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“GamesBeats games of the year — staff lists and our overall picks” plus 15 more VentureBeat

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“GamesBeats games of the year — staff lists and our overall picks” plus 15 more VentureBeat


GamesBeats games of the year — staff lists and our overall picks

Posted: 02 Jan 2017 01:02 PM PST

Give these people medals.

2016 was a big year for gaming. If you want proof, you just need to read our game of the year lists.

We spent the last several days of the year putting together our picks for our favorite games of 2016. Each of our GamesBeat staff members wrote up their own lists, and we also have a unified selection of our 10 favorite digital experiences of the year. So, before you begin salivating for all of those upcoming 2017 titles, make sure you’ve tried as many of these great games from 2016 first.

Why the customer success market needs chatbots

Posted: 02 Jan 2017 12:10 PM PST

Chatbots can help with customer success.

Bots that run automated tasks, with or without a visible user interface, have been around for a long time, but chatbots, or programs with a conversational user experience (UX), became the face of the bot movement as it took hold in 2016.

These bots found a successful niche in customer service (knowledge base, FAQs, questions about your order, etc.), where deflection away from human interactions to self-service modalities is both a key to scaling and a key performance indicator (KPI).

The widespread adoption of the concept known as “customer success” by companies around the world, coupled with the rapid growth in and evolution of the customer success management software category, makes this category seem like the next logical space for bots to thrive.

Customer success is when your customers achieve their required outcome — in an appropriate way — through interactions with your company. In 2017 and beyond, those interactions may very well be powered by bots.

The proactive nature of customer success intervention versus reacting to an inbound customer support or service request will require a different, more complex use of bots than we see in customer service today.

With that background, I see bots being used in customer success in two fundamental ways:

1. Front-end customer success bots

Front-end bots will proactively engage the customer and will drive the “tech touch” portion of a customer success management coverage model. The other part of this coverage model is direct human interaction, or the “human touch,” which complements the use of technology to provide a holistic and high-value customer experience. The ratio of technology to human touch will vary by customer segment.

In customer success management, you first need to know where the customer is right now (point A) and what the next milestone along the path to success is for them (point B). To operationalize this process, you need to intervene in the appropriate way to take the steps necessary to move that customer segment from point A to point B.

If customers take those steps themselves, that’s great. If they don’t, you need to change or escalate intervention modalities (perhaps from tech touch to human touch) to get them to take action. What starts as proactive intervention to urge customers toward their desired outcome — that is, what they need to achieve and how they need to achieve it — becomes reactive intervention to get the them back on track toward success.

Customers and vendors have a natural tendency to drift apart. While this is particularly true in the early stages of a relationship, the risk is present at every stage of the customer lifecycle.

Companies have turned to the process of customer success management to keep the customer on track toward a desired outcome that is constantly evolving as the customer matures and succeeds. It’s the “constantly evolving” part that causes vendors to ask, “Why did my customer churn out when nothing changed?” The customer evolved, but the vendor didn’t keep pace with that change and couldn’t intervene appropriately.

The front-end bot will know exactly when to intervene and what the most appropriate modality (email, chat, voice, etc.) is to move the customer toward the next success milestone. Intervention will be determined by where the customer is on their journey and their appropriate experience (determined by their market segment, demographics and psychographics, their vertical, etc.).

Through these direct customer interactions, the bot will actually “get smarter” through the underlying machine learning, thus improving future interactions with customers as well as enriching the rest of the company with deeper customer intelligence.

2. Customer success assistant bots

Proactive intervention that ensures the customer is getting value leads to increased renewal, but if done correctly, it also drives expansion (add-ons, upsells, cross-sells). This is why I refer to it not just as customer success, but as customer success-driven growth.

Through a combination of effective orchestration, operationalization, and proactive intervention, customers who achieve a success milestone that has a logical expansion opportunity associated with it are likely to take the upsell offer when presented. The key to ensuring this expansion works in a customer-positive way at scale, however, is knowing exactly the right time to present exactly the right offer.

Customer success practitioners (CSP) will rely on bots to proactively guide their intervention with customers. Bots — powered by the underlying artificial intelligence (AI) — will be able to surface expansion opportunities unique to that customer based on where they are on the path to success, news about the customer from external resources, internal organizational changes, the weather, seasonality, etc.

Today, customer success management organizations rely on playbooks designed to move each logical customer segment toward success. Instead of a playbook, AI-powered bots will create on-the-fly plays for a CSP to run with the customer in real-enough time based on what the AI knows about the customer.

Front-end and CSP assistant bots are the most obvious use cases for this technology in customer success going into 2017. Where we go from here, considering the rapid evolution of the underlying technologies, I simply can’t predict. But I, for one, welcome our new bot overlords.

Windows 10 adoption passes 50% on Steam

Posted: 02 Jan 2017 09:55 AM PST

Steam sale is rough on the servers.

Valve updated its Hardware & Software Survey today for December 2016, revealing that the majority of its user base is now on Windows 10. The latest and greatest from Microsoft is growing faster than its predecessors, but has recently slowed and is still below 25 percent market share. On Steam, the figure is over 50 percent, proving again that gamers tend to be early adopters.

In its first month, Windows 10 adoption on Steam passed Windows 8, Windows Vista, Windows XP, Mac OS X, and Linux. After two months, Windows 8.1 was also conquered and 10 months in, Windows 7 was dethroned. After more than a year, every other Steam user is on Windows 10.

Here is Steam’s operating system market share list for December 2016:

  • Windows 10: 50.35 percent
  • Windows 8.1: 8.76 percent
  • Windows 8: 1.25 percent
  • Windows 7: 33.87 percent
  • Windows Vista: 0.19 percent
  • Windows XP: 1.15 percent
  • Mac OS X: 3.44 percent
  • Linux: 0.87 percent

All other Windows versions lost adoption on Steam, leaving Windows 10 to pick up the scraps. Breaking down the numbers even more, here is how each operating system version fared:

steam_os_version_december_2016

Between November and December, Windows 10 gained 0.75 percentage points — a decent increase more than 16 months after release. These gains must come from somewhere: Windows 8.1 dropped 0.10 points, Windows 8 slipped 0.04 points, Windows 7 fell 0.35 points, Vista dipped 0.02 points, and XP slid 0.04 points.

Overall, Windows still dominates Steam. OS X was down 0.15 points while Linux lost 0.01 points in December, but these are minor changes. While the three operating system families fluctuate from month-to-month, Windows has been above the 95 percent mark on Steam for as long as we can remember.

Windows 10 is a service, meaning it was built in a very different way than its predecessors so it can be regularly updated with not just fixes but new features too. The next release is the Windows 10 Creators Update, slated for release in “early 2017.” Gamers will be particularly interested in this update because it is rumored to bring a new “game mode.”

What venture capitalists are looking for at CES 2017

Posted: 02 Jan 2017 09:01 AM PST

Workers pass by a sign outside the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, January 5, 2016. REUTERS/Rick Wilking - RTX215XB

Hundreds of thousands of people are gathering in Las Vegas this week for the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), but what will get everyone buzzing this year? Undoubtedly, there will be talk about the latest smart television, connected devices for the home, autonomous vehicles and technology, gadgets and cameras, drones, and virtual reality. And while CES is a gathering of industry buyers and sellers, it has also become a beacon for those interested in assessing upcoming trends, such as startup entrepreneurs, and even investors.

VentureBeat spoke with a few Silicon Valley investors to find out why they go to CES and what are they looking forward to seeing this year.

Navigating the floor

"I find CES radically overwhelming," said GV general partner Joe Kraus. He believes the event is so massive that attendees have to walk in with an agenda, or they’ll be at a loss where to even begin. As a six-year veteran of the show, Kraus finds it worth browsing the show floor for a few hours and getting a hands-on feel for certain products. "The advantage of going there is that you’re seeing [technology] in a concentrated state" he said. CES enables you to examine what others in the industry are doing in one trip through the show floor.

For venture capitalists like Lightspeed Venture Partners’ Nicole Quinn, who is also a veteran CES attendee, the event offers a glimpse of products "we were not yet considering and helps me go deeper into the product areas that we are closely looking at." Like Kraus, she believes having an agenda is important. "I always stay curious and ask questions of the companies, investors, and industry experts to have a more educated opinion on the space," she said.

"Reading and talking about new technology is one thing, but I believe we need to see and touch it ourselves and really be in the debate to fully understand a product," Quinn continued. "Experts from all areas who look through different lenses are all at CES, so it is important to speak to as many experts in the field as possible and ask the tough questions. These conversations shape my view of the world, which then in turn impacts our investment decisions."

Casper de Clercq, a general partner at Norwest Venture Partners, suggested that what’s showcased at CES is a good indication of markets that will be disrupted over the next decade, and can help inform his team’s investment strategies. "CES provides a highly efficient view of the technology vectors that will affect consumers of all kinds," he said. TCV venture partner Matt Robinson feels similarly and said he considers the event a "great venue…to find and meet more of the world’s greatest emerging tech companies."

Shasta Ventures managing partner Rob Coneybeer offers a different perspective about how to get the most out of the event. Instead of attacking the show floor, he likes to look at the people attending, particularly in the taxi lines. "I like to meet people in line with me. It’s a great series of 15-minute conversations," he said. Coneybeer is also planning on attending meetings in private suites, which have historically provided more insights than what’s traditionally covered by CES. "That’s where I saw Oculus’ touch demos last year,” he said. “Now [it’s] shipping, 12 months later."

Spaces to watch

This year, the investors that we spoke with remained bullish about virtual reality, health technology, and autonomous driving, categories that fit into these partners’ wheelhouses. In terms of VR, Kraus believes companies in the space are entering a "valley of despair," where sales are hitting, but the products are failing to meet people’s expectations. He believes the industry will pivot toward business-to-business applications.

Quinn expressed an interest in VR and said she’s looking for insights into the technology’s development. She’s also curious about fitness technology and the health tech space, generally.

De Clercq shared that he’ll be on the lookout for advancements in sensors and home appliances that could be used in the healthcare space, such as blood glucose meters, pulse oximeters, and blood pressure, ECG, and heart rate variability monitors. "Home-based interactive bots, such as Amazon Echo and Google Home, in combination with home-based sensors and IOT systems provide immediate functionality. The mobile phone is quickly becoming not just an extension but also a digital representation of each individual person," he said.

The autonomous vehicle category is another one Robinson and Kraus are watching for their respective firms. And it’s not just the cars that have been produced by Uber, Google, and traditional manufacturers, but the auxiliary services associated with them, such as perception, sensing, and more.

Sowing the seeds

In the end, going to Las Vegas for CES becomes a reconnaissance mission for investment partners. It’s likely few deals will actually be made on the ground, but the information gathered from the estimated 20,000 gadgets being launched next week will influence how firms direct funds over the next year. "I’ve met a lot of companies at CES, but never made an investment based on those meetings. It’s about context and background," Kraus explained.

Robinson said he’s seeking to learn more about "disruptive companies " in markets where “we believe there will be high growth, durable businesses built in these segments over the next 3-5 years with whom we'd be thrilled to partner."

But perhaps Coneybeer put it best when he said: "I've always shown up with an open mind, ready for surprise."

CES2017

Wonder is an enigmatic mobile hardware company with a VR twist and a focus on gamers

Posted: 02 Jan 2017 07:00 AM PST

Wonder is a new hardware startup with a VR connection.

Wonder is lifting the veil a little bit about its ambitions to create hardware and software that will disrupt the mobile business. The company’s products have a relationship to virtual reality, and the company wants to build an experience to enrich the way people play games, watch movies, listen to music, communicate with friends, and discover and share content.

And the company plans to do that all with one device — which it isn’t ready to completely reveal yet. But the company’s founder talked with us about the trends that are shaping and inspiring the company.

“We’ve been quiet about this in the past two years,” said Andy Kleinman, founder and CEO of Wonder, in an interview with GamesBeat. “We’ve been heads-down working on the technology. We’ve been doing hardware, which is a first for me, and bringing a lot of people on board.”

Kleinman said we are seeing innovation around future tech like virtual reality, augmented reality, and artificial intelligence. But not much of it is user-friendly or intuitive, and it’s still confusing to most consumers. And though smartphones are synonymous with everyday life, one size does not fit all. You need to personalize a phone to fit your lifestyle.

Los Angeles-based Wonder wants to address the problem of how we have multiple devices, multiple accounts, multiple bills and steep learning curves all around. The Wonder experience is packed with content and features that will feel like a powerful device with a menu of options to select from.

“We’re carrying around smartphones that are a lot more than smartphones,” he said. “They’re computing devices. The Nintendo Switch is coming, and it is playing to the idea of taking your content with you everywhere.”

As for Wonder, he said, “We think of this as one device to rule them all. That’s what will make it unique and exciting for users.”

Andy Kleinman is the CEO and founder of Wonder.

Above: Andy Kleinman is the CEO and founder of Wonder.

Image Credit: Wonder

Another problem Kleinman sess is that smartphones are still pretty much all the same. No one is differentiating them much, Kleinman said.

“They’re targeted at everybody, so there is an opportunity to focus much more on one audience,” Kleinman said. “The audience that we know well is the gamer. The early adopters and geeks who are always looking to try a new thing. But they all have the same product that is built for other demographics too right now. The hardware is commoditized. Very few companies have a strong brand that connects with the audience in smartphones.”

Wonder’s vision is to invest in a future and change people’s daily lives for the better. Kleinman noted that the Nintendo Switch is focused only on gaming. By contrast, Wonder wants to focus on a variety of different things to do, not just playing games.

The Wonder team comes from Google, Disney, Apple, Microsoft, HTC, Amazon, Sony, Facebook and more, with tech talent from Oculus and Cyanogen.

Investors include some pretty famous tech investors and executives: 8VC, Greycroft Partners, Third Wave Digital, Jeff Kearl, Kevin Spacey, Nolan Bushnell, Hayao Nakayama, John Pleasants, Pieter Knook, David Stern, and others.

Wonder plans to launch in 2017, probably in early Q4, and it says users can sign up on Wonder.com.

“We want to build a brand and a community,” Kleinman said. “That’s why we picked the name Wonder. We wanted to build a connection with our customers.”

As for VR, Kleinman said that a lot of VR units aren’t being used that much. Early adopters buy them, but they haven’t really seen the need to use them on a daily basis. They’re kind of like cool devices that nobody ever users, like Google Glass, Kleinman said.

“For us, it’s about creating a piece of technology that enhances what other people are doing,” Kleinman said. “We are exploring VR. We are exploring AR.”

Kleinman has had three previous exits at startups, and he was part of the executive team at Zynga before its initial public offering. Most recently, he was at Scopely in its early days as chief business officer. He has 15 years of experience in tech and entertainment, and he has been an active angel investor.

Kleinman started his first company, Emepe3, at the age of 17 and grew it to become one of the largest Spanish-speaking music websites in the world before its sale in 2004. In 2007, he co-founded Vostu, a social games company that reached more than 50 million users in Latin America and raised over $45 million in venture capital.

As an executive of Three Melons, Andy ran business development and strategy before the company was acquired by Playdom, which was later acquired by The Walt Disney Company. In 2011, Andy joined Zynga as general manager to focus on the company's international growth. Zynga had one of the largest IPOs in the history of gaming. After Zynga, he joined the founding team at Scopely to help scale the company to become one of the fastest growing mobile game developers in the world, with hits such as The Walking Dead and Wheel of Fortune.

Andy is also passionate about film, and has produced seven independent films to date. His latest, Jauja, won the Fipresci Critics Award at the Cannes Film Festival in 2014. Wonder has 25 employees, with offices in Los Angeles, Shenzhen (China), and Seattle. The company has raised money but it has not disclosed how much.

“I’ve told you more than I’ve told anyone else so far,” Kleinman said.

Dell launches XPS 13 2-in-1 laptop with Intel Kaby Lake chip, starts at $1,000

Posted: 02 Jan 2017 06:00 AM PST

Dell XPS 2-in-1 laptop.

In conjunction with the CES conference in Las Vegas this week, Dell today is officially introducing a new 2-in-1 version of its highly regarded XPS 13 laptop. This follows a leak of the device yesterday on Dell’s own website. Now that a convertible XPS model is coming out, the XPS line may more directly compete with HP’s Spectre x360 and Lenovo’s ThinkPad Yoga.

The machine features a 7th generation Kaby Lake Intel Core i chip (i5 and i7 options are available), Intel HD Graphics 615 integrated graphics processing unit (GPU), 4-16GB LPDDR3 RAM, a 128GB-1TB solid-state drive (SSD), a 720p webcam on the bottom of the display with support for Windows Hello, a fingerprint scanner, a 46 watt-hour battery, and a 13.3-inch touchscreen, available in QHD+ or FHD configurations.

The bezel is very narrow, in keeping with the XPS style. The fanless PC offers an SD card slot and two USB-C ports, and a USB-A to USB-C adapter comes in the box.

The laptop is 0.32-0.54 inch thick, which is thinner than Dell’s 2016 XPS. But the keyboard hasn’t been squished down — the keys have 1.3mm travel, or just a tad bit (0.1mm) more than you get on the XPS laptop — which is impressive. The laptop weighs 2.7 pounds.

Probably the most significant components on this PC, though, are the hinges, which bring it more in line with Dell’s Inspiron series. They felt robust enough in the few minutes I had to try them recently during a press briefing in San Francisco.

The question is whether people will want the convertible option when the laptop is fine as is. The convertible XPS 13 starts at $1000, which is $200 more than the XPS 13 laptop. It’s available starting on January 5.

CES2017

TrackR launches Atlas, a $40 wall plug to track all misplaced items in your home

Posted: 02 Jan 2017 06:00 AM PST

TrackR Atlas

TrackR has expanded its lineup of devices designed to help you locate lost or misplaced items. The company today introduced two new products, one featuring lights and the other a new, thinner tracker that fits right into your wallet, along with a Bluetooth-enabled Wi-Fi wall plug that functions like a hub to locate all tracked items. The company also announced an update to its Amazon Alexa skill that will pinpoint exactly where your phone is.

We are all prone to losing items — if not you personally, then someone you know. TrackR provides a platform and a host of products it claims will improve our organization skills by locating everyday items that are frequently misplaced, such keys, phones, wallets, purses, and backpacks. It already offers three item trackers — TrackR Bravo, TrackR sticker, and TrackR wallet — but is now adding the TrackR Pixel and the next-generation wallet device dubbed TrackR wallet 2.0.

TrackR Pixel

The TrackR Pixel is an enhanced version of the Bravo device that was introduced at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show. Beyond having the same capabilities as TrackR Bravo, the Pixel comes in nine colors and is made of plastic instead of aluminum, so it’s more durable. It also features LED lights that turn on when activated, making it easier to spot in the dark. The TrackR Pixel is thin, too: just 5mm thickness and 26mm diameter.

Other features include CR 2016 battery life of up to 1 year, a metal key ring on a lanyard nylon string, and a ring volume of 86 decibels.

Preorders for the new TrackR Pixel have started at a price of $25, and the device will ship starting on March 15.

TrackR wallet 2.0

Above: TrackR wallet 2.0

Image Credit: TrackR

In 2012, the company introduced the original TrackR wallet to fit into your…err..wallet so you can easily track it, but the first version was a tad bulky. Today’s 2.0 update is 2mm thin and is shaped like a credit card. The device uses carbon fiber technology and comes with replaceable CR 2016 batteries. Version 2.0 resembles a normal card, so if your wallet’s stolen, thieves won’t immediately notice the tracking device.

TrackR wallet 2.0 is available in May for $30.

Now that you have all of these TrackR products in your home, how do you find them all? The company has created TrackR Atlas, a wall plug that serves as a main hub. You plug it in and it will map your home and any tagged items within. Atlas also lets you specify alerts when a particular item enters or leaves a particular room, and it can keep a running history of the object’s location.

TrackR Atlas

Above: TrackR Atlas

Image Credit: TrackR

"Many customers are just frequently misplacing things around the house," explained a company spokesperson. "This light bulb moment encouraged TrackR to figure out a way for people to always know where things are located in their houses. In thinking about how companies have inventory systems that show where items are in warehouses, TrackR Atlas was born as an inventory management system for consumers."

TrackR Atlas uses Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Low Energy radios to detect nearby items, and it doesn’t just locate TrackR-enabled objects; it can locate other products, such as Tiles. It also features wall socket support for U.S., U.K., E.U., and Japan at launch.

The one downside of using TrackR Atlas is that it hogs an entire outlet socket. On the other hand, being able to easily locate all the things we absentmindedly misplace could be helpful.

Eventually, the features will integrate with Amazon Alexa devices so you won’t need to use the TrackR app to locate items; you’ll be able to find them using just your voice. Preorders for TrackR Atlas have begun, with a retail price of $40 for one device — you can snag 4 devices for $100 and 10 for $200 at discounted pricing. The company will begin shipping the device on March 15.

In August, TrackR launched an Amazon Alexa skill that initially set out to find your phone. The company received an undisclosed investment from the Alexa Fund to build on the voice assistant technology. With this skill, Alexa will dial your phone and cause it to ring even if you had it set to silent mode.

With the updated Alexa skill, TrackR will not only ring your phone, if it’s not in the nearby vicinity, TrackR will provide you with the phone’s last known location.

CES2017

Apple’s India efforts may be helped by manufacturing partner expansion in critical market

Posted: 02 Jan 2017 02:45 AM PST

Tim Cook in New Delhi for a dinner at the U.S. Embassy in India on May 20, 2016.

(By Sankalp Phartiyal, Reuters) – Smartphone component maker Wistron Corp, which counts Apple Inc among its customers, has applied for permission to expand its plant in the Indian city of Bengaluru, a high-ranking regional government official said on Monday.
The Taiwanese contract manufacturer has also requested that its application be fast-tracked, the official at the state government of Karnataka in southern India told Reuters.

The move comes less than two weeks after the Wall Street Journal reported that Apple was in talks with India’s federal government about the possibility of assembling products in one of the world’s biggest smartphone markets, where the U.S. tech firm controls less than 2 percent.

Apple setting up production in India would be a significant win for the government which has embarked on a major campaign to attract global manufacturers under the slogan “Make in India”.

“Wistron has approached us to expedite certain clearances with regards to the augmentation and expansion of its existing unit,” said the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter and so declined to be identified.

Whether Apple will begin manufacturing in India is unknown, but Wistron’s desire to expand “pretty quickly” could represent “several steps in that direction,” the official said.

Apple did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment. Wistron could not be reached for comment.

Analysts have said local manufacturing could come as part of a wider strategy for Apple to expand in India and even lower prices after Chief Executive Tim Cook visited the country in May and met Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“Certainly that (local manufacturing) will help in some level of cost optimization,” said Gartner research director Anshul Gupta. “Because looking at the current tax structure, local facilities do provide some kind of cost advantage.”

Another of Apple’s Taiwanese suppliers, Hon Hai Precision Industry Co Ltd – commonly known as Foxconn – also has a manufacturing facility in southern India.

5 things that could make Amazon even stronger in 2017

Posted: 02 Jan 2017 02:02 AM PST

CEO of Amazon.com Jeff Bezos

Amazon’s 2016 has been record breaking on many fronts. The company recorded its sixth consecutive quarterly profit (previously, it mostly hemorrhaged cash). Meanwhile, this year marked Amazon’s growing strength in hardware with its hit Echo home automation hub Amazon Echo, and its companion voice assistant Alexa. The company has also become force in entertainment, debuting a line of hit original shows through its Amazon Video Prime service.

It’s hard to imagine how Amazon could top 2016, but here are some likely moves by the Seattle-based Goliath in 2017:

1. Increased emphasis on logistics: Amazon spends billions of dollars each quarter on shipping, and those costs are rising as the company expands to deliver everything from toilet paper to TVs to customers in two days or less. To save money over the past year, Amazon has been seeking to take over more shipping duties from the likes of UPS and FedEx by leasing trucks, planes, and ships. The company is even testing drones to supplement its doorstep deliveries. Ultimately, Amazon may rely more on itself to get orders to your doorstep than ever.

2. Doubling down on artificial intelligence and Alexa: Amazon had a big head start over Apple and Google in virtual assistants thanks to its early bet on the Echo and Alexa, the voice-controlled helper that answers questions, plays music on command, and orders diapers. But Google is trying to catch up with its own rival virtual assistant, Google Assistant, and its accompanying Google Home automation device. Will Amazon lose some of its lead in this emerging market in 2017?

Amazon is betting big on its Alexa investment, highlighted by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos saying recently that 1,000 employees are working on the service. And his company is still hiring.

You can expect Amazon to start making more deals to get Alexa into non-Amazon devices like its recently announced partnership with GE to put Alexa in smart lamps.

3. Brick and mortar: Next year may be when Amazon truly crosses over from its online roots into becoming a major brick and mortar retail. Amazon ended 2016 with the big news that it had opened Amazon Go, a store that sells prepared foods and grocery staples in Seattle.

To get started, shoppers entering the 1,800 square foot store scan their smartphones on a reader, collect the products they want, and then saunter out the door without stopping. Technology automatically creates virtual lists of what people pick up from shelves (or returned to them) and then bills those shoppers as they leave. It’s unclear whether Amazon plans to open more Amazon Go stores in 2017. This one store, however, is clearly a test to figure that out.

Amazon is also making a slow push into bricks and mortar bookstores, its answer to Barnes & Noble. Amazon uses data from its e-commerce site such as customer ratings and sales to decide which books to stock in its stores. In addition to books, Amazon’s bookstore also lets customers try out and buy devices like Amazon’s Kindle. You can expect the numbers of the stores — now at four — to grow in 2017.

Amazon Is Gunning for Netflix With Global Launch of Prime Video

4. More investment in original content: Amazon is on a massive content binge. It’s been rapidly acquiring movies, TV shows and documentaries in recent months as it looks to compete with streaming rivals Netflix and Apple, both of which are also increasingly developing original TV shows and movies.

Most of Amazon’s original content is streamed for Amazon Prime members as well as for members of the subscription service’s newly launched video-only plan, which costs $8.99 per month. Amazon CFO Brian Olsavsky said Amazon planned to triple the amount of original content over the rest of the year, and it’s probably safe to assume that its torrid investment pace will continue into 2017.

Amazon Invades India

5. India: Amazon continues to invest in in India, where it said earlier this year it would spend another $3 billion to expand its services. If so, its total investment in the region would reach $5 billion. In 2016, Amazon introduced its Prime membership service in India, hoping to repeat the success it has had with it in the U.S. and elsewhere. Amazon has also said that it would add Prime Video to its subscription package, which would give Indian consumers access to more original content featuring Indian filmmakers and actors.

This story originally appeared on Fortune.com. Copyright 2017

Samsung updates Galaxy A phones with 16MP cameras, water resistance, microSD slots

Posted: 01 Jan 2017 11:37 PM PST

Samsung Galaxy A (2017) smartphones

Samsung has announced an upgrade to its Galaxy A series of smartphones, bringing many features from its S7 lineup to its 5.7-inch A7, 5.2-inch A5, and 4.7-inch A3 mid-range devices. The 2017 editions contain 16 megapixel front and rear-facing cameras, water and dust resistance, support for microSD cards, and more.

Customers can purchase the Galaxy A phones in Russia early this month, with an expansion to other markets soon after.

It’s been nearly a year since Samsung introduced the Galaxy S7 and S7 edge, the latest version of its flagship smartphone. What stood out on those devices was exactly the same things that are now available on the A series: an improved camera, capable of quickly snapping quality photographs in low-light conditions, along with an updated user interface.

Additionally, the device is now rated IP68, joining the S series and the now defunct Note7 smartphones as the only ones in the Samsung line to receive that rating, although it’s likely that moving forward, all products will have this rating.

There’s also a microSD slot that accommodates expandable memory of up to 256GB. And the Galaxy As supports fast charging, Samsung Pay, and USB Type-C.

A useful feature from the Note7 has been included in the updated A series: Secure Folders. This makes it possible to compartmentalize files and applications so that only you can access them. Secure files are locked behind either a pattern, PIN, or biometric authentication system so you can safely store essential documents, like a copy of your passport, financial apps, or address book. Interestingly, this is perhaps one of the first times Secure Folders has been supported on a non-Note device.

The Galaxy A series now comes in four colors: black sky, gold sand, blue mist, and peach cloud.

“At Samsung, we are always trying to ensure our customers have the most advanced products on the market,” said DJ Koh, president of Mobile Communications Business at Samsung Electronics, in a statement. “The latest Galaxy A series is a testament to this. We integrated our unique approach to design as well as the features Galaxy customers have come to love to provide added performance without compromising on style.”

CES2017

Belgian biotech company Univercells awarded $12 million grant

Posted: 01 Jan 2017 11:31 PM PST

captura-de-pantalla-2016-12-30-a-las-12-19-29-p-m

Belgian biotech company Univercells has received a grant for $12 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Founded in 2013 by CEO Hugues Bultot, Univercells brings biology, manufacturing, and technology together to provide clients with solutions to the rising costs of vaccine production. The company does so by developing platforms for the creation of local bioproduction facilities.

The company intends to use the grant to develop a vaccine manufacturing platform that will make vaccines more affordable and accessible in developing countries.

Univercells will form a consortium with Batavia Biosciences and Natrix Separations in order to execute the development of the platform. Taking advantage of Univercells' process intensification and integration capabilities and technologies; Natrix's innovative single-use chromatography membrane platform; and Batavia's vaccine development and manufacturing capabilities, the goal of this collaboration is to create a micro-facility for inactivated polio vaccine (sIPV) that will produce 40 million doses of trivalent vaccine per year at a manufacturing cost of less than $0.15 per dose.

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This story originally appeared on Tech.eu. Copyright 2017

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Here are 23 new HTC Vive experiences that will debut at CES

Posted: 01 Jan 2017 09:33 PM PST

front-defense-2-1024x576

We already know what HTC won't be showing at CES: the next iteration of the Vive. So, what is it showing?

Apps. And lots of them.

HTC revealed 23 of the more than 30 apps that the company is showing on the Vive in Las Vegas next week. We'll see plenty of upcoming games like new Vive Studios projects in Arcade Saga, Front Defense and Knockout League, along with much anticipated projects like Star Trek: Bridge Crew. There's also already available apps like ROM: Extraction and The Nest.

But it's not just games; plenty of business, medical, and education apps will also be on display. Apps like YOUVR, Lifeliqe, and MakeVR will be there to show what VR can do beyond entertainment. The company will also showcase mixed reality filming with a green screen and host a handful of events throughout the show.

A handful of events are planned, too, including a VR and Fitness showcase on January 4th, and VR showcases for CES Showstoppers attendees on January 5th. HTC will also be livestreaming throughout the event. We've listed all that's been confirmed to be on display below. Hopefully the unrevealed projects means there's some announcements in store; HTC is certainly teasing some big projects for the months to come.

Games and Entertainment

  • Arcade Saga
  • Front Defense
  • Knockout League
  • Mindshow
  • The Music Room
  • The Nest
  • Racket: Nx
  • ROM: Extraction
  • Star Trek: Bridge Crew

Enterprise

  • 3DEXPERIENCE platform and "Virtual Garage"
  • GE Store VR Experience
  • IBM Speech Sandbox
  • Jaguar I-PACE Reveal
  • MakeVR
  • VR Museum Experience

Health & Medical

  • The Body VR
  • The Physiology of the Eye
  • OssoVR
  • YOUVR

Education

  • ENGAGE "The Life Project"
  • Lifeliqe
  • Remembering Pearl Harbor
  • Titanic VR

UploadVR is going to be at CES all week long to bring you the latest from the show, so expect hands-on impressions of these apps along with interviews and more.

This story originally appeared on Uploadvr.com. Copyright 2017

31 tech companies that could go public in 2017

Posted: 01 Jan 2017 06:10 PM PST

New York Stock Exchange.

In 2016, a bunch of tech companies went public, including Coupa, Line, Nutanix, Talend, and Twilio. Now a new batch is in the running for an initial public offering (IPO).

Many of these companies get their money by selling to other companies, typically the largest companies in the world. But there are also a few IPO contenders that are already household names because they have millions and millions of end users. Should even one or two of these go public in 2017, this will be remembered as a big year for tech IPOs. One of the contenders, in particular, could raise $4 billion in its deal — an ungodly sum in recent years, though not without precedent.

All the companies on this list have recently been highlighted as IPO contenders by private company research startup CB Insights, IPO exchange traded funds (ETF) manager Renaissance Capital, or both firms.

Without further ado, here’s our top 2017 tech IPO candidates:

Airbnb

The startup that lets you pay to stay in other people’s homes and rent out your own is eight years old now, and it has taken on about $4 billion in funding. Think it’s about time for that thing to go? I’ll say. Airbnb’s investors include Google Capital Capital G, Sequoia Capital, General Atlantic, and Tiger Global.

Anaplan

Cloud-based financial planning software provider Anaplan reportedly hit unicorn status earlier this year. Investors include Coatue Management, DFJ Growth, Salesforce, and Workday.

AppNexus

This ad tech company counts publishers like Bloomberg, Dow Jones, and ESPN as its customers. Investors include News Corp.

Apttus

Last year, Salesforce acquired one of Apttus’ top competitors, SteelBrick, a deal that was notable because Salesforce had previously invested in Apttus. Other investors in the quote-to-cash software company include Gulf Islamic Investments and Iconiq Capital. In September, chief executive Kirk Krappe told Fortune that the company was looking to go public in the first half of 2017.

BuzzFeed

LOL. Yeah. That BuzzFeed. All those goofy articles over the years have helped BuzzFeed accumulate a major audience and finance more serious journalism. In November, NBCUniversal confirmed to Variety that it had invested another $200 million in BuzzFeed. Other investors include Lerer Hippeau Ventures, RRE Ventures, and Hearst Ventures.

Cloudflare

The content distribution network (CDN) and distributed denial of service (DDoS) mitigation service is often in the news because so many companies rely on it to keep their websites going even under heavy loads of traffic. Cloudflare last announced funding in 2015, and, at the time, cofounder and chief executive Matthew Prince said an IPO could happen as soon as 2017.

Credit Karma

About a year and a half ago, personal finance company Credit Karma said it had raised $175 million at a $3.5 billion valuation. Recently, the company introduced a tax preparation service, challenging the likes of H&R Block and Intuit.

Domo

Cloud-based business analytics service Domo said in March that it had held its valuation at $2 billion for its most recent $131 million round. It’s competing against some of the biggest technology companies, including Microsoft and Salesforce.

Dropbox

It’s been nearly two years since cloud syncing and sharing service Dropbox saw competitor Box go public. This year, Dropbox reached 500 million users. It last disclosed a funding round in 2014 at a valuation of $10 billion.

ForeScout

Network security company ForeScout, which was founded in 2000, announced a $76 million funding round at a billion-dollar valuation in January 2016. In September, Reuters reported that it had started interviewing banks that could be its IPO underwriters.

Glassdoor

Perhaps best known for storing employees’ reviews of their workplaces, Glassdoor makes money through advertising job openings and enhancing companies’ profile pages. Investors include T. Rowe Price.

Gusto

The payroll and benefits startup has been taking on customers from competitor Zenefits after the latter was found to be practicing without licenses in some states. A year ago, Gusto confirmed it had raised an “opportunistic insider round.” Investors include Capital G, GV, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, and Y Combinator.

Illumio

The cybersecurity company counts Morgan Stanley, Plantronics, and Salesforce among its customers. Investors include Andreessen Horowitz, Formation 8, and General Catalyst Partners.

InsideSales

Based in Utah, predictive sales company InsideSales last announced funding in 2015, with Microsoft and Salesforce Ventures participating.

Instacart

The grocery delivery company last raised funding in 2015. That year it also hired its first chief financial officer and made some layoffs. In 2016, Instacart announced several partnerships, including Cash & Carry, PlateJoy, and Publix.

Medallia

A 15-year-old company specializing in customer experience management, Medallia last announced funding in 2015, with top-flight firm Sequoia Capital participating.

MuleSoft

Cloud app integration software company MuleSoft has been in a position to go public for years, but has chosen to hold off. "There are a lot of advantages to continuing to stay private, including flexibility in how we run the business," MuleSoft founder Ross Mason told VentureBeat in an email in 2015, when the company last announced funding.

Okta

This identity management software company became a unicorn when its valuation passed the $1 billion mark in 2015, and it now has more than 800 employees. It’s setting up a second headquarters in San Jose, 50 miles south of its current headquarters in San Francisco.

Palantir

Some of Palantir’s most prominent backers have reportedly disagreed about whether the big data company should go public. But a few months ago, chief executive Alex Karp said the company was looking at an IPO. Numerous government agencies are Palantir customers.

Pinterest

The company best known for letting users pin save photos and other content to boards now has more than 150 million monthly active users, but it last raised money in 2015.

Qualtrics

Cloud software for surveying employees can apparently be a lucrative business, given the rise of Qualtrics. The Utah company last raised money in 2015; investors include Insight Venture Partners and Sequoia Capital.

Razer

A company that has become known for its mechanical keyboards, mice, and other hardware, Razer announced in 2016 that it would begin investing in startups. Also, it acquired a little company called THX.

Slack

The trendy team communication app’s valuation of $3.8 billion is crazy high, even though the product has only been around for less than three years. But it has lots of competitors, including Microsoft, which launched Teams in November, while still keeping Yammer around. Slack investors include Accel Partners, Comcast Ventures, GGV, Index Ventures, Social Capital, Spark Growth, and Thrive Capital.

Snap

Snap Inc. was Snapchat until a short time ago, when the startup announced its first foray into hardware with the launch of Spectacles glasses (with included camera). Now Snap Inc. is positioning itself as a camera company, not just another messaging app (albeit one that remains popular with younger generations and has seen multiple features copied by Facebook). And it’s on a hiring spree. The inevitable IPO will be huge whenever it happens.

Spotify

The music streaming service has faced formidable competition from Apple, and it confirmed a billion-dollar debt round in March. Spotify brought in $187.1 million in revenue in 2015, up from $159 million in the prior year, according to a filing. “As an investor … we're looking forward to an IPO at some point in time,” Northzone general partner Par-Jorgen Parson told Reuters recently.

Sprinklr

In July, the New York-based social media management company announced that it had raised $105 million in new funding at a $1.8 billion valuation. It employs more than 1,200 people, and its customer list includes McDonald’s, Microsoft, Nike, and P&G.

Stripe

Popular online payment provider Stripe raised $150 million in November at a reported $9.2 billion valuation. “We are very happy as a private company right now,” Will Gaybrick, the startup’s chief financial officer, told Business Insider last week.

Tanium

Endpoint security company Tanium last raised money in 2015. In 2016, VMware announced TrustPoint, a product that packages up Tanium’s software.

Thumbtack

A company that specializes in helping people find the right professionals for specific jobs, Thumbtack last announced funding in 2015, at a valuation of $1.3 billion, according to the New York Times. Shortly thereafter, it hired its first chief financial officer. Investors include Tiger Global and Sequoia Capital.

Uber

The app-enabled cab service has raised at least $12.46 billion in funding, according to CB Insights data, and its valuation of $68 billion, per the Wall Street Journal, is higher than that of any other unicorn. Its balance sheet exceeds $11 billion, and among its investors is the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia.

Unity Technologies

Provider of a popular gaming engine, Unity announced a $181 million funding round in July. Investors include DFJ Growth, Sequoia Capital, and Thrive Capital. Unity says 770 million people play games made with its engine.

Daydream VR software isn’t selling well

Posted: 01 Jan 2017 04:54 PM PST

Google Daydream and accompanying controller with Google Pixel XL.

When it comes to VR sales data, most companies aren't playing their cards close to their chest so much as taping the cards to themselves. We've had to rely on software sales to get some inkling of an idea at how headsets and their software are performing.

Thanks to Android's built-in statistics for apps, we can now do that for Daydream.

Many of Daydream's apps, some made by notable developers and publishers, don't appear to have been installed many times. In fact, lots of them have sold less than 5,000 units and could have sold as little as 1,000.

Daydream apps are bought and downloaded from the Google Play Store, just like traditional smartphone apps on Android. The listings for these experiences include a wide window for the number of times they've been installed. Hugely popular AR app Pokemon Go, for example, has been installed between 100 million – 500 million times while an unofficial companion app buried in the store has between 100 and 500 installs.

A lot of Daydream apps haven't yet passed the 1,000 – 5,000 installs window. Looking at it optimistically, the best performing app thus far is YouTube VR, a free and official app that's been installed between 100,000 – 500,000 times. It's important to note, however, that some of these may be erroneous downloads. We're also not sure if people that don't own a Daydream headset can download its apps, and have reached out to Google to clarify. On the other hand, there are also likely Daydream owners that haven't downloaded YouTube yet.  

We also don't know how up-to-date the data is. With Christmas having just happened, and no doubt more headsets being sold, it's possible these numbers have increased greatly and not been updated yet.

We've sifted through the biggest apps yet released on the platform, split them up into three launch windows and then listed them in descending price order.

This story originally appeared on Uploadvr.com. Copyright 2017

The 5 worst supply chain screwups of 2016

Posted: 01 Jan 2017 03:10 PM PST

Apple's physical store in San Francisco's Union Square neighborhood.

As a rule, hardware is hard. But looking back on 2016, it’s surprising that so many of the world’s major technology companies had trouble getting their products to customers on time.

It’s almost like there was something in the water in Cupertino, Kyoto, Menlo Park, Mountain View, and Seattle that somehow screwed up demand forecasting. But it’s more likely that in each of those places, different things went wrong.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to find out the real reasons for delays. What we typically have to go on are rumors and vague official statements. Such is life for consumers in the 21st century — corporate transparency, but only up to a certain point.

Here are overviews of, in our view, the five worst cases of gadgets coming in late this year.

1. Apple’s AirPods

Apple's AirPods.

Above: Apple’s AirPods.

Image Credit: Jordan Novet/VentureBeat

When Apple unveiled AirPods in September, it said the wireless earphones would be available in late October. Late October came, and Apple said it needed “a little more time before AirPods are ready” for customers.

Now it’s late December — an important time of year for Apple Inc. — and AirPods are hard to find from third parties like Best Buy or at Apple’s online and brick-and-mortar stores.

Even though AirPod stock was widely reported to be low, on the first day of sales at physical Apple stores people still lined up in hopes of snagging the product, just as they do when a new iPhone comes out. At Apple’s store in Fort Worth, Texas, employees had just nine units to sell.

What happened? The Wall Street Journal cited issues with shooting sound to both earbuds simultaneously and problems playing audio on just one of them if the other is lost.

But prominent Apple blogger John Gruber noted that he had heard the delays had more to do with an “unexpected manufacturing problem at scale.”

2. Facebook’s Oculus Rift

Oculus Rift.

Above: Oculus Rift.

Image Credit: Jordan Novet/VentureBeat

Facebook start taking preorders for the first consumer version (CV1) of the Oculus Rift virtual reality (VR) headset at 8 a.m. on January 6. Within minutes, the Rift sold out. Facebook communicated that all orders other than the earliest ones would ship in May, prompting considerable frustration on the part of people who wanted their headset right away.

The first preorders did end up shipping at the end of March as planned. But in May, supply was still very limited, even as Facebook was beginning to sell the Rift in stores. Facebook didn’t finish shipping preorders until July.

The delays could certainly have to do with the fact that this was Facebook’s first time selling hardware for consumers. Oculus VR announced the first and second developer kits before Facebook acquired it in 2014.

In April, Oculus acknowledged a “component shortage” but did not specify the component that it was referring to.

Meanwhile, on Reddit, a person using the handle cvinsider had just published an extensive post claiming that the problematic component was the Xbox controller and wireless adapter that comes in the box with the Rift. This person blamed Microsoft for not delivering those products on time. The post was ultimately marked as a fake by Reddit user TheTwistgibber.

3. Nintendo’s NES Classic Edition

Nintendo's NES Classic.

Above: Nintendo’s NES Classic.

Image Credit: Jordan Novet/VentureBeat

The NES Classic, with its built-in collection of 30 vintage games, is just right for indulging in 1980s nostalgia. And darn it, it costs just $60. So practically everyone wants one. The trouble is, stores can’t keep it in stock. On eBay you can buy it now for two and a half to three times the console’s retail price.

Some people think Nintendo intentionally keeps supply from meeting demand — after all, it happened with the Wii and the Wii U. This keeps people lusting after the devices, as media outlets continue to report on shortages.

It’s not clear that the components inside the console are so unusual that they would be expected to make matters difficult — there’s just 256MB of DDR3 RAM in the thing, for example.

Nintendo is aware of the supply-demand imbalance. Last month, its American division said it’s “working hard to keep up with consumer demand.”

4. Amazon’s Echo

From left to right: Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, and Tap

Above: From left to right: Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, and Tap

Image Credit: Ken Yeung/VentureBeat

Amazon, which has been selling its own hardware since 2007 (remember the original Kindle?), is not known for problems with supply. Perhaps it has learned about the subject over the years by providing other companies’ products.

But a lot of people have said nice things about the Echo smart speaker this year, and Google validated the category by releasing a competitor called the Home. Samsung’s Harman Kardon is now also working on an Echo competitor that will use Microsoft’s Cortana virtual assistant inside.

So perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Echo and Echo Dot were out of stock on Amazon’s website midway through December. But some of Amazon’s physical stores were carrying the Echo as of December 20 in what the Wall Street Journal called “a quirk in Amazon's increasingly complex supply chain.”

Amazon did have a warning of sorts that demand would be strong this holiday season. Not only were Echo device sales on Thanksgiving weekend seven times higher than at the same time last year, the Echo and Echo Dot were also among the four most popular products on Amazon altogether, the company said on November 29.

“Customer response to Echo and Echo Dot has been incredibly positive, and unfortunately we are sold out on Amazon due to high demand,” an Amazon spokesperson told VentureBeat in an email. When asked whether anything caused Amazon to be unable to meet the demand the spokesperson simply responded, “Just tons of interest from customers, which we're very grateful for.”

5. Google’s Pixel

The Google Pixel XL.

Above: The Google Pixel XL.

Image Credit: Jordan Novet/VentureBeat

Over the years, Google has had inventory issues with its LG-built Nexus 4, Motorola-built Nexus 6, and Huawei-built Nexus 6P. Plus, the Chromecast’s success has taught Google about unit sales in the millions.

Nevertheless, Google’s first-party Pixel smartphones — particularly the larger Pixel XL — were in short supply on day one in October and have gone in and out of stock since then. Some phones have arrived late.

On October 25, Google offered a statement acknowledging the troubles: “We're thrilled to see the excitement for our new Pixel phones, and frankly pre-order demand has exceeded our expectations. We're working to restock our inventory as soon as possible.”

How a bot can help with airline compensation

Posted: 01 Jan 2017 02:33 PM PST

Aerial view on the sunset and airplane wing from the inside

I was talking to Eric Bahn from 500 Startups the other night. He was telling me how he had once missed an investor meeting because his flight out of London got delayed — a scenario I've heard multiple times before. But Eric concluded with something that stood out to me:

"I think the worst thing in all of this was the feeling of betrayal because of the complete absence of empathy or even slightest desire to help on behalf of the airline staff. Knowing that you're at the mercy of these people sucks… it's not like I can hop behind the desk and book myself on the next flight out.”

Eric is spot on. I think part of the reason we've been seeing such a surge in disruptive technologies is because people are simply fed up with the continuously deteriorating service they've been receiving from the old school market leaders. We've never been more interconnected, and we expect that relationship to transpire across businesses and improve the service we receive. That's why we opt for Airbnb instead of a large hotel chain, chose Uber over a taxi, and send Bitcoin instead of wiring money through a bank.

But the airline industry seems to be harder to crack. It's conservative, heavily regulated, and concentrated in the hands of few incumbents. What is seen as "disruption" seems to be nothing more than operational optimization and cost-cutting, which is followed by increasingly miserable user experience…and that is precisely where you find an opportunity to make a difference.

Millions of passenger plans are disrupted annually because of an excessive flight delay, cancellation, or overbooking. Many of these people have no idea that they are legally entitled to compensation. The few who do usually end up like Eric — enduring months of (mis)communication by telephone, email, fax, and snail mail, only to have their claims rejected without solid grounds. As a result, billions in airline compensation remains unclaimed every year. But here's the punchline: this type of compensation is basically a contingent liability included in the airfare, so by not paying it, airlines essentially pocket Eric's and everybody else's money.

The International Air Transportation Aviation (IATA) expects passenger traffic to grow at an average 3.8 percent per year, reaching 7 billion passengers over the course of next 18 years. For airlines, the combination of trying to cope with the infrastructural challenge while meeting the growing demand, increasing consumer expectations, keeping the margins slim, and staying competitive creates a difficult environment, to say the least.

We created ClaimCompass to automate the process of making a claim for compensation. Our claimbot ties into our greater goal of becoming the first stop when things go wrong on a flight. We can't prevent some things from happening, but we want to cut them short as early as possible.

Airlines haven't exactly been idle in this area: We’ve found we have to constantly deal with changes in procedures, terms, and conditions. Some airlines allegedly go as far as refusing to work with us, while also completely ignoring passengers' claims. We combat that by only handling claims that have a 100 percent theoretical chance of success.

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