Companies

US video game sales have record quarter as consumers stay at home

Posted by | Animal Crossing, Companies, coronavirus, COVID-19, driver, Electronic Arts, entertainment software association, Gaming, Microsoft, new horizons, Nintendo, Nintendo Switch, npd, Sony, United States, video game, Virtual reality | No Comments

New numbers from NPD confirm what we’ve known for a while: The first quarter of 2020 was a very good one for gaming companies. The new report notes that sales hit a record $10.86 billion in the States between January and March of this year, marking a 9% increase over a year prior; $9.58 billion of that figure was from video game content.

The primary driver is, you guessed it, COVID-19. As stay at home orders have been enacted on the federal and state levels, people are coping with the ongoing daily horror that is life in 2020 by playing video games. Lots and lots of video games.

Here’s NPD’s Mat Piscatella further confirming our suspicions: “Video Games have brought comfort and connection to millions during this challenging time. As people have stayed at home more, they’ve utilized gaming not only as a diversion and an escape, but also as a means of staying connected with family and friends. Whether it was on console or mobile, PC or virtual reality, gaming experienced play and sales growth during the first quarter.”

According to NPD’s Q1 2020 Games Market Dynamics: U.S. report, overall total industry consumer spending on #videogaming in the U.S. reached a record $10.86 billion in the first quarter of 2020 (Jan. – Mar.), an increase of 9 percent compared to the same time period last year.

— NPD Games (@npdgames) May 15, 2020

That last bit is, in part, key to many consumers’ choice of game titles. As already noted by the firm, Animal Crossing: New Horizons had its own record-setting first quarter. That, in turn, helped drive Switch sales, in spite of Nintendo’s well-documented supply issues. The title arrived just in the nick of time for stay at home orders in the U.S., delivering a kind of front-facing social experience that much of the competition lacks. Also, turnips.

Matter of fact, the Switch’s success actually helped supplement losses of other platforms. Microsoft and Sony will no doubt make up gains at the end of the year with their next-gen consoles. For now, however, many consumers are likely holding out until their holiday arrives to invest in Xbox or PlayStation hardware, in spite of the pandemic. The U.S.’s soaring unemployment rate no doubt also had an impact on the industry’s bottom line.

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Daily Crunch: AT&T CEO steps down

Posted by | Apple, apple inc, AT&T, Berkshire Hathaway, ceo, Companies, coo, Daily Crunch, Google, Media, Mobile, Nintendo, president, Randall stephenson, TechCrunch, thierry-breton, Tim Cook, trump, WarnerMedia | No Comments

AT&T is getting a new boss, the first piece of Apple and Google’s COVID-19 contact tracing program should be available soon and Snap is looking to raise more debt.

Here’s your Daily Crunch for April 24, 2020.

1. Randall Stephenson to step down as AT&T chief, succeeded by COO John Stankey

A big changing of the guard is underway at one of the world’s biggest names in telecoms and media. The change is effective on June 1, and while Stephenson is retiring, he will stay on as executive chairman of AT&T until January 2021.

Stankey has held other roles at AT&T, including CEO of WarnerMedia and CEO of the AT&T Entertainment Group. His promotion suggests a continuing emphasis on the media side of the business.

2. First version of Apple and Google’s contact tracing API should be available to developers next week

The first version of Apple and Google’s jointly developed, cross-platform contact tracing API should be available to developers as of next week, according to a conversation between Apple CEO Tim Cook and European Commissioner for internal market Thierry Breton.

3. Snap looks to load up on cash in sizable debt offering

Snap’s Q1 earnings impressed investors but the company is still losing plenty of cash and it’s clear that the full impact of the digital ad market’s downturn won’t be seen until the company’s Q2 earnings. The company is now looking to raise looking to raise $750 million.

4. Google ditched tipping feature for donating money to sites

Leaked images obtained by TechCrunch reveal that Google considered and designed a feature that would let people donate money to websites to help support news publishers, bloggers and musicians. But the company ultimately scrapped the idea.

5. Seven VCs look into the future of fintech

Although it looks like the COVID-19 pandemic has clipped the tails of many unicorns, this era won’t last forever. Investors expect the domestic and global economy to recover, perhaps as soon as late 2020 or early 2021. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

6. House passes COVID-19 relief package to replenish PPP loan funding

The interim legislation will allocate $310 billion to replenish the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), $75 billion for hospitals and $25 billion for COVID-19 testing. President Trump previously expressed his approval of the bill, as well as his intention to sign it and make the funds available as quickly as possible.

7. After 160,000 accounts are compromised, Nintendo shuts down NNID logins

Nintendo confirmed earlier reports of account breaches dating back over the past few weeks. The gaming giant issued an update (via Nintendo Japan) noting that around 160,000 Nintendo Accounts were impacted, with accounts being used to purchase digital items without the owner’s consent.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

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Pedaling-in-place with the Cubii Pro

Posted by | Android, apple inc, Berkshire Hathaway, Bluetooth, Chair, Companies, coronavirus, COVID-19, Cubii, Exercise, hardware, Health, industries, Reviews | No Comments

So it has come to this. I haven’t set foot outside my apartment for a week and a half. YouTube yoga has been a kind of lifesaver, and I happened to have a largely untouched 30-pound kettlebell lying around. My Apple Watch has been mostly untouched, however. The stark realities of woefully underperforming exercise minutes and step counts are just too much on top of everything else.

Honestly, I scoffed a bit when a friend initially recommended an under-desk elliptical. But those were better days, when I was still able to take the bicycle out for a socially distant spin. Due to doctor’s orders, however, I now find myself unable to travel beyond the mailbox in my building lobby — and even that feels like tempting fate some days.

Now here I am, peddling away, writing a review of the Cubii Pro. It’s not a new product, exactly. But it’s certainly having its moment. In normal times, the device seems a silly bit of office “fitness” paraphernalia, designed to counteract the dangers of prolonged sitting we’ve frequently been warned against.

But if sitting was the new smoking in 2019, it’s simply the new reality in this era of self-quarantine. We’ll take our exercise wherever we can sneak it in — even if that means little more than walking between the desk and the kitchen most days. The Cubii line of products are by no means a replacement for more full-bodied exercise, but they’re a valiant attempt to help falling victim to complete atrophy.

As the name implies, the Pro is a step up from the standard Cubii that was launched via a Kickstarter campaign back in 2016. At $349, it’s an investment, with the biggest upgrades coming in the form of Bluetooth connectivity. There’s an app for iOS and Android that connects to third-party tracking software like Apple Health. That’s a pretty solid add-on, frankly, for those who’ve put a lot of stock in closing their Apple Watch rings.

The device ships mostly assembled. You’ll need to take it the last mile by attaching the pedals. And hey, free screwdriver. That’s simple enough. Honestly, the biggest headache about set up is charging the thing. The Pro is significantly larger and heavier than I’d initially anticipated, and it charges via microUSB. That means unless you’ve got a long cable, you’re going to have to find a spot to stick it near an outlet for an extended period. I don’t have floor outlets in my small apartment, so I had to get creative.

Charging takes a while, too. It’s best done overnight, if you can manage. The good news on that front, however, is it will stay charged for a while. I don’t anticipate having to charge it more often than every few weeks.

The size is also a constraint from the standpoint of use. The device’s length meant I had to pull my desk out from the wall a bit to use it. I also find myself having to sit back a bit, so as to avoid banging my knees on the bottom of the desk. Honestly, it’s probably best used while seated on a couch, watching TV (a laptop is too much to ask without a desk). If your office chair rolls as mine does, you’ll once again find yourself getting creative. The aforementioned kettlebell is getting even more use these days, as it currently sits between chair legs, hampering me from rolling backward with every peddle.

Those quibbles aside, I’ve mostly been enjoying my time with the product. The movement is smooth, the Bluetooth connection works well (though you may have to open the app to get it started) and there are eight resistance settings to keep things fresh. In other circumstances, I couldn’t imagine spending that much on this sort of product, but these are unique times. For those who still have trouble leaving the home even after things go mostly back to normal, it’s a nice, portable alternative to far pricier home exercise devices, with a solid little app to boot.

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Sony invests $400M in Chinese entertainment platform Bilibili

Posted by | animation, Apps, Asia, China, Companies, consumer electronics, Entertainment, funding, industries, Media, Mobile, Sony, video hosting | No Comments

Sony said on Thursday that it is investing $400 million to secure a 4.98% stake in Chinese entertainment giant Bilibili.

10-year old Bilibili started as an animation site, but has expanded to other categories including e-sports, user-generated music videos, documentaries, and games. The service, which has amassed over 130 million users, has attracted several big investors over the years, including Chinese giants Tencent and Alibaba.

The announcement pushed Bilibili’s share up by 7.6% in pre-market trading. Sony has made the investment through its wholly-owned subsidiary Sony Corporation of America.

In a statement, Sony said the company believes China is a key strategic region in the entertainment business. BiliBili says it targets China’s Gen-Z. The vast majority of its users — about 80% — were born between 1990 and 2009.

The two companies have also agreed to pursue collaboration opportunities in the entertainment field in China, including animation and mobile game apps, they said.

You can read more about Bilibili’s business and dominance in China in my colleague Rita Liao’s piece here.

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Test and trace with Apple and Google

Posted by | alipay, america, Android, Apple, apple inc, Bluetooth, China, Companies, computing, cryptography, digital rights, encryption, Google, google play services, human rights, MIT, NHS, operating system, Opinion, privacy, Singapore, south korea, surveillance, TC, terms of service, United Kingdom, world health organization | No Comments

After the shutdown, the testing and tracing. “Trace, test and treat is the mantra … no lockdowns, no roadblocks and no restriction on movement” in South Korea. “To suppress and control the epidemic, countries must isolate, test, treat and trace,” say WHO.

But what does “tracing” look like exactly? In Singapore, they use a “TraceTogether” app, which uses Bluetooth to track nearby phones (without location tracking), keeps local logs of those contacts, and only uploads them to the Ministry of Health when the user chooses/consents, presumably after a diagnosis, so those contacts can be alerted. Singapore plans to open-source the app.

In South Korea, the government texts people to let them know if they were in the vicinity of a diagnosed individual. The information conveyed can include the person’s age, gender, and detailed location history. Subsequently, even more details may be made available:

The level of detail provided by @Seoul_gov for each and every COVID-19 case in the city is astonishing:

Last name (which I’ve obscured)
Sex
Birth year
District of residence
Profession
Travel history
Contact with known cases
Hospital where they’re being treated pic.twitter.com/GsI0QQPcVH

— Victoria Kim (@vicjkim) March 24, 2020

In China, as you might expect, the surveillance is even more pervasive and draconian. Here, the pervasive apps Alipay and WeChat now include health codes – green, yellow, or red – set by the Chinese government, using opaque criteria. This health status is then used in hundreds of cities (and soon nationwide) to determine whether people are allowed to e.g. ride the subway, take a train, enter a building, or even exit a highway.

What about us, in the rich democratic world? Are we OK with the Chinese model? Of course not. The South Korean model? …Probably not. The Singaporean model? …Maybe. (I suspect it would fly in my homeland of Canada, for instance.) But the need to install a separate app, with TraceTogether or the directionally similar MIT project Safe Paths, is a problem. It works in a city-state like Singapore but will be much more problematic in a huge, politically divided nation like America. This will lead to inferior data blinded by both noncompliance and selection bias.

More generally, at what point does the urgent need for better data collide with the need to protect individual privacy and avoid enabling the tools for an aspiring, or existing, police state? And let’s not kid ourselves; the pandemic increases, rather than diminishes, the authoritarian threat.

Maybe, like the UK’s NHS, creators of new pandemic data infrastructures will promise “Once the public health emergency situation has ended, data will either be destroyed or returned” — but not all organizations instill the required level of trust in their populace. This tension has provoked heated discussion around whether we should create new surveillance systems to help mitigate and control the pandemic.

This surprises me greatly. Wherever you may be on that spectrum, there is no sense whatsoever in creating a new surveillance system — seeing as how multiple options already exist. We don’t like to think about it, much, but the cold fact is that two groups of entities already collectively have essentially unfettered access to all our proximity (and location) data, as and when they choose to do so.

I refer of course to the major cell providers, and to Apple & Google . This was vividly illustrated by data company Tectonix in a viral visualization of the spread of Spring Break partygoers:

Want to see the true potential impact of ignoring social distancing? Through a partnership with @xmodesocial, we analyzed secondary locations of anonymized mobile devices that were active at a single Ft. Lauderdale beach during spring break. This is where they went across the US: pic.twitter.com/3A3ePn9Vin

— Tectonix GEO (@TectonixGEO) March 25, 2020

Needless to say, Apple and Google, purveyors of the OSes on all those phones, have essentially the same capability as and when they choose to exercise it. An open letter from “technologists, epidemiologists & medical professionals” calls on “Apple, Google, and other mobile operating system vendors” (the notion that any other vendors are remotely relevant is adorable) “to provide an opt-in, privacy preserving OS feature to support contact tracing.”

They’re right. Android and iOS could, and should, add and roll out privacy-preserving, interoperable, TraceTogether-like functionality at the OS level (or Google Play Services level, to split fine technical hairs.) Granted, this means relying on corporate surveillance, which makes all of us feel uneasy. But at least it doesn’t mean creating a whole new surveillance infrastructure. Furthermore, Apple and Google, especially compared to cellular providers, have a strong institutional history and focus on protecting privacy and limiting the remit of their surveillance.

(Don’t believe me? Apple’s commitment to privacy has long been a competitive advantage. Google offers a thorough set of tools to let you control your data and privacy settings. I ask you: where is your cell service provider’s equivalent? Ah. Do you expect it to ever create one? I see. Would you also be interested in this fine, very lightly used Brooklyn Bridge I have on sale?)

Apple and Google are also much better suited to the task of preserving privacy by “anonymizing” data sets (I know, I know, but see below), or, better yet, preserving privacy via some form(s) of differential privacy and/or homomorphic encryption — or even some kind of zero-knowledge cryptography, he handwaved wildly. And, on a practical level, they’re more able than a third-party app developer to ensure a background service like that stays active.

Obviously this should all be well and firmly regulated. But at the same time, we should remain cognizant of the fact that not every nation believes in such regulation. Building privacy deep into a contact-tracing system, to the maximum extent consonant with its efficacy, is especially important when we consider its potential usage in authoritarian nations who might demand the raw data. “Anonymized” location datasets admittedly tend to be something of an oxymoron, but authoritarians may still be technically stymied by the difficulty of deanonymization; and if individual privacy can be preserved even more securely than that via some elegant encryption scheme, so much the better.

Compared to the other alternatives — government surveillance; the phone companies; or some new app, with all the concomitant friction and barriers to usage — Apple and Google are by some distance the least objectionable option. What’s more, in the face of this global pandemic they could roll out their part of the test-and-trace solution to three billion users relatively quickly. If we need a pervasive pandemic surveillance system, then let’s use one which (though we don’t like to talk about it) already exists, in the least dangerous, most privacy-preserving way.

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Tencent to grow gaming empire with $148M acquisition of Conan publisher Funcom in Norway

Posted by | Apps, ceo, Companies, Europe, finland, Funcom, Fundings & Exits, Gaming, Israel, Microsoft, miniclip, Nintendo, online games, Oslo, Riot Games, smartphone, Software, Sony, supercell, Tencent, ubisoft, WeChat | No Comments

Tencent, one of the world’s biggest video and online gaming companies by revenue, today made another move to help cement that position. The Chinese firm has made an offer to fully acquire Funcom, the games developer behind Conan Exiles (and others in the Conan franchise), Dune and some 28 other titles. The deal, when approved, would value the Oslo-based company at $148 million (NOK 1.33 billion) and give the company a much-needed cash injection to follow through on its longer-term strategy around its next generation of games.

Funcom is traded publicly on the Oslo Stock Exchange, and the board has already recommended the offer, which is being made at NOK 17 per share, or around 27% higher than its closing share price the day before (Tuesday).

The news is being made with some interesting timing. Today, Tencent competes against the likes of Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo in terms of mass-market, gaming revenues. But just earlier this week, it was reported that ByteDance — the publisher behind breakout social media app TikTok — was readying its own foray into the world of gaming.

If it goes ahead, that would set up another level of rivalry between the two companies. Tencent also has a massive interest in the social media space, specifically by way of its messaging app WeChat . While many consumers will have multiple apps, when it comes down to it, spending money in one represents a constraint on spending money in another. ByteDance currently profits from having content on its social apps related to Tencent gameplay, so building its own content could be one way of moving away from that. The two have (naturally) also been battling it out in court in China over unfair competition claims, in part related to that gaming content.

Today, Tencent is one of the world’s biggest video game companies: in its last reported quarter (Q3 in November), Tencent said that it make RMB28.6 billion ($4.1 billion) in online gaming revenue, with smartphone games accounting for RMB24.3 billion of that.

Acquisitions and controlling stakes form a key part of the company’s growth strategy in gaming. Among its very biggest deals, Tencent paid $8.6 billion for a majority stake in Finland’s Supercell back in 2016. It also has a range of controlling stakes in Riot Games, Epic, Ubisoft, Paradox, Frontier and Miniclip. These companies, in turn, also are making deals: just earlier this month it was reported (and sources have also told us) that Miniclip acquired Israel’s Ilyon Games (of Bubble Shooter fame) for $100 million.

Turning back to Funcom, Tencent was already an investor in the company: it took a 29% stake in it in September 2019 in a secondary deal, buying out KGJ Capital (which had previously been the biggest shareholder).

“Tencent has a reputation for being a responsible long-term investor, and for its renowned operational capabilities in online games,” said Funcom CEO Rui Casais at the time. “The insight, experience, and knowledge that Tencent will bring is of great value to us and we look forward to working closely with them as we continue to develop great games and build a successful future for Funcom.”

In retrospect, this was laying the groundwork and relationships for a bigger deal just months down the line. 

“We have a great relationship with Tencent as our largest shareholder and we are very excited to be part of the Tencent team,” Casais said in a statement today. “We will continue to develop great games that people all over the world will play, and believe that the support of Tencent will take Funcom to the next level. Tencent will provide Funcom with operational leverage and insights from its vast knowledge as the leading company in the game space.”

The rationale for Funcom is that the company had already determined that it needed further investment in order to follow through on its longer-term strategy.

According to a statement issued before it recommended the offer, the company is continuing to build out the “Open World Survival segment” using the Games-as-a-Service business model (where you pay to fuel up with more credits); and is building an ambitious Dune project set to launch in two years.

“Such increased focus would require a redirection of resources from other initiatives, the most significant being the co-op shooter game, initially scheduled for release during 2020 that has been impacted by scope changes due to external/market pressures with increasingly strong competition and internal delays,” the board writes, and if it goes ahead with its strategy, “It is likely that the Company will need additional financing to supplement the revenue generated from current operations.”

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US patents hit record 333,530 granted in 2019; IBM, Samsung (not the FAANGs) lead the pack

Posted by | 3 D, Amazon, Amazon Technologies Inc., Android, apple inc, AT&T, biotechnology, car, China, Companies, CRISPR, EMC, Germany, Government, Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, huawei, IBM, industries, Japan, lawsuit, Microsoft, mpeg la, Netflix, oracle, Panasonic, patents, printing, Qualcomm, quantum computing, Samsung, Samsung Electronics, south korea, technology trends, telecommunications, United States | No Comments

We may have moved on from a nearly-daily cycle of news involving tech giants sparring in courts over intellectual property infringement, but patents continue to be a major cornerstone of how companies and people measure their progress and create moats around the work that they have done in hopes of building that into profitable enterprises in the future. IFI Claims, a company that tracks patent activity in the US, released its annual tally of IP work today underscoring that theme: it noted that 2019 saw a new high-watermark of 333,530 patents granted by the US Patent and Trademark Office.

The figures are notable for a few reasons. One is that this is the most patents ever granted in a single year; and the second that this represents a 15% jump on a year before. The high overall number speaks to the enduring interest in safeguarding IP, while the 15% jump has to do with the fact that patent numbers actually dipped last year (down 3.5%) while the number that were filed and still in application form (not granted) was bigger than ever. If we can draw something from that, it might be that filers and the USPTO were both taking a little more time to file and process, not a reduction in the use of patents altogether.

But patents do not tell the whole story in another very important regard.

Namely, the world’s most valuable, and most high profile tech companies are not always the ones that rank the highest in patents filed.

Consider the so-called FAANG group, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google: Facebook is at number-36 (one of the fastest movers but still not top 10) with 989 patents; Apple is at number-seven with 2,490 patents; Amazon is at number-nine with 2,427 patents; Netflix doesn’t make the top 50 at all; and the Android, search and advertising behemoth Google is merely at slot 15 with 2,102 patents (and no special mention for growth).

Indeed, the fact that one of the oldest tech companies, IBM, is also the biggest patent filer almost seems ironic in that regard.

As with previous years — the last 27, to be exact — IBM has continued to hold on to the top spot for patents granted, with 9,262 in total for the year. Samsung Electronics, at 6,469, is a distant second.

These numbers, again, don’t tell the whole story: IFI Claims notes that Samsung ranks number-one when you consider all active patent “families”, which might get filed across a number of divisions (for example a Samsung Electronics subsidiary filing separately) and count the overall number of patents to date (versus those filed this year). In this regard, Samsung stands at 76,638, with IBM the distant number-two at 37,304 patent families.

Part of this can be explained when you consider their businesses: Samsung makes a huge range of consumer and enterprise products. IBM, on the other hand, essentially moved out of the consumer electronics market years ago and these days mostly focuses on enterprise and B2B and far less hardware. That means a much smaller priority placed on that kind of R&D, and subsequent range of families.

Two other areas that are worth tracking are biggest movers and technology trends.

In the first of these, it’s very interesting to see a car company rising to the top. Kia jumped 58 places and is now at number-41 (921 patents) — notable when you think about how cars are the next “hardware” and that we are entering a pretty exciting phase of connected vehicles, self-driving and alternative energy to propel them.

Others rounding out fastest-growing were Hewlett Packard Enterprise, up 28 places to number-48 (794 patents); Facebook, up 22 places to number-36 (989 patents); Micron Technology, up nine places to number-25 (1,268), Huawei, up six places to number-10 (2,418), BOE Technology, up four places to number-13 (2,177), and Microsoft, up three places to number-4 (3,081 patents).

In terms of technology trends, IFI looks over a period of five years, where there is now a strong current of medical and biotechnology innovation running through the list right now, with hybrid plant creation topping the list of trending technology, followed by CRISPR gene-editing technology, and then medicinal preparations (led by cancer therapies). “Tech” in the computer processor sense only starts at number-four with dashboards and other car-related tech; with quantum computing, 3-D printing and flying vehicle tech all also featuring.

Indeed, if you have wondered if we are in a fallow period of innovation in mobile, internet and straight computer technology… look no further than this list to prove out that thought.

Unsurprisingly, US companies account for 49% of U.S. patents granted in 2019 up from 46 percent a year before. Japan accounts for 16% to be the second-largest, with South Korea at 7% (Samsung carrying a big part of that, I’m guessing), and China passing Germany to be at number-four with 5%.

  1. International Business Machines Corp 9262
  2. Samsung Electronics Co Ltd 6469
  3. Canon Inc 3548
  4. Microsoft Technology Licensing LLC 3081
  5. Intel Corp 3020
  6. LG Electronics Inc 2805
  7. Apple Inc 2490
  8. Ford Global Technologies LLC 2468
  9. Amazon Technologies Inc 2427
  10. Huawei Technologies Co Ltd 2418
  11. Qualcomm Inc 2348
  12. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co TSMC Ltd 2331
  13. BOE Technology Group Co Ltd 2177
  14. Sony Corp 2142
  15. Google LLC 2102
  16. Toyota Motor Corp 2034
  17. Samsung Display Co Ltd 1946
  18. General Electric Co 1818
  19. Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson AB 1607
  20. Hyundai Motor Co 1504
  21. Panasonic Intellectual Property Management Co Ltd 1387
  22. Boeing Co 1383
  23. Seiko Epson Corp 1345
  24. GM Global Technology Operations LLC 1285
  25. Micron Technology Inc 1268
  26. United Technologies Corp 1252
  27. Mitsubishi Electric Corp 1244
  28. Toshiba Corp 1170
  29. AT&T Intellectual Property I LP 1158
  30. Robert Bosch GmbH 1107
  31. Honda Motor Co Ltd 1080
  32. Denso Corp 1052
  33. Cisco Technology Inc 1050
  34. Halliburton Energy Services Inc 1020
  35. Fujitsu Ltd 1008
  36. Facebook Inc 989
  37. Ricoh Co Ltd 980
  38. Koninklijke Philips NV 973
  39. EMC IP Holding Co LLC 926
  40. NEC Corp 923
  41. Kia Motors Corp 921
  42. Texas Instruments Inc 894
  43. LG Display Co Ltd 865
  44. Oracle International Corp 847
  45. Murata Manufacturing Co Ltd 842
  46. Sharp Corp 819
  47. SK Hynix Inc 798
  48. Hewlett Packard Enterprise Development LP 794
  49. Fujifilm Corp 791
  50. LG Chem Ltd 791

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Google makes moving music and videos between speakers and screens easier

Posted by | artificial intelligence, Assistant, chromecast, Companies, Gadgets, Google, Google Assistant, Google Cast, google home, smart speakers, Speaker | No Comments

Google today announced a small but nifty feature for the Google Assistant and its smart home devices that makes it easier for you to take your music and videos with you as you wander about the different rooms in your home.

“Stream transfer,” as Google prosaically calls it, allows you to simply ask the Assistant to move your music to a different speaker, or — if you have the right speaker group set up — to all speakers and TVs in your home. All you have to say is “Hey Google, move the music to the bedroom speaker,” for example. In addition to your voice, you also can use the Google Home app or the touchscreen on your Google Nest Home Hub.

This will work with any source that can play to your Chromecast-enabled speakers and displays.

It’s all pretty straightforward — to the point where I’m surprised it took so long for Google to enable a feature like this. But maybe it just needed to have enough devices in peoples’ homes to make it worthwhile. “Now that millions of users have multiple TVs, smart speakers and smart displays (some in every room!) we wanted to make it easy for people to control their media as they moved from room to room,” Google itself explains in today’s announcement.

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Amazon might reveal fitness-tracking Alexa wireless earbuds, Echo with better sound this week

Posted by | AirPods, Alexa, Amazon, amazon alexa, Android, Apple, apple inc, Assistant, Berkshire Hathaway, CNBC, Companies, fitbit, Gadgets, hardware, hearables, industries, iPhone, Samsung, Seattle, TC, wireless earbuds | No Comments

Amazon is building wireless earbuds that offer Alexa voice assistant access, and fitness tracking for use during activities, according to a new report from CNBC. These earbuds, combined with a new, larger Echo designed to provide more premium sound, could feature into Amazon’s hardware event taking place this Wednesday in Seattle, though the outlet is unclear on the release timeline for this gear based on its source.

These earbuds would be a major new product for Amazon, and would be the company’s first foray into personal health and fitness devices. While Amazon has either built or bought products in a wide range of connected gadget categories, including smart home and smart speakers in particular, so far it hasn’t seemed all that aggressive in personal health, even as Apple, Samsung and others have invested heavily in these areas.

CNBC’s report says that these new Alexa buds will have an accelerometer on board for measuring motion, and will be able to also provide distance tracking, calories burned and pace – in other words, all the things that you’d expect to track with a fitness wearable like the Apple Watch or a Fitbit.

Leaving aside their fitness features, earbuds would provide Amazon a way to deliver a more portable Alexa for people to take with them outside of the house. The company has partnered with other headphone makers on similar third-party Alexa integrations, and they’ve also experimented with bringing Alexa to the car, for instance, but it’s largely still a home-based assistant, successful as its been.

Helping the appeal of these reported new products, the buds are said to be retailing for under $100, which will put them at a big price advantage when compared to similar offerings from either dedicated audio companies and headphone makes, and to potential rivals like Apple’s AirPods. Though the report indicates that they’ll still rely on being connected to an iPhone or Android device for connectivity, as they won’t have their own data connection.

Amazon is also readying a bigger echo that has a built-in woofer and overall better sound than its existing lineup, according to CNBC . That mirrors a report from July from Bloomberg that also said Amazon was readying a high-end echo, with a planned launch for next year.

Some or all of these new hardware devices could make their debut at Wednesday’s event, but it seems likely a lot of what we’ll see will be a surprise.

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Ikea doubles down on smart home tech with new business unit

Posted by | Companies, Gadgets, hardware, head, ikea, retailers, Sonos, Sweden, TC, wireless chargers | No Comments

Ikea’s smart home investments to date have been smart but scattered – now the Swedish home goods brand says it’s going to amp up its smart home bets with a brand new dedicated business unit.

The company’s smart home endeavors began in 2012, and focused on wireless charging and smart lighting. It’s iterated in both areas since, developing self-installed integrated wireless chargers for its furniture, as well as light/charger combos, and finally with a new partnership with Sonos that produced the Symfonisk line of wireless smart speakers.

Ikea also has its own ambitions in terms of being the hub for future smart home products, not only from a hardware perspective, but also via its Home smart app, which it rebranded from being more strictly focused on its Tradfri line of connected bulbs in June. During the Symfonisk launch, Ikea told me it has broader ambitions for the Home smart app as a central hub for connected home control for its customers.

“At IKEA we want to continue to offer products for a better life at home for the many people going forward. In order to do so we need to explore products and solutions beyond conventional home furnishing,” said Björn Block, Head of the new IKEA Home smart Business Unit at IKEA of Sweden, in a press release from the company.

Ikea also characterized this as its biggest new focus area in terms of the overall business and brand since it introduced its Children’s Ikea line.

The partnership between Sonos and Ikea that produced the Symfonisk line is a long-term one, and both companies told me to expect more products to come out of that team-up in future. But it sounds like Ikea intends to explore how smart home tech might touch all aspects of its business, so it’s fair to anticipate more partnerships and product categories to follow as a result of this new investment focus, too.

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