Companies

AlphaSense, a search engine for analysis and business intel, raises $50M led by Innovation Endeavors

Posted by | Alphabet, alphasense, analyst, Android, ceo, Companies, computing, Enterprise, Eric Schmidt, fda, Finance, Google, google search, Innovation Endeavors, lexis nexis, Recent Funding, search engine, Startups, Trader, Tribeca Venture Partners, Wolfram Alpha, YouTube | No Comments

Google and its flagship search portal opened the door to the possibilities of how to build a business empire on the back of organising and navigating the world’s information, as found on the internet. Now, a startup that’s built a search engine tailored to the needs of enterprises and their own quests for information has raised a round of funding to see if it can do the same for the B2B world.

AlphaSense, which provides a way for companies to quickly amass market intelligence around specific trends, industries and more to help them make business decisions, has closed a $50 million round of funding, a Series B that it’s planning to use to continue enhancing its product and expanding to more verticals.

The company counts some 1,000 clients on its books, with a heavy emphasis on investment banks and related financial services companies. That’s in part because of how the company got its start: Finnish co-founder and CEO Jaakko (Jack) Kokko had been an analyst at Morgan Stanley in a past life and understood the labor and time pain points of doing market research, and decided to build a platform to help shorten a good part of the information-gathering process.

“My experience as an analyst on Wall Street showed me just how fragmented information really was,” he said in an interview, citing as one example how complex sites like those of the FDA are not easy to navigate to look for new information and updates — the kind of thing that a computer would be much more adept at monitoring and flagging. “Even with the best tools and services, it still was really hard to manually get the work done, in part because of market volatility and the many factors that cause it. We can now do that with orders of magnitude more efficiency. Firms can now gather information in minutes that would have taken an hour. AlphaSense does the work of the best single analyst, or even a team of them.”

(Indeed, the “alpha” of AlphaSense appears to be a reference to finance: it’s a term that refers to the ability of a trader or portfolio manager to beat the typical market return.)

The lead investor in this round is very notable and says something about the company’s ambitions. It’s Innovation Endeavors, the VC firm backed by Eric Schmidt, who had been the CEO of none other than Google (the pace-setter and pioneer of the search-as-business model) for a decade, and then stayed on as chairman and ultimately board member of Google and then Alphabet (its later holding company) until just last June.

Schmidt presided over Google at what you could argue was its most important time, gaining speed and scale and transitioning from an academic idea into a full-fledged, huge public business whose flagship product has now entered the lexicon as a verb and (through search and other services like Android and YouTube) is a mainstay of how the vast majority of the world uses the web today. As such, he is good at spotting opportunities and gaps in the market, and while enterprise-based needs will never be as prominent as those of mass-market consumers, they can be just as lucrative.

“Information is the currency of business today, but data is overwhelming and fragmented, making it difficult for business professionals to find the right insights to drive key business decisions,” he said in a statement. “We were impressed by the way AlphaSense solves this with its AI and search technology, allowing businesses to proceed with the confidence that they have the right information driving their strategy.”

This brings the total raised by AlphaSense to $90 million, with other investors in this round including Soros Fund Management LLC and other unnamed existing investors. Previous backers had included Tom Glocer (the former Reuters CEO who himself is working on his own fintech startup, a security firm called BlueVoyant), the MassChallenge incubator, Tribeca Venture Partners and others. Kokko said AlphaSense is not disclosing its valuation at this point. (I’m guessing though that it’s definitely on the up.)

There have been others that have worked to try to tackle the idea of providing more targeted, and business-focused, search portals, from the likes of Wolfram Alpha (another alpha!) through to Lexis Nexis and others like Bloomberg’s terminals, FactSet, Business Quant and many more.

One interesting aspect of AlphaSense is how it’s both focused on pulling in requests as well as set up to push information to its users based on previous search parameters. Currently these are set up to only provide information, but over time, there is a clear opportunity to build services to let the engines take on some of the actions based on that information, such as adjusting asking prices for sales and other transactions.

“There are all kinds of things we could do,” said Kokko. “This is a massive untapped opportunity. But we’re not taking the human out of the loop, ever. Humans are the right ones to be making final decisions, and we’re just about helping them make those faster.”

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Amazon said to be launching new Echo speaker with premium sound next year

Posted by | Amazon, apple inc, Companies, computing, Gadgets, hardware, HomePod, ikea, industries, Invoke, smart speakers, Sonos, Speaker, TC, tweeter | No Comments

Amazon is reportedly looking to offer an Echo that more directly competes with high-end speakers like the Sonos line of devices or Apple’s HomePod, according to a new report from Bloomberg. The speaker should be released sometime next year, according to the sources cited in the report, and will be somewhat wider than the existing Echo models (perhaps more akin to the Echo Sub, pictured above), packing in four separate tweeters to help boost the sound quality.

It will, of course, also offer access to the company’s Alexa voice assistant, which is what has propelled Echo to its current level of success. Bloomberg notes that it’s also likely to work better for the high-fidelity audio version of Amazon’s music streaming service that has previously been reported to be in the works.

This could make for an interesting working relationship with some of Amazon’s existing partners, including Sonos, as it sounds like this will be a direct competitor. Newer Sonos speakers, including the Sonos One and Sonos Beam, support Alexa voice commands out of the box. While both Echo devices and Sonos support multi-room streaming and speaker grouping, Sonos has always had far superior audio quality when compared to the Echo hardware – albeit at a premium price.

Sonos, meanwhile, is gearing up with Ikea to launch speakers powered by its technology, with the Symfonisk line that is set for release in August. Smart speakers are a busy space with a lot of money and interest from many companies big and small, but Amazon has a lot working in its favor if it can also produce something that wins on high-quality audio at a reasonable price.

If high-quality sound isn’t all that important to you, Amazon is also apparently working on a home robot equipped with Alexa on board.

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Apple disables Walkie Talkie app due to vulnerability that could allow iPhone eavesdropping

Posted by | Apple, apple inc, apple store, Apple Watch, Companies, FaceTime, iOS, iOS 10, iPhone, Mobile, privacy, Security, TC, technology, vulnerability | No Comments

Apple has disabled the Apple Watch Walkie Talkie app due to an unspecified vulnerability that could allow a person to listen to another customer’s iPhone without consent, the company told TechCrunch this evening.

Apple has apologized for the bug and for the inconvenience of being unable to use the feature while a fix is made.

The Walkie Talkie app on Apple Watch allows two users who have accepted an invite from each other to receive audio chats via a “push to talk” interface reminiscent of the PTT buttons on older cell phones.

A statement from Apple reads:

We were just made aware of a vulnerability related to the Walkie-Talkie app on the Apple Watch and have disabled the function as we quickly fix the issue. We apologize to our customers for the inconvenience and will restore the functionality as soon as possible. Although we are not aware of any use of the vulnerability against a customer and specific conditions and sequences of events are required to exploit it, we take the security and privacy of our customers extremely seriously. We concluded that disabling the app was the right course of action as this bug could allow someone to listen through another customer’s iPhone without consent.  We apologize again for this issue and the inconvenience.

Apple was alerted to the bug via its report a vulnerability portal directly and says there is no current evidence that it was exploited in the wild.

The company is temporarily disabling the feature entirely until a fix can be made and rolled out to devices. The Walkie Talkie App will remain installed on devices, but will not function until it has been updated with the fix.

Earlier this year a bug was discovered in the group calling feature of FaceTime that allowed people to listen in before a call was accepted. It turned out that the teen who discovered the bug, Grant Thompson, had attempted to contact Apple about the issue but was unable to get a response. Apple fixed the bug and eventually rewarded Thompson a bug bounty. This time around, Apple appears to be listening more closely to the reports that come in via its vulnerability tips line and has disabled the feature.

Earlier today, Apple quietly pushed a Mac update to remove a feature of the Zoom conference app that allowed it to work around Mac restrictions to provide a smoother call initiation experience — but that also allowed emails and websites to add a user to an active video call without their permission.

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Waymo has now driven 10 billion autonomous miles in simulation

Posted by | automotive, california, Companies, CTO, Dmitri Dolgov, electric vehicles, Emerging-Technologies, Google, Mobile, san francisco bay area, self-driving cars, simulation, TC, TC Sessions: Mobility 2019, waymo, X | No Comments

Alphabet’s Waymo autonomous driving company announced a new milestone at TechCrunch Sessions: Mobility on Wednesday: 10 billion miles driving in simulation. This is a significant achievement for the company, because all those simulated miles on the road for its self-driving software add up to considerable training experience.

Waymo also probably has the most experience when it comes to actual, physical road miles driven — the company is always quick to point out that it’s been doing this far longer than just about anyone else working in autonomous driving, thanks to its head start as Google’s self-driving car moonshot project.

“At Waymo, we’ve driven more than 10 million miles in the real world, and over 10 billion miles in simulation,” Waymo CTO Dmitri Dolgov told TechCrunch’s Kirsten Korosec on the Sessions: Mobility stage. “And the amount of driving you do in both of those is really a function of the maturity of your system, and the capability of your system. If you’re just getting started, it doesn’t matter – you’re working on the basics, you can drive a few miles or a few thousand or tens of thousands of miles in the real world, and that’s plenty to tell you and give you information that you need to know to improve your system.”

Dolgov’s point is that the more advanced your autonomous driving system becomes, the more miles you actually need to drive to have impact, because you’ve handled the basics and are moving on to edge cases, advanced navigation and ensuring that the software works in any and every scenario it encounters. Plus, your simulation becomes more sophisticated and more accurate as you accumulate real-world driving miles, which means the results of your virtual testing is more reliable for use back in your cars driving on actual roads.

This is what leads Dolgov to the conclusion that Waymo’s simulation is likely better than a lot of comparable simulation training at other autonomous driving companies.

“I think what makes it a good simulator, and what makes it powerful is two things,” Dolgov said onstage. “One [is] fidelity. And by fidelity, I mean, not how good it looks. It’s how well it behaves, and how representative it is of what you will encounter in the real world. And then second is scale.”

In other words, experience isn’t beneficial in terms of volume — it’s about sophistication, maturity and readiness for commercial deployment.

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Huawei can buy from US suppliers again — but things will never be the same

Posted by | america, Android, Asia, China, Companies, donald trump, g20, Google, huawei, mobile phones, operating system, president, Ren Zhengfei, smartphones, supply chain, telecommunications, Trump administration, United States | No Comments

U.S. President Donald Trump has handed Huawei a lifeline after he said that U.S. companies are permitted to sell goods to the embattled Chinese tech firm following more than a month of uncertainty.

It’s been a pretty dismal past month for Huawei since the American government added it and 70 of its affiliates to an “entity list” which forbids U.S. companies from doing business with it. The ramifications of the move were huge across Huawei’s networking and consumer devices businesses. A range of chip companies reportedly forced to sever ties while Google, which provides Android for Huawei devices, also froze its relationship. Speaking this month.

All told, Huawei founder and chief executive Ren Zhengfei said recently that the ban would cost the Chinese tech firm — the world’s third-larger seller of smartphones — some $30 billion in lost revenue of the next two years.

Now, however, the Trump administration has provided a reprieve, at least based on the President’s comments following a meeting with Chinese premier Xi Jinping at the G20 summit this weekend.

“US companies can sell their equipment to Huawei. We’re talking about equipment where there’s no great national security problem with it,” the U.S. President said.

Those comments perhaps contradict some in the US administration who saw the Huawei blacklisting as a way to strangle the company and its global ambitions, which are deemed by some analysts to be a threat to America.

President Trump has appeared to soften his tone on Chinese communications giant Huawei, suggesting that he would allow the company to once again purchase US technology https://t.co/4YNJCyKLTg pic.twitter.com/jr45f40ghP

— CNN International (@cnni) June 29, 2019

Despite the good news, any mutual trust has been broken and things are unlikely to be the same again.

America’s almost casual move to blacklist Huawei — the latest in a series of strategies in its ongoing trade battle with China — exemplifies just how dependent the company has become on the U.S. to simply function.

Huawei has taken steps to hedge its reliance on America, including the development of its own operating system to replace Android and its own backup chips, and you can expect that these projects will go into overdrive to ensure that Huawei doesn’t find itself in a similar position again in the future.

Of course, decoupling its supply chain from US partners is no easy task both in terms of software and components. It remains to be seen if Huawei could maintain its current business level — which included 59 million smartphones in the last quarter and total revenue of $107.4 billion in 2018 — with non-US components and software but this episode is a reminder that it must have a solid contingency policy in case it becomes a political chess piece again in the future.

Beyond aiding Huawei, Trump’s move will boost Google and other Huawei partners who invested significant time and resources into developing a relationship with Huawei to boost their own businesses through its business.

Indeed, speaking to press Trump, Trump admitted that US companies sell “a tremendous amount” of products to Huawei. Some “were not exactly happy that they couldn’t sell” to Huawei and it looks like that may have helped tipped this decision. But, then again, never say never — you’d imagine that the Huawei-Trump saga is far from over despite this latest twist.

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Huawei says two-thirds of 5G networks outside China now use its gear

Posted by | 5g, Alphabet, Android, Asia, carrier, ceo, China, Companies, finland, hardware, huawei, india, Nokia, operating system, president, Rajeev Suri, Ren Zhengfei, shenzhen, smartphone, south korea, spokesperson, switzerland, telecommunications, Trump administration, United Kingdom, United States | No Comments

As 5G networks begin rolling out and commercializing around the world, telecoms vendors are rushing to get a headstart. Huawei equipment is now behind two-thirds of the commercially launched 5G networks outside China, said president of Huawei’s carrier business group Ryan Ding on Tuesday at an industry conference.

Huawei, the world’s largest maker of telecoms gear, has nabbed 50 commercial 5G contracts outside its home base from countries including South Korea, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Finland and more. In all, the Shenzhen-based firm has shipped more than 150,000 base stations, according to Ding.

It’s worth noting that network carriers can work with more than one providers to deploy different parts of their 5G base stations. Huawei offers what it calls an end-to-end network solution or a full system of hardware, but whether a carrier plans to buy from multiple suppliers is contingent on their needs and local regulations, a Huawei spokesperson told TechCrunch.

In China, for instance, both Ericsson and Nokia have secured 5G contracts from state-run carrier China Mobile (although Nokia’s Chinese entity, a joint venture with Alcatel-Lucent Shanghai Bell, is directly controlled by China’s State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission).

Huawei’s handsome number of deals came despite the U.S’s ongoing effort to lobby its allies against using its equipment. In May, the Trump administration put Huawei on a trade blacklist over concerns around the firm’s spying capabilities, a move that has effectively banned U.S. companies from doing businesses with the Shenzhen-based giant.

Huawei’s overall share in the U.S. telecoms market has so far been negligible, but many rural carriers have long depended on its high-performing, cost-saving hardware. That might soon end as the U.S. pressures small-town network operators to quit buying from Huawei, Reuters reported this week.

To appease potential clients, Huawei has gone around the world offering no-backdoors pacts to local governments of the U.K. and most recently India.

Huawei is in a neck and neck fight with rivals Nokia and Ericsson. In early June, Nokia CEO Rajeev Suri said in an interview with Bloomberg that the firm had won “two-thirds of the time” in bidding contracts against Ericcson and competed “quite favorably with Huawei.” Nokia at the time landed 42 5G contracts, while Huawei numbered 40 and Ericsson scored 19.

Huawei’s challenges go well beyond the realm of its carrier business. Its fast-growing smartphone unit is also getting the heat as the U.S. ban threatens to cut it off from Alphabet, whose Android operating system is used in Huawei phone, as well as a range of big chip suppliers.

Huawei CEO and founder Ren Zhengfei noted that trade restrictions may compromise the firm’s output in the short term. Total revenues are expected to dip $30 billion below estimates over the next two years, and overseas smartphone shipment faces a 40% plunge. Ren, however, is bullish that the firm’s sales would bounce back after a temporary period of adjustment while it works towards self-dependence by developing its own OS, chips and other core technologies.

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Foxconn halts some production lines for Huawei phones, according to reports

Posted by | Android, Apple, Companies, donald trump, Foxconn, Google, huawei, mobile phones, operating system, president, shenzhen, smart phone, smartphone, smartphones, TC, telecommunications, United States, Xiaomi | No Comments

Huawei, the Chinese technology giant whose devices are at the center of a far-reaching trade dispute between the U.S. and Chinese governments, is reducing orders for new phones, according to a report in The South China Morning Post.

According to unnamed sources, the Taiwanese technology manufacturer Foxconn has halted production lines for several Huawei phones after the Shenzhen-based company reduced orders. Foxconn also makes devices for most of the major smart phone vendors including Apple and Xiaomi (in addition to Huawei).

In the aftermath of President Donald Trump’s declaration of a “national emergency” to protect U.S. networks from foreign technologies, Huawei and several of its affiliates were barred from acquiring technologies from U.S. companies.

The blacklist has impacted multiple lines of Huawei’s business including it handset manufacturing capabilities given the company’s reliance on Google’s Android operating system for its smartphones.

In May, Google reportedly suspended business with Huawei, according to a Reuters report. Last year, Huawei shipped over 200 million handsets and the company had a stated goal to become the world’s largest vendor of smartphones by 2020.

These reports from The South China Morning Post are the clearest indication that the ramifications of the U.S. blacklisting are beginning to be felt across Huawei’s phone business outside of China.

Huawei was already under fire for security concerns, and will be forced to contend with more if it can no longer provide Android updates to global customers.

Contingency planning is already underway at Huawei. The company has built its own Android -based operating system, and can use the stripped down, open source version of Android that ships without Google Mobile Services. For now, its customers also still have access to Google’s app store. But if the company is forced to make developers sell their apps on a siloed Huawei-only store, it could face problems from users outside of China.

Huawei and the Chinese government are also retaliating against the U.S. efforts. The company has filed a legal motion to challenge the U.S. ban on its equipment, calling it “unconstitutional.”  And Huawei has sent home its American employees deployed at R&D functions at its Shenzhen headquarters.

It has also asked its Chinese employees to limit conversations with overseas visitors, and cease any technical meetings with their U.S. contacts.

Still, any reduction in orders would seem to indicate that the U.S. efforts to stymie Huawei’s expansion (at least in its smartphone business) are having an impact.

A spokesperson for Huawei U.S. did not respond to a request for comment.

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China’s largest chipmaker is delisting from the NYSE

Posted by | Android, Asia, China, Companies, Google, huawei, Intel, Qualcomm, shanghai, spokesperson, telecommunications, United States, Xiaomi | No Comments

The U.S-China trade war is increasingly influencing tech. Huawei has suffered a turbulent past week with key suppliers pausing work with the company, and now China’s largest chipmaker is planning to delist from the New York Stock Exchange.

Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp (SMIC) announced in a filing published Friday that it plans to delist next month ending a 15-year spell as a public company in the U.S. The firm will file a Form 25 to delist on June 3, which is likely to see it leave the NYSE around ten days later. SMIC, which is backed by the Chinese government and state-owned shareholders, will focus on its existing Hong Kong listing going forward but there will be trading options for those holding U.S-based ADRs.

In its announcement, SMIC said it plans to delist for reasons that include limited trading volumes and “significant administrative burden and costs” around the listing and compliance with reporting.

What it doesn’t say is that this is linked to the frosty relationship between the U.S. and China, and already the company has played that rationale.

“SMIC has been considering this migration for a long time and it has nothing to do with the trade war and Huawei incident. The migration requires a long preparation and timing has coincided with the current trade rhetoric, which may lead to misconceptions,” a spokesperson told CNBC.

Still, it is impossible to ignore the current context. Huawei’s entry to a U.S. blacklist has paused its relationship with key suppliers including ARM, Qualcomm, Intel and Google, which supplies the Android OS for its phones, so SMIC’s decision to remove its financial links to the U.S. fees into fears of a bifurcation of U.S. and Chinese tech, deliberate or not.

SMIC’s shares dropped 4 percent in Hong Kong on Friday. Trading of its U.S-based ADRs crossed one million on Friday, that’s well above an above 90-day volume of nearly 150,000 per day.

The company is China’s largest chip firm, specializing in integrated circuit manufacturing with clients such as Qualcomm, Broadcom and Texas Instruments. SMIC made a profit of $746.7 million in 2018 on revenues of $3.36 billion. Its most recent Q1 results released earlier this month saw revenue fall 19 percent year-on-year.

There has always been tension around Chinese companies using U.S. public markets to go public, and not just from an American standpoint. Chinese companies are increasingly exploring other options, including Hong Kong — where Xiaomi went public last year — while a-soon-to-launch ‘science and tech’ board in Shanghai is hotly touted as an alternative destination.

The board launches in pilot mode next month, but already Chinese bankers and tech companies have found it challenging to deliver on expectations, as a Reuters report earlier this year concluded.

Update: The headline of this article has been updated to reflect that SMIC is delisting from the NYSE not the Nasdaq

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China’s largest chipmaker is delisting from the Nasdaq

Posted by | Android, Asia, China, Companies, Google, huawei, Intel, Qualcomm, shanghai, spokesperson, telecommunications, United States, Xiaomi | No Comments

The U.S-China trade war is increasingly influencing tech. Huawei has suffered a turbulent past week with key suppliers pausing work with the company, and now China’s largest chipmaker is planning to delist from the New York Stock Exchange.

Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp (SMIC) announced in a filing published Friday that it plans to delist next month ending a 15-year spell as a public company in the U.S. The firm will file a Form 25 to delist on June 3, which is likely to see it leave the NYSE around ten days later. SMIC, which is backed by the Chinese government and state-owned shareholders, will focus on its existing Hong Kong listing going forward but there will be trading options for those holding U.S-based ADRs.

In its announcement, SMIC said it plans to delist for reasons that include limited trading volumes and “significant administrative burden and costs” around the listing and compliance with reporting.

What it doesn’t say is that this is linked to the frosty relationship between the U.S. and China, and already the company has played that rationale.

“SMIC has been considering this migration for a long time and it has nothing to do with the trade war and Huawei incident. The migration requires a long preparation and timing has coincided with the current trade rhetoric, which may lead to misconceptions,” a spokesperson told CNBC.

Still, it is impossible to ignore the current context. Huawei’s entry to a U.S. blacklist has paused its relationship with key suppliers including ARM, Qualcomm, Intel and Google, which supplies the Android OS for its phones, so SMIC’s decision to remove its financial links to the U.S. fees into fears of a bifurcation of U.S. and Chinese tech, deliberate or not.

SMIC’s shares dropped 4 percent in Hong Kong on Friday. Trading of its U.S-based ADRs crossed one million on Friday, that’s well above an above 90-day volume of nearly 150,000 per day.

The company is China’s largest chip firm, specializing in integrated circuit manufacturing with clients such as Qualcomm, Broadcom and Texas Instruments. SMIC made a profit of $746.7 million in 2018 on revenues of $3.36 billion. Its most recent Q1 results released earlier this month saw revenue fall 19 percent year-on-year.

There has always been tension around Chinese companies using U.S. public markets to go public, and not just from an American standpoint. Chinese companies are increasingly exploring other options, including Hong Kong — where Xiaomi went public last year — while a-soon-to-launch ‘science and tech’ board in Shanghai is hotly touted as an alternative destination.

The board launches in pilot mode next month, but already Chinese bankers and tech companies have found it challenging to deliver on expectations, as a Reuters report earlier this year concluded.

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Is this the vertical-folding Motorola Razr?

Posted by | Companies, foldable smartphone, Gadgets, mobile phones, Motorola, Samsung, Samsung Electronics, samsung galaxy, samsung galaxy fold, smartphone, smartphones, technology, Weibo | No Comments

This could be the upcoming Motorola Razr revival. The images purporting to be the upcoming smartphone appeared online on Weibo and show a foldable design. Unlike Galaxy Fold, though, Motorola’s implementation has the phone folding vertically — much like the original Razr.

This design offers a more compelling use case than other foldables. Instead of a traditional smartphone unfolding to a tablet-like display, Motorola’s design has a smaller device unfolding to a smartphone display. The result is a smaller phone turning into a normal phone.

Pricing is still unclear, but the WSJ previously stated it would carry a $1,500 cost when it’s eventually released. If it’s released.

Samsung was the first to market with the Galaxy Fold. Kind of. A few journalists were given Galaxy Fold units ahead of its launch, but a handful of units failed in the first days. Samsung quickly postponed the launch and recalled all the review units.

Despite this leak, Motorola has yet to confirm when this device will hit the market. Given Samsung’s troubles, it will likely be extra cautious before launching it to the general public.

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