TechSummit Rewind 161

Netflix ditches five-star ratings, New figures on Uber’s anonymous division, and Qualcomm rebrands its processors

This is the TechSummit Rewind, a daily recap of the top technology headlines.

Netflix ditching five-star ratings in favor of thumbs up

Earns Netflix

Netflix will soon make its first change to ratings in years, switching from a traditional five-star rating to a binary thumbs up/thumbs down system, per a press briefing from company vice president of product Todd Yellin.

“Five stars feels very yesterday now. We’re spending many billions of dollars on the titles we’re producing and licensing, and with these big catalogs, that just adds a challenge.

“Bubbling up the stuff people actually want to watch is super important.”

-Todd Yellin, Netflix VP of product

Per Yellin, the change will happen next month globally.

“What’s more powerful: you telling me you would give five stars to the documentary about unrest in the Ukraine; that you’d give three stars to the latest Adam Sandler movie; or that you’d watch the Adam Sandler movie ten times more frequently? What you do versus what you say you like are different things.”

-Todd Yellin, Netflix VP of product

In addition to the ratings change, Netflix will also start percent matching, meaning that it will use algorithms to show a percentage below a title based on how likely it is a viewer will enjoy it. This is personalized, per Yellin, like dating sites that match you with potential partners based on interests or earlier activity.

Netflix is also “matching” members based on a global database of activity, not segmenting it by local markets. The company found that its members are willing to watch Netflix content that has been produced in other countries or has subtitled.

“We’re finding these clusters of people and then we’re figuring out who is like you, who enjoys these kinds of things, and then we’re mixing and matching those.”

-Todd Yellin

Docs: Uber’s anonymous cars drove over 20K miles, had to be taken over at every mile

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Per documents circulating through Uber’s self-driving group obtained by Recode, the company’s 43 active cars in Pennsylvania, Arizona, and California drove 20,354 miles autonomously last week for only the second time since late December.

Uber passengers took around 930 self-driving rides in Pittsburgh last week and around 150 rides in Phoenix. These vehicles had a driver at the wheel to take over if needed.

However, those human drivers are taking over more often than they did in January.

Uber uses several methods to determine how its systems have progressed. Those include:

  • The average number of miles a car drives itself before a driver must take over for any reason
  • The average number of miles between “critical” interventions (when a driver must avoid causing harm, like hitting pedestrians or causing material property damage)
  • The average number of autonomous miles between “bad experiences” (jerky motions or hard braking, which are more likely to cause discomfort than damage)

During the week that ended Mar. 8, the 43 active cars on the road drove only an average of close to 0.8 miles before the safety driver had to take over for some reason.

The mile per intervention metric includes all the times driver have had to take back control from the system over the course of a week.

Reasoning for these interventions can vary, but they can include navigating unclear lane markings, the system overshooting a turn or driving in inclement weather. This excludes “accidental disengagements, end-of-route disengagements, and early takeovers.”

That’s down slightly from earlier this year. At the end of January, a driver had to take over roughly once every 0.9 miles and was at the one-mile mark during the first week of February.

Then there’s the company’s “critical” interventions. Last week, the company’s cars drove an average of approximately 200 miles between those types of incidents that required a driver to take over.

While that’s an improvement from last week, which was about 114 miles between critical interventions, that progress hasn’t been steady.

At the end of January, drivers only needed to take over after an average of 125 miles driven, but that dropped to about once per 50 miles during the first week on February. Those numbers then increased over the following two weeks but dropped again in the first week of March.

Part of that can be blamed on the cars being introduced to new routes (parts of Arizona) or having to navigate around objects or road markings they don’t recognize.

The cars also had more “bad experiences” during the week ending on Mar. 8 than in January. The miles driven between things like auto-detected hard decelerations or abrupt car jerks and movement has been cut in half from over four miles in January to less than two miles last week.

Per Uber’s self-driving team, the rider experience dropped significantly along Arizona’s Scottsdale Road. Cars were only able to drive 0.67 miles between interventions and two miles between bad events.

Google Home plays Beauty and the Beast audio ads

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Some Google Home owners have reported hearing an advertisement for the opening of Beauty and the Beast alongside a summary of the day ahead.

Some Android users also reporting hearing the ad through Google Assistant.

The ad was delivered with the usual Google Assistant voice, so it blended in seamlessly with the usual daily briefing of news, weather, calendar appointments, etc.

The company has since stopped serving that content to users.

“This wasn’t intended to be an ad. What’s circulating online was a part of our My Day feature, where after providing helpful information about your day, we sometimes call out timely content. We’re continuing to experiment with new ways to surface unique content for users and we could have done better in this case.”

-Google, in a statement

Qualcomm Snapdragon brand changing to reflect ‘platform’ capabilities

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Most of the mobile devices we know and love run on Qualcomm Snapdragon processors that often get mistaken as just CPUs.

For that reason, Qualcomm is subtly changing its branding and messaging to now call the processors the “Qualcomm Snapdragon platform.” This helps Qualcomm explain that it’s more than just a processor inside – instead, it’s a system-on-a-chip with a cellular modem, GPU, and more.

“We can now articulate the value that we provide to a device manufacturer – from developing algorithms for great pictures and videos, to making sure that the battery is long lasting. More importantly, the word “platform” will be used to explain the combined key user experiences – camera, connectivity, battery life, security, immersion – that these essential technologies are designed to deliver.”

-Qualcomm, in a statement

This signals the chipmaker’s movement into selling its wares to more than just phone makers – think automotive, IoT, and laptop – with a broader branding paintbrush.

As part of this change, the Snapdragon name is being removed entirely from its low-end chips. The current Snapdragon 200 range will now be known as “Qualcomm Mobile.”

iMessage App Store growth slows

iMessage App Store

The excitement is fading for the iMessage App Store along with its growth. During its first few months of existence, the store saw growth of over 100 percent month-over-month. Between January and February, that’s dropped down to just nine percent.

Per a new report from app intelligence firm Sen.sor Tower, there are nearly 5,000 iMessage-enabled apps (the same number of iOS apps released in year one of its App Store).

Games continue to be the most popular iMessage app category, ahead of entertainment, utilities, social networking, and photo & video apps. However, even within these categories, many of the apps are stickers – for example, those that use existing IP from a popular gaming franchise.

Gmail can now stream video attachments on desktop

Gmail-com

Desktop Gmail users can now stream video attachments on the page, rather than being forced to download it first.

Attachments can still be downloaded, but clicking on a file will now pull up a YouTube-like video player that’ll let you play the clip back, adjust quality and volume levels, and even stream it to a Chromecast.

Per Google, the feature will roll out to everyone over the next 15 days.

Swatch launching smartwatch OS

A Swatch Scuba Playero wrist watch is displayed in a shop in Zurich

Swatch is developing an alternative to watchOS and Android Wear.

The company’s Tissot brand will launch a smartwatch towards the end of next year with the OS built in, per Swatch CEO Nick Hayek. Hayek claims that the system will need less power and will better protect data.

“There’s a possibility for wearables to develop as a consumer product, but you have to miniaturize and have an independent operating system.”

-Nick Hayek, Swatch CEO

Swatch is willing to give third parties access to the operating system co-developed with the Swiss Center for Electronics and Microtechnology, per Hayek. The company has received about 100 requests for more information, with half coming from smaller Silicon Valley companies.

Amazon puts Alexa inside main iPhone app

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Available to all iPhone users next week, Amazon iOS app users will be able to talk to the company’s Alexa assistant.

Naturally, the assistant can shop and track packages, but she can also do other quirky things like tell jokes, give weather updates, and predict items like Best Picture at the Academy Awards or the winner of the NCAA Basketball Tournament. It also plays music, controls Internet of Things devices, and grants Amazon app users access to over 10,000 skills.

At launch, Alexa won’t support the Door Lock API that lets users lock (and eventually unlock) doors with smart locks.

Settings changes still require use of the separate iOS Alexa app.

Nvidia partners with PACCAR on self-driving truck tech

Paccar

Nvidia has launched a new autonomous vehicle partnership with PACCAR, one of the largest makers of transport trucks.

The arrangement has already given us one proof-of-concept vehicle, a Level 4 autonomous truck that uses Nvidia’s Drive PX 2 platform with neural network training fed by data of humans driving tractor-trailers. The partnership’s announcement included a showcase of this initial vehicle managing a closed road course, with no one behind the wheel.

 

TechSummit Rewind 153

Caavo’s set-top box unites Amazon, Apple, everything else; Alexa adds support for Outlook.com calendars; & Makerbot layoffs

This is the TechSummit Rewind, a daily recap of the top technology headlines.

Caavo’s $400 set-top box unites Amazon, Apple, everything else into one TV interface

caavo

Caavo is hoping to solve the problem of having to switch inputs with its $399 multi-port box that puts all of your streaming video apps into one interface, and even works with third-party voice control, like Amazon’s Alexa.

Company co-founders Andrew Einaudi and Ashish Aggarwal, who serve as CEO and CTO, respectively.

The Caavo – named because “un cavo” translates to “one cable” in Italian – is a 16-inch, four-pound flat box with eight HDMI inputs, an Ethernet port, two USB ports, a power port, and a 3.5mm jack for an IR extension cable. There are three different aesthetic options for the top of the box (bamboo, mahogany, and tiger wood) and a steel base to keep it in place.

The idea here is to run all of your external TV boxes (Roku, Apple TV, Fire TV, cable box, etc.) through the Caavo and it will present every video option available to you in the same bare-bones interface. It supports 4K video and also comes with a capacitive touch, voice-control remote.

The box won’t ship until the fall, and is still a work in progress. It doesn’t support all DVR features right now. Dish and DirecTV DVR work, but other time-shifting features require “direct partnerships,” according to the company. The company is also still figuring out dynamic pricing to show users the cheapest option for watching movies or TV shows.

Four hundred dollars is a bit much for a streaming TV device, considering that a Chromecast sets you back only $30 and an Apple TV is half the Caavo’s asking price. However, the company assumes that you wouldn’t be afraid to spend on a better TV experience.

Only 5,000 Caavos are planned to ship in its first year of availability, citing a desire to make sure the product is “absolutely nailed” first.

Alexa now supports Outlook.com calendars

amazon-echo

Amazon has updated Alexa with support for Outlook.com calendars. You can use Alexa to add or review upcoming events in a calendar with commands like “what’s on my calendar?” or “add an event to my calendar.”

No update is required as the update was launched in the background. You can add it now in the Alexa app for iOS or Android and on the web under settings > calendar.

Makerbot lays off 30% of its staff as company’s scope narrows

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Makerbot is laying off 30 percent of its staff in an ongoing effort to adapt to a changing market.

“We have to make additional changes to lower costs and to support our long-term goals. As part of these changes, we will further integrate our hardware and software product development under one team.”

– Nadav Goshen, Makerbot CEO

Shopify reports bigger loss as expenses soar

Shopify

Shopify reported a bigger quarterly loss Wednesday as operating expenses jumped 80 percent.

The company’s net loss widened to $8.9 million ($0.10/share) in the fourth quarter that ended Dec. 31, from $6.3 million ($0.08/share) a year ago.

The Ottawa-based company’s revenue rose from $70.2 million to $130.4 million.

Jaguar doesn’t think you should have to leave the car to pay for gas

jaguar-shell-partnership

Jaguar and Shell are teaming up to launch a new feature that lets drivers pay for gas without leaving their car. Starting today, drivers of select models will be able to use their car’s touchscreen display to pay for fuel at participating gas stations with a cashless payment app produced by Shell. The feature, which is available in 2018 Jaguar F-PACE, XE, and XF models, uses PayPal or Apple Pay to make the secure payments with Android Pay expected to be added later in the year, according to Jaguar.

The new service will roll out globally later but will initially be available only at Shell’s UK stations. Jaguar is also working on similar in-car payment services for parking and drive-through restaurants.

“In a world where cash is no longer king, customers are increasingly using electronic payments and contactless cards. Making a payment directly from a car’s touchscreen will make refueling quicker and easier.”

– Peter Virk, Jaguar Land Rover director of Connected Car & Future Technology

Of course, you’ll still need to leave your car to actually pump gas, so the time saved isn’t going to account for much.

Signal’s newest update brings video calling, privacy concerns

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Encrypted communications app Signal has brought video calling to both Android and iOS in a new update. However, it also brings support for CallKit on iOS, which includes a privacy issue into an otherwise secure app.

CallKit, a new iOS 10 feature, makes Signal act more like the regular iOS phone app. It lets Signal calls be answered from the lock screen and lists those calls in your “Recent Calls” list. Signal notes that the added convenience could lead to some data being synced to iCloud, including who you called and how long you spoke to them. CallKit is an optional feature and will only work when both parties opt in to avoid data leakage. Video calling is also optional.

According to Wired, Signal is still assessing the feature and might only display “Signal users” in an iPhone’s call log or offer a privacy tutorial to help users understand their settings options.

FTC Disclosure: Paw Print Media, the parent company of Paw Print, is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

Dish gives Hopper DVRs Alexa, multi-room audio

Customers will soon be able to change channels by speaking to Alexa

Dish customers will soon be able to pair their Hopper DVR with the Amazon Echo or Echo Dot in order to change channels just by speaking.

The company’s confident that it’ll arrive in the first half of the year. As long as Hopper is connected to the internet, you can use natural voice commands to go to individual channels or bring up movies on-demand by saying “go to AMC” or “Find The Walking Dead”. You can also search for content via genre or by star, simply by bellowing Matt Damon’s name.

At the same time, Dish is revealing Dish Music for playing music from various streaming services via the Hopper. If you have multiple DVRs in different rooms of your home hooked up to audio equipment (or your TV), then you can use them as a multi-room audio setup. The product’s compatible with audio services like iHeartRadio, Tidal, and Amazon Music. In addition, if your home theater speakers are DTS Play-Fi enabled, then they’re instantly compatible with the new offering. If you own a Hopper 2 or Hopper 3 DVR, then you’ll be able to access the new feature at some point next month.

Source: Engadget

TechSummit Rewind 112

A daily recap of the top technology headlines.

This is the TechSummit Rewind, a daily recap of the top technology headlines.

Google will launch dedicated search results for mobile

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Within months, Google will create a separate index for mobile that will become the “primary” index used for responding to search queries. A separate desktop index will be maintained, however it won’t be as up-to-date as the mobile index.

Facebook updates Instagram Windows 10 app to support PC, tablets

new Instagram web interface

Facebook has updated its Windows 10 app for Instagram to support PCs and tablets. The new version is available now in the Windows Store.

The app has its own Live Tile that shows you new photos and notifications right on your home screen. It’s pretty much a carbon copy of the Instagram apps for iOS and Android, including the ability to post and edit photos (only on devices with a touchscreen and rear-facing camera), get notifications, chat with Instagram Direct, and use Stories and the bevy of other features you’d expect.

Google News rolls out “fact check” tag for stories on web, mobile apps

google-news-fact-check

Google News has launched a new fact check feature in search results for news stories.

Fact check will now appear as a label among news search results, alongside other labels like opinion, local source, and highly cited.

Fact-checks are algorithmically being connected with live news stories partly based on Claim Review. According to Google, fact-checking services can apply to have their service included.

“We’re excited to see the growth of the Fact Check community and to shine a light on its efforts to divine fact from fiction, wisdom from spin.”

-Google, in a blog post

Fact check labels are visible in the expanded story box on Google News’ website, on iOS and Android, and will roll out first in the U.S. and U.K.

Amazon opens limited beta for Alexa to manage lists; Any.do, Todoist now work with Echo

amazon-echo

Amazon has opened up a limited beta that adds the ability for lists to be managed with the company’s Echo speaker.

Any.Do and Todoist have baked in support, which lets you add items to your to-do or shopping list with your voice. Those lists are then synced to the app.

The list API lets you specify which to-do list service you want to add your item to. Once Any.Do/Todoist is connected to your Alexa account and set as the default list app, adding items to your list becomes as simple as saying “Alexa add Oreos to my shopping list” or “remind me to get the oil changed.” You can also ask Alexa for a summary of what’s on your to-do list.

The API is currently in private beta, and integration is available now with Any.Do and Todoist.

Yahoo revives email forwarding

yahoo-mail-relaunch

Yahoo has flipped back on automatic mail forwarding after disabling it earlier this week. According to the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company, “previously planned maintenance to improve its functionality between a user’s various accounts” caused the issue.

Verizon starts selling 30-minute unlimited data sessions

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Verizon has announced PopData, an option for pay-as-you-go unlimited data that sets you back $2 for a 30-minute session and $3 for an hour-long unlimited data binge.

Samsung expects to lose another $3.1 billion after Note 7 recall

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According to Samsung, the discontinuation of the Galaxy Note 7 will cost the Korean company another $3.1 billion over the next two fiscal quarters.

“The company already allocated the expected direct cost from the discontinuation of Galaxy Note7 sales in its third quarter earnings guidance revision announced on Oct. 11, but expects the drop in revenue from the discontinued sales to continue to have a negative impact on operating impact for the next two quarters. The negative impact is estimated in the mid-2 trillion-won range in the fourth quarter of 2016 and at approximately 1 trillion won for the first quarter of 2017.”

  • Samsung, in a statement

Salesforce rules out Twitter takeover

The reception desk at Twitter's San Francisco headquarters. (Image: Aaron Durand/Twitter)
The reception desk at Twitter’s San Francisco headquarters. (Image: Aaron Durand/Twitter)

Salesforce has confirmed that it will not make a bid in Twitter.

“In this case we’ve walked away. It wasn’t the right fit for us.”

-Marc Benioff, Salesforce CEO

Shazam adds in-app music video channels

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Shazam has added videos to its arsenal thanks to a partnership with music video platform Vadio. When you ID a song, a curated music video channel will now pop up and play within the app.

“We continually look for new ways to expand the ways in which our users can discover music. We want to give fans a great reason to spend more time with Shazam by giving them access to a rich and immersive music video experience. In turn, this creates new revenue opportunities for artists and, moreover, powerful ways of gaining exposure for brands.”

-Fabio Santini, Shazam chief product officer

The new feature will be available everywhere the app is active.

Naspers sells Allegro to Permira consortium for $3.3B

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Media and internet holding company Naspers has agreed to sell off Polish online auction business Allegro to a consortium of private equity firms that includes Cinvne, Permira, and Mid Europa for $3.25 billion.

Comparison shopping business Ceneo.pl was also included in the transaction.

According to Naspers, the deal is still subject to antitrust clearance.