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Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Today Crunch News, News Updates, Tech News

Today Crunch News, News Updates, Tech News


Profitability expectations ding Lyft despite better-than-expected growth

Posted: 11 Feb 2020 04:05 PM PST

Hello and welcome back to our regular look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.

This afternoon we’re digging into Lyft’s earnings results, unpacking the company’s performance, the market’s expectations and why shares in the American ride-hailing giant are off in after-hours trading.

Lyft’s earnings — following Uber’s own results that promised investors a quicker-than-anticipated path to (adjusted) profits — and the market’s reaction to its performance, provide a good frame for evaluating investors’ appetite for profits against growth. It’s a topic that’s important for startup founders and private-market investors alike.

Our investigation today is contentedly straightforward. We’ll start with the big numbers, drill into comparative performance and then weigh what the market is telling us.

Lyft’s key Q4 2019 results

In the fourth quarter of 2019, Lyft’s revenue came in at $1.017 billion, a gain of 52% compared to its year-ago result of $669.5 million. Sticking to the growth side of things, the company’s “active rider” count rose from 18.59 million to 22.91 million from Q4 2018 to Q4 2019, a gain of 23%. Lyft’s active riders also spent 23% more year-over-year, reaching $44.40 in the final quarter of last year.

Turning to losses, Lyft’s net loss (a metric that includes all costs) was $356.0 million in the quarter, a sharply worse result than its $248.9 million net loss in Q4 2018. The company’s adjusted net loss, however, was $121.4 million, an improvement from its year-ago $238.5 million adjusted net loss.

Turning to adjusted EBITDA, a heavily adjusted profit metric, Lyft lost $130.7 million in Q4 2019, an improvement on its Q4 2018 adjusted EBITDA loss of $251.1 million.

Investors had expected Lyft to report just $985.8 million in revenue and an adjusted EBITDA loss of $163.2 million. The street had also anticipated 100,000 fewer active riders and slightly slimmer revenue per active rider. So, Lyft beat expectations regarding growth, user count and health and for adjusted losses.

And yet Lyft’s shares are off over 4% in after-hours trading. While Lyft’s stock has recovered from lows set in October, 2019, the company’s equity is now more than $20 down from its IPO price, taking into account its post-earnings movement.

Why Lyft’s stock should fall after beating expectations and not changing its profit forecast might appear a bit confusing. It’s not.

Damn you, Uber

SpaceX hires ex-NASA human spaceflight expert and shows off Crew Dragon set to carry astronauts

Posted: 11 Feb 2020 03:57 PM PST

SpaceX is gearing up for its historic first human spaceflight, with a crewed demonstration mission of its Crew Dragon spacecraft tentatively set for May 7 (though that date is flexible right now). The company on Tuesday showed a clip of the completed Crew Dragon spacecraft that will carry astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley undergoing testing, and CNBC revealed that it had hired former NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations William Gerstenmaier.

Gerstenmaier served NASA for 14 years in that capacity, and was with the agency for forty years working on the Space Shuttle program as well as the International Space Station. It’s likely there are few other individuals in the world, if any, who have as much experience as he does with flying people in space, which makes him a very clutch hire for SpaceX as it readies itself for the operational kick-off of its human spaceflight program.

After the Demo-2 mission later this year, which will be the first to carry astronauts, the next step is for SpaceX to become a regular provider of crew transportation for NASA, ferrying people to and from the Space Station for regular crew change operations. NASA currently relies on transportation aboard Russian Soyuz rockets operated by Roscosmos to get personnel to and from the orbital lab, an arrangement that’s been in place since the Space Shuttle program ended in 2011.

Meanwhile, SpaceX also shared a short video clip of the Crew Dragon spacecraft that will carry Behnken and Hurley to the ISS sometime later this year. The capsule is in a specialized testing chamber, undergoing electromagnetic interference testing, a key part of its verification process before being fully certified for flight. Earlier this week, Ars Technica reported that nearly everything was ready in terms of preparation for the Demo-2 mission, and that it should take place sometime between April and June, with May 7 as the current working date.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip hands-on: This is more like it

Posted: 11 Feb 2020 03:11 PM PST

The buyer beware adage is never more true than among early adopters. It was price, however, that made the Galaxy Fold such a difficult pill to swallow. When it was finally released to the public after numerous delays, the device came swaddled in warnings. It was a long list, and not exactly a vote of confidence for those who just dropped $2,000 on an unproven device.

At the same time, the impulse to purchase the device was understandable. After years of teasing flexible displays, Samsung was finally ready to show us what life could be like after a decade worth of flat smartphones.

Announced almost exactly a year after the Fold, the Galaxy Z Flip presents a refined look at the category. Having only spent a little time with the product this afternoon after the unveiling, I'm not quite ready to declare that this is the phone the Fold should have been, but it certainly feels like a key step in the right direction.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip

Top level, here's what's better:

  • The price (if only just)
  • The form factor
  • The durability

Last point first. In some ways, the Z Flip finds Samsung atoning for its sins. The display is, get this, covered in glass. The company is vague about the specifics, but everything about the Flip feels more solid than its predecessor, right down to the folding mechanism. It's sturdy — in fact, you can have the device open at a number of different angles to prop it up. Closing it requires more force than the Fold, and that's a good thing.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip

Also, it doesn't, you know, creak when you close it. There is, however, still a pronounced crease.

The 6.7-inch display puts its toward the larger end of the spectrum among smartphones, but it fits extremely comfortably in the pocket when closed. If you've ever used a clamshell phone before (which is to say if you're over the age of 30), you get the appeal on that front. The Fold's long form factor was still pretty large when closed.

What you lose here, however, is a fair amount of functionality when closed. The Flip's screen is small and not super-duper useful, but it's there when needed. Instead of a full display, the Flip features a little window in the bottom corner. This is almost exclusively good for things like time and battery life. You can swim through to other things, but beyond that, it's a stretch.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip

Double-tap the fingerprint sensing power button and it will turn into a display for selfies. It's a bad selfie screen. It gives you an idea of whether you're framing the image well, but that's where the usefulness stops.

At $1,380, it's priced slightly below the $1,499 Razr. If I was Motorola right now, I would be talking price cuts to stay competitive. The Razr nostalgia will only get you so far, and Samsung's full generation lead here is showing itself in the form of a more robust device.

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Part of the (again relative) price drop is — not exactly corner cutting, but definitely a downgrade from the crazy high-end specs on the Galaxy S20 Ultra. Most notable is the complete lack of 5G option, which is an odd choice for what's designed to be a forward-thinking device from a company that has otherwise gone all in on 5G with its flagships. More than anything, you get the sense that Samsung was trying to differentiate the product from the Fold with a lower price.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip

I'm still a long ways away from actually recommending the purchase of a foldable for the vast majority of consumers, but the Flip feels like a strong step toward helping mainstream the form factor. Who knows? A generation or two from now, maybe we'll get there.

No delays this time out. The Flip goes on sale February 14. Happy flippin' Valentine's Day.

Hyundai taps EV startup Canoo to develop electric vehicles

Posted: 11 Feb 2020 02:49 PM PST

Hyundai Motor Group said it will jointly develop an electric vehicle platform with Los Angeles-based startup Canoo, the latest startup tapped by the automaker as part of an $87 billion push to invest in electrification and other future technologies.

The electric vehicle platform will be based on Canoo’s proprietary skateboard design, according to the agreement that was announced Tuesday. The platform will be used for future Hyundai and Kia electric vehicles as well as the automaker group’s so-called “purpose built vehicles.” The PBV, which Hyundai showcased last month at CES 2020, is a pod-like vehicle that the company says can be used for various functions in transit, such as a restaurant or clinic. The concept is similar to Toyota’s e-Palette vehicle, which can theoretically be customized to serve as a retail shop, restaurant or shuttle for people.

The partnership with Canoo is the latest example of Hyundai Motor ramping up efforts and investments into electrification, autonomous technology and other futuristic mobility trends, including flying cars. Earlier this month, Hyundai said it would invest $110 million in U.K. startup Arrival and jointly develop electric commercial vehicles.

Hyundai Motor Group has committed to invest $87 billion over the next five years. Of this total group commitment, Hyundai will invest $52 billion into “future technologies” and Kia will put $25 billion toward electrification and future mobility technologies. The company says its goal is for “eco-friendly vehicles” to comprise 25% of its total sales by 2025.

Canoo said it will provide engineering services to develop the electric platform.

Canoo_Engineering Skateboard

Canoo started as Evelozcity in 2017, founded by former Faraday Future executives Stefan Krause and Ulrich Kranz. The company rebranded as Canoo in spring 2019 and debuted its first vehicle last September. The first Canoo vehicles are expected to appear on the road by 2021 and will be offered only as a subscription. Canoo recently opened the waitlist for its first vehicle.

The heart of Canoo’s first vehicle, which looks more like a microbus than a traditional electric SUV, is the "skateboard" architecture that houses the batteries and the electric drivetrain in a chassis underneath the vehicle's cabin. It’s this Canoo architecture in which Hyundai Motor Group is interested.

Hyundai Motor Group is counting on this underlying architecture to help the company reduce the cost and complexity of production and allow for it to respond quickly to changing market demands and customer preferences.

“We were highly impressed by the speed and efficiency in which Canoo developed their innovative EV architecture, making them the perfect engineering partner for us as we transition to become a frontrunner in the future mobility industry,” Albert Biermann, head of R&D at Hyundai Motor Group, said in a statement. “We will collaborate with Canoo engineers to develop a cost-effective Hyundai platform concept that is autonomous ready and suitable for mass adoption.”

Show off your startup at TC Sessions: Mobility 2020

Posted: 11 Feb 2020 01:00 PM PST

Remember when "mobility" meant laptops and cell phones? Those were quaint times. Now the category encompasses the future of transportation — everything from flying cars and autonomous vehicles to delivery bots and beyond. There's no better place to explore this rapidly moving industry than TC Sessions: Mobility 2020, our day-long conference in San Jose on May 14.

And there's no better place to showcase your early-stage mobility startup. Consider this: more than 1,000 of mobility's brightest technologists, engineers, founders and investors will be on hand to explore the future of this rapidly evolving technology. So why not buy an Early-Stage Startup Exhibitor Package and plant your business squarely in the path of this group of enthusiastic influencers?

Your exhibitor package includes a 30-inch high-boy table, power, linen, signage — and four tickets to the event. You and your team can strut your startup stuff, take advantage of hyper-focused networking and still enjoy the event's presentations and workshops.

We're building our agenda, and we just started announcing speakers on a rolling basis. If you know someone who should be onstage at this event? Hit us up and nominate a speaker here.

We already told you that Waymo's Boris Sofman and Ike Robotics' Nancy Sun will join us. And we're thrilled that Reilly Brennan, founding general partner of Trucks VC, a seed-stage venture capital fund for entrepreneurs, will also grace our stage. Brennan's many investments include May Mobility, Nauto, nuTonomy, Joby Aviation, Skip and Roadster.

Will your startup be his next investment? Stranger things have happened.

TC Sessions: Mobility 2020 takes place on May 14 in San Jose, Calif. Spend a full day of exploring the art and science of mobility, and don't miss your chance to introduce your startup to influential movers and shakers. These are heady times in the mobility industry, and it's moving faster than the race to market a viable flying car. Buy an Early-Stage Startup Exhibitor Package, and you might just transport your business to a whole new level.

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at TC Sessions: Mobility 2020? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

Here’s everything Samsung just announced at Unpacked 2020

Posted: 11 Feb 2020 12:23 PM PST

At least once a year, Samsung pulls hundreds of reporters, analysts and industry folk into one big room for an event it calls “Samsung Unpacked,” where the company shows off all of their latest flagship devices. The first Unpacked of 2020 was held this morning in San Francisco — and from $1,400 folding smartphones to handsets with cameras packing 100x zoom, it was a doozy.

Don’t have time to watch the one-hour live stream yourself or read through a bunch of different articles to catch up? Here’s the most important bits:

Galaxy Z Flip

And there it is! After a handful of leaks — and an entire friggin’ commercial that aired during the Oscars over the weekend — Samsung’s flip phone-style folding smartphone is officially official. Called the Galaxy Z Flip, it should start shipping by February 14th for the somewhat eye-popping base price of $1,380.

Unfolded, the screen comes in at 6.7 inches. Folded, a small exterior display allows for some lightweight functionality— things like notifications, battery life indicators and quick selfies. There’s also a sort of halfway unfolded, laptop-style mode (pictured above) that Samsung calls “Flex mode,” which they pitch as being particularly good for hands-free video calls.

Samsung’s earlier prototypes of a folding phone saw issues with dust and debris getting into the hinge and damaging the screen from behind; Samsung says it addressed this with a layer of fibers inside the hinge meant to keep stuff out.

 

Galaxy S20

2018 brought the Galaxy S9. 2019 brought the Galaxy S10. In 2020, Samsung is skipping a few numbers, rocketing the naming scheme right up to Galaxy S20.

It’ll come in three variants: the S20, S20+ and S20 Ultra — starting at $999, $1,199 and $1,399, respectively. Three phones, three display sizes: S20 comes in at 6.2″, S20+ at 6.7″ and S20 Ultra at 6.9″. All three displays run at 120hz, though you’ll have to drop the native Quad HD+ resolution down to 1080p for that. All three models support 5G.

Like many smartphones launched recently, Samsung’s main focus here is the camera — and the specs here, at least on paper, are pretty mind-blowing.

The S20 has three cameras, the beefiest of which is a 64-megapixel telephoto lens. The S20+ and S20 Ultra bump it up to four cameras with the introduction of a depth sensor, and the S20 Ultra alone packs a rather wild 108-megapixel sensor on the wide angle lens. The camera specs vary quite a bit from model to model and it can all get pretty confusing, so here’s Samsung’s spec sheet breakdown for reference:

The S20 and S20+ will support up to 30x “Space” (digital) zoom; the S20 Ultra bumps it up to 100x. All three phones will also shoot 8K video. A feature Samsung calls “Single Take” allows you to take one short video and get multiple options to choose from in return — boomerangs, looping clips, AI-enhanced photos, etc.

As a fun surprise, Samsung revealed midway through Unpacked that the live stream itself was being shot and streamed from S20s:

Samsung says pre-orders should start by February 21st, with the devices hitting shelves on March 6th.

Galaxy Buds+

Samsung Galaxy Buds

Samsung’s answer to Apple’s AirPods are getting an upgrade. While the Galaxy Buds+ look pretty much identical to the original Buds, the (already quite solid) sound quality should be improved across the board; they’re shifting from a single driver system to a dual driver system, and bumping the number of microphones up from two to three.

Samsung says that the Buds+ should be able to run for up to 11 hours on a full charge, with the companion charging case providing another 11 hours of charge in a pinch. If you’ve got a compatible Galaxy phone, meanwhile, it’ll be able to charge the Buds+ wirelessly through the “PowerShare” feature the company debuted last year; hold the Buds+ case against the phone for just 3-4 minutes, says Samsung, and it’ll give them a full hour of juice.

The Buds+ are expected to ship on February 14th for $149.

Siri will now answer your election questions

Posted: 11 Feb 2020 11:08 AM PST

Apple’s built-in voice assistant won’t help you figure out who to vote for, but it will be able to update you on different races around the U.S. during election season, as well as deliver live results as votes are counted. The new feature, announced today, is part of Apple News’ 2020 election coverage, which also includes a series of curated news, resources and data from a variety of sources, with the goal of serving users on both sides of the political spectrum.

With the added Siri integration, you’ll be able to ask the assistant both informational queries, plus those requiring real-time information.

For example, you may ask Siri something like “When are the California primaries?,” which is a more straightforward question, or “Who’s winning the New Hampshire primaries?,” which requires updated information.

Siri will speak the answers to the question in addition to presenting the information visually, which makes the feature useful from an accessibility standpoint, too.

The live results are being delivered via the Associated Press, Apple says. The company is also leveraging the AP’s real-time results in its Apple News app in order to give county-by-county results and a national map tracking candidate wins by each state primary, among other things.

As it has done in previous years, Apple’s news editorial team has added special coverage of the U.S. election to its app, by working with news partners. This year, Apple’s coverage comes from news organizations inducing ABC News, CBS News, CNN, FiveThirtyEight, Fox News, NBC News, ProPublica, Reuters, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, TIME, USA Today and others.

In Apple News, readers are able to learn about candidates and their positions, track major election moments — like the debates, conventions and Super Tuesday — and stay on top of election news and analysis all the way through election night in the U.S. and the subsequent presidential inauguration. A partnership with ABC News announced in December will also bring video coverage, including real-time streams, into the app.

The Siri feature draws on Apple News for its answers and offers a link to “Full Coverage” in the Apple News app, if you want to learn more.

The feature appears to still be rolling out. In tests, Siri was able to answer some questions but defaulted to web results for others, as before. A staggered rollout is standard for Apple launches, however, as new features take time to reach all users.

Samsung gives foldables another go with the Galaxy Z Flip

Posted: 11 Feb 2020 11:01 AM PST

Samsung did a surprisingly good job keeping the Galaxy Fold under wraps, surprising the world with its first foldable this time last year during the Galaxy S10 unveil. When it came to the Galaxy Z Flip, on the other hand, the company just went ahead and showed the whole thing off during an Oscar ad buy. (Not to mention numerous Samsung employees playing around with the handsets in their seats this morning, ahead of unveil). Crazy world, these mobile phones.

Of course, that’s not to say we haven’t known about the Flip for a while now. Samsung teased out the Moto Razr-style form factor before it even officially announced the Fold. Samsung wanted to make it perfectly clear that the foldable wasn’t just a one-and-done situation for the company.

The company kicked off today’s Unpacked event by unveiling the new foldable, which it claims is “like nothing you’ve ever seen before.” Which, well, isn’t exactly true.

Certainly the Z Flip form factor seems a more logical one, harkening back to pre-smartphone days of clamshell devices. Of course, the Razr has been running into its own issues after its recent release. Between that and — even more notable — the Fold’s myriad problems, the Z Flip will no doubt be under as much scrutiny as any handset in recent memory.

When opened, the screen is 6.7 inches, with a hole-punch camera up top. When closed, there isn’t much of a display, beyond a quick bar that offers time, notifications and battery life. Users can also snap selfies with the case closed. The clam shell comes in three colors: black, purple and gold.

One assumes that Samsung learned plenty of lessons from the original Fold, after having to go back to the drawing board when multiple reviewers wound up with broken units.
Samsung claims the device can handle 200,000 flips, courtesy of foldable glass — which should give it some extra durability. In an off-handed reference to earlier issues, the company noted that the hinge is designed to keep debris out, one of the major downfalls of the first-gen Fold, which allowed dust and particles behind the screen, damaging it when users pressed down. The new phone has a kind of brush system inside to keep stuff out.

Obviously we can’t quite speak to durability just yet (though I, for one, am excited to get my hands on the thing), but at $1,380, it’s priced — well, it’s less expensive than the $2,000 Galaxy Fold, at least. That puts it more in line with the new Razr, not to mention, Samsung’s just now introduced Galaxy S20 Ultra.

The Flip will be available on Valentine’s Day.

A Thom Browne Edition, meanwhile, will bring the iconic designer's touch to the device, which will be highlighted in more detail at a special event tomorrow in New York as part of Fashion Week. 

Samsung skips nine numbers, announces the Galaxy S20

Posted: 11 Feb 2020 11:00 AM PST

The world will likely never see the Galaxy S11. Or the Galaxies S12-S19, for that matter. At an event this morning in San Francisco, Samsung announced that it was skipping a decade's worth of handsets and going straight to the Galaxy S20.

The new flagship debuted onstage today, in three flavors: the S20, S20+ and S20 Ultra, a sign of the company's ever-shifting approach to the market. Samsung clearly has no plan to back away from the premium market, even as smartphone sales flag. With starting prices of $999, $1,199 and $1,399, respectively, the company's making a big bet that consumers are still willing to pay top dollar for premium specs.

Paying top dollar means, among other things, 5G for all-comers. All three devices will be 5G-enabled, a year after Samsung introduced its first device with the next-gen technology. It’s 2020, and Samsung is all-in on 5G — on its flagships, at least. The S10/Note 10 and their Lite versions are continuing to stick around at a lower price, maintaining a broad range of devices currently on the market for the company. 

Samsung Galaxy S20

Another big new feature here is the addition of a 120hz refresh rate and improved touch response. In all cases, you've got a hole punch "Infinity O" camera up top. Once again, however, the biggest news is coming on the imaging side. The company's using the phrase "pro grade" to describe the camera across the board.

All three models feature pretty massive camera modules, but the Ultra's is next-level. Both the S20+ and Ultra feature the prominent Space Zoom camera (with a three-camera system, to the S20’s two). On the Ultra, the 48-megapixel folded lens is a hybrid of optical and digital zoom that offers a combined 100x. There's some degradation of the image, naturally, but it's still pretty impressive what the handset is capable of. This could be a game changer for amateur smartphone photographers.

Other camera improvements include 8K video recording at 24FPS, implode super-steady zoom and the addition of night time hyper-lapse shooting. On the camera software side, there's the new Single Take mode, which saves a whole bunch of versions of a shot, including live focus and wide angle — basically all of the different shots at once, so you can go in and choose the best. The combined photos take up between 50 and 70MB a piece and you have to go in and manually delete the ones you don't want, so probably don't use that for every shot.

Samsung Galaxy S20

Nona binning is another one of the Ultra's special photography surprises. Like the ridiculous Space Zoom, the technology could prove a game changer for amateur photographers looking to step up their game. The technology (which slipped out recently as a patent filing) reduces the mostly excessive 108-megapixel sensor down to 12 megapixels, utilizing the tremendous amount of light the sensor lets in.

Bixby is still hanging around. The smart assistant is still present as one of the side buttons, though, as with the recent Note, it's easily mapped to different technologies. The tech did, however, make an appearance courtesy of a partnership with Spotify, which brings the popular music streaming platform for Bixby Routines. That essentially means that playlists are integrated into different modes, like wake-up and working out.

More interesting on the music side is a clever little feature called Music Share. With it, users with compatible Galaxy devices can piggyback on your Bluetooth connection and play songs on a connected stereo. The idea is to create a kind of collaborative playlist. The applications are admittedly extremely limited (especially when coupled with limited device compatibility), but it's fun nonetheless.

Samsung Galaxy S20

There's another surprise partnership in the form of Google. The software giant's video chat platform is being baked directly into Samsung's UI with an icon available in the dialer, so users can choose between a voice or video display — similar to Apple's longtime FaceTime integration, albeit through a third-party here. The S20 is also the first device that can deliver a chat in full HD — though that will require a good 5G connection on both sides, so it's safe to say it's going to be…limited at launch.

One more big partnership to mention here is Microsoft. The company will be launching Forza Street in the Galaxy Store — its first appearance on Mobile. That arrives at some point in the spring.

Samsung Galaxy S20

As for internals, the S20 sports a healthy 4,000 mAh battery, which the S20+ and Ultra bump up to 4,500 mAh and 5,000 mAh, respectively. The systems will sport the latest Qualcomm 865 here in the system, along with healthy starting specs of 12GB of RAM and 128GB of storage.

Pre-order for the new flagships opens February 21, with wide availability on March 6. Rather than the more traditional bundles of things like earbuds or charging pads, Samsung is tossing in credits for pre-orders. Those who pick up the S20, S20+ or S20 Ultra will get a $100, $150 or $200 credit, respectively, redeemable for Samsung software or services.

Samsung’s very good Galaxy Buds get much better battery life

Posted: 11 Feb 2020 11:00 AM PST

Samsung's Galaxy Buds have been one of the low-key success stories of the current Bluetooth earbud revolution. They don't have the flash of an AirPod, but they get the mix of form and function just right. Fittingly, their successors just got a quick unveil alongside Samsung's latest handsets.

As the name implies, Galaxy Buds+ aren't a full-on replacement for the earbuds — they're more like an enhancement. The fully wireless earbuds look a lot like the originals — which is totally fine. The biggest difference, however, is an important one. Whereas the original buds (the O.B.s) sported 13 hours of battery life, the new versions offer nearly a full straight day (11 hours in the buds, 11 in the case).

That should get you through even the longest flight.

The sound quality gets a solid boost, as well, moving from a single dynamic driver to a dual system, coupled with three mics to help cancel out noise during calls. There's no active noise cancellation on board, however, which means the buds aren't really positioned to compete with the likes of AirPods Pro or Sony's latest fancy headphones. But, then, they're also priced significantly less.

At $149, they're $20 more than the standard Galaxy Buds. Probably a small price to pay, given the upgrades here. I wouldn't be entirely surprised to see Samsung deliver something more competitive on the Pro side, when the Galaxy Note rolls out later this year, but that's pure speculation.

Meantime, the Galaxy Buds+ look to be one of the best deals in the space.

Samsung’s flagships get a new level of premium, starting at $1,400

Posted: 11 Feb 2020 11:00 AM PST

Flagship prices that routinely top out well above $1,000 are among the chief factors in slowing smartphone adoption. Certainly Samsung has done something to address the phenomenon, both with a number of mid-tier products and the recent introduction of Lite versions of the Galaxy S10 and Note 10.

At the other end of the spectrum is the brand new Galaxy S20 Ultra. Having already broken the seal on a $2,000 handset with last year's Galaxy Fold, the company just announced the somewhat more reasonable $1,400 Ultra. The most premium of the thee-tier devices sports a massive 6.9-inch display to the others’ 6.7 (S20+) and 6.2 (S20).

The camera is the other place the Ultra really sets itself apart from the others. All devices feature enhanced "Space Zoom," but the premium product bumps the 30x up to a massive 100x, through a hybrid of optical and digital zoom, with a folded lens beneath the large camera bump on the rear.

Like the S20+, there's a four-camera system on the rear (the standard S20 just has three). There are some differences in sensors in the group, including, most notably, the S20+ wide angle, which is bumped up to a massive 108 megapixels.

The Ultra is also the first device to include nona binning, which knocks the normally excessive 108-megapixel camera down to 12 megapixels, while retaining the large amounts of light let in by the sensors for improved photos.

Also of note is the downright giant battery. The Ultra's is 5,000 mAh to the the S20+'s 4,500 mAh.

Meet 5 cybersecurity unicorns that could IPO in 2020

Posted: 11 Feb 2020 10:50 AM PST

There was a lot of moving and shaking in the cybersecurity unicorn world in 2019.

It was a year that saw two of the biggest exits in cybersecurity history: CrowdStrike went public valued at $3.35 billion and Cloudflare rocketed 20% in its first day on the stock market.

Clearly, the cybersecurity market is booming. Recent data suggests that cybersecurity investing could reach $250 billion by 2023, and spending rose in 2019 more than any other industry. If that pace keeps up, there’s little to suggest that the cybersecurity “bubble” will burst any time soon.

A number of cybersecurity companies are firmly in the club of private companies worth $1 billion or more. These unicorns represent some of the best talent, technologies and offerings in cybersecurity, but the club is getting crowded. Now that CrowdStrike and Cloudflare have graduated to the public market, there are a number of cybersecurity companies that could make the leap.

Tanium

Sprint/T-Mobile merger gets federal judge approval

Posted: 11 Feb 2020 10:36 AM PST

The U.S. mobile landscape is on track to look a whole lot different. A hotly contested $26 billion deal between T-Mobile and Sprint just got the go ahead from a U.S. district court judge. The merger would combine the country's third and fourth largest mobile carriers, effectively reducing the number of key carriers from four down to three.

Critics of the deal, including attorneys general from more than one dozen states, have expressed concern that such a deal would diminish competition in the market. T-Mobile and Sprint, on the other hand, have argued that such a deal would actually make the market more competitive and give a combined company a better chance of battling with (TechCrunch parent company) Verizon and AT&T on the 5G front.

U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero, it seems, sided with the latter. He lauded T-Mobile's business practices in a statement. "T-Mobile has redefined itself over the past decade as a maverick that has spurred the two largest players in its industry to make numerous pro-consumer changes," Judge Marrero wrote.

The deal has already cleared a number of key hurdles, including Justice Department approval. Involved states, however, are considering an appeal. “From the start, this merger has been about massive corporate profits over all else, and despite the companies’ false claims, this deal will endanger wireless subscribers where it hurts most: their wallets," NY Attorney General Attorney Letitia James said in a statement.

The engineers behind Google’s Bookbot have launched a delivery robot startup

Posted: 11 Feb 2020 09:59 AM PST

The engineers behind Google’s short-lived Bookbot — a robot created within the company’s Area 120 incubator for experimental products — have launched their own startup to bring the sidewalk delivery bot back to life.

The secretive startup called Cartken was formed in fall 2019 after Google shuttered an internal program to develop a delivery robot — a move that was prompted by the tech giant’s decision to scale back efforts to compete with Amazon in shopping.

Unlike Amazon, which acquired robot maker Dispatch to help build its Scout delivery device, Google harnessed the talent of its own engineers and logistics experts to develop a sidewalk robot within the walls of Google’s Area 120 incubator. But the project faltered after just a few months, as Google pulled back from retail delivery.

Cartken was founded by engineers of the Bookbot program as well as a logistics expert who was once in charge of operations at Google Express, the service integrated last year into Google Shopping.

Area 120 is a low-key version of Google’s famous X moonshot factory, a place where small teams rapidly build new products in which they have a personal interest. Since 2016, Area 120 has produced around a dozen apps and services, including a crowdsourced transit app, an educational video platform, a virtual customer service agent for small businesses and an emoji-based guessing game.

Bookbot stood out as Area 120’s first publicly announced hardware project. The Google project incubator formed a group in early 2018 to explore autonomous robots. Around the same time, the city of Mountain View decided to allow pilot programs for personal delivery devices (PDDs).

Discussions between Area 120 and Mountain View began in the summer of 2018, and by late February 2019, the Bookbot began operating one day a week for the city’s library system.

Apart from its book-collecting duties, the electric six-wheeled device worked in a similar way to the delivery robots made by Amazon, Starship Technologies and Marble. The 32-inch tall Bookbot, which is pictured below, was equipped with a suite of sensors for autonomous operation and could be remote-controlled by a human operator if needed. The robot was designed to carry up to 50 pounds of cargo, and traveled on sidewalks at a maximum speed of 4.5 miles per hour.

Bookbot image from website

The Google Bookbot (photo from Google)

Users could request a pick-up of books via the library’s website. The Bookbot would then navigate to their home and text them when it had arrived. Once the user had deposited the books in the cargo compartment, the robot would return to the library, where workers would check in the materials.

Google team leader Christian Bersch told SilconValley.com at the time that the pilot project would last nine months. “Right now, we just want to learn how this would work, how it operates and what kinds of problems we’d run into,” he said.

On its first run on city sidewalks, “people thought it was super cool, and were breaking out their cameras,” Tracy Gray, Mountain View’s Library Services Director told TechCrunch. “There were no accidents, no technical issues and no vandalism.”

The biggest problem wasn’t interest or operations. It was Google.

The Bookbot fell far short of its nine-month pilot. The project quietly ended in June, after less than four months. The Bookbot was actually operational in Mountain View for only 12 days, not including two days missed for rain. It covered a total of 60 miles, and served just 36 users, Gray said.

Gray does not know why Area 120 canceled the Bookbot. “It was definitely a benefit for library customers and a great project all around, but I believe Google’s Area 120 went in another direction,” she said.
Area 120 has never explained why it canceled Bookbot. Google didn’t comment for this article.

However, Bookbot’s demise coincided with a strategic shift within Google. In May, just a month before Bookbot ended, Google merged its online shopping service Google Express into Google Shopping, essentially conceding that it could not compete with the retail giants of Amazon and Walmart. As its retail efforts faded, Google spun out its Project Wing drone delivery technology and suspended the Bookbot’s development.

That wasn’t the end of the little robot. Bersch left Google in July, along with Jake Stelman, the co-founder of Area 120’s autonomous robotics group, according to LinkedIn profile data. In October, the engineers incorporated Cartken Inc., along with Ryan Quinlan, an operations manager who had worked at both Amazon and Google Express, and another software engineer from the Bookbot team.

Cartken is still very much in stealth mode, and declined to comment on this story, as did Google. However, a Korean trade delegation to Silicon Valley in October was told the company had “developed a delivery robot that combines unmanned autonomous vehicles and artificial intelligence.”

Cartken’s website says that it will offer “low-cost delivery through automation,” with an earlier version specifying “low-cost last-mile delivery.” A semi-obscured product image appears to show a matte black variant of the Bookbot with wheels, lid and head- and tail lights.

Neither Google nor Cartken would say whether the startup uses any technologies developed at Area 120, nor whether Google was funding the young company.

Google has a tradition of spawning autonomous vehicle companies. The head of its self-driving car project, Chris Urmson, went on to form Aurora, now valued at more than $2.5 billion, while two other Google engineers formed Nuro, which unveiled a road-legal delivery robot last week. But the process of driving away from Google hasn’t always gone as smoothly.

In 2016, a group of engineers led by Anthony Levandowski left Google’s self-driving car program to form their own autonomous logistics company, Otto, that was quickly acquired by Uber. That led to an epic trade secrets battle that Levandowski is still fighting.

Daily Crunch: SiriusXM backs SoundCloud

Posted: 11 Feb 2020 09:55 AM PST

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. Music streaming pioneer SoundCloud raises $75M from Pandora owner SiriusXM

The deal with SiriusXM is a positive development for SoundCloud and could represent a reversal of fortunes for the business. At one point, it was close to running out of money when it restructured and laid people off, with one founder, Alex Ljung, stepping down as CEO as SoundCloud raised emergency funding (he is still chairman), and the other co-founder Eric Wahlforss leaving last year.

SiriusXM describes this deal as a minority investment that’s partly related to the ad partnership that the companies have, in which Pandora resells SoundCloud's inventory on its programmatic platform.

2. Judge rejects Uber and Postmates' request for an injunction against California's gig worker law

Assembly Bill 5 went into effect at the beginning of the year and limits how companies can label workers as independent contractors. While meant to protect contractors, the legislation has been criticized by some freelancers who say it restricts their work opportunities and ability to earn money, as well as tech companies whose business models rely on gig workers.

3. A list of MWC coronavirus cancellations so far

A growing number of companies have announced they are pulling out of attending of the world’s largest mobile trade show. Others, such as Telenor, TCL and ZTE, have cancelled press events or said they will scale back their presence, though they’re still planning to attend.

4. Justice Dept. charges four Chinese military hackers over the Equifax data breach

U.S. prosecutors have charged four Chinese military hackers over the 2017 cyberattack at Equifax, which resulted in a data breach involving more than 147 million credit reports. The nine-charge indictment was announced Monday against Wu Zhiyong, Wang Qian, Xu Ke and Liu Lei.

5. Streaming accounts for nearly one-fifth of total US TV watching, according to Nielsen

The firm reports that among U.S. homes that are capable of over-the-top streaming, 19% of their TV time was spent on streaming during fourth quarter of 2019. Within that streaming time, Netflix accounted for 31%, compared to 21% for YouTube, 12% for Hulu, 8% for Amazon and 28% for other services.

6. 4 factors to consider before entering international markets

Deltapath CEO David Liu says that each time his team expands to a new market, they consider four primary factors before launching. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

7. Google backs productivity startup building algorithmic inbox for Slacks, emails and texts

The oddly named ’nuffsaid is releasing its first oddly named product, 'nflow, into early access, bringing multiple collaboration platforms and a calendar into a single inbox.

Mastercard given approval to prepare for entry into China’s payments market

Posted: 11 Feb 2020 09:52 AM PST

After years of unsuccessful attempts to enter China’s massive $27 trillion payments market, Mastercard announced today it has won approval from the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) to begin formal preparation to set up a bank card clearing institution in China. The news is a significant step toward Mastercard being able to do business in China, where large, domestic players currently dominate.

Last year, Mastercard set up a joint venture with NetsUnion Clearing Corp., a clearing house for online payments whose stakeholders included the PBOC, The Wall Street Journal reported. Mastercard together with NetsUnion then refiled its application as a joint venture called Mastercard NUCC Information Technology (Beijing) Co., Ltd. That application has now been approved, allowing preparatory work to begin.

According to regulations, the JV has to complete its preparation work within a year’s time for formal approval to begin domestic bank card clearing activity, the bank said.

“We are delighted and encouraged by this latest decision from the PBOC,” said Mastercard president and CEO Ajay Banga, in a statement. “China is a vital market for us and we have reiterated our unwavering commitment to helping drive a safer, more inclusive and seamless payments ecosystem for Chinese consumers and businesses. We remain focused on working with the Chinese government and local partners to grow the overall payments infrastructure,” he added.

Mastercard is not the first U.S. credit card company to get the green light to begin building out a payments network in China. Instead, American Express was first to receive preliminary approval back in 2018 to clear credit card payments in China. In January, the People’s Bank of China then accepted Amex’s application to clear and settle payments domestically by way of its JV with Amex’s Chinese partner LianLian Group.

PayPal also last fall announced its intentions to enter China through the acquisition of a 70% equity stake in GoPay, making it the first foreign payments platform to provide online payments service in China.

The approvals are a part of the U.S.-China trade deal, which required Beijing to accept and review payments firms’ applications in a timely manner, which hadn’t happened before. Specifically, applications from firms wanting to become bank card clearing houses in China must be accepted within five business days and responded to within 90 days of acceptance. And when the prep work is complete, China has to accept its license application within a month.

Assuming final approval is given to U.S. firms entering China, they’ll still have to compete with large, established players. China had 8.2 billion bank cards in circulation by the end of September, 90% of them debit cards, Bloomberg notes.

But traditional bank cards aren’t the only rival in a market where consumers are accustomed to paying by their phone, as with WeChat Pay. According to a report from Frost & Sullivan, mobile payments in China are expected to grow 21.8% from 2017 to $96.73 trillion by 2023, and the total number of active mobile payment customers is expected to reach 956 million by 2023, up from 562 million in 2017.

In other words, there’s no guarantee that Mastercard, Amex, Visa or other foreign firms will see success in China in the years ahead, if and when their entry is officially granted.

The statement released by the PBOC notes its approval is “an important part of the opening up of China’s financial industry,” but didn’t reference the trade deal directly.

Good news for enterprise startups: SaaS helped kill the single-vendor stack

Posted: 11 Feb 2020 09:21 AM PST

In the old days of enterprise software, when companies like IBM, Oracle and Microsoft ruled the roost, there was a tendency to shop from a single vendor. You bought the whole stack, which made life easier for IT — even if it didn’t always work out so well for end users, who were stuck using software that was designed with administrators in mind.

Once Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) came along, IT no longer had complete control over software choices. The companies that dominated the market began to stumble — although Microsoft later found its way — and a new generation of SaaS vendors developed.

As that happened, users saw a way to pick and choose software that worked best for them, as they were no longer bound to clunky enterprise software; they wanted tools at work that worked as well as the ones they used in the consumer space at home.

Through freemium models and low-cost subscriptions, individual employees and teams started selecting their own tools, and a new way of buying software began to take hold. Instead of buying software from a single shop, consumers could buy the best tool for the job. This in turn, led to wider adoption, as these small groups of users led the way to more lucrative enterprise deals.

The philosophical change has worked well for enterprise startups. The new world means a well-executed idea can beat an incumbent with a similar product. Just ask companies like Slack, Zoom and Box, which have shown what’s possible when you put users first.

FTC to examine every acquisition by Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft in 2010-2019 over antitrust issues

Posted: 11 Feb 2020 09:09 AM PST

Companies like Apple, Amazon and Google do not always disclose every acquisition they make, especially when the companies in question are little fish in the big tech pond. But in aggregate, all that M&A could pose bigger questions about how they are using their financial power and market influence in anticompetitive ways.

That idea is the subject of the latest announcement from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, which today issued Special Orders to five big tech firms — Alphabet (including Google), Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft — “requiring them to provide information about prior acquisitions not reported to the antitrust agencies under the Hart-Scott-Rodino (HSR) Act.”

The five companies will need to come clean and report on every deal they have made — whether or not the media has spilled the beans on the acquisition or not — including the terms (that is, price and other financial details), scope, structure and purpose of each transaction made between January 1, 2010 and December 31, 2019.

“The orders will help the FTC deepen its understanding of large technology firms' acquisition activity, including how these firms report their transactions to the federal antitrust agencies, and whether large tech companies are making potentially anticompetitive acquisitions of nascent or potential competitors that fall below HSR filing thresholds and therefore do not need to be reported to the antitrust agencies,” the FTC said in a notice on the investigation.

The FTC has not ruled out whether it would retroactively do anything around any of those past acquisitions.

“It’s conceivable we could go back,” and level enforcement actions “to deal with transactions,” said FTC Chairman Joe Simons in a press call today.

But it also seems to be educating themselves. In a further statement, the FTC describes how it wants to use the information to better inform its policy, it said, and decide how to reform its policies to fit market practice in a better way.

“The FTC has a statutory right under the HSR Act to review acquisitions and mergers over a certain size before they are consummated, and the study will help the Commission consider whether additional transactions should be subject to premerger notification requirements,” it noted. “The orders will also contribute broadly to the FTC's understanding of technology markets, and thereby support the FTC's program of vigorous and effective enforcement to promote competition and protect consumers in digital markets.”

"Digital technology companies are a big part of the economy and our daily lives," Simons said in a statement. "This initiative will enable the Commission to take a closer look at acquisitions in this important sector, and also to evaluate whether the federal agencies are getting adequate notice of transactions that might harm competition. This will help us continue to keep tech markets open and competitive, for the benefit of consumers."

Essentially what it will mean is that these smaller deals will need to be reported in the same way that these big companies report larger deals. Up to now, companies do not have to report certain details about deals — or, indeed, the deals themselves — unless they have a material impact on the company, as specified by the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act. (These have incidentally also been modified in the last month to set a slightly higher notification threshold.)

Some, like Apple, have even developed a special stock statement that it will issue in cases where it does come clean on a specific deal when presented with enough evidence of it having happened. “Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans,” it likes to note.

The HSR Act, as it’s known, does leave a lot of wiggle room, where acquisitions, when they are reported, can be noted in the vaguest of terms without a lot of detail as to specific purposes, so it’s not clear what kind of information we will get out of this. Nor is it known just how much of the FTC’s new orders will trickle out as public information.

But the FTC notes that what it will be requiring includes the same kinds of details that are typically requested around HSR, including “information and documents on their corporate acquisition strategies, voting and board appointment agreements, agreements to hire key personnel from other companies, and post-employment covenants not to compete. Last, the orders ask for information related to post-acquisition product development and pricing, including whether and how acquired assets were integrated and how acquired data has been treated.”

Updated with details from the press call.

Infosys is acquiring Simplus for $250M to grow its Salesforce consulting arm

Posted: 11 Feb 2020 09:08 AM PST

Infosys is a huge consulting organization based in India, which works with clients as they implement complex software integrations. Today, the company announced it was buying Simplus, a Salesforce integration consultant, for $250 million.

The company, which is based in Salt Lake City, Utah, launched in 2014 and has raised almost $50 million, according to Crunchbase data. It brings a wide range of Salesforce consulting, training and integration services along with general Salesforce expertise, which Infosys hopes to put to work.

The acquisition follows the purchase of Fluido, another Salesforce consulting shop, in 2018. The moves suggest that Infosys wants to build deeper expertise around Salesforce and make that a key piece of its consulting operations moving forward.

Brent Leary, a CRM industry veteran, who is owner at CRM Essentials, says that Simplus is well-positioned in the Salesforce ecosystem to capture lucrative cloud integration services, and it should help expand Infosys’s Salesforce consulting arm. “By acquiring Simplus, it allows Infosys to grab more market share, while extending Salesforce capabilities to offer existing clients,” Leary told TechCrunch.

Ravi Kumar, president at Infosys, sees it in similar terms. “Simplus will be a valuable addition to the Infosys family. Complementing our industry knowledge and existing Salesforce footprint with their strong presence in key markets, deep Salesforce consulting and advisory expertise will help accelerate the transformation journey of incumbent companies,” Kumar said in a statement.

Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research, says Simplus should especially help in the area of Quote-to-Cash, that period after the sale when quotes are shared, contracts are signed and cash is collected on the sale. “It creates the opportunity for Infosys to break out of the vendor services silos and connect its Salesforce services with its ERP services (SAP, Oracle),” he said.

The deal is expected to close in Infosys’s fiscal 2020 fourth quarter. Per usual, it is subject to standard regulatory approval.

N26 exits UK market following Brexit

Posted: 11 Feb 2020 09:05 AM PST

German fintech startup N26 is shutting down its operations in the U.K. Customers who opened a bank account in the U.K. will have to transfer their deposits, spend everything with their card or withdraw money at an ATM, as all accounts will be automatically closed on April 15, 2020.

Many European fintech companies take advantage of a European process called passporting. It lets you apply for a license to operate as a bank or a financial service in an EU member state and then expand to all EU member states.

As you may have guessed, N26 has to exit from the U.K. banking market because it currently has a European banking license through the central bank of Germany. Passporting is going to change following Brexit.

In particular, European companies that operate in the U.K. using inward passporting have to follow a new application process in order to continue operating in the U.K.

“The timings and framework outlined in the EU Withdrawal Agreement mean that the company will in due course be unable to operate in the UK with its European banking licence," N26 writes in a statement. N26 users in other markets won't be affected by this change.

N26 also faces a ton of competition in the U.K. from Monzo, Starling and in some ways Revolut. It's also possible that N26 didn't want to invest a lot of time and money in order to set up a proper subsidiary company in the U.K. with its own banking license.

You can no longer sign up in the U.K. If you're an existing customer, everything will work normally until April 15. You should empty your bank account, move your recurring payments to another bank, identify all your subscriptions, direct debits and deposits and move them to another bank.

On April 15, you won't be able to access your account. Your card will be deactivated. Direct debits and deposits will bounce as well. If you have a premium subscription, N26 is going to stop charging you for your N26 You or N26 Metal subscription from March 14.