TechSummit Rewind #058

Editor’s Note: This is the TechSummit Rewind, a daily recap of the top tech headlines.

Apple announces March 21 event at Cupertino HQ

Apple event invitation

Apple has sent out invitations to a Mar. 21 event at the company’s Cupertino, Calif. headquarters at 10 a.m. PT (1 p.m. ET, 6 p.m. GMT)

Opera adds built-in ad blocker to desktop browser

Opera

The latest developer release of Opera’s desktop browser includes a built-in ad blocker.

According to the Oslo, Norway-based company, blocking ads can speed up load times by as much as 90 percent. Opera claims that a built-in ad blocker can load sites 40 percent faster than a third-party solution.

“Advertising fuels the internet, allowing for many services to be free for users. But, as our new research shows, most webpages today are significantly slowed down by bloated ads and heavy tracking. We don’t accept it – we want the web to be a better place for us all, as users.”

-Krystian Kolondra, Opera SVP of Engineering, Head of Opera for Computers

Opera lets you set up your own whitelists for sites where ads will be allowed to appear.

The company also added a unique feature that lets you compare load times with and without the ad blocker, and show you a running counter of blocked ads.

Sonos announces layoffs, refocus on streaming/voice tech

Sonos

Sonos will be “letting go of some employees” as part of a company restructuring.

“Everyone in the ecosystem is adjusting to a world of streaming services.”

-John Macfarlane; Sonos CEO, in a blog post

According to Macfarlane, this will involve “building incredibly rich experiences that were all but unimaginable when we started the company.”

Macfarlane also mentioned that voice recognition will also be a big change for the speaker company. The company is reinvesting into that tech to make sure it works, and to cater to the streaming revolution.

Nest can now use your phone to tell when you leave home

nest-thermostat-003

An update to Nest’s iOS and Android apps allow it to start monitoring your phone’s location. When it senses you leaving the house, it’ll set the Nest Thermostat to its “away” mode, and start warming (or cooling) things for you when it sees you coming back. The feature can be disabled by declining to grant Nest the required permissions (or by turning off out-of-house automation).

The new feature is called Home/Away Assist, and is being launched in conjunction with family member accounts in the Nest app. Several people can now have control over the same products.

“[Location tracking] is an input that’s going to make it more accurate and efficient.

“What’s really important to us is that what’s happening in your home is understandable and intuitive to the customer. The more cumbersome, the more complicated it gets, the more frustrating to consumers.”

-Greg Hu, Nest senior product manager

Android N developer preview now live

Android N developer preview

Google has launched a developer preview for Android N, the next version of the mobile operating system, on its Nexus devices.

For the first time, the preview’s available as an over-the-air update, although traditional device images can also be downloaded.

N’s headline feature is split-screen multitasking, where Android devices will be able to show two separate apps at once, with picture-in-picture support coming to video apps.

The company is also adding new notifications features, including a new way for apps to let users directly reply to notifications. There are also bundled notifications, which let apps put multiple messages into a single notification card that can get expanded to show more detail.

The developer preview is available for the Nexus 6, Nexus 5X, Nexus 6P, Nexus Player, Nexus 9, and Pixel C.

Wikipedia iOS app update focuses on discovery, personalization

Wikipedia iOS app

Wikipedia has launched an updated version of its iOS app for helping users discover content matching their own interests. The app has also been optimized for iOS 9, as well as the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus, with 3D Touch and Spotlight Search support.

The app presents users with a new “Explore” feed with a combination of the top read articles, a featured article and picture of the day, random articles, and nearby articles, along with recommendations based on what you’ve previously read in the app.

The update includes support for navigating with multi-touch gestures (swipe, tap, 3D Touch), along with 3D Touch on the app’s homescreen icon. This will let you open search, read a random article, see nearby articles, or continue editing your latest. Handoff is also supported in this release.

Finally, a feature that saves articles to read later (and offline), arrived along with image gallery improvements and tools to share images on social media or email.

YouTube Gaming expands to new markets, improves mobile experience

YouTube Gaming

YouTube Gaming, the video network’s dedicated application for gaming content, has announced an expansion into more markets and a host of new features for improving browsing and the app’s viewing experience. One of the changes sees the network promoting its “Live” game streams.

In addition, an update to its Android live stream player brings quality switching, 60fps playback, and DVR mode.

According to Google, other improvements include a simplified homepage navigation to make it easier to manage your games and channels.

On Android, users can also pop out the YouTube Gaming player to keep it visible above other apps on your device.

The YouTube Gaming mobile app for iOS and Android is also expanding its reach to countries like Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Ireland.

Soothe raises $35M to bring on-demand messages

Soothe

Soothe has raised $35M to bring on-demand massages to the masses.

The new funding came from current investor Riverside Company for the app that allows consumers to book appointments with licensed and vetted five-star massage therapists in 22 cities.

The Los Angeles-based company plans to add 20 more U.S. cities by the end of the year, and is expanding internationally to places like Vancouver.

Soothe has over 3,000 independent massage therapists on board, and the company claims that they earn three to four times more than the industry standard.

“We make it easy to book a massage through an app, a website, or a phone call. It’s a better way of experiencing a massage. It’s much less stressful. You don’t have to get in the car and deal with the pains of traffic. The therapist brings everything. They bring the table, the sheets, the oil, the music, and creates the ambiance and turns your home into a spa.”

-Merlin Kauffman, Soothe CEO

Less tech-savvy users can also book through a website. Soothe sends over the booking to the highest-rated therapist that can get there the fastest.

“We’ve just created a better mousetrap. The public market fit is clearly there.”

-Merlin Kauffman

In most markets, Soothe’s price is $99 for 60 minutes, $139 for 90 minutes, and $169 for 120 minutes. Therapists keep 70 percent of the proceeds.

To date, Soothe has raised $47.7 million, and has 40 employees.

“While many companies have failed on the promise of ‘Uber for X,’ Soothe is a proven leader in a valuable market, and we’re eager to support them again as they look to expand.”

-Loren Schlachet, Riverside Company managing partner

Uber testing secret safety hotline

Uber_NY_request-screenshot

Since late last fall, Uber has been testing a critical response hotline in 22 U.S. cities for passengers or drivers to call in an emergency.

Users who call 800-333-8237 will be put directly in touch with a customer support representative. If it’s a true emergency, they’ll be transferred to 911.

Yahoo adds directors as proxy fight, potential sale loom

The Yahoo logo is shown at the company's headquarters in Sunnyvale

Yahoo added two new independent directors who have experience in helping sell companies as the company is considering the unloading of its Internet businesses.

Former Broadcom CFO Eric Brandt joins Yahoo after helping guide the chipmaker in its sale to Avago Technologies for $37 billion. The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company also appointed former Morgan Stanley managing director Catherine Friedman, where she served as strategic and transaction adviser.

“They could be gearing up for a proxy contest, or it may be a defensive move as they seek to negotiate with Starboard – to strengthen their hand. It’s somewhat perplexing that they would do this now.”

-Victor Anthony, Axiom Capital Management analyst

Cola launches app for smarter, more interactive text messages

Cola

Messaging app Cola is now available publicly on iOS.

The app features “Cola Bubbles” that add interactivity and functionality. Instead of texting someone “Hey, when do you want to meet?,” you can send them a Bubble with three available time slots, they can choose the option or options that work for them, then you can both add it to your calendar. Or if you’re running late, instead of typing out a message describing where you are and when you’ll arrive, you can just opt to share your location with someone for 15, 30, or 60 minutes.

Other Bubbles include polling and shared to-do lists.

“Messaging apps are never done. They are the core function of these devices. They will never stop evolving.”

-David Temkin, Cola CEO

 

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