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Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Microsoft’s New Lumia 650 Is A $199 Windows 10 Phone

Microsoft unveiled its first Lumia phones running Windows 10 back in October, and today it offered up a third and much cheaper variant.
If last year’s Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL looked impressive — impressive for phones running on a ‘dead’ platform — then the Lumia 650, which was outed today, is the budget version, coming in as it does at $199 — far cheaper than the $549 and $649 of the 950 and 950 XL.
That $199 gets you five-inch OLED screen, eight- and five-megapixel cameras and the front and back, and a Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 212 which doesn’t support Microsoft’s ‘Continuum ‘ phone-to-PC feature.

Microsoft’s New App “Fetch!” Tells You What Kind Of Dog You Are (And It Can ID Your Dog, Too)

Even Microsoft’s new image recognition app has no idea what kind of dog I have. Oh well! If you don’t own a mixed-breed mutt saved from the kill shelter, however, you might have fun with the company’s latest Microsoft Garage project: Fetch!, a new iPhone app that looks at photos of dogs to identify its breed. Or, in the case when it can’t make an exact match, the app will show you a percentage of the closest match.
Oh yes, in case you’re wondering – you can use it with people, too.
The app is the latest in a series of fun projects that are meant to highlight machine learning’s potential. In this case, that’s the ability to look at an image and make some sort of determination about its contents – basically, it’s teaching machines to make the sort of intuitive leaps that people naturally do.

Amazon Acquires Emvantage To Build Its Online Payment Platform In India

Amazon will acquire startup Emvantage for an undisclosed amount to develop its Indian e-commerce site’s payment platform. In a press announcement, Amazon said the Noida-based company’s employees will start working for Amazon’s payment team after the transaction is completed.
Founded in 2012 by chief executive officer Vivek Sagar, Emvantage’s platform includes a payment gateway for online transactions made using credit or debit cards, mobile payment tools that integrate into merchant apps, and a prepaid wallet.
Making it easier for customers to pay for online purchases is a key point of focus for India’s top e-commerce businesses, which include Amazon, Snapdeal, and Flipkart. India’s e-commerce market is expected to be worth $100 billion by 2020, but the country’s credit card penetration rate is still extremely low. Instead, many shoppers pay for e-commerce purchases using online wallets that can be topped up at brick-and-mortar stores, pre-paid cards, or cash on delivery.
Paytm, an online payments company backed by Alibaba, is positioning its mobile wallet as an alternative to credit and debit cards, but it competes with several payment gateways owned by India’s major e-commerce players. These include Snapdeal’s Klickpay and Freecharge; FX Mart, which was acquired by Flipkart last September; and now Emvantage (Amazon is expected to close the transaction by the end of March).
In a statement, Srinivas Rao, the director of Amazon Payments India, said “Emvantage is a valuable addition to our team as we accelerate our payment offerings, ensuring the best in class online payment experience anywhere that customers shop with us.”

Reddit Hires Twitter’s Former News Manager As Head Of Journalism And Media

Reddit has hired Mark S. Luckie, the former news manager at Twitter and the person behind Today in Black Twitter, as its first-ever head of journalism and media. Journalists and media organizations have been using Reddit for years to discover and source content, but sifting through the loads of information on Reddit isn’t the easiest of tasks. Luckie’s new role will entail working with media organizations, as well as government organizations, to understand how they’re currently using Reddit and what their needs are from the platform, Luckie told me. He’ll then take that feedback and build it into Reddit’s product, with the goal of making Reddit more accessible to a broader community of people.
“A lot of it is delving into the community and figuring out how news spread within subreddits,” Luckie said. “I’ve been on Reddit for 8 years now as a lurker. It’s crazy. I don’t think I’ve done anything for eight years, including Twitter. Now, I want to look at it in an official capacity. I’ll delve into data, analyze the links going in, profile pages — all of this stuff that can be used to quantify news. I’m a spreadsheet kind of guy. I want to get in there and get my hands my dirty.”

Monday, February 8, 2016

Impact, Investment And Demand: Three Pillars For Civic Tech Success

Last year was one of great momentum for civic tech. We saw more people and resources than ever enter the space, garnering interest from startups, corporations, government agencies and investment firms. Kicking off 2016, civic tech is a fast-growing field with tangible potential to improve the relationship between citizens and government.
As the field works to become a sustainable, scalable ecosystem, there are three key trends to keep an eye on — areas where civic tech can start to cement its impact and provide critical proof points.

The 2016 election effect — proving the power of civic tech

This year’s presidential election will usher in a new wave of citizen engagement tools and platforms aimed at educating voters and boosting voter turnout. These tools and platforms deployed on a national scale in 2016 will provide valuable lessons in what works and what doesn’t work when trying to increase citizen participation.
With the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, is hoping to get more than political pundits engaged this election season. The petition website recently launched Change Politics, a new website and mobile platform aimed at empowering voters with more valuable, curated information — beyond what we typically learn through campaign ads and party affiliation.
Change Politics will allow voters to pose questions directly to candidates, will show candidates’ endorsements and will help users create a personalized ballot guide they can use on election day with their smartphones.
A growing number of acquisitions are proving that civic tech is a viable field.
While new tools such as Change Politics will help reshape what it means to be an engaged citizen, what will be truly game-changing is if entrepreneurs can take the lessons learned from civic tech’s application during the presidential election and apply them at the local level, both in the United States and abroad. For cities and states, these lessons can help build tools and platforms that engage citizens on issues they care about — and can help foster these interactions on a regular basis, rather than just every four years.

Increased funding and exits — accelerating growth and scale

From early stage funding to completed exit strategies, today’s civic tech companies have more funding opportunities than ever. A growing number of acquisitions are proving that civic tech is a viable field, attracting real interest from investors and entrenched companies.
A prime example of this kind of investment in civic tech comes from GovDelivery, the 15-year-old digital communication platform for government. Recognizing over the last several years the need for more cloud-based, user-centered tools, the company acquired NuCivic andTextizen in an effort to create more points of access between citizens and government.
These types of acquisitions will enable GovDelivery to deploy civic tech that better fits government and citizen needs. And combining forces with civic tech startups is part of a strategy that propelled the company to its strongest year ever in 2015, with 100 million subscribers and an estimated record revenue of $35 million.
In forecasting for the year ahead, 2016 will likely see this virtuous cycle of investment continue to grow — an estimated $285 million was raised in capital for U.S. civic tech companies in 2015 (according to Omidyar Network’s internal analysis using database PitchBook. Omidyar Network researchers identified 23 companies as related to civic tech and totaled investment capital raised in 2015). For the greater civic tech movement, this influx of funding enables civic tech companies to scale more quickly and reach more people, which, in turn, will grow acquisition opportunities and strengthen investor confidence in the field overall.

Greater government adoption rates — breaking down barriers and driving demand

In many communities around the country, a wall exists between government agencies and civic tech startups. Procurement policies and a general lack of awareness between the two groups often mean that the best solution to a city’s problem may never get discovered and implemented. This divide is potentially the biggest obstacle still facing civic tech in 2016.
Civic tech entrepreneurs and investors undoubtedly have their work cut out for them.
We’re starting to see the wall being chipped away in cities like New York, San Francisco, London and Barcelona, thanks to local government agencies’ growing willingness to rethink procurement. Working with online platform Citymart, governments are implementing problem-based procurement, where instead of issuing a list of specifications for a pre-determined — and often quite limited — solution, agencies make an open call for new ideas around a challenge facing their communities, such as excessive noise in residential areas, bicycle theft and food waste.
By the end of 2015, Citymart had completed more than 100 challenges with more than 50 cities around the globe, resulting in 10 times more solutions for cities’ problems and 98 percent of contracts going to SMEs, startups and social entrepreneurs.
As more cities start to bear the fruits of a problem-based procurement, other government agencies will gain the confidence they need to work with civic entrepreneurs. And as cloud, open data and IoT technologies become an increasing need for local government, civic tech companies will find more inroads for successful relationships with local government. For civic tech to truly reach its tipping point, this symbiotic relationship between government, entrepreneurs and innovators is mission critical.
In the year ahead, civic tech entrepreneurs and investors undoubtedly have their work cut out for them. In addition to procurement, strict regulations and varying success metrics leave many at risk of falling into a pilot-stage purgatory, never able to fully scale their innovations. However, if stakeholders can hold tight to the opportunities ahead of us with the presidential election, continue attracting capital and forge new relationships with government, 2016 can be a watershed year for the sector.

The Evolving Technology Of The Super Bowl

The Evolving Technology Of The Super Bowl
As football fans gear up for the 50th anniversary of the Super Bowl this Sunday, we can expect to see not only a great athletic game, but a host of dazzling new technology at play behind the scenes, working to seamlessly bring the game to millions of viewers. To really appreciate how sophisticated this sport has become, here’s a look at some of the ways Super Bowl technology has evolved in the last fifty years.
Camera Tech Has Come a Long Way
Back in 1967, Super Bowl 1 aired to viewers simultaneously on NBC and CBS—the only game to have been aired by two major networks at the same time. Unfortunately most of the footage from the game was wiped, as was standard practice at the time. Just this year the NFL was able to locate all 145 plays of the game on a few dozen different sources, stitch them together, enhance and color correct the footage, to bring the game back to life for the first time. The daytime game features tons of empty seats, despite $12 tickets, and of course no jumbo screen or pyrotechnics filled halftime show.
While Super Bowl 1 is a fun throwback for film buffs, camera technology has come a long way in the past fifty years, and so too has the viewing experience. For this year’s 50th anniversary, CBS Sports is debuting exciting new cameras to bring television viewers even closer to the live event experience. With last year’s game bringing in a record 140 million viewers, this year’s anniversary match between the Panthers and the Broncos is the perfect time to show off new technology.
CBS will have a suite of 70 cameras filming the Super Bowl, which is a big jump from the 40 cameras that covered last year’s game. The showstopper from the new cameras is sure to be the Eye Vision 360, a replay camera that can freeze any moment of play and circle 360 degrees around it, and then continue the play.
With a fleet of 36 cameras mounted near the red zone at the 25 yard line, the placement will allow the cameras to capture the entire field, and then render together into 360 degree views for replays.
Instant replay has become such a pivotal part of how football is both watched and played, so it’s easy to forget that it wasn’t until 1986 that the NFL first implemented a limited instant replay system.

Graphene Shows Promise For Brain Implants

Graphene, the super thin carbon material that’s been exciting scientists in the decade+ since single-atom thick graphene crystallites were successfully extracted from the bulk material, continues to give hints of a promising future blending electronics and biology.

In a new study, conducted by researchers at the Cambridge Graphene Centre and the University of Trieste in Italy, and published in the journal ACS Nano, the suggestion is it could be used to make highly effective, flexible brain implants in future — biodevices that avoid the loss of signal problem associated with the scar tissue that can form around modern electrodes made from more rigid substances, such as silicon and tungsten.

Point is, human brains are made of soft tissue so it helps if your electrodes can flex too. Graphene is also considered to have excellent biocompatibility properties (although research into potential toxicity is not conclusive at this stage).

The implication of the Cambridge-Trieste research is that graphene-based electrodes could, in future, be safely be implanted in the brain — offering promise for the restoration of sensory functions for amputee or paralysed patients, for example, or to help individuals with motor disorders such as epilepsy or Parkinson’s disease. So the future potential being glimpsed here is pretty exciting — albeit, theoretical and a long way out (plus, it should be stressed, the successful experiments were also conducted on rat brain cultures).

The researchers note that previously other groups have shown it is possible to use treated graphene to interact with neurons in the brain, however the problem with using treated graphene was the signal to noise ratio was very low. Working with untreated graphene retains the material’s much lauded electrical conductivity — resulting in a significantly better electrode. And one that was seen to interface well with rat neurons.

“For the first time we interfaced graphene to neurons directly,” said Professor Laura Ballerini of the University of Trieste in Italy, in a statement. “We then tested the ability of neurons to generate electrical signals known to represent brain activities, and found that the neurons retained their neuronal signalling properties unaltered. This is the first functional study of neuronal synaptic activity using uncoated graphene based materials.”

The scientists couch the research as a “first step” towards using pristine graphene-based materials as an electrode for a neuro-interface. So again, graphene-based biodevices aren’t going to be coming to CES next year — perhaps in a couple of decades…

They say their next steps will be to investigate how different forms of graphene are able to affect neurons, and whether tuning the material properties might alter the biological response (in terms of synapses and neuronal excitability).

“Hopefully this will pave the way for better deep brain implants to both harness and control the brain, with higher sensitivity and fewer unwanted side effects,” added Ballerini.

Meet The Voting Board Of The 9th Annual Crunchies

Meet The Voting Board Of The 9th Annual Crunchies
TechCrunch is excited to announce the 100-person Crunchies Board who collectively picked the winners of the 9th Annual Crunchies award.
Early last month the law firm Perkins Coie delivered ballots to these TechCrunch editors, entrepreneurs, investors and other tech notables. The law firm then tallied the ballots and is keeping the winners secret until tonight, when the awards will be handed out at the 9th Annual Crunchies.
Here’s the full list of all the voting members.

Super Bowl Technology Mishaps And Real Time Rescues

The Super Bowl is the crowning glory of sports in the United States, but it hasn’t been without it’s mishaps. They aren’t the last minute fumbles, missed field goals, or obvious interceptions either. They’re those unfortunate outside incidents that stopped or changed the course of the game.
In many cases, today’s real time technologies could have been applied for simple fixes to the unforeseen mishaps of modern technologies.
In 2013, there was a power outage during Super Bowl XLVII. The outage was ironically caused by a device specifically made to stop power outages. The equipment sensed an ‘abnormality’ and decided to open a breaker which cut the power to the field for 34 minutes.
Smart Grids could have saved the day.
Multiple sensors would have been measuring voltage and current levels throughout the stadium and correlating this with expected usage. Multiple breakers for redundant circuits would have been in place, with analytics software checking for normality and rerouting power as necessary. The lights may have dimmed, or non-critical systems like indoor heating or bar lighting, turned off, but the game would have gone on.
In 1982, the teams were travelling by bus to the Silverdome for Super Bowl XVI. The buses took different routes and the bus carrying the SF 49er’s was caught up in traffic due to bad weather and then VP George HW Bush’s motorcade. Despite arriving with less than an hour to go, the 49er’s still managed to win 26-21.
Crowd-sourcing apps, real-time road-sensors, and streaming analytics would have enabled them to dynamically reroute and avoid the worst of the traffic; and GPS with real-time location tracking could have notified the NFL of their predicament (or, of course, they could have called from a cell phone).
Honorable mentions in football, but not directly related to the Super Bowl, have to go to the 1968 Heidi Bowl and the 2014 Seahawks opening games.
The increasing popularity of Smart Phones, coupled with a love for sharing, and the ubiquity of photos and videos has put an increasing strain on cellular networks. So much so that, in 2014, for the opening game of the Seattle Seahawks, city officials asked citizens to limit their “non-essential mobile conversation”. No tweeting that grainy fumble-vid you took from 100 yards away, even if you did apply the Fade filter and edit in the Benny Hill theme music.
The city was concerned that large amounts of highly localized mobile photo and video interchange would put a strain on networks and limit the capabilities for 911 or other emergency calls.
Adding additional LTE-capable Distributed Antenna Systems at the stadium would have helped.
And finally – in 1968 the Oakland Raiders were playing the New York Jets. Airing on NBC, the executives wanted to piggy back on the popularity of the game to drive audiences into the showing of their new movie Heidi.
They had highly publicized this film and secured exclusive sponsorship from Timex. In those days games typically didn’t exceed two and half hours, so with a start time of 4pm Heidi was scheduled to start at 7pm. Timex had (being watchmakers) insisted the movie must begin on-time and had included such clauses in their contract.
However, there were more injuries and penalties than usual, and at 6:45pm it appeared the last quarter was going very slowly. A nervous technician, whose job it was to switch to the Heidi feed, tried to get word from the NBC executive to check if he should keep the game running.
Unfortunately, so many people called NBC (either wanting Heidi to start on time, or to continue watching the game) that the switchboard fuses blew and they were without phones. Unable to contact anyone, he followed orders and at 7pm switched to Heidi. In the last minute of the game the Raiders scored twice in 9 seconds and won 43-23.

How Apple Can Improve Its Watch And Boost Sales

Apple isn’t releasing exact sales numbers, but some expert digging has led many to believe that sales of the Apple Watch haven’t reached expectations since its launch in spring 2015. The company’s annual filing suggested it sold $1.7 billion worth in fiscal 2015, but compare that with the iPhone, which sold $32.2 billion worth in the fourth quarter alone. That’s a big discrepancy for a company that’s used to seeing lines around the block for new product releases.
I spent 12 years at Apple — most of my corporate career, in fact. During my tenure, I launched and drove the music and entertainment verticals and, as a natural side effect, became intimately immersed in Apple products and processes.
With that knowledge, I have a personal principle for all new launches: Wait about six months before purchasing the latest gadget (particularly in a new product category), as it takes about that long for Apple to work out all the kinks. Usually, the increased functionality is well worth the wait.
Yet even beyond the six-month point, I haven’t yet purchased an Apple Watch myself. And with rumors swarming around about the Apple Watch 2.0, the principle bears repeating: Hold off six months before purchasing.
After spending so much of my career focused on Apple, I possess both an insider’s and an outsider’s view of what’s happening with the watch, and there are several things I’d love to see developed (or at least considered). Here are a few areas in which future iterations of the Apple Watch could be improved to help reach (and boost) projected sales.
Fashion: The current Apple Watch is sleek and smooth compared with other smartwatches, but even as a tech device, it could push the style envelope further. Fashion industry executives now at Apple, including those from brands such as Yves Saint Laurent and Burberry, have tried to establish Apple as a lifestyle brand by upping its sex appeal. The company is even partnering with fashion designer Herm├Ęs.
Although Apple has been successful in these ventures for the most part, the exclusive styles born out of these collaborations are still too expensive for most buyers. Everyone wants to be able to customize her watchbands, not just those with deep pockets.
Apple’s next step, then, should be partnering with more inexpensive brands like Target to increase customizability while decreasing the watch’s price. By doing so, Apple would optimize its product by appealing to more of the masses.
As it stands, the Apple Watch is no more than an iPhone accessory.
Back when the iPod Nano came out, for example, Apple not only created a new space in the market, but also released the product in candy colors that appealed to young kids in its targeted demographic. Likewise, by offering a simpler, cheaper route to band customization, suddenly the pool of potential Apple Watch customers expands.
Independence: What people want most is to not have to carry all their devices with them. And for the Apple Watch, its reliance on an iPhone might be its biggest flaw. Right now, people still have to carry their phones because of the Bluetooth connectivity that enables the watch’s functionality. Without the phone, its uses are limited.
As it stands, the Apple Watch is no more than an iPhone accessory, rather than its own device. But in the future, the watch, independent of any other Apple product, will allow for seamless integration into a user’s personal life. Imagine going for a run and having GPS settled on your wrist without having to carry your phone, or sitting at an airport and hearing airline notifications ping as flight delays happen.
Although this type of feature is most likely too far off for the Apple Watch 2.0, it’s still something to consider moving forward as tech like the watch improves. Similar to the shift away from desktop computers, the Apple Watch could dominate the wearable space in the move away from mobile.
Health: On a more practical level, many people are interested in wearables because of the potential health benefits they provide.
As more Americans try to manage their own health, apps that monitor all facets of wellness grow in popularity. Most Apple products have relied on third-party app developers to create this kind of value, but if Apple could lead and drive more of the innovation and health metric analysis, it would give the brand yet another competitive advantage over other wearable technologies.
Apps that make blood sugar testing easier (without skin pricks) or identify heart attack symptoms would increase the stakes for several companies, such as Fitbit. Apple has an opportunity to be the leader in apps that address real healthcare problems for real people in real time.
When it comes to waiting for technology to mature, I’m in good company. Steve Jobs famously waited years to purchase appliances such as a washer and dryer for his home because he wanted the perfect models that would solve his needs and be highly functional as well as aesthetically pleasing. The same is true for me — and, as sales show, apparently for many others — when it comes to the Apple Watch.
I hope to see Apple implement some of the strategies noted above as the Watch evolves over time. In my experience, these three approaches would quickly attract customers who are waiting to see what the Apple Watch will become and how the wearables space will progress.

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