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Monday, March 2, 2020

Today Crunch News, News Updates, Tech News

Today Crunch News, News Updates, Tech News


Sonantic scores €2.3M funding to bring ‘human-quality’ artificial voices to games

Posted: 02 Mar 2020 03:45 PM PST

Sonantic, a U.K. startup that has developed “human-quality” artificial voice technology for the games and entertainment industry, has raised €2.3 million in funding.

Leading the round is EQT Ventures, with participation from existing backers, including Entrepreneur First (EF), AME Cloud Ventures and Bart Swanson of Horizons Ventures. I also understand one of the company’s earlier investors is Twitch co-founder Kevin Lin.

Founded in 2018 by CEO Zeena Qureshi and CTO John Flynn as they went through EF’s company builder programme in London, Sonantic (previously Speak Ai) says it wants to disrupt the global gaming and entertainment voice industry. The startup has developed artificial voice tech that it claims is able to offer “expressive, realistic voice acting” on-demand for use by game studios. It already has R&D partnerships underway with more than 10 AAA game studios.

“Getting dialogue into game development is a slow, expensive and labour-intensive task,” says Qureshi, when asked to define the problem Sonantic wants to solve. “Dialogue pipelines consist of casting, booking studios, contracts, scheduling, editing, directing and a whole lot of coordination. Voiced narrative video games can take up to 10 years to make with game design changing frequently, defaulting game devs to carry out several iteration cycles — often leading to going over budgets and game releases being delayed.”

To help remedy this, Sonantic offers what Qureshi dubs “dynamic voice acting on-demand,” with the ability to craft the exact type of character in terms of gender, personality, accent, tone and emotional state. The startup’s human quality text-to-speech system is offered via an API and a graphical user interface tool that lets its synthetic voice actors be edited, sculpted and directed “just like a human actor,” she tells me.

This sees Sonantic work directly with actors to synthesise their voices whilst also harnessing their unique skills in performance. “We then augment how actors work by offering them a digital version of themselves that can create passive income for them,” explains the Sonantic CEO.

For the games studios, Sonantic offers faster iteration cycles at a cheaper price because it cuts down logistical costs and has voice models ready to perform. Its SaaS model and API also makes it easier to create audio performances to test out potential narratives or to finesse a story, helping with editing and directing.

Meanwhile, Sonantic says it is gearing up to publicly reveal how its technology can capture “deep emotions across the full spectrum,” from subtle all the way through to exaggerated, which it says is usually something only very skilled actors can achieve.

Google cancels Cloud Next because of coronavirus, goes online-only

Posted: 02 Mar 2020 03:31 PM PST

Google today announced that it is canceling the physical part of Cloud Next, its cloud-focused event and its largest annual conference by far with around 30,000 attendees, over concerns around the current spread of COVID-19.

Given all of the recent conference cancellations, this announcement doesn’t come as a huge surprise, especially after Facebook canceled its F8 developer conference only a few days ago.

Cloud Next was scheduled to run from Apri 6 to 8. Instead of the physical event, Google will now host an online event under the “Google Cloud Next '20: Digital Connect” moniker. So there will still be keynotes and breakout sessions, as well as the ability to connect with experts.

“Innovation is in Google's DNA and we are leveraging this strength to bring you an immersive and inspiring event this year without the risk of travel,” the company notes in today’s announcement.

The virtual event will be free and in an email to attendees, Google says that it will automatically refund all tickets to this year’s conference. It will also automatically cancel all hotel reservations made through its conference reservation system.

It now remains to be seen what happens to Google’s other major conference, I/O, which is slated to run from May 12 to 14 in Mountain View. The same holds true for Microsoft’s rival Build conference in Seattle, which is scheduled to start on May 19. These are the two premier annual news events for both companies, but given the current situation, nobody would be surprised if they got canceled, too.

Connie Chan of Andreessen Horowitz discusses consumer tech’s winners and losers

Posted: 02 Mar 2020 03:20 PM PST

Last week, I sat down with Connie Chan, a general partner with Andreessen Horowitz who focuses on investing in consumer tech. She joined the firm in 2011 after working at HP in China.

From her temporary offices located in a modest skyscraper with unobscured views of San Francisco, we talked about where she sees the biggest opportunities right now, along with how big of an impact fears over coronavirus could have on the startup industry — and for how long.

Our conversation has been edited for length. You can also find a longer version of our chat in podcast form.

TechCrunch: There’s so much money flowing into the Bay Area and startups generally from all over the world. What happens if that slows down because of the coronavirus?

Connie Chan: It’s interesting, I was just talking to a friend of mine who is an investor in Asia, in China. And she said that some industries are going to suffer significantly. Restaurants, for example, are hurting [along with] any store that relies on foot traffic [like] bookstores, so forth. Yet you see a lot of companies also doing really well in this time. You’ll see grocery delivery as something that’s in high demand. Insurance is in very high demand. People are spending more time at home, so whether it’s games or streaming or whatever they’re doing at home is doing well. Lots of my counterparts in China are also taking all their pitches via video conference. They’re still doing work, but they’re all just working from home.

Where do you think we’ll see the biggest impact most immediately?

Aurora VP Jinnah Hosein is coming to TC Sessions: Robotics + AI

Posted: 02 Mar 2020 03:03 PM PST

TechCrunch Sessions: Robotics + AI is tomorrow and we have one more exciting speaker announcement to share.

Jinnah Hosein, the vice president of software engineering at self-driving vehicle startup Aurora, is coming to TC Sessions: Robotics + AI at UC Berkeley on March 3. Hosein will join Ike Robotics CTO and co-founder Jur van den Berg onstage to discuss autonomous vehicles, particularly safety-critical software and the various technical approaches being taking to solve this game-changing technology.

If Hosein’s name sounds familiar, it should be. After a 10-year stint at Google, where he rose to director of software engineering, Hosein went to SpaceX . While Hosein was heading up the software engineering at SpaceX, he also was working at Elon Musk’s other company, Tesla, where he was interim VP of Autopilot software.

Who else is coming to TC Sessions: Robotics + AI? Nvidia VP of engineering Claire Delaunay, the CEOs of Traptic, FarmWise and Pyka, a packed panel featuring Boston Dynamics' Construction Technologist Brian Ringley, Built Robotics' Noah Campbell-Ready, Tessa Lau of Dusty Robotics and Toggle's Daniel Blank, as well as TRI-AD's CEO James Kuffner and TRI's VP of Robotics Max Bajracharya. And that’s just a few of the speakers, not to mention demos and exhibits to be found at TC Sessions: Robotics + AI.

Tickets are on sale now for $345; you'll save $50 when you book now as prices go up at the door.

Student tickets are still available at the super-discounted $50 rate when you book here.

Apple agrees to settlement of up to $500 million from lawsuit alleging it throttled older phones

Posted: 02 Mar 2020 02:06 PM PST

Apple Inc. has agreed to pay a settlement of up to $500 million, following a lawsuit accusing the company of intentionally slowing down the performance of older phones to encourage customers to buy newer models or fresh batteries.

The preliminary proposed class action lawsuit was disclosed Friday night and would see Apple pay consumers $25 per phone, as reported by Reuters.

Any settlement needs to be approved by U.S. District Judge Edward Davila, who oversaw the case brought in San Jose, Calif.

For consumers, the $25 payout may seem a little low, as a new iPhone can cost anywhere from $649 to $849 (for a lower-end model). The cost may be varied depending on how many people sue, and the company is set to pay at least $310 million under the terms of the settlement.

For its part, Apple is denying wrongdoing in the case and said it was only agreeing to avoid the cost and burden associated with the lawsuit.

Any U.S. owner of the iPhone 6, 6 Plus, 6s, 6s Plus, 7 Plus or SE that ran on iOS 10.2.1 or any of the later operating systems are covered by the settlement. Users of the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus which ran iOS 11.2 or later before Dec. 21, 2017 are also covered by the settlement.

Apple customers said their phone performance slowed down after they installed Apple software updates. The customers contend that Apple’s software updates intentionally degraded the performance of older models to encourage customers to unnecessarily upgrade to newer models or install new batteries.

Lawyers for Apple said that the problems were mainly due to high usage, temperature changes and other issues and that its engineers tried to address the problems as quickly as possible.

In February, Apple was fined $27 million by the French government for the same issue.

As we reported at the time:

A couple of years ago, Apple  released an iOS update (10.2.1 and 11.2) that introduced a new feature for older devices. If your battery is getting old, iOS would cap peak performances as your battery might not be able to handle quick peaks of power draw. The result of those peaks is that your iPhone might shut down abruptly.

While that feature is technically fine, Apple failed to inform users that it was capping performances on some devices. The company apologized and introduced a new software feature called "Battery Health," which lets you check the maximum capacity of your battery and if your iPhone can reach peak performance.

And that's the issue here. Many users may have noticed that their phone would get slower when they play a game, for instance. But they didn't know that replacing the battery would fix that. Some users may have bought new phones even though their existing phone was working fine.

Shares of Apple were up more than 9% today in a general market rally.

Waymo brings in $2.25 billion from outside investors, Alphabet

Posted: 02 Mar 2020 01:58 PM PST

Waymo, the former Google self-driving car project that is now a business under Alphabet, said Monday it raised $2.25 billion in a fundraising round led by Silver Lake, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board and Mubadala Investment Company.

This is the company’s first external investment, which also included Magna, Andreessen Horowitz and AutoNation and its parent company Alphabet.

“We’ve always approached our mission as a team sport, collaborating with our OEM and supplier partners, our operations partners, and the communities we serve to build and deploy the world’s most experienced driver,” said Waymo CEO John Krafcik said in blog the company posted Monday. "Today, we’re expanding that team, adding financial investors and important strategic partners who bring decades of experience investing in and supporting successful technology companies building transformative products. With this injection of capital and business acumen, alongside Alphabet, we'll deepen our investment in our people, our technology, and our operations, all in support of the deployment of the Waymo Driver around the world."

The round follows a flurry of activity in the past year that illustrated Waymo efforts to ramp up into a commercial enterprise. Much of the activity has focused on mapping and testing its autonomous vehicle technology in new locales such as Florida, while continuing to expand its core fleet in Mountain View, Calif., and the Phoenix area.

Waymo has long focused on testing and eventually launching an on-demand ride-hailing service called Waymo One using its autonomous vehicles in the suburbs surrounding Phoenix. In October, Waymo began pulling safety drivers out of some of the vehicles on its Waymo One service.

But there have been other expansions, including a focus on finding new business applications for its autonomous vehicle technology such as delivery and trucking and even a plan to start selling its custom lidar sensors, to companies outside of self-driving cars such as robotics, security and agricultural technology.

In January, Waymo announced that it would begin mapping and eventually testing its autonomous long-haul trucks in Texas and parts of New Mexico.

Waymo has also expanded through acquisitions and partnerships. Waymo acquired in December a U.K. company called Latent Logic that spun out of Oxford University's computer science department. The company uses a form of machine learning called imitation learning that could beef up Waymo’s simulation efforts. The acquisition marked the launch of Waymo's first European engineering hub, which will be in Oxford, U.K.

Last spring, Waymo hired more than a dozen engineers from Anki, the robotics startup that shut down in April. The 13 robotics experts includes Anki's  co-founder and former CEO Boris Sofman, who is leading engineering in the autonomous trucking division.

Waymo also locked in an exclusive partnership with Renault and Nissan to research how commercial autonomous vehicles might work for passengers and packages in France and Japan.

After turbulent week, the stock market sees record gains

Posted: 02 Mar 2020 01:56 PM PST

So much for that correction!

After a desolate week, the United States saw its major indices rally on Monday, pushing the value of domestic and domestically listed securities higher. The gains came despite a rising number of infections in the country of the novel coronavirus, now known as COVID-19.

Last week, rising concern about an international slowdown caused by the infection led to sharp declines in the value of equities both at home and abroad. News continued to spill over the weekend, pushing up the confirmed global caseload and rolling human toll.

Update: It’s worth keeping in mind the fate of one of tech’s biggest success stories during all of this, namely Robinhood, the free stock trading app. Instead of this being a day in which is crushed its growth expectations, its service has struggled to stay online today. For a company worth so many billions, it’s an embarrassing bout of downtime. Especially amongst the more active traders of the Internet. (More on Robinhood’s valuation and historical growth here.)

However, come the start of the week, investors in American stocks had traded their furs for horns and were ready to buy. The results are historic in scale, a fact tempered by their coming instantly after historic declines. In today’s trading:

  • The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 1,293 points, or a little over 5%
  • The S&P 500, a broader index, rose 136 points, or around 4.6%
  • The tech-heavy Nasdaq rose nearly 385 points, or 4.5%

Individual companies put on a show. Twitter closed up nearly 8% on the general updraft, and news broke that activist investors were targeting its leadership, for example.

Not all companies, however, enjoyed the day in equal measure. In perhaps a surprise, the Bessemer-sourced cloud index of SaaS shops rose just 1.5% today, regenerating far less of its recently shed tissue in the day’s rally. If this trend continues, we may be able to infer an optimism reset among the company category, a former high-flyer that attracted sky-high prices as investors coveted both its constituent recurring revenue and regular top-line expansion.

Even crypto had a good day, with the various smaller coins following bitcoin higher by around 4%.

The Nasdaq is still 9% off its 52-week highs, which are also its all-time highs. There is more recovery to do if the market wills. But who knows what tomorrow will bring. All we do know is that volatility is back, along with a glimmer of hope.

The companies that will shape the upcoming multiverse era of social media

Posted: 02 Mar 2020 01:39 PM PST

Throughout this series on the rise of multiverse virtual worlds, I have outlined the collision of gaming and social media into a new multiverse era of social media within virtual worlds due to technological and cultural changes. The result will be a healthier ecosystem of social media than what currently exists and the economic development of these virtual worlds such that many people turn to them as sources of income.

The critical question that remains in this final part of the series: Who will be the dominant companies of this multiverse era who build the most popular virtual worlds? Will one virtual world achieve a monopoly or will there be many worlds we hop between on a daily basis? Will the most influential company be the developer of a certain world or an infrastructure layer underpinning many worlds?

(This is the final column in a seven-part series about “multiverse” virtual worlds.)

There are three categories of competitors in position for this new stage: gaming incumbents, social media incumbents and new virtual world startups.

Cyan Banister leaves Founders Fund for Long Journey Ventures

Posted: 02 Mar 2020 01:28 PM PST

Cyan Banister is leaving Founders Fund to become a member of a new early-stage investment and operations-focused firm called Long Journey Ventures.

The move, first reported by Axios, brings Banister back to her early-stage roots as an investor after years at the multi-strategy and multi-stage investment fund founded by Peter Thiel. Banister’s departure comes weeks after Founders Fund announced the close of two new funds which will invest $3 billion in early and growth-stage companies.

In a blog post announcing her decision to join Long Journey Ventures, Banister wrote candidly about the tensions between the institutional investment firm and her own instincts as an earlier-stage backer of startup companies.

“Taking me on was an experiment. I'm notoriously early stage. I'm also fiercely independent. Over the years the team worked with me every step of the way to make things work for me. This included working around my unique family life, my unique way of investing, giving me space that I really needed when I had a stroke, welcoming me back with warm arms when I recovered,” wrote Banister. “They did everything to try to make me happy. Everything.”

However, as Banister notes, “I'm not cut out for later stage investing. I tried. I really tried. I gave it everything I had. FF was always supportive, however they are also stage agnostic and generalists and hoped I would be able to do all stages and I can not. I just can't.”

So, for Banister, it’s on to Long Journey Ventures. The founding team includes Lee Jacobs, who most recently served as an advisor with AngelList; Brian Balfour, the founder and chief executive at Reforge; Jonathan Bruck, a product developer at Pocket, IndexTank, and Xoopit; and Meebo and Dandelion Chocolate co-founder Elaine Wherry.

Announcing the agenda for TC Sessions: Mobility 2020

Posted: 02 Mar 2020 12:14 PM PST

TC Sessions: Mobility is back in San Jose on May 14, and we’re excited to give the first peek of what and who is coming to the main stage. We’re not revealing everything just yet, but already this agenda highlights some of the best and brightest minds in autonomous vehicles, electrification and shared mobility.

We’ve selected the most innovative startups and top leaders from established tech companies working in mobility. This past year saw huge leaps forward, and we’re thrilled to bring the latest and greatest to our stage.

This year, we’re holding a pitch-off competition for early-stage mobility companies. More details to come.

Don’t forget that early-bird tickets (including $100 savings) are currently available for a limited time; grab your tickets here before prices increase.

Some speakers have already been announced, and more will be added to the agenda in the coming weeks, so stay tuned. In the meantime, check out this early look at the agenda:

AGENDA

9:35 AM – 10:05 AM

Investing in Mobility with Reilly Brennan (Trucks VC), Olaf Sakkers (Maniv Mobility) and speakers to be announced.

Reilly Brennan, Olaf Sakkers and two yet-to-be announced venture capitalists will come together to debate the uncertain future of mobility tech and whether VC dollars are enough to push the industry forward.

10:05 AM – 10:25 AM

Coming soon!

10:25 AM – 10:50 AM

The Next Opportunities in Micromobility with Danielle Harris (Elemental Excelerator), Dor Levi (Lyft) and Dmitry Shevelenko (Tortoise)

Worldwide, numerous companies are operating shared micromobility services — so many that the industry is well into a consolidation phase. Despite the over-saturation of the market, there are still opportunities for new players. Dor Levi, head of bikes and scooters at Lyft, Danielle Harris, director of mobility innovation at Elemental Excelerator and Dmitry Shevelenko, founder at Tortoise will discuss.

10:50 AM – 11:10 AM

Waymo Grows Up with Tekedra Mawakana (Waymo)

Waymo Chief Operating Officer Tekedra Mawakana is at the center of Waymo’s future, from scaling the autonomous vehicle company’s commercial deployment and directing fleet operations to developing the company’s business path. Tekedra will speak about what lies ahead as Waymo drives forward with its plan to become a grownup business.

11:10 AM – 11:30 AM
Innovation Break

11:30 AM – 11:40 AM

Live Demo. Coming soon!

11:40 AM – 12:00 PM

Setting the Record Straight with Bryan Salesky (Argo AI)

Argo AI has gone from unknown startup to a company providing the autonomous vehicle technology to Ford and VW — not to mention billions in investment from the two global automakers. Co-founder and CEO Bryan Salesky will talk about the company’s journey, what’s next and what it really takes to commercialize autonomous vehicle technology.

1:00 PM – 1:25 PM

Pitch-Off

Select, early-stage companies, hand-picked by TechCrunch editors, will take the stage and have five minutes to present their companies.

1:25 PM – 1:45 PM

Building an AV Startup with Nancy Sun (Ike)

Ike co-founder and chief engineer Nancy Sun will share her experiences in the world of automation and robotics, a ride that has taken her from Apple to Otto and Uber before she set off to start a self-driving truck company. Sun will discuss what the future holds for trucking and the challenges and the secrets behind building a successful mobility startup.

1:45 PM – 2:10 PM

Working with Cities, Not Against Them with Euwyn Poon (Spin) and Shin-pei Tsay (Uber)

Many micromobility services got off to a rough start with cities in the early days of the industry. Now, operators are making a point to work more closely with regulators from the very beginning. Hear from Spin co-founder Euwyn Poon and Uber Director of Policy, Cities and Transportation Shin-pei Tsay on what it takes to make a copacetic relationship between operators and cities.

2:10 PM – 2:30 PM

Innovation Break

2:30 PM – 2:50 PM

The Electrification of Porsche with Klaus Zellmer (Porsche)

Porsche has undergone a major transformation in the past several years, investing billions into an electric vehicle program and launching the Taycan, its first all-electric vehicle. Now, Porsche is ramping up for more. North America CEO Klaus Zellmer will talk about Porsche’s path, competition and where it’s headed next.

2:50 PM – 3:15 PM

Navigating Self-Driving Car Regulations with Melissa Froelich (Aurora) and Jody Kelman (Lyft)

Autonomous vehicle developers face a patchwork of local, state and federal regulations. Government policy experts Jody Kelman, who leads the self-driving platform team at Lyft, and Melissa Froelich, senior manager, Government Affairs at Aurora, discuss how to get your startup back on the road safely.

3:15 PM – 3:35 PM

Coming Soon!

3:35 PM – 4:00 PM

The Future of Trucking with Xiaodi Hou (TuSimple) and Boris Sofman (Waymo)

TuSimple co-founder and CTO Xiaodi Hou and Boris Sofman, former Anki Robotics founder and CEO who now leads Waymo’s trucking unit, will discuss the business and the technical challenges of autonomous trucking.

4:00 PM – 4:20 PM

Innovation Break

4:20 PM – 4:30 PM

Live Demo. Coming soon!

4:30 PM – 4:55 PM

Coming soon!

Don’t forget to grab your tickets and join us this May.

FX launches on Hulu, offering over 40 shows and originals

Posted: 02 Mar 2020 11:42 AM PST

FX content is coming to Hulu . The company announced today the launch of a new FX hub on the streaming service that includes over 40 FX Networks TV shows, new original linear series and other FX originals that will now be exclusive to Hulu.

The addition is made possible thanks to Disney’s acquisition of 21st Century Fox and its subsequent deal with NBCU that gave it full operational control of Hulu. Since then, Disney has made a number of changes to the streaming service, including a massive reorg that saw the departure of Hulu CEO Randy Freer as the service became more integrated with Disney’s own direct-to-consumer operations.

Last week, Hulu’s chief marketing officer Kelly Campbell was promoted to president — a move that signals that Hulu’s internal leadership is about marketing the service and growing the subscriber base. Disney, meanwhile, is making the bigger strategic decisions.

The Fox deal gave Disney even more shows and movies to roll out to its direct-to-consumer services. Family-friendly content like “The Simpsons” and “The Avatar” went to Disney+, while the more adult fare goes to Hulu, including FX content.

The new FX hub on Hulu promises next-day access to current series along with the network’s library of legacy series, like “American Horror Story,” “Archer,” “Atlanta,” “It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” “What We Do in the Shadows,” “Sons of Anarchy,” “Justified,” “Fosse/Verdon,” “The Shield,” “Nip/Tuck,” “Damages,” “Rescue Me,”  “Thief” and “Terriers.”

And on March 5, Alex Garland (“Ex Machina,” Annihilation”) will launch his first-ever TV series, “Devs.” The limited series, written and directed by Garland, stars Sonoya Mizuno, Nick Offerman, Jin Ha and Alison Pill. The plot focuses on a young software engineer, Lily Chan, who investigates the division of her employer, a cutting-edge tech company based in Silicon Valley, which she believes was involved with her boyfriend’s murder.

Other FX originals will follow, including limited series “Mrs. America,” starring Cate Blanchett on April 15, “A Teacher,” starring Kate Mara this summer, and the drama “The Old Man” starring Jeff Bridges this fall.

The FX hub on Hulu will also include streaming premieres of new comedies, “Dave” (FXX) and “Breeders” (FX), plus Season 4 of “Better Things” (FX) and a new season of “Cake” (FXX). The NYT’s documentary series “the Weekly” is also available.

FX and Hulu have worked together in the past, but this the first time that FX is bringing together both current and past seasons as well as originals to Hulu. Previously, FX had offered streaming of its shows through an FX Plus subscription service — but that was shut down last year, after the Disney-Fox deal closed.

The new FX hub on Hulu is available across platforms and via a dedicated URL, hulu.com/fx-on-hulu. 

 

Silicon Valley saw itself in Pete Buttigieg. Now he’s out of the race.

Posted: 02 Mar 2020 11:37 AM PST

Tech’s darling is out. On Sunday, the 38-year-old Democratic presidential contender stepped out of the race, clearing a path for moderates to coalesce around another candidate on the eve of Super Tuesday’s broad contest for delegates.

Buttigieg, a previous political unknown, ran a surprisingly successful long-shot presidential campaign, making history as the first gay candidate to make a real run at the presidency and vaulting his political profile well above his mayorship of South Bend, Ind. Buttigieg’s appeal as a young, articulate politician was bolstered early on by his friendliness to Silicon Valley in a race in which tech’s biggest names were cast as villains by the race’s leftmost wing.

As the race began, elite segments of Silicon Valley, including tech leadership and venture capital, sought an alternative to Bernie Sanders. Sanders and his ideological next-door neighbor Elizabeth Warren have made criticisms of consolidated power and wealth a cornerstone of their platforms, with Warren in particular taking direct aim at tech’s biggest success stories or its ruling elite, depending on your perspective. That message was always more likely to resonate with tech’s rank and file workers, while the sector’s better-compensated upper echelons turned to Buttigieg and other Democratic candidates who reflected their traditionally liberal values while promising less upheaval for the industry.

Buttigieg was able to appeal to that dual desire, and his young age and proximity to tech power brokers like Mark Zuckerberg, a member of his cohort at Harvard, helped boost his cause among tech-savvy supporters. According to reporting from The Guardian, more than 75 VCs threw their weight behind the Buttigieg campaign as early as July 2019, lauding Buttigieg’s “intellectual vigor” and data-driven thinking — qualities Silicon Valley prides in itself. One of Facebook’s first 300 users, Buttigieg’s tech fluency offered a striking contrast to the stereotype of tech-inept members of Congress, a frequent complaint within tech in recent regulatory hearings.

“I don’t know if people saw him as a technology culture person,” one member of the VC community told TechCrunch. “It was more like as a smart person who could potentially execute. As a winner.” They characterized him as “persuasive and competent” but “not competent in some technocratic, bloodless way.”

"We want to build a campaign that's a little disruptive, kind of entrepreneurial. Right now, it feels like a startup,” Buttigieg campaign manager Mike Schmuhl told AP News in April.

For some in Silicon Valley, which tends to think in terms of Silicon Valley, the analogy stuck all the way to the end.

With Buttigieg out of the race, the big question is where his support goes next. Given his moderate policies and new momentum, former Vice President Joe Biden appears likely to receive a boost from Buttigieg’s exit. Still, venture capitalists who spoke with TechCrunch suggested that support is likely to lack the enthusiasm tech had for Buttigieg. “People could have gone with Biden early on,” one Buttigieg supporter noted.

That redirected support may prove tepid compared to Silicon Valley’s initial bet on Buttigieg, but it could be a shot in the arm for Biden if the former vice president comes out of Tuesday’s big contest looking like a winner.

Understanding 2020’s early-stage fundraising market

Posted: 02 Mar 2020 11:17 AM PST

Welcome to Equity on Extra Crunch, a semi-regular series of interviews between the Equity team, venture capitalists, and operating executives at the neatest startups. The goal of this irregular medium is to dig into topics that don’t fit inside of the standard Equity format, but are still critical to understanding what’s happening in the private markets.

To kick things off, we invited two of our favorite early-stage investors over to TechCrunch’s offices in San Francisco for a video chat. But for those of you who prefer to read things, we’ve also summarized the questions and answers.

Equity was happy to have Floodgate’s Iris Choi back in the studio, and we’re also excited to have Cowboy Ventures’ Jomayra Herrera around for the first time. Choi is an Equity regular, and Herrera recently took part in a piece we published digging into the split between enterprise and consumer seed deals. That’s what we call foreshadowing. Let’s begin.

We wanted to get advice from our two investors as to what founders seeking seed deals might want to do to avoid unnecessary agony.

Nvidia’s GTC developer event will be online-only over coronavirus fears

Posted: 02 Mar 2020 10:54 AM PST

Nvidia has canceled the in-person portion of its GPU Technology Conference, which would have brought more than 10,000 people to San Jose three weeks from now. The company cited “growing concern over the coronavirus” for its decision, and said it will attempt to host as much of the content online as possible.

In an update to the GTC page, Nvidia explained:

“Jensen will still give a keynote. We will still share our announcements. And we'll work to ensure our speakers can share their talks. But we'll do this all online.”

The five-day event was scheduled to take place at the San Jose convention center starting on March 22. Some 250 companies would be exhibiting or attending in some form or another, presenting and hearing talks on the latest applications of GPUs and high performance computing.

Unfortunately, GTC has gone the way of the Game Developers Conference, Mobile World Congress, F8, and numerous other major events that rightly worried that such a high concentration of international travelers might prove to be a breeding ground for the coronavirus currently spreading worldwide.

No doubt a good number of exhibitors and attendees were already canceling or questioning their attendance; Many companies have already restricted international travel for any reason at all.

Anyone who paid for a pass to GTC will receive a full refund, but Nvidia is hoping to salvage at least some of its programming.

“We will be working with our conference speakers to begin publishing their talks online beginning in the weeks ahead,” wrote the company in a blog post announcing the decision. “Additionally, for those in NVIDIA's developer program, we plan to schedule availability with our researchers, engineers and solution architects to answer technical questions.”

All updates, including content, should appear on the GTC page going forward.

Pixel phones updated with new gesture controls, emoji, AR effects & more

Posted: 02 Mar 2020 10:48 AM PST

One of the benefits of owning a Pixel smartphone is that it improves over time, as Pixels are first to receive updates that deliver the latest fixes and improvements. The first round of new features arrived in December, including a filter for robocalls, more photo controls, improved Duo calls and more. Today Google says Pixel owners are getting a second set of additions, this time including new music controls, new emoji, still more photo and video features, expanded emergency help features, Google Pay improvements and several others.

Last year, Google introduced a new sort of gesture control, called Motion Sense, with the introduction of the Pixel 4. The idea is that you can now control your phone without having to touch it. Instead, the smartphone detects the wave of your hands and translates that into software controls.

Already, Motion Sense allowed Pixel 4 owners to skip forward or go back to a previous song. With today’s update, they’ll also be able to pause and resume music by making a tapping gesture above the phone.

Google suggests this will be an easy way to pause your music when you need to have a conversation. But in reality, it will only be useful if it works consistently — and so far, reviews have said the Motion Sense system was finicky and underdeveloped. That could change in time, of course.

Another improvement today is an update to Pixel 4’s Personal Safety app, which first arrived in October. The app uses the phone’s sensors to detect if you’ve been in a severe car crash and checks with you to see if you need help. It also lets U.S. users call 911 with a tap or voice command. If you’re unresponsive, the phone shares your location and details with emergency responders. Now the feature is coming to users in Australia (000) and the U.K. (999).

The new set of updates also includes added AR effects for Google’s video calling app Duo, which can change with your expression and move around the screen. These aren’t Duo’s first set of effects, but keeping the roster of effects updated is critical for social communication apps.

Meanwhile, the Pixel 4’s selfie camera can now create images with depth, which improves Portrait Blur and color pop, and lets you create 3D photos for Facebook.

Pixel phones will also now receive the emoji version 12.1 update, which hit iPhone with the iOS 3.2 update in October 2019, and which arrived on Twitter in January 2020. The set includes 169 new and more inclusive emoji, offering a wider array of gender and skin tones as well as more couple combinations.

A change to Google Pay will now let you press and hold the power button to swipe through your debit and credit cards, event tickets, boarding passes and other stored items. This is coming first to the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Ireland, Taiwan and Singapore.

You can also now take a screenshot of a boarding pass’s barcode, then tap a notification to add it to Google Pay to then receive real-time flight updates as notifications. This is rolling out to all countries with Google Play on Pixel 3, 3a and 4 during March.

For power users, another useful addition lets you now configure rules based on Wi-Fi or physical location. For example, you can set your phone to automatically silence your ringtone when you arrive at work, or go to Do Not Disturb mode when you get home, among other things.

Other new features include the rollout of Live Caption (automatic captions) to Pixel 2 phones, the ability to schedule when Pixel’s Dark Theme turns off and on, an easier means of accessing emergency contacts and medical info, improved long-press options for getting faster help from your apps and an update to Adaptive brightness to make reading in direct sunlight easier.

Google says the new feature set is rolling out starting today. You may not see it immediately, but should fairly soon.

Silicon Valley could be Biden’s funding lifeline post South Carolina

Posted: 02 Mar 2020 10:15 AM PST

Presidential candidate Joe Biden is likely to throw a fundraising lifeline to Silicon Valley after his commanding South Carolina victory and heading into the next wave of primaries.

A pro-Biden Super PAC, Unite the Country — whose past backers include senior tech figures — is picking up efforts to tap wealthy donors, Treasurer Larry Rasky told CNBC. The group made several ad-buys in Super Tuesday states (per a February 28 Federal Election Committee filing).

Past Unite the Country’s benefactors include LinkedIn founder and Greylock Partners VC Reid Hoffman (who contributed $500,000) and angel investor Ronald Conway ($250,000), according to FEC data.

Source: FEC filing

Biden revived his presidential bid from life-support with a resounding 29-point win over Bernie Sanders in Saturday’s South Carolina primary.

But after flailing in the first three contests — Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada — the former vice-president’s campaign has reportedly been running on financial fumes.

The last Federal Election Campaign disclosures before South Carolina’s democratic primary showed Biden with $7.1 million cash on hand, compared to Sanders’ nearly $17 million.

The race to become the Democratic nominee for president is consolidating, post-South Carolina, to a Sanders-Biden match-up — after Mayor Pete Buttigieg and billionaire Tom Steyer dropped out. Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who entered the race late, will be on the ballot for the first time on Super Tuesday, though it’s not clear if he’ll shift dynamics between the front-runners.

To capture Sanders, who now leads Biden in the delegate count, Biden will need to close the fundraising gap between himself and the Vermont senator, who doesn’t accept Super PAC funds and has raised a large portion of his total $126 million presidential fundraising haul from small contributions.

Source: NBC News

For Democrats, fundraising is a big focus of campaign efforts in uncontested states (like New York and California), where they are nearly certain to win in the general election. Areas with affluent residents, such as the Bay Area and Manhattan, have served as piggy banks for tapping wealthy donors.

But a fundraising push by Biden and surrogates in Silicon Valley could further expose a political rift within big tech: that of founders and senior executives favoring a moderate candidate, while rank-and-file workers “feel the Bern” on campaign donations.

FEC data and analysis by the LA Times and the Center for Responsive Politics indicate Bernie Sanders has substantially outperformed all candidates in garnering small donations from workers in tech companies. By the Times’ reporting, Sanders has raised $1 million, or nearly four-times as much as Biden, in small donations from employees at Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and Facebook.

This preference divide within big tech could align with the differences in each candidate’s policy platforms. Biden’s positions are generally milder on initiatives to police and potentially split up big tech companies, such as Facebook.

Sanders has been vocal about driving policies that address the pay gap across major tech companies, and has called for breaking up Facebook and Amazon.

Founders and tech-workers in California will have a non-monetary opportunity to express their preferences in voting booths tomorrow — as the Golden State is one of 13 in the Super Tuesday primary contest. Those results will roll into more primaries, more fundraising and a decision on the 2020 presidential nominee at the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee this July.

The 2020 Chevy Corvette is good and will only getter better

Posted: 02 Mar 2020 10:15 AM PST

What's a Corvette? To me, the formula is simple: Loads of power in an affordable package that can hold two golf bags. For the past 62 years, that meant putting the engine in the front and a stick shift on the floor. And now it's all different, and it's the start of something great.

For the first time, the Corvette's engine is in the middle of the car, resulting in a radical departure in tradition. Because of this placement, the Corvette drives differently. Better, most would say, while others still lament the change. I'm of the former group. The new Corvette is a lovely example of engineering, a vehicle capable of intense thrills and torque-induced smiles.

Let's get this out of the way: The 2020 Corvette is good, and it's only going to get better. Right now, the Corvette is a great vehicle that will likely please many buyers. But some will probably want more power, better brakes and a bit more excitement, and those will come with time.

The 2020 Corvette is the beginning of a new era for Chevrolet. This model marks the most significant change for its longest-running nameplate. Since 1953 the Corvette has been America's sports car, able to stand tall against Europe's finest for a fraction of the cost, and it still does in this new package. The new, mid-engine Corvette even starts at $60,000.

I spent a few days with the new Corvette in and around Las Vegas, where I drove it on the busy highway, empty desert roads and down the Vegas Strip. I also spent a few hours with it on a track, where it displayed a different side of its personality.

I found the Corvette to have plenty of power and a competent chassis well-suited for lively driving and comfortable cruising. There's room for two golf bags in the back and a couple of cases of beer in the front. It's comfortable and easy. The new V8 Chevy small-block has the goods to smoke tires and bring smiles to faces.

But I also found it disappointing.

The 2020 Corvette is not great. The brakes are touchy and inconsistent. The head-snapping power is buried, requiring drivers to dig deep into the tachometer to find excitement. Countless menus and options are controlling various safety settings; these settings can be overwhelming. And for some reason, all the climate control buttons live in a long bar spanning an odd divider between the driver and passenger.

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The new ‘Vette handles well. Chevy knows how to tune a chassis, and it's lovely here. The sports car dives into corners with all the confidence in the world. It exits corners without drama or tire spin.

On the track, where on-road annoyances become deal-breakers, the Corvette is easy. I'm not sure that's a good thing.

Corvettes have always been controlled chaos, with heavy engines sitting over the front axle. They weren't, say, mad like a Dodge Viper or Lamborghini of old, but still had crazy enough power that demanded respect. That's not the case anymore. Even while throwing this car into corners, and laying everything out on the straights, the 2020 Corvette with the Z51 package was controlled and methodical. For some, I guess, this is a good thing, but I missed the scary excitement of past generations.

With the engine behind the driver and in front of the rear axle, the mid-engine Corvette handles more like a supercar than a muscle car. It can make nearly any driver competitive on a track. Point the Corvette, and it goes. Combined with the advanced traction control, the 2020 Corvette instills confidence and, from that, a bit of excitement. It's easy to jump in and attack rolling hills and winding corners. Technical turns are easy and, if you want, some of the nannies can be turned off and the car is happy to slide on its back tires.

There's enough power to make a person smile but not enough to make someone giggle. In this base package, the Corvette is more of a speedy grand tourer than a racer.

If only it had better brakes.

The new Corvette has a new braking system. It's a brake by wire affair where there isn't a traditional master cylinder controlling a hydraulic braking system. In this car, a computer controls the system, and I'm not a fan of the implementation. On the street, it's annoying and touchy. On the track, it leaves a lot to be desired.

To be clear for the track nerds, there is little brake fade. The brakes are seemingly stable lap after lap. Can They survive hours of racing? I'm not sure, but I'm happy to test it out if GM can resupply the vehicle.

The brakes are one of the worst parts of this vehicle. Chevy enlisted the help of Brembo, which sounds great on paper. Brembo is the premier manufacture of braking systems. In this case, without pointing fingers at Brembo or Chevy, something went wrong. These brakes need changing.

The small-block Chevy is the beating heart of the Corvette and has been since legendary Corvette engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov stuffed one into a '55. A Corvette without a V8 would be like a baseball game without a hot dog and overpriced beer. It's un-American.

The LT2 is a compact small-block that produces 490 hp and 465 lb-ft. of torque It has all the techno-wizardry that one would expect from a modern engine, including the capability to flawlessly shut off half the cylinders and operate on just four. This switch is unnoticeable, and the result is the real-world gas mileage of nearly 30 mpg on the highway.

This sophisticated small-block is part of the reason the Corvette can get up to 60 mph in around three seconds — that and the computer-assisted launch, transaxle and proper weight distribution.

Oh, and then there's the interior. The inside of the 2020 Corvette is, without question, the best interior Chevy has ever done. It's beautiful and as good as anything available from Audi, McLaren, BMW or Acura.

All this comes in a vehicle that costs $60,000. A well-equipped version tops off around $80,000.

So, for around the price of a seven-seat SUV, a person could ditch the kids and get a two-seat, mid-engine Corvette able to carry golf clubs and hit 60 mph in around three seconds. And it can be equipped with snow tires, too.

This is the beginning of a new era in motoring, for better or worse.

The Corvette is an American icon, and that's the problem. With every model change, the expectations are always unrealistic. It's never going to be good enough for some people. Every model change has always been overanalyzed and dismissed. Chevrolet is up against six decades of tradition, lore and rumors. For instance, this model doesn't have circle taillights, and that's a high crime to some Corvette diehards.

With the 2020 Corvette, General Motors' Chevrolet division threw everything out and started anew. The result is a mid-engine sports car comfortable on the road and the track for the price of a heavy-duty pickup.

The ‘Vette has always been a product of its time, and this one is no different. As the world clambers to dynamic electric vehicles, Chevy had no choice but to push the Corvette into the future. But it wasn't Tesla that made Chevy put the engine behind the driver. It was physics.

The 2020 Corvette is unique, not because of the sum of its parts, but rather the sum of its parts plus its price. The 2020 Corvette is good enough. The 2021 and later editions will be fantastic. The platform that underpins the 2020 Corvette is nothing short of spectacular.

I have quibbles with some of the equipment choices and their results on the driving dynamics. The brakes are bad. There is too much glare from the interior options. Explosive power is buried deep, nearly unreachable in most driving situations. All of these things will improve over time. Some buyers might be happy with the current kit, but to expect it to be perfect out of the gate is unreasonable.

The comparisons are inevitable. It's a Ferrari for a fraction of the cost. It's the same price as a front-engine Mustang Shelby GT350R, but handles better. Why get a four-banger in the mid-engine Porsche Cayman when the ‘Vette offers a small-block V8 for the same price. The 2020 Corvette isn't better, per se than those. It's different.

The Corvette sits atop America's motoring world because it's an obtainable supercar for everyone. With the 2020 Corvette, Chevy is offering mid-engine dynamics for a fraction of the cost.

Sure, it's not as good as Ferrari or McLaren, but it's pretty damn close. Give Chevy a few more years, and this mid-engine Corvette platform will likely morph into something even more competitive.

I was talking to some of the engineers who built this Corvette. The older, but faster 2019 ZR1 Corvette has a massive supercharge resting on top of its engine, and, according to these engineers, that supercharger can be fitted onto the new engine. More power is on the way.

Daily Crunch: Nokia’s CEO is stepping down

Posted: 02 Mar 2020 10:10 AM PST

Nokia announces a big leadership change, an AT&T streaming service expands and we look at how our jobs may have to evolve during to the coronavirus pandemic. Here’s your Daily Crunch for March 2, 2020.

1. Rajeev Suri to step down as Nokia CEO; Pekka Lundmark to take over

The company, like its rivals Sweden-based Ericsson and Chinese giant Huawei, has shifted its attention in recent years to aggressively build a portfolio of technologies and products for 5G networks.

"After 25 years at Nokia, I have wanted to do something different," said Rajeev Suri, who will leave his current position on August 31 and continue to serve as an advisor to the Nokia Board until the end of this year. Pekka Lundmark is expected to start in his new role on September 1.

2. Streaming service AT&T TV launches nationwide, but isn't meant for cord cutters

Not to be confused with AT&T TV Now — AT&T's over-the-top live TV service aimed at cord-cutters, previously called DirecTV Now — the new service is more of an alternative to AT&T-owned DirecTV. AT&T TV offers hundreds of live TV channels, plus 40,000 on-demand titles, and 500 hours of DVR space on a set-top box.

3. How to work during a pandemic

The world is bracing for the seemingly inevitable proliferation of  the COVID-19 coronavirus, which has already paralyzed cities and isolated millions. Devin Coldewey offers some guidelines for CEOs, aspiring founders and tech industry employees on how they can continue working in this environment.

4. mParticle raises $45M to help marketers unify customer data

A whole industry of customer data platforms has sprung up since mParticle was founded back in 2013, all offering tools to help marketers create a single view of their customers by unifying data from various sources.

5. Making money from games: The future of virtual economies

In part six of our series about "multiverse" virtual worlds, we explore the dynamics of games' virtual economies, the exchange of virtual assets for real money, challenges with money laundering and underage gambling, the compliance infrastructure needed for virtual economies and the challenges in balancing a virtual economy's monetary supply. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

6. India's Spinny raises $43.7M to expand its online platform for selling used cars

Niraj Singh, co-founder and chief executive of the startup, told TechCrunch that Spinny brings the trust factor that people are looking for when they are purchasing a car.

7. This week’s TechCrunch podcasts

The latest full-length episode of Equity looks at the stock market’s tumble due the coronavirus pandemic, while the Monday news roundup discusses the continuing trickle of tech IPOs. (Original Content will be back next week!)

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.

R&D roundup: soft 3D printing, backscatter Wi-Fi and other bleeding-edge tech

Posted: 02 Mar 2020 09:50 AM PST

I see far more research articles than I could possibly write up. This column collects the most interesting of those papers and advances along with notes on why they may prove important in the world of tech and startups.

This week: advances in rocketry, machine learning, wireless transmission and more.

Firing up new rockets

In some ways, rocketry is not so different from its beginnings around WWII, but as other bottlenecks give way it is becoming feasible to experiment with truly innovative types of rocket engines. One such type is the rotating detonation engine, an alternative to the standard means of controlling and directing the combustion that creates thrust. The process is highly chaotic, however, and not well understood enough to control properly.

University of Washington researchers set up a test rotating detonation engine and studied the combustion patterns inside using an ultra-high-speed camera. The footage was analyzed to produce the first mathematical model simulating the process. It’s still at a very early stage but understanding the mechanism of a new technology like this is necessary before putting it into practice. When packaged in software, this type of simulation can also be licensed to aerospace firms. You can read the full paper here.

Top 10 US astrology apps drew in $40M in 2019, up 65% from 2018

Posted: 02 Mar 2020 09:35 AM PST

In uncertain times, people go looking for answers in unusual places. And in 2019, many U.S. consumers found their answers in the stars — or, more specifically, in a group of increasingly popular astrology apps offering horoscopes, fortunes, palm-reading and mobile access to psychics, among other things. According to new data from Sensor Tower, the top 10 astrology apps in the U.S. market grew their revenues by 64.7% in 2019 to reach $40 million. That’s up from $24.1 million in 2018 and just $7.7 million back in 2016.

The biggest app in this space was Astrology & Palmistry Coach, which generated 35.3% of the top 10’s revenue for the year, or approximately $14 million.

Meanwhile, three apps have made the top 10 list each year since 2016: Zodiac Touch, whose revenues grew 75% from 2016 to 2019, plus Psychic Text and Purple Ocean.

Newcomers in 2019’s top 10 include FortuneScope, Horoscope & Palm Master and Astroline. Two of these tap into the mobile phone’s camera to automate palm readings — a feature none of the top apps offered in 2016 and an indication of how the apps are modernizing to reach a young, tech-savvy audience.

Investors have also seen the potential in the market. In 2019, the top 10 astrology app Co-Star, which ended the year as second-most downloaded in its category, raised a $5 million seed round. Two other apps mentioned as examples in an NYT piece about the rise of astrology apps, Sanctuary and Pattern, didn’t make the top 10. (Pattern, however, wasn’t considered for this round-up because it’s not overtly a horoscope app, Sensor Tower explains. Sanctuary ranked at No. 28 for revenue and No. 21 for downloads.)

The problem with the astrology market, however, is that its audience may be limited. While today’s group of apps are growing their revenues steadily, their reach is not growing as quickly. In 2019, the top 10 most downloaded astrology apps saw 19 million first-time installs — only up 3% over 2018. This also represents a slowdown since the 70.6% growth seen between 2017 and 2018.

Only one app has been a top 10 download since 2019: The DailyHoroscope. Meanwhile, the No. 1 most downloaded app this year, Astrology & Palmistry Coach, saw 3.3 million installs in 2019.

Astrology is not science, but it’s relatively harmless for those who use these sorts of apps casually. At best, astrology gives people a sense of control in a chaotic world and helps them relate to others by ascribing personality traits and life’s seeming randomness to star signs and the movements of planets. Users may also learn about themselves in the process, as they’re forced to pause and examine their own behavior and feelings.

Critics, however, would argue that faith in astrology apps is just another example of how people are turning away from science, data and research and toward junk and sometimes even harmful pseudoscience — much like they do when seeking out alternative health information like that offered by Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop, for example.

Astrology is only one of the breakout sub-genres within the “Lifestyle” category of apps in 2019. Sensor Tower previously reported the top 10 meditation apps pulled in $195 million in 2019, up 52% year-over-year.

Image credits: Sensor Tower

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