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Sunday, January 5, 2020

Today Crunch News, News Updates, Tech News

Today Crunch News, News Updates, Tech News


A look back at 10 years of CES

Posted: 05 Jan 2020 03:35 PM PST

So, here we are on the eve of CES 2020 — the supersized buffet of an annual consumer electronics show in Las Vegas, where we not only get a sneak peek of what to expect from tech companies this year, but also to take the pulse of how people are responding to what’s out there.

CES is all about “the future,” and we’ll be here this week covering all the big stories and themes. But what about the past? In the spirit of 2020 hindsight, here are some of the most notable headlines and trends of last 10 years of CES.

Take a look and let us know what you think have been the biggest themes coming out of the event in the comments below.

CES 2010

Palm’s 'turnaround'. The mobile upstart launched its first smartphones, the Pre and Pixel, in 2009, and found a hardcore group of fans that loved the look of the devices, and all the features that set it apart from Android and iOS. 2010 was about gaining momentum. Palm CEO Jon Rubenstein (one of the early pioneers at Apple making the iPod) made some waves onstage by claiming that he had never used an iPhone. Bullish talk that helped cement the company’s independent image. Palm also saw its stock rise by 10% after it announced at a press conference that it would sell its devices through a lucrative deal with Verizon Wireless (which now owns TechCrunch). (All proved to be short-lived, and many lamented that Palm was probably too ahead of its time.)

Meanwhile, the battle between iOS and Android raged on. In 2010 the story was about how AT&T was finally adding its first Android-based smartphones to its lineup (remember that it was the exclusive carrier of the iPhone as its first foray into the new generation of touchscreen smartphones). Motorola “Backflip” smartphones, and tablets and smartbooks from Dell, were among the other mobile devices announced that year.

'Natural User Interface.' Here’s a prescient article by then-CEO of Microsoft Steve Ballmer written on the heels of CES about the new ways we will be interacting with devices in the way ahead, covering touch, gesture and voice, and very dependent on the cloud. He gave a specific nod to Project Natal, which Microsoft showed off at CES and eventually became Microsoft's Kinect gesture technology. Ballmer was absolutely on the money, although I'd be interested to know if he suspected just how big of a role his neighbor Amazon would play in that new era.

Other themes in the year included the usual boost in TV technology, this time around 3D; and some early signals of a smart car future with news from the likes of Nvidia and Ford.

CES 2011

RealNetworks and cloud-based music. This was absolutely the direction music would be going. RealNetworks would not ultimately be the top dog in this game, but back in 2011 it was the one leading the charge with a service called Unifi, lauded at the time for being first to market before Apple and Google — and Spotify — in presenting a way to merge what you buy online with what you might already own in terms of digital files. Alas, being an early mover does not always pay off, a theme of its own. Real Unifi quietly died a death and its URL is particularly iffy now.

4G. 2011 was also the year of LTE and 4G announcements from many carriers, from T-Mobile announcing sales of 900,000 4G handsets, to HTC unveiling its first 4G device.

The year of many phones (and specifically phone brands) that did not stand the test of time. Sister site Engadget (a monster when it comes to comprehensive CES coverage) highlighted its list of the best tablets and smartphones, a selection including Motorola, Notion Ink, BlackBerry, and Vizio — a veritable graveyard of brands. It was also the year of Android tablets set up for the future using Honeycomb… another dud, as it turned out.

Vroom vroom. We might take for granted that cars are a major component of CES today — after all, they are essentially very large, mobile pieces of hardware — but that wasn't always the case (not least because the mammoth Detroit Auto Show is just around the corner in the convention calendar). In 2011, Ford unveiled its first foray into electric cars at the show, setting up a decade of major car advances getting launched at CES.

CES 2012

Remember when Nokia was the world's biggest mobile handset maker? This was the year that it made some critical shifts in its downturn. CES 2012 was the event where the company unveiled its first Windows Phone-powered smartphone for the US market, to ship exclusively via AT&T.  This proved to be a step along the road to Microsoft buying Nokia's handset business outright, an ill-fated move that ultimately left both brands in a ditch as far as that market was concerned. But in 2012, there was still a lot of hope and enthusiasm for both.

More smart TV advances: Today we take integrated services and very light hardware like Fire TV sticks and Chrome Casts for granted. That was not the story in 2012, though, where a Samsung TV that integrated DirectTV without a box made headlines.

Steve Ballmer gave his last Microsoft keynote at CES (because Microsoft pulled out of the show keynote roster after that year) and announced a date for the Kinect (some two years after highlighting gesture as something that was going to be coming at us fast).

CES 2013

Hoppin’ mad! This was the year that big media took a bite out of streaming media. CNET, which had been running 'best of' awards on behalf of CES for years, was asked to remove the 'best of show' award that had been given to Dish's Hopper with Sling (which let you watch programs recorded on your Dish DVR on your iPad) after the legal team of its parent, CBS, intervened. The interference was nefarious: CBS was embroiled in a lawsuit with Dish, tainting the whole business of then bestowing the award upon Razer. The whole thing was uncovered, criticized even by CNET itself. Then, Dish was awarded Best of Show some weeks later. As with so much else in the question about the best way to move content from one device to another, the answer was coming from somewhere else altogether: the cloud — that is to say, streaming services have trumped both the Dish Hopper and whatever else was competing against it.

Nvidia Shield. A big leap for Nvidia, the company that had already made its name with graphics and other processors used in high-performance computing devices and connected cars for gaming, artificial intelligence applications and more. 2013 was the year it revealed its own hardware in the form of a gaming device called Project Shield, powered by its newest processors. Shield has continued to grow over the years.

Oculus Rift. It was still going to be another year and a bit before Oculus got snapped up by Facebook for $2 billion, and the Rift virtual reality headset didn't actually launch at CES, but this was a kind of coming-out party for it nonetheless, since it was the first time that the company had set up a stand to provide demos to any and all comers. The result was a lot of buzzy exposure (reported on by multiple outlets) to build up interest in the device. This in itself was a stage two media strategy: The company had launched on Kickstarter with a lot of fanfare prior to this — another notable trend for CES this year, where another crowdfunded blockbuster, the Pebble Smartwatch, exhibited for the first time, too.

CES 2014

oculus

Wearing thin… Wearable tech was everywhere at CES this year and definitely became a bigger theme as the year went on. Indeed Google did the wide launch of Google Glass as a consumer product just a few months later, although it took Apple until April 2015 to launch its first Watch. (That Watch, incidentally, has been one of the most successful of all wearable efforts…. There's that late mover advantage again). Many voices were already crying foul: Just because you can build something to put on your wrist, or head, or finger, or on your jacket, or wherever… does that mean you necessarily should? And if you do, will anyone want to buy it, or will it collapse into history books as a novelty?

Honk honk. After a couple of fallow years where cars were more certainly present but not previewing blockbuster changes, 2014 was the year they changed gears. Google announced the Open Automotive Alliance, including partnerships with GM, Audi and Honda, Hyundai and Nvidia for Android-powered in-car systems.

Netflix and streaming. The streaming wars really didn't kick off until the year after this, but for a little taster of how OTT services like Netflix's would soon dominate the conversation about video at CES and elsewhere: this was the year that Netflix CEO Reed Hastings took to the stage to announce an exclusive 4K (high resolution) version of hit series House of Cards that would stream on 4K-capable LG TVs.

VR expansion. Oculus (still yet to be acquired by Facebook but easily emerging as a power player in the VR space) released a new version of its headset. Sony followed suit and others like Meta, working in the area of VR meeting augmented reality, also showed off their new kit. The momentum wouldn’t last: Meta and several more efforts are now defunct, others are struggling, and many are wondering what the mainstream market for VR and AR headsets will be longer term. (We're still waiting to see whether Apple will launch a device here, too.)

CES 2015

 

https://www.mercedes-benz.com/en/mercedes-benz/innovation/research-vehicle-f-015-luxury-in-motion/

Smart Home gets smarter. Google still hadn't closed its deal to acquire Nest when CES 2015 rolled around, but the latter company's momentum spoke a lot to why it got snapped up and integrated and continues to be a central part of the company's home strategy. It announced a number of new partners at the show through its "works with Nest" program.

Meanwhile, Apple — long without an official presence at the show — continued to make itself a part of the conversation, specifically in the area of the connected home. The ecosystem for Apple's HomeKit platform for managing connected smart devices by way of your iPhone grew by some way during CES with the announcement of a number of new partners.

Robots and spycams and drones, oh my! The rise of improvements in AI-based technology such as computer vision, voice recognition and more led to a wave of devices aimed at helping people see and do our bidding, and ultimately than they'd be able to on their own. This bigger trend expanded to creepy humanoids, as well as camera-equipped drones and security devices. The huge swing we've seen toward an awareness of our privacy in recent times was not so apparent in 2015, so I wonder how this theme would be handled today.

Mercedes Benz F 015 – concept autonomous car. This is just one vehicle — literally speaking. It's a prototype that may never see the light of day on a production line, at least not for a long time. But I'm highlighting it here as a sign of the times. 2015 saw yet more vehicles, yet more automonous demos, and yet more moves from a range of players to plant their flags in the self-driving market. We're still far from seeing any wide-scale commercial products or services for a number of reasons, but the amount of investment in this area continues to grow, with the hope and expectation that the tech, the consumer appetite, and regulations will all align in its favor. Other big news in automotive included Nvidia's new car platforms.

Plus, too many selfie sticks.

CES 2016

GettyImages 948027492

Coming to a screen near you. Netflix has both spearheaded and in many ways led the focus on streamed video in the world of entertainment, and this year it used the show as a platform to announce a huge shift: It was expanding its service to 130 countries, a massive international push. While there are a lot of localized  players, and I'd argue that Netflix doesn't have quite the right mix of local and general content abroad as it does in its home market (where the catalog is genuinely far bigger), this was a huge move that continues to set Netflix up for more growth in the future, perhaps via consolidation.

As automotive tech continued to be a major theme at CES, there was a new twist this year. One of the huge automotive giants, GM, used the event not just to unveil a new electric car model, but also a $500 million investment in one of the on-demand transportation giants, Lyft. The rationale: to tap into what might be a new market to supply with its future autonomous vehicles, and to get a stake in one of the bigger startups transforming how people get from A to B (which will ultimately have an impact on how, and if, they buy cars).

CES 2017


Alexa, Everywhere. While the Echo was launched back in 2015, and we saw the beginnings of Alexa-integrated devices and Echo-based hardware the year before by way of Amazon's platform plays, it was really in 2017 that this trend became nearly all-pervasive, appearing not just in speakers made by third parties, but refrigerators and more. Given the strong recurring theme of home gadgets at the show, this has made Amazon a big presence at the huge event. It still raises the question, though, of how successful any of these integrations have been. We may have a lot of "connected" devices in our homes, including smart speakers, but how much are we really using them?

CES 2018

Google assistant, Everywhere. Not to be outdone by Amazon or Apple in years before, 2018 was the year that Google permeated CES with its own voice — or more specifically its voice bot, the Google Assistant. In addition to blanketing trains, billboards and more with Google slogans, slides and gumball machines, the company's name and Assistant were brought up in connection with most of the event's biggest hardware and software splashes, by way of integrations. It's not a guarantee that this will actually get people to use it, but having the ubiquity makes it ever more convenient for those who do want to go that route. Will be interesting to see how and if this continues as a theme in 2020 and beyond. My guess is that simple messages of "it's there" will not be enough to hold interest longer term.

CES 2019

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – JANUARY 08: An attendee walks by the Huawei booth at CES 2019 at the Las Vegas Convention Center on January 8, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. CES, the world’s largest annual consumer technology trade show, runs through January 11 and features about 4,500 exhibitors showing off their latest products and services to more than 180,000 attendees. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)

Bull in a China shop. The theme of how Chinese companies grow and operate in the US and other Western markets — two major vectors that are being buffeted by large political questions around tariffs and national security — has been a big one in the tech world for a while now. It was interesting to see it play out at CES last year. The event benefits from a massive amount of visitors from China, and also exhibitors, and so many eyes were on both. It played out in some big ways: Huawei downplayed its presence, and ZTE didn't come at all. And Gary Shapiro, head of the Consumer Technology Association, which organizes CES, came out on the side of doing business with China, criticizing President Trump's strategy. Given that Trump's daughter Ivanka will be a keynote speaker this year, all will be watching how and if this theme will continue to develop or simply get swept under the rug.

Other themes last year included more advanced media streaming that moved further away from being tied to large and expensive middleware (the only expensive hardware that matters being the big TV screens), and a kind of truce in the voice assistant matrix: support for multiple assistants on single devices.

CES 2020 coverage - TechCrunch

Original Content podcast: We choose our favorite streaming shows from 2019

Posted: 05 Jan 2020 03:26 PM PST

For our first episode of 2020, the hosts of the Original Content podcast look back at the past year in streaming and each rank our five favorite titles.

While our week-to-week reviews haven’t been particularly strict about the definition of “original content,” these top fives are really, truly limited to shows and movies (mostly shows) that were created for or launched exclusively on streaming. Other than that, we felt free to list all kinds of content, whether it was a TV series or a film, scripted or unscripted, ridiculous and comedic or dramatic and serious.

You’ll need to listen to get the full lists, but they certainly reflect the wildly differing tastes of your podcast hosts — not to mention the fact that there was simply so much content released this year. In fact, if we exclude honorable mentions, only a single title (“See” on Apple TV+) appeared on more than one list.

You can listen in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

And if you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Intro
0:35 Listener response
7:01 Top five lists

This matcha maker is (most likely) coming soon to a coworking space near you

Posted: 05 Jan 2020 03:06 PM PST

Over the past few years, matcha has become a kind of unavoidable phenomenon in cities like New York and L.A. The finely ground green tea powder is everywhere from coffee shops to bodegas to standalone stores. And it's about to make its way to your startup/coworking space kitchen.

At CES tonight, World Match Inc. took the wraps off of Cuzen Matcha. It's a drink maker that essentially has one job: making matcha-espressos. If nothing else, it's a potentially fresher experience than buying matcha powder yourself (I've done this for the record. It's fine). The machine actually creates its own powder by grounding up matcha leaves. It then combines the powder with water.

That's pretty much it. Perhaps there’s something to be said for the stark minimalism of it all. It’s certainly a nice looking little kitchen appliance, based on the render. 

It's probably not a game changer, but there's something to be said if it replaces the extreme wastefulness of a Keurig and its ilk. Likely for most kitchens and homes, however, it will serve to supplement, rather than replace coffee makers. Because, well, coffee is important, you know?

World Matcha Inc. Is new to the scene Founded in January of last year, the company closed a $1 million pre-seed round in October, courtesy of 25 investors. The device goes up for pre-order today, priced art $290. That's going to increase in about a month. No word on a specific launch date just yet.

CES 2020 coverage - TechCrunch

Arlo adds a big passive-aggressive floodlight to its camera so that you can scare your neighbors

Posted: 05 Jan 2020 02:00 PM PST

Arlo, the security camera makers that spun out of Netgear, has announced a new device at CES in Las Vegas. The Arlo Pro 3 Floodlight, as the name suggests, looks a lot like the existing Arlo Pro 3. But instead of the tiny integrated spotlight, it features a gigantic LED-enabled floodlight.

The new device features a 2K HDR camera with a 160-degree field of view. It also has a color night vision as well as a more traditional black-and-white night mode. You can both listen to what's happening and talk to the person waiting in front of your door thanks to two-way audio. It also has a built-in siren to scare your entire neighborhood like there's a big fire going on.

The floodlight can be enabled manually or activated by motion. Motion activation could be particularly useful for people who want to replace the light above their garage door for an all-in-one security-and-light solution.

While you can wire it directly to your home, the device also features a rechargeable battery in case you don't want to drill holes.

The camera has an ambient light sensor so that the light only works at night. You can configure a specific threshold to save battery and customize the pattern of the light. There are three modes — constant, flashing and pulsating. Let's hope it doesn't lead to epileptic seizures.

Like other Arlo devices, it is compatible with the Arlo Smart subscription. You can expect cloud recording, object detection and intelligent alerts for $3 to $15 per month.

The Arlo Pro 3 Floodlight will be available at some point during Spring 2020 for $250.

CES 2020 coverage - TechCrunch

Software and the war against complexity

Posted: 05 Jan 2020 01:20 PM PST

Look around: what is happening? Australia, AI, Ghosn, Google, Suleimani, Starlink, Trump, TikTok. The world is an eruptive flux of frequently toxic emergent behavior, and every unexpected event is laced with subtle interconnected nuances. Stephen Hawking predicted this would be “the century of complexity.” He was talking about theoretical physics, but he was dead right about technology, societies, and geopolitics too.

Let’s try to define terms. How can we measure complexity? Seth Lloyd of MIT, in a paper which drily begins “The world has grown more complex recently, and the number of ways of measuring complexity has grown even faster,” proposed three key categories: difficulty of description, difficulty of creation, and degree of organization. Using those three criteria, it seems apparent at a glance that both our societies and our technologies are far more complex than they ever have been, and rapidly growing even moreso.

The thing is, complexity is the enemy. Ask any engineer … especially a security engineer. Ask the ghost of Steve Jobs. Adding complexity to solve a problem may bring a short-term benefit, but it invariably comes with an ever-accumulating long-term cost. Any human mind can only encompass so much complexity before it gives up and starts making slashing oversimplifications with an accompanying risk of terrible mistakes.

You may have noted that those human minds empowered to make major decisions are often those least suited to grappling with nuanced complexity. This itself is arguably a lingering effect of growing complexity. Even the simple concept of democracy has grown highly complex — party registration, primaries, fundraising, misinformation, gerrymandering, voter rolls, hanging chads, voting machines — and mapping a single vote for a representative to dozens if not hundreds of complex issues is impossible, even if you’re willing to consider all those issues in depth, which most people aren’t.

Complexity theory is a rich field, but it’s unclear how it can help with ordinary people trying to make sense of their world. In practice, people deal with complexity by coming up with simplified models close enough to the complex reality to be workable. These models can be dangerous — “everyone just needs to learn to code,” “software does the same thing every time it is run,” “democracies are benevolent” — but they were useful enough to make fitful progress.

In software, we at least recognize this as a problem. We pay lip service to the glories of erasing code, of simplifying functions, of eliminating side effects and state, of deprecating complex APIs, of attempting to scythe back the growing thickets of complexity. We call complexity “technical debt” and realize that at least in principle it needs to be paid down someday.

“Globalization should be conceptualized as a series of adapting and co-evolving global systems, each characterized by unpredictability, irreversibility and co-evolution. Such systems lack finalized 'equilibrium' or 'order'; and the many pools of order heighten overall disorder,” to quote the late John Urry. Interestingly, software could be viewed that way as well, interpreting, say, “the Internet” and “browsers” and “operating systems” and “machine learning” as global software systems.

Software is also something of a best possible case for making complex things simpler. It is rapidly distributed worldwide. It is relatively devoid of emotional or political axegrinding. (I know, I know. I said “relatively.”) There are reasonably objective measures of performance and simplicity. And we’re all at least theoretically incentivized to simplify it.

So if we can make software simpler — both its tools and dependencies, and its actual end products — then that suggests we have at least some hope of keeping the world simple enough such that crude mental models will continue to be vaguely useful. Conversely, if we can’t, then it seems likely that our reality will just keep growing more complex and unpredictable, and we will increasingly live in a world of whole flocks of black swans. I’m not sure whether to be optimistic or not. My mental model, it seems, is failing me.

CrowdStrike’s CEO on how to IPO, direct listings and what’s ahead for SaaS startups

Posted: 05 Jan 2020 11:53 AM PST

A few days before Christmas, TechCrunch caught up with CrowdStrike CEO George Kurtz to chat about his company’s public offering, direct listings and his expectations for the 2020 IPO market. We also spoke about CrowdStrike’s product niche — endpoint security — and a bit more on why he views his company as the Salesforce of security.

The conversation is timely. Of the 2019 IPO cohort, CrowdStrike’s IPO stands out as one of the year’s most successful debuts. As 2020’s IPO cycle is expected to be both busy and inclusive of some of the private market’s biggest names, Kurtz’s views are useful to understand. After all, his SaaS security company enjoyed a strong pricing cycle, a better-than-expected IPO fundraising haul and strong value appreciation after its debut.

Notably, CrowdStrike didn’t opt to pursue a direct listing; after chatting with the CEO of recent IPO Bill.com concerning why his SaaS company also decided on a traditional flotation, we wanted to hear from Kurtz as well. The security CEO called the current conversation around direct listings a “great debate,” before explaining his perspective.

Pulling from a longer conversation, what follows are Kurtz’s four tips for companies gearing up for a public offering, why his company elected chose a traditional public offering over a more exotic method, comments on endpoint security and where CrowdStrike fits inside its market, and, finally, quick notes on upcoming debuts.

The following interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

How to go public successfully

Share often

What’s most important is the fact that when we IPO’d in June of 2019, we started the process three years earlier. And that is the number one thing that I can point to. When [CrowdStrike CFO Burt Podbere] and I went on the road show everybody knew us, all the buy side investors we had met with for three years, the sell side analysts knew us. The biggest thing that I would say is you can’t go on a road show and have someone not know your company, or not know you, or your CFO.

And we would share — as a private company, you share less — but we would share tidbits of information. And we built a level of consistency over time, where we would share something, and then they would see it come true. And we would share something else, and they would see it come true. And we did that over three years. So we built, I believe, trust with the street, in anticipation of, at some point in the future, an IPO.

Practice early

We spent a lot of time running the company as if it was public, even when we were private. We had our own earnings call as a private company. We would write it up and we would script it.

You’ve seen other companies out there, if they don’t get their house in order it’s very hard to go [public]. And we believe we had our house in order. We ran it that way [which] allowed us to think and operate like a public company, which you want to get out of the way before you come become public. If there’s a takeaway here for folks that are thinking about [going public], run it and act like a public company before you’re public, including simulated earnings calls. And once you become public, you already have that muscle memory.

Raw numbers matter

The third piece is [that] you [have to] look at the numbers. We are in rarified air. At the time of IPO we were the fastest growing SaaS company to IPO ever at scale. So we had the numbers, we had the growth rate, but it really was a combination of preparation beforehand, operating like a public company, […] and then we had the numbers to back it up.

TAM is key, even at scale

One last point, we had the [total addressable market, or TAM] as well. We have the TAM as part of our story; security and where we play is a massive opportunity. So we had that market opportunity as well.


On this topic, Kurtz told TechCrunch two interesting things earlier in the conversation. First that what many people consider as “endpoint security” is too constrained, that the category includes “traditional endpoints plus things like mobile, plus things like containers, IoT devices, serverless, ephemeral cloud instances, [and] on and on.” The more things that fit under the umbrella of endpoint security, CrowdStrike’s focus, the bigger its market is.

Kurtz also discussed how the cloud migration — something that builds TAM for his company’s business — is still in “the early innings,” going on to say that in time “you’re going to start to see more critical workloads migrate to the cloud.” That should generate even more TAM for CrowdStrike and its competitors, like Carbon Black and Tanium.


Why CrowdStrike opted for a traditional IPO instead of a direct listing

The future (and past) of mobile gaming

Posted: 05 Jan 2020 11:20 AM PST

The summer of 2008 changed everything.

Apple’s launch of the App Store a year after the release of the iPhone was a watershed moment not only in the business of technology, but in every aspect of humanity. Nearly every industry can look back at data before July 2008 and after and see how rapidly and profoundly things changed. But one sector in particular turned into a completely different beast.

Gaming.

We've seen some amazing firms come out of the mobile gaming space, some with more success than others. One gaming founder who experienced the full gamut of entrepreneurial emotion is Thor Fridriksson, founder of QuizUp. As we head into 2020, I hopped on the phone with him to discuss the rapid rise of QuizUp in the early oughts, its hard fall from grace following a botched deal with NBC and Fridriksson's predictions about the next decade of mobile gaming.

(This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Emphasis is mine.)

Jordan Crook: Can you believe it's almost 2020? Doesn't feel real.

Thor Fridikksson: I remember when I was teenager. I was into role playing games like the typical nerds. One of the ones I loved the most was called Cyberpunk 2020. It was set in 2020, and it was all about bionic arms and implants and very, very futuristic stuff. And this is kind of why 2020 has a special meaning to me. But, usually, when people predict the future, they’re always so far off. It’s almost unbelievable.

Yeah, we haven’t quite gotten that that down yet, have we? Really being good at predicting the future. Maybe this next decade, with the era of big data, will change that. But let's focus on the past for a bit. Take me 10 years back. I want to hear about how QuizUp became the popular game it was. You guys reached 20 million users in the first 12 months.

At the beginning of the decade, I was just graduating from university. I had lived in Iceland all my life, but for my MBA I moved to the UK to attend Oxford. It was a pretty wild time for me, especially because Oxford University had this annual thing called ‘Silicon Valley Comes to Oxford.’ I was watching this whole smartphone revolution that was just taking place.

We had the privilege of getting some really top entrepreneurs from the Valley at Oxford and they actually spent a whole week with students in the MBA program. People like Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn, and Biz Stone, one of the founders of Twitter, and others. I volunteered to be a tour guide for them.

And it was just fantastic! It was fantastic to be having dinners with these entrepreneurs from this totally different kind of environment in Silicon Valley. The environment for the U.S. entrepreneur is so much different from the European, in many ways. U.S. entrepreneurs have this kind of boldness, this fearlessness. Their feelings about failure were something that I was fascinated by.

At later stages, I would have to experience this myself. Personally, I think that one of the things that the U.S. entrepreneurial ecosystem gets right is that the stigma of starting a business and failing one is not nearly as strong as it is in Europe. If you start the business in Europe and you somehow fail, you will not have any chance to … it's like, you're an immediate loser. Whereas the thinking, or how people perceive entrepreneurs in the U.S., is that they’re those guys that try and try and try again. This is such a big difference in mentality between the two continents, and this is one big advantage that the U.S. has.


Fridriksson returned to Iceland after graduating Oxford during one of the biggest economic collapses in the world, which hit Iceland particularly hard. "There was absolutely nothing for a newly graduated business guy to do," he said. This is around the time he started Plain Vanilla, which would be the parent company of QuizUp. He completely focused on the Icelandic market, unconcerned with the U.S., after having seen the smartphone unlock various geographies.

The first game out of Plain Vanilla wasn't a trivia game at all. It was actually a children's game called The Moogies that Fridriksson spent 18 months designing and producing. He recalls it as the classic founder story — he sold all of his stuff, spent all of his money and took out a bunch of loans to fund the project. "I wasn't really thinking about VCs or anything like that, especially because there weren't any here in Iceland at the time," said Fridriksson.

In 2011, Plain Vanilla launched the Moogies, a sort of interactive, cartoon-based game for kids.


It was a massive failure. It's one of those moments in life where you just put your heart and soul into something. I will always remember this moment. It was a pivotal moment before I started QuizUp. We were working with this big publisher, and I was waiting to see the first sales numbers for the game after it launched.

It was a big thing in Iceland. I was in the press and doing interviews and the launch of the game was big news in Iceland because we're such a small country. I was really excited and I was thinking, 'I hope it's going to be 500,000 downloads, but 100,000 would be great. 50,000 would be OK.' I was refreshing the dashboard and when I finally saw the number, it was only 500 units sold. Immediately, in one heartbeat, I knew that one and a half years of hard labor was down the drain.

What do you think went wrong there? Did you spend too much time building it out without an MVP or a beta? Do you think it would have done better if you shipped something a bit more bare bones earlier?

I don't think that was what I did wrong. Actually, I'm a big believer in polish. Especially when it comes to games, I don't think you should just try to get something out to prove something. You should really, in all your products, think about the details and offer a more finished product than an MVP.

In the case of the Moogies, it was a paid app. This is just around the time when free-to-play and the freemium economy was starting. So, paid apps just did significantly worse. The reason I wanted it to be paid is because I didn't like advertising, especially not in children's apps. I was against in-app purchases at the time and advertising, and I just wanted to create a very safe and nice experience for young children. I had my own toddler at the time who was the Chief Tester of the game.

So, it was a paid app. But the other issue is that breaking into the children's category is so tough. They are probably the most brand loyal audience you will ever find. And I'm not really talking about the kids, I'm talking about their parents. When you have a kid that likes a certain theme of toy, like Mickey Mouse or whatever it is, their parents will only buy that. It's very hard to get any sort of virality or break into children's brands without mainstream marketing money.

Was the Moogies the only game Plain Vanilla launched before QuizUp?

Well, I get this idea of QuizUp. It's a dark winter night in Iceland. I had just realized that I was bankrupt. And there was no way for me to get any more funding from Iceland. I was really feeling, what I mentioned before, this scorn. I would go to see investors and they'd ask how Moogies went, and I would tell them and try to make it look prettier than it was. They would block me immediately because there is this stigma of failure. And this is when I really felt that being in Europe, and having failed on my first try… it really damages your chances of getting up again.

I get this idea for QuizUp and write it on this electric bill that I can't pay. And I was just convinced. I get this really strong feeling that this game would be the formula to virality and success. Users would play real people in real time and they would have all these rankings and titles. People are so vain, in general, that I knew they would just love it. It felt like something that hadn't been done before and I really wanted to do it.

But, again, I had no money. I was totally bankrupt and had no employees anymore. But I remembered those guys from Oxford, Reid Hoffman and Biz Stone, and I think to myself, 'I'm so connected. I'll just go there. I'm 100 percent sure that with this great idea, these VCs will just throw money at me. I'll be able to do this. Easy Peasy.'


Fridriksson hired two engineers on the promise of getting to move to San Francisco and help on the project. The plan was for the engineers to build a prototype of QuizUp while Fridriksson went around to VCs trying to secure seed funding. They all lived in a small apartment together.


This plan was a bit naive, when I look back at that time. I was expecting a red carpet to be waiting for me. That, when I arrived in San Francisco, people would be throwing money at me. And it was actually quite the opposite. Getting seed funding with just an idea is quite hard.

So did you get the funding?

CES awards cannabis company then bans it from mentioning cannabis when exhibiting

Posted: 05 Jan 2020 08:33 AM PST

Keep Labs won an Innovation Award Honoree award for CES 2020 but is banned from saying the word “cannabis” on the CES show floor. Weeks later, the CTA, the trade group behind CES, told Keep Labs it could only exhibit if the company’s signage, marketing materials, and the product is free from cannabis product and paraphernalia.

To be named as an honoree is a significant honor for any company, but with Keep Labs, it’s historic. Keep is a product designed explicitly for cannabis, and this is the first time a company centered around marijuana has won an award from CES.

Because of the strict guidelines, Keep Labs decided it wasn’t in its best interest to exhibit at CES despite winning one of its top awards. The company is currently featured on the CES website, among other Innovation Award Honorees, where the word “cannabis” is used throughout the description.

Keep smart storage

Keep is a discreet desktop storage device designed to keep cannabis fresh and locked away. It looks like a smart speaker with a clock, but if you engage the biometric lock, the top opens, revealing several storage containers for cannabis products. With mobile alerts, a built-in scale and a hermetic seal, the device is purpose-built to be an ideal spot to store and secure weed.

The company was founded by two Canadian dads looking for a more secure way to store edibles. Their story is familiar: A friend unknowingly consumed cannabis gummies from an unmarked container. This led the founders to try to find a safe place to store cannabis items. Unable to find such a device, Ben Gliksman, a venture capital attorney with 10 years of experience, and Philip Wilkins, who previously built and sold two companies, set out to build their own.

Available in chalk white and slate black, the device is beautiful and achieves its goal of securing cannabis without hiding. This storage container would look at home on a bedside stand or hallway table.

Facial recognition keeps the device locked. If Keep is tempered with, the owner gets a smartphone notification. An airtight seal keeps things fresh and contains odors. Inside, separate containers keep things organized. There’s even a removable rolling tray and space for accessories. A battery allows owners to use the device anywhere.

This is Keep Labs’ first product, and the company is conducting its own fundraising campaign. At the time of writing, the Keep is available for pre-order for CAD 199.

The CTA awarded Keep Labs the Innovations Award Nominee honor on October 15. On December 4, the CTA gave the company the restrictions on exhibiting.

I spoke with Keeps Lab co-founder Philip Wilkins after the company first heard of the restrictions. At that time, in early December, the company still planned on attending and exhibiting the award. Later, the company had a change of heart.

Now, Wilkins tells TechCrunch that without being able to mention or talk about cannabis, they wouldn’t be doing the brand justice. The CTA had lumped them in with “storage solutions and appliance for the home.” Shying away from cannabis goes against everything they believe in. They aren’t a home storage solution, the company says, and that’s not why they won the award.

There’s a stigma around cannabis tech, Wilkins said, adding Keep Labs’ product is lumped in with “bongs and blunts.”

The company’s ban from CES is the latest hurdle facing Keep Labs. The company previously attempted to list its product on Kickstarter and Indiegogo, but neither platform would allow it, because of the word “cannabis.”

Instead, the company launched a self-ran crowdfunding campaign. Right now, 805 backers have pre-ordered the device for CAD 199. The campaign is at 77% with just under two months to go before the self-imposed deadline of March 1, 2020.

Wilkins told TechCrunch the company is in the middle of mass-producing the product and are looking for additional distribution channels as well as venture capital investors who understand the need and cannabis space.

CES, Las Vegas and Cannabis

Cannabis and e-cigarette products are historically banned from CES. Vape makers like Pax and Puffco and Juul have been unable to exhibit, but with the Keep Labs award, it felt like the CTA was softening its stance. After all, Keep Laps doesn’t make a consumption product, but rather a storage product. The distinction seems significant.

The trade association issued TechCrunch the following statement: “There are no cannabis or e-cigarette products on the exhibit floor at CES, as the show does not have a category pertaining to that market. Given cannabis is not a category at CES, the company was able to exhibit under the terms they'd showcase their product as a storage device,” adding later “Keeps Lab (sic) fit in the Home Appliances category for the Innovation Awards.”

Exhibiting at CES can lead to significant growth for companies. Buyers, distributors, bankers alike attend the show in the hopes of adding companies and products to their portfolios. For a startup like Keep Labs, it can lead to retail distribution, financial capital and valuable industry partners. And being nominated as an Innovation Award Nominee shines a spotlight, making deals even more accessible.

Over 180,000 people attended last year’s show, including over 6,500 members of the media.

There are other ways of being at CES than through conventional means. Many companies take up private spaces throughout Las Vegas, in hotel rooms, and in other conference centers. This lets companies access the CES attendees in more private settings. However, by nature, these spaces are invite-only, which eliminates a lot of opportunities for the companies.

For cannabis companies, renting a hotel room bypasses the CTA’s rules, but not Nevada state laws. In the state of Nevada marijuana is legal to consume in private residence, but banned from consumption in parks, dispensaries and hotels. This means there isn’t — really — a place Las Vegas visitors can legally consume cannabis. And for cannabis companies looking to make deals, there are few legal locations where they can demonstrate their products.

Banned Tech

This incident smells familiar. In the run-up to the 2019 show, the CTA awarded sex-tech startup Lora DiCarlo with the same award only later to rescind it. The CTA told TechCrunch at the time that the Lora DiCarlo Osé does not fit into exciting product categories, and the company should not have been accepted for the Innovation Awards Program.

The CTA drew widespread criticism for revoking Lora DiCarlo’s award.

TechCrunch confirmed at the time the CTA also prohibited Lora DiCarlo from exhibiting at CES, citing the company doesn’t fit a product category. However, other sex tech companies were on the show floor that year.

Past CES shows featured sex-tech companies, including a virtual reality porn company in 2017 and a sex toy robot for men in 2018. This 2020 year’s show will be sexual wellness company OhMiBod’s tenth year exhibiting at CES. In years past, the company launched wellness products, including a Kegel exerciser and in 2019, when Lora DiCarlo was banned, an Apple Watch-controlled vibrator.

“There is an obvious double-standard when it comes to sexuality and sexual health,” Lora DiCarlo founder Lora Haddock wrote last year. “While there are sex and sexual health products at CES, it seems that CES/CTA administration applies the rules differently for companies and products based on the gender of their customers. Men’s sexuality is allowed to be explicit with a literal sex robot in the shape of an unrealistically proportioned woman and VR porn in point of pride along the aisle. Female sexuality, on the other hand, is heavily muted if not outright banned.”

In the CTA’s letter to Lora DiCarlo, obtained by TechCrunch, the CTA cited a clause that explained how entries deemed “in their sole discretion to be immoral, obscene, indecent, profane or not in keeping with the CTA’s image will be disqualified. CTA reserves the right in its sole discretion to disqualify any entry at any time which, in CTA’s opinion, endangers the safety or well being of any person, or fails to comply with these Official Rules. CTA decisions are final and binding.”

CES or Bust

The cannabis market is exploding. In the United States, the substance is legal in 11 states, with Illinois becoming the latest to allow the sale and consumption for recreational use. Public support for legal pot hit an all-time high in 2019, according to this CBS News Poll. Over 30 states have legalized it to some degree, and more will follow.

Recreational cannabis is legal in Canada, where Keep Labs is based.

The sheer demand raises the question of the CTA’s slow acceptance of cannabis-related products. As a trade group, it’s tasked with promoting policy that leads to growth within the consumer electronics world, and cannabis tech are quickly becoming a lucrative industry with broad acceptance across demographics.

Someone within the CTA sees the appeal of the Keep device. By awarding it with one of its top honors, the CTA is celebrating the responsible use of cannabis. And yet, by requesting the company hide its intended purpose while exhibiting, it is seemingly forcing cannabis back into the shadows.

China Roundup: TikTok receives most government requests from India and US

Posted: 05 Jan 2020 08:00 AM PST

Hello and welcome back to TechCrunch's China Roundup, a digest of recent events shaping the Chinese tech landscape and what they mean to people in the rest of the world. This week, TikTok, currently the world’s hottest social media app, welcomed the new decade by publishing its first transparency report as it encounters rising scrutiny from regulators around the world.

TikTok tries to demystify 

The report, which arrived weeks after it tapped a group of corporate lawyers to review its content moderation policy, is widely seen as the short video app’s effort to placate the U.S. government. The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, or CFIUS, is currently probing the app for possible national security risks.

TikTok is owned by Beijing-based tech upstart ByteDance and has been rapidly gaining popularity away from its home turf, especially in the U.S. and India. As of November, it had accumulated a total of 1.5 billion downloads on iOS and Android devices, according to data analytics firm Sensor Tower, although how many materialized into active users is unknown.

The transparency report reveals the number of requests TikTok received from local regulators during the first half of 2019. Such orders include government requests to access user information and remove content from the platform. India topped the list with 107 total requests filed, followed by the U.S. with 79 requests and Japan at 35.

The numbers immediately sparked debates over the noticeable absence of China among the list of countries that had submitted requests. This could be because TikTok operates as a separate app called Douyin in China, where it claimed to have more than 320 million daily active users (in Chinese) as of last July.

TikTok has taken multiple measures to ease suspicions of international markets where it operates, claiming that it stores data of U.S. users in the U.S. and that the app would not remove videos even at the behest of Beijing’s authority.

Whether skeptics are sold on these promises remains to be seen. Meanwhile, one should not overlook the pervasive practice of self-censorship among China’s big tech.

“Chinese internet companies know so well where the government’s red line is that their self-regulation might even be stricter than what the government actually imposes, so it’s not impossible that [the TikTok report] showed zero requests from China,” a person who works at a Chinese video streaming platform suggested to me.

It’s worth revisiting why TikTok has caused a big stir on various fronts. Besides its nationality as a Chinese-owned app and breathtaking rise, the app presents a whole new way of creating and consuming information that better suits smartphone natives. It’s been regarded as a threat to Facebook and compared to Youtube, which is also built upon user-generated content. However, TikTok’s consumers are much more likely to be creators as well, thanks to lower barriers to producing and sharing videos on the platform, venture capitalist David Rosenthal of Wave Capital observed. That’s a big engagement driver for the app.

Another strength of TikTok, seemingly trivial at first sight, is the way it displays content. Videos are shown vertically, doing away the need to flip a phone. In a company blog post (in Chinese) on Douyin’s development, ByteDance recounted that most short-video apps budding in 2016 were built for horizontal videos and required users to pick from a list of clips in the fashion of traditional video streaming sites. Douyin, instead, surfaces only one video at a time, full-screen, auto-played and recommended by its well-trained algorithms. What “baffled” many early employees and interviewees turned out to be a game-changing user experience in the mobile internet age.

Douyin’s ally and enemy 

A recent change in Douyin’s domestic rival Kuaishou has brought attention to the intricate links between China’s tech giants. In late December, video app Kuaishou removed the option for users to link e-commerce listings from Taobao, an Alibaba marketplace. Both Douyin and Kuaishou have been exploring e-commerce as a revenue stream, and each has picked its retail partners. While Kuaishou told media that the suspension is due to a “system upgrade,” its other e-commerce partners curiously remain up and running.

Left: Douyin lets creators add a “shop” button to posts. Right: The clickable button is linked to a Taobao product page.

Some speculate that the Beijing-based company could be distancing itself from Alibaba and moving closer to Tencent, Alibaba’s nemesis and a majority shareholder in Kuaishou. Yunfeng Capital, a venture firm backed by Alibaba founder Jack Ma, has also funded Kuaishou but holds a less significant equity stake. That Douyin has long been working with Alibaba on e-commerce might have also been a source of discordance between Kuaishou and Alibaba.

Week in Review: Selling out in the Instagram age

Posted: 05 Jan 2020 06:45 AM PST

Hey everyone, happy 2020. Welcome back to Week in Review where I dive deep into a bit of news from the week or just share some thoughts and go over some of the more interesting stories of the week.

If you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox here, and follow my tweets here.


The big story

Dip a toe into the world of influencers and as you click through Instagram stories, and you’ll see that peddling endorsements for bizarre products is an essential part of the new influencer economy. What’s interesting isn’t that these (often) self-made influencers looking to leverage their fame to and monetize themselves with sponsorship deals, it’s how low the expectations are of their followers and fans when it comes to advertising suspect products.

The age of fanbases considering a celebrity a sellout after hocking junk in commercial appearances is far, far gone. Follower exploitation isn’t even questioned, something that grows less funny when you realize how young most of the fans are of some of these figures.

As you click through actual online influencers with 10 million+ followers advertising weight-loss supplements, juice cleanses and knockoff AirPods, you might be wondering where the bar is and whether it can go any lower. Followers don’t really seem to care for a lot of reasons, but one intriguing thought is that as social media platforms have made fame seem more accessible, user empathy for internet stars has increased and people understand that these figures are just looking for their payday.

Ultimately, high art and capitalism have also never been closer and when you look at the relationship between brand endorsements and some of the top visual artists and musicians, it’s not surprising that those that occupy lesser rungs on the fame ladder don’t mind hocking lesser products. This great piece in The Atlantic by Taylor Lorenz from 2018 reported on how teens were acting like they were selling ads as a way to lend themselves credibility. The “coolness” of advertising has only seemed to accelerate.

It’s clear that the influencer economy has shaped popular culture in ways that make a backlash to influencers “selling out” seem nearly impossible at this point in time. After all, if sticking your name on products that literally contain poison doesn’t dampen your charm, what will?

Evan Spiegel SnapDSC04084

Trends of the week

Here are a few big news items from big companies, with green links to all the sweet, sweet added context:

  • Snap buys up an AI startup
    This week, TechCrunch reported that Snapchat had bought up a Ukrainian AI startup to build its latest Cameo feature. The $166 million acquisition is a significant purchase for the social media company which spent the bulk of 2019 getting back to basics.
  • Former HBO boss joins up with Apple
    Former HBO exec Richard Plepler has signed an exclusive deal with Apple for his new production company, a move that’s sure to make waves in the entertainment space but could also shift how Apple spends its behemoth original content budgets.

Extra Crunch

Our premium subscription business had another great week of content. My colleague Josh Constine started a series with advice for getting your startup press coverage.

Finding the right reporter to cover your startup

Pitch the wrong reporter or publication, and your story won't see the light of day.

Before you start seeking press, you'll need to look for reporters who have reach, respect and expertise when you choose who to talk to. You'll also need to be prepared to accept the truth about your business, even if it hurts. It's critical that you find a writer who's a good fit for the business you're building and the audience you're seeking…”

Sign up for more newsletters, including my colleague Darrell Etherington’s new space-focused newsletter Max Q, here.

Samsung confirms February 11 event for its next flagship launch

Posted: 04 Jan 2020 08:01 PM PST

The Saturday night before CES seems like a less than ideal time to drop some big smartphone news — but it appears Samsung's hand was forced on this one. Granted, the smartphone giant has never been great about keeping big news under wraps, but this morning's early release of a promo video through its official Vimeo channel was no doubt all the motivation it needed.

The company has just made the February 11 date officially official for the launch of its upcoming flagship. As for what the flagship will be called, well, that (among other things) leaves some room for speculation. Rumors have pointed to both the more traditional S11, along with the more fascinating jump to the S20.

I've collated a bunch of the rumors into an earlier post. The TLDR is even larger screens across the board, coupled with a bunch of camera upgrades and a healthy battery increase. The invite art, which matches the earlier the video, appears to confirm the existence of two separate devices, with different dimensions. That could well point to the reported followup to the Galaxy Fold. In additional to better reinforced folding (a follow up to last year's issues), the device reportedly adopts a clamshell form factor, more akin to the newly announced Motorola Razr.

More info (and rumors) to come. As ever, we’ll be there (San Francisco) as the news breaks.