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

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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 154

Uber announces plans to release a diversity report, WhatsApp launches its own Snapchat Stories clone, & Snap Spectacles go on sale online

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

Uber will release first diversity report in next few months

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A day after former Uber site reliability engineer Susan Fowler Rigetti posted a detailed narrative about unwanted sexual advances from her manager and a lackluster response from Uber’s human resources department, prompting Uber chief executive Travis Kalanick to call for an investigation. Kalanick reported more detail about the investigation and informed them that it will release its first diversity report in the next few months.

In an email to employees released today, Kalanick wrote that 15.1 percent of Uber’s engineers, product managers, and scientists are women, adding that the figure stands at 10 percent at Twitter, 17 percent at Facebook, and 18 percent at Google.

“I believe in creating a workplace where a deep sense of justice underpins everything we do. Every Uber employee should be proud of the culture we have and what we will build together over time. What is driving me through all this is a determination that we take what’s happened as an opportunity to heal wounds of the past and set a new standard for justice in the workplace. It is my number one priority that we come through this a better organization, where we live our values and fight for and support those who experience injustice.”

-Travis Kalanick, Uber CEO

WhatsApp launches Status Snapchat Stories clone

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WhatsApp has launched Status, a new tab for sharing decorated photos, videos and GIFs that disappear after 24 hours. It’s another copycat of Snapchat Stories from Facebook, with the twist that it’s end-to-end encrypted like the messaging function.

The feature was tested for beta users in Nov., and the Status tab is rolling out now worldwide on iOS, Android, and Windows Phone. Users can watch updates from friends and reply privately, shoot and adorn imagery with drawings and captions and send their creations to all their contacts they’ve chosen with a persistent privacy setting. Sending media to specific friends is still done through message threads.

Status could also open up new advertising opportunities for WhatsApp, with the potential for full-screen ads in-between Statuses (a la Instagram and Snapchat).

The feature replaces WhatsApp’s AOL Instant Messenger-style away messages, which was the app’s only feature when it launched eight years ago.

Snap starts selling Spectacles online in U.S. for $130

snap-spectacles-for-sale-online-starting-today

Speaking of Snap, the company’s Spectacles camera-toting sunglasses are now on sale online in the U.S. here for $129.99. Previously, they were only available at Snapbot vending machines placed in surprise locations and a pop-up store in New York.

That pop-up store has since closed, and according to Snap, Snapbots will “continue to land in surprising locations around the U.S. following a brief nap.” Buyers should expect to wait two to four weeks to get their Spectacles once they order, and can also buy $49.99 charging cases and $9.99 charging cables (both of which are included with the Spectacles).

“Response has been positive since November’s launch so we’re now happy to be able to make Spectacles more readily available – especially for those in the U.S. who have not been able to make it to a Snapbot.”

-A Snap spokesperson

Samsung reputation tanks in U.S. after Note 7 flop

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According to an annual survey from Harris Poll, Samsung’s reputation among U.S. consumers took a major hit last year after the Galaxy Note 7 recall. The company ranked 49th in the poll’s Reputation Quotient Ratings, which ranks the top 100 most visible companies in the U.S. according to public reputation. Last year, Samsung ranked third, ahead of both Apple and Google.

Amazon topped the list for the second consecutive year, followed by supermarket chains Wegmans and Publix. Other companies in the top ten include Apple, Google, and Tesla Motors (who didn’t make the cut last year). Netflix and Microsoft each ranked in the top 20 (18th and 20th, respectively), while Facebook ranked 66th.

The results are based on an online survey of over 30,000 American adults carried out between Nov. 28 and Dec. 16 of last year. The survey analyzes brand reputation based on social responsibility, vision and leadership, financial performance, products and services, workplace environment, and emotional appeal.

Google, Bing will soon prevent pirate websites from popping up in search

Google and Bing have agreed to a new voluntary code of practice in the U.K. that will make websites known to engage in illegal distribution of content less visible in search results.

The code is aimed at improving collaboration with rightsholders and accelerating the takedown process following DMCA notices.

The code will steer Brits away from pirated content and towards certified content providers for films, music, eBooks, and sports coverage.

The changes are expected to roll out by this summer.

Microsoft nabs Flipkart for Azure

Microsoft has announced a “strategic partnership” with Indian ecommerce giant Flipkart that will lead to the company adopting Redmond’s Azure cloud platform.

“Given Microsoft’s strong reputation in cloud computing, coupled with scale and reliability, this partnership allows us to leverage our combined strength and knowledge of technology, e-commerce, and markets to make online shopping more relevant and enriching for customers.”

-Binny Bansal; Flipkart CEO, in a statement

“At Microsoft, we aim to empower every Indian and every Indian organization with technology, and key to this is forging strategic partnerships with innovative companies like Flipkart.”

-Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO

 

TechSummit Rewind 150

Companies oppose Trump immigration order, Uber hires Mark Moore to develop flying cars, & Google and Facebook’s program to help French newsrooms combat “fake news”

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

97 companies file opposition to Trump immigration order

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Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, and other tech companies have filed an amicus brief voicing their opposition to President Trump’s immigration executive order on the grounds that it is discriminatory and has a negative impact on business.

The companies filed the brief in a case brought about by Minnesota and Washington state challenging the order. The Trump administration appealed the case to the 9th Circuit after a Seattle federal judge halted the immigration ban over the weekend.

Other notable participating companies include:

  • Airbnb
  • com
  • Apple
  • Asana
  • Atlassian
  • Autodesk
  • Automattic
  • Box
  • Dropbox
  • eBay
  • Etsy
  • Flipboard
  • GitHub
  • Google
  • GoPro
  • Indiegogo
  • Intel
  • Kickstarter
  • LinkedIn
  • Lyft
  • Medium
  • Mozilla
  • Netflix
  • Netgear
  • Patreon
  • PayPal
  • Pinterest
  • Quora
  • Reddit
  • Salesforce
  • Shutterstock
  • Snap
  • Spotify
  • Square
  • Squarespace
  • Strava
  • Stripe
  • SurveyMonkey
  • TaskRabbit
  • Thumbtack
  • Uber
  • Wikimedia Foundation
  • Y Combinator
  • Yelp
  • Zynga

The amicus brief highlights the contribution of immigrants to the tech industry while stressing the immigration controls already in place. The brief states that Trump’s immigration policies will make it more difficult and expensive for companies to hire new employees from around the world, and will make it more difficult for companies to conduct business because of travel restrictions on their employees. The companies also argue that the discrimination enshrined in the order will also trickle down to themselves – if job applicants can’t travel to the United States, employers might be forced to discriminate against them, according to the brief.

The Trump administration is also criticized for the order’s haphazard rollout, with the Department of Homeland Security and other enforcement agencies receiving little notice. The ultimate result, according to the companies, is that skilled workers will no longer seek employment in the United States.

“Skilled individuals will not want to immigrate to the country if they may be cut off without warning from their spouses, grandparents, relatives, and friends – they will not pull up roots, incur significant economic risk, and subject their family to considerable uncertainty to immigrate to the United States in the face of this instability.”

-The amicus brief

Notable absences include several companies that met with Trump before his inauguration: Amazon, Oracle, IBM, SpaceX, and Tesla. Oracle CEO Safra Catz is serving as an advisor to the Trump transition team, while SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk defended his decision to remain on Trump’s advisory council.

Amazon is listed as a witness in the Washington lawsuit brought against the ban, and according to a company spokesperson, Amazon was advised by the Washington Attorney General not to sign the amicus brief because of that status.

Uber hires Mark Moore to develop flying cars

Uber_NY_request-screenshot

Former NASA advanced aircraft engineer Mark Moore is joining Uber as its director of engineering for aviation, with the primary goal of working on the company’s Elevate flying car initiative.

“I can’t think of another company in a stronger position to be the leader for this new ecosystem and make the urban electric VTOL (vertical takeoff and landing) market real.”

-Mark Moore, Uber director of engineering for aviation

Uber envisions that people will take conventional Ubers from their pickup point to a nearby “vertiport” that dots residential neighborhoods. Then they would zoom up into the air and across town to the vertiport closest to their offices. These air taxis will only need ranges between 50 and 100 miles, and Moore thinks that they can be at least partially recharged while passengers are boarding or exiting the aircraft. He also predicts that we’ll see several well-engineered flying cars in the next three years and human pilots for the foreseeable future.

However, many obstacles remain. According to Moore, each flying car company would need to independently negotiate with suppliers to get prices down, and lobby regulators to certify aircrafts and relax air-traffic restrictions.

Google, Facebook to help French newsrooms combat “fake news” ahead of election

Google and Facebook will help a host of French news organizations combat the growing tide of fake news ahead of the upcoming French presidential election campaign.

Through the CrossCheck program, Google has partnered with First Draft and Facebook to support a coalition of notable newsrooms including Le Monde, Agence Frence-Presse (AFP), France Televisions, BuzzFeed, Global Voices, and Les Echos, to help the French electorate “make sense of what and who to trust in their social media feeds, web searches, and general online news consumptions,” according to Google News Lab’s France lead David Dieudonne.

“With combined expertise form across media and technology, CrossCheck aims to ensure hoaxes, rumors and false claims are swiftly debunked, and misleading or confusing stories are accurately reported. With the French presidential election approaching, journalists from across France and beyond will work together to find and verify content circulating publicly online, whether it is photographs, videos, memes, comment threads, and news sites.”

-David Dieudonne, Google News Lab France lead

Vizio settles FTC lawsuit, agrees to get viewer consent before tracking TV habits

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Vizio will pay $2.2 million to settle a lawsuit alleging that it collected customers’ TV-watching habits without their permission.

The lawsuit was filed by the Federal Trade Commission and the State of New Jersey, alleging that Vizio began using software in 2014 built into over 11 million smart TVs to capture “highly-specific, second-by-second information about television viewing.” Vizio then allegedly worked with another company to associate demographic information with each household, so viewing habits could be paired with information like a viewer’s “sex, age, income, marital status” and more.

Vizio will now also have to obtain clear consent from viewers before collecting and sharing data on their viewing habits. It’ll also have to delete all data gathered by these methods before Mar. 1, 2016.

“The data generated when you watch television can reveal a lot about you and your household. So, before a company pulls up a chair next to you and starts taking careful notes on everything you watch (and then shares it with its partners), it should ask if that’s okay with you.”

-Kevin Moriarty, FTC attorney

Google makes it easier to see, share publishers’ real URLs from AMP pages

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Google is making a change to Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), so users can easily view and share links that lead directly to publishers’ sites rather than Google’s copy of the content.

Now, the URL field of a browser will continue to show a Google URL. However, the AMP header area will display a link or chain icon that it calls the “anchor” button. Clicking on this will make the publisher’s direct URL appear, so that it can be easily copied and pasted.

For those who hold down on the anchor button, according to Google, it will trigger the native share feature of the browser being used. In Safari, this will give you easy access to things like Twitter or Facebook and well nothing for Chrome (since it lacks native share).

Next to the anchor button, the three dots that Google calls the “overflow” icon brings up help information about how AMP is displayed.

For those using Google’s iOS search app, native sharing is already enabled. According to Google, those searching through its app or natively on Android will get sharing features in the coming weeks.

South Korea to strengthen battery safety rules after Note 7 rules

According to South Korea’s Ministry of Trade, Industry & Energy, lithium-ion battery safety requirements will be strengthened and inspected regularly to avoid repeats of fires caused by Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 batteries.

Manufacturers of lithium-ion batteries would be subjected to greater oversight and regular inspectors, according to a ministry statement. Devices using lithium-ion batteries will also be subjected to more regular safety tests.

“We ask that the industry shares the view that making efforts to ensure safety is equally as critical as developing new products through technological innovation.”

-Jeong Marn-ki; South Korea Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Energy vice minister

The government will also specifically monitor Samsung’s efforts to improve battery safety, such as x-ray testing and stricter standards during the design process.

Recall-related requirements will also be strengthened by broadening the types of serious product defects that manufacturers should report to the government, and seek legal charges to allow the government to warn consumers to stop using certain products even if they hadn’t been recalled.

TechSummit Rewind 148

The tech industry reacts to Trump’s travel ban, Lyft surges in App Store, and Fitbit lays off six percent of its staff

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

Tech industry reacts to Trump’s travel ban

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The tech industry has responded to President Trump’s executive order banning entry to the United States from seven countries.

Several big names, including early Twitter investor Chris Sacca, started a trend offering to match donations to those that donated to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Other executives followed, including:

  • Stripe CEO Patrick Collison
  • Nest founder Tony Fadell
  • Union Square Ventures partners Fred Wilson, Joanne Wilson, Amy Batchelor, & Brad Field
  • USV partner Albert Wenger
  • Ziggeo CEO Susan Danziger
  • Homeberw Venture partners Hunter Walk and Satya Patel
  • Intercom CEO Eoghan McCabe
  • Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield
  • Xamarin co-founder Nat Friedman
  • Sequoia Capital’s Mike Vernal
  • Charles River Ventures partner Izhar Armony
  • Facebook advertising head Andrew Bosworth

Google has also created a $2 million crisis fund that can be matched by donations from employees benefitting the ACLU, Immigrant Resource Center, International Rescue Committee, and Mercy Corps.

Uber will create a $3 million defense legal fund to cover legal, immigration, and translation costs for drivers affected by the ban.

Lyft CEO Logan Green pledged that his company will donate $1 million to the ACLU over four years.

For more coverage of the ban, check out Grasswire’s coverage.

Lyft surges to top 10 on Apple’s App Store following #DeleteUber campaign

Lyft

Lyft’s app has surged in the App Store thanks to the “Delete Uber” campaign that took place on social media over the weekend. People were angry that Uber appeared to be taking advantage of a taxi strike at New York’s JFK Airport to promote its car-hailing service. The company tweeted that surge pricing at JFK was switched off, shortly after the NY Taxi Workers Alliance called for a shop on pickups at the airport in response to what they said was the “inhumane, unconstitutional ban of Muslim refugees and travelers.”

The Alliance asked all drivers, Uber included, to not pick up at JFK on Saturday, Jan. 28 from 6pm to 7pm to protest Trump’s immigration and refugee ban.

Angry feedback from that Uber tweet launched the #DeleteUber campaign on Twitter, where users called out the company for their actions and CEO Travis Kalanick for serving as an economic advisor to President Trump.

Lyft started Saturday with a ranking of #39 in the Free Apps chart for iPhone. By the end of the weekend, it shot up to #7.

Fitbit laying off six percent of its staff

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Fitbit will be reducing its global workforce by six percent after a disappointing fourth quarter.

We’re expected to learn more during their earnings call later today, but a preliminary statement details the loss of 110 jobs in a “reorganization of its business” designed to “create a more focused and efficient operating model.”

Starbucks unveils virtual assistant that takes your order via messaging/voice

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Starbucks is embracing the trend towards voice-based computing with My Starbucks barista, a new feature in the coffee shop’s mobile app that allows customers to order and pay for their food and drinks by speaking. This includes being able to modify their drink order, as if they were speaking to an actual barista. Additionally, the company is launching an Amazon Alexa platform, which lets customers re-order their favorite items by speaking to an Alexa-powered device.

“The Starbucks experience is built on the personal connection between our barista and customer, so everything we do in our digital ecosystem must reflect that sensibility. Our team is focused on making sure that Starbucks voice ordering within our app is truly personal and equally important was finding the right partner in Amazon to test and learn from this new capability.”

-Gerri Martin-Flickinger, Starbucks chief technology officer

The feature uses artificial intelligence to process incoming orders through a new messaging interface in the Starbucks app. Here, customers can also interact with the virtual assistant by messaging their order chatbot style. The assistant can also confirm which location you want to order from, and help process the payment.

According to Starbucks, the new assistant will initially only be available to a thousand iOS customers nationwide during a limited beta test, with a phased rollout planned through this summer. The Android version will then follow later in the year.

The “Starbucks Reorder Skill” for Amazon Alexa lets customers re-order their usual items by saying “Alexa, order my Starbucks.” This will require customers to have the Starbucks mobile app installed on their device, and an account set up where they’ve designated their favorite order.

Dropbox brings its Google Docs competitor out of beta

Dropbox Paper

Dropbox’s Paper collaborative editing software is launching globally today. The minimal document editor and writing toll is the focal point, while Dropbox’s other services and features now plug into and augment the expect Paper experience.

“We fully expect Paper to be used in environments where people are using Microsoft and Google products. That’s the rule, not the exception.”

-Rob Baesman, Dropbox head of product

According to Baesman, Paper is “one part online document, one part collaboration, one part task management tool, one part content hub.”

“At Paper, teams can create, review, organize content in a flexible work space.”

-Rob Baesman

Dropbox is also throwing in some new features to Paper that signal the software’s direction. One of these features, still in beta, is the ability to collect work into separate “projects.” These projects now have special viewing and filtering options that help them be categorized easier and tracked over time. You can also assign employees to projects and set due dates, like task-management software products Asana and Trello.

Another aspect is Dropbox’s Smart Sync, which turns a company’s entire Dropbox account into accessible folders on the desktop file system on Windows or Mac. This allows employees to perform work without having to jump back and forth to a browser window.

Paper is available for everyone in the 21 language markets supported at launch today, but administrative features will require a Dropbox Business or Enterprise plan. Smart Sync is free for business customers through its early-access program.

DraftKings receives Malta gaming license

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DraftKings has gotten a Controlled Skill Games License from the Malta Gaming Authority, which runs gaming in the small island nation.

Since Malta is a part of the European Union, DraftKings can now use this license to expand into some other EU countries without any further licenses or permits.

DraftKings hopes to start offering contests in Germany and Malta sometime this quarter.

Hinge testing Audrey personal assistant service to help you get more dates

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Dating app Hinge has been testing Audrey, a personal assistant that will message your matches for you and schedule your dates.

“We know the back-and-forth of getting to the first date can be frustrating, if not futile. That’s why we’re introducing Audrey.”

-Hinge, in an internal site

According to the site, you need to select the people you’re interested in. Then, Audrey will reach out and introduce you to those people. If the feeling is mutual, she will schedule a date on your behalf. Audrey will also provide “data and feedback” along the way to help you find your perfect match.

The service is currently in beta testing in New York.

 

TechSummit Rewind 144

Google Maps lets you hail an Uber, Microsoft launches the StaffHub Office 365 app for shift workers, & Trump picks Rudy Giuliani to meet with cybersecurity companies

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

Google Maps now lets you hail an Uber without leaving the app

Google Maps has been updated to let users request an Uber without leaving the Android/iOS app. Previously, Maps could only be used to check for price estimates and start the process of hailing an Uber, before eventually dumping you to the car-hailing app.

Once you sign in with your Uber account info, your stored payment info and other details are pulled into Maps.

The “ride services” section has been given a makeover in the new release. Instead of a list of services (Uber, Lyft, etc.) with pricing besides each one, now you’ll see the traditional on-screen map with a visual representation of where nearby drivers are.

The update is starting to rollout globally today on both platforms.

Microsoft launches StaffHub Office 365 app aimed at shift workers

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Microsoft has launched StaffHub, an Office 365 app for shift workers and management. The program is aimed for those that don’t tend to work from desktop computers and have different schedules from week to week, such as in retail, hospitality, and restaurants.

Since launching in “preview” last fall, over 1,000 businesses have signed up including a large California winery and a hospitality company that uses it to staff their hotels.

“There’s half a billion frontline staff workers in the world. Most companies, though, haven’t actually provided digital tools for these folks…but companies are starting to recognize the benefits of moving some of these offline processes and taking them online.”

-Bryan Goode, Office 365 general manager

To address the needs of this different kind of work environment, StaffHub posts schedules online.

When adding shifts, managers can take advantage of a variety of features to differentiate the types of shifts, ranging from custom labels (day, opening, night, etc.) to color coding, and they can also enter in notes about the work that needs to be done during the shift in question.

The program also makes it simple to update shifts from week to week with a “Copy last schedule” feature that lets managers use the prior week’s shift as a starting point before making changes.

Schedules can be viewed by day, week or month, as needed, and the program has tools for handling common requests, like time off, vacations, and sick leave.

However, the mobile experience is a lot more interesting.

Staff can privately chat – one on one or in group chats – with each other.

For example, managers can use their team chat to make informal announcements or share files. The chats also support photo sharing, which could be useful for showing the manager something out on the floor that needs their input.

Plus, the app can be used for sharing internal resources – like an employee handbook hosted on Sharepoint, computer uploaded files, a video, or a file stored on another cloud service. Files will display inline when clicked, making it easy for staff to view them right on their phone.

StaffPad is also being envisioned as an app platform of sorts for line-of-business apps (like a time clock application).

Staff can swap shifts with other workers in the mobile app and request time off – which then get routed to a manager for approval. Push notifications are used to alert users of these requests and approvals along with other updates, private notes, chats, and more.

The software is available now as part of Office 365 commercial plans on web, iOS, and Android.

Trump picks Rudy Giuliani to meet with companies on cybersecurity

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President-elect Donald Trump’s administration will hold private industry meetings on cybersecurity preparedness, led by Rudy Giuliani, according to the transition team and Giuliani.

“The president-elect decided that he wanted to bring in, on a regular basis, the people in the private sector, the corporate leaders in particular, and thoughts leaders in the private sector, who are working on security for cyber, because we’re so far behind.”

-Rudy Giuliani, on Fox & Friends

According to Giuliani, he will be in charge of coordinating the group. In a statement, the transition team said that it’s “contemplated” that the president-elect’s team will hold meetings with companies that have “faced or are facing challenges similar to those facing the government and public entities today,” including hacking and other security threats.

“The President-elect’s intent is to obtain experiential and anecdotal information from each executive on challenges faced by his/her company, how the company met the challenges, approaches which were not.”

-President-elect Trump’s transition team, in a statement

Obama expands NSA’s ability to share data with other agencies

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The National Security Agency can now share raw surveillance data with all 16 of the United States government’s intelligence groups, including the Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Homeland Security, and Drug Enforcement Administration. The agencies can submit requests for raw data pertaining to specific cases, and the NSA will approve or deny each requests based on its legitimacy and whether granting access would put large amounts of private citizens’ information at risk.

Lily shutting down, refunding customers

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Lily, the autonomous camera drone that sold $34 million in preorders, has shut down.

According to an email sent to customers, the startup was unable raise the additional round of funding that would’ve allowed it to start production of the drone. An automatic refund will be offered to all preorder customers within 60 days. A form will need to be filled out if the card used to preorder has since expired.

Opera launches Neon experimental desktop browser

Opera has launched Neon, an experimental version of its namesake browser for Windows and Mac that tries to reimagine what a modern browsing experience should be.

When you first open Neon, you’re not greeted with a task bar or bookmarks bar (the URL bar is alive and well). Instead of having tabs and the top, there are round bubbles on the right. Your desktop background is automatically pulled in as the background image of your new tabs page.

There’s also a left-hand sidebar that lets you control audio and video playback (which can be popped out so you can watch it even while surfing in other tabs), also features a screenshotting tool and access to your recent downloads.

For those of you with large or wide screens, Neon also lets you place two browser tabs side-by-side within the same window (similar to the split-screen view on iOS or Android).

Opera stresses that this is meant as a “concept browser” that won’t replace Opera’s existing browser.

“However, some of its new features are expected to be added to Opera this spring.”

-Opera, Neon developer

Google launches Toontastic 3D cartoon-making app

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Google has launched Toontastic 3D, an expansion of the Toontastic iOS app used to make cartoon-style video content.

The launch comes two years after Launchpad Toys, the startup behind Toontastic, was acquired by Google to create “more amazing creativity tools for kids.”

“With Toontastic 3D, kids can draw, animate and narrate their own adventures, news stories, school reports, and anything else they might dream up. 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.”

-Google, in a blog post

HTC’s U Ultra flagship has AI, a second screen, but no headphone jack

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HTC has gotten 2017 off to a flying start with an early announcement of its U Ultra flagship phone. The 5.7-inch device inaugurates the new U series and is joined by a smaller and less expensive U Play that scales things down to a 5.2-inch display and less robust cameras and processor. HTC is touting a new Sense Companion powered by AI and a second screen at the top of the U Ultra. Neither of the handsets have a headphone jack.

However, HTC packs in a pair of USonic headphones with an improvement in sound thanks to being powered by USB-C.

“We believe the audio experience on the phone can be so much more than just the simple transmission of sound. The sonar-like capabilities of USonic wouldn’t be possible with a 3.5mm headphone jack. We have microphones built into both earbuds that “listen” for sonic pulses, which can then adjust your audio to match your ears’ unique architecture. We believe the market is ready to push audio into new innovations that benefit consumers’ listening experience.”

-HTC, in a statement

This looks markedly different from the One lineup. HTC has moved to a new all-glass exterior here that it dubs Liquid Surface construction, and the company has spent a lot of time creating a material that mimics the property of liquid.

The Ultra has a thin two-inch strip residing to the right of the front-facing camera and immediately above the Super LCD 5 screen. The 5.7-inch Ultra has what is now a pretty standard Quad HD resolution on its main display, and it maintains the same pixel density on the 160×1040 second screen. It serves as a landing spot for notifications, reminders, shortcuts to frequent contacts, and music playback controls.

The U Ultra is pretty much cut and paste from any other premium smartphone: A Snapdragon 821 processor’s at the heart, along with 4GB of RAM, and either 64/128GB of storage. There’s also a microSD card slot that can expand storage by 2TB. The camera has been upgraded with the addition of phase-detect autofocus, but is otherwise unchanged from the 10’s 12-megapixel UltraPixel shooter. You still get laser autofocus, large pixels, an f/1.8 aperture, and optical image stabilization. Ironically, the front camera is now at 16 megapixels, although there’s an UltraPixel mode that provides 4-megapixel snaps.

The batteries seem small for the size of the U Ultra and U Play at 3,000mAh and 2,500mAh, respectively. Meanwhile, the U Play makes some significant drawbacks with a MediaTek Helio P10 processor, 32/64GB of storage, and a 16-megapixel rear camera with smaller pixels. It also makes do with 1080p display resolution. However, the most glaring sacrifice is in the Android Marshmallow OS that it ships with. The U Ultra, meanwhile, ships with Android Nougat.

HTC hopes that its U phones will stand out on the software front, with a focus on the user (hence the U name) and a series of AI enhancements that basically predict what you’ll want to do and serving up helpful suggestions. If you’re comfortable to let the phone learn your habits, it’ll do things like suggest you recharge if it knows you’ll be away from a power outlet for longer than it expects its battery will last or tell you to dress warm on a cold day. One neat thing here is always-on voice detection that’ll allow HTC’s AI to accept commands even while the phone’s display is off. The company has also developed a form of voice-based biometric authentication.

The HTC U Ultra with 64GB of storage is on pre-order today for $749 from HTC’s website in blue, black, white, or pink. Deliveries in Taiwan will begin by the end of January, while the rest of the world will get it in March. The U Play will follow later this spring.

A limited edition U Ultra will also launch with a sapphire glass screen and 128GB of storage. Pricing and launch date hasn’t been announced.

TechSummit Rewind 131

Google prepares two flagship smartwatches for Android Wear 2.0’s launch next year, Uber’s self-driving cars flee to Arizona, and Canada declares high-speed internet as essential

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

Google will launch two flagship smartwatches early next year

Tag Heuer Intel-powered smartwatch

Google will launch two new flagship smartwatches in the first quarter of next year, according to Android Wear product manager Jeff Chang. The watches will the flagship devices for Android Wear 2.0 and will launch with the platform.

The new models will be branded with Google’s manufacturing partners, similar to Google’s Nexus smartphone program.

After the new watches launch, existing Android Wear devices will be updated to Android Wear 2.0. The update will bring standalone apps that don’t require a phone to operate, Android Pay support, and support for Google’s voice-controlled Assistant.

The following devices will get the update:

  • Moto: 360 Gen 2, 360 Sport
  • LG: Watch Urbane 2nd Edition LTE, Watch Urbane, G Watch R
  • Polar: M600
  • Casio: Smart Outdoor Watch
  • Nixon: Mission
  • Tag Heuer: Connected
  • Fossil: Q Wander, Q Marshal, Q Founder
  • Michael Kors: Access Bradshaw Smartwatch, Access Dylan Smartwatch
  • Huawei: Watch, Watch Ladies
  • Asus: ZenWatch 2, ZenWatch 3

Other partners will also release new Android Wear 2.0-compatible devices throughout 2017. Google has claimed its commitment to supporting and promoting these launches in order to help build awareness.

“We’ve enabled a lot of diversity with our hardware partners to target different types of consumers and preferences. This is a marathon, not a sprint. This category of product is here with us to stay.”

-Jeff Chang, Android Wear product manager

Uber’s self-driving cars flee to Arizona after California troubles

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Uber has begun implementing its Plan B for where it will test out its self-driving cars, moving the vehicles to Arizona with riders beginning to see them on the roads early next year.

“Our cars departed for Arizona this morning by truck. We’ll be expanding our self-driving pilot there in the next few weeks, and we’re excited to have the support of Governor Ducey.”

-An Uber spokesperson

“Arizona welcomes Uber self-driving cars with open arms and wide open roads. While California puts the brakes on innovation and change with more bureaucracy and more regulation, Arizona is paving the way for new technology and new businesses. This is about economic development, but it’s also about changing the way we live and work. Arizona is proud to be open for business. California may not want you, but we do.”

-Doug Ducey, Arizona governor

Canada declares “high-speed” internet essential telecommunications service

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Canada has declared high-speed broadband internet access a “basic telecommunications service” that every citizen should be able to access.

“The future of our economy, our prosperity and our society – indeed, the future of every citizen – requires us to set ambitious goals, and to get on with connecting all Canadians for the 21st century.”

-Jean-Pierre Blais, Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) chair

The CRTC has also set new goals for download and upload speeds. For fixed broadband services, all citizens should have the option of unlimited data with speeds of at least 50 megabits/second for downloads and 10 megabits/second for uploads. Mobile coverage simply calls for “access to the latest mobile wireless technology” in cities and major transport corridors.

According to the commission, some two million Canadian households (18 percent of the population) currently don’t have access to their desired speeds. That’ll be helped by a $750 million government fund to help pay for infrastructure over five years. The CRTC expects 90 percent of the Canadians to have access to the new speeds by 2021.

The commission also mandates that wireless service providers will have to offer platforms that address the needs of people with hearing or speech disabilities within six months. According to Blais, this timeline is necessary because the country “can’t depend on market forces to address these issues.”

Pokemon Go comes to Apple Watch

pokemon-go-apple-watch

Niantic has brought the smash hit Pokemon Go to the Apple Watch, letting you more easily play Pokemon without having to always pull out your phone. Instead, you can tap to find nearby Pokemon, collect items from PokeStops, and even log your gameplay as a “workout.”

Your Apple Watch fitness sessions will also count towards hatching your Pokemon eggs and receiving candy with your Buddy Pokemon.

The app will also send push notifications about a variety of important in-game events, according to Niantic, including when they’re nearby Pokemon to catch, when you’re near a PokeStop, when your Eggs hatch, and when medals are awarded. However, you’ll still need to break out your iPhone when it comes time to actually catch the Pokemon.

The app is rolling out now in all markets where the main game is available.

Google employee sues company for being too confidential

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A Google product manager has filed a lawsuit in the San Francisco California Superior Court against the company for its confidentially policies on the grounds that they violate California labor laws. The suit alleges that Google operates an internal “spying program” on its own employees.

“Google’s motto is ‘don’t be evil.’ Google’s illegal confidentiality agreements and policies fail this test.”

-The lawsuit

The suit alleges that a Google co-founder reiterated at a company all-hands meeting that anyone who leaks confidential info would be terminated.

If Google is found guilty of violating California labor law, it could be fined up to $100 for each of the 12 alleged violations, multiplied by its over 61,000 employees. That fine doubles to $200/pay period/employee, up to an entire year, if any of the violations persisted past a single pay period. That means the maximum payout here could be as much as $3.8 billion, giving each Google employee around $14,700. The suit specifically mentions a Securities and Exchange Commission guideline that bans companies from preventing their employees from interacting with the agency about potential violations.

According to the lawsuit, Google’s Code of Conduct classifies confidential information as “everything at Google.” The company operates “Stop Leaks,” a program that encourages employees to report suspicious behavior, which includes other employees asking detailed questions about projects or other work details. The suit alleges that Google “suppresses information” about potentially illegal products or regulatory-skirting practices by advising employees not to include details signaling how the company may have broken the law or violated contract terms.

“We will defend this suit vigorously because it’s baseless. We’re very committed to an open internal culture, which means we frequently share with employees details of product launches and confidential business information. Transparency is a huge part of our culture. One employee confidentially requirements are designed to protect proprietary business information, while not preventing employees from disclosing information about terms and conditions of employment, or workplace concerns.”

-A Google spokesperson

Djay Pro comes to iPhone for $5

After a year on the iPad, Djay Pro is launching on the iPhone today with the same headline features: the ability to mix four tracks at once, to control video alongside the tracks, and to easily get started.

As the name suggests, it’s meant for those who want to use the app to DJ at clubs and parties and need the ability to queue additional tracks and visuals.

In addition, the app also includes the ability to add more cue points on each track compared to Djay 2, 3D Touch and haptic feedback support, and has deeper Spotify integration, like the ability to select streaming quality.

The app is available now (for a couple weeks) at a sale price of $4.99 that’ll eventually get bumped up to $9.99. The app supports the iPhone 5 and newer.

BitTorrent Live comes to iOS

bittorrent-live

Six months after its initial launch, BitTorrent Live has launched on iOS. It’s already available on the Fire TV, Apple TV, and macOS.

While the service offers a somewhat lackluster offering of 16 channels – including NASA, France 24, and One World Sports – the technology behind BitTorrent Live is significant. The service relies on peer-to-peer technology, casting viewers as a broadcaster for a more distributed method of streaming video that the company claims offers lower latency and more scalable steaming compared to traditional methods.

The app’s available now in the App Store.

TechSummit Rewind 129

Apple launches iOS 10.2, live video comes to Instagram, Bill Gates launches a new fund to fight climate change, and more

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

Apple launches iOS 10.2

iOS10-Hero

Apple has launched iOS 10.2, which brings a few nifty features.

Perhaps most important is the very creatively named TV app, which is Apple’s all-in-one hub for streaming content. Instead of searching through several apps to find something to watch, you can simply glance at a single guide. There’s also a new Single Sign-On feature that lets you access content from select services without having to type your password in for every provider.

Finally, there are several new emoji, including the shruggie, David Bowie, face palm, bacon, and crosissant.

It’s a free download that should be rolling out now as an over-the-air update.

Instagram brings live video broadcasts to all U.S. users

Instagram

Over the next few days, Instagram users in the U.S. will begin seeing Live Video functionality pop up in their app.

Bill Gates to lead $1B, 20-year fund to fight climate change

bill-gates

Bill Gates is leading a billion-dollar fund focused on fighting climate change by investing in clean energy innovation.

Gates and his all-star line-up of fellow investors plan to announce the Breakthrough Energy Ventures fund, which will begin making investments next year. The fund, which will go on for 20 years, aims to invest in the commercialization of new technologies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions in areas like electricity generation and storage, transportation, industrial processes, agriculture, and energy-system efficiency.

“Anything that leads to cheap, clean, reliable energy we’re open-minded to.”

-Bill Gates, Breakthrough Energy Ventures chairman

BEV directors include Alibaba founder Jack Ma, Reliance Industries chairman Mukeseh Ambani, venture capitalists John Doerr and Vinod Khosla, former energy hedge fund manager John Arnold, and SAP co-founder Hasso Plattner. According to net worth estimates from Bloomberg and Forbes, the directors’ combined net worth is nearly $170 billion.

Gates is “surprised” that technology isn’t discussed more as a solution to climate change, since clean-energy advances could limit any economic trade-offs from switching off carbon-emitting fossil fuels.

“All of that takes place just as a normal market mechanism as you replace energy sources with other ways to do it.

“People think you can just put $50 million in and wait two years and then you know what you got. In this energy space, that’s not true at all.

“It’s such a big market that the value if you’re really providing a big portion of the world’s energy, the value of that will be super, super big.”

-Bill Gates

BEV estimates the global energy market at a valuation of $6 trillion, with energy demand increasing by a third by 2040.

Uber employees secretly tracked public figures: lawsuit

Uber_NY_request-screenshot

According to a declaration in a lawsuit filed against Uber by its former forensic investigator, the company’s employees used its lax tracking system to monitor the location of “high profile politicians, celebrities, and even personal acquaintances.”

The lawsuit was filed by Ward Spanenberg, who worked on security systems at Uber from March 2015 to February 2016. According to the suit, the 45-year-old dealt with age discrimination, as well as retaliation for blowing the whistle on alleged security lapses and other problems in the company. He was later fired.

According to the declaration, Uber would shut down office connectivity during law enforcement raids to stifle investigators, and improperly destroyed documents related to pending litigation.

If true, this could potentially run afoul of a settlement made in January on its “God View” tool with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. As part of the settlement, Uber agreed to “designate employees with a legitimate business purpose,” and conduct regular assessments of the effectiveness of that program.  A representative for Schneiderman has confirmed that the office is “looking into it.”

“Uber continues to increase our security investments and many of these efforts, like our multi-factor authentication checks and bug bounty program, have been widely reported. We have hundreds of security and privacy experts working around the clock to protect our data. This includes enforcing to authorized employees solely for purposes of their job responsibilities, and all potential violations are quickly and thoroughly investigated.”

-Uber, in a statement

According to the company, approval “by managers and the legal team” is required for employees to access data and, although some employees do get legitimate access to data, that access is compartmentalized to what employees need for their jobs.

NVIDIA gets go-ahead to test self-driving cars in California

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Nvidia has been granted a permit by the California Department of Motor Vehicles to start testing self-driving vehicle technology on the state’s public roads.

JetSmarter raises $105M Series C for private jet business

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JetSmarter has raised $105 million in Series C funding, at a $1.5 billion valuation, to build its marketplace for private jet services.

According to company CEO Sergey Petrossov, the round will be used for global expansion into Asia and Latin America, as well as increasing the number of routes and flights available to JetSmarter members in the U.S.

While anyone can download and evaluate its app, before flying JetSmarter members go through a light background check and pay $15,000 for a “core membership” in the first year they join. Members then get a free seat on a wide selection of flights, but have to pay for companion tickets if they want to bring a non-member along or pay to charter whole planes.

Members of the Saudi royal family, and hip hop icon Jay-Z, earlier backers of JetSmarter, increased their investments in the round.

New investors include an Abu Dhabi-based equity fund, private aviation company JetEdge, KZ Capital, and a Qatar-based private equity fund.

XOJET president and CEO Bradley Stewart also joined JetSmarter’s board, after an earlier partnership between the companies to allow JetSmarter to expand its North America flight offering.

As of today, JetSmarter connects travelers to flights in 50 markets around the world including New York, Chicago, Fort Lauderdale, Las Vegas, Atlanta, London, Paris, Moscow, Dubai, and Milan. According to Petrossov, he wants to expand that to 80-100 markets by the end of 2017.

Possible destinations include more American cities, including connecting Florida destinations to Boston, New York, and Washington and from San Francisco to Seattle.

Microsoft Ventures launches AI startup fund, backs Element AI

Microsoft Ventures

Microsoft Ventures is now pursuing investments in AI startups through a special fund dedicated to AI startups that focus on “inclusive growth and positive impact on society.” Secondly, it became the first backer for Element AI, a new Montreal-based incubator co-founded by “the godfather of machine learning” Yoshua Bengio, which is dedicated to the space.

According to Microsoft Ventures head Nagraj Kashyap, the fund is “focused on inclusive growth and positive impact on society.”

“AI holds great promise to augment human capabilities and improve society. Microsoft is committed to democratizing AI with guiding principles to drive positive impact. Element AI shares our approach and philosophy.”

-Nagraj Kashyap, Microsoft Ventures head

Dropbox comes to Xbox One

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Dropbox has launched an Xbox One app.

“We wanted to solve an issue that we all have: making it easy to access and share your content from the biggest screen in your house. That meant giving users the ability to access files without the need to plug in an HDMI cord or connect to their laptop.”

-Rudy Huyn, Dropbox staff engineer

Once logged in, you can upload screenshots or pictures taken with Kinect straight to your Dropbox. You can also stream any video files in your Dropbox to the Xbox One. You can also upload files from USB drives connected to the Xbox One or upload files from USB drives connected to the Xbox One or upload files from other universal Windows 10 apps you may be running on your console. And other applications (VLC, etc.) can see files in your account and access them.

The project was born at Dropbox’s annual hack week, when the entire company takes five days to build and show off a variety of projects.

“At this year’s event, one of our engineers decided to prototype the app, and demo’d it to other Dropboxers, showing how we can bring a new Dropbox user interface within Xbox that is optimized for TV screens and for gamepad navigation.

“Given what we heard from our users, we knew that there was demand for this app, and so we decided to make it available to everyone as a full blown offering.”

-Rudy Huyn

The development process was fairly simple thanks to the universal nature of Windows 10.

“The simplicity of building this app is part of why we decided to transform the prototype into a real product. A big reason that it was so easy to build is that Microsoft makes it easy to develop applications for Windows 10.”

-Rudy Huyn

However, some changes had to be made to best deal with a Xbox controller and a TV roughly 10 feet away. Specifically, Huyn noted the difference in how TVs display colors compared to monitors needed a new, darker theme with more contrast “to make the app easier on our users’ eyes.”

Facebook rolls out lightweight web version of Moments

Facebook Moments

Facebook is giving Moments, its mobile photo-sharing service, a more prominent role on desktop.

Users can now access a web version of the service on Facebook’s site through the left-side navigation, which takes you to a collection of your private photo albums.

Essentially, you can only view shared photos here. If you want to add photos to an album, leave likes or comments, or create slideshows, you’ll need to download the mobile app for iOS or Android.

Netflix launches standalone Google Daydream app

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Netflix has launched its app on Google’s Daydream VR platform.

It looks very similar to its Gear VR app, placing you in a simulated cabin with a big screen TV for watching Netflix.

 

TechSummit Rewind 120

On the TechSummit Rewind, Microsoft Teams launches to bring Slack some heat, Facebook’s profits nearly triple, and Apple defends the SD card-less MacBook Pro

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

Microsoft Teams launches to bring Slack the heat

At an event in New York today, Microsoft launched Teams, its long-rumored Slack competitor. Teams ties into Redmond’s existing Office 365 subscription, and is described by Microsoft as a chat-based workspace that’s focused on real-time collaboration.

“Microsoft Teams will bring together chat, meeting, notes, Office, Planner, PowerBI, and a host of extensions and applications to help teams get work done.”

-Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO

Certainly, there’s a lot of cues taken from Slack, like threaded persistent chats that can be open or private 1:1 sessions, and a sidebar with meetings, files, chats, and activity notifications. It also includes a conversation view with the ability to drop meetings straight into chat, alongside files, notes, and project boards.

Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote are all built into Teams, alongside meetings with Skype for Business and integrations with SharePoint, Power BI, and Planner. Notifications are being provided by Exchange.

During the event, Redmond showed off Twitter integrations, where you can push Tweets into chat rooms, create quick pools, or share custom memes. However, Skype’s integration is particularly unique with the ability for chatters to drop in and out of persistent video calls to gather for projects or a quick chat.

Office 365 customers can preview Teams today in 181 countries and 18 languages. Microsoft plans to include the service in all Office 365 Business and Enterprise suites, with general availability slated for early 2017. The company’s also opening its developer preview program today, with 150 integrations expected at launch early next year, alongside 70 connectors and 85 bots.

Facebook continues growth with profits nearly tripling

Facebook_Logo

Facebook has recorded yet another blockbuster quarter. Over the last three months, the Menlo Park, Calif.-based company had $7.01 billion in revenue and $2.38 billion in profits, which is up 106 percent from last year.

A big part of that is thanks to mobile advertising. 84 percent of its ad revenue comes from mobile, with the number of mobile monthly active users rising to 1.66 billion (a 20 percent increase year-over-year). In fact, 1.055 billion users are mobile-only. Overall, its monthly active users have blossomed to 1.79 billion, up 16 percent from last year.

“We’re prioritizing to put video first in our family of apps. We think the camera will be the main way people share.”

-Mark Zuckerburg, Facebook CEO

Zuckerburg called to the rise of Facebook Live, which has quadrupled since May. Instagram Stories now has over 100 million daily active users, along with the photo social network’s Explore feature.

He also mentioned a three-phase approach that the company hopes will grow its’ apps over the next few years. The first phase is to deliver a great consumer experience, the second is to allow users to organically interact with businesses, and the third is to give businesses more ways to reach people. According to Zuckerburg, Instagram’s in the third phase, with over 500 million monthly active users and 300 million daily active users. Messenger’s in the second phase, with over 33,000 bots on the platform. WhatsApp will be next to enter the second phase.

Internet.org is also paying massive dividends to Facebook’s growth. According to Zuckerburg, the initiative has already connected over 40 million people worldwide.

Next, he talked about how the company’s investing in tech like Artificial Intelligence. According to Zuckerburg, Facebook is already seeing impact from AI in enhancing users’ experience on Facebook, from filtering out clickbait stories and finding terrorist propaganda. He hopes that AI can be used to improve the quality of News Feed in general.

As for VR, he reiterated the news from Oculus Connect. The aforementioned subsidiary’s Touch controllers are arriving in early December and the next phase is to focus mostly on great software experiences. Facebook’s going to be investing over $250 million on developing more VR concepts.

Apple explains why new MacBook Pro ditches SD card slot

apple-macbookpro-1

Apple Senior VP Phil Schiller defended the company’s decision to ditch the SD card slot in an interview with The Independent. He called it a “bit of a cumbersome slot” since the card juts outward, and argued that the slot was a compromise since it forced high-end camera owners (who often use CompactFlash or XQD cards) to get an external reader. According to Schiller, any slot is less necessary these days. For instance, most modern cameras have built-in wireless transfers to get footage off the camera.

Schiller also explained why Macs don’t have “hey, Siri” voice activation, calling it a combination of “system electronics” with expectations.

Uber streamlines app in attempt to eliminate confusion

Uber_NY_request-screenshot

Uber is rolling out a major redesign of its app that’s meant to offer a cleaner interface, less confusion around which service to request, and shortcut options to frequent destinations.

The new app minimizes the previous menu of ill-defined tiers that changed based on the city to three clearer-cut categories: Economy (UberPool and UberX), Premium (Uber Select and town cars), Extra Seats (extra-large cars and SUVs), and More (for those that need a child’s car seat or a wheelchair-accessible vehicle).

Uber is also adding arrival times to all its options that predict when you’re likely to get to your destination – a range for Pool rides, and more specific times for solo trips. After inputting your destination, the app tells you how much your trip will cost before you confirm the request. Surge pricing is still all but invisible, noted in the fine print about “fares being higher than normal” under your quote.

Perhaps more notable is the change to the “Pickup Location” and “Destination” fields in the current app. Now, you’re greeted by a single field that says “Where to?” According to app redesign product manager Yuhki Yamashita, his team “shaved off every millisecond possible to make it a faster experience.”

Uber is now also using its troves of rider data to show shortcuts to favorite destinations like most map apps. To start, you can add shortcuts for Home and Work, but company CEO Travis Kalanick called an expansion of the shortcut offerings a “natural next step.” In the coming weeks, you’ll be able to connect Uber with your mobile device’s native calendar, which will show up as destination shortcuts as it corresponds with your schedule.

The company’s using machine learning to best predict where you’re going before you open the app.

There’s also a new feed feature where you can see things like Yelp reviews, UberEats, Pandora radio stations, an Uber Snapchat filter (seriously) that shows your ETA, or a train station timetable if you’re using Uber to connect to public transit via the Transit app. Many of these features won’t come until later this year.

Finally, Uber is launching a location-sharing feature that lets contacts within Uber share their locations with each other and effectively turn your friend into a location. This means that your Uber could take you exactly to where your contact happens to be.

New Fitbits aren’t helping slowing sales

Fitbit

Fitbit announced revenue that was about $3 million short of its third quarter revenue goals. The company’s net income was around $26 million, compared to $46 million for the same period last year.

Despite launching two new devices and partnerships with Kohl’s and Vera Wang, Fitbit saw only 11 percent growth in unit sales with the refresh not moving as many units as the company hoped it would.

“We continue to grow and are profitable, however not at the pace previously expected.”

-James Park, Fitbit CEO

According to Park, the company will re-focus on “improving the utility of our products and integrating more deeply into the healthcare ecosystem” while leveraging the brand for new growth areas.

Amazon’s physical bookstores charge more if you’re not on Prime

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In case you’ve been leaving under a rock, Amazon really wants you to join Prime. According to GeekWire, the company has adopted a unique pricing model at its physical bookstores: a sticker price for Prime members and another for regular customers. Subscribers get the same price as on Amazon’s website, while everyone else has to pay the normal (usually higher) list price.

 

TechSummit Rewind 115

A daily recap of the top technology headlines.

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

The New York Times buying The Wirecutter for over $30M

the-wirecutter
The New York Times is building consumer guide The Wirecutter for over $30 million.

“The New York Times is the perfect home for The Wirecutter because of our shared love and commitment to reader service and public good through rigorous reporting. And more important, we’re thrilled to have the chance to help Times readers find great gear that can improve their lives.”

– Brian Lam, The Wirecutter founder

 

“We’re very excited about this acquisition on two fronts. It’s an impressively run business with a very attractive revenue model and its success is built on the foundation of great, rigorously reported service journalism. Their service-focused guides align with our commitment to creating products that are an indispensable part of our readers’ lives.”

– Mark Thompson, The New York Times Company president & CEO

Microsoft hikes U.K. enterprise pricing by up to 22 percent due to Brexit

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Microsoft is increasing pricing on some of its products in the U.K. by over 20 percent as the British pound continues to weaken in the aftermath of the June Brexit vote.

Beginning Jan. 1, 2017, “most” of Microsoft’s enterprise cloud services will get a 22 percent price hike to “realign close to euro levels,” with enterprise software seeing a 13 percent increase.

“We periodically assess the impact of local pricing of our products and services to ensure there is reasonable alignment across the region, and this change is an outcome of this assessment. These changes are similar to the recent harmonization adjustments to pricing in Norwegian krone and Swiss franc we made in April 2016.”

– Sergejs Cuhrajs, Microsoft social media marketing manager

Businesses that operate in additional currencies will still be able to pay with those currencies. Also, Redmond isn’t increasing prices for consumer products.

America’s biggest banks take on Venmo with Zelle

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America’s biggest banks announced Zelle, a money-transfer app that they hope will compete against PayPal, Venmo, and Square Cash, Sunday at the Money20/20 payments conference.

The app is built on a bank-owned payment system connecting banks including Chase, Citi, and Bank of America. Users can send money with their phones to recipients who will get the funds immediately.
Zelle will launch next year.

Samsung promises Korean Note 7 owners 50 percent discount on Note 8

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Samsung is offering Korean Note 7 owners the chance to upgrade to a Note 8 for half the price when the handset launches next year. The company announced the deal as part of an ongoing exchange program for the phablet in its home country.

TD Ameritrade, Toronto-Dominion buy Scottrade for $4B

scottradeTD Ameritrade and Toronto-Dominion Bank have agreed to buy Scottrade for $4 billion, combining two of the largest online brokerages and expanding the U.S. arm of Canada’s second-largest lender.

TD Ameritrade will acquire Scottrade’s brokerage operations for about $2.7 billion in cash and stock, according to the company. Meanwhile, Toronto-Dominion agreed to purchase Scottrade’s online bank for $1.3 billion in cash.

The deal is expected to be completed by Sept. 30, 2017, with clearing operations moving to TD Ameritrade systems by 2018. About 28 million Ameritrade shares will be issued to Scottrade shareholders and Toronto-Dominion will purchase another 11 million shares. The companies expect $450 million in annual cost savings, with a quarter of that coming in the year after the close.

“This combination will allow us to leverage our strengths, increase our scale, and further accelerate our asset gathering capabilities.”
– Tim Hockey, Ameritrade CEO

T-Mobile earnings: Revenue up 18%, 929K new postpaid customers, net income up to $366M

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T-Mobile raised its forecast for customer additions for the year thanks to heavy discounted.

The Bellevue, Washington-based carrier now expects to add 3.7-3.9 million branded postpaid customers on a net basis this year, compared with previous forecasts of 3.4-3.8 million.

The company added 969,000 postpaid customers in the third quarter that ended Sept. 30, up from 890,000 in the second quarter.
According to the company, the Uncarrier benefitted from the iPhone 7’s launch and an increase in branded prepaid customer migrations to postpaid plans.

However, churn (the rate users switch to other networks) increased slightly to 1.32 percent from 1.27 percent in the quarter before.

T-Mobile’s net income rose to $366 million ($0.42/share) in the third quarter from $138 million ($0.15/share) a year ago. Net income in the quarter included after-tax spectrum gains of $122 million.

Total revenue rose 17.8 percent to $9.2 billion.

Paxata raises $33.5M to further develop machine learning for information management

paxata

Paxata has announced that it raised $33.5 million to bolster the machine learning and semantics analysis foundations of its enterprise information platform. Led by Intel Capital, the investment brings the Redwood City, Calif.-based company’s total capital to $61.5 million.

Microsoft Ventures, Cisco Investments, Deutsche Telekom Capital Partners, and AirTree Ventures joined the round as new co-investors. Existing investors EDBI, In-Q-Tel, and Accel also participated.

Apple releases iOS 10.1 with Portrait Mode

iOS10-Hero
Apple has released iOS 10.1, the first significant update for iOS 10, to users over-the-air in the Settings app or by plugging your device into iTunes.

The main story here is the iPhone 7 Plus’ Portrait mode, which takes advantages of the 7 Plus’ two lenses to create some background blur. Apple uses these lenses to detect nine levels of depth. Then, software blur is added to the background layers. Portrait mode is still considered a “beta” feature.

Android Pay expands reach with new partnerships with Visa, Mastercard

android-pay-visa-mastercard
Google has announced two strategic partnerships with Visa and MasterCard aimed at expanding the reach of Android Pay. Pay users who are shopping online from smartphones will soon be able to make payments on hundreds of thousands of sites where either Visa Checkout or Masterpass are accepted at checkout.

According to Google, merchants won’t have to make any changes on their end when Android Pay support goes live as their buttons will update automatically.

To use Android Pay with the credit card services, customers will first have to link their accounts in the Android Pay app. Once set up, you can use Android Pay at checkout with your preferred authentication method.
The integration will roll out in early 2017, according to the company, beginning in the US with plans to expand to all Android Pay territories (the UK, Singapore, Australia, and Hong Kong).

PayPal payments, notifications coming to Facebook Messenger

facebook-messenger-paypalPayPal is now rolling out as an additional payment option within Facebook Messenger, which also supports payment from debit cards.

Available only to some users in the U.S. initially, PayPal customers wil now be able to link their PayPal and Messenger accounts, and they’ll also receive payment notifications directly within the Messenger app.

“We will continue to execute on our vision of offering PayPal in more places where people shop online, in app, and in store by partnering with companies who share our desire to create meaningful products that benefit both consumers and merchants.”
– Bill Ready, PayPal exeucitve vice president & COO

TechSummit Rewind 111

A daily recap of the top technology headlines.

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

Facebook Marketplace lets you buy, sell items with nearby users

facebook-marketplace

Facebook continues to make strides in e-commerce, and Marketplace continues that trend. The user-to-user exchange for buying and selling items with other nearby users is launching this week in the U.S., U.K., Australia, and New Zealand.

This gives the roughly 450 million Facebook users that buy/sell goods through the platform monthly (mainly through the network’s Groups feature) a formal place to conduct commerce, according to Marketplace product manager Bowen Pan.

Marketplace should effectively take the spot of Messenger over the next few days in the center of the bottom row of Facebook’s mobile apps. Tapping it will take you to an algorithmically generated homepage of items that Facebook thinks you’re interested in, based on pages you’ve liked and over time any of your viewing, buying, and selling activity within Marketplace. You can message the seller of an item and place an offer. To sell an item, you’ll need to upload a photo, set a name, description, and price, and confirm your location.

You can browse categories of items and get a list of nearby listings, or search for a specific item and expand the radius of the query to pull results from a wider distance. You can also change your location manually to find items in other cities or regions.

Facebook wants this to be a mobile-first experience. According to Pan, there’s no desktop feature for now (though it’s in the works).

“We saw a lot of people were really just looking at coming to Marketplace without necessarily anything in particular they were looking for. They were just on Marketplace to casually browse through. This really mirrors an offline experience where you can go to a Sunday market or maybe the mall. You don’t know exactly what you want but you want to browse.”

-Bowen Pan, Marketplace product manager

The Menlo Park, Calif.-based company doesn’t plan on charging a fee to conduct transactions, instead hoping for users’ eyeballs and more of their time on a daily basis.

Facebook bans the sales of drugs, explosives, firearms, animals, and alcohol, among other items. Other than that, all sales are handled offline by users themselves.

“We have built the tools to allow our community to report on any items that violate our policies. It has … a whole host of flags that people … can put out for people that may not be acting in the best faith. Once we see a flag, we have a team that will promptly review these and take action.”

-Bowen Pan

However, Facebook won’t get involved if you get ripped off, assaulted, or have your item stolen at your designated meeting place. To ease those fears, the company leans back on its anti-anonymity policy.

“People on Facebook represent their true selves. We think knowing who you’re transacting with is very important.”

-Bowen Pan

Marketplace will glean additional information from your profile if you’ve decided to list an item, allowing potential buyers to see things like your general location and how long you’ve been on Facebook.

Facebook launches Messenger Lite for Android

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Facebook has launched Messenger Lite, a slimmed-down motion of the company’s popular Messenger chat app to appear to developing nations. It lets users send text, photos, and links, to any Facebook Messenger user in spite of “slower than average Internet speeds and a prevalence of basic Android smartphones.”

Lite has begun rolling out to users in Kenya, Tunisia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and Venezuela. It’ll launch in additional countries in the coming months.

With a file size of under 10MB, Facebook believes that the app will be fast to install and start up. Users will be able to message one another, send/receive photos and links, and receive stickers.

Microsoft expands Azure data centers to France, launches trust offensive against AWS, Google

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The cloud service wars are only now beginning to sizzle between Google, Microsoft, and Amazon as they fiercely compete to grab the attention of potential users. In its latest bid to take the top spot, Microsoft made some more moves to place itself as the cloud provider you can trust.

Microsoft will build its first Azure data center in France, as part of a $3 billion investment made to build its cloud services in Europe. The company has also launched Cloud for Global Good, a new publication with at least 78 public policy recommendations in 15 categories like data protection and accessibility issues.

The new initaitives were revealed by company CEO Satya Nadella, at an event in Dublin, Ireland. According to Nadella, the expansion means that Microsoft now covers “more regions [30] than any other cloud provider… In the past year, the capacity has more than doubled.”

“People have rights and those rights need to be protected. We need to build a cloud that is responsible as well.”

-Brad Smith, Microsoft chief legal counsel & president

Microsoft pulls Band listings from its store, confirms no Band 3 this year

microsoft-band-2

Microsoft has removed all references to its Band line of fitness devices from the online Microsoft Store, along with its software development kit (SDK).

According to a company spokesperson, Microsoft has “sold through our existing Band 2 inventory, and have no plans to release another Band device this year.”

Rover raises $40M as company aims for IPO, profitability

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Seattle-based dog-sitting platform Rover has announced a $40M Series E funding round from existing investors Foundry Group and Menlo Ventures, along with Madrona Venture Group.

“While this may be our last round before a public offering, there is nothing about where we are at that makes me think we ware maturing as a business in terms of seeing growth slow down, or that we’ve somehow reached our potential.”

-Aaron Easterly, Rover CEO

According to Easterly, the company needs a “much smaller amount” than the $40 million raised to become profitable.

“After you exclude marketing and variable costs, our contribution margin is growing a lot faster than our fixed costs.”

-Aaron Easterly

Telegram levels up bot platform with competitive games inside chats

telegram-games

Messaging app Telegram is powering up on chatbots, by launching a “bot-powered gaming platform” in a bid to drive up engagement.

The new API allows for more visually appealing games than what’s been seen thus far to live inside chats.

Examples include MathBattle, a math-based challenge game that Telegram’s developers built in three hours, and Football Star, a third-party football game.

There’s also time-challenge games like Corsair, where you see how long you can avoid being shot, or Lumberjack, where you avoid getting crushed by falling tree branches.

“The best part of the Telegram Gaming Platform is the competition across all your existing chats. We save high scores for every game played in every chat, and you can instantly check out how you and your friends are going against each other. Every time there’s a new leader in the game, other playing members of the chat are notified that they need to step it up.”

-Telegram, in a blog post

Roughly 30 games are available at launch, with the vast majority being made by third-party gaming developer Gamee, however Telegram suggested that “hundreds” are in the pipeline.

“While these demos look basic, Telegram games can be anything from simple arcades and puzzles to multiplayer 3D-shooters and real-time strategy games.”

-Telegram

The update is available now on Android and iOS.

New USB Audio 3.0 standard pushes headphone jack closer to extinction

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The USB Implementers Forum is seeking to implement the USB Audio Device Class 3.0 specification to “establish USB Audio over USB Type-C as the primary solution for all digital audio applications,” according to the forum.

Basically, having the single USB Type-C port will allow for extra convenience of waterproof designs and slimmer product frames. Eventually, the USB-IF’s goal is to help “remove the 3.5mm analog audio jack.”

New Jersey town decides to pay Uber instead of building a parking lot

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Uber has struck a deal with the town of Summit, New Jersey (located roughly 30 miles east of Manhattan), to launch the state’s first subsidized commuter program.

Under the deal, Uber will offer free or extremely cheap rides to commuters who struggle with parking at Summit’s New Jersey Transit station. In exchange, the city will directly pay Uber to cover the rest of the trips’ cost. According to the city, nearly 100 parking spots will be freed up at the transit station and millions of dollars will be saved from the parking lot that wouldn’t need to be constructed.

“Our innovation has the potential to shape how municipalities think about and implement parking options in the future.”

-Nora Radest; Summit, NJ mayor

To start, 100 commuters who have purchased parking passes will be eligible for free Uber rides to/from the station, while others can opt in for $2 trips each way.