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“U.S. appeals court revives Apple App Store antitrust lawsuit” plus 29 more VentureBeat

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“U.S. appeals court revives Apple App Store antitrust lawsuit” plus 29 more VentureBeat


U.S. appeals court revives Apple App Store antitrust lawsuit

Posted: 12 Jan 2017 01:35 PM PST

Apple Store

Reuters — iPhone app purchasers may sue Apple over allegations that the company monopolized the market for iPhone apps by not allowing users to purchase them outside the App Store, leading to higher prices, a U.S. appeals court ruled on Thursday.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling revives a long-simmering legal challenge originally filed in 2012 taking aim at Apple's practice of only allowing iPhones to run apps purchased from its own App Store. A group of iPhone users sued saying the Cupertino, California, company’s practice was anticompetitive.

Apple had argued that users did not have standing to sue it because they purchased apps from developers, with Apple simply renting out space to those developers. Developers pay a cut of their revenues to Apple in exchange for the right to sell in the App Store.

A lower court sided with Apple, but Judge William A. Fletcher ruled that iPhone users purchase apps directly from Apple, which gives iPhone users the right to bring a legal challenge against Apple.

Apple declined to comment.

The courts have yet to address the substance of the iPhone users’ allegations; up this point, the wrangling has been over whether they have the right to sue Apple in the first place.

But if the challenge ultimately succeeds, “the obvious solution is to compel Apple to let people shop for applications wherever they want, which would open the market and help lower prices,” Mark C. Rifkin, an attorney with Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz representing the group of iPhone users, told Reuters in an interview. “The other alternative is for Apple to pay people damages for the higher than competitive prices they’ve had to pay historically because Apple has utilized its monopoly.”

The case is Pepper et al v. Apple Inc., case number 4:11-cv-06714 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

(Reporting by Stephen Nellis and Dan Levine; editing by Grant McCool)

Cloudflare now lets customers show fast-loading Accelerated Mobile Links on their sites

Posted: 12 Jan 2017 12:42 PM PST

An example of an Accelerated Mobile Link from Cloudflare's own blog.

Cloudflare, a startup offering a content distribution network (CDN) and distributed denial of service (DDoS) mitigation services for websites, today announced that its customers can now choose to implement a technology called Accelerated Mobile Links on their websites, free of charge. The feature lets people quickly view links to fast-loading Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMPs) from mobile sites and then quickly bounce back to the original mobile sites.

This is a fascinating non-Google implementation of the AMP technology that Google introduced in 2015. Google drives people to AMPs from Google Search on mobile devices, among other services. Many media outlets and other companies that operate websites, like eBay, have started making their sites compatible with AMP so that they show up quickly on mobile and consume less data. Cloudflare has gone further — when people click one of these Accelerated Mobile Links (as indicated by the signature lightning bolt icon in a circle), a viewer pops up to display the AMP page, and after reading it, people can hit the little X in the top left corner to return to where they were.

But not only that.

“For large publishers that want an even more branded experience, Cloudflare will offer the ability to customize the domain of the viewer to match the publisher’s domain. This, for the first time, provides a seamless experience where AMP content can be consumed without having to send visitors to a Google owned domain,” Cloudflare cofounder and CEO Matthew Prince wrote in a blog post.

This could very well fix one of the occasional gripes with AMP — that the URL can look to some like a Google URL, as opposed to, say, a news organization’s website.

Cloudflare now “powers the only compliant non-Google AMP cache,” Prince wrote — and the company will come out with more AMP features in the future, he added.

Facebook offers fast-loading Instant Articles in its apps, but the underlying software is proprietary, unlike AMP.

3 ways to make people love your chatbot

Posted: 12 Jan 2017 12:10 PM PST

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

Virtual assistants and chatbots are here to make our lives easier. Want help finding gifts? Retailers ranging from Nordstrom to DSW and Sephora offer chatbots to find presents for your friends and family through Facebook Messenger. Need advice on making a dessert that’s gluten free? Whole Foods’ bot makes it easy to find a recipe for any occasion and dietary preference. Or if your hands are full, Alexa can do the same thing through voice commands. Whether you’re shopping, cooking, or just looking for entertainment, there’s a bot for that.

At their core, however, bots are simply applications that perform a designated task. And like any application, it can be good or bad at its function. Marketers strive to create chatbots that add value and contribute to an effortless experience that surpasses a mere novelty or fad — but chatbots are still in the experimental stage.

“Chatbots offer immense potential for consumers to interact with a brand in an organic way, through one-on-one conversations within the messaging or social apps they already use,” says Brian Seewald, vice president of digital at DSW. “There are many nuances to consider when building a chatbot. AI-driven technologies are the first big step in making successful chatbots. That said, these bots will also require thoughtful planning to ensure bots are designed to easily fit in consumers’ lives and enable them to interact at their fingertips, whenever needed.”

Beyond the fundamental layers of data and software, marketers need to plan how chatbots will fit into their broader customer engagement strategy. When creating a bot, there are some key principles to create a memorable, easy-to-use bot that will help ensure success.

1. It’s created with (one) purpose

After the mobile app revolution of the 2000s, we quickly saw an ecosystem evolve where there’s an app for everything. Similarly, now we’re saying, “There’s a bot for that.”

In these early stages, however, it’s essential that bots don’t aim to be a solution for everything. They should set clear expectations with users about what they can do — and more importantly, what they can’t do. Otherwise, brands will find themselves facing escalated customer frustration as users ask for things the bot isn’t set up to handle. A positive example is 1-800-Flowers’ Messenger bot, which clearly states that the bot helps users order flowers and other products. The mission is direct, clearly communicated, and created for a particular customer need. Over time, the company plans to offer features to notify users of special occasions, send Facebook messages letting the recipient know a package is on the way, and share an update when the flowers have been delivered.

In contrast, look at CNN, which launched a bot it claimed would answer questions about the news. Because of the breadth of possible questions, however, the bot often failed to understand what users were asking and didn’t provide the information that users expected. Google Allo addresses this issue with its chatbot by letting users know if a query is too complex to answer and suggesting alternate questions to ask, continuing to provide value. Setting clear expectations and giving users advice on how to interact with the bot — like specific phrases or guided prompts — will lead to a win-win for the user and brand.

2. It knows you — within reason

When you’re talking with a sales associate, you expect them to understand your needs without asking you to repeat yourself. Shoppers expect the same of chatbots. Like a good sales associate, a bot should remember your previous conversations, purchases, and preferences. This builds contextual understanding.

By using progressive profiling, bots can gradually learn other relevant information over time about what you want — and what you couldn’t care less about. A smart experience creates a big picture of your behavior over time instead of going for a big bang approach, so the overall quality of interactions is smooth.

A bad bot asks the user to fill out a lengthy profile up front, creating a significant barrier to adoption. This is an onerous task for the user, and it's hard for most new users to justify investing their time and trust without getting a taste of the potential benefits.

There’s a fine line between contextual profiling that’s smart and that’s just creepy, and marketers should take care not to push the boundaries. A good bot doesn’t ask for personal information (like contacts, address book, access to photos or files, etc.) unless it clearly explains why that information is important to the experience. A bad bot attempts to exploit the user and harvest their information to invite others in a “growth hack” way. This will destroy any semblance of trust, not just with the bot but with the brand.

3. Speak the same language

Talking to a bot should be as close as possible to the organic experience of talking to a live person. An engaging bot balances binary questions with effective natural language programming to make the conversation flow at a natural pace. In contrast, an ineffective bot makes the user answer a dozen yes-or-no questions, leading to “survey fatigue.” It’s OK to insert call-to-action buttons and user-interface styling sparingly, but reserve such touches for the most significant decisions (votes, actions, etc.). By only asking binary questions, poorly designed bots make the entire experience feel transactional and crude, essentially wasting the capabilities of the bot and leaving the user with a less sophisticated image of the brand behind it.

Most users who interact with a brand’s bot love the brand experience on other channels and expect the bot’s tone to be consistent. The bot acts as a brand ambassador, so don’t compromise on the personality and voice.

While chatbots are used primarily as digital assistants and customer service agents today, we’re only in the early stage of innovation. AI will continue to advance and inspire experimentation among marketers. It may not be long until we have chatbots acting as teaching assistants, health care support, or even financial advisors. Wherever the future may take us, the most effective chatbots will be the ones that merge technology innovation with existing customer engagement strategies.

GamesBeat’s Switch wishes: What we want to see from Nintendo’s livestreams

Posted: 12 Jan 2017 11:30 AM PST

Nintendo Switch should be able to handle the base code for games that originated on other platforms.

Tonight, we’ll learn more details about Nintendo’s home console/portable hybrid, the Switch.

We’re expecting information like launch date and price, but Nintendo could show off unknown features and new games during its two streams. The first is happening tonight at 8 p.m. Pacific, with a second stream focusing on games coming up Friday at 6:30 a.m. Pacific. You can watch them at Nintendo’s site, and they’ll also stream on YouTube and Twitch.

In some ways, this anticipation is just as (maybe even more fun) than the actual reveal. We’re all letting our imaginations go wild, wondering what Nintendo will tell us. And we’re not all wishing for the same things.

Below, each member of our staff talks about what they’re hoping to see from Nintendo’s upcoming Switch events.

Rebuilding the Switch in CAD.

Above: Rebuilding the Switch in CAD.

Image Credit: CNC Design

Lead writer Dean Takahashi

I would like to see full details on the hardware, in terms of its specifications, the type of chips, and other hardware in the box. I don’t expect to get this. Nintendo is notoriously vague about its hardware specs, as if it doesn’t really matter to gamers. But a lot of people care about them, and it helps us all understand the connection between gaming and technology better.

I’d love to know if Nintendo will embrace cloud gaming, as the Nvidia Shield tablet and set-top box (upon which the Switch is based) both take advantage of cloud gaming features. I’d also like to know more details about engaging in and watching esports, as teased in the trailer.

I would love to know what launch games are arriving at the time of launch and the extent of third-party support. Clearly this is more attractive than the previous console, but these details would help fill in the picture.

A demonstration of the Switch playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

Above: A demonstration of the Switch playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

Image Credit: Nintendo

Writer Jeff Grubb

I want Nintendo to reassure me that it won’t try to make any more half-ass attempts at crucial elements of a modern gaming system. We all know that the Switch will work fine as a Nintendo-game machine. But if I’m going to buy a new console in 2017, Nintendo can’t just pay lip service to third-party support, app support, and internet capabilities.

Nintendo must come out and give me confidence that it has built a system that developers and publishers want to support. The Switch is using hardware that is very similar to an Android device, and Nintendo should take advantage of that by welcoming app developers. The Switch doesn’t need to have a dozen fart apps, but I would love to have a podcast app so I can play Zelda and listen to the Filmcast at the same time. And, of course, give us a connected internet environment where we can easily find our friends, create parties, and communicate without friend codes.

Skyrim running on the Switch while it is docked.

Above: Skyrim running on the Switch while it is docked.

Image Credit: Nintendo

Community manager Mike Minotti

I want a dozen fart apps.

OK, seriously, the portable aspect of the Switch is what I find most exciting about the system, and the rumors that GameCube games could be downloaded on the console via a new Virtual Console store thrill me. The GameCube is one of my favorite systems ever, Nintendo or otherwise. Metroid Prime, Super Smash Bros. Melee, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, Resident Evil 4, Super Mario Sunshine … I could keep naming its classics.

Having those games available on a portable system would be incredible. It’s time to get the GameCube on the Virtual Console. Since Nintendo introduced the digital store in 2006 with the Wii, the Nintendo 64 has been the latest platform to have some of its library represented. Back in 2006, the GameCube wasn’t that old of a system (it debuted in 2001). But it’s been more than 10 years since 2006. It’s time to get a new generation in the Virtual Console.

The Joy-Con controller for the Nintendo Switch.

Above: The Joy-Con controller for the Nintendo Switch.

Image Credit: Nintendo

Managing editor Jason Wilson

My needs are different from my colleagues. I don’t care so much about app support — if I want to listen to music or a podcast, I’ll use my phone to do so. I don’t need to know the details of the chips. Playing online isn’t as important as playing with my kids on the couch (though I do hope it’ll have strong online capabilities for those who will enjoy and use those services). I’ll dig playing it while I’m in bed or commuting to the office, but hell, we’ve been playing games-on-the-go for decades, so this isn’t all that new.

But I do care about three things:

  • How it connects to networks on-the-go.
  • How long its battery lasts.
  • Indie support.
  • Enough supply that buying one won’t be a pain in the ass in the first few weeks after launch.

Nintendo’s marketing showed people playing the Switch all over town. But was it online? And if so, what sort of network was it using? Would we need to pay a monthly fee to access it? Or is it just straight Wi-Fi, with no 4G or LTE connectivity? And how strong is this battery going to be? I remember my DS battery lasting much longer than the 3DS’s, and I bet this little gadget is going to require more power than Nintendo’s last handheld uses.

For years, gamers have complained about the lack of third-party publishers making their big games for Nintendo consoles. Frankly, I don’t care — I don’t need EA games on the Switch. But I would love to see indies publish on the system. Lots of great PC games would work well on a portable console — as we’ve seen, the likes of Shovel Knight and Spelunky work just fine on a portable as well as the PC. I’d like Nintendo to reach out to indies, in the way that Sony has for the PlayStation 4, and bring more variety to its ecosystem.

But my major concern is supply. As we saw with the NES Classic in late 2016, Nintendo clings to its conservative sales projections at launch. I hope all the hubbub about the Switch — its YouTube trailer has more than 23.2 million views on YouTube, and it was a hit during its late-night TV stint — shows the stalwart gaming company that it’s already done a good job of building demand.

Blizzard bans 10,000 Overwatch ‘nuking’ cheaters in South Korea

Posted: 12 Jan 2017 11:13 AM PST

D.Va's ultimate isn't the most annoying nuke in Overwatch.

Overwatch’s South Korean servers are overrun with cheaters, and Blizzard made a big move to put an end to this problem.

The publisher has banned more than 10,000 players on its South Korean servers, according to a post on its message boards. Blizzard specifically mentioned that it banned players using a new cheating tool called “nuking” that seemingly targets opposing teams with a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) barrage that overwhelms their internet connection with junk data. The studio says that it is preparing countermeasures to fight nuking.

“Creating and delivering a pleasant game environment for the majority of our rule-abiding players is of paramount importance to us,” reads a post from the Blizzard Korea team. “And we are committed to taking all the steps we can to stop players who create, distribute, and use these nuking programs.”

I’ve asked Blizzard for more details about how these bans work in regards to PC bangs, and I’ll updated this story with any new information.

But banning players who use the nuking programs and other Overwatch “hacks” (as they’re often called) doesn’t get to the root of the problem in South Korea. Most people in that country never buy games. Instead, they regularly attend “PC bangs,” which are internet cafes where you can pay approximately $1 per hour to play whatever you want. PC bangs have a special version of Blizzard’s Battle.net where games like Overwatch and World of Warcraft are essentially free-to-play. That way, you simply pay the PC bang $1 per hour, and you don’t have to worry about spending another $40 to buy Overwatch.

As you might imagine, this means that if Blizzard Korea bans a PC bang player, that player can simply start up a fresh account and start playing again immediately without having to buy Overwatch all over again.

And many PC bangs in South Korea encourage that kind of behavior. They typically pre-install cheating clients on their computers so that their regulars have instant access to aimbots and nuking if they want.

7 bot trends to watch in 2017

Posted: 12 Jan 2017 10:15 AM PST

facebook-messenger-hero-16

It’s been less than a year since the Messenger Platform launched, and we’ve seen amazing results in a short amount of time. Throughout 2016, developers built engaging experiences while my team focused on building the best platform we could for them. As we observed what and how they were building, we continued to iterate and create tools and resources that made developing bots for Messenger even more impactful.

Based on what we’ve seen here on the Messenger team and from rest of the industry, following are some predictions on what we’ll see from bots in 2017.

1. More structure, less conversation

Most people expect bots to speak in a “natural language.” While natural language processing is appropriate for many use cases, it’s sometimes not the right approach. In 2017, developers will build fewer bot experiences that mimic conversations, and the public will have a better understanding of what to expect while interacting with bots.

2. Mobile webview integration

Being able to open a mobile website gives developers a way to increase user input, offer richer browsing capabilities, and leverage existing mobile frameworks. This is especially valuable for commerce bots, where implementing structured messages can be cumbersome; webview allows a bot to offer a full product catalog without overcomplicating the interaction.

3. Bots that get social

As more people turn to bots to take care of everyday tasks, the more they’ll want to share their favorite bots with family and friends. You can expect to see further innovation in social sharing features, from both the platform and developer side, as well as the beginning of truly viral bots.

4. Discoverability unlocked

Finding, using, and even building a bot experience will become easier, whether you’re a person looking to interact with one or a business looking for a platform to create one. As the ecosystem matures and there are better and better experiences to showcase, more tools will be made available — on and off bot platforms — to address these needs.

5. Industry-specific platform tools

2016 was the year of the generic bot, with businesses and developers finding early success with experiences that were simple to execute and easy for people to use. To encourage growth in 2017, platforms will build on top of themselves and design tools that plug into toolchains and CRMs so more industries like media, ecommerce, and restaurants can benefit.

6. More customer service hybrid models

One of the initial trends we saw in Messenger centered around customer service interactions that used bots to automate simple requests and brought in humans for more complicated cases. As they evolve their bot experiences, businesses will continue to find new ways to provide customer service and increase consumer satisfaction.

7. The domino effect

As businesses see that their competitors already have bots that are gaining traction, they’ll push their development and marketing teams to understand and identify opportunities. The “bot race” will kick off in earnest this year and result in the growth and proliferation of new experiences on Messenger and other platforms.

With the above trends, we expect to see even more rapid progress in the coming year. So don’t get left behind; it’s time to start building!

Why Intel is excited about self-driving cars

Posted: 12 Jan 2017 10:01 AM PST

Intel is working with BMW to make self-driving cars a reality.

There was a time when computer chip makers had no interest in car electronics. But times have changed as self-driving cars and the artificial intelligence used to pilot them have taken off. Now those cars are set to consume a huge amount of computing power and generate a ton of data to be processed in the cloud, internet-connected data centers.

And that’s why Intel is excited about self-driving cars. It is pushing forward with technologies such as AI, computer vision, 5G wireless connectivity, and infotainment centers in vehicles. At CES 2017, the big tech trade show in Las Vegas last week, Intel said it had developed 5G infrastructure chips that will bring connectivity to self-driving cars, and it also said it was working with BMW on cars of the future. And it bought a stake in the mapping firm Here.

Doug Davis is senior vice president and general manager of the automated driving group at Intel. I caught up with Davis at CES 2017 to discuss Intel’s announcements, including its new Intel Go brand for cars.

Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.

Doug Davis is head of the automated driving group at Intel.

Above: Doug Davis is head of the automated driving group at Intel.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

VentureBeat: Autonomous cars are big this year. Do you have any news at the show on that front?

Doug Davis: We announced a new brand called Intel Go. It's intended to comprehend what we're doing from an autonomous driving standpoint. Within that, this week we announced a development platform that spans from our Intel Atom product family all the way to the Intel Xeon product family. It's a development platform for 5G development. It's (field programmable gate array) FPGA-based, so it allows developers to get started now on 5G for automotive applications. There's also a software development kit that spans from the car to the cloud, to get developers up and running on those kinds of applications.

The other thing we announced this week that's directly attributable to what we're doing in the autonomous space is our 5G modem. It's the first modem device available for 5G. It's the second half of 2017.

VB: Every autonomous car is going to need one, basically?

Davis: I wouldn't say you can't do an autonomous vehicle without 5G. A lot of the development on cars that are already out on the road is done on 4G LTE technology. But as we look at mainstream deployment, if you've been hearing from all the different OEMs, they're all gravitating to about 2021 as a time frame they're shooting for. You look at the timing of 5G, it's very similar.

As we get autonomous vehicles on the road, we'll go from being drivers to passengers. As passengers we'll have a lot of spare time. We can do work, do some shopping, watch our favorite series from whatever service we like to watch. That 5G bandwidth will be able to support the end-to-end artificial intelligence that's necessary for these vehicles. It'll be able to supply us with broadband connectivity for the things we want to do in the car. But it'll also have the latency, the speed, to be able to support what's called "V-to-X." Vehicle to vehicle, vehicle to infrastructure, vehicle to pedestrian. 5G will support that as well.

As we look at when these mainstream fleets of autonomous vehicles begin to get out on the road and the timing for 5G, we think it'll be an important capability to combine together there. In the meantime we'll see development happening on 4G technologies, obviously.

ces-2017-2-intel-boothVB: In autonomous cars, Jen-Hsun Huang says they have a three-year head start at Nvidia.

Davis: But if you think about it, we have our 5G development platform now. You can put that in a car and begin doing development work. They'll both have a long development cycle, but their timing is very similar.

VB: They got into a cycle of announcing car supercomputer chips. A couple of them are out there now already. For Intel, what's the road map? Have you put any word out as to which kind of processor will be your main processor for these applications?

Davis: I can say, "Yes, and…" When we think about autonomous driving, it's not just one chip. An autonomous vehicle will become an artificial intelligence implementation. To be able to put these cars on the road, especially when you think about putting large fleets on the road or making them consumer vehicles, you need to be able to build a model of the vehicle's behavior. You'll do that in the data center. That becomes your trained model, built using massive amounts of data. That trained model will then be deployed into the car, the inference that sits in the vehicle. That inference then defines the behavior of the car. But the car will also be collecting lots of data and sending it back to the data center.

When we think about this, the data center, the network infrastructure, and the vehicle are all important elements of delivering the solution. The connectivity part of it is very important. Training in the data center will happen on Xeon, Xeon Phi FPGAs. We'll have accelerator devices to accelerate certain algorithms via what we're doing with Nirvana. If you think about what's happening in the network infrastructure, they're moving the software-defined networks with certain functions that get virtualized in the network. We're delivering Atom through Xeon technologies to support that.

Intel believes that AI will be a huge part of car computing in the future.

Above: Intel believes that AI will be a huge part of car computing in the future.

Image Credit: Intel

In the car — everybody wants to talk about fully autonomous vehicles, but there will be an evolution from driver assist L3 all the way up to L4 and L5. We have products that support that capability. From a compute standpoint, it ranges from Atom for driver assist functions now up to Xeon for fully autonomous. But FPGAs play an important role in that. We have FPGA technology that scales accordingly. We've talked a lot about communications with that connectivity part that will sit in the vehicle.

When we think about these things, it's much more than just a chip. It's the ability to deliver an end-to-end artificial intelligence implementation. You think about all those things I just described, nobody else in the industry has that breadth of assets.

VB: You have the car-makers and their suppliers, and all the startups in the space. Who do you work with? Have you set up all those relationships?

Davis: We described the range of companies. There are the OEMs building cars. There are tier one suppliers providing them, typically, with the compute elements that go into the car. Intel would be considered a tier two. We supply products and technologies to the tier ones. That's the role we play in the industry.

We're also very mindful and respectful of our OEMs that we work with. For those that are to a stage where they're ready to talk about who they're working with — of course, we're thrilled to make those kinds of announcements. We've talked about the work we're doing with BMW and Baidu. Delphi recently acknowledged they're working with us on the solution they're building for the OEMs. But today, if you think about all the different autonomous vehicles in development, there are more than 200 based on Intel technology now. We have engagements with many OEMs, many tier ones, but we're not naming those companies unless they're at a stage where they're ready to talk about it.

VB: I was chatting with ARM a bit. They were saying that the ecosystem is changing a lot. In the microcontroller era, everybody had some very specific function they were doing. The suppliers would handle that — chips for the brakes or whatever. It would stay in that section. But now it's more general-purpose computing and software that spreads across the whole car. No single supplier can be so narrow anymore.

Davis: Obviously our focus, up until recently, has been around infotainment. We've done quite a bit for the past several years around driver assist and autonomous technologies, but the infotainment space is an interesting one. We've been advocating a technology road map that says you can start to consolidate numerous functions in our microprocessor.

We have entertainment and navigation in that center stack, the screen that sits in the middle of the dash. Then the instrument cluster is becoming a display. Rear-view mirrors are becoming a display. The outside mirrors will ultimately become a display. Rear-seat entertainment includes displays. We've been advocating for quite some time — why can't you have all these systems running on a single microprocessor with an operating system that provides a level of robustness and reliability that's necessary, and then virtualize those workloads on top of that microprocessor?

The Intel Go platform will span from the car to the cloud.

Above: The Intel Go platform will span from the car to the cloud.

Image Credit: Intel

If you get a chance to go by the Delphi booth, they have a great demo in there using our Intel Atom processor 3900, the Apollo Lake. They have a cockpit, if you will, where they're running the infotainment system and the instrument cluster on one Apollo Lake processor. They can reboot the infotainment system and the instrument cluster remains fully functional, despite the fact that you're rebooting the entire infotainment platform. If the system has a significant problem, it has the ability to still sustain the necessary level of performance. You don't lose the instrument cluster.

It's a great demo. It shows exactly what you described in this space. They're even talking about the ability to drive seven different displays simultaneously with one microprocessor. They have a cool cockpit where they've taken the instrument cluster and the infotainment system, and then this little clock display down here. They're multiple displays stacked together. The one on top is fully transparent, so the instrument cluster is three-dimensional. Your infotainment platform is three-dimensional. The little clock is three-dimensional. Each of them is two screens sandwiched together. These gauges really look like physical objects. It's one of the coolest things I've seen. Sorry, but I'm a little excited about it. [laughs]

VB: You had your BMW announcement here.

Davis: Wednesday morning, Intel and BMW and Mobileye had a press event at BMW's booth. We talked about the progress we've made over the last six months. We announced the partnership back on July 1. This was a report on the progress we've made. We're making great progress on the development of the platform we've described, and on this whole notion of how we can work together with other OEMs and tier ones. We said at the beginning that we wanted that to be a state-of-the-art platform that could be used by others in the industry as well. The work that we're doing isn't just limited to BMW. We're continuing that development to enable that capability.

We talked a bit about the work that's going on. We defined this to a level of detail. There are 19 different work streams that define all the effort to make that happen. We also talked about the number of cars that are being built and put on the road in 2017. We'll have as many as 40 cars on the road being used to do this development work. If you think about the number of autonomous vehicles out there now, that's a pretty big number. We're making good progress.

Intel Go

Above: Intel Go

Image Credit: Intel

We announced the stake and the work we're doing with Here. There's really two objectives there. The first is to be able to work together with them on the data center technologies and capabilities they're developing to be able to create, deliver, and update high-definition maps, and then the way in which they'll be deployed to vehicles on the road. From an Intel perspective, there's a lot of technology around the data center and how that gets optimized, and the way in which these maps can be delivered through network service providers.

In the data center, Here will maintain these high-definition maps of, essentially, the planet. But when you're in an autonomous vehicle, you probably don't need a map of the whole planet in your car if you're only driving around Vegas. Those cars will get updates based on their location. If you think about driving from Vegas to Phoenix, you'll get updates of those maps as your trip progresses. The way in which those maps get deployed through the networks will be important. We'll work together with them to figure out how you build and optimize and deliver these maps, as well as the way in which the car downloads and uses them. The other part is working together with OEMs as far as how they implement the maps within their cars, integrating that into their autonomous vehicles.

Interior of Panasonic's concept car for autonomous driving.

Above: Interior of Panasonic’s concept car for autonomous driving.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

VB: Do you have a sense of how big this whole auto ecosystem is, with so many startups involved? Nvidia was saying that just in AI alone, they're working with 1,500 startups, and it seems like a lot of those are in cars.

Davis: When we step back and think about AI, it will span a lot of different applications: health care, manufacturing, drug development, all kinds of things. We're building an artificial intelligence capability as a company, an end-to-end artificial intelligence capability. The car just happens to be a very complex, comprehensive implementation of artificial intelligence that will be very visible, because we interact with cars on a daily basis.

I don't know about exact numbers. I haven't heard a number like that. But it's clear in the industry that it's a hot area. A lot of startups, a lot of development. I think there will be a lot of technology investment in that space for a while. Part of it — I always say these things happen when they become economically viable. We've all talked about AI for a very long time, but we're reaching a point where you have the compute and storage capacity in the data center to cost-effectively go do this broad range of AI implementations. You have the ability to deploy those cost-effectively through the networks. Thanks to Moore's Law, we have the ability to put enough compute and storage in a device to deploy these kinds of solutions.

AI has been around a long time, but it's a confluence of those things, as well as all the software we need to fuel it. It's kind of like the internet of things. I like to say that the internet of things is an overnight sensation that's 20 years in the making. It's because the compute, the connectivity, the cost of sensors, all those things have finally reached a point where it's economically viable to implement them.

The Panasonic driverless concept car.

Above: The Panasonic driverless concept car.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

 

Pinterest starts using deep learning to recommend Related Pins

Posted: 12 Jan 2017 10:00 AM PST

Related pins for this pin on Pinterest.

Pinterest today is announcing that it’s now using a type of artificial intelligence called deep learning to recommend Related Pins, one of the most important features of its app for saving images and other content to boards. Related Pins, which appear below pins on Pinterest’s web and mobile apps, are what they sound like — pins that Pinterest thinks are related to the current one.

This builds on Pinterest’s use of deep learning — which generally involves training artificial neural networks on lots of data, such as pictures, and then getting them to make inferences about new data — for visual search, which lets users select regions of images and then find visually similar pins on Pinterest. Deep learning also lets Pinterest users tap on dots that appear above objects in an image to find pins with similar objects.

Pinterest has experimented with using deep learning for Related Pins as far back as mid-2015. The exact approach has been refined since then. For example, the team has started using the TensorFlow framework that Google open-sourced in November 2015.

Related Pins recommended with Pinterest's Pin2Vec recommendation system.

Above: Related Pins recommended with Pinterest’s Pin2Vec recommendation system.

Image Credit: Pinterest

Like Facebook, Google, Twitter, and other web companies, Pinterest does a lot with data to optimize its own services. Machine learning in general has been widely used at Pinterest for years and indeed has helped it with recent achievements like surpassing 150 million monthly active users. Web companies — as well as some older technology companies like Apple and Microsoft — have also embraced deep learning in certain places, and Pinterest set off on that path after acquiring the deep learning startup VisualGraph three years ago.

In a blog post today Pinterest software engineer Kevin Ma explains how the Related Pins system still draws on board co-occurrence — the idea that if five people pin the same photo, the pins that also appear on those people’s boards are likely related to the original photo — but now also uses Pinterest’s Related Pin recommendation system, which goes by the name Pin2Vec. Relying exclusively on board co-occurrence isn’t perfect, partly because sometimes people change what they pin to a given board as time goes by. The deep learning method takes into consideration what people save and click on, and so it’s effectively trying to predict what users will save and click on next. The result is Related Pins that are more relevant to users, Ma notes — it has increased Related Pins engagement by 5 percent.

But that doesn’t mean good old co-occurrence is going away. It still plays an important role.

“In our tests, we’ve found the board co-occurrence is better performing for long tail Pins that are sparse in engagement data,” Ma wrote.

See Ma’s full blog post for more detail.

Star Wars: Force Arena’s — Netmarble’s Clash Royale-like — is available now on iOS and Android

Posted: 12 Jan 2017 09:25 AM PST

Star Wars: Force Arena is now live.

We may have to wait until the end of the year to see Episode VIII, but you can get a new Star Wars experience on your mobile phone right now.

Publisher Netmarble launched Star Wars: Force Arena today for iOS and Android. You can download it from the Apple App Store or the Google Play market for free. As I previously reported after playing an early version of Force Arena, it mixes together elements of developer Supercell’s hyperpopular Clash Royale mobile hit with the hero concept from multiplayer online battle arenas like Dota 2 or League of Legends. By combining those concepts with the beloved Star Wars license, Netmarble could have a major hit in the $36.6 billion gaming market.

In Force Arena, you build decks of units as either an agent of the Rebellion or the Empire. You build these decks under the leadership of a hero character. So, for example, one of your empire decks might have you in control of Emperor Palpatine in charge of units like stormtroopers, AT-ST walkers, and a Devaronian mercenary. You can drop those units into battle as long as you have enough energy (which is always replenishing), but you’re also always in control of your hero. That’s the one major departure from Clash Royale, and it adds a layer of complexity that I’ve enjoyed in my time with Force Arena.

Of course, in this free-to-play game, players can always spend money to unlock more characters and units. It was always discouraging to get demolished as Han Solo because the other player had already unlocked an AT-ST, and you’re still just using rebel soldiers.

"We are thrilled to introduce Star Wars: Force Arena to Star Wars fans and mobile gamers alike, whether they defend the Empire or take up the Rebel cause," Netmarble marketing chief Seungwon Lee said in a statement. "Players can collect their favorite Star Wars characters including Darth Vader, Han Solo, and Jyn Erso to create their ideal battle squad and face off in real time within the Star Wars universe."

The game has over 80 characters from the Star Wars universe, and — as Lee mentioned — that includes heroes from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. That should attract diehard fans of the franchise, and the game may have enough depth to keep those players engaged and spending money.

eBay to combat counterfeiters with professional authenticators that inspect high-end goods

Posted: 12 Jan 2017 09:07 AM PST

eBay

To many, eBay serves as a convenient conduit for shifting unwanted goods and buying items at a fraction of their MSRP. But the online shopping emporium has long been a popular platform for fake products, with luxury goods such as fashion accessories and jewelry high on eBay counterfeiters’ agenda.

To counter this, eBay has revealed plans to introduce a new authentication program later this year, with a broad focus on “high-end” goods and launching initially as a trial with fashion items such as handbags.

“As we know, this particular set of inventory [fashion] causes some consumers apprehension in their purchase journey,” explained Laura Chambers, vice president of eBay consumer selling. “Based on our learnings, we'll look to broaden the service out further.”

Dubbed eBay Authenticate, the new service will be powered by a “network of professional authenticators,” and is ultimately designed to encourage buyers to part with cash on expensive items, safe in the knowledge that the merchandise is legitimate.

“We know that many shoppers may be hesitant to purchase high-end products online,” continued Chambers. “This service is designed to help quell some of those concerns — and in turn — enhance the opportunity for our sellers to get top-dollar for their items.”

Sellers opt into the program and pay a fee — an undisclosed amount so far — to access the service. In the product listing, there will be messaging that indicates that the item will be checked by one of the authenticators. Once a sale is complete, the authenticator will personally inspect the item, and then it will be forwarded to the buyer. If, after passing the examination, the consumer receives the goods and they turn out to be fake, eBay says it will refund double the price of the original purchase price.

Notably, if a seller doesn’t opt into the authentication program, a buyer can still elect to use the service, though they will have to cover the cost of the inspection themselves.

Similar to other community-driven platforms such as YouTube, eBay has long offered anti-counterfeit services such as the Verified Rights Owner (VeRO) program, which strives to make it easier for rights-owners to report items they believe are fake.

Despite that, eBay has been the subject of a number of high-profile lawsuits over the years. Jewelry giant Tiffany & Co took eBay to court several years ago over its role in failing to prevent counterfeit merchandise from passing through its site. Tiffany & Co lost, however, with the judge ruling:

Tiffany failed to establish that eBay intentionally set out to deceive the public, much less that eBay’s conduct was of an egregious nature sufficient to create a presumption that consumers were being deceived.

And back in 2008, French luxury goods merchant LVMH initially emerged victorious from a legal battle, when a judge ordered eBay to pay it more than $60 million in damages. After a series of appeals and fines, eBay and LVMH finally agreed to work together in 2014, with the duo announcing a “cooperative effort to protect intellectual property rights and combat counterfeits in online commerce.”

Given that millions of items change hands through eBay, it’s enormously difficult for anyone to 100 percent eradicate counterfeit goods on the platform. But bargain hunters with money to burn will soon have an extra service at their disposal to ensure they’re not being swindled.

Game developers are optimistic about Nintendo Switch sales

Posted: 12 Jan 2017 09:01 AM PST

GDC

About 50 percent of game developers believe that the Nintendo Switch will outsell Nintendo’s previous game console, the Wii U, according to the fifth annual State of the Industry survey by the Game Developers Conference.

That’s a bit of a low bar, considering the Wii U only sold about 13 million units, said Simon Carless, the executive vice president at event company UBM and the producer of the GDC, which will be held in San Francisco from February 27 to March 3.

Still, the results show that game developers are positive about the prospects for the Switch. About 14 percent felt the platform would sell less than the Wii U, and 37 percent were unsure.

The most popular game platforms for developers, based on GDC survey.

Above: The most popular game platforms for developers, based on a GDC survey.

Image Credit: GDC

Nintendo says the main selling point of the Switch is the ability to switch back and forth between a portable mode and a docked home console. About 48 percent of developers said that they thought that might resonate with the public, but it didn’t seem to be world-changing. Only 19 percent said they felt the Switch is the right product for the right time. Additionally, 11 percent said people would not be interested in the Switch, and 23 percent said they didn’t know.

“The sentiment is not like, ‘Oh my god! The Switch is genius,'” Carless said.

Meanwhile, developers are not that excited about mid-cycle console refreshes, such as the Sony PlayStation Pro and Microsoft’s upcoming Project Scorpio. Only 18 percent viewed the refreshes as good for the industry. About 5 percent viewed it negatively, 36 percent were neutral, and 41 percent didn’t care or were unsure, the survey found.

“It seems like these mid-cycle refreshes are getting a lukewarm response,” Carless said.

Right now, only 3 percent of developers are making games for the Switch. Meanwhile, 27 percent are making games for the Sony PlayStation 4, 22 percent are making games for Xbox One/Scorpio, 38 percent are making games for smartphones and tablets, and 53 percent are making games for PCs/Macs.

Game developers are spreading their bets across VR platforms.

Above: Game developers are spreading their bets across VR platforms.

Image Credit: GDC

As for virtual reality, 61 percent of developers aren’t making games for VR platforms. Of those developing for VR, 24 percent are making games for the HTC Vive, and 23 percent are making games for the Oculus Rift. That’s a significant turnaround as Oculus had 19 percent a year ago and the Vive only had 6 percent.

Meanwhile, 13 percent are developing games for the PlayStation VR. And 13 percent are also making games for the Samsung Gear VR, 6 percent are making games for Microsoft HoloLens, and 0.58 percent are making games for CastAR.

Projecting into the future, when asked which VR/AR platform they expected the game after the project they're working on now would be released on, 40 percent of respondents said they were planning to support HTC Vive for their next title. By comparison, 37 percent said their next game would release on Oculus Rift, and 26 percent said PlayStation VR.

When surveyed about general interest level in each of the major VR/AR headsets, survey respondents once again gave HTC Vive the lead. When asked to mark down the VR/AR platforms of most interest to them as developers, 45 percent indicated HTC Vive, 30 percent indicated Oculus Rift, and 29 percent marked PlayStation VR. Microsoft's upcoming HoloLens augmented reality platform came in fourth with 24 percent of respondents.

Developers are placing bigger bets on exclusives for the HTC Vive.

Above: Developers are placing bigger bets on exclusives for the HTC Vive.

Image Credit: GDC

Only about one in 10 gamemakers is working on a platform-exclusive VR/AR game, mainly for the Vive.

Half of respondents said they weren't involved in VR/AR game development while 39 percent said that their next project would not be exclusive to a single VR/AR platform. Roughly 11 percent of survey respondents said that their next game would be exclusive to one VR/AR platform or device.

Of those developers working on an platform-exclusive VR/AR title, 33 percent said their next project would be a platform-exclusive VR/AR game for HTC Vive, making it the most popular VR system for exclusives. By comparison, 24 percent were working on a platform-exclusive VR/AR title for Oculus Rift, and 15 percent for PlayStation VR.

As for mobile, Android finally surpassed iOS in terms of developer interest. About 54 percent are making games for Android while 51 percent are making games for iOS. Around 6 percent are making games for Windows Phone.

The GDC said 4,500 people participated in the survey. About 27,000 people are expected to attend the GDC. The event has more than 300 exhibits, 600 speakers, and 500 sessions.

North Americans are far more likely to spend in mobile games than Europeans and Asians

Posted: 12 Jan 2017 09:00 AM PST

North Americans spend a lot more than Europeans and Asians in mobile games.

North Americans are 260 percent more likely than European gamers and 94 percent more likely than Asian gamers to make in-app purchases, according to a report from user acquisition firm Liftoff.

The report from Palo Alto, Calif.-based Liftoff is based on 7.9 billion ad impressions and 3.6 million app installs, and it verifies that North America is still the king when it comes to generating revenues in the $36 billion mobile game industry..

Liftoff works with a range of mobile gaming companies including Storm8, Wooga, and InfiApps. Based on an analysis of impressions and downloads collected between October 2015 and October 2016 from more than 180 global gaming apps, Liftoff's report found that 11.96 percent of users in North America who installed a gaming app went on to complete an in-app purchase.

Purchasing behavior varies widely by geography. These differences are staggering considering the fact that China alone had 366 million mobile gamers during the first half of 2015. That’s more than the entire U.S. and Canadian populations.

But North Americans are more willing to shell out money. This suggests that if mobile marketers want to optimize their business and better engage users, they should focus on quality over quantity — and that means directing efforts to North America.

Card games monetize well compared to other categories.

Above: Card games monetize well compared to other categories.

Image Credit: Liftoff

"As we expand our business into APAC, we're interested to see how mobile engagement varies in regions across the globe," said Mark Ellis, Liftoff's CEO, in a statement. "Only by analyzing in-app behavior throughout the world can marketers truly understand how to target the best users and get the most value out of their marketing spend."

A lot depends on the type of game. Mobile card game players are 241 percent more likely to purchase in-app than action-adventure players.

There are also surprising contrasts between gaming app subcategories, specifically those that differ in ease of gameplay. You might think that the level of involvement required by action-adventure games — with gameplay that emphasizes problem-solving and draws from a complex storyline — would result in the most engaged users.

Gaming app cost per install.

Above: Gaming app cost per install.

Image Credit: Liftoff

But Liftoff's data suggests the opposite: Mobile card gamers are nearly 3.5 times more likely to make an in-app purchase than those that play action-adventure games.

While the reasons behind increased user engagement in mobile card games are unclear, one possibility is that simple rules and straightforward gameplay often result in increased overall play and frequency of in-app purchases. Whatever the cause, there is ample evidence that marketers can wring high value out of card game players, the report said.

Historically, men have been stereotyped as gamers while women tend to be linked to commerce. But when it comes to mobile, Liftoff's data tells another story: According to the report, women beat out men in gaming app engagement.

While it may initially be less expensive to acquire male players, the extra effort to acquire female players pays off in the end as women lead in registrations and in-app purchases. That makes them more cost-effective to acquire overall.

Women spend more than men in mobile games.

Above: Women spend more than men in mobile games.

Image Credit: Liftoff

Although mobile gaming marketers pay 12.2 percent less to acquire male users than female users, women actually register 37 percent more often and spend money 31 percent more often than men.

The overall conversion rate for gaming apps is above average compared to other app categories.
The data shows that the average install-to-purchase rate for mobile games was above 8 percent, which is higher than other common app categories, including shopping, finance, and utility.

In 2015, mobile games generated approximately 85 percent of the total mobile app market revenue — or $34.8 billion worldwide. Liftoff's data confirms that games continue to account for the lion's share of revenue on mobile, scoring them the top spot on the app leaderboard.

Microsoft launches StaffHub scheduling app out of preview for Office 365 customers

Posted: 12 Jan 2017 09:00 AM PST

StaffHub.

Microsoft today is announcing the general availability of its StaffHub scheduling app. It’s available on Android, iOS, and the web for customers of Microsoft’s Office 365 K1, E1, E3, and E5 plans.

Microsoft first introduced StaffHub in September, when it began a public preview of the app, pitching it as a way for managers to schedule shifts and send them to employees and a way for employees to get quick access to their schedules. But the app also has file-sharing and messaging functionality, and it provides an easy way for employees to request shift changes, the Office 365 team noted in a blog post.

With its mobile-oriented nature, StaffHub is a good example of the types of apps that Microsoft has been investing in — things that will help lots of people be more productive, even when the apps might not be on top of Microsoft’s own operating systems. That’s also true of other Microsoft Office apps, like Outlook, Word, Excel, and OneNote. And Microsoft has acquired other properties, like MileIQ, SwiftKey, and Wunderlist. The company also recently launched the Teams collaboration app, which has full-featured Android and iOS apps.

Some people have suspected that StaffHub was based in some part on a scheduling app called Shiftr, but in fact StaffHub was produced completely in house and does not draw on technology from any acquisition, a Microsoft spokesperson told VentureBeat in an email.

For eligible Office 365 customers, StaffHub is automatically enabled, and admins can turn it off if they’d like. To use the app, employees and managers must have Office 365 accounts.

Currently, the app is available in 14 languages: Brazilian Portuguese, Chinese (simplified and traditional), Danish, Dutch, English (U.S.), French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, and Turkish.

WWE 2K17 slams its way to the PC on February 7

Posted: 12 Jan 2017 08:46 AM PST

WWE 2K17

PC gamers can finally get into some new wrestling action.

Publisher 2K announced today that WWE 2K17 will come out for PC on February 7. It released on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360 last October. It was the No. 7 best-selling game that month, according to the NPD group.

That’s a long wait between a console release and the PC version, but it’s an improvement from last year. WWE 2K16 came out on console in October 2015, with the PC release following on March 11, 2016. Just like the previous game, WWE 2K17 on PC doesn’t have any new features. It also doesn’t have Steam Workshop support, which makes creating and downloading mods for it harder.

The franchise is one of 2K’s most important. It’s a consistent strong seller for the company. The series has annual releases, so 2K can depend on it to boost its lineup every year around the lucrative holiday season.

WWE 2K17 brought back backstage brawls and introduced new mechanics for taunting, submissions, and ladder matches. However, it lacked a 2K Showcase mode, something that previous WWE games had that allowed players to recreate historic matches from the perspective of a single wrestler (like Stone Cold Steve Austin in WWE 2K16) or from a specific era.

Leading Cosmetic Group Amorepacific Subsidiary Innisfree Collaborates with POSPi and Bank of China to Bring Exceptional Shopping Experience by Deploying Mobile POS

Posted: 12 Jan 2017 07:37 AM PST

BusinessWire_FeaturedImage

SHANGHAI–(BUSINESS WIRE)–January 12, 2017–

An innovative check out method completely different from the traditional one, which was first seen at Apple Retail Store, is now being applied at Innisfree outlets – using Mobile POS to offer a personalized and more engaged service on-the-go which helps to bring customer experience to an unprecedented level.

This Smart News Release features multimedia. View the full release here: http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20170112005349/en/

POSPi Mobile POS: Enable Service on the Go (Photo: Business Wire)

POSPi Mobile POS: Enable Service on the Go (Photo: Business Wire)

POSPi, a pioneering innovator of Mobile Retail Solutions, along with Innisfree and Bank of China, launched its Mobile POS Solution at Grand Hyatt Shanghai on Dec 15, 2016. The event bring together China’s top 2 payment service agencies UMS, ALLINPAY and VeriFone China, STAR as well as dozens of multi-national retailers to hear from Innisfree of their experience on Mobile POS successful Implementation.

“Since the establishment from 1945, Amorepacific Group has a keen interest in innovation. Innisfree, as one of the fastest growing brand under Amorepacific, has inherited the spirit of innovation and achieved a geometric growth over the past 4 years, especially in the Chinese Market. We have been pursuing innovation in products, business modes, as well as IT Technologies. We attach great importance to the customers’ satisfaction, and the application of Mobile POS allows us to offer the personalized and high-standard service to our customers at retails stores. Each of our salespersons is now equipped with a mobile POS which has successfully eliminated queuing and empowered them to response to customer’s various requests anywhere, anytime on the floor,” said Cai Jianren, General Manager of Innisfree.

“POSPi is an innovation-driven startup dedicated to Mobile Retail Technologies. We have technically solved bottleneck problems and broken the barriers of seamlessly integrating the mobile POS solution with the existing IT system of large multinational retailers, and the solution has been proven secure, reliable and efficient,” said Shao Leiming, Founder of POSPi.

“Bank of China has teamed up with POSPi to support the deployment of the new-generation payment method in Innisfree. This project marks a new step of Bank of China in the field of Mobile POS, which will help multinational retailers enter the smart retail era,” said Feng Yanrong, Senior Manager of Bank of China.

About Innisfree

Subsidiary of Amorepacific Group, founded in 2000, Innisfree has achieved a global sales revenue growth of 239%. Since it entered the Chinese market in 2011, it has opened over 300 outlets with an annual sale revenue of RMB 5.7 billion, 10 times that of 2011. http://www.innisfree.com

About POSPi

POSPi, headquartered in Shanghai, specializes in the R&D of innovative mobile retail technology solutions to enable retailers to step into future smart retailing era. http://www.pospi.com

About Bank of China

Bank of China boasts a global financial service network with 559 overseas branches, 15,228 domestic branches and nearly 4,000 agency banks. http://www.boc.cn/en/index.html

Epi Digital Technologies (POSPi)
Nora Fang, 8621-52377999
norafang@pospi.com

Urgent.ly, the Leading Global Digital Roadside Assistance Platform, Continues Rapid Expansion; Adds Three to Senior Team

Posted: 12 Jan 2017 07:37 AM PST

BusinessWire_FeaturedImage

VIENNA, Va.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–January 12, 2017–

Urgent.ly – the company reinventing the roadside assistance market for premier global automotive, insurance, mapping, and parking brands as well as roadside assistance professionals and consumers – continues its rapid growth and expansion with the addition of three new senior members to its team.

Urgent.ly delivers the quickest, safest, and most innovative roadside assistance services and technology through its branded and white label products in the North America, Europe, and Asia Pacific regions.

The three new team members include:

  • Alan Holman joining as Vice President of Sales. Holman brings more than 10 years of experience in successfully building and leading sales organizations at well-known consumer and B2B brands, including Allstate Roadside Services and GE Partnership Marketing Group/Roadside Assistance Division. A veteran leader in the roadside assistance industry and an award-winning sales executive, Holman has a successful track record in establishing long-term contracts with auto manufacturers and building marketshare in the connected car, telematics, and public sectors. Holman will help Urgent.ly continue to grow its B2B partnerships across a range of verticals where roadside is a key service offering.
  • Bill Maddox as Urgent.ly’s new National Service Director. Maddox will be responsible for developing and managing the company’s national service network of over 50,000 independent roadside assistance professionals. With over 25 years of experience in service network and operations management, Maddox has built and managed highly effective nationwide service networks for both direct to consumer and white label programs for some of America’s leading consumer retail brands.
  • Joe Ryan as an independent director on Urgent.ly’s board. An advisor to several technology and consumer-facing start-ups, Ryan has deep experience in the service industry with over 20 years as general counsel for two major hospitality companies – Marriott International and the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company. He was also a partner at two well-known law firms, Venable L.L.P. and O’Melveny & Myers L.L.P. Ryan is currently Chairman & CEO of Ryan Investments, a private firm with investments in hospitality, alternative energy, and private banking.

“These three new team members bring tremendous expertise and depth to Urgent.ly as we continue scaling both nationwide and internationally,” Urgent.ly CEO and co-founder Chris Spanos said. “The addition of Alan, Bill, and Joe to our already outstanding team will help Urgent.ly further accelerate our growth as we continue our mission to reinvent the roadside assistance marketplace for the betterment of consumers, our partners and roadside assistance service providers around the world.”

About Urgent.ly

Urgent.ly – the leading global digital roadside assistance platform – is reinventing the roadside assistance market to the benefit of premier global brands, roadside assistance professionals, and consumers. Urgent.ly delivers the quickest, safest, and most innovative roadside assistance service, products, and technology through:

  • Premier global automotive, insurance, mapping, and parking brands by providing unmatched roadside assistance service to their customers along with more data on and better insight into the performance of their roadside programs.
  • Roadside assistance professionals who can quickly see and respond to jobs closest to them, increasing their revenue and profitability while freeing them from the low rates and poor treatment by the legacy industry providers.
  • Direct-to-consumer, on-demand service to drivers at their moment of need – all without subscription or membership fee. Urgent.ly lets drivers track their service provider’s progress and ETA in real-time on their smartphone. It is the only roadside assistance service with FamilyViewSM that allowing families to know instantly if their loved ones have requested help and monitor the arrival of the service provider in real-time on their phone as well.

For more information, visit www.geturgently.com.

Urgent.ly
Media Contact
Dee Donavanik, 202-695-8229
media@urgent.ly

As Trump pledges U.S. jobs boost, Amazon plans to increase headcount by 55% to 280,000 over 18 months

Posted: 12 Jan 2017 07:14 AM PST

Pens and paper with the Amazon logo are seen at the logistics center in Brieselang, Germany November 17, 2015.

Amazon has pledged to increase its U.S. headcount over the next 18 months to 280,000 employees, an increase of around 55 percent.

The ecommerce titan has said that these will be “full-time, full-benefit” positions, located across the U.S. This move continues the company’s aggressive expansion over the past decade. Indeed, Amazon counted “just” 30,000 U.S. employees in 2011, a figure that had jumped to 180,000 by the end of 2016.

The positions span the full spectrum of roles, from entry-level warehousing positions to software engineers. However, the company does stress that “many” of the positions will be to staff its new fulfillment centers that are currently being built in California, Texas, Florida, and elsewhere.

Crucially here, the company is keen to sell itself as a nationwide employer, rather than one that’s centered around its headquarters.

“These jobs are not just in our Seattle headquarters or in Silicon Valley — they're in our customer service network, fulfillment centers, and other facilities in local communities throughout the country," said Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos. “We plan to add another 100,000 new Amazonians across the company over the next 18 months as we open new fulfillment centers, and continue to invent in areas like cloud technology, machine learning, and advanced logistics.”

The timing of this announcement is notable, as it comes just days before Donald Trump is due to take over as president of the U.S. Indeed, in the buildup to his inauguration, Trump has touted plans to boost the U.S. workforce with millions of new jobs. After a meeting with the president-elect, Jack Ma, head honcho at Chinese tech titan Alibaba, promised to create a million jobs in the U.S. over five years. This came shortly after SoftBank pledged to create 50,000 jobs.

While Amazon was going to create these new positions regardless of who the next U.S. president was going to be, it’s telling that the company chose to make this announcement just as Trump is about to enter the White House.

Bezos and Trump have never seen eye to eye, but Amazon is one of the biggest employers in the U.S., and the company wants the incoming president — and the country, as a whole — to remember that.

US Strategy Takes Center Stage for Spreadshirt’s Global Success

Posted: 12 Jan 2017 06:36 AM PST

BusinessWire_FeaturedImage

Scaling the Partner Business is Centerpiece of 2017 Strategy

BOSTON–(BUSINESS WIRE)–January 12, 2017–

Philip Rooke, CEO of Spreadshirt, the e-commerce platform for spreading ideas on something tangible, has unveiled the grand plan for the company in 2017. The mission for the global enterprise includes a hyper focused scale up in the U.S. as harnessed by significant and sustained growth in the U.S. partner business and an aggressive plan to consolidate market leadership in the EU. These benchmarks will help fulfill the company’s mission to become a $1 billion entity that enables anyone to publish an idea on everything in less than 60 seconds.

After leading Spreadshirt for nearly 8 years, Rooke knows that 2017 will be pivotal for sustained corporate survival. These key market forces are driving this year’s general global e-commerce strategy for sustained long-term value:

  • Size Matters: The year ahead promises to be a tough and competitive market for smaller players as they struggle with increased marketing costs. Financing for companies without a unique niche will dry up. Serious players must grow and get really good or they will die or be absorbed by larger market players.
  • Internationalization is hard but urgent: Internationalization will get tougher, as Brexit and a trend towards protectionism make it harder to enter new regions. The EU is a bigger market than the U.S., providing a powerful incentive for those who get it right, but the U.S. market is too big to be ignored. Global entities must become market leaders in both regions for long-term business relevance.
  • Expectations vs. Market Opportunities: In the United States, every market is developed and the number of people chasing each market ends up growing faster than the overall market–making the global e-commerce market saturated and conditions more difficult.

Spreadshirt, as the European market leader, is poised to navigate 2017 successfully and skillfully. As a well-respected e-commerce business celebrating their 15th EU anniversary and 13th U.S. anniversary in 2017, they understand that they can no longer rely on what has worked in the past. Spreadshirt recognizes that the key to global dominance is to emerge as the top print on demand platform in the U.S. to deliver sustained revenue growth and credibility as a mature global brand. Spreadshirt plans to drive U.S. sales this year as fueled by these drivers:

  • New Tools for Sellers: Steep investments in the new publishing system for shop owners and designers (partner area) have resulted in increased visibility for the company’s Marketplace designers across multiple international marketplaces. Early indicators are strong: an initial rise in sales of over 25%, shop registrations are up 28% globally, and the number of uploaded designs is also up a noteworthy 36% since launch. The community of 70,000 plus active partners has attained critical mass for attracting buyers with unsurpassed designs. This is the foundation of building long-term value and profits for partners and a loyal and engaged global customer base.
  • Leading Commission Structures and Pricing: Spreadshirt’s ongoing investments in their pricing and a new commission structure will enable sellers to earn much higher commissions. Some are already earning over $100,000 a month. Consumers will also benefit from clearer pricing and great design templates for groups and teams.
  • Spreadshirt’s Collection: The ethically produced Spreadshirt Collection is the only range of clothing designed by printers for printers and has the highest customer retention within the assortment- generating nearly $30m in sales already. Spreadshirt will be introducing more fashion-orientated products to the line this year.

Spreadshirt expects to win the global e-commerce race one month at a time in 2017 by driving the U.S. growth as the world recognizes that their platform is unsurpassed by any global competitors.

About Spreadshirt
Spreadshirt, an innovative global e-commerce platform for print-on-demand apparel and accessories, empowers everyone to easily buy, sell, create and share their ideas on over 175 different products. Examples of spreading it with Spreadshirt include social influencers from all genres such as gaming, YouTube creators, entertainment, non-profit organizations and over 70,000 selling partners.

Founded in 2002, Spreadshirt is active in 18 markets, available in 12 languages, and operates five global production sites. In 2015, Spreadshirt hit global revenue of approximately $105 million, printed more than 3.6 million items, and shipped to 180 countries.

www.spreadshirt.com

Kel & Partners
Danielle Heath, 518-424-7875
danielle@kelandpartners.com

Uber touts ‘first global sports partnership’ as it teams up with soccer giant Manchester United

Posted: 12 Jan 2017 06:21 AM PST

Manchester United: Old Trafford Stadium

Uber has entered what’s being touted as a “first partnership of its kind” with U.K. soccer behemoth Manchester United, a deal that will usher in a number of initiatives for fans domestically and in dozens of countries around the world.

Fans attending games at the club’s Old Trafford stadium will have a dedicated Uber zone for pickups and drop-offs, similar to Uber’s agreements with many other sports teams around the world, from New York to Washington DC to Rio de Janeiro.

That Uber has teamed up with one of the world’s biggest soccer teams is nothing unusual in itself, but the partnership extends far beyond that and will involve “global campaigns creating exclusive experiences for Uber riders and drivers around the world,” according to a statement.

Details of what this will actually entail remain scant, but Uber says that all will be revealed shortly.

“Over the next several weeks, we'll be revealing more details on what specific experiences Manchester United fans can expect to see in their home country,” said Amy Friedlander Hoffman, head of business development and experiential marketing, in a press release.

As Uber’s “first global sports partner,” Manchester United will serve up “behind-the-scenes content” to fans in more than 30 countries, including “various experiences and interactive campaigns.” It remains to be seen whether this involves exclusive footage within the Uber app, giant screens installed in Uber cars, or in-app ecommerce channels to purchase exclusive branded goods. But Uber has experience partnering with big-name brands, including soccer clubs.

Back in 2015, Uber announced a tie-up with London soccer team Chelsea, letting riders request a replica Chelsea shirt delivered to their door. Shortly after, Uber partnered with Xiaomi to let Uber users in Asia buy the new Xiaomi Mi Note smartphone directly through the Uber app.

Such historical partnerships may serve as a guide to what Uber and Manchester United are cooking up, but if nothing else, it’s a reminder of Uber’s hefty marketing might, as the company pursues its aim of becoming the default transport brand in everyone’s lives.

Eonite debuts a new kind of low-cost sensor for virtual reality

Posted: 12 Jan 2017 06:01 AM PST

Hideaki Oshima of Eonite shows inside-out tracking.

Silicon Valley computer vision startup Eonite is revealing its low-cost, accurate, and low-power solution for inside-out positional head tracking for virtual reality and augmented reality headsets.

That’s a big deal, because VR and AR headsets will be much better once when they have this kind of tracking, which allows a headset to sense its environment. By contrast, today’s most powerful VR headsets — such as the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift — use outside-in tracking, where external sensors are placed in a room to detect a person wearing a headset.

Eonite promises to make VR and AR much more immersive and fun, and that’s why it has been able to raise $5.25 million in seed funding from leading Silicon Valley venture capitalists and angels, including Lightspeed Venture Partners, Signia Venture Partners, Presence Capital, The VR Fund, Rising Tide, and CLI Ventures.

Youssri Helmy, CEO of Eonite.

Above: Youssri Helmy, CEO of Eonite.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

“They’ve really nailed the inside-out tracking,” said Rick Thompson, partner at Signia Venture Partners, in an interview.

Eonite belives that its Eonite Vantage Head Tracker software will be much better at tracking than current options and will cost a lot less. Youssri Helmy, CEO and founder of Eonite, said in an interview with GamesBeat that external sensors account for as much as 30 percent of the cost of today’s VR headsets. Eonite can eliminate that cost simply by using a 3D depth sensor on a camera on the headset.

I tried the system in a demo. Eonite used a limited camera with a 40-degree field of view. But the sensor worked well. I could turn around and track some flying drones in a demo app, and the system generally followed wherever I moved my eyes and body. I was able to move around, and I wasn’t limited to the areas where there were external sensors.

Palo Alto, Calif.-based Eonite was founded in December 2015, based on the work of founders Anna Petrovskaya and Peter Varvak.

"When I began working on computer perception in 2004 with Peter, we recognized it would impact a wide range of artificial intelligence industries and enable tremendous growth in consumer experiences," said Petrovskaya, in a statement. "Eonite enables the fourth wave of computing — spatial interfaces like VR/AR — to gain widespread adoption. Computers perceiving the real world like the human eye – that's what it takes for these experiences to feel 'real' enough for common usage, and that's the impact we're enabling at Eonite."

Helmy said that the smarts of the system are in the algorithms and software, which can operate on a depth sensor camera, such as an Intel RealSense camera. It’s a low-cost, low-power system, with sub-millimeter accuracy and a 15-millisecond latency, or response time. It can run on a tablet-class graphics processing unit (GPU), which means it doesn’t consume all the resources of a VR computing system. That leaves the system free to process VR games and other content.

Eonite uses a depth camera to sense the environment around you.

Above: Eonite uses a depth camera to sense the environment around you.

Image Credit: Eonite

Helmy said the Eonite software is being designed into one product already, and it will become available in 2017.

Eonite democratizes virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR) by delivering inside-out positional head tracking for any tethered and untethered headsets, mobile devices, robots, drones, and other form factors.

“It’s a fundamental technology,” Helmy said. “Our founders come from a robotics background, and our platform is prepared for that. Outside-in was a great way to get the industry started. But now we have to evolve the industry in a more consumer-friendly direction.”

Helmy said that the company’s intellectual property is unique. For one thing, it offers real-time obstacle detection. If you are walking around a room with your headset on, the system can detect obstacles, such as your furniture. And if your cat walks across the floor, the system will detect it. This technology makes it much safer.

The system also supports mapping and tracking through multiple rooms. You don’t have to clear a space for the system, and it works in a variety of indoor lighting conditions. It has support now for PC-based head-mounted displays, with support for mobile and other devices coming soon.

The Eonite Vantage Head Tracker comes in addition to the Eonite Reality Insight Software Development Kit (SDK) and Unity plugin, which the company currently offers to select strategic partners. The SDK includes home-scale, real-time 3D scanning and reconstruction that supports persistent virtual content, occlusions, and shadows.

Eonite Reality Insight enables developers to create life-like mixed reality applications and to use 3D simultaneous localization and mapping (3D SLAM) and high-precision navigation for a variety of markets, including automotive, robotics, and manufacturing.

Talking Tom creator Outfit7 launches My Talking Hank game

Posted: 12 Jan 2017 06:00 AM PST

My Talking Hank is the new app from Outfit7.

Outfit7, the maker of the enormously popular Talking Tom and Friends mobile app, is launching My Talking Hank in an attempt to keep the momentum going.

Talking Tom debuted in 2010, becoming a hit as kids and adults alike learned how to prompt the funny character to say amusing things about their friends or make farting noises. Since then, its suite of apps has been downloaded more than 5.6 billion times. The franchise has also amassed over 10.3 billion video views of its various branded content online.

The app is the first based on the goofy and adventurous character, Talking Hank. Fans can join Hank, a photographer, on the island of Hawaii, where they can take care of Hank and collect animal photos throughout the different zones around the island. This game represents Outfit7's take on a Tamagotchi-style mechanic of raising little animals.

My Talking Hank is irreverent like its predecessors.

Above: My Talking Hank is irreverent, like its predecessors.

Image Credit: Outfit7

"Our fans have made it abundantly clear that they love and adore Talking Hank, so we wanted to give them the opportunity to connect with the character in the same ways they have been able to connect with Talking Tom and Talking Angela," said Samo Login, the founder and CEO of Outfit7, in a statement. "Hank is a unique character with so many lovable qualities, so it's no surprise that our fans have been asking for him to have his own app."

The adventure of My Talking Hank begins as a stork delivers a cute and cuddly baby Talking Hank to the tropical island of Hawaii, where he needs your love to help him grow. The app goes beyond nurturing by adding an element of animal photo collecting.

Players choose from various foods and toys to lure over 115 different animals. You can snap a photo and add it to your album. Animals can show up at any moment in an unlocked animal zone, so players always have something new to look forward to each time they open the app.

Outfit7 hopes to get another big hit with My Talking Hank.

Above: Outfit7 hopes to get another big hit with My Talking Hank.

Image Credit: Outfit7

"My Talking Hank draws the user in with an entertaining storyline and allows players to form a deep connection with Talking Hank," said Login. "The graphics and added interactive elements make sure players are always coming back for more."

My Talking Hank is free to play and includes the option for in-app purchases. It is available on iOS and Android.

Outfit7 was founded in 2009. It is based in Cyprus, with development team in Slovenia. It has about 200 employees.

Microsoft and 343 Industries vet joins Twitch

Posted: 12 Jan 2017 06:00 AM PST

Twitch's presence in the lives of gamers around the world is huge.

Twitch has attracted a Microsoft veteran.

The streaming site announced today that it has hired Matt McCloskey as its new vice president of commerce. McCloskey previously worked at Microsoft, recently as the chief operating officer 343 Industries, which works on the Halo series. He will be responsible for the site’s growing economics for its streamers (which can earn money from viewers). Twitch is the most popular game-streaming site, earning 100 million users a month.

Matt McCloskey.

Above: Matt McCloskey.

Image Credit: Twitch

“I was attracted to Twitch’s unrelenting dedication to creators," said McCloskey in a press release sent to GamesBeat. "As a lifelong gamer surrounded by lifelong gamers, finding new ways to support our passion is a fantastic opportunity. Also, as Twitch continues to expand to other content categories, it will be a transformative experience to help all types of creators make a living doing what they love.”

Twitch streamers can earn money through ads or from donations (in the form of subscriptions) from viewers. Viewers can also support their favorite streamers with the Cheering for Bits feature, which lets users by special emotes that they can use in chat.

This will be a change for McCloskey, who previously worked mostly with developer relationships. Before his work at 343 Industries, McCloskey worked on cloud gaming initiatives and third-party relations at Microsoft. He will use those previous developer relationships to “create new engagement opportunities for game developers on Twitch.” He joins Michael Lucero, Twitch’s global director of client strategy, another ex-Microsoft employee who joined Twitch late in 2016.

Google launches Toontastic 3D cartoon-making app following Launchpad Toys acquisition

Posted: 12 Jan 2017 06:00 AM PST

screenshot-2017-01-12-14-08-52

Google today is announcing the launch of a new app called Toontastic 3D for both Android and iOS. The app amounts to a considerable expansion of the Toontastic iOS app kids could use to make cartoon-style video content.

The launch comes almost two years after Launchpad Toys, the startup behind Toontastic, announced that it had been acquired by Google “to create even more amazing creativity tools for kids.”

Sure enough, that’s happened. Toontastic is now cross-platform, and it also allows its users to work in 3D rather than just 2D.

This comes after Microsoft introduced the Paint 3D app, which people of all ages can use.

“With Toontastic 3D, kids can draw, animate, and narrate their own adventures, news stories, school reports, and anything else they might dream up,” Google product manager Thushan Amarasiriwardena wrote in a blog post. “All they need to do is move characters around on the screen and tell their story. It's like a digital puppet theater … but with enormous interactive 3D worlds, dozens of customizable characters, 3D drawing tools, and an idea lab with sample stories to inspire new creations.”

Kasisto raises $9.2 million to go beyond personal finance bots

Posted: 12 Jan 2017 06:00 AM PST

MyKAI Screenshot

Bots and artificial intelligence company Kasisto today announced that it has raised $9.2 million. The money will be used to bolster the company’s personal finance bot KAI and expand its AI virtual assistant offerings to markets beyond finance.

When asked by VentureBeat, the company declined to state which industries it plans to enter but said that specifics would be shared at a later date.

Kasisto is a spinoff of SRI International, creator of Apple virtual assistant Siri.

Kasisto launched AI-powered KAI for personal finance and banking last June. The bot answers questions about a user’s personal finances and more than 1,000 other questions, like “What is stock?” and “What is the meaning of life?”

Royal Bank of Canada, Development Bank of Singapore, and mobile-only bank Digibank in India brought KAI to their customers last year.

Variations of KAI have also been used to create Val, an intelligent assistant for fintech startup Varo Money, and MasterCard KAI. Both virtual assistants are due out later this year.

The funding round was led by Propel Venture Partners, with participation from MasterCard, DBS Bank, and Harvard Business School alumnus Angels of New York, among others. To date, Kasisto has raised $11.4 million.

Kasisto was founded in 2013, has 30 employees, and has offices in Menlo Park, Calif. and New York.

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Madrona Venture Group Names S. Somasegar Managing Director

Posted: 12 Jan 2017 05:37 AM PST

BusinessWire_FeaturedImage

Experienced Technologist, Executive and Investor Expands Role

SEATTLE–(BUSINESS WIRE)–January 12, 2017–

Madrona Venture Group, an early-stage venture capital firm, announced today the appointment of S. “Soma” Somasegar to the role of Managing Director.

This Smart News Release features multimedia. View the full release here: http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20170112005263/en/

S. Somasegar was appointed managing director at Madrona Venture Group. (Photo: Business Wire)

S. Somasegar was appointed managing director at Madrona Venture Group. (Photo: Business Wire)

Soma joined Madrona in November 2015 as a Venture Partner, following a more than twenty five year career at Microsoft leading the company’s Developer Division and responsible for the Visual Studio and .NET family of products that enable tens of millions of developers to build applications and services for client, server, mobile and cloud platforms. Soma was also responsible for Microsoft’s R&D labs in Boston, China, India and Israel.

As a Venture Partner at Madrona, Soma became a powerful voice at the table on key investment areas including Machine Learning/Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality, next generation cloud infrastructure and intelligent applications. Soma led investments in Shyft and CloudCoreo, and he is also the Board Chair at Pixvana.

Soma also led an initiative focused on machine learning and artificial intelligence, authoring several articles and hosting Madrona’s first annual conference on machine learning in Seattle attended by more than 150 members of the business, investing, and engineering community.

“Madrona is in a unique position. We sit at the center of the cloud industry with Microsoft and Amazon at our front and back doors – and Google’s cloud team growing quickly,” commented S. Somasegar. “There is a tremendous amount of talent base here. The opportunity for entrepreneurs is immense and I’m looking forward to taking on a bigger role helping founders build and scale successful companies, which in turn will foster the vibrant and growing Pacific NW technology ecosystem.”

As Cloud Native technologies and DevOps take hold, the technology industry is seeing a shift that puts developers at the center of technology innovation and value creation. Soma’s background and expertise in working with the developer community is invaluable to driving Madrona’s investment thesis, thought leadership, and strategic partnership with entrepreneurs.

“Soma has had a huge impact in the year he has been on board with Madrona. His operating experience and technology expertise have been essential as he worked with portfolio companies at all stages to create product, business and management practices for sustainable growth,” commented Matt McIlwain, managing director, Madrona Venture Group. “As we continue to invest in and work with companies driving the emergence of machine learning and intelligent apps, Soma will be a crucial contributor to our region’s leadership in setting the technology agenda.”

Over the last decade, Soma has been an active angel and seed investor, nurturing and supporting companies across the information technology landscape in the US as well as internationally. Some of his investments as an angel include Highspot, Buuteeq, Amperity, Discord, Indix, Sulekha.com, and Talentwise.

Soma holds a master’s degree in computer engineering from Louisiana State University and a bachelor’s degree in electronics and communication engineering from Guindy Engineering College, Anna University in Chennai, India. Soma aso received an Honorary Doctorate from Anna University for accomplishments in the fields of Technology and Computer Science.

About Madrona Venture Group

Madrona (www.madrona.com) has been investing in early-stage technology companies in the Pacific Northwest since 1995 and has been privileged to play a role in some of the region’s most successful technology ventures. The firm invests predominately in seed and Series A rounds across the information technology spectrum, including consumer Internet, commercial software and services, digital media and advertising, networking and cloud computing, and mobile. Madrona manages approximately $1 billion and was an early investor in companies such as Amazon.com, Apptio, Rover.com, and Redfin.

Madrona Venture Group
Erika Shaffer, 206-972-5514
Erika@madrona.com

Opera showcases ‘future of the web’ with Neon, a new concept browser for Windows and Mac

Posted: 12 Jan 2017 05:01 AM PST

Opera: Concept Browser 'Neon'

European technology company Opera Software is today debuting a brand new concept browser for Mac and Windows, built from the same engine as the company’s flagship Opera browser, but designed to showcase new ways to interact with web content.

The Opera Neon browser start page displays browser tabs as little circular icons that can be dragged around and reordered. The left sidebar includes a video player, download manager, and image gallery, while a new visual sidebar on the right hosts other active pages that can be pulled into the middle. The Neon browser can automatically manage tabs so that the most frequently used tabs will float to the top on their own volition, while those used less frequently will sink to the bottom.

Opera Neon

Above: Opera Neon

Elsewhere, the browser supports video pop-out, meaning that you can continue watching a video from one web page while perusing another, and a split-screen mode means two web pages can be accessed at the same time.

Split-screen view (Mac)

Above: Split-screen view (Mac)

Launched in 1995, Opera remains one of the oldest browsers on the web, and the Norwegian company has been going all-out to differentiate itself in recent years. In 2016 alone, the company claimed a number of “firsts,” including introducing a built-in VPN for its desktop browser, which was followed by a built-in ad-blocker and a currency converter that automatically converts prices on ecommerce sites.

It’s worth noting here that Opera Neon isn’t being lined up to replace the main Opera browser quite yet — it’s designed as a concept to illustrate what a browser in 2017 should perhaps look like. However, the company does say that some of the features should arrive in the main flagship Opera desktop app later this year.

“Web browsers of today are basically from the last millennium, a time when the web was full of documents and pages,” said Opera browser chief Krystian Kolondra. “With the Opera Neon project, we want to show people our vision for the future of the web.”

FollowAnalytics launches AI-powered Mobile Optimization Suite to solve marketing’s generalization problem

Posted: 12 Jan 2017 05:00 AM PST

followanalytics-mobile-optimization-suite

Marketers are used to the concept of split-testing possible content and communication changes to determine a winning combination. The problem with a standard A/B split test is that it can still leave many of your customers with a sub-optimal experience because you’re assuming that all of your customers fall into the same demographic.

And in today’s marketing, generalization is the enemy.

Consumers now want relevant communications and messages that are tailored to them. In fact, 77.5 percent of “digital natives” want you to give them a truly personalized experience, both on your website and within messages, and that percentage remains high for other age groups, too.

To try to solve this problem of serving content changes to everyone indiscriminately, FollowAnalytics has announced today its new Mobile Optimization Suite, which includes Optimize AI, a new split-testing technology powered by machine learning.

Mobile Optimization Suite includes various new tools to help marketers get the most from iterating, improving, and measuring the success of changes to websites, communications, in-app messages, and push notifications.

It automatically determines the sample size for your test to ensure statistically significant results, while making sure the experiment finishes as early as possible. But most importantly, the suite includes segment-based optimization that allows marketers to run different tests and serve relevant content to audiences based on their personal needs.

“The segments used by Optimize AI are of two types,” Samir Addamine, founder and chairman at FollowAnalytics, told me. “Segments can be defined by the customer, based on mobile data and any external data coming from their CRM or other system of record. And segments can be based on activity in an app. These segments allow you to get results out of the box, even before you have defined any custom segment.”

Split-testing different content based on segments means you can optimize your app to provide an ever-improving personalized experience for the consumer. So how does machine learning power this solution?

“Machine learning allows us to improve results over time,” Addamine said. “The intelligence layer allows us to find the right message for each user targeted by a campaign. Learning allows us to leverage all past campaigns to better assign variants to targeted users. By categorizing your variants along taxonomies, you help the learning algorithm find relationships between distinct campaigns.”

This means you can write content for each type of consumer using your app, and the system will learn what is best for each variant, optimizing per segment rather than expecting everyone to react positively to a wholesale change. In a world where personalization is expected, technologies like this can help drive increased relevance.

Along with these new split-testing capabilities, FollowAnalytics has enhanced its message-building tools to provide greater flexibility. These tools allow you to create push notifications and in-app messages easily, and the suite offers a template library to help you build pop-ups, banners, and native alerts. You can also create custom HTML5 messages.

Addamine thinks AI and machine learning will be an increasingly important part of the marketer’s armory for 2017.

“AI and machine learning will help reach the holy grail of any marketer: the self-driving campaign, my vision since I started FollowAnalytics in 2013,” Addamine said. “Thanks to AI/ML technology, we’ll start seeing very smart and accurate recommendations, creating campaigns that will lead to more retention and engagement. Building more bridges between the CRMs, ERPs, and marketing tools will also catalyze the quality of the predictions.”

FollowAnalytics Mobile Optimization Suite, which includes Optimize AI, is available from today.

This device from Cloverleaf and Affectiva tracks your emotional reaction to products while shopping

Posted: 12 Jan 2017 05:00 AM PST

shelfPoint display and optical sensor reads a shopper's emotional reaction to a product on store shelves

That area on store shelves typically reserved for price tags and logos may soon be occupied by sensors with the ability to track people and their emotional response to products. Announced today by Cloverleaf, shelfPoint is an LCD display with eye-level sensors that recognize joy, sadness, happiness, or disgust in a shopper’s face.

Dell and other early partners will begin to use shelfPoint by mid-2017, said CEO Gordon Davidson, and the device will be available to other retailers later this year.

In addition to tracking emotional reactions, shelfPoint registers the age, gender, and ethnicity of shoppers and records the amount of time a person spends lingering in front of a display ad. And sensors don’t just record metrics. They also respond in real time. Ads can change if sensors detect that a shopper is displeased by what they see.

Studies with Proctor & Gamble and other partners found that impulse buys and purchases were nearly 40 percent higher with shelfPoint than with the average store shelf or cardboard promotional material.

The shelfPoint sensor is placed in high traffic areas to boost the sale of high-margin items or impulse purchases, Davidson told VentureBeat in a phone interview.

“As people are walking by, we want to attract their attention, cause them to turn their head,” Davidson said. “Then what we do is we change the content and have more of a conversion story.” He said the focus is on “presenting the promotion and causing consumers to throw another item into the basket and drive impulse sales.”

ShelfPoint made its debut today at the National Retail Federation conference taking place this week in New York.

The tech that determines an emotional response comes from Affectiva. Starting with video and branching into virtual reality and other mediums, Affectiva has developed a way to track a person's emotion in real time.

Insights gathered from the anonymized aggregate data are used to serve up results and advice to store owners and brands.

ShelfPoint also tracks in-store traffic and can be used for A:B testing of marketing or products.

"Frankly, given the velocity you have in these high-traffic stores, you can get answers to these questions literally in a matter of a couple of days," a Cloverleaf spokesperson told VentureBeat.

The display also records facial characteristics to recognize if a person returns to the shelf within 24 hours.

Despite this ability, Davidson said shelfPoint doesn’t use facial recognition.

“Facial recognition would suggest that we know who is there, and we're looking at them. What we do is face detection, and so we do not retain or capture any personally identifiable information,” he said. “We don't record video or capture pictures. What we're looking at is spots on the face, and then we translate that into metadata that says here's the makeup of the individual that's in front of it. We'd never be able to identify you.”

Apple planning to make original TV shows and movies as hardware sales soften

Posted: 12 Jan 2017 04:40 AM PST

hollywood

While investors seem to remain optimistic about Apple’s future, it’s no secret that sales of the company’s iconic hardware products have flatlined or fallen over the past year.

We’ll have to wait until January 31 to find out how Apple performed over the critical holiday period. But for the moment, its most promising category of revenue has been “services,” which includes things like Apple Music, and which has been on a big winning streak over the past several quarters.

Now it appears Apple is getting ready to make an even bigger bet in this category. According to a story just published by the Wall Street Journal, the company “has been in talks with veteran producers in recent months about buying rights to scripted television programs. It also has approached experienced marketing executives at studios and networks to discuss hiring them to promote its content.” The Journal cites “people with knowledge of the discussions.”

According to the story, the programming would be part of the Apple Music subscription ($6/month for an individual plan, $9/month for a family plan.) The movie bit is deemed to be “more preliminary,” according to the Journal.

Such a service would bring Apple into more direct competition with companies like Netflix, Amazon’s Prime Video, and HBO. The first two have made their own big moves in recent years, diversifying into original content to differentiate themselves in a hotly contested market. HBO has been in the original content game for decades. Notably, all three offer some of the most popular apps on the Apple App Store.

Though the Journal says Apple is not planning to match the budgets of those three companies at the start, it’s worth noting that Netflix and Amazon started slowly and then expanded after producing a handful of hits. With its almost unlimited ability to generate cash, Apple certainly has enormous resources to develop shows.

The unanswerable question at this point: Would such content truly pay for itself through either more subscriptions or more sales of gadgets? Of course, this could be a strategic maneuver, as the company also continues to hope that broadcasters and content makers might strike a deal to participate in the company’s long-rumored Apple TV streaming service.

Julie Sandler Named Partner at Madrona Venture Group

Posted: 12 Jan 2017 04:36 AM PST

BusinessWire_FeaturedImage

Firm also promotes Daniel Li to Senior Associate

SEATTLE–(BUSINESS WIRE)–January 12, 2017–

Madrona Venture Group, an early-stage venture capital firm based in Seattle, today announced the promotion of Julie Sandler to Partner and Daniel Li to Senior Associate.

This Smart News Release features multimedia. View the full release here: http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20170112005267/en/

Julie Sandler, Partner, Madrona Venture Group (Photo: Business Wire)

Julie Sandler, Partner, Madrona Venture Group (Photo: Business Wire)

Sandler has led investments in several companies including Integris, Poppy, and Julep, serving on boards across the Madrona portfolio as a board director and observer. Sandler is a prominent voice in the Pacific Northwest startup ecosystem supporting entrepreneurs, founders and students.

“Julie is invaluable to our team. Her strategic, analytical and passionate approach makes her a champion for entrepreneurs and at the same time a steward for our investors,” commented Tim Porter, managing director, Madrona Venture Group. “She dives in and does everything it takes to help founders succeed, and this hands-on approach exemplifies what we strive for in all our companies. She embodies the Madrona culture, and we are excited to recognize her with this promotion.”

Sandler launched the Seattle Entrepreneurial Women’s Network, an informal forum for women entrepreneurs, startuppers, and aspiring entrepreneurs to connect in the greater Seattle area. She is an adjunct lecturer at the University of Washington Foster School of Business and teaches an MBA course on Entrepreneurship for which she has been named a UW “star teacher” several years running. In 2016, Sandler was named by Governor Inslee to the Board of Directors for Washington State Opportunity Scholarship, an innovative private public partnership that has helped fund higher education for thousands of Washington State students annually in STEM fields.

Prior to joining Madrona, Sandler was a senior product manager at Amazon where she managed digital marketing for Kindle Books and led the design and implementation of new web and mobile shopping experiences for Kindle Content. She also worked in product management at TeachStreet (a Madrona portfolio company acquired by Amazon) and Accenture where she designed and launched worldwide Disaster Response operations for Microsoft’s Volume Licensing division.

Sandler earned an MBA with Honors from Harvard Business School and a BA and Masters in Psychology from Stanford University, where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa.

Madrona also promoted Dan Li to Senior Associate. Li joined Madrona in 2015, where he helps develop investment themes, sources and evaluates new investment opportunities and works with portfolio companies to develop strategies for success. Dan has helped drive the firm’s investment strategy in areas like autonomous transportation and virtual reality, and is an inventor, having developed both internal tools and a mobile game called Babel. Li serves as a board observer for several Madrona portfolio companies, including Matcherino, SayKara, and Eventbase.

“Dan is a force of nature inside of Madrona. From developing mobile applications to make us more productive, to analyzing the role of autonomous vehicles in our regional transportation system, to helping an entrepreneur think through her pricing strategy, he does it all,” said Scott Jacobson, managing director, Madrona “We are lucky to have him and look forward to his next investment recommendation – or invention – in 2017.”

Prior to joining Madrona, Li worked in the Seattle office of the Boston Consulting Group. At BCG, Li worked on a variety of strategy and operations projects, ranging from developing go-to-market strategies for cloud services to deploying new technology systems to improve the quality and speed of insurance claims processing.

Li graduated summa cum laude from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania with majors in Finance, Psychology, and International Studies.

About Madrona Venture Group

Madrona (www.madrona.com) has been investing in early-stage technology companies in the Pacific Northwest since 1995 and has been privileged to play a role in some of the region’s most successful technology ventures. The firm invests predominately in seed and Series A rounds across the information technology spectrum, including consumer Internet, commercial software and services, digital media and advertising, networking and cloud computing, and mobile. Madrona manages approximately $1 billion and was an early investor in companies such as Amazon.com, Apptio, Rover.com, and Redfin.

Madrona Venture Group
Erika Shaffer, 206-972-5514
Erika@madrona.com

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