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Drivetime nabs $11M from Makers Fund, Amazon and Google to build voice-based games for drivers

Posted by | Amazon, Apps, artificial intelligence, drivetime, Entertainment, funding, Gaming, Google, makers fund, Recent Funding, Startups, trivia, Voice interface, voice services | No Comments

Fully autonomous cars may (or may not) be just around the corner, but in the meantime, a startup that’s building in-car apps to help human drivers pass the time when behind the wheel has raised a round of funding.

Drivetime — which makes voice-based trivia quizzes, games and interactive stories that people can play while driving — has raised $11 million in funding led by Makers Fund (a prolific investor in gaming startups), with participation from Amazon (via the Alexa Fund) and Google (via its Assistant investment program).

The startup today has eight “channels” on its platform consisting of games and stories that you can access either within a limited free-to-play tier or via a paid subscription ($9.99 a month or $99.99 a year). The plan is to use the funding to continue expanding that catalog, as well as investing in deeper integrations with its new big-name strategic investors, who themselves have longstanding and deep interests in bringing more voice services and content to the in-car experience.

Co-founder and CEO Niko Vuori told TechCrunch that his ultimate ambition is for Drivetime to become “the Sirius XM of interactive content” for cars, with hundreds of different channels of content.

In keeping with those plans, along with the funding, Drivetime is today announcing a key content deal.

It has teamed up with the long-running, popular game show Jeopardy to build a trivia channel for the platform, which lets drivers test their own skills and also play against other drivers and people they know. The Jeopardy channel will source content from the TV show’s trove of IP and come with another familiar detail: it will be narrated by Alex Trebek, with a new quiz getting published every weekday for premium users.

That social element of the Jeopardy game is not a coincidence. The San Francisco-based startup is founded by Zynga alums, with Vuori and his co-founders Justin Cooper and Cory Johnson also working together at another startup called Rocket Games since leaving the social games giant and exiting that to gaming giant Penn National for up to $170 million. That track record goes some way to explaining the strong list of investors in the new startup.

“Social and interactive formats are the next frontier in audio entertainment,” said Makers Fund founding partner Jay Chi, in a statement. “Niko, Justin Cooper and Cory Johnson, with a decade-long history of working together and a proven track record in building new platforms, is the best team to bring this idea to life.”

“Gaming and entertainment are among customers’ favorite use cases for Alexa, and we think those categories will only grow in popularity as Alexa is integrated into more vehicles,” said Paul Bernard, director of the Alexa Fund at Amazon, in a separate statement. “Drivetime stands out for its focus on voice-first games in the car, and we’re excited to work with them to broaden the Alexa Auto experience and help customers make the most of their time behind the wheel.”

In addition to the three investors in this latest round, prior to this Drivetime had raised about $4 million from backers that include Felicis Ventures, Fuel Capital, Webb Investment Network (Maynard Webb’s fund) and Access Ventures.

Vuori declined to say how many installs or active users the app has today — although from the looks of it on AppAnnie, it’s seeing decent if not blockbuster success on iOS and Android so far.

Instead, the company prefers to focus on another stat, its addressable market, which it says is 110 million drivers in North America alone.

Meanwhile, adding a Jeopardy channel is building on what has worked best so far. The most popular category at the moment is trivia, with Tunetime (a “name that tune” game) coming in second and storytelling a third.

Drivetime’s premise is an interesting one. Drivers are a captive audience, but one that has up to now had a relatively limited amount of entertainment created for it, focusing mainly on music and spoken word.

However, the rise of voice-based interfaces and interactivity using natural language — spurred by the rise of personal assistant apps and in-home hubs like Amazon’s Echo — have opened a new opportunity, developing interactive, voice-based content for drivers to engage with more proactively.

You might think that this sounds like a recipe for a car accident. Won’t a driver get too distracted trying to remember the fourth president of the United States, or who was known as the father of the Constitution? (Hint: It’s the same guy.)

Vuori claims it’s actually the reverse: Having an interactive game that requires the driver to speak out loud can focus him or her and keep the driver more alert.

“We are double-dipping in safety,” he said. “On the one hand, we embody the safety aspects of Alertness Maintaining Tasks (AMTs). But we also act as a preventative, meaning that while players engage with Drivetime, they are not engaging with anything else.”

While the content today may serve as a way of keeping drivers from doing things they shouldn’t be doing while in a car, there is another obvious opportunity that might come as drivers become less necessary and will need other things to occupy themselves.

Longer term, the Jeopardy deal could usher in other channels based on popular game shows. Sony Pictures Television Games, which owns the rights to it, also owns Wheel of Fortune and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.

“We are thrilled to work with Sony Pictures Television Games to bring Jeopardy, the greatest game show on the planet, to an underserved audience that desperately needs interactive entertainment the most – the 110 million commuters in North America driving to and from work by themselves every day,” said Vuori said in a statement.

Interestingly, despite the growth of “skills” for Alexa or apps for Google Home and other home hubs, and the overall popularity of these as a way of interacting with apps and sourcing information, Vuori says that he hasn’t seen any competition emerge yet from other app developers to build voice-based entertainment for drivers in the way that Drivetime has.

That gives the company ample opportunity to continue picking up new users — and more deals with publishers and content companies looking for more mileage (sorry) for their legacy IP and new business.

“Drivetime is one of the early pioneers in creating safe, stimulating entertainment for drivers in the car,” Ilya Gelfenbeyn, founding lead of the Google Assistant Investments Program, noted in a statement. “More and more people are using their voice to stay productive on the road, asking the Google Assistant on Android and iOS phones to help send text messages, make calls and access entertainment hands free. We share Drivetime’s vision, and look forward to working with their team to make the daily commute more enjoyable.”

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Amazon’s free streaming service IMDb TV comes to mobile devices

Posted by | Amazon, imdb, imdb freedive, Media, Mobile, streaming service | No Comments

IMDb TV, the free ad-supported streaming service launched by Amazon-owned IMDb at the beginning of the year (originally called Freedive), is today arriving on mobile devices. With the updated version of iOS and Android IMDb app rolling out now, users can stream from the app’s growing library of free movies and TV series.

Prior to IMDb TV’s launch, the movie website had experimented with video content in the form of trailers, celebrity interviews and other short-form series. But consumers today are more interested in services where they can stream premium content for free, without a subscription — as they can on IMDb TV competitors like Walmart-owned Vudu’s “Movies on Us,” Tubi or The Roku Channel, for example.

At launch, IMDb TV offered a collection of TV shows like Fringe, Heroes, The Bachelor and Without a Trace, as well as Hollywood movies like Awakenings, Foxcatcher, Memento, Monster, Run Lola Run, The Illusionist, The Last Samurai, True Romance and others.

This summer, it expanded its lineup through new deals with Warner Bros., Sony Pictures Entertainment and MGM Studios.

This brought movies like Captain Fantastic and La La Land to the service, the latter which has since become one of the service’s most-streamed movies this summer. Other popular titles included Jerry Maguire, Practical Magic, A Knight’s Tale, Drive, Max, Step Dogs, Zookeeper, Paddington and The Neverending Story.

More recent deals with Paramount and Lionsgate have also brought new content to IMDb TV, like Silver Linings Playbook, Age of Adaline, In the Heart of the Sea and the TV show, The Middle.

The company hasn’t said how many customers IMDb TV has, but the service has benefited from integrations with Amazon’s Fire TV.

Earlier this year, Marc Whitten, vice president of Fire TV, noted that Fire TV customers’ use of free, ad-supported apps had increased by more than 300% during the last year. IMDb TV is expected to contribute to that, with its placement on the “Your Apps & Channels” row on Fire TV and its availability as a free channel within the Prime Video app.

The updated iOS and Android IMDb app is rolling out starting today, the company says.

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Google falls to third place in worldwide smart speaker market

Posted by | alibaba, Amazon, Amazon Echo, Assistant, Baidu, China, echo, Gadgets, Google, google home, hardware, smart speakers, Speaker, United States, voice assistants, voice computing, Xiaomi | No Comments

The global smart speaker market grew 55.4% in the second quarter to reach 26.1 million shipments, according to a new report from Canalys. Amazon continued to lead the race, accounting for 6.6 million units shipped in the quarter. Google, however, fell to the third spot as China’s Baidu surged ahead. Baidu in Q2 grew a sizable 3,700% to reach 4.5 million units, overtaking Google’s 4.3 million units shipped.

China’s market overall doubled its quarterly shipments to 12.6 million units, or more than twice the U.S.’s 6.1 million total. The latter represents a slight (2.4%) decline since the prior quarter.

Baidu’s growth in the quarter was attributed to aggressive marketing and go-to-market campaigns. It was particularly successful in terms of smart displays, which accounted for 45% of the products it shipped.

“Local network operators’ interests on the [smart display] device category soared recently. This bodes well for Baidu as it faces little competition in the smart display category, allowing the company to dominate in the operator channel,” noted Canalys Research Analyst Cynthia Chen.

Meanwhile, Google was challenged by the Nest rebranding in Q2, the analyst firm said.

The report also suggested that Google should introduce a revamped smart speaker portfolio to rekindle consumer interest. The Google Home device hasn’t been updated since launch — still sporting the air freshener-style looks it had back in 2016. And the Google Home mini hasn’t received much more than a color change.

Instead, Google’s attention as of late has been on making it easier for device manufacturers to integrate with Google Assistant technology, in addition to its increased focus on smart displays.

Amazon, by comparison, has updated its Echo line of speakers several times while expanding Alexa to devices with screens like the Echo Spot and Show, and to those without like the Echo Plus, Echo Dot, Echo Auto and others — even clocks and microwaves — as sort of public experiments in voice computing.

That said, both Amazon and Google turned their attention to non-U.S. markets in Q2, the report found. Indeed, 50% of Amazon’s smart speaker shipments were outside the U.S. in Q2, up from 32% in Q2 last year. And 55% of Google’s shipments were outside the U.S., up from 42% in Q2 2018.

table ifnal final

Beyond the top 3 — Amazon, Baidu and now No. 3 Google — the remaining top five included Alibaba and Xiaomi, with 4.1 million and 2.8 million units shipped in Q2, respectively.

The rest of the market, which would also include Apple’s HomePod, totaled 3.7 million units.

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What lower Netflix pricing tells us about competing in India

Posted by | Amazon, Apple, Apps, Asia, China, Cred, Disney, Facebook, Finance, FreeCharge, funding, Fundings & Exits, Google India, HBO, Hotstar, iPhone, LinkedIn, Media, Mobile, Netflix, Paytm, Reed Hastings, Satyan Gajwani, SnapDeal, Spotify, Tim Cook, Times Internet, Uber, Vijay Shekhar Sharma | No Comments

At a conference in New Delhi early last year, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings was confronted with a question that his company has been asked many times over the years. Would he consider lowering the subscription cost in India?

It’s a tactic that most Silicon Valley companies have adapted to in the country over the years. Uber rides aren’t as costly in India as they are elsewhere. Spotify and Apple Music cost less than $2 per month to users in the country. YouTube Premium as well as subscriptions to U.S. news outlets such as WSJ and New York Times are also priced significantly lower compared to the prices they charge in their home turf.

Hastings had also come prepared: He acknowledged that the entertainment viewing industry in India is very different from other parts of the world. To be sure, much of the pay-TV in India is supported by ads and the access fee remains too low ($5). But that was not going to change how Netflix likes to roll, he said.

“We want to be sensitive to great stories and to fund those great stories by investing in local content,” he said. “So yes, our strategy is to build up the local content — and of course we have got the global content — and try to uplevel the industry,” he said, identifying movie-goers who spend about Rs 500 ($7.25) or more on tickets each month as Netflix’s potential customers.

GettyImages 992527026 1

Indian commuters walking below a poster of “Sacred Games”, an original show produced by Netflix (Image: INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images)

Less than a year and a half later, Netflix has had a change of heart. The company today rolled out a lower-priced subscription plan in India, a first for the company. The monthly plan, which restricts usage of the service to mobile devices only, is priced at Rs 199 ($2.8) — a third of the least expensive plan in the U.S.

At a press conference in New Delhi today, Netflix executives said that the lower-priced subscription tier is aimed at expanding the reach of its service in the country. “We want to really broaden the audience for Netflix, want to make it more accessible, and we knew just how mobile-centric India has been,” said Ajay Arora, Director of Product Innovation at Netflix.

The move comes at a time when Netflix has raised its subscription prices in the U.S. by up to 18% and in the UK by up to 20%.

Netflix’s strategy shift in India illustrates a bigger challenge that Silicon Valley companies have been facing in the country for years. If you want to succeed in the country, either make most of your revenue from ads, or heavily subsidize your costs.

But whether finding users in India is a success is also debatable.

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Tile finds another $45M to expand its item-tracking devices and platform

Posted by | Amazon, Apple, Bessemer Venture Partners, Bluetooth, Bryant Stibel, ceo, Cloud, Comcast, Francisco Partners, funding, Gadgets, ggv capital, Google, hardware, partner, Qualcomm, Recent Funding, semiconductor, spokesperson, Startups, switzerland, TC, technology, telecommunications, tile, United States | No Comments

Tile — the company that makes popular square-shaped tags and other technology to help people keep track of physical belongings like keys and bags — has made more recent moves to link up with chipmakers, helping it expand to wireless headsets and other electronic and other connected items as part of a wider smart home strategy. Now, Tile is announcing a round of funding of $45 million to double down on those strategies and fulfill a plan to have its technology in millions of devices by the end of this year.

The growth equity is being led by Francisco Partners, with participation from previous investors GGV Capital and Bessemer Venture Partners and new backers Bryant Stibel and SVB Financial Group.

CJ Prober — who joined as CEO last year in part to develop Tile’s newer areas of business — said in an interview that the funding will help the startup be more aggressive in doubling down on these new opportunities.

“We’re seeing great business momentum, with the first embedded partner products from our strategic initiatives coming out this year,” he said. It now has partnerships with five semiconductor companies, including Qualcomm and most recently Nordic, which they integrate Tile functionality on to their hardware, he added. “All this is now paying off with great momentum.”

Prober would not comment on the company’s valuation with this round, except to say that it was definitely an up round. A spokesperson described the Series C as having “opened” with this $45 million commitment, which implies that there may be more funding coming, but Tile has declined to specify any more detail on this front. The startup had previously raised rounds in stages — as you can see by this timeline in PitchBook. For some more context, Tile’s last noted valuation (also in PitchBook) was around $166 million, but that was now more than two years ago, before the various initiatives and other changes at the company.

Tile is not disclosing any metrics on its market share or how many of its devices are now in use, but it typically is rated as the largest of a crowded market for item-tracking devices (with others in the space including TrackR (Adero), Chipolo, and more).

But it notes that its European business (a relatively new area of focus for Tile) has grown by 160% in the last quarter. That’s coming from a small base, though: Prober confirmed that the U.S. is still by far its biggest market in terms of sales and users.

And it also had a strong Prime Day on Amazon this year, doubling its unit sales (but didn’t provide hard numbers for comparison). It said it has exceeded projections for sign-ups for its Premium tier, which provides free battery replacements, 30-day location history, smart alerts (prompting you, for example, when you’ve left your keys somewhere), customer support and more for $30 for the year, or $3 per month.

The company has been planting a lot of seeds, and some of them have yet to sprout. Last year, Tile announced that it would take an investment from Comcast to help it develop new products for its wider connected consumer strategy.

Prober, however, described this as still in the “roadmapping phase” and would not get into specifics except to say that there are a number of different initiatives in the works. There also was a partnership with Google unveiled at the most recent I/O that will see its home devices also being able to be tracked by the Tile platform.

I asked Prober if he worries ultimately about whether large tech companies like Apple, Amazon, Google and the rest — which all want to “own” connected home customers and the ecosystem of hardware and services that they may use — are seen as opportunities or threats for Tile, given that it’s piggy backing on their platforms and devices. His and the company’s fundamental feeling — one that should be supported in the spirit of competition and consumer choice — is that having a cross-platform option is the way to go.

“Our customers have different devices, products from different companies and it’s our job to ensure that Tile works well across all of those,” he said. “We see ourselves a little bit like Switzerland, which is also something that our customers and partners appreciate.”

While we’re seeing a surge of new communications technologies and protocols — 5G being perhaps the one we are hearing about most at the moment — Tile is sticking to Bluetooth for now.

“We love what Bluetooth enables for our customers in terms of the form factor, the cost and profile of the device and the power consumption,” said Prober. “We’re constantly evaluating different alternatives, and if there is an alternative we would consider that, but in our view that doesn’t exist right now.”

It’s a choice that its investors are also supporting.

“Tile pioneered the smart location category,” said Andrew Kowal, partner with Francisco Partners, in a statement. “With Bluetooth technology projected to be included in nearly 30 billion devices shipping in the next five years, Tile is poised to deliver an embedded finding solution for a rapidly expanding market. We are extremely excited to be partnering with Tile as the company enters the next chapter of its growth story.”

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You can now ask your car how your stock is trading

Posted by | Amazon, Android, Apple, automotive, CarPlay, echo, mobile app, TD Ameritrade, Transportation | No Comments

TD Ameritrade has integrated with in-vehicle software platforms Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Amazon’s Echo Auto to give customers the ability to check their stock portfolio or get the latest financial news while sitting behind the wheel.

TD Ameritrade launched the suite of in-vehicle experiences this week, the latest move by the company to place investors just a voice command or click away from a stock price or other financial information.

TD Ameritrade Chief Information Officer Vijay Sankaran called this a “natural next step” and another way the company is “using complex technology to weave investing seamlessly into our daily lives.”

For now, customers won’t be able to make trades within the vehicle. Although that might be another “natural next step,” considering the trajectory of TD Ameritrade. Customers already can trade over the phone, via a desktop computer or mobile app and, more recently, through Amazon Alexa-enabled devices.

Instead, the features will depend on which in-vehicle software platform a customer is using. For those with Apple CarPlay, customers can keep track of real-time market news with a new TDAN Radio app from the TD Ameritrade Network. The network will broadcast news live via audio streaming optimized for CarPlay.

Drivers using the Android Auto and Echo Auto platforms have the option to use voice commands to unlock market performance summaries and sector updates, hear real-time quotes and check account balances and portfolio performance.

“In a connected world like ours, we have to meet investors where they are, whether at home, in the office, or on the go,” Sunayna Tuteja, head of strategic partnerships and emerging technologies at TD Ameritrade said in a statement. “In-vehicle technology offers a new type of connectivity that further breaks down barriers to accessing financial education and markets.”

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TwelveSouth’s StayGo is the last USB-C dock you’ll ever need

Posted by | Amazon, computing, ethernet, Gadgets, hardware, HDMI, iPad, Mobile, Reviews, TC, telecommunications, usb, usb 3.0 | No Comments

The TwelveSouth StayGo is a new USB-C dock from a company that makes a ton of great and unique Mac and iOS device accessories. True to the company’s track record, it offers a slightly different take on a popular accessory category — and ends up excelling as a result.

The StayGo’s unique twist is a short USB-C to USB-C cable that slots right into a dedicated compartment on the dock, offering portable connectivity without any awkward stubby permanently attached cord. It also avoids the problem that direct USB-C dock connectors have, where they stick out and can potentially get damaged in your bag or scratch other stuff. There’s a second, three-foot cable included in the box, too, which you can conveniently just plug into your Mac at home if you switch between a desktop and a MacBook, or a Mac and an iPad.

It seems like a pretty simple thing, but having these two cables instead of just one, and the stowable short cable, make this far more convenient for anyone who travels or who does any out-of-home work at all. I’ve used a ton of these things, and StayGo is my clear favorite after having used it on a couple of trips over a month or so of testing.

I haven’t even talked about the ports yet — TwelveSouth nailed the right mix there, too, with three high-speed USB 3.0 ports, an Ethernet port, a USB-C connector (with pass-through charging at up to 85W), a 4K 30Hz HDMI port and both SD and microSD slots (which support UHS-I transfer speeds, and which can operate simultaneously). That’s just about everything a traveler or working photographer today needs, and nothing they don’t — all in a space-saving design that never makes you choose between it and other gear when you’re packing even the smallest bag.

In terms of performance, so far it’s been rock solid. There’s nothing worse than random unmounting of memory cards when you’re trying to transfer photos from a shoot, and the StayGo is definitely able to deliver solid, uninterrupted performance there. If I had any complaints, it’s that video output isn’t 60Hz, but that’s not really a necessary requirement for something that I’ll be using primarily to supplement my external monitor needs when I’m on the road, instead of a dedicated video connection for a video editing setup, for instance.

The StayGo can get a bit warm when operating, but it’s never been actually hot, and the aluminum case construction helps ensure it can shed excess temp quickly.

At $99.99 it may be a bit more expensive than some of the hubs you can pick up on Amazon, but in terms of reliability, specs, port load out and its interesting approach to blending portability and at-home convenience, TwelveSouth is more than justified in setting that price point for the StayGo.

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Netflix will roll out a lower-priced subscription plan in India

Posted by | Amazon, Apps, Asia, Disney, Entertainment, Hotstar, india, Media, Mobile, Netflix, prime video, Spotify | No Comments

Netflix said on Wednesday that it will roll out a cheaper subscription plan in India, one of the last great growth markets for global companies, as the streaming giant scrambles to find ways to accelerate its slowing growth worldwide.

The company added 2.7 million new subscribers in the quarter that ended in June this year, it said today, far fewer than the 5 million figure it had forecasted earlier this year.

The company said lowering its subscription plan, which starts at $9 in the U.S., would help it reach more users in India and expand its overall subscriber base. The new plan will be available in India in Q3. According to third-party research firms, Netflix has fewer than 2 million subscribers in India.

Netflix started to test a lower-priced subscription plan in India and some other markets in Asia late last year. The plan restricts the usage of the service to one mobile device and offers only the standard definition viewing (~480p). During the period of testing, which was active as of two months ago, the company charged users as low as $4.

The company did not specify the exact amount it intends to charge users for the cheaper mobile-only plan. During the testing period, Netflix also provided some users the option to get a subscription that would only last for a week. The company also did not say if it intended to bring the cheaper plan to other markets. TechCrunch has reached out to Netflix for more details. (Update: Netflix declined to elaborate at this point.)

“After several months of testing, we’ve decided to roll out a lower-priced mobile-screen plan in India to complement our existing plans. We believe this plan, which will launch in Q3, will be an effective way to introduce a larger number of people in India to Netflix and to further expand our business in a market where Pay TV ARPU is low (below $5),” the company said in its quarterly earnings report.

The India challenge

Selling an entertainment service in India, the per capita GDP of which is under $2,000, is extremely challenging. The vast majority of companies that have performed exceedingly well in the nation offer their products and services at a very low price.

Just look at Spotify, which entered India earlier this year and for the first time decided to offer full access to its service at no cost to local users. Even its premium option that features playback in higher quality costs Rs 119 ($1.6) per month.

That’s not to say that winning in India, home to more than 1.3 billion people, can’t be rewarding. Disney-owned streaming service Hotstar, which offers 80% of its content catalog at no cost, has amassed more than 300 million monthly active users. There are about 500 million internet users in India, according to industry reports.

In fact, Hotstar set a global record for most simultaneous views to a live event — about 25.3 million users — during the recently concluded ICC cricket world cup. It broke its own previous records. Hotstar’s free offering comes bundled with ads, while its ad-free premium option costs Rs 999 ($14.5) for year-long access.

Amazon, another global rival of Netflix, bundles its Prime Video streaming service in its Prime membership, which includes access to faster delivery of packages and its music service, for Rs 999 a year.

For Netflix, the decision to lower its pricing in India comes at a time when it has hiked the subscription cost in many parts of the world in recent quarters. In the U.S., for instance, Netflix said earlier this year that it would raise its subscription price by up to 18%.

During a visit to India early last year, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said the country could eventually emerge as the place that would bring the next 100 million users to his platform. “The Indian entertainment business will be much larger over the next 20 years because of investment in pay services like Netflix and others,” he said.

So far, Netflix has largely tried to lure customers through its original series. (Many popular U.S. shows such as NBC’s “The Office” that are available on Netflix’s U.S. catalog are not offered in its India palate.) The company, which has produced more than a dozen original shows and movies for India, this week unveiled five more that are in the pipeline.

“We are seeing nice, steady increases in engagement in India. Growth in that country is a marathon and we are in it for the long haul,” Ted Sarandos, chief content officer at Netflix, said during an earnings call today.

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Uber riders now earn rewards for shopping during their trip with new Cargo app

Posted by | Amazon, Android, cargo, carsharing, commuting, driver, eCommerce, line, Nintendo, operating systems, Software, TC, transport, Transportation, Uber, universal studios | No Comments

Uber is launching a new shopping app with commerce partner Cargo, a startup with which it signed an exclusive global partnership last year. The app will feature items curated by Uber, including products like Nintendo Switch, Apple hardware, Away luggage, Glossier cosmetics and more, and will be available to download for Uber riders making trips in cars that have Cargo consoles on board. The Cargo app will also provide in-ride entertainment, including movies from Universal Studios available to purchase for between $5 and $10 each (with bundle discounts for multiple movies), which are then viewable in the Movies Anywhere app.

Uber riders will also benefit by receiving 10% of their purchase value back in Uber Cash, which they can then use either on future trips or on other purchases made through the Cargo app while riding. Uber drivers also benefit, earning 25% of the value of items purchased from the Cargo Box in-car, and an additional $1 for each first purchase by a passenger through the new app.

Riders just need to grab the iOS or Android app and then scan the QR code located on the Cargo Box in their driver’s car. Cargo’s app only allows purchases while on the trip, and then the item will be automatically shipped to a rider’s home address for free with an estimated delivery time of between two and five business days.

Cargo App Home Screen

This tie-up is a natural evolution for Uber’s business — the company hosts millions of riders every week, and many of those are taking relatively long trips to and from airports and other transit hubs, which provides ample opportunity to get them buying stuff or watching purchased content. Cargo, in which Uber has some equity stake, has a good opportunity to figure out how best to make the most of those trips.

This is hardly without precedent — airlines have attempted to capture consumer interest in the skies with onboard duty-free and other sales, as well as content for purchase. The big question will be whether Uber and Cargo together can provide enough additional purchase incentive versus riders just opening the Amazon app or other commerce options they have available on their own personal devices to make it a sustainable extension of their business.

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Amazon reportedly ramps development on Alexa-powered home robot on wheels

Posted by | Amazon, Gadgets, hardware, Mayfield Robotics, robot, TC | No Comments

Bloomberg reported last April that Amazon was working on a home robot codenamed “Vesta” (after the Roman goddess of the hearth and home), and now the publication says that development on the project continues. Plus, the report includes new details about the specifics of the robot, including that it will indeed support Alexa and have wheels to help it move around. My terrible artist’s rendering of what that could look like is above.

The plan for Vesta was apparently to release it this year, but it’s not yet quite ready for mass production, according to Bloomberg’s sources. And while it could end up mothballed and never see the light of day, as with any project being developed ahead of launch, the company is said to be putting more engineering and development resources into the team working on its release.

Current prototypes of the robot are said to be about waist-high, per the report, and make their way through the world aided by sensor-fed computer vision. It’ll come when you call thanks to the Alexa integration, per an internal demo described by Bloomberg, and should ostensibly offer all the same kind of functionality you’d get with an Echo device, including calling, timers and music playback.

For other clues as to what Vesta could look like, if and when it ever launches, a good model might be Kuri, the robot developed by Bosch internal startup Mayfield Robotics which was shuttered a year ago and never made it to market. Kuri could also record video and take photos, play games and generally interact with the household.

Meanwhile, Amazon is also apparently readying a Sonos-competing high-quality Echo speaker to debut next year.

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