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“Apple starts selling refurbished iPhones online” plus 29 more VentureBeat


“Apple starts selling refurbished iPhones online” plus 29 more VentureBeat

Apple starts selling refurbished iPhones online

Posted: 08 Nov 2016 12:34 PM PST

An iPhone SE.

Today Apple started selling refurbished iPhones on its website. They’re available with a one-year warranty.

Apple also sells refurbished Macs, iPads, and iPods. But at Apple the iPhone is king. In Apple’s most recent quarter, 60 percent of revenue came from the iPhone. Apple has sold more than 1 billion iPhones since the company came out with the first edition of the phone in 2007.

This represents a new way for Apple to gain revenue through its iPhones. It comes after three quarters of iPhone sales that declined year over year.

Currently the iPhones Apple is hawking online go for up to $110 less than the price of new versions of the device. Only iPhones 6S and 6S Plus models are available; nothing is newer or older.

Apple says these phones are fully tested, updated with replacement parts “for any defective modules identified in testing,” cleaned, inspected, and repackaged with cables and other materials you get when you buy a new iPhone. The phones run either the operating system that they originally shipped with or a newer version.

You can check out the refurbished iPhone inventory here.

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Why job security won’t exist in the age of ‘superintelligence’ and that’s OK

Posted: 08 Nov 2016 12:10 PM PST

Super-intelligence will destroy job security

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a repeatedly misused term.

Coined in 1956 by John McCarthy, it was originally intended to define an independent machine agent that can take actions to maximize success toward a particular goal, with human-like functions such as learning and problem solving. AI can be broadly categorized as ANI (artificial narrow intelligence), AGI (artificial general intelligence) and ASI (artificial superintelligence). Almost all of the AI systems we see today align under ANI — e.g., IBM Watson, Deep Blue, a calculator, even the device you’re reading this from all fall into that category. All are built to perform specific functions, but are not quite at a human level.

Mind vs. machine

Watson could easily find Jeopardy answers, Deep Blue managed to win a chess game against the reigning world champ (recent bug stories aside), a calculator can quickly solve complex mathematical problems, and the device you’re using to read this can perform specific tasks at a high processing speed and with just one plausible output — yet certainly this is not how a human brain functions. Machines today may be able to produce faster and more accurate results, but ultimately, they cannot think on their own.

Humans have a wider range of capabilities — we may favor Fight Club over Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice (or vice versa), we can argue over Mona Lisa’s expression, and we want to order extra french fries for no logical reason. Simply put, we’re complex. It’s in our DNA to have emotions, express feelings, understand subtleties in expressions and gestures, have irrational fears, crave certain foods, and hold countless other qualities that binary numbers will take a while to decode.

To learn human patterns is a colossal task, though this could eventually be achievable. As humans, we still haven’t mastered it; just look at the wars and social injustices that have plagued humanity for centuries.

Mankind adapts to technology

With any technological advancement that has hit civilization — take the Industrial Revolution, for instance — there has been a natural fear of job security. Many jobs were lost. Even so, we still adapted. We created more jobs. We got better at a lot of things. We increased our efficiency in many areas. We optimized energy consumption.

Around 30 years ago, when computers were first becoming part of our work lives, our work environments changed dramatically. Humans could now automate many daily work activities. Banks, factories, government entities, medical facilities, and more used computers to do things like increase data storage, facilitate communication, and track bookkeeping records. This allowed humans to forgo roles with redundant tasks and focus on where they could add value with qualities that only a human could have. Human focus areas then shifted toward improving technology, security, creativity, efficiency, and other areas where our ability to see beyond 0 or 1 could be leveraged.

Job security and the rise of the machines

As computer usage increased, there was another wave of fear among people for their job security — similar to what we saw during the Industrial Revolution. The “job security” phrase was at its peak between 1980 and 2000, according to Google’s Ngram Viewer.

While computers and technology have a stigma attached in terms of job security, there’s an obvious flipside: the improvements computers have made to our quality of life. It creates somewhat of a Catch-22 in that we want the efficiency technology allows and want it to keep advancing, but not to the point where it could do an alarming number of our jobs without us. Historically, computers and technology displaced certain types of work, but they created many new jobs.

Take search engine optimization (SEO), for example. Sure, technology can now highlight your relevance to a certain topic on the web, but it takes someone who understands the underlying logic, and this paved the way for SEO experts who have some of the most sought-after skill sets in the business world today. And there are other roles where we’re still not ready to bow out of the field, despite technological advancements: Though a plane today can run mostly on its own, we wouldn’t dare step into a one without a human pilot physically in the cockpit.

As the AI layer reaches a human level of intelligence (artificial general intelligence, or AGI) in terms of computational power and ability to think, job security will get a lot of attention again. When AI becomes smarter than all humans combined (artificial superintelligence, or ASI), there are multiple scenarios it could introduce. For one, it might be the time where we can all kick back, relax, and let the machines handle our daily grind while we focus on areas of our choosing.

For instance, complex decision making in government, education, medicine, and other fields will still need human assistance before final decisions can be made, at least for the foreseeable future, even if AI is used to execute on most of the grunt work. Alternatively, the paperclip maximizer scenario could prevail, where machines could be programmed to perform seemingly innocuous tasks without an ethics layer, posing an existential risk.

Some computers have already matched human calculations per second, if not more. The biggest hurdle with such computers is the massive area they occupy and their need for a high level of power sources to function. In Ray Kurzweil’s The Singularity Is Near, he explains that by 2045, $1,000 will get you 1,000,000,000 (yes — one billion) times the power of all human brains today, combined. The year 2045 suddenly doesn’t seem so far away!

Look at the difference between us and many other animals for perspective on what this could look like: dogs and their ability to sniff out subtle smells, parrots recognizing colors, rats managing to find the only food left in the house. These animals can identify objects and react to threats, but can never self-reflect. The intelligence gap between these animals is fairly small, and even then their capabilities vary significantly. A chimpanzee, which shares 99 percent of the same DNA with us, is incapable of understanding that a noisy object that flies over them with stiff reflective wings is a manmade object and is not a part of nature, like they assume. That 1 percent counts for a lot. Imagine the scale of things that a super intelligent layer can accomplish — it will be much more advanced than human DNA. Just as we don’t communicate with ants or snails, it will be interesting to watch AI unfold and look down on us. Their thoughts will be entirely above our heads.

AI in 2016

But until then, what does AI look like today? We have Google Assistant, a decent helper. It can help us reserve a table at a restaurant, book tickets for a show, set reminders, send calendar invites and emails, check schedules, help us run errands, and prioritize our work. Can it replace an actual human assistant? Maybe not. But it may be able to do a few things better and faster.

Google Assistant is by far the most advanced AI layer compared to Cortana and Siri. They are all programmed to learn human patterns such as our choice of apps, who we are most likely to call in our contacts, and what our general preferences are. They can even understand what we ask them to do — sometimes.

Even if they don’t understand, they know they can substitute an answer with a search engine. That’s where Google has an upper hand. Its new premium smartphone (the Google Pixel) has taken a giant leap toward improved AI. Facebook is also reportedly working on an AI project, and so is Samsung. With their heaps of data on each of our interests and social circles, it will be interesting to see how they fare compared to our existing assistants today.

The infinite capabilities of AI

The potential of artificial intelligence has no ceiling; machines can be programmed to make themselves smarter and make coding changes to themselves at exponential levels. Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk have warned us of its dangers, and of the fine line that we are walking. The scale of what AI can do is unimaginable — if it doesn’t bring about our doom, it could help us find a faster solution for climate change or dramatically increase our lifespan. The potential of AI hits both extremes, so we have to tread these new waters with caution.

AI will inevitably replace a lot of jobs, sometimes putting entire fields out of work. But we will adapt — just like we always have. We adapted when the Industrial Revolution hit us. We will find new types of work by taking advantage of human capabilities. Highly skilled workers will still be needed. Menial tasks will increasingly be handled by AI, which will bring new opportunities that only a human can fill. As the world moves faster and as we build new technologies, we’ll gear up and learn these new skill sets.

Our choices control our destiny as we test the limits of what we can create. It’s the dawn of AI, and it’s going to be fun.

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare has fewer Steam players than Rainbow Six: Siege or Payday 2

Posted: 08 Nov 2016 12:05 PM PST

Kit Harington plays Salen Kotch in Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare.

This holiday gaming season is overflowing with blockbuster shooter games, and that is potentially limiting the appeal of one of that genre’s perennial hits … at least on PC.

Over the launch weekend for Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, the sci-fi space-battling adventure’s (read our review) player base dropped 76 percent compared to the launch weekend for 2015’s Call of Duty: Black Ops III, according to data-intelligence site Githyp. The new game only generated a peak player count of 15,280 people on Steam through Sunday where Black Ops III hit more than 60,000 simultaneous players through the same weekend last year. Infinite Warfare didn’t even do enough to break into Steam’s top-25 most-played games. Activision launched Infinite Warfare for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on November 4, which made it the last of a crop of shooters to debut over the last few weeks from competing publishers like Microsoft and Electronic Arts.

“While sales have been on a constant decline year after year, Call of Duty: Black Ops III did surprisingly well last year ranking as high as No. 4 on Steam with a peak of 63,681 players during its big launch weekend,” Githyp analyst Paul Curtin wrote in a blog post.

Infinite Warfare’s peak simultaneous players so far today on the popular Steam PC-gaming service has topped out at 11,000, according to the Steam Store stats. That puts it just behind the Ubisoft SWAT simulator Rainbow Six: Siege and 2013 bank-heist shooter Payday 2, which are at 12,000 and 15,500 peak concurrent players today, respectively.  Of course, some people specifically purchased Infinite Warfare to play Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered — an updated version of the 2007 game — but that only adds another 4,546 players to the Infinite Warfare collective.

cod comparison

Livestream viewer counts have also taken a dive, and that includes the PC version of the game as well as the console.

“Viewer counts have also been half of what they were last year with Infinite Warfare peaking at 101,000 viewers on Twitch,” wrote Curtin. “Black Ops III peaked at 190,000 viewers on Twitch which made it No. 1 for 2 days in 2015.”

For the last decade, Call of Duty has finished the year as one of the top-selling games in the world. It has taken the No. 1 spot on the best-selling retail games in the United States every year since 2007 except for when Grand Theft Auto V debuted in 2013. Infinite Warfare, however, is seemingly struggling to bring forth any of that momentum, and it’s not just because of the U.S. presidential election.

Of course, Infinite Warfare isn’t just a PC game — Call of Duty is primarily a console franchise. For proof of that, just look at how publisher Activision promotes it with esports. The company doesn’t bring together the best PC Call of Duty players for its competitive-gaming events. Instead, teams take each other on using DualShock 4 gamepads and PlayStation 4 systems.

Regardless, Call of Duty’s year-over-year drop in Twitch viewership and peak concurrent players still indicates that players are choosing other games instead. And 2016 has provided a deluge of excellent shooters like Titanfall 2, Battlefield 1, and Gears of War 4 — along with existing hits like Overwatch and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. With that much choice, it is a tougher landscape than ever for one game to dominate all others.

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Vivendi’s latest purchase of Ubisoft stock shows it isn’t going away

Posted: 08 Nov 2016 11:20 AM PST

Yves Guillemot, CEO of Ubisoft, gave a heartfelt talk at the close of his press event about the need to take risks.

In September, Ubisoft executives breathed a sigh of relief as Vivendi didn’t launch a hostile bid to control the French video game company’s board. But Vivendi has since increased its stake in the publisher of hits like Assassin’s Creed and Tom Clancy games from 23 percent to more than 24 percent.

That small change in Vivendi’s percentage ownership of publicly traded Ubisoft’s stock is ominous because it took place after the annual meeting on September 29. Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot has vowed to fight the Vivendi attempt at control because he doesn’t think it’s good for Ubisoft’s creative freedom, its capability to produce high-quality games, and the well-being of the publisher’s 10,000 employees.

While Ubisoft is publicly traded, the company has been run by the founding Guillemot family for decades. Under French law, Vivendi has to make a bid to buy the entire company if it accumulates more than 30 percent of the stock. A year ago, Vivendi held just 10 percent of the company. Now Vivendi holds 21.3 percent of the voting rights.

In the September meeting, Vivendi did not offer its own slate of directors, as feared. Ubisoft successfully added two independent directors to the board and re-elected Yves and Gerard Guillemot. At that time, Yves Guillemot said, “We won’t relax until they sell their shares. The creeping control strategy implemented by Vivendi is dangerous. We think that there’s a great risk of shareholders losing value.”

Vivendi successfully took over Gameloft, a mobile game company that was also partly owned by the Guillemot brothers. During this fight, it is interesting that no obvious white knight has emerged to help the management team.

Meanwhile, Ubisoft has some important games coming up. Watch Dogs 2 launches on November 15, while the original snow sports game Steep debuts on December 2.

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Apple releases iOS 10.2 public beta 2

Posted: 08 Nov 2016 11:15 AM PST

Apple has started rolling out iOS 10.2 public beta 2.

Apple today started rolling out the second public beta release of iOS 10.2, the next update to iOS 10 that builds on iOS 10.1, which came out last month.

Today’s release first became available to developers yesterday. It’s significant because, according to 9to5Mac, it includes the TV app that Apple debuted at its MacBook Pro event last month. It’s a new way for Apple TV users to see what’s on and instantly start watching.

And it considerably adds to iOS 10, which first became available to everyone in September.

Other new features that come with iOS 10.2 public beta 2 include more emojis, new wallpapers for the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, the ability to enable star ratings again through Apple Music’s settings, and the ability to hit the power button five times to trigger the SOS feature, according to 9to5Mac. There are also larger buttons for shuffle and repeat in Apple Music, according to MacRumors.

At last month’s event, Apple said the TV app would launch in December. So if you can’t wait till then, you can install this beta, if you’re already a member of Apple’s Beta Software Program, or you can sign up now, free of charge, here.

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Meet Stack: Dell and Intel’s vision for an ecosystem built around a full Windows 10 mobile device

Posted: 08 Nov 2016 11:09 AM PST


In mid-2014, Dell and Intel embarked on an ambitious, long-view product ecosystem known internally as Dell Stack. The project centers on a 6.4-inch, full-HD mini-tablet that would underlie the desktop, laptop, and tablet experiences: That is, one device would power your entire computing ecosystem.

The goal was to significantly streamline the transition that the average business user — and, eventually, consumer — makes between their multiple computing devices numerous times per day. Instead of constantly moving data and files from device to device (or device to cloud to device), Stack would allow users to transition the core handheld from screen to screen as use case dictated.

All of this hinged upon Continuum, a technology baked into Microsoft’s Windows 10. Since software written to be compliant with Continuum, called Universal Windows Platform (UWP) apps, will run equally well under Windows 10 or Windows 10 Mobile, it opens up a range of possibilities with respect to the very kind of use-case transitions that Stack attempts to address. That is, Continuum makes those possibilities a reality.

Flexible specs

With the underlying objective being a full computing ecosystem replacement, the typical ARM-compliant processors utilized in the vast majority of today’s tablets and smartphones would not be sufficient. Therefore, the Stack handheld was spec’ed out with an x86-based CPU from Intel’s Kaby Lake Y-series of low-power-consumption, dual-core, laptop-class processors. Specifically, the built-to-order system would be available with options from the m3, m5 vPro, or m7 vPro families.

As a tablet, the handheld would require a 3.5-watt power draw, but when docked as the heart of a desktop-replacement configuration, it would transition to a less-conservative 12 watts. Furthermore, it would be available in several memory configurations: either 4GB or 8GB of RAM, and 128GB or 256GB of internal solid state storage (supplemented by a microSD removable storage slot). Its main and front-facing cameras were initially envisioned as eight and five megapixels, respectively, with the latter to be paired with a biometric-enabling iris scanner.

The entire device was targeted to be under nine millimeters in thickness, putting it in the same league as many smartphones and tablets. Furthermore, a second generation was also on the drawing board, with an even more ambitious configuration: It would be a six-inch phablet with full telephony capabilities — a true x86 smartphone.

At some point, however, the handheld morphed from an ultra-thin 6.4-inch objet d’art to a seven-inch tablet which more closely resembles a modern Dell product. This was likely done in deference to the reality that, since it could not really be considered pocketable as a 6.4-inch mini-tab, it might as well be expanded a bit to improve its thermal properties.

Where is it now?

The first deliverables were not even targeted to reach the market until the spring of 2017, according to several documents reviewed by VentureBeat, but the current state of the project is unknown. It may have been shelved alongside Intel’s mobile ambitions when the chipmaker cancelled its Atom line of ultra-low-voltage chipsets, but since Stack envisioned utilizing laptop-class Kaby Lake silicon from the outset, it may have survived the strategy shift.

It’s also possible that Dell went into a holding pattern when HP announced its Elite X3, a Continuum-enabled Windows 10 Mobile phone, earlier this year. Although that handset employs more traditional mobile CPU architecture in the form of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon line, its use-case scenarios are strikingly similar.

One thing is quite clear: Based on the Twitter reaction to an early render of the handheld (also seen as the top image of this piece, next to a “dumb” tablet), along with its x86 pedigree, there is an incredible amount of interest in a project like this. And if Dell is not currently pursuing it, there’s a good chance that one of its rivals — or Microsoft itself, even — is. On paper, Dell has a winner here, but in the end execution of the shipped product(s) is what matters.

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Should you buy a PS4 Pro? GamesBeat Decides: Episode alpha 2

Posted: 08 Nov 2016 10:30 AM PST

Andrew House loves his Pro.

Let’s give this another try.

GamesBeat Decides is back for another test episode. The audio should be significantly better this week — even if it’s still not where we want it. But everything else is starting to come together.

On GamesBeat Decides, the GamesBeat staff takes the biggest questions facing the gaming industry and answers them. We do the thinking so you don’t have to, and we’re never wrong … of course, if you want to argue that point, you can email us at or talk to us on Twitter or Facebook.

On this week’s episode, GamesBeat managing editor Jason Wilson, lead writer Dean Takahashi, community boss and writer Mike Minotti, and staff writer Jeffrey Grubb come together to talk about the following:

  • Should you buy a PlayStation 4 Pro?
  • The best holiday 2016 shooter?
  • Who are the best Overwatch couples?

Since this is still a test episode, we don’t have an RSS feed yet. Primarily, we are looking for feedback from you. If you have suggestions, send ’em to And thanks for watching the YouTube version (at the top) or listening to the audio version right here:

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Paladins hits 4 million players since September open beta started

Posted: 08 Nov 2016 10:05 AM PST


The free-to-play alternative to Blizzard’s hit Overwatch is doing alright for itself.

Hi-Rez Studios announced that its team-based shooter Paladins has reached 4 million players. It’s available in an open beta on PC via Steam. That’s a good start for Paladins, which became playable on September 16. The publisher has said that the shooter will also come to consoles, although it has not given a date.

By comparison, Overwatch has over 20 million players since it launched in May for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. While those games look similar (some would say dubiously so), it’s not a totally fair comparison since Paladins is free while Blizzard’s Overwatch costs at least $40.

"The worldwide response to Paladins has been incredible," said Todd Harris, chief operating officer of Hi-Rez Studios, said in a press release sent to GamesBeat. "It has been thrilling to see the game grow week-over-week since the Steam Open Beta began in mid-September, as well as to hear all of the player feedback, which we are constantly using to improve the game."

Hi-Rez also developed the hit free-to-play multiplayer online battle arena Smite.

Prisma brings its artistic filters to Facebook Live

Posted: 08 Nov 2016 09:30 AM PST


Artificial intelligence-powered filters from Prisma come to Facebook Live video today, Prisma Labs announced. The videos can be made using the Prisma iOS app and an iPhone 6s or iPhone 7.

The launch comes hours after Facebook announced that it's testing its new AI-powered filters for Facebook Live video in a few countries. The technology will be more widely deployed in the near future.

Using artificial neural networks, Prisma creates photos and videos that mimic a particular artist or style, from Picasso to anime to punk.

Since its launch in June, the app has been downloaded more than 70 million times and has gone from just a photo editor to video, Facebook Live video, and in the future GIFs and augmented reality.

Prisma has run into stiff competition after becoming one of the most popular media apps in iOS and Android stores earlier this year.

A day afree Facebook demonstrated its filters at WSJD, Google shared its new editor that applies multiple neural network filters to a video. That editor will be made available for free, open source usage.

And since its launch in late July, the Artisto photo and video editor from Russian tech giant Group has ascended alongside Prisma to become one of the most popular photo and video editing apps of the year.

Today’s new feature was added using the Facebook Live API, a feed that was released in April to enable third-party developers to incorporate this video technology directly into their own apps.

Prisma filters for Facebook Live videos will initially be available in eight styles, including The Scream, Tokyo, Gothic, and Illegal Beauty.

Prisma app with Facebook Live video

Above: Prisma app with Facebook Live video

“We are working in a direction that we always considered important. We want to change the way people communicate with each other using the most advanced and new technology. We believe that even a small company can achieve great results,” said CEO Alexey Moiseenkov in a statement provided to VentureBeat.

Before Facebook started rolling out its AI-powered filters, Moiseenkov believed his company was “months ahead” of Facebook and Google. Both Prisma and Facebook acknowledge there can be challenges when adding AI to Facebook Live.

Orisma has been working to improve video quality since the launch of its video editor two months ago.

Dropped frames, latency, and stuttering can be an issue when trying to combine neural networks and Facebook Live, Facebook chief product officer Chris Cox told The Wall Street Journal.

This summer, Prisma, Icon8, and other photo editors that use neural networks began to add their services to chat apps like Telegram and Facebook Messenger.

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Xbox Insider Program opens the development of future updates to all

Posted: 08 Nov 2016 09:10 AM PST

Xbox One's dashboard update now includes Cortana voice commands.

Now everyone can try out future Xbox One updates before they launch.

Microsoft announced today some big changes to its Xbox Preview Program, which allowed Xbox One owners to test new features for the Xbox One console. The console-maker is rebranding it at the Xbox Insider Program. While the Preview Program was only available to invited players, the new one will be open to all.

This will significantly increase the amount of feedback Microsoft will receive on major system updates for the Xbox One, especially compared to its competitor, Sony’s PlayStation 4 (which still uses a beta program that players have to sign up for and then hope to get invited to join). These updates impact the way the system’s interface looks and feels while adding major new features. The next Xbox One update is focusing on social features, including new tools to find people to play games with and way to create groups based on similar interests. Allowing everyone to provide feedback can ensure that these changes will please more players when they officially come out.

“More fans will have the ability to provide feedback directly from their Xbox One consoles,” Microsoft noted on its Xbox Wire site. “The Xbox Insider Hub will provide great opportunities to try out games, apps, and other console experiences.”

The Xbox Insider Program also allows for multiple profiles on the same console to join and provide separate feedback on new features. If you’re already in the Xbox Preview Program, you’ll automatically update to the new service.

Venture capitalists contemplate how much exuberance is good for VR investing

Posted: 08 Nov 2016 09:00 AM PST

A Latin American journalist tries out Until Dawn: Rush of Blood in virtual reality on the PlayStation VR at PSX.

Is virtual reality a bubble? That’s a common question in a number of panels I’ve covered in the past year. The answer isn’t quite knowable until a major event comes along that either expands or pops the bubble. Digi-Capital reported that venture capitalists invested $500 million in augmented reality and VR during the third quarter, with 65 percent of that money coming from mainstream traditional VCs. At that rate, VR is consuming a measurable part of VC investments in the world. Digi-Capital estimates AR and VR could be a $120 billion business by 2020.

To get some insight into those numbers, I moderated a panel on investing in virtual reality and augmented reality at Greenlight Insights’ recent Virtual Reality Strategy conference in San Francisco.

The panel included Toby Zhang, cofounder of the Youku Global Media Fund, a joint early stage venture fund between CRCM and Youku. It focuses on media, AR/VR, and A.I. Our second speaker was Marco DeMiroz, partner at the $50 million Venture Reality Fund, which focuses on VR, augmented reality, and mixed reality. And it also included Michael Yang, managing director at Comcast Ventures in the Bay Area.

Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation.

VR investors Marco Demiroz (left), Toby Zhang, and Michael Yang.

Above: VR investors Marco DeMiroz (left), Toby Zhang, and Michael Yang.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

Toby Zhang: I'm a partner with Youku Global Media Fund and CRCM in San Francisco. Most recently we launched a frontier technology fund investing actively in VR and AI. It's a joint venture with Youku. We're looking very actively in the space, in the U.S. and in China as well. I hope I can share some insights from what we've seen overseas. It's a very new and interesting area for us.

Marco DeMiroz: My partner and I quit our jobs and thought we had a once in a lifetime opportunity to invest in VR, AR, and MR. It's a $50 million fund. We're very actively investing in the space. Currently we have 14 companies in the portfolio, and we'll probably end the year with close to 20.

Michael Yang: I'm a managing director with Comcast Ventures, based here in the Bay Area. I lead our VR, AR, and MR investing efforts among other categories we invest in as a multi-sector, multi-stage fund. We're the direct investment vehicle for Comcast corporation. We've been around for 17 years. We've invested in seven VR and AR companies, including some with Marco's fund.

GamesBeat: Marco, how many panels like this have you been on?

DeMiroz: It's kind of become the Michael and Marco show, yeah. We're not a YouTube hit yet or anything like that, but in the last month or so we've done three together. Part of the challenge, and maybe the opportunity as well, is there's still a very small number of traditional venture funds and venture investors in the sector. Obviously Youku is a corporate investor with great distribution capability and strategic benefits.

For us to continue to work with the traditional venture community and expand that circle — as you said, like 60 percent of recent investment came from traditional funds. Part of the reason this is happening, companies that saw investment early on are now raising their traditional A and B rounds. Our recommendation to them is to go and get a lead from a traditional venture fund, so you can have price credibility. You have a partner who'll be patient and persistent and stay with you for a long time.

We're very interested in expanding the circle, but for a while it'll be the Marco, Michael, and Toby show. Then hopefully we'll see other groups joining us.

GamesBeat: Michael, where are you stepping in compared to someone who's very early stage?

Yang: Of the seven investments we've done, we've led three of them. Of those three, two were series A and one was a C. The other four we've participated in have been either series A or a seed round. Frankly, there is no mid-stage or late-stage opportunity as yet, given the nascency of the business. If you want to participate, you either jump in with both feet or continue to sit on the sidelines.

As much as we all love Tim [Merel] over at Digi-Capital, I have a hard time reconciling his data. I don't see the same trends he does as far as mainstream Sandhill Road venture capitalists coming in.

The Oculus Touch controls let you navigate independently with each hand in VR.

Above: The Oculus Touch controls let you navigate independently with each hand in VR.

Image Credit: Oculus

GamesBeat: If you take [big transactions] out for [the data in the past year] and see what everything else looks like, maybe you get a better picture?

DeMiroz: Yeah, I think he has a little exuberance in his numbers. But fundamentally, the current run rate is about five percent of U.S. venture capital investments. The U.S. normally does about $50 billion a year, more or less, in a traditional market. If we're talking about a $2 billion to 2.5 billion a year run rate — like you said, about a year and a half ago, from a venture fund perspective, it was a very small percentage. Now we're up to five percent. [Correction: The $2 billion a year refers to global VR investment numbers, while the $50 billion U.S. figure is a subset of the global investment number, so the percentage stated is not accurate].

From our perspective, it's much better for the sector to have these venture funds beyond Comcast. Others need to follow their lead and come into the market, not only to establish price credibility, but also to provide persistent and patient capital for these companies to grow.

Zhang: Looking back over the past year and a half to where we are today, things have definitely shifted. VR was very hyped for a while. Money has flown in both from the west coast of the U.S. and the east coast in China. Valuations are a little higher than in traditional venture areas. But things have calmed down a bit this year. We've seen prices and valuations start to normalize. Looking forward, we're going to keep observing this trend.

From an investor's perspective, we're looking for more than just a great business model or great technology. A company needs to have both. It needs to have a strategy to survive. The VR market is a very exciting new trend, but if it doesn't take off as fast as everyone hopes, does a company have a way to continue to grow and get to a stable business? That's what we're looking for now.

GamesBeat: Now that all the hardware has launched, you guys get to look at some of the results that are coming in for some of your portfolio companies. Are you encouraged by what you see? Not just in terms of units in the market, but are companies starting to generate revenue?

Yang: I'm encouraged that all the major technology players have headsets either announced or on the market. That's great. A lot of people ask why we're interested in VR. Well, when was the last time you had so many global technology titans all piling in to one sector? They're investing far more than the venture capital universe will ever contribute to this. It's a great battle in front of us.

We have to be careful that we don't invest in things that these guys stomp on. They all have very immature platforms. They all have major deficiencies and gaps. Those are all very well-known. They're working on them. We often hear startups working on middleware, middle-of-the-stack opportunities. To me that gets squishy. Ultimately your go-to-market is either OEMing it or licensing it to the platforms. Sure, there are a dozen or so of them globally, but it's not a great place to be. You're just setting yourself up to be acquired.

We're not choosing that. You either go all the way at the bottom of the stack or you go all the way to the top. For us, as much as people think it just makes sense for us to invest in content and apps and all that — we're a media company, after all — we have at least in this year and a half seen a lot more investor support globally for things like apps and content. That might be a temporal thing, meaning there was a window of opportunity when you could invest against that thesis, but that doesn't mean it's a consistent, long-term investment thesis.

Back to Toby's comment earlier, the bar has risen. What we would have invested against last year we won't this year, and we definitely won't next year. Now that we all have portfolio, we know what the best can do in our portfolio. Those are the thresholds we're looking for.

DeMiroz: The trends are encouraging in the sense that — we've been monitoring Steam dynamics in the first four months. Cumulative revenues were about $20 million and ramping up. Sometimes you have to look at the data, what the world tells you, but early adopter behavior may not be sustained behavior. A lot of the time the price dynamics we can extract from app stores right now won't indicate what will happen three years from now.

There are bold platforms out there. Microsoft's announcement for next year, with inside out positional tracking and so forth, that's the direction we're heading. We need our portfolio companies to have a multiplatform or platform-agnostic strategy and start executing, getting some data. All of our guidance to them has said, "Don't have a long product development cycle. Get out there, get on multiple platforms, iterate like crazy, and continue to improve." The early behavior model is not going to indicate what might happen later on.

Zhang: Multiplatform, multiple form factors, that's very important. One thing we're also wanting to add is going into the mobile space. With what's going on from Project Tango and Microsoft, there are definitely big players in this space. We need to grow and bring AR and VR into the mobile space. We're paying close attention to this in startups. We want to make sure that, as a young startup, you're not just positioned for the tethered experience, but also have a complementary or compatible mobile strategy. As the mobile market grows for AR and VR, startups need to be ready to make that transition and be present.

Pixvana lets you capture scenes in VR.

Above: Pixvana lets you capture scenes in VR.

Image Credit: Pixvana

DeMiroz: Mobile VR is going to be huge. I'm generally an optimist, of course. But it has to be very convenient. I can understand people having an HMD in their home and another HMD in their office. Aside from that, you need a form factor that you can carry with you. I had a phone case with built-in lenses, where you could flip a button and consume VR content. Hopefully that's where we're heading with mobile VR.

What's happened in the U.S., in the summer of 2011 we reached 100 million smartphone users. At that point the economic model shifted from premium to freemium. You had a critical mass of users to sustain a freemium economy. By the end of 2011 the freemium money exceeded premium money. That's where we need to go.

We see a lot of innovation coming from Chinese hardware manufacturers when it comes to very small form factors. If you go to Alibaba and do a search for "HMD," you'll see prices from $4 to $14. These are quality lenses. Some of them are super portable. But that's what we need for mobile VR to take off.

Question: What's holding back financial investors?

Yang: Most firms have one proponent of VR as an investor. One guy who's a fan. Then there's a lot of other partners who are highly skeptical. Unless you're in a two-man shop where you only have to convince one other person, you have to go around and do a lot of politicking to convince your colleagues. You have to pick your battles as far as which things you want to try and push over the goal line. That's why more traditional funds — really you only see one investment, maybe two in the portfolio. Unless you're a dedicated fund or a really big believer or have a particular mandate, you're not going to see more at this juncture.

Continue Reading ...

Alexis Fogel, Hillary’s emails, and telling the truth at all times – VB Engage

Posted: 08 Nov 2016 08:56 AM PST


This week, Travis and Stewart discuss Hillary Clinton’s biggest email mistakes. No, not those emails, but the thousands she sends to her supporters every day. Being fair-minded, we also talk about Donald Trump’s emails. Thanks to new research on both candidates’ email practices, we highlight three “yuge” email marketing lessons for your business.

We also interview Alexis Fogel of Dashlane, who explains how the security app managed to grow so quickly, and why being transparent helps with trust, engagement, and community management — something politicians could learn a thing or two about, no doubt.


  • Introducing VB engage 27 [00:04]
  • It’s been half a year for VB Engage! [00:31]
  • Travis recaps last week’s episode with Matt Asay: Episode 26 [01:26]
  • We interview this week’s guest — Alexis Fogel (CEO at Dashlane) [1:52]
  • Understanding how Dashlane manages to grow [2:38]
  • The Cubs won the World Series, and we discover that goat-based curses have a shelf life of 71 years [3:02]
  • We discuss Hillary Clinton’s and Donald Trump’s email marketing messages [4:27]
  • Why both campaigns are awful and how business should use email marketing [4:43]
  • According to Persado, both parties are doing the same things wrong [4:51]
  • How to create content aimed at the people you care about [5:03]
  • Analysis of 6,000 subject lines from Clinton’s and Trump’s email marketing [5:10]
  • Clinton sends 900 percent more email than Trump [5:19]
  • Most-used phrase by Clinton, "thank you." Trump's "approval rating" [5:25]
  • Clinton's biggest open rates are emails around merchandise [5:32]
  • Clinton only sends 4 percent of those type of emails [6:05]
  • Trump keeps pushing his book, The Art of the Deal [6:45]
  • Future politicians should pay attention to emotional triggers via email [7:23]
  • Lesson #1. Understand whether your audience wants to be sold to [7:47]
  • Lesson #2. Use personalization [8:12]
  • Lesson #3. Work out the emotional tone of your emails [9:20]
  • Anticipation, Joy, Fear, Trust, and Pride are the five top emotions in emails [9:40]
  • Pride and Trust are by far the most effective emotions for boosting open rates in emails [10:01]
  • “Stop Trump” and “Crooked Hillary” are the top two negative phrases in recent political emails [10:40]
  • Stewart and Travis are in Portugal this week for Web Summit [11:30]
  • We are interviewing people live at Web Summit, including Alan Schaaf, CEO at Imgur [12:25]
  • We'll be interviewing Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Katia Beauchamp, Robert Scoble, Alexis Ohanian, Paddy Cosgrave, and many others – you’ll hear those episodes over the next few weeks [15:05]
  • Intro to Alexis Fogel, CEO at Dashlane [15:35]
  • Stewart fanboys out a bit on Dashlane's password solution [16:20]
  • How do we get our products and services out to as many people as possible? [16:35]
  • It's all about customer experience [17:15]
  • The onboarding experience is crucial [17:56]
  • Do lots of user testing! [18:31]
  • Use data to guide your optimization [18:52]
  • Test all of the experiences [19:04]
  • Making the onboarding process longer actually increased engagement [20:15]
  • How do you ensure security for your users? [21:10]
  • Make yourself an unattractive target for hacking [23:24]
  • Engagement with your community is a key differentiator [24:01]
  • How does Dashlane educate and engage its community? [24:44]
  • Build great relationships based on trust [26:31]
  • Travis was global digital strategist for Symantec for Norton when security marketing was fear-based [28:57]
  • Adding value and showcasing value instead of fear [29:47]
  • Stewart makes a joke about passwords (it is funny, honestly) [31:44]

Thanks for tuning in this week, and be excited for next week when we interview the incredible Veronica Belmont.

And if you missed last week’s episode with Matt Asay of Adobe, which was an incredible episode full of massive knowledge bombs, listen to it right here.


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‘I voted for Hillary Clinton’ says Cisco’s John Chambers, a longtime Republican

Posted: 08 Nov 2016 08:49 AM PST

John Chambers, Cisco executive chairman and former CEO says he voted for Hillary Clinton in the U.S. Presidential election, while speaking at Web Summit in Lisbon, Portugal on November 8, 2016.

“This will be the first time in my lifetime I’m voting for a Democrat,” said John Chambers, executive chairman and former CEO of Cisco Systems, speaking today at Web Summit 2016 in Lisbon, Portugal. “I voted for Hillary Clinton. I’ve already voted,” he said to wild applause from thousands of attendees inside the MEO Arena.

Chambers declared his preference for U.S. president in response to the question, “Which candidate in the U.S. election is more likely to be more pro-digitization and supportive of that?,” posed by Izabella Kaminska of the Financial Times.

Chambers hung his head and paused to gather his thoughts before answering. “I’m a moderate Republican, which in the U.S. is an endangered species. I support both Democrats and Republicans on many issues. I’m more interested in where they stand on technology,” he explained before revealing his support for Clinton.

“I’m doing it because I think that [Clinton], better than anyone else that’s running for president, [has a digital strategy]. The U.S. is the only country in the world that does not have a digitization plan,” Chambers said, adding that nations like Japan, India, and Germany do.

“While the Internet race was led by the U.S. under President Clinton, her husband,” Chambers said, “I think Hillary has the best chance of getting America back on track. We haven’t had a pay raise in 15 years that’s stuck. And that’s why you see a lot of America angry.”

And in an apparent reference to Republican candidate Donald Trump, Chambers said, “We need a leader who is going to reunite us. I think our election has been brutal and all of us understand the negatives that go with that. I hope that the new leader, whoever they are, and I hope that it will be Hillary, will bring our country back to participation by all groups and will talk about how technology will enable not just 10 percent of our population, but all of our population.”

Chambers’ remarks about Clinton can be found at about 1:45:00 in the video below:

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DomiNations launches big update so players can enter the atomic age

Posted: 08 Nov 2016 08:01 AM PST

DomiNations now has modern weaponry with the Atomic Age update.

The makers of DomiNations are launching a big update that enables players to enter the “atomic age” in the Civilization-like mobile strategy game.

The new content is aimed at making the mobile game seem fresh for its existing players. DomiNations has been downloaded more than 28 million times since Big Huge Games launched it in the spring of 2015. It launched a major World War update in December 2015, and then Tokyo-based Nexon acquired Big Huge Games earlier this year.

Big Huge Games and Nexon M say the update is the biggest content renewal yet for DomiNations, which enables players to lead one of eight unique nations from the Stone Age to the Space Age. To date, DomiNations has grossed more than $62 million, according to measurement firm Sensor Tower.

Following the World War era content from earlier updates, the Atomic Age includes a series of new units and buildings that represent the decade following the end of World War II. To represent the era's technological progress, Atomic Age introduces new Wonders of the World and two new game changing units: the Helicopter and the Armored Personnel Carrier (APC).

The Pentagon is one of the wonders in DomiNations Atomic Age update.

Above: The Pentagon is one of the wonders in DomiNations Atomic Age update.

Image Credit: Big Huge Games

The Atomic Age allows players to build an additional Wonder of the World from a new list, including landmarks like the United Nations, The Pentagon, The Atomium, and Sydney Opera House. Each provides powerful unique bonuses. For instance, the United Nations spawns a peacekeeping force of all the unique units from all nations and provides bonus National Trade Goods each day.

The Atomic Age also introduces powerful new attack options with the Helicopter and APC. The Helicopter is a flying siege unit that fires from a distance that is outside of the range of most defensive buildings, but is weak to fire from defending troops. The APC is a sturdy ground vehicle that deploys additional heavy infantry every few seconds and lays down covering fire with its machine gun. Both are very powerful when carefully protected and used strategically.

DomiNations is available as a free-to-play game on the iTunes App Store for iPhone and iPad and on Google Play for Android devices.

Tanks roll through a town in DomiNations Atomic Age update.

Above: Tanks roll through a town in DomiNations Atomic Age update.

Image Credit: Big Huge Games
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Facebook now lets developers advertise bots in the News Feed

Posted: 08 Nov 2016 08:00 AM PST

New list templates for Facebook Messenger

Facebook Messenger will begin to let bot creators buy News Feed ads to target specific groups of people, the company announced today.

Beta versions of subscription messages and News Feed ads for Messenger have been available since August and September respectively. A public release and slow rollout of both features begins this week.

The combination of sponsored messages and News Feed ads will increase the value companies receive from their bots, wrote Messenger VP David Marcus in a blog post today.

Subscription messages can vary in appearance, from product placement by a brand to an upsell or additional sale offer by a vendor to a daily news digest from a publisher. Ads will take a person away from the Facebook app and into the Messenger app to speak to a bot.

When a user taps or clicks a  Facebook Messenger News Feed ad, it takes them out of the Facebook app and into the Messenger app to speak with a bot

Above: When a user taps or clicks a Facebook Messenger News Feed ad, it takes them out of the Facebook app and into the Messenger app to speak with a bot

Image Credit: Facebook

Also coming to Messenger this week: list templates. These are bots that operate the same way as other Messenger bots but are compiled in a list.

Each time you click “Get Started” on the welcome screen of a Messenger bot, you give the bot creator permission to send you sponsored messages, opening the door to product placement, native advertising, and other forms of solicitation. In other words, if you’ve exchanged messages with a Messenger bot, then the bot has permission to send you sponsored messages.

But sponsored messages are not going to become the modern-day equivalent of pop-up ads, Marcus said.

"Of course, people using Messenger shouldn’t worry about getting spammed, because the starting principles still remain: Businesses can’t send a sponsored message to threads that weren’t previously opened by their customers or prospects, and users have full control to block messages or people/businesses they no longer want to hear from," Marcus wrote in the blog post.

During the test period of sponsored messages that began in August, businesses were limited to sending one message every 24 hours or within 24 hours of each interaction. Although there will be no official cap on the number of messages in the public version of sponsored messages, Facebook will work with companies to make sure they use sponsored messages responsibly, a Facebook spokesperson told VentureBeat in an email.

Version 1.3 of the Messenger Platform also launched today, bringing with it:

  • Ability to add reference parameters (like a UTM code) to links so bot developers understand where their bot receives traffic from on the web.
  • Deep linking to allow links to a specific bot service

Messenger users may also find it easier to locate bots when a search query is performed.

Facebook has added several new features to its Messenger platform since its launch in April.

Menus, buttons, cards, and carousels became available in June. A payments beta to allow the completion of transactions without leaving the app launched in September. While virtually every chat app platform has come to adopt buttons, cards, and similar features, Messenger remains one of the only apps that allows payments within the app itself.

Customer service, promotion, and subscription experiments underway at Messenger include those by Zendesk, Salesforce, The Wall Street Journal, and platforms like Pullstring and, Marcus wrote.

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Echodyne’s radar helps drones avoid smashing into each other

Posted: 08 Nov 2016 08:00 AM PST

Echodyne has a radar that helps drones detect and avoid each other.

The skies of the future are going to be crowded with drones, and a startup called Echodyne is anticipating that day with a new radar that helps drones detect and avoid each other.

Bellevue, Wash.-based Echodyne said it has successfully tested its “detect and avoid” (DAA) radar on a small unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). The radar was mounted on a small commercial drone that flew multiple missions below 400 feet over a couple of days. The drone was of a size, payload, and range suited to applications such as package delivery, infrastructure inspection, and agricultural monitoring.

Echodyne's “detect and avoid” technology enables a drone to see moving and stationary obstacles using a kind of radar vision as it flies through the airspace beyond line of sight of its operator. The radar tests were conducted with an undisclosed partner, using Echodyne's developer kit radar with its patented Metamaterial Electronically Scanning Array (MESA).

Echodyne detects small drones.

Above: Echodyne detects small drones.

Image Credit: Echodyne

Echodyne's radar is based on metamaterials technology that enables the radar to deliver high-performance electronic scanning in a smaller, lighter, and less-expensive form factor than has previously been thought possible.

"It's great to see our technology performing in real-world field tests exactly as designed," said Echodyne founder and CEO Eben Frankenberg, in a statement. “We've made tremendous progress with our technology in a very short time and are excited to release our MESA-DAA radar into the market in just a few months. Tests like this show that advanced radar can be deployed directly on small commercial UAVs to ensure safe beyond line of sight drone operations. Unlike other sensor technologies, such as cameras and LIDARs, radar provides accurate tracking of obstacles at long range across a broad field of view in all types of weather.”

The tests used Echodyne's developer kit radar, a precursor to its MESA-DAA radar, which will detect and track Cessna-sized objects up to 3 kilometers away and small drones up to 750 meters away. MESA-DAA will be available to commercial customers in early 2017.

"This test brings us one step closer to fulfilling Echodyne's mission to make the world a safer place by enabling cars, drones, and other vehicles to sense the world around them," said Tom Driscoll, founder and chief technology officer of Echodyne, in a statement. "Phased array radars have long been the pinnacle of radar technology, but they remain too costly for commercial use. MESA operates very similarly to a phased array, but at a tiny fraction of the cost, size, weight, and power, making it ideal for all kinds of high performance commercial applications, including radar vision for drones and cars."

The Federal Aviation Administration recently issued rules for small drone operation, saying the UAVs need to remain within visual line of sight of their pilot, who is responsible for avoiding collisions. There is widespread acceptance that for drones to fly beyond line of sight of their operator, they will need DAA sensors and systems that safely replace the pilot's "see and avoid" capability.

Echodyne is a privately held company backed by Bill Gates, Madrona Venture Group, Vulcan Capital, Lux Capital, and The Kresge Foundation, among others. The company has raised $15 million, and it has 33 employees.

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U.S. election results 2016: How to follow online

Posted: 08 Nov 2016 05:20 AM PST

hillary clinton donald trump presidential debates

If you’re still bingeing on election news, it’s now easier than ever to subject yourself to up-to-the-minute U.S. voting results on Election Day — Tuesday, November 8.

From YouTube to Twitter, here’s a list of ways to follow the election online … possibly while curled into a ball, mumbling about emails.

Editor’s Note: Google, Twitter, Facebook, and Bing can help you find a local polling place. Watch out for deceptive tweets and fake news!


BloombergMTVNBCPBSTelemundo, and the Young Turks will stream election news Tuesday night on YouTube, Google says.


Twitter will host BuzzFeed’s election results stream, after teaming up with Bloomberg for the debates. Watch it here starting at 6 p.m. Eastern (3 p.m. Pacific).


ABC NewsCNN, the New York TimesPBS, Vox, and Univision will host election streams on Facebook on Tuesday.

In addition, Facebook is organizing 15-minute Facebook Live video streams in every state on Election Day in partnership with 50 different media organizations.

News orgs

ABC NewsBloombergCBSNCNBC, CNN, C-SPAN, FiveThirtyEightFox News, the New York TimesPoliticoReuters.tvVice, Slate, and VoteCastr, and infinite other media organizations will stream and publish election results on their own sites and apps.

Google and Bing

Google and Bing will share real-time polling data inside search results as the polls close.

Streaming boxes and consoles

  • Apple TV: YouTube, Twitter, Bloomberg, CNN, CBSN, Reuters TV
  • Roku: YouTube, ABC News, Bloomberg, CNN, CBSN, Reuters TV
  • Chromecast: YouTube, or basically any website
  • Xbox: YouTube, Twitter, ABC News
  • PS4: YouTube, ABC News
  • Amazon Fire TV: YouTube, Twitter, CBSN, CNN, Bloomberg
  • Android TV: YouTube, CNN, Bloomberg

Virtual reality

You really want to watch the results in VR? Really? OK, here’s how.

Social VR company AltspaceVR and NBC are hosting a virtual “Democracy Plaza” starting at 10 p.m. Eastern (7 p.m. Pacific). The experience works for Vive, Oculus, and GearVR — and also Windows PCs, in 2D.


Did we miss something? Suggest a link here.

Updated November 8 at 10:34 a.m. PT to include Reuters TV.

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Reducing gaming infrastructure costs: Do you want to build a server empire?

Posted: 08 Nov 2016 04:25 AM PST


Presented by Akamai.

Have you ever visited a soybean farm in North Carolina? I haven't, despite the fact that it's one of the top five crops for the state. I have, though, visited one of the lesser-known profit-driving farms in NC, the server farm.

To be more accurate, I visited the front end showroom for a major server manufacturer and service provider. It was a fully functioning cold server room, with a raised floor, and giant cables crisscrossing the ceiling. It reminded me of the scene in the Matrix when Morpheus leads Neo into the giant weapons cache.

These kinds of rooms are the secret reality behind all of our online lives, but for anyone who has been in the games industry for more than a few years, it's old news. We know there are rooms like these powering our multiplayer servers (and auth, and chat, and storefronts). Many of the tech leaders at the biggest publishers are the lords of vast server fiefdoms, with at least one giant data center acting as a beachhead in the biggest player markets. The question most are facing now is: Do you expand the footprint (and add on all the headaches and costs that go with it) or do you move your infrastructure entirely to the cloud, and undergo the painful 12-24 months of transformation and uncertainty?

It's not such a simple question to answer. The fact is, a centralized server infrastructure provides you with a tremendous amount of control over every aspect of the game experience, from performance, to security. But, when it's time to expand your game, or launch into a new market, you feel the constraints acutely. It makes the cloud seem really appealing, until you start to study exactly what it might take to steer your profitable business onto an infrastructure you don't fully control, and find that not everything plays nice when you start to move legacy systems over.

We know your pain. We have a couple hundred thousand servers all over the world. (Let that sink in, without getting hives). It helps us with our business model, and it helps us deliver great experiences, but it's not in the cards for every company.

All is not lost. There are ways to expand your reach, without ballooning your server budget. There are ways to make sure players everywhere get a great experience, without you having to spin up a whole new team on every continent. One of the reasons you build out these server armies is that you're afraid; afraid of poor local network performance in far-flung regions, afraid that you can't guarantee a high level of performance on machines you don't manage. But one of the ways to overcome those fears is to have intelligent wayfinding for your packets. Some clever algorithms can go a long way to improving and stabilizing network performance globally, even if you don't have the biggest footprint.

erver-4-icon-256Dig deeper: Learn more about the challenges gaming companies are facing — check out the results of our recent game developer survey.

Sponsored posts are content produced by a company that is either paying for the post or has a business relationship with VentureBeat, and they're always clearly marked. Content produced by our editorial team is never influenced by advertisers or sponsors in any way. For more information, contact

Tesla boosts car production with acquisition of German automated manufacturing firm Grohmann Engineering

Posted: 08 Nov 2016 04:14 AM PST

The radar technology of a Tesla Model S containing autopilot features is pointed out during a Tesla event in Palo Alto, California.

Tesla has announced a rare acquisition today, as the Palo Alto-based motor company revealed that it has snapped up European engineering company Grohmann Engineering. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Based in Prüm, Germany, Grohmann Engineering develops and supplies a range of automated production systems, including assembly lines, laser and bonding systems, liquid dispensing systems, and more. With plans to produce 500,000 cars per year by 2018, Tesla is looking to ramp up its engineering and manufacturing capabilities, which is what led the company to Grohmann’s door — Tesla wants “high-volume factories” to build cars at scale, which ultimately makes them more affordable.

“At very high production volumes, the factory becomes more of a product than the product itself,” said Tesla in a statement. “After increasing our output target to 500,000 cars per year by 2018, we began searching for the best engineering talent in automated manufacturing systems.”

Moving forward, Grohmann Engineering will now be called Tesla Grohmann Automation, and CEO Klaus Grohmann will join Tesla alongside his engineering team. “It will serve as the initial base for Tesla Advanced Automation Germany headquarters, with other locations to follow,” Tesla added. “We expect to add over 1,000 advanced engineering and skilled technician jobs in Germany over the next two years.”

As a result of this acquisition, Germany will serve as a key hub for Tesla, as “several critical elements” of its automated manufacturing system will now be housed in Prüm, complementing Tesla’s engineering bases in Michigan and California.

Tesla hasn’t made many known acquisitions since its inception in 2003, but it did recently snap up sister company SolarCity in a $2.6 billion deal, and last year it bought Michigan-based auto parts maker Riviera Tool. The Grohmann acquisition is still subject to approval from regulators, but Tesla says it hopes to conclude the deal in early 2017.

Tesla may be looking to ramp up its vehicle production, but yesterday the company announced that it would cease offering unlimited free supercharging on all cars ordered after January 1, 2017.

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Google Cloud Platform launches in Tokyo, its 6th region globally

Posted: 08 Nov 2016 02:23 AM PST

Google Cloud Platform at GDC 2016 in San Francisco.

Google has added a new zone to its Cloud Platform infrastructure business with the opening of the Asia-Northeast1 region in Tokyo.

This takes the total number of Google Cloud Platform regions around the world to six, adding to the three existing ones in the U.S., one in Belgium, and one in Taiwan.

Local infrastructure means Google can offer businesses in the area lower latency and overall better performance in terms of data-transfer speeds. According to Google, during the beta phase customers across Japan saw up to 85 percent lower latency compared to when they were linked to the Taiwan region.

The Tokyo Cloud Region supports Google Compute Engine, Google Cloud Storage, Google Cloud Persistent Disk, Google App Engine Standard Environment, Google Container Engine, database and analytics services, and core networking and security services, including Cloud VPN and Google Cloud DNS.

Google has been striving to tackle the mighty Amazon Web Services (AWS) since it launched the Google Compute Engine infrastructure as a service way back in 2012, and the internet giant has been ramping up its cloud presence in recent times. Back in March, Google announced two new Cloud Platform zones — one for Oregon, which opened in July, and one for Tokyo.

The company has also previously announced that it planned to open many more throughout 2017, with at least eight more to come, including London (U.K.), Sydney (Australia), Frankfurt (Germany), Mumbai (India), Sao Paulo (Brazil), Singapore, Hamina (Finland), and Northern Virginia (U.S.).

Google has also been investing heavily in its global network infrastructure. A new Google-backed transpacific internet cable from Japan to Oregon opened for service on June 30, while Google and Facebook recently announced a partnership to connect Los Angeles and Hong Kong via a new undersea cable, which is expected to open for business in 2018.

Today’s launch comes a couple of months after Google announced a reorganization of its various cloud services under the umbrella Google Cloud brand, which now includes the Google Cloud Platform itself, Google Apps for Work, the enterprise versions of Android and Chrome OS, and application programming interfaces (APIs) for machine learning and enterprise mapping services.

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indeni Raises $10 Million to Give Enterprises Peace of Mind

Posted: 08 Nov 2016 02:05 AM PST


Sequoia Capital is joined by prominent investors to fuel indeni’s aggressive plan to transform the lives of engineers and the networks they support


indeni, provider of the world’s first crowd-sourced and machine learning network operations platform, has announced $10 million in funding from investors Sequoia Capital, iAngels, and CIRtech. The funds will support indeni’s aggressive plan to enable its enterprise customer base, increase investment in sales and marketing, and create category-defining technology for mission critical devices.

Today’s consumer expects information to be on demand, as a result the networks supporting these services must never go down. Infrastructure is also moving to the cloud which introduces complexity in an already intricate network environment. The migration of systems and real-time demands of data, compounded with pressure from the CIO to innovate ahead of the competition, is creating a strain unlike ever before on network engineers. To maintain a healthy network, organizations must adopt a new approach – one that leverages automation and intelligence to move from reactive to proactive IT operations. Companies that enable network managers will be able to avoid downtime and better utilize talent to achieve business goals.

“The infrastructure operations technology landscape has seen very little innovation in the last decade,” said Haim Sadger, General Partner at Sequoia Capital. “Meanwhile, the network has become more complex with introduction of IoT and smart devices. Companies that are enabling Enterprises to solve complex challenges, such as keeping a network up and running, leveraging machine learning and crowd-sourcing are the best investment opportunities right now, and indeni is a stand out technology in this category.”

Driven by a vision of a world without downtime, indeni believes IT operations should be easier, less stressful, and less error prone, allowing individuals to spend more time working on strategic projects that align to business goals. To achieve this vision, indeni has developed a platform that monitors devices from leading vendors such as Blue Coat, Check Point, Cisco, F5, and Palo Alto Networks. With indeni, organizations can anticipate network outages before they become major events and avoid steep costs associated with downtime. In the past year, indeni has experienced rapid growth securing customers in financial services, healthcare and retail – including two of the top four credit card providers. Building on this momentum, the funding will allow indeni to fuel aggressive growth plans and reach the broader market.

“We believe it is our responsibility to make the lives of administrators, engineers and their managers better. With the indeni platform powered by indeni insight, we are providing unprecedented visibility to network health making it easier for organizations to complete their projects on time,” said Yoni Leitersdorf, CEO of indeni. “indeni customers often tell us that we are critical in bringing sanity to their day to day. That is exactly what we want to do. This round of funding will help us help us to do more, for more people, and cement our position as the leader in this space.”

Join the indeni team:

Try indeni today

About indeni

indeni makes it easy to identify network issues before they become major events. With the indeni platform, powered by indeni insight, organizations can proactively maintain their network while investing in talent for the next phase of growth. Indeni is the only network operations solution that leverages intelligence from a community of experts, machine learning and automation, to provide proactive alerts with human readable recommendations to solve.

Katie Burton, 415-484-0472

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Cypress’ WICED platform makes it easy to develop wireless Internet of Things apps

Posted: 08 Nov 2016 02:00 AM PST

Cypress owns the Wiced technology for networking the Internet of Things.

Cypress Semiconductor has announced a new version of its WICED platform to make it easy for developers to create wireless Internet of Things applications, or those that make everyday objects smart and connected.

The WICED (Wireless Internet Connectivity for Embedded Devices) platform was originally created by Broadcom and acquired by Cypress this summer. The platform provides a single development environment for multiple wireless technologies, including Cypress’ Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and combo wireless solutions. The application programming interface (API) supports a range of cloud services and eliminates the need for developers to know all of the various wireless protocols. That saves on development time and costs, according to Cypress.

"Many IoT applications are trending toward combo solutions that enable Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and alternative connectivity protocols, and every IoT developer is looking for a simple migration path to connectivity upgrades," said Mike Hogan, vice president of the IoT Business Unit at Cypress, in a statement. “Our new WICED Studio 4 development platform provides a single tool for designs with multiple wireless protocols, streamlining the design process and allowing our customers to get their innovative connected products to market faster.”

Cypress' WICED Studio 4 connectivity suite is microcontroller (MCU)-agnostic and provides ready support for a variety of third-party MCUs to address the needs of complex IoT applications. The platform also enables cost-efficient solutions for simple IoT applications by integrating MCU functionality into the connectivity device.

Cypress is demonstrating the WICED Studio 4 SDK, along with its full portfolio of IoT solutions at the Electronic 2016 trade show in Germany.

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Facebook is testing video style transfer on Android and iOS using Caffe2go deep learning framework

Posted: 08 Nov 2016 02:00 AM PST

During a briefing with reporters, Facebook representatives passed around iPhones running the video style transfer software.

In conjunction with the Web Summit conference in Lisbon today, Facebook is unveiling artificial intelligence (AI) software that it’s using in order to let users apply and switch artistic styles for live video streams on Android and iOS. After demonstrating the technology at a conference last month, Facebook is now testing the video style transfer technology on mobile in a few countries, and it will be deployed more widely in the near future.

The Caffe2go technology Facebook developed in the past three months is an implementation of a hot type of AI called deep learning, which typically involves training neural networks on lots of data, like images, and then making inferences about new data. In this case, Facebook has developed pre-trained neural networks that can then make inferences about new data on the fly on mobile. Google did something similar with a part of Google Translate last year, but Google also recently demonstrated neural style transfer technology of its own, although it’s not yet been shown to run on mobile devices.

Being able to actually train neural nets on a mobile device without sending data to powerful remote computers will “take a lot longer” because so much data and compute power is required, Facebook chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer told reporters during a briefing last week at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, California.

The work from Facebook and Google in this area comes following the rise of the Prisma mobile app, which lets users add styles to photos and videos.

Facebook’s Caffe2go software is a full-blown deep learning framework that’s based on the open-source Caffe2 software, which itself derives from the popular Caffe open-source deep learning framework. But, as its name suggests, Caffe2go is designed to be mobile-first, said Hussein Mehanna, engineering director of Facebook’s Applied Machine Learning group. “It really runs very fast on mobile,” Mehanna said. But still it can run on a server chip and a graphics processing unit (GPU).

More specifically, Facebook has created an AI model that’s 100 times smaller than an existing one, Facebook research scientists Yangqing Jia and Peter Vajda wrote in a blog post.

Facebook intends to open-source parts of Caffe2go in the next few months, Jia and Vajda wrote.

Caffe2go is effectively a second platform for AI at Facebook. The first one was the existing Torch open-source deep learning framework to which Facebook has contributed extensively. But now, Facebook is positioning Caffe2go as very strategic to Facebook.

“Because of its size, speed, and flexibility, we’re rolling Caffe2go out across Facebook’s stack,” Jia and Vajda wrote.

Jia and Vajda also expound on how the team made the deep learning model small enough to fit onto a phone:

We optimized the number of convolution layers (the most time-consuming part of processing) and the width of each layer, and we adjusted the spatial resolution during processing. The number of convolutional layers and their width can be used as separate levers for adjusting processing time, by adjusting how many aspects of the image are getting processed, or adjusting the number of times a separate processing action has taken place. For spatial resolution, we can adjust the actual size of what is being processed in the middle layers. By using early pooling (downscaling the size of the image being processed) and late deconvolution (upscaling the image after processes), we can speed the processing time up because the system is not processing as much information. We also found with these techniques that we could aggressively cut down on the width and depth of the network while maintaining reasonable quality.

See the full blog post for more detail.

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Deus Ex and Tomb Raider drive 23% revenue growth for Square Enix

Posted: 08 Nov 2016 12:22 AM PST

Adam Jensen is the augmented hero in Deus Ex: Mankind Divided.

On the eve of the launch of its flagship game Final Fantasy XV, Square Enix reported earnings that showed good revenue growth but lower profit margins.

Tokyo-based Square Enix said its revenues for the six months ending September 30 were ¥106,347 million ($1.01 billion), up 23 percent from the same period a year earlier. But operating income was ¥11,115 million, or $106 million, down 11.7 percent. The release of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and Rise of the Tomb Raider for the PlayStation 4 helped drive sales for console games up 30 percent in the quarter.

The company is forecasting annual revenue of $2.3 billion by the end of its fiscal year in March 2017. In the six months ending September 30, Square Enix released titles such as Mobius Final Fantasy, Hoshi No Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy Brave Exvius, and Grimms Notes.

Square Enix said that the business environment is in the midst of major changes, where consumer needs for content on smartphones and tablets is growing while the console game markets in North America and Europe are becoming “competitive and oligopolistic.” That’s making predicting results harder. Final Fantasy XV debuts on November 29 on multiple platforms.

Lara Croft, hunting in a frozen forest, in Rise of the Tomb Raider.

Above: Lara Croft, hunting in a frozen forest, in Rise of the Tomb Raider.

Image Credit: Microsoft
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5 bots to try this week: Icon8, Azkarbot, Flow XO, Octane AI, and RooBot

Posted: 07 Nov 2016 07:12 PM PST

A mural of Prince aka The Purple One modified with the Ice filter using the Icon8 Telegram bot.

This week, our 5 bots to try list features three services that our Bots Channel readers may be familiar with. Two of them, Icon8bot and Azkarbot, were featured two weeks ago. And Octane AI, which makes its debut, became embroiled in a controversy shortly after launching, as reported by VentureBeat.

But it’s not enough to just read about them. Please give them a try and let us know what you think. Here are the five most popular bots this past week, as they appear on Botlist.
RooBot5. RooBot

Blue Kangaroo lets you shop at any store, find deals on any product, and set alerts at any price.

Available on Messenger

Octane AI bot4. Octane AI

Anyone can use Octane AI to set up a bot in minutes. You don’t have to create your bot from the ground up, and you don’t have to learn conversational interfaces; Octane AI has done all of that for you. All you have to do is choose what you want your bot to do and then customize it to match your brand.

Octane AI was founded in May 2016 by Matt Schlicht, creator of Chatbots Magazine; Ben Parr, author of Captivology and marketing guru; and Leif K-Brooks, the creator of Omegle, a chat product that has powered over 200 billion conversations.

Available on Messenger

Azkarbot3. Azkarbot

This bot reminds Muslims when it's time for morning and evening prayers and suggests readings.

Available on Messenger


Flow XO bot2. Flow XO

Build bots for Messenger, Slack, SMS & Telegram

  • Bot + human messaging in one great platform
  • Easy to use, no code visual editor
  • Build once for many messengers
  • Business ready, first class support

Create bots for these use cases and many more:

  • Messaging & chat (connect your sales & support agents seamlessly via email or helpdesk)
  • Push notifications (send promotions, offers, alerts and updates direct to your users)
  • Forms & surveys (perfect for application forms, bookings, competitions & more)
  • Information & services (easily access data in 100+ integrated applications and services, including Google Apps)

Available on Web



1. Icon8bot

Icon8 is an artificial intelligence who turns your selfies into pieces of art. Snap a selfie, apply a style, and share your new look with friends. Icon8 is inspired by the world’s greatest artists and designers so that you can enjoy their works.

Available on Messenger, Telegram

Popularity of the top 5 bots on Botlist is based on web traffic to individual bots’ pages appearing on the site, which currently lists more than 11,000 bots. The bot directory says it receives more than 200 submissions each week and tests their purpose, functionality, content, and overall quality before accepting them. This week’s rankings were for the period October 31-November 6, 2016.

Note from a cybersecurity VC to the next president

Posted: 07 Nov 2016 06:05 PM PST

Trump Clinton

Never before has US cybersecurity taken such a front row seat as in this election year. The topic came up during the presidential debates and has gotten a lot of attention over the last several weeks. Neither candidate has expressed a well-defined strategy for handling the problem, despite how big the topic has been in the campaigns.

As a result of the DNC hack and the Office of Personnel Management breach, the public is questioning the US government’s ability to keep private data secure. Seeing sensitive data like that exposed is never a good thing; the silver lining is that it will likely raise awareness about how vulnerable our systems are and hopefully encourage people to invest resources into making sure it doesn't happen again.

It is becoming clear that security breaches are increasingly conducted by nation-states. The fact that Russia was likely involved in the data breach in the lead up to the election has created an air of urgency. We can't have foreign governments affecting elections to influence the balance of power. There's already an increasing lack of trust in government as illustrated by the emerging populist movements on the left and right. Citizens need to trust the democratic process, and they need to trust the government to keep them safe. If people think they can't trust the political process itself, the push for change for the sake of change will only grow. This is a real cybersecurity problem, and it's a perception problem. Both need to be fixed.

I've been thinking a lot about this as I've invested in a number of startups that help companies keep their data and systems safe from attackers and cyber threats. I know what a big problem this is for companies of all shapes and sizes. The government can learn a lot of lessons from — and model its approaches on — Silicon Valley companeis. Here's my view on what the next administration should do to address the cybersecurity problem and improve public trust:

1. Direct more money and resources to cyber defense. The Department of Defense budget is close to $600 billion a year, while the cyber portion for next year is budgeted at $6.7 billion, or just 1.12 percent of the total. The risks from cyber are not only growing exponentially, but they are increasingly shifting online. So too should our defense strategy, particularly when we are seeing cyber probing of state election systems in attacks that — even if they don't directly impact elections — could affect voter confidence.

Officials are also seeing critical infrastructure being targeted in attacks, including financial institutions, a dam, and water systems, among others in the US. Stuxnet was not a one-off event. Earlier this year a German power plant got hacked, and cyber criminals attempted to disrupt a parliamentary election in Montenegro this month. As the nature of war and threats has changed, we haven't shifted the allocation of resources to deal with the growing cyber risk, but we need to. This requires a shift in how we think about risk, threats, and defense.

2. Borrow innovation and ideas from startups. The government needs an injection of cybersecurity urgency, technology and innovation, much like got. Silicon Valley startups tend to operate on accelerated life cycles, with agile and speedy devops, while tech adoption moves incredibly slowly in government. Startups like AirBnB, Lyft, and TaskRabbit are disrupting established industries, while Google, Apple, Slack, and others are creating mobile, cloud, and other technologies that are helping organizations around the world grow faster and offer more customer services than ever before. Officials recently created a U.S. Digital Services, Defense Digital Service, and appointed the U.S. government's first CISO. It's a good start, but we can't stop there. We need to act now.

3. Adopt a more open and collaborative approach to solving important problems like cybersecurity. Hillary Clinton has backed bug bounty programs like the plan the Department of Defense recently announced, and there are various information-sharing programs, but none seem to have been very impactful to date. As we learned with the 9/11 attacks, vital national security information is often siloed within different departments and agencies, a problem that continues to today. Sharing threat information across agencies and with outside, private companies and other groups can help everyone stay safer.

As the gap between the capabilities of defenders and the resources of attackers continues to increase, the government must play a critical role in improving the collective capabilities and readiness of the private sector as well as ensuring our government's assets are safe and secure. The time for doing so is now.

Ariel Tseitlin is a Partner at Scale Venture Partners focused on investments in the cloud and security industries. He currently sits on the board of directors at Agari, CloudHealth Technologies, and Threat Stack. Previously, he was Director of Cloud Solutions at Netflix, where he was responsible for creating and operating one of the most modern cloud infrastructures in the industry. Prior to Netflix, he was VP of Technology and Products at Sungevity and before that was the founder and CEO of CTOWorks. Earlier in his career, he held senior management positions at Siebel Systems and Oracle.

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Pokémon Go’s daily-bonus update is live

Posted: 07 Nov 2016 05:31 PM PST

Bonuses are live in Pokémon Go.

Your hard work to catch ’em all is about to start paying a little better.

An example of bonuses in Pokémon Go.

Above: An example of bonuses in Pokémon Go.

Pokémon Go is getting an update today that brings daily bonuses to the Google Maps-powered monster-capturing game. It is rolling out to players right now, according to developer Niantic. With these daily bonuses, you can get extra experience and in-game items for completing tasks like making your first catch of the day or visiting your first PokéStop. This feature will also encourage players to return each day, which should help the mega-lucrative game maintain its place near the top of the grossing chart.

“We are excited to let you know that the new daily bonus feature is rolling out right now,” reads a Niantic blog post. “The daily bonuses reward you with XP and Stardust for your first catch of the day, and XP and extra items for your first Photo Disc spin of the day at a PokéStop.”

You can maximize your in-game reward by logging in and doing these bonuses for seven straight days. Niantic wants you to get started now, and its kicking off an event to coincide with the update and the United States presidential election.

Today through November 11, more of the pocket monsters will populate the game world, and PokéStops will dole out more items.

“Yes — this means more Great Balls, and for Trainers that are level 20 and above — more Ultra Balls,” explained Niantic. “Take advantage of it while you can and explore your neighborhoods with Pokémon Go.”

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LG is rolling out Android 7.0 Nougat on the G5 in South Korea, coming to other countries later

Posted: 07 Nov 2016 05:21 PM PST

LG G5.

LG today announced that it’s starting to roll out Android 7.0 Nougat to its G5 smartphone that launched early this year — but initially only in its home market of South Korea. The update will eventually come to the G5 in other countries.

People with the G5 in “the Americas, Asia, and other markets” will get the new version of Android in the weeks to come, LG said in a statement.

LG got attention in September for shipping the premium V20 phablet with Android 7.0 Nougat. It was, in fact, the first phone to come out with that version of Android. Now it’s coming to the G5, which is a high-end model that was distinctive primarily because of its ability to support modular hardware attachments.

“Most G5 users will receive notifications on their phones when the update is available,” LG said.

That a device maker is pushing the latest version of Android to one of its top-tier mobile devices is important, as Android Nougat has such a large share of the market currently. Earlier today, Google said that just 0.3 percent of Android devices are running Nougat.

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How our dumb bot attracted 1 million users without even trying

Posted: 07 Nov 2016 04:10 PM PST

The Roll bot attracted 1 million users...without trying.

Three months ago, we released a modest chatbot that we thought could be fun to use in group conversations. The bot, which we called Roll, did one simple thing: It randomly selected a participant in the conversation as the answer to such pressing questions as “Who is the biggest flirt?” and “Who’s calling the Uber?” and “Who has a crush on me?” (The answer to all of the above is you, obviously.)

We did nothing to promote the bot. No ads. No paid promotions. No splashy launch. We just put it in Kik’s Bot Shop and waited. (Full disclaimer: We work for Kik, and Roll has been our side project.) After 10 days, we had 200,000 users. Thirty days later, we had half a million. Today, we have more than 1 million users. Roll’s one-week retention is 90 percent. At two months, it’s 25 percent. We’re seeing an average of 25 messages per user per day.

Roll started as an experiment. We wanted to build something that millions of people could use, but without the overhead of developing a full application for iOS and Android, which would have required more time, more money, and more reviews. We thought that a bot platform might provide a way to build something cool with significantly less work, and far less friction for people to adopt. Not only did that turn out to be true, but to our surprise, our bot would also spread like crazy.

Bots have come in for their fair share of criticism since Facebook Messenger released its bot developer kit and Kik opened its Bot Shop in April. People are still confused about whether bots should be your chatty friends, reinventions of apps for a messaging context, or something else entirely. We might not be able to answer all your questions about bots, but we can tell you this: Roll has found more than a million users almost entirely on the strength of being shared peer to peer. We don’t think this could have happened as easily with an app.


How did this happen?

We had one simple plan when we set out to build Roll: make it work for group conversations. That’s easy to say, but not easy to execute. To make it happen, we needed people to actually want to ask the bot questions. We figured that one of the easiest ways to keep users engaged was to make it social. Kik has a feature called mentions, which allows you to bring a bot into an existing conversation by calling it up with the “@” button. For example, if you type “@Roll” at the start of a message while you’re chatting with a friend, Roll bot will appear to answer your question. It will even suggest a list of questions you can ask.

This focus on sociality means the bot improves rather than interrupts your conversations. We routinely remind users who are talking to Roll bot alone to “Try typing @roll in a group or conversation with a friend!” As a result, the bot’s viral scores have been off the charts. A full 95 percent of Roll’s users have come via viral sharing.

We’ve also kept it simple from the start. We resisted the urge to use natural language processing (NLP) in an effort to make the bot seem more human or to respond to every imaginable question. Instead, we designed Roll bot within a constrained context. The first version of the bot only answered questions containing the word “who” or the less popular “roll.” The goal of this narrow focus was to clearly set the expectations of what the bot could answer. The original piece of code that made Roll go viral was:

if "who" in message_body:
    return clever_response

If a user typed in something that did not contain “who,” we immediately respond with a help message.

    return help_message

To educate users about our chat-based interface, we added about 80 example questions into Kik’s suggested responses, which are presented four at a time on rotation. Each time you message Roll, you’re given a different set of questions to choose from:

  • Who is driving?
  • Who is most likely to live alone with 5 cats?
  • Who is the best Pokemon Trainer?

We’ve also gone to great lengths to prevent conversations with Roll from going stale. Again, it’s nothing fancy. We just use simple language and a cycle of options. For example, when you ask Roll bot a “who” question, it always replies with two responses:

  1. The “thought,” a randomly generated message that makes it seem like Roll bot is thinking of the perfect answer to your question; and
  2. The username, a user randomly selected from the chat participants

The bot has a list of about 100 thoughts, ensuring that each interaction with Roll is unpredictable and different from the last. A few examples:

  • We asked 100 die-hard Drake fans, and they said…
  • Survey says…
  • Sorry not sorry tho…
  • Do I have to even say it out loud?

This behavior is even present in our profanity filter, which layers in an additional level of personalized content. If a user triggers the filter, Roll responds with a suggested response that substitutes in the name of the user who produced the offending content. This is especially entertaining in a group conversation and prompts users to interact with Roll bot further. Instead of replying with something like “Sorry, I don’t understand your message,” Roll bot might say…

  • I’ll be taking questions from <name> less serious from now on…
  • Ok <name>, I need you to dial it down a notch.
  • Please don’t play these games with my heart, <name>.
  • Can someone besides <name> ask me something?

The key to Roll’s early success has been not overthinking the bot experience. Roll bot is simple and social, and that’s about it. We give the power to the users and then get out of the way. The result has been a bot that has been shared more than we ever hoped for. The experience has underscored an advantage that chatbots have over smartphone apps: They’re super easy to try, and just as easy to share. We’d love for you to give it a try.

This post appeared originally on Medium.

Electric Jukebox launches TV-based music-streaming service and dongle in the U.K., coming to U.S. later

Posted: 07 Nov 2016 04:01 PM PST

Electric Jukebox

More than a year after Electric Jukebox first announced its TV-centric music-streaming service to the world, the device is finally ready for prime time as it goes on sale across the U.K. from tomorrow (November 9).

By way of a quick recap, U.K.-based Electric Jukebox was unveiled at a glitzy launch event in London last October, with big-name backers on board such as Robbie Williams, Sheryl Crow, Stephen Fry, and Alesha Dixon.

Robbie Williams with Electric Jukebox

Above: Robbie Williams with Electric Jukebox

While the music-streaming market is undoubtedly busy, with Spotify, Apple, Google, and Deezer all fighting for your hard-earned bucks, Electric Jukebox promises a significant differentiator in that it’s a hardware product, and bypasses the need for a smartphone, tablet, or PC altogether.

Available in a triumvirate of colors, the Electric Jukebox can perhaps best be compared to Amazon’s Kindle Fire TV stick, in that you plug a little HDMI dongle into the back of your TV, link it up to your home Wi-Fi, and then control the on-screen interface via a remote control, which also has a built-in mic that lets you search using your voice.

Electric Jukebox: Remotes

Above: Electric Jukebox: Remotes

Image Credit: Electric Jukebox

Following the launch event last year, which saw the devices go on sale via preorder, little more was heard about the Electric Jukebox, and its original Christmas (2015) launch plan was shelved, as was the subsequent Easter timescale. So what has the delay been all about?

“We announced the Electric Jukebox Company at BAFTA last year,” explained founder and CEO Rob Lewis to VentureBeat. “Since then we’ve been negotiating radical licensing agreements with record labels and publishers, which we’ve now closed.”

We’re told that deals have been struck with “all pan-European music publishing licensors,” which includes all the major publishers, including Universal Music Publishing Group, Sony/ATV, and Warner/Chappell Music. This means that the product will be good to go across Europe.

Tomorrow, the Electric Jukebox will finally be available to buy, in the U.K. only at first, costing £169, which also offers the first 12 months of service free. After that, users will be expected to pay £52 for a premium pass to access the full ad-free, on-demand catalog of 29 million tunes, or continue on the ad-supported free tier that limits access to a “curated music experience” with celebrity mix-tapes.

The Electric Jukebox will be coming to the U.S. “in the future,” though no firm launch dates or pricing was provided. Based on the previously announced pricing from last year, however, we can assume that the dongle will cost around the $200 mark, give or take, with the yearly subscription weighing in at about $60.

In effect, Electric Jukebox promises roughly the same library of music as Spotify, but for half the price. You can’t ignore the cost of the dongle, though, which if we assume will cost $200 means you will have spent around $380 on Electric Jukebox after four years. With Spotify, you will have spent around $480. Assuming you’re someone who wishes to listen to music on your TV (and to make a fair comparison), you can throw a $35 Chromecast into the mix too, which bumps the Spotify experience up to $515 over the four-year period.

Electric Jukebox also kindly provided some annual price comparisons of its own to illustrate how much better value for the money it is than the competition. Two examples included:

  • Apple Music subscription: £119.88 + Apple TV £139 + iPad Air 2 £379 = £637.88
  • Spotify subscription: £119.88 + Amazon Echo £149.99 = £269.87

Bundling the Amazon Echo in alongside Spotify in one of the examples was a little odd, given that it’s not really designed to connect to your TV. And equally, the iPad Air 2 felt a little random. The company is assuming that someone will be buying a dedicated piece of expensive hardware to consume their Spotify or Apple Music subscription, when in reality most people already have an Android phone or iPhone.

The company also suggests that the device may be more geared towards older people, those who maybe haven’t subscribed to the smartphone-powered music-streaming hype. It says:

Streaming has failed the older generations who still prefer listening to music on the radio and their existing CD collection than on a smartphone or computer.

Granted, there are some barriers that will preclude many from enjoying music streaming, and in truth I could imagine my elderly parents getting some enjoyment from this. So this could work well in the gifting realm, as younger generations look to shoehorn their parents into the music industry of 2016. The timing of the Electric Jukebox launch, less than 2 months before Christmas, is worth highlighting.

“We’ve removed the barriers to entry which prevent many consumers adopting streaming,” added Lewis. “These include: registering user accounts and passwords, committing to a monthly recurring subscription, downloading apps, performing regular operating system and app updates, complicated list-based user interfaces with hundreds of functions. We give consumers an easy to use physical music player which is plug and play, with no monthly subscription. Setup and use is as easy as using a CD player.”

But this is what confuses me about the The Electric Jukebox. Through its branding and celebrity backers, it feels as though it’s trying to target a younger crowd, the type of crowd who would already stream music through a myriad of connected devices.

At its announcement last year, I was skeptical about whether there really is a demand for a dedicated hardware “solution” that brings music streaming to TVs, and nothing has happened in the intermittent months to alter that viewpoint. I’ve yet to go hands-on with one of the devices, but assuming the device has been executed with aplomb, I’m still not sure there is a big enough demand for this.

To revisit another point I made during the launch event last year, any product that goes to market with the backing of celebrities just doesn’t bode well. Glitzy, noisy launches are great at drumming up interest, but the proof will ultimately lie in the pudding.

So what is the celebrities’ involvement with Electric Jukebox, exactly — are they paid endorsers? No; as it turns out, they’re all fully signed-up shareholders.

“None of the celebrities have been paid for their involvement in Electric Jukebox,” said Lewis. “The celebrities have got involved because they share our desire to make music streaming simple so that we can open up music streaming to a wider audience than today.  Sheryl Crow, Robbie Williams, Stephen Fry and Alesha Dixon all curate mixtapes for the service, and are Electric Jukebox shareholders.”

Electric Jukebox has raised a total of £7 million ($8.7 million) since its inception.

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