Samsung’s AR Emojis were met with a…lukewarm reception when they launched alongside the Galaxy S9. The augmented reality avatars were regarded as a me-too response to Apple’s Animojis — and more to the point, were downright creepy.
But at launch, the company brought one key element to the offering that Apple hasn’t: a content partnership. And not just any content partnership, mind. A Disney content partnership. So far, it’s rolled out the iconic likes of Mickey, Minnie and Donald, and now, just in time for the latest Pixar sequel, it’s offering up the cast of The Incredibles 2.
Starting today, Galaxy S9 and S9+ owners can downloadMr. Incredible, Elastigirl, Violet, Dash, Jack-Jack and new character Frozone, for all of their AR Emoji-related needs. So users can send a birthday greeting, reach out to a loved one or break up with an ex as their favorite super baby.
The new content pack is available directly through the camera software’s built-in AR Emoji mode. The tech uses in excess of 100 facial features to map the user’s movements.
If you bought a battery replacement for an out-of-warranty iPhone last year, you may be eligible for a $50 credit from Apple. The company issued a new support page post this week, announcing the rebate policy, which applies to purchases made at authorized locations.
The move is part of on-going restitution in the wake of an admission that the company was throttling processing speeds on older model phones, in order to save on battery life. Late last year, Apple apologized for not informing users about the issue, promising to be more transparent in the future.
Soon after, the company began offering $29 battery replacements — a $50 discount on out-of-warranty battery replacements. This credit covers those who purchased a battery out-of-warranty any point in 2017, leading up to that new offer.
The company has promised to send an email to all eligible users with instructions on how to get the credit transferred to their account between now and July 27. Those who don’t get a notification, but still believe themselves to be eligible, can contact Apple directly between now and the end of the year.
The all-screen smartphone is an inevitability. The question at this point, really, is who will get there first and how they’ll accomplish that feat. I spoke to a LG rep at the G7 launch, who suggested that the notch is going to be fact of life for the next couple of years, but a number of manufacturers are pushing to get there a heck of a lot quicker.
Back at MWC in Febrary, Vivo’s Apex handset seemed like little more than a concept, but a couple of new teasers suggest otherwise. A new video demonstrates the handset’s flip-up selfie camera in action, along with a “Save the Date” notice for a June 12 event in Shanghai. The handset appears to be, at the very least, a close relative of the concept phone.
“In keeping with the promise to continuously support user habits,” the company notes, “Apex also features an 8MP Elevating Front Camera. The camera seamlessly rises in 0.8 seconds when it is required and retracts after use. Together with the hidden proximity sensor and ambient light sensor, this eliminates the space taken up by conventional front cameras, while offering the same selfie experience to users.”
Vivo’s just one of a number of companies who think they’ve got the answer here. When we met with Doogee back in February, the company showed off a number of prototypes aimed at circumventing the notch, including a similar pop up model and a version that slides to reveal a camera inside.
And then, of course, there’s the Lenovo Z5, which a VP for the company showed off via social media earlier this month. Though that presently seems to amount to little more than a sketch. For the moment, all of this feels like a bunch of companies showing off concepts aimed at demonstrating that they “thought of it first.”
Perhaps next month, however, Vivo will be ready to put its money where its mouth is.
It’s not enough in this day and age that we have to deal with fake news, we also have to deal with fake prescription drugs, fake luxury goods, and fake Renaissance-era paintings. Sometimes all at once! IBM’s Verifier is a gadget and platform made (naturally) to instantly verify that something is what it claims to be, by inspecting it at a microscopic level.
Essentially you stick a little thing on your phone’s camera, open the app, and put the sensor against what you’re trying to verify, be it a generic antidepressant or an ore sample. By combining microscopy, spectroscopy, and a little bit of AI, the Verifier compares what it sees to a known version of the item and tells you whether they’re the same.
The key component in this process is an “optical element” that sits in front of the camera (it can be anything that takes a decent image) amounting to a specialized hyper-macro lens. It allows the camera to detect features as small as a micron — for comparison, a human hair is usually a few dozen microns wide.
At the micron level there are patterns and optical characteristics that aren’t visible to the human eye, like precisely which wavelengths of light it reflects. The quality of a weave, the number of flaws in a gem, the mixture of metals in an alloy… all stuff you or I would miss, but a machine learning system trained on such examples will pick out instantly.
For instance a counterfeit pill, although orange and smooth and imprinted just like a real one if one were to just look at it, will likely appear totally different at the micro level: textures and structures with a very distinct pattern, or at least distinct from the real thing — not to mention a spectral signature that’s probably way different. There’s also no reason it can’t be used on things like expensive wines or oils, contaminated water, currency, and plenty of other items.
IBM was eager to highlight the AI element, which is trained on the various patterns and differentiates between them, though as far as I can tell it’s a pretty straightforward classification task. I’m more impressed by the lens they put together that can resolve at a micron level with so little distortion and not exclude or distort the colors too much. It even works on multiple phones — you don’t have to have this or that model.
The first application IBM is announcing for its Verifier is as a part of the diamond trade, which is of course known for fetishizing the stones and their uniqueness, and also establishing elaborate supply trains to ensure product is carefully controlled. The Verifier will be used as an aide for grading stones, not on its own but as a tool for human checkers; it’s a partnership with the Gemological Institute of America, which will test integrating the tool into its own workflow.
By imaging the stone from several angles, the individual identity of the diamond can be recorded and tracked as well, so that its provenance and trail through the industry can be tracked over the years. Here IBM imagines blockchain will be useful, which is possible but not exactly a given.
It’ll be a while before you can have one of your own, but here’s hoping this type of tech becomes popular enough that you can check the quality or makeup of something at least without having to visit some lab.
Excited to announce that this year’s The Europas Unconference & Awards is shaping up! Our half day Unconference kicks off on 3 July, 2018 at The Brewery in the heart of London’s “Tech City” area, followed by our startup awards dinner and fantastic party and celebration of European startups!
The event is run in partnership with TechCrunch, the official media partner. Attendees, nominees and winners will get deep discounts to TechCrunch Disrupt in Berlin, later this year.
The Europas Awards are based on voting by expert judges and the industry itself. But key to the daytime is all the speakers and invited guests. There’s no “off-limits speaker room” at The Europas, so attendees can mingle easily with VIPs and speakers.
What exactly is an Unconference? We’re dispensing with the lectures and going straight to the deep-dives, where you’ll get a front row seat with Europe’s leading investors, founders and thought leaders to discuss and debate the most urgent issues, challenges and opportunities. Up close and personal! And, crucially, a few feet away from handing over a business card. The Unconference is focused into zones including AI, Fintech, Mobility, Startups, Society, and Enterprise and Crypto / Blockchain.
We’ve confirmed 10 new speakers including:
Eileen Burbidge, Passion Capital
Carlos Eduardo Espinal, Seedcamp
Richard Muirhead, Fabric Ventures
Sitar Teli, Connect Ventures
Nancy Fechnay, Blockchain Technologist + Angel
George McDonaugh, KR1
Candice Lo, Blossom Capital
Scott Sage, Crane Venture Partners
Andrei Brasoveanu, Accel
Tina Baker, Jag Shaw Baker
How To Get Your Ticket For FREE
We’d love for you to ask your friends to join us at The Europas – and we’ve got a special way to thank you for sharing.
Your friend will enjoy a 15% discount off the price of their ticket with your code, and you’ll get 15% off the price of YOUR ticket.
That’s right, we will refund you 15% off the cost of your ticket automatically when your friend purchases a Europas ticket.
The Awards celebrates the most forward thinking and innovative tech & blockchain startups across over some 30+ categories.
Startups can apply for an award or be nominated by anyone, including our judges. It is free to enter or be nominated.
What is The Europas?
Instead of thousands and thousands of people, think of a great summer event with 1,000 of the most interesting and useful people in the industry, including key investors and leading entrepreneurs.
• No secret VIP rooms, which means you get to interact with the Speakers
• Key Founders and investors speaking; featured attendees invited to just network
• Expert speeches, discussions, and Q&A directly from the main stage
• Intimate “breakout” sessions with key players on vertical topics
• The opportunity to meet almost everyone in those small groups, super-charging your networking
• Journalists from major tech titles, newspapers and business broadcasters
• A parallel Founders-only track geared towards fund-raising and hyper-networking
• A stunning awards dinner and party which honors both the hottest startups and the leading lights in the European startup scene
• All on one day to maximise your time in London. And it’s PROBABLY sunny!
That’s just the beginning. There’s more to come…
Interested in sponsoring the Europas or hosting a table at the awards? Or purchasing a table for 10 or 12 guest or a half table for 5 guests? Get in touch with:
Phone: +44 (0) 20 3239 9325
Edge Sense has always been a gimmick — but who can blame HTC for embracing a gimmick. The company’s mobile division has been struggling in recent years, so why not embrace the novelty of a squeezable side input? The tech got a bit more support when Google embraced it for the Pixel 2, renaming it Active Edge in the process.
With today’s announcement of the U12+, HTC is introducing Edge Sense 2. The company promised it would keep updating the feature, and this new flagship is starting to making it that much more compelling. The second generation doesn’t make it an essential feature, but some key additions point to how more sensors on the sides of the handset could turn it into more than just a glorified additional button for the phone.
Some of the coolest additions here are the ability for the phone to recognize which hand is holding it and adapt the interface accordingly. When held in a single hand, the feature offers up multiple options, including the ability to lock screen orientation for video viewing and squeezing to take photos or shoot video. And, that functionality is customizable, meaning users won’t get locked into a devoted Bixby button-style situation here.
Also worth noting on the Edge Sense front is that HTC has swapped out the mechanical buttons on the side of the phone, moving instead toward haptic feedback. It takes a little getting used to, but the upshot is that it helps keep the phone that much more water-resistant, and fewer moving parts means less opportunity for breakage — always a good thing.
As far as the other ways HTC is working to distinguish its latest flagship, the six-inch handset retains the “Liquid Surface” design language found on the U11. The glossy service is even more aesthetically distinct this time out, with the addition of the Translucent Blue color scheme, which offers a cloudy and colorful peek into the phone’s innards.
The camera deserves mention here, too. Granted, it’s a tough place to distinguish your handset these days, but the U12+ scored a 103 from DxOMark, which puts it ahead of the rest of the handset market, save for the Huawei P20 Pro with its ridiculous three cameras. Highlights for its two cameras include super-fast autofocus and HDR Boost 2 for improved images in poor lighting conditions.
HTC’s made a point of upping its game on the audio front, and that continues here with loud built-in speakers and a pair of active noise-cancelling earbuds. Inside is a Snapdragon 845, coupled with 6GB of RAM and up to 128GB of storage. All in all, it’s looking like a solid handset.
There’s no notch on the screen this time out, but the company implied in a meeting that that’s something likely to arrive on the next-gen flagship. The phone goes up for pre-order today and will start shipping early next month. No word on pricing yet, but HTC tells me it won’t be “dramatically different” than its predecessor.
The FBI seems to have been caught fibbing again on the topic of encrypted phones. FBI director Christopher Wray estimated in December that it had almost 7,800 phones from 2017 alone that investigators were unable to access. The real number is likely less than a quarter of that, The Washington Post reports.
Internal records cited by sources put the actual number of encrypted phones at perhaps 1,200 but perhaps as many as 2,000, and the FBI told the paper in a statement that “initial assessment is that programming errors resulted in significant over-counting of mobile devices reported.” Supposedly having three databases tracking the phones led to devices being counted multiple times.
Such a mistake would be so elementary that it’s hard to conceive of how it would be possible. These aren’t court notes, memos or unimportant random pieces of evidence, they’re physical devices with serial numbers and names attached. The idea that no one thought to check for duplicates before giving a number to the director for testimony in Congress suggests either conspiracy or gross incompetence.
The latter seems more likely after a report by the Office of the Inspector General that found the FBI had failed to utilize its own resources to access locked phones, instead suing Apple and then hastily withdrawing the case when its basis (a locked phone from a terror attack) was removed. It seems to have chosen to downplay or ignore its own capabilities in order to pursue the narrative that widespread encryption is dangerous without a backdoor for law enforcement.
An audit is underway at the Bureau to figure out just how many phones it actually has that it can’t access, and hopefully how this all happened.
It is unmistakably among the FBI’s goals to emphasize the problem of devices being fully encrypted and inaccessible to authorities, a trend known as “going dark.” That much it has said publicly, and it is a serious problem for law enforcement. But it seems equally unmistakable that the Bureau is happy to be sloppy, deceptive or both in its advancement of a tailored narrative.
The White House Communications Agency, staffed with military information security experts, is in charge of making sure that the President's cellular phone isn't getting hacked by adversaries who might otherwise be able to listen in on his calls, capture his messages, intercept his search history, and remotely operate his camera and microphone. Donald Trump routinely ignores their advice.
The company’s basic subscription of $9.99 gets you one free drink per day from a variety of partner bars and restaurants. Hooch Black (which you have to apply for, and which costs $295 per year) adds hotel deals, concierge service and other perks on top.
Even though Hooch had already raised $2.75 million in two pre-seed rounds, co-founder and CEO Lin Dai said it was more important to bring on strategic investors than it was to raise a lot of money: “We feel like the most important thing for our business is really the relationships.”
After all, he said the hospitality industry is controlled by “a few key companies,” so success is determined by working with those companies — it’s not a situation where someone can just beat you by outspending you.
The funding was led by Revelis Capital Group and Blue Scorpion Investments, with participation from Access Industries Holdings, Warner Music Group (Dai said that Hooch will be working with Warner Music on content, events and promotions), FJ Labs, Diesel CEO Stefano Rosso, former Comcast CTO Sree Kotay and others.
At the same time, the company is expanding its advisory board to include Bob Hurst (previously vice chairman of Goldman Sachs), Bonin Bough (former chief media and ecommerce officer at Mondelez) and Teymour Farman-Farmaian (previously CMO and CRO at Spotify and now managing director of Bitcoin wallet company Xapo).
Dai also said Hooch is preparing to launch its blockchain initiative this summer. What does blockchain have to do with free drinks? Well, Dai didn’t go into detail, but he suggested that by launching its own cryptocurrency token, Hooch could work with partners to create a “decentralized model for consumer rewards.”
Looking ahead, Dai said that Hooch might raise a “proper” Series A in 12 to 18 months, though he expects to reach profitability before then.
“At that point, we will have already built the moat around us with exclusive deals with all the top hospitality and experiential players,” he said. “That would be the appropriate time for us, if needed, to go back to a traditional round of funding.”
As Slack tries to graduate beyond a Silicon Valley darling to the go-to communications platform within a company, it’s had to find ways to increasingly pitch itself as an intelligent Swiss Army knife for companies — and not just a simple chat app — and it is trying to continue that today once again with a new feature called Actions.
Companies can now bake in a user experience of their own directly into the Slack application that isn’t yet another chatbot that’s tied into their services. Developers can essentially create a customized prompt for any kind of action, like submitting a support ticket, within the Slack core chat experience through a drop-down window called an Action. While Slackbots may have been an early incarnation of this, Slack’s platform has grown to include more than 200,000 developers, and there’s still constant need for robust tools internally. This offers partners and developers a little more flexibility when it comes to figuring out what experience makes the most sense for people that sit in Slack all day, but have to keep porting information to and from their own tools.
“There’s such a demand for specialized software, and for great tools that are easy to use and interoperable with all applications you use,” Slack chief product officer April Underwood said. “We think this is good, and we think more tools means customers have more choice. Ultimately there’s more competition in the marketplace, that means the best tools, the ones that truly help companies do their best work, rise to the top. But your work experience becomes increasingly siloed. Slack needs to be highly configurable, but in doing so we believe Slack is the collaboration hub that brings all this together.”
Each company that wants to build in an integration — like Asana for task management or Zendesk for ticket management — works to create a new flow within the core Slack experience, which includes a new dropdown inside a message and a prompt to bake something into the chat flow. Once that happens, all that information is then ported over to the integration and created in the same way an employee would create it within that environment. If someone creates a Zendesk ticket through an action in Slack, Zendesk automatically generates the ticket on their side.
Slack has sprawled out over time, and especially as companies using it get larger and larger, the company has to figure out a way to show that it can remain a dead-simple app without turning into a bloated window filled with thousands of instant messages. Actions is one potential approach to that, where users can know from the get-go where to coordinate certain activities like equipment procurement or managing some customer information — and not have to go anywhere else.
The other advantage here is that it makes the destination for completing a task not necessarily a “what,” but also a “who.” Slack is leaning on its machine learning tool to make it easier and easier to find the right people with the right answers, whether those questions are already answered somewhere or they know who can get you the information right away. Actions is another extension here, as well, as users can get accustomed to going to certain coworkers with the intent of completing tasks — such as their IT head in their office that they walk by every morning on the way to grabbing coffee.
The company says it’s also working on what it’s calling the Block Kit, which integrates those tasks and other elements directly into the Slack chat flow in a way that looks a little more user friendly from a kind of visual sense. The idea here is, again, to create an intuitive flow for people that goes beyond just a simple chat app, but also offers some additional way of interactivity that turns Slack into a more sensible feed rather than just a window with people talking to each other. Actions are available from Jira, Bitbucket, Asana, Zendesk, HubSpot, and several others.
Actions is a tool that Slack is unveiling at its own developer conference, Spec, this morning. That in of itself is yet another example of Slack looking to graduate beyond just a simpler information feed that works well with smaller companies. Developers are often the ones that figure out the best niche use cases for any platform, as it means Slack can focus on trying to figure out how all these integrations fit into its design ethos. The company has to figure out how to convince larger companies that they need a tool like this and it won’t get out of hand, and also ensure that smaller companies don’t graduate into something a little more flexible that can serve those niche cases as they get larger.
But Slack also faces increasing competition as time goes on, not only from the traditional companies looking to build more robust but simpler tools, but also from companies that have spent a lot of time working on collaboration tools and are now exploring communication. Atlassian’s opened up its communications platform Stride to developers in February this year. Microsoft, too continues to update its Teams product. Slack was able to expose pent-up demand for this kind of an approach, but it also has to defend that approach — and making it a little more flexible without feature-creeping is going to be its biggest challenge going forward.