CES 2019

OrCam’s MyMe uses facial recognition to remember everyone you meet

Posted by | CES, CES 2019, Gadgets, OrCam, OrCam MyMe | No Comments

Meet the OrCam MyMe, a tiny device that you clip on your T-shirt to help you remember faces. The OrCam MyMe features a small smartphone-like camera and a proprietary facial-recognition algorithm so that you can associate names with faces. It can be a useful device at business conferences, or to learn more about how you spend a typical day.

This isn’t OrCam’s first device. The company has been selling the MyEye for a few years. It’s a wearable device for visually impaired people that you clip to your glasses. Thanks to its camera and speaker, you can point your finger at some text and get some audio version of the text near your ear. It can also tell you if there’s somebody familiar in front of you.

OrCam is expanding beyond this market with a mass-market product. It features the same technological foundation, but with a different use case. OrCam’s secret sauce is that it can handle face recognition and optical character recognition on a tiny device with a small battery — images are not processed in the cloud.

It’s also important to note that the OrCam MyMe doesn’t record video or audio. When the device detects a face, it creates a signature and tries to match it with existing signatures. While it’s not a spy camera, it still feels a bit awkward when you realize there’s a camera pointed at you.

When there’s someone in front of you, the device sends a notification to your phone and smartwatch. You can then enter the name of this person on your phone so that the next notification shows the name of the person with whom you’re talking.

If somebody gives you a business card, you can also hold it in front of you. The device then automatically matches the face with the information on the business card.

After that, you can tag people in different categories. For instance, you can create a tag for family members, another one for colleagues and another one for friends.

The app shows you insightful graphs representing your work-life balance over the past few weeks and months. If you want to quantify everything in your life, this could be an effective way of knowing that you should spend more time with your family, for instance.

While the device isn’t available just yet, the company already sold hundreds of early units on Kickstarter. Eventually, OrCam wants to create a community of enthusiasts and figure out new use cases.

I saw the device at CES last week and it’s much smaller than you’d think based on photos. You don’t notice it unless you’re looking for the device. It’s not as intrusive as Google Glass for instance. You can optionally use a magnet if the clip doesn’t work with what you’re wearing.

OrCam expects to ship the MyMe in January 2020 for $399. It’s an impressive little device, but the company also faces one challenge — I’m not sure everyone feels comfortable about always-on facial recognition just yet.

CES 2019 coverage - TechCrunch

Powered by WPeMatico

VLC prepares to add AirPlay support as it crosses 3 billion downloads

Posted by | Android, apple tv, Apps, CES 2019, chromecast, internet television, Nintendo, roku, Software, venturebeat, VLC, webcams | No Comments

VLC, the hugely popular media playing service, is filling one of its gaps with the addition of AirPlay support as it has just crossed an incredible three billion users.

The new feature was revealed by Jean-Baptiste Kempf, one of the service’s lead developers, in an interview with Variety at CES and it will give users a chance to beam content from their Android or iOS device to an Apple TV. The addition, which is due in the upcoming version 4 of VLC, is the biggest new feature since the service added Chromecast support last summer.

But that’s not all that the dozen or so people on the VLC development team are working on.

In addition, Variety reports that VLC is preparing to enable native support for VR content. Instead of SDKs, the team has reversed engineered popular hardware to offer features that will include the option to watch 2D content in a cinema-style environment. There also are plans to bring the service to more platforms, with VentureBeat reporting that the VLC team is eyeing PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch and Roku devices.

VLC, which is managed by nonprofit parent VideonLAN, racked up its three billionth download at CES, where it celebrated with the live ticker pictured above. The service reached one billion downloads back in May 2012, which represents incredible growth for a venture that began life as a project from École Centrale Paris students in 1996.

VLC. The hero of our time. https://t.co/B4Qqq4DvLa

— Zack Whittaker (@zackwhittaker) January 11, 2019

CES 2019 coverage - TechCrunch

Powered by WPeMatico

A Pong table managed to wow CES 2019

Posted by | CES 2019, Gaming, hardware, Pong | No Comments

That’s not the kind of headline one expects to write going into the week. But here we are. Universal Space’s analog Pong table is a mindblower in a whole unexpected way. The tabletop machine goes more retro than retro by bring pong into the real world through the magic of magnets (some day, perhaps, we’ll discover how they work).

There’s a square “ball” and a pair of rectangular paddles on either side, moved back and forth by spinning a wheel. Like the classic game, spinning faster and hitting corners puts a little English on it, as they say in billiards. Players score by striking the opposite side the ball. From there, you tap an orange arcade button to fire it back.

It’s really a thing to behold — even more so in single player mode, where the machine controls the other panel. You’ve got easy, medium and hard options for that. I’d start off slow, because there’s a bit of a noticeable lag that takes some getting used to.

It’s a neat parlor trick, and one that will almost certainly get party guests excited. It’ll cost you, though — $3,000 to be precise. The arcade model is an additional $1,500. It’s a lot to pay for what feels like a kind of one trick pony. Like the original Pong, it’s hard to imagine it holding one’s attention long enough to justify the price.

Powered by WPeMatico

Spotify’s increased focus on podcasts in 2019 includes selling its own ads

Posted by | ad tech, advertising, CES 2019, Media, Mobile, Podcasting, Podcasts, Spotify, TC | No Comments

Having established itself as a top streaming service with now over 200 million users, Spotify this year is preparing to focus more of its attention on podcasts. The company plans bring its personalization technology to podcasts in order to make better recommendations, update its app’s interface so people can access podcasts more easily, and broker more exclusives with podcast creators. It’s also getting into the business of selling ads within podcasts, as a means of generating revenue from this increasingly popular form of audio programming.

In fact, Spotify has already begun to dabble in podcast ad sales, ahead of this larger push.

Spotify, we’ve learned, has been selling its own advertisements in its original podcasts since mid-2018 year, including in programs like Spotify Original “Amy Schumer Presents: 3 Girls, 1 Keith,” “The Joe Budden Podcast,” “Dissect,” “Showstopper,” and others. With more exclusives planned for the year ahead, the portion of Spotify’s ad business focused on podcasts will also grow.

The company appears to be taking a different approach to working with podcasters than it does with it comes to working with music artists.

Today, Spotify gives artists tools that help share their work and be discovered – it invested in distribution platform DistroKid, for example, and now lets artists submit tracks for playlist consideration. With podcasters, however, Spotify wants to either bring their voices in-house, or at least exclusively license their content.

“Over the last year, we become very focused on building out a great podcast universe,” said Head of Spotify Studios Courtney Holt, speaking at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas this week. “The first step was to make sure that we’ve got the world’s best podcasts on Spotify, and integrated the experience into the service in a way that allowed people to build habits and behavior there,” he said.

“What we started to see is that the types of podcasts that really were working on Spotify were ones where they were really authentic voices…so we just decided to invest more in those types of voices,” Holt added.

Spotify’s collection of originals has been steadily growing over the past year. Last August, for example, Spotify nabbed an exclusive deal with the “Joe Budden” podcast, which is aimed at hip-hop and rap culture fans, and launched its first branded podcast, “Ebb & Flow,” focused on hip-hop and R&B. Its full original lineup today also includes “Dissect,” Amy Schumer’s “3 Girls, 1 Keith,” “Mogul,” “The Rewind with Guy Raz,” “Showstopper,” “Unpacked,” “Crimetown” (Its first season was wide, second season is exclusive to Spotify), “UnderCover,” and “El Chapo: El Jefe y su Juicio.”

At CES, Spotify announced the addition of one more –  journalist Jemele Hill is coming Spotify with an exclusive podcast called “Unbothered,” which will feature high-profile guests in sports, music, politics, culture, and more.

In growing its collection of originals, the company found that podcasters who joined Spotify exclusively were actually able to grow their audience, despite leaving other distribution platforms.

For example, the Joe Budden podcast had its highest streaming day ever after joining Spotify.

This has led Spotify to believe that influencers in the podcast community will be able to bring their community with them when they become a Spotify exclusive, and then further grow their listener base by tapping into Spotify’s larger music user base and, soon, an improved recommendation system.

There are other perks for Spotify, too – when users come to Spotify and begin to listen to podcasts, they often then spend more time engaged with the app, it found.

“People who consume podcasts on Spotify are consuming more of Spotify – including music,” said Holt. “So we found that in increasing our [podcast] catalog and spending more time to make the user experience better, it wasn’t taking away from music, it was enhancing the overall time spent on the platform,” he noted.

While chasing exclusive deals to bring more original podcasts to Spotify will be a big initiative this year, Spotify will continue to offer its recently launched podcasts submission feature to everyone else.

With this sort of basic infrastructure in place, Spotify now wants to help users discover new podcasts and improve the listening experience.

One aspect of this will involve pointing listeners to other podcast content they may like.

For instance, Spotify could point Joe Budden fans to other podcasts about hip-hop and rap. It will also leverage its multi-year partnership with Samsung to allow listeners pick up where they left off in an episode as they move between different devices. And it will turn its personalization and recommendation technology to podcasts – including the ads in the podcasts themselves.

“Think about what we’ve done around music – the more understand you around the music you stream, the more we can personalize the ad experience. Now we can take that to podcasts,” said Brian Benedik, VP and Global Head of Advertising Sales at Spotify, when asked about the potential for Spotify selling ads in podcasts.

The company has been testing the waters with its own podcast ad sales since mid 2018, Benedik said. The sales are handled in-house by Spotify’s ad sales team for the time being.

Benedik had also appeared on a panel this week at CES, where he talked about the value of contextual advertising – meaning, ads that can be personalized to the user based on factors like mood, behavior and moments. This data could be appealing to podcast advertisers, as well.

But to scale its efforts around podcast ads, Spotify will need to invest in digital ad insertion technology. We’re hearing that Spotify is currently deciding whether that’s something it wants to build in-house or acquire outright.

Spotify’s rival Pandora went the latter route. It closed on the acquisition of adtech company Adswizz in May 2018, then introduced capabilities for shorter, more personalized ads in August. By November, Pandora announced it was bringing its Genome technology to podcasts, which allowed for a recommendation system.

Now Spotify aims to catch up.

The addition of podcasts has reoriented Spotify’s focus as company, Holt said.

“We’re an audio company. We’re trying to be the world’s best audio service,” he told the audience at CES. “It’s a pure play for us. We’re seeing increased engagement; there’s great commercial opportunities from podcasting that we’ve never seen on the platform…And, obviously, exclusives are to give us something that makes the platform truly unique – to have people come to Spotify for something you can’t get anywhere else is the sort of cherry on top of that entire strategy,” Holt said.

Image credits: Spotify

Powered by WPeMatico

Holoride’s in-car VR solution is the best thing at CES 2019

Posted by | Audi, automotive, CES 2019, Gadgets, holoride, Virtual reality | No Comments

After days of demos and announcements and miles of walking, I’m confident in declaring Holoride the best thing at this year’s CES. The designation of “The best thing at CES 2019” is my badging. This isn’t an official award handed out by a governing body. This is just me saying Holoride is the best thing I’ve seen at the show.

This year’s CES is fine, I guess. The main theme is connecting services around the smart home. There’s a huge range of devices that now support services from Amazon, Google and Apple. CES 2019 also featured the launch of new silicon chipsets and self-driving platforms. But the thing that impressed me the most is from Holoride, a startup from Audi that wants to put VR in cars to entertain and reduce motion sickness.

Iron Man needs help, Rocket told me. And like that I was thrust into a space battle against Thanos’ bad guys. There was an Oculus on my head and my body was dipping and diving, shooting through space, while I was waving my hands around, blasting the enemy. It was straight out of Disney World (partly because Disney helped with the content). Except I was in Vegas, in the back of an Audi SUV hitting speeds of 90 mph on a track.

After two laps around the track, I walked away fine. I didn’t feel sick at all, even though I’m the sort of person who can’t look at their phone in a car.

Matching the VR content to the vehicle’s movements is key to the Holoride experience. In short, when the car moves, the content moves in the same way. This reduces motion sickness, and, from my demo, I can confirm it works — at least on me.

The technology comes from a small startup recently spun out of Audi in a play to put VR in every car. The founders have been working on the technology behind the in-car VR system for several years. The automaker holds a minority interest through subsidiary Audi Electronics Venture, which helped develop the technology. Audi will license the technology to Holoride and the startup will use an open platform to allow any automaker as well as content developers to create whatever reality formats they desire.

I’ve experienced countless VR experiences, and this was one of the best demos I’ve had. The use case is compelling too. Not only does it provide entertainment, but it also solves motion sickness. It’s easy to imagine this in an ad-supported format in the back of an Uber or while on a long-distance bus. It could work in planes too. It could improve long car rides with the kids.

Holoride is a longshot and there are countless questions around the content, consumer outreach and compatibility. In order for it to take off, the company needs to build an ecosystem complete with developers, auto makers and consumers. Building amazing experiences is one thing; selling amazing experiences is even harder.

CES 2019 coverage - TechCrunch

Powered by WPeMatico

Samsung will unveil the Galaxy S10 February 20 in San Francisco

Posted by | CES 2019, galaxy s10, hardware, Mobile, Samsung | No Comments

CES has never been much of a mobile show for Samsung — not with Mobile World Congress a little over a month away. But the company did use its big platform this week to announce the announcement of its next flagship smartphone.

Turns out Samsung’s not unveiling the Galaxy S10 in Barcelona, either. In fact, the handset will actually make its debut a week before Barcelona’s big mobile show at a standalone Unpacked event in San Francisco. So thanks, Samsung, for those extra frequent flier miles.

We’ve already caught a few glimpses of the handset via a number of leaks, as has become a bit of a tradition for the company. But this gives us another month and a half or so to see the rest of what the premium handset has to offer.

Most notably so far is the company’s decision to forgo the notch, in favor of the camera cutout design Huawei’s helped pioneer. Also reportedly on tap for the handset is the ability to wirelessly charge compatible devices on contact. 

As the invite notes, this is the 10th anniversary of the Galaxy line. Between that and the company’s insistence on holding a standalone event this time out, it seems likely that we’ll be seeing more than just the S10. Perhaps we’ll get more insight into the forthcoming foldable handset and some more news on the 5G front.

CES 2019 coverage - TechCrunch

Powered by WPeMatico

Hands-on with Ledger’s Bluetooth crypto hardware wallet

Posted by | CES, CES 2019, Europe, Gadgets, Ledger, Ledger Nano X, Ledger Wallet, Startups | No Comments

French startup Ledger unveiled a new hardware wallet at CES this week. While the device isn’t going to ship until March, the company let me play with a prototype version of the device. The Ledger Nano X feels just like using the Nano S, but on mobile.

When the company’s previous hardware wallet first came out, that was before the cryptocurrency boom, before Ledger raised $75 million. And the user experience wasn’t great.

You had to install multiple Chrome apps to manage multiple cryptocurrencies, switch between each app when you wanted to access your balance and manage your crypto assets. But things got much better when the company released Ledger Live on macOS, Windows and Linux.

With this new app, you could finally view your portfolio balance and manage multiple crypto assets from the same desktop app. The logical next step was mobile. And you have to get a new hardware wallet for that.

The Ledger Nano X looks more or less like the Ledger Nano S, but slightly bigger. It’s shaped like a USB key and it has a tiny screen to confirm transactions on the device. There’s a tiny 100 mAh battery in it and a slightly bigger screen. The battery should last a couple of months when you’re not using the wallet, and around 8 hours of active use. The microUSB port has been replaced by a USB-C port. The buttons are now on each side of the screen instead of on the side of the device.

After you pair the device with your phone, you can control everything from your iOS or Android phone. You can install apps on the Ledger Nano X, access your wallets and send cryptocurrencies. On iOS, you can lock the app using a password and optionally Face ID or Touch ID.

When you need to validate a transaction on your Ledger Nano X, your phone will pair with your Ledger device over Bluetooth. You can then view transaction information on your Ledger device and approve the transaction on the device itself.

What makes Ledger so secure is that your private keys never leave your Ledger device. Transactions are signed directly on the device. Your private keys are never sent over Bluetooth and your cryptocurrencies remain safe even if your smartphone is compromised.

Ledger now uses an ST33 secure element, which is slightly more secure than the previous version ST31. Now, there’s only a single chip, connected directly to the screen and buttons, which reduces the risk of having someone compromise the information on your screen.

The screen is now twice as tall, which lets you view full public addresses without a scrolling view. You can now install up to 100 different cryptocurrency apps. You can still plug the device into a computer and use the desktop app, as well. The device costs €120 ($138).

Disclosure: I own small amounts of various cryptocurrencies.

CES 2019 coverage - TechCrunch

Powered by WPeMatico

This extra-large handheld Nintendo works (and feels) like the real thing

Posted by | CES 2019, Gadgets, Gaming, hardware, NES, Nintendo, retro | No Comments

Handheld retro gaming machines come and go, but few go so simply and effectively to the point as My Arcade’s Retro Champ. You stick in your NES cartridge, hit the power button and, assuming you blew on it beforehand, it powers up. This one sets itself apart with a big ol’ screen, Famicom compatibility and a whopping 35-hour battery life. Update: Nope! It’s 3 to 5 hours, not 35 as the company originally stated. I thought that was suspiciously high.

I played with the Retro Champ at CES, where they had one under lock and key — it’s not the production version, but that’s coming in the Spring. But it works just like you’d expect, and I was pleased to find it responsive, comfortable and pleasantly ridiculous. It’s really quite big, but not nearly as heavy as it looks.

The 7-inch screen is bright and the color looked good; it was responsive and the device felt well-balanced. The controls are where you’d expect, with big scoops in the back of the case to help you grip it. NES cartridges go in the top (and stick out as you see) and Famicom cartridges tuck in the bottom.

There’s a stand so you can prop it up and use wireless controllers with it (not included; they’re trying to keep the price low), and you can also plug it straight into your TV via HDMI, which basically makes this thing a spare NES home console. (I’m waiting to hear back on the screen and output resolutions and some other technical details.)

Lastly (and hilariously), there’s a hidden cleaning kit with space for a few Q-tips and a small bottle of solvent, for getting those really grimed-up games working.

My questions went to the usual pain points for scrupulous retro-loving gamers like myself:

Yes, it’s a 16:9 screen, and of course NES games were 4:3. So yes, you’ll be able to change that.

And no, it’s not just loading the ROM data into an emulator. This is the common way of doing it, and it produces artifacts and incompatibility with some games, not to mention control lag and other issues. Things have gotten better, but it’s definitely corner-cutting.

I chatted with Amir David, the creative director and one of the developers of the device. Though he couldn’t get into the technical details (patents pending), he said that they had developed their own chip that runs the game the same way an actual NES would.

So any cartridge that works on the NES, including homebrew and hacked games, will load right up no problem. That means you can also use a cartridge with an SD card loader, like an Everdrive, for those hard-to-get and hacked titles.

Some features are up in the air, for instance save states. It’s possible, but because this is in effect just a small Nintendo and not a virtual one, it’s also tricky. We’ll see.

I was also curious why there were four round buttons instead of the traditional NES D-pad. David said they were still waiting on feedback from players about which worked best; for an actual controller, the original D-pad might be good, but perhaps not for the handheld style. So they’re considering a few configurations; likewise the buttons on the right — they could get some tweaking before release.

The device goes for $80, which seems fair to me. If you want absolute fidelity for a home console, you can spend five to 10 times that amount, while for handhelds there are cheaper and smaller devices out there, most of which use emulators. They’re aiming for enthusiasts who want an easy but uncompromised way of playing their cartridges — lots of us have consoles sitting in boxes, but it’s a pain to get them set up. The Retro Champ could be one of the easiest ways to get back in the game. It ships in June.

CES 2019 coverage - TechCrunch

Powered by WPeMatico

The world’s first foldable phone is real

Posted by | CES, CES 2019, flexpai, Gadgets, Royole | No Comments

People have been talking about foldable smartphones for years, but it’s finally happening. Chinese company Royole was showing off the FlexPai at CES in Las Vegas, and we got to play with it for a few minutes.

It’s hard to say if it’s a phone or a tablet as you can basically use it as a phone and a small tablet. Arguably, the tablet form factor is the most usable one. It’s a 7.8-inch device that runs Android.

When you fold the AMOLED display, there’s still a small gap between the two halves of the screen. But it’s also much smaller than the unfolded version. It’s a bulky phone, but it’s still much easier to store in a purse compared to a tablet.

You can already buy a developer version of the device if you live in the U.S. for around $1,300. It runs Android with a bunch of custom software features. If you fold the device, all your content moves to one part of the screen. It’s not a fluid experience, but it works.

It’s impressive to see that Royole managed to beat Samsung and other manufacturers to the market with this technology. Now, let’s see if Royole will sell its own devices, partner with other manufacturers or both. We have a video of the device coming up later this week.

Powered by WPeMatico