 2 centimeters away. These shots are challenging to pull off even on professional, non-phone cameras. Users can also record video and even slow-mo at this scale, which should open up some interesting options.

Image Credits: Apple

Apple also announced Photographic Styles and Cinematic Mode, new features available on both the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro.

Photographic Styles applies local edits to an image in real time as the photo is rendered, so photographers can compose their shots using one of four presets and see what their end product will look like before they click the shutter button. Of course even point-and-shoots have had real-time filters for a decade, but Apple claims these Photographic Styles are more technologically sophisticated than those, using machine learning to understand how to intelligently apply edits without compromising a subject’s skin tone.

Image Credits: Apple

Cinematic Mode allows users to shoot video, but then change the background blur and virtual focus of the clip later. This feature seems more catered toward professional filmmakers — Apple brought in Kathryn Bigelow and Greig Fraizer to demonstrate the functionality. Still, Canon and Nikon need not worry — there will always be advantages of a camera that’s a camera, as opposed to a camera that’s a phone — but hey, it’s not as though smartphone films have never made a splash in the Academy.

The iPhone 13 will start at $799 (which, for the record, is more expensive than an entry-level DSLR camera and a decent lens). The iPhone 13 Pro — telephoto lens, macro photography and all — starts at $999.

Read more about Apple's Fall 2021 Event on TechCrunch

#apple-fall-event-2021, #hardware, #iphone-13, #iphone-13-pro, #photography

Apple’s iPhone 13 sports better battery and improved cameras, starting at $799

The rumors were right. The centerpiece of today’s big Apple event is the latest iPhone. The latest device lands less than a year after its predecessor, now that things have settled down somewhat on the supply chain side for Apple. Last year’s iPhone 12 was a massive seller, bucking the trend of stagnating smartphones sales, in part due to a bottleneck in sales from the unplanned delay, but also because it finally brought 5G connectivity to Apple’s mobile line.

Lucky number iPhone 13 (no skipping for superstition’s sake, mind) features a familiar design. The front notch has finally been shrunken down — now 20% smaller than its predecessor, while the rear-facing camera system has also gotten a redesign. The screen is now 28% brighter on both the iPhone 13 and 13 mini at 1200 nits.

The phone is powered by Apple’s new A15 Bionic chip, built with a 5nm processor. The CPU is 6-core that the company is calling “the fastest CPU on any smartphone.” The new 4-core GPU, meanwhile, brings advanced graphics to the handset.

The rear dual-camera system features a 12MP wide angle camera that’s capable of pulling in up to 47% more light. The new Cinematic Mode, meanwhile, brings rack focus-style shooting capable of adjusting the focus on subjects, using machine learning (you can also tap to adjust manual or switch between subjects).

Following last year’s introduction of 5G, the company has added more advanced antennae. Through the combination of a larger battery and energy saving software, the company says it’s been able to eke out an additional 2.5 hours of life on the 13 and 1.5 hours on the mini.

iPhone 13 mini starts at $699 and, while the 13 starts at $799.

 

Read more about Apple's Fall 2021 Event on TechCrunch

#apple, #apple-fall-event-2021, #hardware, #iphone, #iphone-13, #mobile

Apple Watch Series 7 arrives with a larger, more rugged display

Big day for hardware over at Apple HQ. In addition to all of a pair of new iPads, the company just launched the latest version of the wearable-dominated Apple Watch. As anticipated, the Apple Watch Series 7 marks one of the biggest design changes in the smartwatch’s six year history. The new Watch sports a re-engineered display that’s 20% larger than the Series 6, while “barely effecting” the watch’s size, courtesy of smaller bezels.

The corners are rounded and the display is significantly brighter than the last version. The new screen is able to fit 50% more text than the previous models, and the system features a new text input feature with AI predictions.

Contrary to rumors, the battery hasn’t been improved this time out. It can, however, charge at around  33% faster, so you can get some quick juice in before sleep tracking.

Developing…

Read more about Apple's Fall 2021 Event on TechCrunch

#apple, #apple-fall-event-2021, #apple-watch, #apple-watch-series-7, #hardware

Apple refreshes iPad Mini with a new design, 5G and an 8.3-inch display

As expected, we’re going to be seeing a LOT of hardware at today’s Apple event. The company has already unveiled a refresh to the iPad and here’s a new version of the Mini that looks to be the small tablet’s biggest refresh to date. The new iPad Mini sports a design overhaul that closely resembles that of the iPad Pro. That’s all built around an 8.3-inch Liquid Retina display, accomplished by significantly shrinking its bezels.

There’s a lot to like about this refresh on top of the aforementioned aesthetic updates. It’s a long list that really rounds out the product’s functionality, including 5G, Apple Pencil support and a power button that supports TouchID for unlocking. The product is getting some nice upgrades inside, as well, with a CPU Apple says in 40% faster than its predecessor and a GPU that bumps performance up 80%.

The Mini sports a USB-C port and front and rear-facing 12-megapixel cameras, the former of which supports Apple’s Center Stage program. The Mini starts at $499 and goes on sale next week. Pricing, naturally, goes up when you add 5G into the mix.

 

Read more about Apple's Fall 2021 Event on TechCrunch

#apple, #hardware

Tonal adds live classes to its strength training workouts

Wall-mounted fitness startup Tonal this morning announced that it’s bringing live courses to it portfolio of strength training workouts. The company did a soft launch of the live offering back in December of last year, though at the time, it wasn’t live, so much as prerecorded — “live, on tape,” to steal a line from The Larry Sanders Show.

“[Y]our coach works out with you — just like in a live class,” the company wrote. Our Live (Beta) workouts combine the energizing feeling of working out alongside a coach with Tonal’s ability to count your reps and wait for you to complete each set […] It’s all on-demand, so you can work out whenever it fits into your schedule.”

The new offering brings the company’s content selection more in-line with leaders in the home fitness space like Peloton. Certainly live isn’t for everyone, but many users do appreciate the motivation that comes with a fixed schedule, as well as the sense of community one derives from working out with others.

The new offering provides real-time feedback from coaches, coupled with a “social zone” for interacting with fellow Tonal users. The portfolio is also getting four new coaches for live workouts. After a day, live workouts will be archived in Tonal’s on-demand offerings.

“As our community has grown over the past few years, we’ve been encouraged by the organic social engagement, the craving for more interaction with our coaches, and the excitement that comes from reaching new milestones,” founder and CEO Aly Orady said in a release. “Tonal Live will allow us to connect these elements through a studio experience while retaining the foundation of what differentiates our workouts: personalization, guidance, and feedback.”

Founded in 2015, the San Francisco-based company is among those connected fitness brands that saw a major boost as the pandemic forced many to rethink their workout routines. Tonal has raised $450 million to date, including a $250 million Series E that raised its valuation to $1.6 billion, back in March.

#fitness, #hardware, #health, #startups, #tc, #tonal

Live from Apple’s virtual 2021 iPhone event

It’s that time of year again. Summer is winding down, the leaves are starting to change color and Apple’s getting ready to drop a brand new iPhone on the world. Today’s big event arrives less than a year after the last big iPhone event, as Apple seems to be back on schedule, after some early pandemic supply chain issues.

I wrote a handy roundup of all the things we expect to see live on video from Cupertino, based on a slew of rumors and leaks. The big news today is almost certainly the arrival of the iPhone 13. We’re also expecting the new Apple Watch Series 7 to drop, as well as some other key hardware additions, potentially including new AirPods and additional Apple Silicon Mac models.

Matthew and Darrell are going to be heading up the liveblog team, kicking off at 10AM PT/1PM ET today. Check out the video stream here and stay put on this very page to get the up to the minute news as it arrives.

Read more about Apple's Fall 2021 Event on TechCrunch

#airpods-3, #apple-fall-event-2021, #events, #hardware, #iphone-13

Xiaomi launches its own smart glasses, of course

Xiaomi is challenging Facebook in the wearables arena by launching its own smart glasses. The device won’t only be capable of taking photos, but also of displaying messages and notifications, making calls, providing navigation and translating text right in real time in front of your eyes. Like Facebook, Xiaomi is also putting emphasis on the device’s lightness despite its features. At 51 grams, though, it’s a bit heavier than the social network’s Ray-Ban Stories. In addition, the glasses also has an indicator light that shows when the 5-megapixel camera is in use.

Xiaomi’s Smart Glasses are powered by a quad-core ARM processor and run on Android. They also use MicroLED imaging technology, which is known for having a higher brightness and longer lifespan than OLED. The company says the technology has a simpler structure that enabled it to create a compact display with individual pixels sized at 4μm. You won’t be able to view the images you take in color, though — Xiaomi says it opted to use a monochrome display solution “to allow sufficient light to pass through complicated optical structures.”

The company explains:

“The grating structure etched onto the inner surface of the lens allows light to be refracted in a unique way, directing it safely into the human eye. The refraction process involves bouncing light beams countless times, allowing the human eye to see a complete image, and greatly increasing usability while wearing. All this is done inside a single lens, instead of using complicated multiples lens systems, mirrors, or half mirrors as some other products do.”

Its smart glasses won’t be just a second screen for your phone, according to Xiaomi. It’s independently capable of many things, such as selecting the most important notifications to show you, including smart home alarms and messages from important contacts. The device’s navigation capability can display maps and directions in front of your eyes. It can also show you the number of whoever’s currently calling your phone, and you can take the call using the smart glasses’ built in mic and speakers.

That mic will be able to pick up speech, as well, which Xiaomi’s proprietary translating algorithm can translate in real time. The glasses’ translation feature also works’ on written text and text on photos captures through its camera. Unfortunately, the company has yet to announce a price or a launch date for the glasses, but we’ll keep you updated when it does.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on Engadget.

#ar, #augmented-reality, #column, #gadgets, #hardware, #smart-glasses, #tc, #tceng, #xiaomi

South Korean antitrust regulator fines Google $177M for abusing market dominance

The Korea Fair Trade Commission (KFTC) said on Tuesday it fined Google $177 million for abusing its market dominance in the Android operating system (OS) market.

The U.S. tech company has restricted market competition by prohibiting local smartphone makers like Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics from customizing their Android OS, through Google’s anti-fragmentation agreements (AFA), according to the antitrust regulator statement.

Under the AFA, smartphone developers are not allowed to install or develop “Android forks”, modified versions of Android.

The KFTC banned Google LLC, Google Asia Pacific and Google Korea from imposing local smartphone developers to sign the AFA and make changes on details about the existing version. The new measure in South Korea will be applied to not only mobiles devices but also other Android-powered smart devices including watches and TVs.

Android has spurred innovation among Korean mobile operator owners and software developers and that has led to a better user experience for Korean consumers, Google said in its statement. “The KFTC’s decision released today ignores these benefits, and will undermine the advantages enjoyed by consumers. Google intends to appeal the KFTC’s decision,” a spokesperson at Google said.

The commission has been investigating Google over the anti-competition practice in OS market since July 2016, a spokesperson at KFTC said.

Google’s global mobile OS market share excluding China has been increased to 97.7% in 2019 from 38% in 2010, as per KFTC’s announcement.

Google’s AFA has also limited to launch tech companies’ new devices like smart watches and TVs using the operating system (OS) including Samsung’s smart watch in 2013, LG Electronics’ LTE smart speaker in 2018 as well as Amazon’s smart TV in 2018.

South Korea’s watchdog is probing into three other cases including the Play Store app market, billing system and the advertisement market.

Meanwhile, South Korea’s “anti-Google law”, takes effect on 14 September, based on Korea Communications Commission’s press release.

In late August, South Korea passed a bill to curb global tech companies including Google and Apple from imposing their own proprietary in-app payment service and commissions on app developers.

#antitrust, #apps, #asia, #gadgets, #google, #government, #hardware, #mobile, #south-korea, #tc

Amazon releases a Kindle software redesign to make navigation easier

Yeah, yeah, you don’t need to charge a real book — but you also don’t need to update a book’s software, and that’s also often true for Amazon’s Kindle, which rarely gets a software refresh. But now, our trusty Kindles remind us that they’re actually Wi-Fi connected, electronic devices capable of change as Amazon unveils a significant design upgrade for the first time in years.

To simplify navigation, the new look adds a two-tab bar to the bottom of the home screen, letting users easily toggle between the “home” and “library” screens. To access frequently used features, Kindle introduced an arrow on the top of the screen. When tapped, it reveals buttons to access airplane mode, bluetooth, dark mode, sync, or the rest of the settings menu. There’s also a brightness slider.

Amazon notified customers about the update on Friday and says it will roll out in the coming weeks, but many users with eligible devices — Kindle (8th Gen and above), Kindle Paperwhite (7th Gen and above), and Kindle Oasis — have already downloaded the upgrade. If you’re not sure what kind of Kindle you have, you can check here, but if your Kindle is from 2015 or later, you’re probably eligible. If your Kindle is connected to Wi-Fi, the update will install automatically, but you can manually download it here.

The company says it will continue to improve the home and library screens later this year — users will be able to swipe left on the home page to see recently read books from their library. Then, the library screen will introduce new filter and sort menus, a new collection view, and an interactive scroll bar.

Image Credits: Amazon

This is the biggest design update that Kindle has released since around 2016 — but if you noticed that the user interface felt outdated while you wrapped up your summer reading, now you know that Amazon noticed too.

#amazon, #e-readers, #hardware, #kindle

GM invests in radar software startup Oculii as demand for automated driving features rise

Oculii, a software startup that aims to improve the spatial resolution of radar sensors by up to 100-fold, has scored a new investment from General Motors. The new funding, which the two companies say is in the millions, comes just months after Oculii closed a $55 million Series B.

Oculii and GM have already been working together “for some time now,” CEO Steven Hong told TechCrunch in a recent interview. While he declined to specify exactly how GM plans to use Oculii’s software, it could be used to bolster the capabilities of the automaker’s hands-free advanced driver assistance system known as Super Cruise. Hong added that the company is also working with a few other OEMs, including one on the cap table.

“When a company like GM says, this is great technology and this is something that we potentially want to use down the line, it makes the entire supply chain take notice and effectively work more closely with you to adopt the solution, the technology, into what they’re selling to the OEMs,” he said.

The startup has no intention of building hardware. Instead, Oculii wants to license software to radar companies. The startup claims it can take low-cost, commercially available radar sensors – sensors that weren’t designed for autonomous driving, but rather for limited scenarios like emergency breaking or parking assist – and use its AI software to enable more autonomous maneuvering, Hong said.

“We really believe that the way to deliver something that’s scalable is through software, because software fundamentally improves with data,” he said. “Software fundamentally improves with better hardware in each generation that’s released. Software fundamentally over time gets cheaper and cheaper and cheaper, much faster than hardware, for example.”

The news is certainly bullish for radar, a sensor that is generally used for assistive capabilities because of its imaging limitations. But if Oculii can actually improve the performance of radar, which tend to be much cheaper than lidar, it could mean massive cost savings for automakers.

Tesla, the largest electric vehicle maker by sales volume in the world, recently nixed radar sensors from its advanced driver assistance system, in favor of a “pure vision” approach that uses cameras and a supercomputer-powered neural network. Hong said that the radar Tesla eliminated was very low resolution, and “wasn’t really adding anything to their existing pipeline.”

But he doesn’t think the company would always necessarily count out radar, should the technology improve. “Fundamentally, each of these sensors improves [the] safety case and gets you closer and closer to 99.99999% reliability. At the end of the day, that’s the most important thing, is getting as many nines of reliability as you can.”

#automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #general-motors, #hardware, #lidar, #oculii, #radar, #recent-funding, #self-driving-cars, #startups, #transportation

The past, present and future of IoT in physical security

When Axis Communications released the first internet protocol (IP) camera after the 1996 Olympic games in Atlanta, there was some initial confusion. Connected cameras weren’t something the market had been clamoring for, and many experts questioned whether they were even necessary.

Today, of course, traditional analog cameras have been almost completely phased out as organizations have recognized the tremendous advantage that IoT devices can offer, but that technology felt like a tremendous risk during those early days.

To say that things have changed since then would be a dramatic understatement. The growth of the Internet of Things (IoT) represents one of the ways physical security has evolved. Connected devices have become the norm, opening up exciting new possibilities that go far beyond recorded video. Further developments, such as the improvement and widespread acceptance of the IP camera, have helped power additional breakthroughs including improved analytics, increased processing power, and the growth of open-architecture technology. On the 25th anniversary of the initial launch of the IP camera, it is worth reflecting on how far the industry has come — and where it is likely to go from here.

Tech improvements herald the rise of IP cameras

Comparing today’s IP cameras to those available in 1996 is almost laughable. While they were certainly groundbreaking at the time, those early cameras could record just one frame every 17 seconds — quite a change from what cameras can do today.

But despite this drawback, those on the cutting edge of physical security understood what a monumental breakthrough the IP camera could represent. After all, creating a network of cameras would enable more effective remote monitoring, which — if the technology could scale — would enable them to deploy much larger systems, tying together disparate groups of cameras. Early applications might include watching oil fields, airport landing strips or remote cell phone towers. Better still, the technology had the potential to usher in an entirely new world of analytics capabilities.

Of course, better chipsets were needed to make that endless potential a reality. Groundbreaking or not, the limited frame rate of the early cameras was never going to be effective enough to drive widespread adoption of traditional surveillance applications. Solving this problem required a significant investment of resources, but before long these improved chipsets brought IP cameras from one frame every 17 seconds to 30 frames per second. Poor frame rate could no longer be listed as a justification for shunning IP cameras in favor of their analog cousins, and developers could begin to explore the devices’ analytics potential.

Perhaps the most important technological leap was the introduction of embedded Linux, which made IP cameras more practical from a developer point of view. During the 1990s, most devices used proprietary operating systems, which made them difficult to develop for.

Even within the companies themselves, proprietary systems meant that developers had to be trained on a specific technology, costing companies both time and money. There were a few attempts at standardization within the industry, such as the Wind River operating system, but these ultimately failed. They were too small, with limited resources behind them — and besides, a better solution already existed: Linux.

Linux offered a wide range of benefits, not the least of which was the ability to collaborate with other developers in the open source community. This was a road that ran two ways. Because most IP cameras lacked the hard disk necessary to run Linux, hardware known as JFFS was developed that would allow a device to use a Flash memory chip as a hard disk. That technology was contributed to the open source community, and while it is currently on its third iteration, it remains in widespread use today.

Compression technology represented a similar challenge, with the more prominent data compression models in the late ’90s and early 2000s poorly suited for video. At the time, video storage involved individual frames being stored one-by-one — a data storage nightmare. Fortunately, the H.264 compression format, which was designed with video in mind, became much more commonplace in 2009.

By the end of that year, more than 90% of IP cameras and most video management systems used the H.264 compression format. It is important to note that improvements in compression capabilities have also enabled manufacturers to improve their video resolution as well. Before the new compression format, video resolution had not changed since the ’60s with NTSC/PAL. Today, most cameras are capable of recording in high definition (HD).

1996: First IP camera is released.
2001: Edge-based analytics with video motion detection arrive.
2006: First downloadable, edge-based analytics become available.
2009: Full HD becomes the standard video resolution; H.264 compression goes mainstream.
2015: Smart compression revolutionizes video storage.

The growth of analytics

Analytics is not exactly a “new” technology — customers requested various analytics capabilities even in the early days of the IP camera — but it is one that has seen dramatic improvement. Although it might seem quaint by today’s high standards, video motion detection was one of the earliest analytics loaded onto IP cameras.

Customers needed a way to detect movement within certain parameters to avoid having a tree swaying in the wind, or a squirrel running by, trigger a false alarm. Further refinement of this type of detection and recognition technology has helped automate many aspects of physical security, triggering alerts when potentially suspicious activity is detected and ensuring that it is brought to human attention. By taking human fallibility out of the equation, analytics has turned video surveillance from a reactive tool to a proactive one.

Reliable motion detection remains one of the most widely used analytics, and while false alarms can never be entirely eliminated, modern improvements have made it a reliable way to detect potential intruders. Object detection is also growing in popularity and is increasingly capable of classifying cars, people, animals and other objects.

License plate recognition is popular in many countries (though less so in the United States), not just for identifying vehicles involved in criminal activity, but for uses as simple as parking recognition. Details like car model, shirt color or license plate number are easy for the human eye to miss or fail to notice — but thanks to modern analytics, that data is cataloged and stored for easy reference. The advent of technology like deep learning, which features better pattern recognition and object classification through improved labeling and categorization, will drive further advancements in this area of analytics.

The rise of analytics also helps highlight why the security industry has embraced open-architecture technology. Simply put, it is impossible for a single manufacturer to keep up with every application that its customers might need. By using open-architecture technology, they can empower those customers to seek out the solutions that are right for them, without the need to specifically tailor the device for certain use cases. Hospitals might look to add audio analytics to detect signs of patient distress; retail stores might focus on people counting or theft detection; law enforcement might focus on gunshot detection — with all of these applications housed within the same device model.

It is also important to note that the COVID-19 pandemic drove interesting new uses for both physical security devices and analytics — though some applications, such as using thermal cameras for fever measurement, proved difficult to implement with a high degree of accuracy. Within the healthcare industry, camera usage increased significantly — something that is unlikely to change. Hospitals have seen the benefit of cameras within patient rooms, with video and intercom technology enabling healthcare professionals to monitor and communicate with patients while maintaining a secure environment.

Even simple analytics like cross-line detection can generate an alert if a patient who is a fall risk attempts to leave a designated area, potentially reducing accidents and overall liability. The fact that analytics like this bear only a passing mention today highlights how far physical security has come since the early days of the IP camera.

Looking to the future of security

That said, an examination of today’s trends can provide a glimpse into what the future might hold for the security industry. For instance, video resolution will certainly continue to improve.

Ten years ago, the standard resolution for video surveillance was 720p (1 megapixel), and 10 years before that it was the analog NTSC/PAL resolution of 572×488, or 0.3 megapixels. Today, the standard resolution is 1080p (2 megapixels), and a healthy application of Moore’s law indicates that 10 years from now it will be 4K (8 megapixels).

As ever, the amount of storage that higher-resolution video generates is the limiting factor, and the development of smart storage technologies such as Zipstream has helped tremendously in recent years. We will likely see further improvements in smart storage and video compression that will help make higher-resolution video possible.

Cybersecurity will also be a growing concern for both manufacturers and end users.

Recently, one of Sweden’s largest retailers was shut down for a week because of a hack, and others will meet the same fate if they continue to use poorly secured devices. Any piece of software can contain a bug, but only developers and manufacturers committed to identifying and fixing these potential vulnerabilities can be considered reliable partners. Governments across the globe will likely pass new regulations mandating cybersecurity improvements, with California’s recent IoT protection law serving as an early indicator of what the industry can expect.

Finally, ethical behavior will continue to become more important. A growing number of companies have begun foregrounding their ethics policies, issuing guidelines for how they expect technology like facial recognition to be used — not abused.

While new regulations are coming, it’s important to remember that regulation always lags behind, and companies that wish to have a positive reputation will need to adhere to their own ethical guidelines. More and more consumers now list ethical considerations among their major concerns—especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic—and today’s businesses will need to strongly consider how to broadcast and enforce responsible product use.

Change is always around the corner

Physical security has come a long way since the IP camera was introduced, but it is important to remember that these changes, while significant, took place over more than two decades. Changes take time — often more time than you might think. Still, it is impossible to compare where the industry stands today to where it stood 25 years ago without being impressed. The technology has evolved, end users’ needs have shifted, and even the major players in the industry have come and gone according to their ability to keep up with the times.

Change is inevitable, but careful observation of today’s trends and how they fit into today’s evolving security needs can help today’s developers and device manufacturers understand how to position themselves for the future. The pandemic highlighted the fact that today’s security devices can provide added value in ways that no one would have predicted just a few short years ago, further underscoring the importance of open communication, reliable customer support and ethical behavior.

As we move into the future, organizations that continue to prioritize these core values will be among the most successful.

#column, #facial-recognition, #hardware, #internet-protocol, #ip-camera, #linux, #opinion, #physical-security, #security, #surveillance, #tc

Babyscripts secures $12M to roll out its virtual maternity care model

Obstetrics virtual care company Babyscripts raised $12 million in the first round of a Series B investment that will enable the company to accelerate the roll out of its virtual maternity care tool platform to providers.

MemorialCare Innovation Fund led the investment and was joined by Philips Ventures and the CU Healthcare Innovation Fund. The new round of funding gives Babyscripts around $26 million raised to date, Babyscripts co-founder and president Juan Pablo Segura told TechCrunch.

We last checked in on Washington, D.C-based Babyscripts two years ago when Phillips led a $6 million investment into the company. A lot has happened since 2019, Segura said.

At the time, the company had one product and was working with hospitals and healthcare providers to distribute a medical device and mobile app to expecting mothers for monitoring blood pressure and providing neonatal care information.

Today, the company has multiple kits that can be targeted to patients, including blood pressure monitoring, weight and captured blood sugars. Babyscripts can automate 40% to 50% of prenatal care and alert doctors as health problems occur so that both mother and baby are healthy. At one physician site, use of Babyscripts helped open up close to 1,000 appointments in a year so obstetricians there could focus on higher-risk patients, Segura said.

It also has larger population health focuses — driven mainly by the pandemic — to help higher-risk expecting mothers with remote patient monitoring and virtual care, as well as work to solve health inequity issues.

More than 70% of patients using Babyscripts are on Medicaid, which may be the only safety net provider in the patient’s geography, Segura said. As a result, the company began forming partnerships with public health departments, managed Medicaid plans and providers, like Priva Health, so that Babyscripts could be paid for at the local level.

“Right now, one of the biggest challenges for a pregnant patient on Medicaid and working an hourly job is asking moms to choose between prenatal care and putting food on the table,” he added. “Fifty percent of maternal complications can be avoided, but a lot of these issues come from the fact that the model of delivery care hasn’t changed in 40 years. About 12% to 15% of deaths come from blood pressure complications. If we could monitor via Babyscripts or more coordinated care to get intervention faster, we could eliminate massive swaths of delivery events in maternity and reduce mortality events in this country.”

Amid the pandemic, Babyscripts saw enrollments grow 10x. Segura decided to go after a new round of funding to meet that need and opportunities that could be addressed. Babyscripts’s program is now being used by 75 health systems in 32 states, and the company is monitoring 250,000 women each year.

The company continues to receive inquiries from markets and payers that are looking to do more for pregnant patients, so Segura wants to be able to grow to meet that demand and invest in a go-to-market strategy to get its kits into as many hands as possible.

The new funding will also enable the company to release new features. It recently launched a mental health product and is developing a substance use disorder experience amid others, he said. Babyscripts is also working on a national level with payers and is building an infrastructure around that as well.

The company has 45 employees currently, and Segura expects to double that in the next 12 to 18 months in the areas of product, payer growth, clinical expertise, implementation and customer success. Babyscripts is also working toward being available in all 50 states and bringing in more public health departments and payers as partners to get more health systems working together, he added.

Meanwhile, Caleb Winder, managing director of MemorialCare Innovation Fund, said he was attracted to both Babyscripts’ outcomes data and addressing the high rates of complications in pregnancies. It also not only eliminates waiting for hours at the doctor’s office just to be seen for five minutes, but also closes some gaps in care, he added.

“One of the problems in this space is that providers, as much as they want to help, are stretched thin,” Winder said. “There are also access problems. Something like 50% of counties in this country lack one OB, so in-person care is difficult. Babyscripts can help patients anywhere be monitored and their health managed virtually. It can also alert a clinician when there is a real problem. We saw their data, for example, that showed preeclampsia was diagnosed 13 days faster than the standard of care.”

#babyscripts, #caleb-winder, #femtech, #funding, #hardware, #health, #health-systems, #juan-pablo-segura, #maternity, #medicaid, #obstetrics, #phillips, #physician, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc

What we expect from next week’s Apple event

We’ve been scouring the latest rumors and leaks and playing all of The Mamas and The Papas songs forward and backward to get the best possible picture of what we’re in store for with next Tuesday’s “California Streaming’” event.

The invites, which went out a week in advance, don’t appear to give the game away here. There was some extremely cool AR trickery, accessible through Safari on mobile, which could point to some fancy camera upgrades, though augmented reality has become a bit of a staple on these invites.

The California Streaming title, meanwhile, seems likely to be more of a nod to the all-virtual nature of the event, rather than anything to do with, say, Apple TV (of course, we’ve been one-more-thinged in the past). And as for that lovely shot of the Sierras — that could well be a nod to macOS, though the company has moved onto Monterey. It seems just as likely to be a reference to the aforementioned title.

The biggest, simplest and most important answer to the question of what to expect is a new iPhone. Last year’s models saw a notable delay due to COVID-19-related supply chain bottlenecking. Supply chain problems have persisted, of course, but by all accounts, the company appears to be back on track with its pre-pandemic release cycle.

The iPhone 12’s biggest upgrade was, of course, the long-awaited addition of 5G. That, coupled with the delay, led Apple to some pretty massive sales quarters amid a broader stalling of the overall mobile market. While other manufacturers have skipped the number out of superstitious concerns, Apple seems firmly on board with iPhone 13 (even as renders of its successor, the iPhone 14 have reportedly already leaked).

Image Credits: Getty Images / Qi Heng/VCG

Recent reports suggest that the iPhone 13 will arrive in four different configurations — much like its predecessor. So: the iPhone 13, 13 Mini, 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max. The screen sizes should remain the same: 5.4, 6.1 (x2) and 6.7 inches. A separate report, meanwhile, suggests that we’ll see additional colors, with the full lineup being black, white, blue, purple, pink (rather than green) and Product (Red). But, keep in mind that offering different color availabilities in different markets isn’t entirely out of the question.

Unsurprisingly, camera upgrades appear to be the biggest news here. Word from analyst Ming-Chi Kuo is that last year’s Pro Max model specs will graduate to the rest of the line (including, potentially, lidar). A ProRes video mode is said to be following the addition of ProRAW to further advance the handset’s bonafides as a semi-pro video shooting rig. Cinematic Video, meanwhile, is said to bring a Portrait-mode-style effect to video. Kuo has also suggested that the devices will be getting a feature based on the Qualcomm X60 that allows for emergency satellite calls — reportedly only available in select markets.

Of course, the phone will also be getting Apple’s latest chip, the A15, said to be coupled with 120 Hz ProMotion display. Apple could also be bringing an always-on feature to the screen, hopefully with minimal impact on battery life. Looks-wise we anticipate it will be more or less the same as its predecessor, albeit with a somewhat smaller camera notch up front — though not to the point of the fake Ted Lasso iPhone. The camera bump around back, meanwhile, is said to be getting larger, perhaps offering an improved telephoto lens.

Oh, and apparently they’ll be more expensive than the iPhone 12 — clearly not one of the new features Apple is going to be actively promoting.

Image Credits: Apple

The Apple Watch 7 seems destined to be the other big news of the event. Apple’s massively popular wearable is reportedly set to get more massive, with a larger display, resulting in a slightly larger case size, from 40 mm and 44 mm to 41 mm and 45 mm. The overall size won’t be too large a change, however, as the company is said to be reducing its bezels this go-round.

Perhaps the most exciting rumor around the Watch is the addition of significant battery life. That’s long felt like a blind spot for the product, compared to competing smartwatches — particularly after Apple significantly improved sleep tracking. Most aren’t anticipating major new health features for the Watch this outing, which is a bit of a surprise here, given that health and fitness have been a major cornerstone for Apple.

Image Credits: TechCrunch

AirPods 3 seem like a reasonably good bet. The latest version of the company’s entry-level earbuds (and their case) are said to be getting a more Pro-style redesign, along with a new chip that’s designed to improve battery life. Active noise cancelation and replaceable tips are apparently not going to make an appearance to maintain the distinction between the two models.

With the company’s rangewide upgrade to its own silicon chugging along, don’t be surprised if we see a number of new Macs. Rumors suggest a new MacBook Pro, Mac Mini and a larger, 27-inch version of its ARM-powered iMac.

The event kicks off Tuesday, September 14 at 10 a.m. PDT/1 p.m. EDT. We’ll be here, bringing you the news as it arrives.
Read more about Apple's Fall 2021 Event on TechCrunch

#airpods, #apple, #apple-watch, #hardware, #health, #iphone, #iphone-13, #macbook, #mobile, #wearables

Advanced rider assistance systems: Tech spawned by the politics of micromobility

The desire to achieve something as simple as keeping shared electric scooters off sidewalks has driven the development of some advanced technology in the micromobility industry. Once the province of geofencing, scooter companies are so eager to get a leg up on the competition that they’re now implementing technology similar to advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) usually found in cars.

Operators like Spin, Voi, Zipp, Bird and Superpedestrian are investing in camera-based or location-based tech that can detect and even correct poor rider behavior, sometimes going to the extent of slowing scooters to a stop if they’re riding on a sidewalk.

People riding or parking scooters on sidewalks is a big problem for cities and forms one of the main complaints from NIMBYist residents who dislike change all the more when it becomes a tripping hazard. Companies are trying to solve this problem with tech that effectively puts the onus of rider behavior on operators, which may result in cities requiring scooter operators to have this sort of ADAS tech.

Scooter ADAS is probably the most doable and cost-effective method that cities can use to prevent unwanted rider behavior. And, it’s far cheaper than trying to police rider behavior themselves, or, address the lack of protected cycling infrastructure.

“This technology comes from a need for protected bike lanes,” said Dmitry Shevelenko, co-founder and president of Tortoise, an automated vehicle positioning service for micromobility companies. “It exists in this world where riders kind of have to do things that aren’t that great for others, because they have nowhere else to go. And so that’s the true driver of the need for this.”

Cities can solve this problem for the long term by building bike lanes or creating scooter parking bays, but until that happens, operators need to reassure local administrations that micromobility is safe, compliant and a good thing for cities.

“Until cities have dedicated infrastructure for whatever new modality comes to play, you have to figure out a way to use technology to make sure things don’t mix poorly,” said Alex Nesic, co-founder and chief business officer of Drover AI, a computer vision startup that provides camera-based scooter ADAS. “That’s really what we’re after. We want to enable this kind of maturation of the industry.”

Street views versus satellite views

Drover AI works with Spin, while Luna, another computer vision company, works with Voi and Zipp to attach cameras, sensors and a microprocessor to scooters to detect lanes, sidewalks, pedestrians and other environmental surroundings.

#adas, #artificial-intelligence, #bird, #computer-vision-technology, #digisure, #e-bikes, #e-scooter, #ec-mobility-hardware, #ec-mobility-software, #hardware, #micromobility, #navmatic, #scooter, #spin, #startups, #tc, #tortoise, #transportation, #voi, #zipp

Google and India’s Jio delay their smartphone launch

The JioPhone Next, the much-awaited smartphone designed by Google and India’s Jio Platforms to tap hundreds of millions of users in the world’s second largest internet market, won’t launch on Friday, the Indian technology giant said Thursday midnight.

In a statement issued just now, Jio Platforms said it has been testing the smartphone with a “limited set of users for further refinement” and is “actively working to make it available more widely” around the time of Diwali festival, which is scheduled for early November.

The Indian firm, which operates the largest telecom network with over 400 million subscribers, blamed global semiconductor shortages for the launch delay and said it expects the additional two months “will” mitigate that.

The JioPhone Next smartphone, unveiled in June this year, was scheduled to launch on Friday. Neither of the firms had given any indication in recent days that they may have to postpone the launch. “The companies remain committed to their vision of opening up new possibilities for millions of Indians, especially those who will experience the internet for the very first time,” the Indian firm said in a press statement.

Mukesh Ambani, India’s richest man and the chairman of Reliance Industries, which operates Jio Platforms, unveiling JioPhone Next at an event in June this year Image Credits: Jio Platforms

Powered by “extremely optimized Android” mobile operating system, the JioPhone Next phone is marketed to be an “ultra-affordable 4G smartphone” to tap the roughly 300 million users in India who are still on slower networks. The two firms have said that they plan to eventually launch the smartphone in other markets as well.

At an event in June, the two firms said the JioPhone Next will feature a “fast, high-quality camera” which will support HDR, and will be protected by the latest Android releases and security updates. It will also ship with a range of features, including Read Aloud and Translate Now that will work with any text on the phone screen, including web pages, apps, messages and even photos, the two firms have said.

Analysts have said in recent weeks that the JioPhone Next — whose price and tech specifications are yet to be revealed — could disrupt the Indian smartphone market — the world’s second largest — and help the telecom network further solidify its dominance in the country.

“At present, there are 430 million smartphone users, 115 million JioPhone users [Jio’s “smart” featurephone] and 320 million featurephone (2G) users in India. We believe smartphone users with devices priced above $100 are unlikely to opt for a sub $100 device,” analysts at Jefferies wrote in a report to clients this week. “That leaves 25% of smartphone users, i.e. 105 million smartphones, 115 million JioPhone users and 320 million featurephone users as the addressable market for JioPhone Next. Assuming replacement cycle of 2 years for smartphones and 3 years for JioPhone/featurephones, the addressable market for JioPhone Next could be 200m devices annually.”

The smartphone is the latest collaboration between the two firms. Last year, Google invested $4.5 billion in Jio Platforms and that’s where it first announced the plans to develop cheap smartphones with the Indian telecom operator. Facebook and scores of other firms have also bought stakes in the Indian firm. Jio Platforms operates a number of businesses including telecom giant Jio Infocomm, which competes with Airtel and Vodafone Idea; and e-commerce firm JioMart, which competes with Tata-owned BigBasket, SoftBank-backed Grofers, and Amazon and Walmart’s Flipkart.

#android, #asia, #hardware, #jio-platforms, #reliance, #reliance-jio

Facebook’s first smart glasses make the case for face-worn wearables

Facebook’s first pair of smart glasses doesn’t feel like much of a Facebook product.

You won’t find the Facebook logo emblazoned on them or even its name in small print by the serial code. They aren’t Facebook Stories or Ray-Ban’s Facebook Stories or even Ray-Ban Stories in collaboration with Facebook. Unlike other Facebook-designed hardware like the Quest 2 or Portal, the Ray-Ban Stories feel more self-aware and restrained as though the company knew exactly what use cases they needed to hit, and stopped themselves from trying to do much more than that.

The glasses made in partnership with eyewear giant EssilorLuxottica are certainly the most basic device Facebook has shipped. They only do a few things, you can take photos and videos, you can take phone calls and you can listen to music. That’s it. But bringing audio into the mix via near-ear speakers embedded in the arms of the frames makes these a much more realized device than Snap’s Spectacles which shipped five years ago.


Ray-Ban’s classic dumb Wayfarers (left) next to the smart Ray-Ban Stories Wayfarers (right)

Let’s dig a bit into what this device does and how it feels to use it in daily life.

One thing to note about the $299 Ray-Ban Stories is that they can be worn pretty inconspicuously. People are probably more likely to notice the cameras than their slightly inflated dimensions. That’s already a revolutionary advance, which pushes these past the level of “toy” which Spectacles never really seemed to eclipse. The Ray-Ban partnership was particularly savvy given the thicker-than-average frames on their standard Wayfarer design.

What onlookers are more likely to notice is you tapping the frame of your glasses to control them. Pressing the  button on the right arm will take a 30-second video, a long-press will snap a photo. You can also use the voice command, “Hey Facebook, take a video” and do the same for photos — for the record, I’m not sure whether this is a sentence I’d feel great about hearing a stranger nearby me in public say. A small LED light sparks up when the camera is capturing footage though it’s a pretty low-key indicator.

The photo and video quality of the glasses is pretty middling, but plenty of forgiveness can be levied given the size of the device. The twin 5 MP cameras can shoot 2592 x 1944 pixel photos and 1184 x 1184 pixel square format videos. The quality seems to be about on-par with where smartphone cameras were about ten years ago, so it’s clear there’s plenty of room for improvement. Post-processing on the phone during upload enhances the photos and hides some of their struggles with low-lighting while making the photos pop a bit more with saturation.

The twin camera setup is used to add 3D effects to your photos, but at the moment the filters aren’t great and there’s honestly not much there. Hopefully, Facebook invests a bit more in the software over time but with fairly low quality photos, I don’t completely see the reasoning in having two cameras to begin with.

Also worth noting, is that using the glasses requires linking them to a new Facebook app called View, which is basically a simple media viewer app which gets around limitations in how media from external devices can be uploaded to your phone. This is where you can also make quick edits to your photos and videos before dumping them to your photo roll or sharing them to Facebook or Instagram.

Audio is probably the most interesting bit of these glasses. The near-ear speakers will surprise you with their quality in a quiet spaces and leave you dissatisfied once you find yourself in a noisier environment. Unfortunately for Facebook, most outdoor spaces are a bit louder and sunglasses are mostly being used outdoors. The audio will work in a pinch outdoors for listening to tunes, but I honestly can’t see them replacing my AirPods anytime soon. The audio is much better suited for low-fidelity activities like phone calls, but I also had some issues with the three-microphone array picking up too much background noise while I was walking outdoors.

Battery life is surprisingly solid, but they also have the benefit of a charging battery case which is incidentally the best place to store them. The case is a little bulky but they also include a microfiber pouch to protect the lenses. Facebook says you can get 6 hours of straight audio and “all-day” usage otherwise.

One of their weirder quirks is their lack of water-proofing or even splash-proofing, something that doesn’t seem like a great quality for a pair of sunglasses. It’s just one more thing indicating that while the thicker frame aesthetic of sunglasses makes more sense for a smart glasses design, this product really thrives more indoors.


This isn’t first rodeo when it comes to hardware and you can see the company’s maturation.

They aren’t an AR/VR device, but you can also see generations of Oculus products in the Ray-Ban Stories‘ design. On-ear audio born from the Oculus Go, a touchpad interface reminiscent of the Gear VR, simple and restrained audio controls first launched on the Quest. The hardware is a distillation of features and lessons learned from selling VR to a generally indifferent public that has seemed to warm up to it a bit over the years.

Meanwhile, you can also see years of Facebook screwing up its messaging and torching its brand name in the process, making itself the boogeyman of both political parties, courting enemies in the press and earning an outsized amount of distrust from the average internet user, something that probably led to these carrying so little Facebook branding. The Ray-Ban Stories will certainly have their detractors, but Facebook choosing to be conservative in their functionality and not toss in too many future-flung passive sensors will likely do them a favor. The Facebook View app is bare bones and Facebook details that photos and videos captured using the Stories won’t be used to serve ads. All that said, while we’ve certainly come a long way since the Google Glass debut in 2013, face-mounted cameras still feel icky when it comes to privacy in public and this device will undoubtedly reignite that conversation in a major way.

Baggage aside, my broadest takeaway is that the Ray-Ban Stories feel like a very important product — one that actually sells the idea of face-worn wearables.

The glasses are smartly designed and can be worn discreetly. That said, it’s clear Facebook made plenty of sacrifices to achieve such an aggressive form factor; the glasses honestly don’t do anything particularly well — photo and video quality is pretty lackluster, the in-frame speakers perform poorly outdoors and calls aren’t the most pleasant experience. All that said, I think Facebook mostly made the right compromises for a product that they’ve repeatedly indicated is meant to be a stepping stone on the road towards augmented reality glasses.

Facebook’s smart Ray-Ban Stories alongside my pair of classic Ray-Ban 2140 Wayfarers

#augmented-reality, #computing, #display-technology, #eyewear, #facebook, #glasses, #google, #hardware, #mixed-reality, #oculus, #smartphone, #sunglasses, #tc, #technology, #wearable-devices

Amazon is releasing its own TVs with Alexa built in

This has felt like an inevitability at least since Amazon teamed with South Carolina-based Element Electronics to bring the world a 43-inch Amazon Fire TV Edition back in 2017. The company has also teamed with several third-party TV makers to build its popular voice assistant into sets, but today Amazon is taking things to the next level with the arrival of two new smart TVs, the Fire TV Omni Series and 4-Series.

The company is calling these the “first-ever Amazon-built smart TVs,” implying that they were purpose built, ground up, rather than slapping its voice technology into a set built and branded by another company.

The Fire TV Omni Series is the headliner — and more premium of the pair. Though, the price is still pretty low, as far as these things go, with a starting point of $410. That’s $40 cheaper than the aforementioned Amazon-branded Element system.

“Smart TVs have been around for decades, but we don’t think they’re really smart,” Amazon VP Daniel Rausch tells TechCrunch. “They’re not really that capable compared to what customers would love to get from them. More often than not, TVs present a passive experience. It can be complex and difficult to interact with. There are many heterogeneous devices and content experiences in our living rooms. And I think coordinating across all that is probably only grown in complexity for customers. We believe that with voice and ambient computing, TVs really have the potential to do so much more and to be so much smarter for customers.”

The company is entering a crowded space, with stiff competition from the likes of Samsung and LG (even if the seemingly decades-long rumors of an Apple Television have thus far proven fruitless). Naturally, the company is looking to distinguish itself with Alexa integration. The Omni set features far-field technology to use voice for a range of activities, from TV watching, to music and gaming.

The system features new integration with the recently rolled out Alexa conversations, offering a more natural way to ask the assistant things like “Alexa, what should I watch,” (that specific command won’t be out until later this year in a beta form), “Alexa, Play Something from Netflix,” (ditto, but for the fall) and the same feature for TikTok. The wildly popular social network launched on Fire TV in the U.K., Germany and France and is coming soon to North America. Now you can watch short videos on up to a 75-inch screen, if you’re so inclined.

Image Credits: Amazon

The Omni is available in 43-, 50-, 55-, 65- and 75-inch models, all with 4K resolution. There’s on-board support for HDR10, HLG and Dolby Digital Plus, while the larger two models sport Dolby Vision support. There doesn’t seem to be a ton of differences between the Omni and the cheaper 4-Series. The latter starts at $370 and comes in 43-, 50- and 55-inch sizes, again all in 4K. The biggest difference between the two lines appears to be that the 4-Series has near-field Alexa capabilities built into its remote, while the Omni has far-field directly built into the set.

The new TVs arrive next month.

Image Credits: Amazon

The TVs are joined by the new Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max. The $55 streaming stick offers a number of the above voice features, coupled with a quad-core 1.8GHz processer and 2GB of RAM, promising better performance. The stick supports WiFi 6 and, naturally, Amazon’s gaming service, Luna.

Probably the most surprising bit in all of this is the appearance of Pioneer’s name. Years after dropping its beloved plasma line due to low margins, the company is returning to the TV space with a new 4K set bundled with an Alexa remote. The 43-inch version is scheduled to arrive through Amazon and Best Buy in September, while a 50-inch version is set to arrive two months later.

Toshiba’s upcoming set, meanwhile, has far-field tech built in. That will come in 55-, 65- and 75-inch models and is set for a spring 2022 debut.

#alexa, #amazon, #fire-tv, #hardware, #pioneer, #toshiba

The newest Roomba gets smarter as it vacuums

The Roomba is easily among the most ubiquitous robots in the world — but it has never been one of the smartest. On the whole, that’s not a major issue. The top-selling vacuum is good at what it does: cleaning floors. But a roboticist’s work is never done; iRobot has turned the vast majority of its attention and resources on the line for good reason, and the company has spent virtually every generation improving the robot’s ability to perform its very specific task.

This time out, that means using on-board sensors to remember areas of the home and layout, along with areas that need a little extra cleaning time.

“We’ve turned on continuous learning, so that if you’ve changed things in your home, Roomba will figure it out,” CEO Colin Angle tells TechCrunch. “If you open a door that you’ve never opened before, the Roomba will go explore it. If you moved a couch, it will understand that the home is a bit different than it used to be, and that’s okay. The information that we’re gathering grows in richness.”

Image Credits: iRobot

The other big piece of that puzzle is identifying and avoiding specific objects. The company says it has worked on identifying hundreds of potential objects, but is starting with two specific problem areas: cords and poop. Both are big potential problem areas for a robotic vacuum system, albeit for dramatically different reasons. In either case, you don’t want to have to get down on your hands and knees and deal with the fallout.

In the case of the former, iRobot made an acronym — and a guarantee. With Pet Owner Official Promise (P.O.O.P.), the company says it will replace any j7+ that runs over animal dookie. (Fine print: Offer valid for 1 year from purchase and covers replacement product only. Available in limited jurisdictions, additional terms and conditions apply.)

“You can Google this and see some not so pleasant examples of robots running over poop,” says iRobot’s director of Product Management, Hooman Shahidi. “We’ve solved this problem with consumers. If we see animal poop, we avoid it and inform the consumers that we saw it.”

Image Credits: iRobot

Angle adds, “The glorious career of roboticists may not have been fully realized when we were sending people home and creating hundreds of models of poo. Sending people around to photograph and create synthetic models of poo. I don’t know how many tens of thousands of images of all different shapes and sizes of synthetic images were required, but this is not demo code, clearly. We can’t do pee. It has to have some 3D aspects to it, but it is something we believe you can count on for the robot to identify and avoid.”

The third piece is scheduling, with the system adapting to a user’s activities. That could mean cleaning while you’re away (using your phone as a trigger for proximity) or making sure it avoids rooms you’re in. If the robot has to traverse the house, it will drive quietly and not start up until it actually begins its job. The system also now offers a clean-time estimate to let the user know how long the job will take.

The j7 is available now in the U.S. and Canada for $649. The j7+, which includes a more compact cleaning base, will run $849. They’re also available in Europe and will be rolling out to additional markets next year. Genius 3.0, meanwhile, will be available as an OTA update for the rest of the company’s connected robots.

#hardware, #irobot, #poop, #robotics, #roomba

The 4 things needed to reach Biden’s ambitious 2050 solar goal

A report on the future of solar energy from the Department of Energy paints a sunny picture, if you will, of the next three decades, at the end of which nearly half the country’s energy will be provided by the sun. But for that to happen, big pushes need to happen along four major lines: better photovoltaics, more energy storage, lower soft costs, and putting about a million people to work.

Here’s what the report says needs to happen in each of these sectors in order to meet the ambitious goals it sets out.

Better photovoltaics

The solar cells themselves will need to continue to improve in both cost and efficiency in order to achieve the kind of installation volumes hoped for by the DOE. For reference, 2020 saw 15 gigawatts worth of solar installed, the most ever — but we’re going to need to double that installation rate by 2025, then double it again by 2030.

If photovoltaics don’t improve in efficiency, that means these already ambitious numbers need to go even higher to account for that. And if they stay at today’s prices, the costs will be too high to achieve those volumes as well.

Photovoltaics have come a long way, but they also have a long way to go.

Fortunately efficiency is going up and cost is going down already. But it’s not like that just happens naturally. Companies and researchers across the globe have spent millions on new manufacturing processes, new materials, and other improvements, incremental individually but which add up over time. This basic research and advancement of the science and methods around solar must continue at or beyond the pace that they have over the last two decades.

The DOE suggests that research along the lines of making more exotic PVs cheaper, or stacking cells to minimize bandgap-related losses could be crucial. Flexible and tile- or shingle-like substrates or semi-transparent installations that pass light through to crops or building interiors may also figure. Altogether the plan calls for a reduction of the overall cost to drop by almost half from $1.30/watt today on average to $0.70 by 2030 and more after that.

Solar concentrators get their own heading in the report, and many companies are looking into these to replace industrial processes. These will not likely be used to support the grid at large but will nevertheless replace many fossil fuel based processes.

More energy storage

An unavoidable consequence of getting your energy from the sun is that at night you must rely on stored energy in some form or a