Google Workspace opens up spaces for all users

Employee location has become a bit more complicated as some return to the office, while others work remotely. To embrace those hybrid working conditions, Google is making more changes to its Google Workspace offering by going live with spaces — its tool for small group sharing — in Google Chat for all users.

Spaces integrates with Workspace tools, like the calendar, Drive and documents, to provide a more hybrid work experience where users can see the full history, content and context of conversations regardless of their location.

Google’s senior director of product management Sanaz Ahari wrote in a blog post that customers wanted spaces to be more like a “central hub for collaboration, both in real time and asynchronously. Instead of starting an email chain or scheduling a video meeting, teams can come together directly in a space to move projects and topics along.”

Here are some new features users can see in spaces:

  • One interface for everything — inbox, chats, spaces and meetings.
  • Spaces, and content therein, can be made discoverable for people to find and join in the conversation.
  • Better search ability within a team’s knowledge base.
  • Ability to reply to any message within a space.
  • Enhanced security and admin tools to monitor communication.

Employees can now indicate if they will be virtual or in-person on certain days in Calendar for collaboration expectations. As a complement, users can call colleagues on both mobile and desktop devices in Google Meet.

Calendar work location

In November, all customers will be able to use Google Meet’s Companion Mode to join a meeting from a personal device while tapping into in-room audio and video. Also later this year, live-translated captions will be available in English to French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, with more languages being added in the future.

In addition, Google is also expanding its Google Meet hardware portfolio to include two new all-in-one video conferencing devices, third-party devices — Logitech’s video bar and Appcessori’s mobile device speaker dock — and interoperability with Webex by Cisco.

Google is tying everything together with a handbook for navigating hybrid work, which includes best practice blueprints for five common hybrid meetings.

 

#apps, #cloud, #computing, #enterprise, #google, #google-meet, #google-workspace, #groupware, #mobile-device, #mobile-software, #tc, #technology, #telecommunications, #video-conferencing, #web-conferencing, #webex

Microsoft launches a personalized news service, Microsoft Start

Microsoft today is introducing its own personalized news reading experience called Microsoft Start, available as both a website and mobile app, in addition to being integrated with other Microsoft products, including Windows 10 and 11 and its Microsoft Edge web browser. The feed will combine content from news publishers, but in a way that’s tailored to users’ individual interests, the company says — a customization system that could help Microsoft to better compete with the news reading experiences offered by rivals like Apple or Google, as well as popular third-party apps like Flipboard or SmartNews.

Microsoft says the product builds on the company’s legacy with online and mobile consumer services like MSN and Microsoft News. However, it won’t replace MSN. That service will remain available, despite the launch of this new, in-house competitor.

To use Microsoft Start, consumers can visit the standalone website MicrosoftStart.com, which works on both Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge (but not Safari), or they can download the Microsoft Start mobile app for iOS or Android.

The service will also power the News and Interests experience on the Windows 10 taskbar and the Widgets experience on Windows 11. In Microsoft Edge, it will be available from the New Tab page, too.

Image Credits: Microsoft

At first glance, the Microsoft Start website it very much like any other online portal offering a collection of news from a variety of publishers, alongside widgets for things like weather, stocks, sports scores and traffic. When you click to read an article, you’re taken to a syndicated version hosted on Microsoft’s domain, which includes the Microsoft Start top navigation bar at the top and emoji reaction buttons below the headline.

Users can also react to stories with emojis while browsing the home page itself.

This emoji set is similar to the one being offered today by Facebook, except that Microsoft has replaced Facebook’s controversial laughing face emoji with a thinking face. (It’s worth noting that the Facebook laughing face has been increasingly criticized for being used to openly ridicule posts and mock people  — even on stories depicting tragic events, like Covid deaths, for instance.)

Microsoft has made another change with its emoji, as well: after you react to a story with an emoji, you only see your emoji instead of the top three and total reaction count. 

Image Credits: Microsoft

But while online web portals tend to be static aggregators of news content, Microsoft Start’s feed will adjust to users’ interests in several different ways.

Users can click a “Personalize” button to be taken to a page where they can manually add and remove interests from across a number of high-level categories like news, entertainment, sports, technology, money, finance, travel, health, shopping, and more. Or they can search for categories and interests that could be more specific or more niche. (Instead of “parenting,” for instance, “parenting teenagers.”)  This recalls the recent update Flipboard made to its own main page, the For You feed, which lets users make similar choices.

As users then begin to browse their Microsoft Start feed, they can also click a button to thumbs up or thumbs down an article to better adjust the feed to their preferences. Over time, the more the user engages with the content, the better refined the feed becomes, says Microsoft. This customization will leverage A.I. and machine learning, as well as human moderation, the company notes.

The feed, like other online portals, is supported by advertising. As you scroll down, you’ll notice every few rows will feature one ad unit, where the URL is flagged with a green “Ad” badge. Initially, these mostly appear to be product ads, making them distinct from the news content. Since Microsoft isn’t shutting down MSN and is integrating this news service into a number of other products, it’s expanding the available advertising real estate it can offer with this launch.

According to the iOS app’s privacy label, the data being used to track users across websites and apps owned by other companies includes the User ID. By comparison, Google News does not include a tracking section. Both Microsoft Start and Google News collect a host of “data linked to you,” like location, identifiers, search history, usage data, contact info, and more. The website itself, however, only links to Microsoft’s general privacy policy.

The website, app and integrations are rolling out starting today. (If you aren’t able to find the app yet, you can try scanning the QR code from your mobile device.)

 

#a-i, #apple, #apps, #emoji, #finance, #machine-learning, #media, #microsoft, #microsoft-edge, #microsoft-windows, #mobile, #mobile-device, #msn, #news-publishers, #operating-systems, #social-media, #software, #web-browser, #windows-10, #windows-11

Netflix begins testing mobile games in its Android app in Poland

Netflix today announced it will begin testing mobile games inside its Android app for its members in Poland. At launch, paying subscribers will be able to try out two games, “Stranger Things: 1984” and “Stranger Things 3” — titles that have been previously available on the Apple App Store, Google Play and, in the case of the newer release, on other platforms including desktop and consoles. While the games are offered to subscribers from within the Netflix mobile app’s center tab, users will still be directed to the Google Play Store to install the game on their devices.

To then play, members will need to confirm their Netflix credentials.

Members can later return to the game at any time by clicking “Play” on the game’s page from inside the Netflix app or by launching it directly from their mobile device.

“It’s still very, very early days and we will be working hard to deliver the best possible experience in the months ahead with our no ads, no in-app purchases approach to gaming,” a Netflix spokesperson said about the launch.

The company has been expanding its investment in gaming for years, seeing the potential for a broader entertainment universe that ties in to its most popular shows. At the E3 gaming conference back in 2019, Netflix detailed a series of gaming integrations across popular platforms like Roblox and Fortnite and its plans to bring new “Stranger Things” games to the market.

On mobile, Netflix has been working with the Allen, Texas-based game studio BonusXP, whose first game for Netflix, “Stranger Things: The Game,” has now been renamed “Stranger Things: 1984” to better differentiate it from others. While that game takes place after season 1 and before season 2, in the “Stranger Things” timeline, the follow-up title, “Stranger Things 3,” is a playable version of the third season of the Netflix series. (So watch out for spoilers!)

Netflix declined to share how popular the games had been in terms of users or installs, while they were publicly available on the app stores.

With the launch of the test in Poland, Netflix says users will need to have a membership to download the titles as they’re now exclusively available to subscribers. However, existing users who already downloaded the game from Google Play in the past will not be impacted. They will be able to play the game as usual or even re-download it from their account library if they used to have it installed. But new players will only be able to get the game from the Netflix app.

The test aims to better understand how mobile gaming will resonate with Netflix members and determine what other improvements Netflix may need to make to the overall functionality, the company said. It chose Poland as the initial test market because it has an active mobile gaming audience, which made it seem like a good fit for this early feedback.

Netflix couldn’t say when it would broaden this test to other countries, beyond “the coming months.”

The streamer recently announced during its second-quarter earnings that it would add mobile games to its offerings, noting that it viewing gaming as “another new content category” for its business, similar to its “expansion into original films, animation and unscripted TV.”

The news followed what had been a sharp slowdown in new customers after the pandemic-fueled boost to streaming. In North America, Netflix in Q2 lost a sizable 430,000 subscribers — its third-ever quarterly decline in a decade. It also issued weaker guidance for the upcoming quarter, forecasting the addition of 3.5 million subscribers when analysts had been looking for 5.9 million. But Netflix downplayed the threat of competition on its slowing growth, instead blaming a lighter content slate, in part due to Covid-related production delays.

 

 

 

 

 

#android, #animation, #app-store, #apple-app-store, #apps, #computing, #gaming, #google-play, #google-play-store, #media, #mobile, #mobile-device, #mobile-game, #netflix, #north-america, #operating-systems, #poland, #roblox, #software, #spokesperson, #stranger-things, #texas

Tiger Global backs Nacelle with $50M for its e-commerce infrastructure

Consumer shift to buying online during the global pandemic — and keeping that habit — continues to boost revenue for makers of developer tools that help e-commerce sites provide better shopping experiences.

LA-based Nacelle is one of the e-commerce infrastructure companies continuing to attract investor attention, and at a speedy clip, too. It closed on a $50 million Series B round from Tiger Global. This is just six months after its $18 million Series A round, led by Inovia, and follows a $4.8 million seed round in 2020.

The company is working in “headless” commerce, which means it is disconnecting the front end of a website, a.k.a. the storefront, from the back end, where all of the data lives, to create a better shopping experience, CEO Brian Anderson told TechCrunch. By doing this, the back end of the store, essentially where all the magic happens, can be updated and maintained without changing the front end.

“Online shopping is not new, but how the customer relates to it keeps changing,” he said. “The technology for online shopping is not up to snuff — when you click on something, everything has to reload compared to an app like Instagram.”

More people shopping on their mobile devices creates friction due to downloading an app for each brand. That is “sucking the fun out of shopping online,” because no one wants that many apps on their phone, Anderson added.

Steven Kramer, board member and former EVP of Hybris, said via email that over the past two decades, the e-commerce industry went through several waves of innovation. Now, maturing consumer behaviors and expectations are accelerating the current phase.

“Retailers and brands are struggling with adopting the latest technologies to meet today’s requirements of agility, speed and user experience,” Kramer added. “Nacelle gives organizations a future-proof way to accelerate their innovation, leverage existing investments and do so with material ROI.”

Data already shows that COVID-era trends accelerated e-commerce by roughly five years, and Gartner predicts that 50% of new commerce capabilities will be incorporated as API-centric SaaS services by 2023.

Those kinds of trends are bringing in competitors that are also attracting investor attention — for example, Shopistry, Swell, Fabric, Commerce Layer and Vue Storefront are just a few of the companies that raised funding this year alone.

Anderson notes that the market continues to be hot and one that can’t be ignored, especially as the share of online retail sales grows. He explained that some of his competitors force customers to migrate off of their current tech stack and onto their respective platforms so that their users can get a good customer experience. In contrast, Nacelle enables customers to keep their tech stack and put components together as they see fit.

“That is painful in any vertical, but especially for e-commerce,” he said. “That is your direct line to revenue.”

Meanwhile, Nacelle itself grew 690% in the past year in terms of revenue, and customers are signing multiyear contracts, Anderson said.

Anderson, who is an engineer by trade, wants to sink his teeth into new products as adoption of headless commerce grows. These include providing a dynamic layer of functionality on top of the tech stack for storefronts that are traditionally static, and even introducing some livestream capabilities later this year.

As such, Nacelle will invest the new round into its go-to-market strategy and expand its customer success, partner relations and product development. He said Nacelle is already “the de facto standard” for Shopify Plus merchants going headless.

“We want to put everything in a tailor-made API for e-commerce that lets front-end developers do their thing with ease,” Anderson added. “We also offer starter kits for merchants as a starting point to get up-and-running.”

#api, #apps, #brian-anderson, #ecommerce, #enterprise, #funding, #headless-commerce, #hybris, #merchandising, #mobile-device, #nacelle, #online-shopping, #recent-funding, #retail, #startups, #steven-kramer, #tc, #tiger-global

Raylo nabs $11.5M to get more mobile users to lease and reuse

UK-based smartphone subscription startup Raylo has tucked $11.5 million in Series A funding into its top pocket, led by Octopus Ventures.

The equity round follows a debt raise last year — and brings Raylo’s total raised since being founded back in 2019 to $40M (in equity and debt). Its roster of investors to date also includes the Macquarie Group, Guy Johnson of Carphone Warehouse and the co-founders of Funding Circle.

The new funding will be used to charge up a subscription smartphone play that nudges consumers never to own their own mobile device — but just pay a monthly fee to lease a new or refurbished SIM-free device instead.

Raylo says it’s seen 10x YoY growth of customers and revenues, and plans to plough the Series A into accelerating its growth in the UK — including by doubling its headcount and further developing its tech. And while it suggests it’s entertaining the idea of a future global rollout it remains firmly UK focused for now.

Consumers opting to get the latest smartphone hardware through Raylo will pay a lower cost than the full RRP for a device since they won’t actually own the hardware at the end of the contract.

Environmental considerations aside, that may be an increasingly important consideration, given the inflating price of premium handsets like the top-of-the-range iPhone which has broken $1,000 for a few years now.

Plus the fact that most consumers simply won’t shell out so much for a handset. Leasing and returning offers an alternative way for people to get to use such expensive high-end devices.

With Raylo, the leased mobile is typically returned after the end of the 12 or 24-month contract — with the returned device refurbished for reuse via a second (or third) leased life with another user.

End of life devices are recycled (by partners), per Raylo. So it’s touting a circular model that promotes sustainability via device usage longevity vs the more typical upgrade scenario, via a carrier, where a consumer may just toss their old unused handset into a drawer, wasting its further potential utility.

Albeit, many people do pass on old devices to other family members or even sell or trade them in. But Raylo claims there are an estimated 125M smartphones in unused ‘hibernation’ across the UK. So, the suggestion is, plenty of smartphone users don’t bother ensure their old handset gets a second life.

Raylo reckons each of its subscription leased device can be used by a total of three customers over 6-7 years – which, if achieved, would mean a lifespan that it says is almost 2x longer than the UK average (of 2.31 years).

To further the longevity goal, all the phones it supplies come with a free case and screen protector.

Users also need to weigh up whether they want to shell out for insurance too, though, since they need to make sure they don’t damage the leased handset or risk having to shell out for expensive repairs or a non-return fee. (Raylo sells its own flavor of device insurance to users as an optional extra which slightly bumps up the monthly cost.)

Raylo competes with carriers’ own device subscription plans, of course. But again the claim is it’s cheaper to lease its way — although that’s as it should be since the consumer doesn’t own the hardware at the end of the contract (so won’t automatically have anything of value they could sell or trade in elsewhere).

If a user doesn’t want (or fails) to return a device at the end of the contract they have to pay a non-return fee — which varies depending on the handset hardware and how long they’ve been paying for it. But the fee can stretch to over £600 at the premium end — after 12 months of use of a Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G with 512GB of storage or an iPhone 12 Pro Max, for example.

While consumers that want to continue using the same device rather than upgrading after their contract ends can opt to continue paying their usual monthly fees — with payments continuing up to a maximum of 36 months, after which the non-return fee drops to a token £1.

All Raylo’s leased devices come with a 24 month warranty, under which it says it will freely repair faults not related to user damage or accidents, or else supply a replacement device if the handset can’t be fixed.

Commenting on Raylo’s Series A in a statement, Tosin Agbabiaka, early-stage fintech investor at Octopus Ventures, said: “The subscription economy is rapidly transforming the way we access products and services — yet the smartphone, an individual’s most valuable device, is still locked behind a bundled, ownership-based model. This means most people are trapped in a buy-and-dispose cycle, with a steep financial and environmental costs.

“Raylo solves these problems by offering access to premium consumer devices at lower, subscription-based prices, helping to widen access to the latest technology. By repurposing its devices at the end of their cycle, Raylo is also the sustainable choice in this market and has built a product loved by its customers — the opportunity here is massive, and we believe that [co-founders] Karl [Gilbert], Richard [Fulton], and Jinden [Badesha] have the vision and depth of expertise to transform the way we all access our devices.”

A number of refurbished electronics businesses have been attracting investor attention in Europe in recent years where lawmakers are also considering right to repair legislation.

Recent fundings in the space include a $335M round for French refurbished device marketplace startup Back Market; a $71m round for Berlin-based Grover‘s subscription electronics business; and a $40.6M round for Finland-based Swappie, which refurbishes and sells secondhand iPhones, to name a few.

#224, #berlin, #carphone-warehouse, #computing, #europe, #funding-circle, #gadgets, #hardware, #ios, #iphone, #mobile-device, #mobile-phones, #octopus-ventures, #series-a, #sim-card, #sim-lock, #smartphone, #smartphone-hardware, #smartphones, #technology, #united-kingdom

The EU’s COVID-19 ‘digital certificates’ are up and running

A regulation underpinning a digital certification system for individuals in the European Union to verify their COVID-19 status via a common credential has gone into application today — on schedule.

From today, almost all EU Member States are now able to issue and verify digital certificates, per the Commission — with only a handful of (mostly) EEA countries still pending a step, according to its website.

A number of countries had started issuing certificates earlier. The regulation also allows for a six-week phasing in period.

The Commission said more than 200 million certificates have been generated already.

The “EU Digital COVID Certificate” — which has gone through a few names since the idea was publicly floated back in January — is intended to help facilitate cross-border travel within the bloc by providing standardized and universally accepted certification.

EU citizens still have the right to free movement — even without the certificate — but having the common credential may help facilitate travel around the bloc, such as by exempting holders from needing to undergo COVID-19-related restrictions like quarantine.

Certificates can be issued to people within EU Member States who have been vaccinated against the coronavirus with a verified vaccine; who have previously had the disease (and therefore have antibodies); or to people who have had a recent negative test.

While it’s been called a “digital” certificate, a paper version can also be issued — which similarly contains a scannable QR code (albeit printed) — so there’s no requirement for individuals to have a mobile device to be able to use the certificate to help them travel.

Certificates are also issued free of charge.

The Commission has previously said that no personal data is “exchanged or retained” during the digital certificate verification process. Signature keys for the verification are stored on servers at a national level and only accessed — via a centralized gateway — at the point the certificate is scanned.

The EU rules for the digital certificate stipulate that Member States must refrain from imposing additional travel restrictions on holders — unless such steps are “necessary and proportionate” to safeguard public health.

The regulation is due to expire in a year’s time.

More information about the EU digital COVID certificate system can be found here.

 

#covid-19, #eu-digital-covid-certificate, #europe, #european-union, #health, #mobile-device

Apple finally launches a Screen Time API for app developers

Just after the release of iOS 12 in 2018, Apple introduced its own built-in screen time tracking tools and controls. In then began cracking down on third-party apps that had implemented their own screen time systems, saying they had done so through via technologies that risked user privacy. What wasn’t available at the time? A Screen Time API that would have allowed developers to tap into Apple’s own Screen Time system and build their own experiences that augmented its capabilities. That’s now changed.

At Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference on Monday, it introduced a new Screen Time API that offers developer access to frameworks that will allow parental control experience that also maintains user privacy.

The company added three new Swift frameworks to the iOS SDK that will allow developers to create apps that help parents manage what a child can do across their devices and ensure those restrictions stay in place.

The apps that use this API will be able to set restrictions like locking accounts in place, preventing password changes, filtering web traffic, and limiting access to applications. These sorts of changes are already available through Apple’s Screen Time system, but developers can now build their own experiences where these features are offered under their own branding and where they can then expand on the functionality provided by Apple’s system.

 

Developers’ apps that take advantage of the API can also be locked in place so it can only be removed from the device with a parent’s approval.

The apps can authenticate the parents and ensure the device they’re managing belongs to a child in the family. Plus, Apple said the way the system will work lets parents choose the apps and websites they want to limit, without compromising user privacy. (The system returns only opaque tokens instead of identifiers for the apps and website URLs, Apple told developers, so the third-parties aren’t gaining access to private user data like app usage and web browsing details. This would prevent a shady company from building a Screen Time app only to collect troves of user data about app usage, for instance.)

The third-party apps can also create unique time windows for different apps or types of activities, and warn the child when time is nearly up. When it registers the time’s up, the app lock down access to websites and apps and perhaps remind the child it’s time to their homework — or whatever other experience the developer has in mind.

And on the flip side, the apps could create incentives for the child to gain screen time access after they complete some other task, like doing homework, reading or chores, or anything else.

Developers could use these features to design new experiences that Apple’s own Screen Time system doesn’t allow for today, by layering their own ideas on top of Apple’s basic set of controls. Parents would likely fork over their cash to make using Screen Time controls easier and more customized to their needs.

Other apps could tie into Screen Time too, outside of the “family” context — like those aimed at mental health and wellbeing, for example.

Of course, developers have been asking for a Screen Time API since the launch of Screen Time itself, but Apple didn’t seem to prioritize its development until the matter of Apple’s removal of rival screen time apps was brought up in an antitrust hearing last year. At the time, Apple CEO Tim Cook defended the company’s decision by explaining that apps had been using MDM (mobile device management) technology, which was designed for managing employee devices in the enterprise, not home use. This, he said, was a privacy risk.

Apple has a session during WWDC that will detail how the new API works, so we expect we’ll learn more soon as the developer info becomes more public.

read more about Apple's WWDC 2021 on TechCrunch

#api, #app-store, #apple, #apple-inc, #apps, #ceo, #computing, #ios, #mach, #mobile-device, #mobile-device-management, #operating-systems, #screen-time, #technology, #tim-cook, #web-traffic, #wwdc-2021

Europe wants to go its own way on digital identity

In its latest ambitious digital policy announcement, the European Union has proposed creating a framework for a “trusted and secure European e-ID” (aka digital identity) — which it said today it wants to be available to all citizens, residents and businesses to make it easer to use a national digital identity to prove who they are in order to access public sector or commercial services regardless of where they are in the bloc.

The EU does already have a regulation on electronic authentication systems (eIDAS), which entered into force in 2014, but the Commission’s intention with the e-ID proposal is to expand on that by addressing some of its limitations and inadequacies (such as poor uptake and a lack of mobile support).

It also wants the e-ID framework to incorporate digital wallets — meaning the user will be able to choose to download a wallet app to a mobile device where they can store and selectively share electronic documents which might be needed for a specific identity verification transaction, such as when opening a bank account or applying for a loan. Other functions (like e-signing) is also envisaged being supported by these e-ID digital wallets.

Other examples the Commission gives where it sees a harmonized e-ID coming in handy include renting a car or checking into a hotel. EU lawmakers also suggest full interoperability for authentication of national digital IDs could be helpful for citizens needing to submit a local tax declaration or enrolling in a regional university.

Some Member States do already offer national electronic IDs but there’s a problem with interoperability across borders, per the Commission, which noted today that just 14% of key public service providers across all Member States allow cross-border authentication with an e-Identity system, though it also said cross-border authentications are rising.

A universally accepted ‘e-ID’ could — in theory — help grease digital activity throughout the EU’s single market by making it easier for Europeans to verify their identity and access commercial or publicly provided services when travelling or living outside their home market.

EU lawmakers also seem to believe there’s an opportunity to ‘own’ a strategic piece of the digital puzzle here, if they can create a unifying framework for all European national digital IDs — offering consumers not just a more convenient alternative to carrying around a physical version of their national ID (at least in some situations), and/or other documents they might need to show when applying to access specific services, but what commissioners billed today as a “European choice” — i.e. vs commercial digital ID systems which may not offer the same high-level pledge of a “trusted and secure” ID system that lets the user entirely control who gets to sees which bits of their data.

A number of tech giants do of course already offer users the ability to sign in to third party digital services using the same credentials to access their own service. But in most cases doing so means the user is opening a fresh conduit for their personal data to flow back to the data-mining platform giant that controls the credential, letting Facebook (etc) further flesh out what it knows about that user’s Internet activity.

“The new European Digital Identity Wallets will enable all Europeans to access services online without having to use private identification methods or unnecessarily sharing personal data. With this solution they will have full control of the data they share,” is the Commission alternative vision for the proposed e-ID framework.

It also suggests the system could create substantial upside for European businesses — by supporting them in offering “a wide range of new services” atop the associated pledge of a “secure and trusted identification service”. And driving public trust in digital services is a key plank of how the Commission approaches digital policymaking — arguing that it’s a essential lever to grow uptake of online services.

However to say this e-ID scheme is ‘ambitious’ is a polite word for how viable it looks.

Aside from the tricky issue of adoption (i.e. actually getting Europeans to A) know about e-ID, and B) actually use it, by also C) getting enough platforms to support it, as well as D) getting providers on board to create the necessary wallets for envisaged functionality to pan out and be as robustly secure as promised), they’ll also — presumably — need to E) convince and/or compel web browsers to integrate e-ID so it can be accessed in a streamlined way.

The alternative (not being baked into browsers’ UIs) would surely make the other adoption steps trickier.

The Commission’s press release is fairly thin on such detail, though — saying only that: “Very large platforms will be required to accept the use of European Digital Identity wallets upon request of the user.”

Nonetheless, a whole chunk of the proposal is given over to discussion of “Qualified certificates for website authentication” — a trusted services provision, also expanding on the approach taken in eIDAS, which the Commission is keen for e-ID to incorporate in order to further boost user trust by offering a certified guarantee of who’s behind a website (although the proposal says it will be voluntary for websites to get certified).

The upshot of this component of the proposal is that web browsers would need to support and display these certificates, in order for the envisaged trust to flow — which sums to a whole lot of highly nuanced web infrastructure work needed to be done by third parties to interoperate with this EU requirement. (Work that browser makers already seem to have expressed serious misgivings about.)

Another big question-mark thrown up by the Commission’s e-ID plan is how exactly the envisaged certified digital identity wallets would store — and most importantly safeguard — user data. That very much remains to be determined, at this nascent stage.

There’s discussion in the regulation’s recitals, for example, of Member States being encouraged to “set-up jointly sandboxes to test innovative solutions in a controlled and secure environment in particular to improve the functionality, protection of personal data, security and interoperability of the solutions and to inform future updates of technical references and legal requirements”.

And it seems that a range of approaches are being entertained, with recital 11 discussing using biometric authentication for accessing digital wallets (while also noting potential rights risks as well as the need to ensure adequate security):

European Digital Identity Wallets should ensure the highest level of security for the personal data used for authentication irrespective of whether such data is stored locally or on cloud-based solutions, taking into account the different levels of risk. Using biometrics to authenticate is one of the identifications methods providing a high level of confidence, in particular when used in combination with other elements of authentication. Since biometrics represents a unique characteristic of a person, the use of biometrics requires organisational and security measures, commensurate to the risk that such processing may entail to the rights and freedoms of natural persons and in accordance with Regulation 2016/679.

In short, it’s clear that underlying the Commission’s big, huge idea of a unified (and unifying) European e-ID is a complex mass of requirements needed to deliver on the vision of a secure and trusted European digital ID that doesn’t just languish ignored and unused by most web users — some highly technical requirements, others (such as achieving the sought for widespread adoption) no less challenging.

The impediments to success here certainly look daunting.

Nonetheless, lawmakers are ploughing ahead, arguing that the pandemic’s acceleration of digital service adoption has shown the pressing need to address eIDAS’ shortcomings — and deliver on the goal of “effective and user-friendly digital services across the EU”.

Alongside today’s regulatory proposal they’ve put out a Recommendation, inviting Member States to “establish a common toolbox by September 2022 and to start the necessary preparatory work immediately” — with a goal of publishing the agreed toolbox in October 2022 and starting pilot projects (based on the agreed technical framework) sometime thereafter.

“This toolbox should include the technical architecture, standards and guidelines for best practices,” the Commission adds, eliding the large cans of worms being firmly cracked open.

Still, its penciled in timeframe for mass adoption — of around a decade — does a better job of illustrating the scale of the challenge, with the Commission writing that it wants 80% of citizens to be using an e-ID solution by 2030.

The even longer game the bloc is playing is to try to achieve digital sovereignty so it’s not beholden to foreign-owned tech giants. And an ‘own brand’, autonomously operated European digital identity does certainly align with that strategic goal.

#access-control, #authentication, #digital-identity, #digital-services, #digital-sovereignty, #digital-wallet, #e-id, #eidas, #eu, #europe, #european-digital-identity, #european-union, #facebook, #identity-management, #mobile-device, #policy, #privacy, #web-browsers

DuckDuckGo presses the case for true ‘one-click’ search competition on Android

When antitrust accusations close in on Google the tech giant loves to fire back a riposte that competition is just “one click away“. It’s a disingenuous retort from an online advertising behemoth whose power and profits stem from its expertise in capturing markets by manipulating and monopolizing Internet users’ attention.

Indeed, the entire brand is arguably a dark pattern.

Behold the child-like colors! The friendly babble of syllables! The tempting freebies! The tall talk of missions and moonshots! And tucked quietly beneath that Googley exterior: The adtech giant tracking Internet users en masse to sell their attention. The business model that makes money through mass surveillance and people profiling.

Google’s ‘other bets’ have always been PR pocket change beside its ads profit machine. The fun stuff is simply how Google primes its people data pump.

So what if Google’s infamous ‘one-click competition’ claim were to actually be made true in the arena of Android search engine choice? A market where Google’s activity is being closely monitored by EU competition regulators — after a 2018 antitrust decision.

Three years ago the tech giant hit with a $5BN penalty and an order to stop using Android (aka its freebie for mobile device makers) to lock in the dominance of its own-brand search engine (and other Google services) on mobile, where its operating system is massively dominant.

It went on to adopt a so-called ‘choice screen’ on Android in the region — which prompts device users to pick a default search engine from a selection of options (Google auctions slots to rivals).

But the choice is more of a one-shot than a dynamic, ongoing possibility to switch the default for Android users — as they are only asked to choose their default choice on set up of a new device or after a factory reset.

“That means, for all practical purposes, if you want to change your default device search engine again easily, you can’t,” writes DuckDuckGo in its latest blog post pushing for reform of Google’s self-serving Android ‘remedy’.

By DDG’s count it takes 15+ clicks (not one) to switch default search engine on an Android device at any other point (i.e. after initial set up or factory reset). And it says it knows “from experience” that this over-15-clicks method “trips up almost everyone”.

“In other words, one click competition becomes in fact ‘one factory reset away’,” it goes on. “The only reasons we can think of for setting up a preference menu this way are anti-competitive ones.”

The pro-privacy search engine has been banging the drum on this point for months (if not years) at this point. Nor is it alone in complaining about Google’s remedy. And complaints aren’t limited to how hard it is to switch search engines at any other point after set-up, either.

Notably, Google’s decision to opt for a ‘pay-to-play’ model by auctioning slots on the choice screen has been widely criticized — with multiple search rivals arguing that an auction isn’t fair and does not result in a level playing field for competition (Google’s own search engine always appears as a choice, of course, and it doesn’t have to pay anyone to appear).

Not-for-profit search engine Ecosia, for example, points out that the auction format essentially discriminates against non-profit search engines, undermining the public good they may be trying to do (in its case it uses ad revenue from search to plant trees to try to help reduce global carbon emissions — so money paid to Google to win the auction means less money it can spend planting trees).

DDG has also been a critic of the paid auction model from the start. But with its latest blog post it told TechCrunch it’s trying to make sure the ‘ease of switching’ issue doesn’t get lost in criticism of the auction.

It continues to argue that multiple components need to be reformed if the choice screen is to have the pro-competition effect EU antirust regulators are seeking.

It’s increasing clear that the current implementation isn’t working for anyone other than Google — which has been able to maintain its grip on the mobile search market, almost three years after the Commission’s antitrust intervention.

Its share of the search engine market on mobile devices has not declined since 2018. Indeed, as of February it was actually up slightly on the marketshare it had when the antitrust ruling was made, per Statista data.

That can’t be what market rebalancing success looks like.

Previously when we’ve put rivals’ criticisms to the Commission it tends to offer a few stock responses — saying it’s monitoring Google’s implementation and is committed to an effective implementation of the 2018 decision — while avoiding engaging with the substance of the criticisms or specific suggestions to fix Google’s remedy.

The Commission reiterated the same lines when we contacted it now about DuckDuckGo’s call for true ‘one-click’ competition on Android by easier default search engine switching.

But there are signs EU regulators may finally be preparing to do something.

Earlier this month Bloomberg reported on comments made by antitrust chief and Commission EVP Margrethe Vestager, who said regulators are “actively working on making” Google’s Android choice screen for search and browser rivals work.

She is also reported to have said that market share “is changing a bit but we’re working on it”.

In additional comments to us, the Commission reiterated that it’s “committed to a full and effective implementation of the decision, saying: “We are therefore monitoring closely the implementation of the choice screen mechanism.”

“We have been discussing the choice screen mechanism with Google, following relevant feedback from the market, in particular in relation to the presentation and mechanics of the choice screen and to the selection mechanism of rival search providers,” it added.

DuckDuckGo declined to go into detail on any chats it’s having with EU regulators on how to reform the choice screen — saying that it can’t comment on discussions with the Commission. But founder Gabriel Weinberg pointed out other jurisdictions are eyeing how to remedy Google’s dominance, adding that “major countries are actively considering search preference menus right now”.

The US Justice Department, meanwhile, filed its antitrust lawsuit against Google last October. And US states are also challenging the tech giant in court.

“We believe a ‘choice screen’ that only appears once at start up will not meaningfully increase market competition or give consumers the freedom and simplicity they deserve to chose Google alternatives,” Weinberg also told us. “On the other hand, a properly designed preference menu gives users true one-click access to making Google competitors the default search on their device, without having to take the absurd step of factory reseting their phone.”

In its blog post, DDG has some plain words of advice for how regulators can beat Google at its own game and prevent it gaming search competition on Android.

“The sensible approach is to give users an easy pathway to the search preference menu by letting them tap a link from a search engine app or website within the default browser (e.g., Chrome). With that simple tap, the user is whisked directly to the search preference menu,” it writes.

“Not allowing competing search engines to easily guide consumers back to the search preference menu is a pretty big dark pattern because it is requiring users to make an important choice when they often aren’t ready to do so, and then not giving them the option to easily change their mind later while using a competing search engine.”

“So, to anyone considering implementing a search preference menu, or drafting regulations covering search preference menus, please ensure that consumers can access it at any time, especially after a consumer has just chosen to use a competing search engine,” it adds. “Functionality that allows competing search engines to guide consumers directly to the preference menu is necessary for consumer empowerment and search market competition.”

#android, #antitrust, #artificial-intelligence, #competition, #duckduckgo, #eu, #europe, #european-union, #gabriel-weinberg, #google, #margrethe-vestager, #mobile-device, #policy, #search-engine, #search-engines

Family tracking app Life360 to acquire wearable location device Jiobit for $37M

Popular family tracking app Life360 is investing in hardware. The company this morning announced the $37 million acquisition of Chicago-based Jiobit, the maker of a wearable location device designed for use by families with younger children, pets, or seniors. The $37 million is primarily in stock and debt, Life360 notes, but if certain performance metrics are met within two calendar years following the deal’s close, the deal price could increase to $54.5 million.

The Jiobit was first introduced on the market in 2018, mainly as a kid and pet tracker. The small, lightweight device can be attached to items kids wear or carry, like belt loops, shoelaces, and school backpacks, and appealed in particular to families who wanted a way to track younger children who didn’t yet have their own mobile device. Earlier this year, the company launched an updated version of the Jiobit ($129.99) that included a combination of radios (Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, cellular and GPS), as well as sensors, including an accelerometer/pedometer, temperature sensor and barometer.

The new antenna system was specifically designed to increase performance inside schools, stores, high rises and other challenging signal environments. It also leveraged the reach of low-power, wide-area (LPWA) wireless networks in order to better serve rural regions where cellular coverage is limited and spotty. And the new device was waterproof (IPX8) up to 30 minutes in up to 5 feet of water and had a longer battery life.

Image Credits: Jiobit

Life360 envisions adding the Jiobit to its existing family safety membership, allowing family members and pets with the device attached to show in the Life360 mobile app’s map interface, alongside other family members. Life360’s paid users (Premium members) would get a discounted Jiobit along with their subscription.

“We’ve long wanted to expand beyond the smartphone into wearable devices, and Jiobit offers the market leading device for pets, younger children, and seniors,” said Chris Hulls, CEO and co-founder of Life360, in a statement about the deal. “With Jiobit, Life360 would be the market leader in both hardware and software products for families once the deal closes. We will continue to seek out additional opportunities that could further cement our position as the leading digital safety brand for families,” he added.

Image Credits: Life360

San Francisco-based Life360 made a name for itself over the years as an app that parents love, but teens hate. In more recent months, however, the company has been responsive to teens’ criticism of being helicopter-parented with no freedom of privacy, by announcing new features like “bubbles” that instead allow the teen to share a generalized location instead of their specific whereabouts. Hulls has also regularly engaged with teens via TikTok, in a clever marketing move.

As of the end of 2020, Life360 claimed more than 26 million monthly active users across 195 countries.

The acquisition is still pending the approval of the boards of the two companies.

#exit, #family, #family-tracker, #fundings-exits, #gps, #hardware, #jiobit, #kid-tracker, #kids, #life360, #ma, #mobile-device, #pets, #seniors, #startups, #wearable-devices

Astra hires longtime Apple veteran Benjamin Lyon as Chief Engineer

New Space startup Astra, which is currently focused on commercial rockets, but which plans to eventually build satellites, too, has hired one of Apple’s key engineering leaders to head its own engineering efforts. Benjamin Lyon spent over two decades at Apple, where he worked on everything from the iPhone, to input devices and sensor hardware, to special projects: the department at Apple working on autonomous vehicle technology.

“When I’ve looked at what to do next at Apple, it has always been this combination of ‘What is the most impactful thing that I can do for humanity?’ – the iPhone was very much one of these,” Lyon told me in an interview. “Phones were awful [at the time], and if we could fundamentally come up with a new interface, that would completely change how people interact with devices.”

Creating a mobile device with an interface that was “completely flexible and completely customizable to the application” was what seemed so transformative to Lyon about the iPhone, and he sees a direct parallel in the work that Astra is doing to lower the barrier of access to space through cheap, scalable and highly-efficient rocketry.

“Astra me feels very, very much like redefining what it means for a phone to be smart,” Lyon said. “I think the Astra vision is this magical combination of fundamentally taking the rocket science out of space. How do you do that? Well, you better have a great foundation of a team, and a great foundation of core technologies that you can bring together in order to make a compelling series of products.”

Foundations are the key ingredient according not only to Lyon, but also to Astra co-founder and CEO Chris Kemp, who explained why an experienced Apple engineer made the most sense to him to lead a rocket startup’s engineering efforts.

“We did not want anyone from aerospace – I’ll just I’ll say that out of the gate,” Kemp told me. “Aerospace has not figured out how to build rockets at scale, or do anything profitably – ever. So I found no inspiration from anyone I talked to who had anything to do with with any of the other space-related companies. We do feel that there are people that are at SpaceX and Blue Origin who are really good at what they do. But in terms of the culture that we’re trying to establish at Astra, if you look back at Apple, and the things that that Benjamin worked on there over many decades, he really took on not only designing the the thing, but also designing the thing that makes the thing, which was more important than the thing itself.”

Kemp’s alluding to Apple’s lauded ability to work very closely with suppliers and move fundamental component engineering in-house, crafting unique designs for things like the system-on-a-chip that now powers everything from the iPhone to Macs. Apple often designs the processes involved in making those fundamental components, and then helps its suppliers stand up the factories required to build those to its exacting specifications. Astra’s approach to the space industry centers around a similar approach, with a focus on optimizing the output of its Alameda-based rocket factory, and iterating its products quickly to match the needs of the market while keeping pricing accessible.

And Astra’s definition of ‘iteration’ matches up much more closely with the one used by Silicon Valley than that typically espoused by legacy aerospace companies – going further still in questioning the industry’s fundamentals than even watershed space tech innovators like SpaceX, which in many ways still adheres to accepted rocket industry methods.

“You don’t do the iPhone X at iPhone 1 – you start with the iPhone 1 and you work your way to the iPhone X,” Lyon told me. “You’re going to see that with Astro as well, there’s going to be this amazing evolution, but it’s going to be tech company-rate evolution, as opposed to an ‘every 20 years’ evolution.”

That sentiment lines up with Astra and Kemp’s approach to date: The company reached space for the first time late last year, with a rocket that was the second of three planned launches in a rapid iteration cycle designed to achieve that milestone. After the first of these launches (Rocket 3.1 if you’re keeping track) failed to make space last September, Astra quickly went back to the drawing board and tweaked the design to come back for its successful attempt in December (Rocket 3.2) – an extremely fast turnaround for an aerospace company by any measure. The company is now focused on its Rocket 3.3 launch, which should only require software changes to achieve a successful orbit, and put it on track to begin delivering commercial payloads for paying customers.

Astra’s rocket production facility in Alameda, California.

Astra’s rocket is tiny compared to the mammoth Starship that SpaceX is currently developing, but that’s part of the appeal that drew Lyon to the startup in the first place. He says the goal of “design[ing] a rocket to match the application,” rather than simply “design[ing] a rocket to end all rockets” makes vastly more sense to serve the bourgeoning market.

“And that’s just the beginning,” he added. “Then you’ll take the next step, which is if you look at the technology that’s in a satellite, and a bunch of the smart technology that’s in a rocket, there’s a tremendous amount of duplication there. So, get rid of the duplication – design the rocket and the satellite together as one system.”

Eventually, that means contemplating not only launch and satellite as a single challenge, but also managing “the entire experience of getting to space and managing a constellation” as “a single design problem,” according to Lyon, which is the level of ambition at Astra that he views as on par with that of Steve Jobs at Apple at the outset of the iPhone project.

Ultimately, Astra hopes to be able to provide aspiring space technology companies with everything they need so that the actual space component of their business is fully handled. The idea is that startups and innovators can then focus on bringing new models and sensing technologies to Astra, worrying only about payload – leaving launch, integration and eventually constellation management to the experts. It’s not unlike what the App Store unlocked for the software industry, Lyon said.

“We’re trying to do something that’s never been done before in aerospace, which is to really scale the production of rockets, and also focus on the overall economics of the business,” Kemp explained about additional advantages of having Lyon on board. “As we become a public company, in particular, we have very aggressive EBITDA targets, and very aggressive production targets, much the same way Apple does. We also want to have a new rocket every year, just like [the iPhone] and so to some degree, we found every aspect of Benjamin’s ethos aligned with our values, and the culture that we’re creating here at Astro of relentless, constant innovation and iteration.

#aerospace, #app-store, #apple, #apple-inc, #astra, #astro, #blue-origin, #chris-kemp, #engineer, #input-devices, #ios, #iphone, #mobile-device, #mobile-phones, #smart-technology, #smartphones, #space, #space-technology, #spacex, #steve-jobs, #system-on-a-chip, #tc

App stores saw record 218 billion downloads in 2020, consumer spend of $143 billion

Mobile adoption continued to grow in 2020, in part due to the market forces of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to App Annie’s annual “State of Mobile” industry report, mobile app downloads grew by 7% year-over-year to a record 218 billion in 2020. Meanwhile, consumer spending grew by 20% to also hit a new milestone of $143 billion, led by markets that included China, the United States, Japan, South Korea and the United Kingdom.

Consumers also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone, the report found.

In another shift, app usage in the U.S. surged ahead of the time spent watching live TV. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day, but now spends four hours on their mobile device.

The increase in time spent is a trend that’s not unique to the U.S., but can be seen across several other countries, including both developing mobile markets like Indonesia, Brazil and India, as well as places like China, Japan, South Korea, the U.K., Germany, France and others.

The trend isn’t isolated to any one demographic, either, but is seen across age groups. In the U.S., for example, Gen Z, millennials and Gen X/Baby Boomers spent 16%, 18% and 30% more time in their most-used apps year-over-year, respectively. However, what those favorite apps looked like was very different.

For Gen Z in the U.S., top apps on Android phones included Snapchat, Twitch, TikTok, Roblox and Spotify.

Millennials favored Discord, LinkedIn, PayPal, Pandora and Amazon Music.

And Gen X/Baby Boomers used Ring, Nextdoor, The Weather Channel, Kindle and ColorNote Notepad Notes.

The pandemic didn’t necessarily change how consumers were using apps in 2020, but rather accelerated mobile adoption by two to three years’ time, the report found.

Investors were also eager to fuel mobile businesses as a result, pouring $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year-over-year. According to Crunchbase data, 26% of total global funding dollars in 2020 went to businesses that included a mobile solution.

From 2016 to 2020, global funding to mobile technology companies more than doubled compared with the previous five years, and was led by financial services, transportation, commerce and shopping.

Mobile gaming adoption also continued to grow in 2020. Casual games dominated the market in terms of downloads (78%), but Core games accounted for 66% of games’ consumer spend and 55% of the time spent.

With many stuck inside due to COVID-19 lockdowns and quarantines, mobile games that offered social interaction boomed. Among Us, for example, became a breakout game in several markets in 2020, including the U.S.

Other app categories saw sizable increases over the past year, as well.

Time spent in Finance apps in 2020 was up 45% worldwide, outside of China, and participation in the stock market grew 55% on mobile, thanks to apps like Robinhood in the U.S. and others worldwide, that democratized investing and trading.

TikTok had a big year, too.

The app saw incredible 325% year-over-year growth, despite a ban in India, and ranked in the top five apps by time spent. The average monthly time spent per user also grew faster than nearly every other app analyzed, including 65% in the U.S. and 80% in the U.K., surpassing Facebook. TikTok is now on track to hit 1.2 billion active users in 2021, App Annie forecasts.

Other video services boomed in 2020, thanks to a combination of new market entrants and a lot of time spent at home. Consumers spent 40% more hours streaming on mobile devices, with time spent in streaming apps peaking in the second quarter in the west as the pandemic forced people inside.

YouTube benefitted from this trend, as it became the No. 1 streaming app by time spent among all markets analyzed except China. The time spent in YouTube is up to 6x that of the next closet app at 38 hours per month.

Of course, another big story for 2020 was the rise of e-commerce amid the pandemic. This made the past year the biggest ever for mobile shopping, with an over 30% increase in time spent in Shopping apps, as measured on Android phones outside of China.

Mobile commerce, however, looked less traditional in 2020.

Social shopping was a big trend, with global downloads of Pinterest and Instagram growing 50% and 20% year-over-year, respectively.

Livestreaming shopping grew, too, led by China. Downloads of live shopping TaoBao Live in China, Grip in South Korea and NTWRK in the U.S. grew 100%, 245% and 85%, respectively. NTWRK doubled in size last year, and now others are entering the space as well — including TikTok, to some extent.

The pandemic also prompted increased usage of mobile ordering apps. In the U.S., Argentina, the U.K., Indonesia and Russia, the app grew by 60%, 65%, 70%, 80% and 105%, respectively, in Q4.

Business apps, like Zoom and Google Meet among others, grew 275% in Q4, for example, as remote work and sometimes school, continued.

The analysis additionally included lists of the top apps by downloads, spending and monthly active users (MAUs).

Although TikTok had been topping year-end charts, Facebook continued to beat it in terms of MAUs. Facebook-owned apps controlled the top charts by MAUs, with Facebook at No. 1 followed by WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram.

TikTok, however, had more downloads than Facebook and ranked No. 2 by consumer spending, behind Tinder.

The full report is available only as an online interactive experience this year, not a download. The report largely uses data from both the iOS App Store and Google Play, except where otherwise noted.

#amazon, #android, #app-annie, #apps, #argentina, #brazil, #china, #computing, #e-commerce, #facebook, #financial-services, #france, #freeware, #germany, #google, #india, #indonesia, #instagram, #japan, #kindle, #linkedin, #messenger, #mobile-app, #mobile-applications, #mobile-commerce, #mobile-device, #mobile-devices, #mobile-technology, #operating-systems, #pandora, #paypal, #pinterest, #roblox, #russia, #snapchat, #social-media, #software, #south-korea, #spotify, #the-weather-channel, #tiktok, #twitch, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #video-services

Twitter now supports hardware security keys for iPhones and Android

Twitter said Wednesday that accounts protected with a hardware security key can now log in from their iPhone or Android device.

The social media giant rolled out support for hardware security keys in 2018, allowing users to add a physical security barrier to their accounts in place of other two-factor authentication options, like a text message or a code generated from an app.

Security keys are small enough to fit on a keyring but make certain kinds of account hacks near impossible by requiring a user to plug in the key when they log in. That means hackers on the other side of the planet can’t easily break into your account, even if they have your username and password.

But technical limitations meant that accounts protected with security keys could only log in from a computer, and not a mobile device.

Twitter solved that headache in part by switching to the WebAuthn protocol last year, which paved the way for bringing hardware security key support to more devices and browsers.

Now anyone with a security key set up on their Twitter account can use that same key to log in from their mobile device, so long as the key is supported. (A ton of security keys exist today that work across different devices, like YubiKeys and Google’s Titan key.)

Twitter — and other companies — have long recommended that high-profile accounts, like journalists, politicians, and government officials, use security keys to prevent some of the more sophisticated attacks. Twitter explains how to set up two-factor authentication (and security keys) here.

Earlier this year Twitter rolled out hardware security keys to its own staff to prevent a repeat of its July cyberattack that saw hackers break into the company’s internal network and abuse an “admin” tool, which the hackers then used to hijack high-profile accounts to spread a cryptocurrency scam.

In the wake of the attack, Twitter hired Rinki Sethi as its new chief information security officer, and famed hacker Peiter Zatko, known as Mudge, as the company’s head of security.

#access-control, #chief-information-security-officer, #computer-security, #cryptography, #identification, #internet-security, #iphone, #mobile-device, #multi-factor-authentication, #security, #yubikey

Corsair’s TBT100 Thunderbolt 3 dock offers the right expandability in a well-designed package

Gaming peripheral expert Corsair has released a new Thunderbolt 3 docking station that boasts a number of useful ports, paired with aesthetics that should fit in perfectly with any of Apple’s Space Gray hardware kit. The TBT100 dock offers plenty of expandability for making your Mac the center of a temporary work-from-home office, or can provide great convenience and connection options even for more powerful desktop computer setups.

The basics

The Corsair TBT100 offers a full complement of ports powered via a single Thunderbolt 3 cable from your computer, along with a dedicated power adapter. For display, there are 2 HDMI 2.0 ports capable of 4K 60Hz output, with HDR color rendering. There are two USB 3.2 Type-C ports, one in front and one in back, as well as two USB 3.1 Type-A ports (both in back) that can all connect to both charge devices and provide data connections. A Gigabit Ethernet port provides networking, while a 3.5mm jack offers both headphone out and microphone in. There’s also an SDXC card reader that supports UHS-II speeds.

The TBT100 offers 85W power delivery via its lone Thunderbolt 3 cable for connected host notebooks, and can smart charge devices at up to 15W via the USB-C ports, or up to 7.5W via the USB-A connections.

Design and features

This is definitely one of the better-looking Thunderbolt 3 docks out there. It’s a category where it’s hard for design to stand out, since these generally all look roughly the same – metallic and plastic rectangles with a combinations of ports located front and back. Corsair’s dock doesn’t venture too far from this standard look, but the touches it adds like the gray aluminum finish and the way the aluminum continues around the rounded corners makes it a more attractive desktop addition than most.

The port arrangement is also well-conceived. Up front, there’s one USB-C port (handy for quickly plugging in a mobile device for a charge), the SD card reader (really useful for frequent use) and the 3.5 mm jack (ditto for commonly relocated items like headsets). Everything else is around back, letting you put more regularly connected cables in prime location for routing them to make them a more invisible part of your desktop setup.

Corsair’s choice to go with HDMI ports is also probably the best option on balance for most users. Many alternatives have gone with DisplayPort, but your average consumer these days is much more likely to have HDMI cables and HDMI-capable displays, and the spec still supports 4K resolution as well as HDR to get the most image quality out of any modern connected TV or monitor.

Bottom line

There are many flavors of Thunderbolt 3 docks, but the Corsair TBT100 offers a pretty perfect blend of connectivity, design and convenience relative to the pack. At $259.99, the price of the dock is also not too expensive, though it’s not cheap either. But if you’re looking for a reliable, permanent solution to a lack of connections for your home setup, this is the one to get.

#corsair, #displayport, #docking-station, #electronics, #gadgets, #hardware, #hdmi, #mobile-device, #reviews, #tc, #telecommunications, #thunderbolt, #usb-c

Ring’s newest security camera is a $249 autonomous indoor drone shipping in 2021

Ring built its entire business on reinventing the doorbell – and now it’s taking a similar approach to the humble home security camera, with the Ring Always Home Cam, set to be available sometime next year. You might not guess from its name, but this security camera is actually mobile: It’s a drone that flies autonomously throughout your home, to provide you with the view you want of whatever room you want, without having to have video cameras installed in multiple locations throughout your house.

The Always Home Cam is a diminutive drone that can be scheduled to fly preset paths, which you lay out as a user. The drone can’t actually be manually flown, and it begins recording only once its in flight (the camera lens is actually physically blocked while it’s docked) – both features the company says will help ensure it operates strictly with privacy in mind. Always Home Cam is also designed intentionally to produce an audible hum while in use, to alert anyone present that it’s actually moving around and recording.

As you’d expect, the Always Home Cam doesn’t have the exposed rotors you’d see on a drone designed for use in outdoor open spaces. It has a plastic border and grills that enclose those for safety. It’s also small, at 5″x 7″x7″, which is useful for safety of both people and household objects.

I spoke to Ring founder and CEO Jamie Siminoff about why they decided to create such an ambitious, unorthodox home security camera – especially given their track record of relatively down-to-Earth, tech-enabled versions of tried-and-tested home hardware like doorbells and floodlights. He said that it actually came out of user feedback – something he still personally pays close attention to, even now that Ring is part of the larger corporate apparatus of Amazon . Siminoff said that a lot of the feedback he was seeing was from customers who wished they’d either been home or been able to see when some specific thing happened at a specific place in their house, or that they wanted a camera for particular room, but only for certain times – and then a different camera in a different room for others.

“It’s not practical to have a camera at every angle in every room of the home,” he said. “Even if you had unlimited resources, I think it’s still not practical. What I love about the Always Home Cam is that it really does solve this problem of being one cam for all – it allows you to now see every angle of the home, in every part of the home.”

Drones are also not Ring’s main business, and yet the Always Home Cam will be available at the relatively low price of $249 when it becomes available, despite the technical challenges of creating a small aircraft able to operate indoors safely, and fully autonomously. I asked Siminoff how Ring was able to achieve that price point in a category that’s outside its core expertise, with a design developed fully in-house.

“As the technology has kind of aged, a lot of these parts come down in price,” he said. “There’s also a lot of price compression happening because auto manufacturers are using a lot of these parts now at higher volumes, because to have an autonomous drone, you need some similar things to autonomous cars. Obviously, it’s not the same exact parts, but so all of those costs have been coming down, and we were able to go with a fresh perspective to it. But I also challenged the team when we came up with this, that this has to be affordable.”

The Ring Always Home Cam will also work with Ring’s existing suite of products, including Ring Alarm, to automatically fly a pre-set path when an alarm is triggered. You’re able then to stream the video live to your mobile device via the Ring app. In many ways, it does seem like a natural extension of the Ring ecosystem of products and services, but at the same time, it also seems like something out of science fiction. I asked Siminoff if he thinks consumers are ready to take this kind of technology seriously as something that’s part of their daily lives.

“I think it is sort of something that is, in some ways, way out there,” he acknowledged. “What I love about it, though, is that it’s what happens when you just take the constraints away of this linear thinking. I love that we are doing stuff from really looking at the need backwards, and then what technology exists, and ask what can we build? It’s really exciting for me to be able to do somethin,g and put our stamp on something that is an industry first.”

#amazon, #camera, #computing, #devices, #gadgets, #hardware, #home-security, #jamie-siminoff, #mobile-device, #publishing, #ring, #tc, #technology

This Garmin GPS aims to improve motorsport’s lap times and more

Garmin today is announcing a $999 GPS unit designed specifically for motorsports. Called the Garmin Catalyst the unit aims to be a motorsports coach of sorts, helping drivers improve lap times, and more. It’s the latest example of Garmin testing different markets now that GPS units are built-into most vehicles.

Like standard GPS units, the Catalyst mounts on the windshield and provides detailed maps for the driver. However, since this is for racing around tracks, instead of providing driving directions, the Catalyst is said to provide motorsports coaching with voice instructions and detailed analysis of the driver’s performance.

Adam Spence, Garmin product manager explains, “[The Catalyst] gathers several data metrics and identifies where laps can be seamlessly joined together to create the fastest racing line. This shows users their fastest achievable time based on lines actually driven and gives them an optimal lap they can truly achieve.”

The GPS unit uses a series of sensors and components to generate the car’s racing line on the track. The included camera captures 1080p video, which can be played back on the unit with the track data overlaid showing speed, lap data, and more.

When driving, the Catalyst is said to be able to provide adaptive instruction to the driver based on past driving laps, instructing the driver on when to turn in, apex, and exit turns along with braking data when needed. This information can playback through compatible headsets or the vehicle’s Bluetooth stereo.

Data and track information can be viewed on the device itself or exported to a mobile device or computer.

The system is the latest product from Garmin who is trying to bring its GPS know-how to niche markets. Previously, the company unveiled a similar unit for overlanding vehicles. Based on pictures, the Overlander and the Catalyst seem to use the same mounting hardware and have a similar design albeit the Overlander appears more rugged.

#bluetooth, #driver, #electronics, #garmin, #global-positioning-system, #gps, #mobile-device, #navigation, #product-manager, #tc, #technology

Google, Nokia, Qualcomm are investors in $230M Series A2 for Finnish phone maker, HMD Global

Mobile device maker HMD Global has announced a $230M Series A2 — its first tranche of external funding since a $100M round back in 2018 when it tipped over into a unicorn valuation. Since late 2016 the startup has exclusively licensed Nokia’s brand for mobile devices, going on to ship some 240M devices to date.

Its latest cash injection is notable both for its size (HMD claims it as the third largest funding round in Europe this year); and the profile of the strategic investors ploughing in capital — namely: Google, Nokia and Qualcomm.

Though whether a tech giant (Google) whose OS dominates the world’s smartphone market (Android) becoming a strategic investor in Europe’s last significant mobile OEM (HMD) catches the attention of regional competition enforcers remains to be seen. Er, vertical integration anyone? (To wit: It’s a little over two years since Google was slapped with a $5BN penalty by EU regulators for antitrust violations related to how it operates Android — and the Commission has said it continues to monitor the market ‘remedies’.)

In a further quirk, when we spoke to HMD Global CEO, Florian Seiche, ahead of today’s announcement, he didn’t expect the names of the investors to be disclosed — but we’d already been sent press release material listing them so he duly confirmed the trio are investors in the round. (But wouldn’t be drawn on how much equity Google is grabbing.)

HMD’s smartphones run on Google’s Android platform, which gives the tech giant a firm business reason for supporting the mobile maker in growing the availability of Google-packed hardware in key growth markets around the world.

And while HMD likens its consistent (and consistently updated) flavor of Android to the premium ‘pure’ Android experience you get from Google’s own-brand Pixel smartphones, the difference is the Finnish company offers devices across the range of price points, and targets hardware at mobile users in developing markets.

The upshot is relatively little overlap with Google’s Pixel hardware, and still plenty of business upside for Google should HMD grow the pipeline of Google services users (as it makes money by targeting ads).

Connoisseurs of mobile history may see more than a little irony in Google investing into Nokia branded smartphones (via HMD), given Android’s role in fatally disrupting Nokia’s lucrative smartphone business — knocking the Finnish giant off its perch as the world’s number one mobile maker and ushering in an era of Android-fuelled Asian mobile giants. But wait long enough in tech and what goes around oftentimes comes back around.

“We’re extremely excited,” said Seiche, when we mention Google’s pivotal role in Nokia’s historical downfall in smartphones. “How we are going to write that next chapter on smartphones is a critical strategic pillar for the company and our opportunity to team up so closely with Google around this has been a very, very great partnership from the beginning. And then this investment definitely confirms that — also for the future.”

“It’s a critical time for the industry therefore having a clear strategy — having a clear differentiation and a different point of view to offer, we believe, is a fantastic asset that we have developed for ourselves. And now is a great moment for us to double down on this,” he added.

We also asked Seiche whether HMD has any interest in taking advantage of the European Commission’s Android antitrust enforcement decision — i.e. to fork Android and remove the usual Google services, perhaps swapping them out for some European alternatives, which is at least a possibility for OEMs selling in the region — but Seiche told us: “We have looked at it but we strongly believe that consumers or enterprise customers actually love [Google] services and therefore they choose those services for themselves.” (Millions of dollars of direct investment from Google also, presumably, helps make the Google services business case stack up.)

Nokia, meanwhile, has always had a close relationship with HMD — which was established by former Nokia execs for the sole purpose of licensing its iconic mobile brand. (The backstory there is a clause in the sale terms of Nokia’s mobile device division to Microsoft expired in 2016, paving the way for Nokia’s brand to be returned to the smartphone market without the prior Windows Mobile baggage.)

Its investment into HMD now looks like a vote of confidence in how the company has been executing in the fiercely competitive mobile space to date (HMD doesn’t break out a lot of detail about device sales but Seiche told us it sold in excess of 70M mobiles last year; that’s a combined figure for smartphones and feature phones) — as well as an upbeat assessment of the scope of the growth opportunity ahead of it.

On the latter front US-led geopolitical tensions between the West and China do look poised to generate a tail-wind for HMD’s business.

Mobile chipmaker Qualcomm, for example, is facing a loss of business, as US government restrictions threaten its ability to continue selling chips to Huawei; a major Chinese device maker that’s become a key target for US president Trump. Its interest in supporting HMD’s growth, therefore, looks like a way for Qualcomm to hedge against US government disruption aimed at Chinese firms in its mobile device maker portfolio.

While with Trump’s recent threats against the TikTok app it seems safe to assume that no tech company with a Chinese owner is safe.

As a European company, HMD is able to position itself as a safe haven — and Seiche’s sales pitch talks up a focus on security detail and overall quality of experience as key differentiating factors vs the Android hoards.

“We have been very clear and very consistent right from the beginning to pick these core principles that are close to our heart and very closely linked with the Nokia brand itself — and definitely security, quality and trust are key elements,” he told TechCrunch. “This is resonating with our carrier and retail customers around the world and it is definitely also a core fundamental differentiator that those partners that are taking a longer term view clearly see that same opportunity that we see for us going forward.”

HMD does use manufacturing facilities in China, as well as in a number of other locations around the world — including Brazil, India, Indonesia and Vietnam.

But asked whether it sees any supply chain risks related to continued use of Chinese manufacturers to build ‘secure’ mobile hardware, Seiche responded by claiming: “The most important [factor] is we do control the software experience fully.” He pointed specifically to HMD’s acquisition of Valona Labs earlier this year. The Finnish security startup carries out all its software audits. “They basically control our software to make sure we can live up to that trusted standard,” Seiche added. 

Landing a major tranche of new funding now — and with geopolitical tension between the West and the Far East shining a spotlight on its value as alternative, European mobile maker — HMD is eyeing expansion in growth markets such as Africa, Brail and India. (Currently, HMD said it’s active in 91 markets across eight regions, with its devices ranged in 250,000 retail outlets around the world.)

It’s also looking to bring 5G to devices at a greater range of price-points, beyond the current flagship Nokia 8.3. Seiche also said it wants to do more on the mobile services side. HMD’s first 5G device, the flagship Nokia 8.3, is due to land in the US and Europe in a matter of weeks. And Seiche suggested a timeframe of the middle of next year for launching a 5G device at a mid tier price point.

“The 5G journey again has started, in terms of market adoption, in China. But now Europe, US are the key next opportunity — not just in the premium tier but also in the mid segment. And to get to that as fast as possible is one of our goals,” he said, noting joint-working with Qualcomm on that.

“We also see great opportunity with Nokia in that 5G transition — because they are also working on a lot of private LTE deployments which is also an interesting area since… we are also very strongly present in that large enterprise segment,” he added.

On mobile services, Seiche highlighted the launch of HMD Connect: A data SIM aimed at travellers — suggesting it could expand into additional connectivity offers in future, forging more partnerships with carriers. 

“We have already launched several services that are close to the hardware business — like insurance for your smartphones — but we are also now looking at connectivity as a great area for us,” he said. “The first pilot of that has been our global roaming but we believe there is a play in the future for consumers or enterprise customers to get their connectivity directly with their device. And we’re partnering also with operators to make that happen.”

“You can see us more as a complement [to carriers],” he added, arguing that business “dynamics” for carriers have also changed substantially — and customer acquisition hasn’t been a linear game for some time.

“In a similar way when we talk about Google Pixel vs us — we have a different footprint. And again if you look at carriers where they get their subscribers from today is already today a mix between their own direct channels and their partner channels. And actually why wouldn’t a smartphone player be a natural good partner of choice also for them? So I think you’ll see that as a trend, potentially, evolving in the next couple of years.”

#africa, #android, #antitrust, #brazil, #china, #europe, #european-commission, #european-union, #fundings-exits, #google, #hmd-global, #huawei, #india, #indonesia, #microsoft, #mobile, #mobile-device, #mobile-devices, #nokia, #qualcomm, #smartphone, #smartphones, #trump, #united-states, #us-government, #vietnam, #windows-mobile

Typewise taps $1M to build an offline next word prediction engine

Swiss keyboard startup Typewise has bagged a $1 million seed round to build out a typo-busting, ‘privacy-safe’ next word prediction engine designed to run entirely offline. No cloud connectivity, no data mining risk is the basic idea.

They also intend the tech to work on text inputs made on any device, be it a smartphone or desktop, a wearable, VR — or something weirder that Elon Musk might want to plug into your brain in future.

For now they’ve got a smartphone keyboard app that’s had around 250,000 downloads — with some 65,000 active users at this point.

The seed funding breaks down into $700K from more than a dozen local business angels; and $340K via the Swiss government through a mechanism (called “Innosuisse projects“), akin to a research grant, which is paying for the startup to employ machine learning experts at Zurich’s ETH research university to build out the core AI.

The team soft launched a smartphone keyboard app late last year, which includes some additional tweaks (such as an optional honeycomb layout they tout as more efficient; and the ability to edit next word predictions so the keyboard quickly groks your slang) to get users to start feeding in data to build out their AI.

Their main focus is on developing an offline next word prediction engine which could be licensed for use anywhere users are texting, not just on a mobile device.

“The goal is to develop a world-leading text prediction engine that runs completely on-device,” says co-founder David Eberle. “The smartphone keyboard really is a first use case. It’s great to test and develop our algorithms in a real-life setting with tens of thousands of users. The larger play is to bring word/sentence completion to any application that involves text entry, on mobiles or desktop (or in future also wearables/VR/Brain-Computer Interfaces).

“Currently it’s pretty much only Google working on this (see Gmail’s auto completion feature). Applications such as Microsoft Teams, Slack, Telegram, or even SAP, Oracle, Salesforce would want such productivity increase – and at that level privacy/data security matters a lot. Ultimately we envision that every “human-machine interface” is, at least on the text-input level, powered by Typewise.”

You’d be forgiven for thinking all this sounds a bit retro, given the earlier boom in smartphone AI keyboards — such as SwiftKey (now owned by Microsoft).

The founders have also pushed specific elements of their current keyboard app — such as the distinctive honeycomb layout — before, going down a crowdfunding route back in 2015, when they were calling the concept Wrio. But they reckon it’s now time to go all in — hence relaunching the business as Typewise and shooting to build a licensing business for offline next word prediction.

“We’ll use the funds to develop advanced text predictions… first launching it in the keyboard app and then bringing it to the desktop to start building partnerships with relevant software vendors,” says Eberle, noting they’re working on various enhancements to the keyboard app and also plan to spend on marketing to try to hit 1M active users next year.

“We have more ‘innovative stuff’ [incoming] on the UX side as well, e.g. interacting with auto correction (so the user can easily intervene when it does something wrong — in many countries users just turn it off on all keyboards because it gets annoying), gamifying the general typing experience (big opportunity for kids/teenagers, also making them more aware of what and how they type), etc.”

The competitive landscape around smartphone keyboard tech, largely dominated by tech giants, has left room for indie plays, is the thinking. Nor is Typewise the only startup thinking that way (Fleksy has similar ambitions, for one). However gaining traction vs such giants — and over long established typing methods — is the tricky bit.

Android maker Google has ploughed resource into its Gboard AI keyboard — larding it with features. While, on iOS, Apple’s interface for switching to a third party keyboard is infamously frustrating and finicky; the opposite of a seamless experience. Plus the native keyboard offers next word prediction baked in — and Apple has plenty of privacy credit. So why would a user bother switching is the problem there.

Competing for smartphone users’ fingers as an indie certainly isn’t easy. Alternative keyboard layouts and input mechanism are always a very tough sell as they disrupt people’s muscle memory and hit mobile users hard in their comfort and productivity zone. Unless the user is patient and/or stubborn enough to stick with a frustratingly different experience they’ll soon ditch for the keyboard devil they know.  (‘Qwerty’ is an ancient typewriter layout turned typing habit we English speakers just can’t kick.)

Given all that, Typewise’s retooled focus on offline next word prediction to do white label b2b licensing makes more sense — assuming they can pull off the core tech.

And, again, they’re competing at a data disadvantage on that front vs more established tech giant keyboard players, even as they argue that’s also a market opportunity.

“Google and Microsoft (thanks to the acquisition of SwiftKey) have a solid technology in place and have started to offer text predictions outside of the keyboard; many of their competitors, however, will want to embed a proprietary (difficult to build) or independent technology, especially if their value proposition is focused on privacy/confidentiality,” Eberle argues.

“Would Telegram want to use Google’s text predictions? Would SAP want that their clients’ data goes through Microsoft’s prediction algorithms? That’s where we see our right to win: world-class text predictions that run on-device (privacy) and are made in Switzerland (independent environment, no security back doors, etc).”

Early impressions of Typewise’s next word prediction smarts (gleaned by via checking out its iOS app) are pretty low key (ha!). But it’s v1 of the AI — and Eberle talks bullishly of having “world class” developers working on it.

“The collaboration with ETH just started a few weeks ago and thus there are no significant improvements yet visible in the live app,” he tells TechCrunch. “As the collaboration runs until the end of 2021 (with the opportunity of extension) the vast majority of innovation is still to come.”

He also tells us Typewise is working with ETH’s Prof. Thomas Hofmann (chair of the Data Analytic Lab, formerly at Google), as well as having has two PhDs in NLP/ML and one MSc in ML contributing to the effort.

“We get exclusive rights to the [ETH] technology; they don’t hold equity but they get paid by the Swiss government on our behalf,” Eberle also notes. 

Typewise says its smartphone app supports more than 35 languages. But its next word prediction AI can only handle English, German, French, Italian and Spanish at this point. The startup says more are being added.

#android, #apple, #apps, #artificial-intelligence, #data-mining, #elon-musk, #eth, #europe, #fundings-exits, #gmail, #google, #machine-learning, #microsoft, #ml, #mobile, #mobile-app, #mobile-device, #operating-systems, #oracle, #privacy, #salesforce, #sap, #smartphones, #swiftkey, #switzerland, #typewise, #zurich

How to upgrade your at-home videoconference setup: Lighting edition

In this instalment of our ongoing series around making the most of your at-home video setup, we’re going to focus on one of the most important, but least well understood or implemented parts of the equation: Lighting. While it isn’t actually something that requires a lot of training, expertise or even equipment to get right, it’s probably the number one culprit for subpar video quality on most conference calls – and it can mean the difference between looking like someone who knows what they talk about, and someone who might not inspire too much confidence on seminars, speaking gigs and remote broadcast appearances.

Basics

You can make a very big improvement in your lighting with just a little work, and without spending any money. The secret is all in being aware of your surroundings and optimizing your camera placement relative to any light sources that might be present. Consider not only any ceiling lights or lamps in your room, but also natural light sources like windows.

Ideally, you should position yourself so that the source of brightest light is positioned behind your camera (and above it, if possible). You should also make sure that there aren’t any strong competing light sources behind you that might blow out the image. If you have a large window and it’s daytime, face the window with your back to a wall, for instance. And if you have a moveable light or a overhead lamp, either move it so it’s behind and above your computer facing you, or move yourself if possible to achieve the same effect with a fixed position light fixture, like a ceiling pendant.

Ideally, any bright light source should be positioned behind and slightly above your camera for best results.

Even if the light seems aggressively bright to you, it should make for an even, clear image on your webcam. Even though most webcams have auto-balancing software features that attempt to produce the best results regardless of lighting, they can only do so much, and especially lower-end camera hardware like the webcam built into MacBooks will benefit greatly from some physical lighting position optimization.

This is an example of what not to do: Having a bright light source behind you will make your face hard to see, and the background blown out.

Simple ways to level-up

The best way to step up beyond the basics is to learn some of the fundamentals of good video lighting. Again, this doesn’t necessarily require any purchases – it could be as simple as taking what you already have and using it in creative ways.

Beyond just the above advice about putting your strongest light source behind your camera pointed towards your face, you can get a little more sophisticated by adopting the principles of two- and three-point lighting. You don’t need special lights to make this work – you just need to use what you have available and place them for optimal effect.

  • Two-point lighting

A very basic, but effective video lighting setup involves positioning not just one, but two lights pointed towards your face behind, or parallel with your camera. Instead of putting them directly in line with your face, however, for maximum effect you can place them to either side, and angle them in towards you.

A simple representation of how to position lights for a proper two-point video lighting setup.

Note that if you can, it’s best to make one of these two lights brighter than the other. This will provide a subtle bit of shadow and depth to the lighting on your face, resulting in a more pleasing and professional look. As mentioned, it doesn’t really matter what kind of light you use, but it’s best to try to make sure that both are the same temperature (for ordinary household bulbs, how ‘soft,’ ‘bright’ or ‘warm’ they are) and if your lights are less powerful, try to position them closer in.

  • Three-point lighting

Similar to two-point lighting, but with a third light added positioned somewhere behind you. This extra light is used in broadcast interview lighting setups to provide a slight halo effect on the subject, which further helps separate you from the background, and provides a bit more depth and professional look. Ideally, you’d place this out of frame of your camera (you don’t want a big, bright light shining right into the lens) and off to the side, as indicated in the diagram below.

In a three-point lighting setup, you add a third light behind you to provide a bit more subject separation and pop.

If you’re looking to improve the flexibility of this kind of setup, a simple way to do that is by using light sources with Philips Hue bulbs. They can let you tune the temperature and brightness of your lights, together or individually, to get the most out of this kind of arrangement. Modern Hue bulbs might produce some weird flickering effects on your video depending on what framerate you’re using, but if you output your video at 30fps, that should address any problems there.

Go pro

All lights can be used to improve your video lighting setup, but dedicated video lights will provide the best results. If you really plan on doing a bunch of video calls, virtual talks and streaming, you should consider investing in some purpose-built hardware to get even better results.

At the entry level, there are plenty of offerings on Amazon that work well and offer good value for money, including full lighting kits like this one from Neewer that offers everything you need for a two-point lighting setup in one package. These might seem intimidating if you’re new to lighting, but they’re extremely easy to set up, and really only require that you learn a bit about light temperature (as measured in kelvins) and how that affects the image output on your video capture device.

If you’re willing to invest a bit more money, you can get some better quality lights that include additional features including wifi connectivity and remote control. The best all-around video lights for home studio use that I’ve found are Elgato’s Key Lights . These come in two variants, Key Light and Key Light Air, which retail for $199.99 and $129.99 respectively. The Key Light is larger, offers brighter maximum output, and comes with a sturdier, heavy-duty clamp mount for attaching to tables and desks. The Key Light Air is smaller, more portable, puts out less light at max settings and comes with a tabletop stand with a weighted base.

Both versions of the Key Light offer light that you can tune form very warm white (2900K) to bright white (7000K) and connect to your wifi network for remote control, either from your computer or your mobile device. They easily work together with Elgato’s Stream Deck for hardware controls, too, and have highly adjustable brightness and plenty of mounting options – especially with extra accessories like the Multi-Mount extension kit.

With plenty of standard tripod mounts on each Key Light, high-quality durable construction and connected control features, these lights are the easiest to make work in whatever space you have available. The quality of the light they put out is also excellent, and they’re great for lighting pros and newbies alike since it’s very easy to tune them as needed to produce the effect you want.

Accent your space

Beyond subject lighting, you can look at different kinds of accent lighting to make your overall home studio more visually interesting or appealing. Again, there are a number of options here, but if you’re looking for something that also complements your home furnishings and won’t make your house look too much like a studio set, check out some of the more advanced versions of Hue’s connected lighting system.

The Hue Play light bar is a great accent light, for instance. You can pick up a two pack, which includes two of the full-color connected RGB lights. You’ll need a Hue hub for these to work, but you can also get a starter pack that includes two lights and the hub if you don’t have one yet. I like these because you can easily hide them behind cushions, chairs, or other furniture. They provide awesome uplight effects on light-colored walls, especially if you get rid of other ambient light (beyond your main video lights).

To really amplify the effect, consider pairing these up with something one the Philips Hue Signe floor or table lamps. The Signe series is a long LED light mounted to a weighted base that provide strong, even accent light with any color you choose. You can sync these with other Hue lights for a consistent look, or mix and max colors for different dynamic effects.

On video, this helps with subject/background separation, and just looks a lot more polished than a standard background, especially when paired with defocused effects when you’re using better quality cameras. As a side benefit, these lights can be synced to movie and video playback for when you’re consuming video, instead of producing it, for really cool home theater effects.

If you’re satisfied with your lighting setup but are still looking for other pointers, check out our original guide, as well as our deep dive on microphones for better audio quality.

#amazon, #gadgets, #hardware, #light, #lighting, #mobile-device, #philips, #tc, #video, #videoconferencing

First version of Apple and Google’s contact tracing API should be available to developers next week

The first version of Apple and Google’s jointly developed, cross-platform contact tracing API should be available to developers as of next week, according to a conversation between Apple CEO Tim Cook and European Commission for internal market Thierry Breton. Bretton shared a photo from his office which shows him having a video conversation with Cook, and told Les Echos that the Apple chief executive told him April 28 would be the day the contact tracing API will be available to software developers building apps that employ it on behalf of public health agencies.

Apple and Google announced that they were working on the contract tracing system, which works across iOS and Android mobile device, on April 10, and detailed how the opt-in network would use randomized IDs not tied to a user’s actual identify information to communicate potential contacts with individuals with a confirmed positive COVID-19 diagnosis. It’s a decentralized system that never collects any geographic data in order to preserve individual privacy, and Apple and Google chose to collaborate on the project so that any apps built to use it will have the furthest potential reach possible in terms of user base.

The rollout of the contact tracing system is happening in two parts: First, the API is being made available to developers – that’s the part that’s happening next week. This phase was originally set for a mid-May release, but it sounds like the companies have stepped up their timeline (at least on the Apple side) based on this conversation between Thierry and Cook. That makes sense, given the urgency of the need for contact tracing in order to better understand how and when to alter or relax social distancing measures.

The second part of the plan is issuing a system update to build in contact tracing at the OS level. Opt-in would be managed on the device, and both Android and iOS smartphones with this toggle enabled would automatically be able to participate in local contact tracing efforts –whether or not they had any specific health agency apps installed. Apple and Google clarified in a follow-up Q&A session about the system that users would still be prompted to download and install a public health app from their local authority should their phone notify them of a possible contact, so that they could get additional info about next steps from a trusted source.

Note that the second phase isn’t expected until sometime later this year, but the early arrival of the first version of the API for developers is a promising sign that suggests both companies are focusing considerable effort and resources on getting this to market.

There are myriad contact tracing systems either in development or already being implemented, but a common technological backbone that makes it possible for them to cross-communicate, and that opens up broad participation across the most popular mobile devices currently in use has the greatest chance of actually being effective.

#android, #api, #apple, #apple-inc, #apps, #biotech, #ceo, #computing, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #european-commission, #google, #health, #ios, #mobile-app, #mobile-device, #mobile-devices, #operating-systems, #smartphones, #tc, #thierry-breton, #tim-cook