TechSummit Rewind 076

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

Uber focuses on drivers with host of new app features

Uber_NY_request-screenshot

Uber is rolling out a host of new features designed to take some of the edge off of driving for the service, including more control over ride requests, fines for riders who make drivers wait too long, and discounts on Uber rides.

According to the San Francisco-based company, the new features are about trying to remove pain points from driving on the platform, and less about responding to ongoing litigation. Many of these updates were piloted in various markets and are now being rolled out broadly.

Uber is expanding its “Destinations” feature that enables drivers to pick up and drop off riders along a specific route. Drivers heading in a specific direction can input their destination into the app, with Uber’s algorithm sending them ride requests that appear along the way. Requests that would force them to deviate from their route would be filtered out.

Uber will also allow drivers to pause any incoming requests while they are currently in the middle of a fare, in case they need to go to the bathroom or fill up on gas before accepting the next passenger, or simply plan on calling it a day. This will allow drivers to decline the next request without negatively affecting their rating.

Riders in New York City, New Jersey, Phoenix, Dallas, and a dozen other cities can now be charged by drivers if they have to wait to more than two minutes.

“In the cities where we’ve been testing this, we’ve seen that riders are more likely to be prompt.”

-Uber, in a statement

The company will also be offering branded debit cards to drivers in more cities, allowing them to receive earnings simultaneously. Uber has currently opened 250 “Greenlight” locations worldwide, where drivers can get in-person support and questions answered, with plans to open more in the future.

Lastly, the company will offer discounted rides to drivers who may occasionally want to sit in the backseat of an Uber. Drivers who complete 10 trips in a week will get 15 percent off their next UberX ride, or 50 percent off an UberBLACK ride for every 20 trips done in a week.

Uber is also launching Behind the Wheel, a new blog to showcase drivers’ stories and news about “products and perks.”

Blizzard integrates Facebook login, live video into Overwatch

Overwatch

Blizzard Entertainment and Facebook have teamed up to wave Facebook identity and social networking services into Overwatch and other popular Battle.net games.

“It’s now exciting that Facebook Login and Facebook Live are now a part of Battle.net. So for any Blizzard game, and Overwatch is the newest, you can use Facebook Login to connect with friends better and do social gaming.”

-Leo Olebe, Facebook global games partnerships director

The Facebook Login will go live later this month with Battle.net games like World of Warcraft, Heroes of the Storm, Hearthstone, Diablo III, StarCraft II, and the aforementioned Overwatch with their Facebook accounts.

This’ll pave the way for new social functionality in Blizzard games while highlighting Facebook as a platform for sharing, viewing, and discussing video game content. Blizzard is also in the process of integrating Facebook’s Live API to add “Go Live” streaming functionality to its games.

“We’ve worked on it for many months. The most important thing was to build something that is incredible for people, and Blizzard is always amazing at that. They had to really get behind this.”

-Leo Olebe

Players will be able to livestream their Blizzard-gaming sessions directly to their Facebook news feeds, timelines, and friends. Friends can subscribe to feeds and get notified when new streams are available.

“Blizzard games are best when played with friends, so it’s important to us to provide our players with features and services that make it easy and fun to share their experiences with each other. We’re working closely with Facebook on this integration for Overwatch, as well as our other games, and we look forward to sharing further details on our plans as development progresses.”

-Gio Hunt, Blizzard Entertainment executive vice president of corporate operations

As part of the collaborative agreement, Blizzard recently hosted multiple livestreams on Heroes of the Dorm, the Irvine, Calif.-based company’s collegiate tournament featuring Heroes of the Storm, and an Overwatch launch event.

In preparation for the Overwatch launch, Facebook worked with Blizzard on a mix of Facebook and Instagram marketing solutions, helping the company present the game to a broad set of gaming and entertainment audiences within the two networks’ audiences.

According to Olebe, over 650 million people play games connected to Facebook every month acorss web, mobile, and console.

Stitcher podcast platform bought for $4.5 million

Stitcher

Stitcher has been acquired by the E.W. Scripps company for $4.5 million, a year and a half after being acquired by the streaming service Deezer.

The company will operate as part of Midroll Media, a podcast advertising network acquired by Scripps last year, with over 200 podcasting partners like Neil Degrasse Tyson’s StarTalk, the Bill Simmons Podcast Network, Marc Maron’s WTF, and Nerdist.

T-Mobile Uncarrier 11 wants to buy loyalty with free stuff

Uncarrier11_006_low

T-Mobile will give one share of its stock to all of its primary account holders on postpaid accounts, while providing a chance to earn more shares by referring friends and family to switch to the “Uncarrier.”

You can go to the company’s website and enter up to 10 numbers at a time of people you plan to refer. If they sign up, you get a share. According to the Bellevue, Wash.-based company, it takes 24 hours to process a name.

Customers can get up to 100 shares/year through referrals, with subscribers who’ve been with the carrier for at least five years getting two shares per referral.

To access the stock, customers will need to sign up with Loyal3, a brokerage partner that’ll deliver the stock. According to T-Mobile, there’s no fee to transfer or sell the stock, and the program isn’t pushing you to use Loyal3.

T-Mobile will use Loyal3 to buy stock in the open market and grant them to customers, according to a company spokesman.

That’s just one part of the company’s Uncarrier 11 customer appreciation program that includes weekly giveaways of Domino’s pizza, Wendy’s Frosty desserts, and an hour of free WiFi accesss on Gogo-equipped planes.

Other one-time freebies will be thrown in, such as free Warcraft movie tickets.

According to T-Mobile, its partners are being paid less than face value due to the program’s promotional benefits.

The T-Mobile Tuesdays app, which is available in the iTunes App Store and Google Play, will also let customers compete from bigger prizes with partners like Gilt, Samsung, Lyft, Major League Baseball, and StubHub.

“This Uncarrier move is all about giving you good thanking! No strings. No gotchas.”

-John Legere, T-Mobile CEO

“It’s hard to avoid the sense that T-Mobile is running out of really meaningful things to do to attract new customers.”

-Jan Dawson, Jackdaw Resarch analyst

Cortana arrives on Xbox One preview

Microsoft has released a new Xbox One update to its preview members, with Cortana being baked in for the first time. The voice assistant will appear in the Xbox One dashboard, and can be accessed through the Kinect sensor or a headset. As a result, Microsoft is altering the way you activate Xbox voice commands to just “Hey Cortana.”

Initially, the integration will be available in the U.S., U.K., Italy, Germany and Spain, and you’ll be able to use Cortana to launch parties, see what friends are playing, and do basic sites. The assistant will also recognize your friends’ real names or gamertags. According to Microsoft, the Redmond, Wash.-based company plans to add Cortana features over time.

Alongside the integration, the update also includes a number of new features that coincide with Microsoft’s plans to combine the Xbox and Windows Store experience. A new game collection UI makes it easier to see what games are ready to install, and the tiled interface is now vertically aligned instead of browsing horizontally. The company is also improving the Xbox Windows 10 app’s sharing feature, allowing you to share screenshots and game clips directly to Twitter.

While the Xbox and Windows stores aren’t fully integrated yet, Microsoft is tweaking the store regardless with improvements including the ability to filter what games are on sale in the store, and access bundles, season passes, and other DLC easier. On the PC side, games purchased from Steam or elsewhere will now show up as an Xbox Live game hub so you can share clips, screenshots, and start parties using the Xbox app on Windows 10.

Microsoft is allowing preview members to opt-in to testing the update, with a subset of the features available this week before being expanded more broadly. The company is also merging the Xbox One Preview program with the Windows Insider program, so feedback will be more streamlined for both the Xbox Windows 10 app and the dashboard upgrades. The update will roll out to all Xbox One users later this summer.

U.S. Supreme Court lets Google advertising class action suit proceed

Google-new-logo-700x438

The U.S. Supreme Court let a lower court’s decision stand in a class action lawsuit against Google to proceed regarding claims that the company deceived California advertisers about the placement of Internet ads through Adwords.

Microsoft launches Planner project management tool as part of Office 365

Microsoft Office 365 Planner

Microsoft has launched Office 365 Planner, a project-management tool that aims to compete with tools like Asana and Trello. Planner will be rolling out worldwide to Office 365 users on Enterprise E1-E5, Business Essentials, Premium, and Education plans. The title will appear in the Office 365 app launcher, with admins needing to take no action.

In short, the app’s about structuring teamwork with the ability to set due dates and use virtual dashboards and email notifications to stay informed. Each new Planner plan automatically creates an Office 365 Group, allowing individuals to create public/private groups.

The company’s been working with a variety of Office 365 customers worldwide since the preview arrived. Going forward, Microsoft’s asking for feedback from all Planner users on its UserVoice service.

“We are committed to reading every piece of feedback we receive and turning that into action, so that we can continue to improve Planner.”

-Microsoft, in a statement

Future plans include adding the ability to assign a task to multiple people, external user access, plan templates, customizable boards, and dedicated apps for Android, iOS, and Windows.

Goldin unveils $100M neutral chip maker KnuEdge

Knuedge

KnuEdge, former National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)’s former head Daniel Goldin’s startup, is coming out of stealth mode with $100 million in funding to build a “neural chip” that aims to make data centers more efficient.

According to Goldin, the San Diego-based company’s brain-like chip will be significiantly more cost and power efficient than current chips based on the design popularized by computer architect John von Neumann.

The company has generated $20 million in revenue and is actively engaged in hyperscale computing companies and Fortune 500 companies in the aerospace, banking, health care, hospitality, and insurance industries, according to Goldin, with a goal to fundamentally transform the computing world.

SoftBank tackles debt with asset sales

softbank-340

SoftBank has announced a series of asset sales in a broader effort to reexamine its technology portfolio, reduce its debt load, and gain flexibility for future investments.

The Minato, Japan-based company plans to raise $10 billion by selling down its stake in Alibaba and $685 million from offloading shares in GungHo Online Entertainment.

“The asset sales seem [to be] an extremely good sign that the company is serious about improving liquidity and its balance sheets. In addition to boosting cash reserves, this should also help with the company’s credit standing and valuation.”

-Satoru Kikuchi, SMBC Nikko Securities analyst

Bitauto raises $300M

BitAuto

Bitauto Holdings, which operates a giant car marketplace and invests in transportation startups, has announced that its raised $300 million in funding. The company is traded publicly, and is valued at around $1.4 billion. However, this is notable because of who’s making it.

Chinese search giant Baidu, WeChat owner Tencent, and e-commerce portal JD.com are each taking an $50 million investment in the company, along with an additional $150 million from PA Grand Opportunity Limited.

“We are delighted to announce today the strengthening of our strategic partnership with Baidu, the leader in Chinese language online search. We are also pleased to welcome PAG, a leading regional private investment firm, as an important investor. My personal participation in this transaction is a further testament to management’s strong confidence in Bitauto’s future development.”

-William Li, Bitauto CEO

According to Bitauto, Tencent, Baidu, and JD.com are each purchasing 2.47 million newly issued ordinary shares of Bitauto at $20.23/share. The PAG investment is coming in the form of convertible bonds that will be due in five years with an interest rate of two percent/annum.

“Through our cooperation over the past year with JD.com and Tencent, China’s leaders in world-class e-commerce, social media, and big data, we have gained tremendous momentum in making Bitauto the industry leader in online automobile transactions. Through our new partnership with Baidu, we expect to leverage its partnership in mobile and desktop online search, big data and transaction services platforms for additional strategic advantages as we continue to create the industry leading new and used car purchasing experience for customers in China.”

  • William Li
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