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Nigeria’s Paga acquires Apposit, confirms Mexico and Ethiopia expansion

Posted by | africa, alipay, Android, Asia, Banking, Brown University, ceo, cisco systems, CTO, east africa, ethiopia, financial services, food delivery, isp, kenya, Lagos, latin america, M-Pesa, Mexico, Nigeria, Opay, Opera, paga, PayPal, Safaricom, San Francisco, software development, South Africa, Stanford University, Tayo Oviosu, TC, United States, western union | No Comments

Nigerian digital payments startup Paga has acquired Apposit, a software development company based in Ethiopia, for an undisclosed amount.

That’s just part of Paga’s news. The Lagos based startup will also launch its payment products in Mexico this year and in Ethiopia imminently, CEO Tayo Oviosu told TechCrunch

The moves come a little over a year after Paga raised a $10 million Series B round and Oviosu announced the company’s intent to expand globally, while speaking at Disrupt San Francisco.

Paga will leverage Apposit — which is U.S. incorporated but operates in Addis Ababa — to support that expansion into East Africa and Latin America.

Repat founders

Behind the acquisition is a story threaded with serendipity, return, and collaboration.

Both Paga and Apposit were founded by repatriate entrepreneurs. Oviosu did his MBA at Stanford University and worked at Cisco Systems before returning to Nigeria.

Apposit CEO Adam Abate moved back to Ethiopia 17 years ago for an assignment in the country’s Ministry of Finance, after studying at Brown University and working in fintech in New York.

“I put together a team…to build…public financial management systems for the country. And during the process…brought in my best friend Eric Chijioke…to be a technical engineer,” said Abate.

The two teamed up with Simon Solomon in 2007 to co-found Apposit, with a focus on building large-scale enterprise software for Africa.

Apposit partners (L-R) Adam Abate, Simon Solomon, Eric Chijioke, Gideon Abate

A year later, Oviosu met Chijioke when he crashed at his house while visiting Ethiopia for a wedding. It just so happened Chijioke’s brother was his roommate at Stanford.

That meeting began an extended conversation between the two on digital-finance innovation in Africa and eventually led to a Paga partnership with Apposit in 2010.

Apposit dedicated an engineering team to build Paga’s payment platform, Eric Chijioke became Paga’s CTO (while maintaining his Apposit role) and Apposit backed Paga.

“We aligned ourselves as African entrepreneurs…which then developed into a close relationship where we became…investors in Paga and strategically aligned,” said Abate.

African roots, global ambitions

Fast forward a decade, and the two companies have come pretty far. Apposit has grown its business into a team of 63 engineers and technicians and has racked up a list of client partnerships. The company helped digitize the Ethiopian Commodities Exchange and has contracted on IT and software solutions with banks non-profits and brick and mortar companies.

For a decade, Apposit has also supported Paga’s payment product development.

Paga Interfaces

Over that period, Oviosu and team went to work building Paga’s platform and driving digital payment adoption in Nigeria, home to Africa’s largest economy and population of 200 million.

That’s been no small task considering Nigeria’s percentage of unbanked was pegged as high as at 70% in 2011 and still lingers around 60%, according to The Global Findex database.

Paga has created a multi-channel network to transfer money, pay-bills, and buy things digitally. The company has 14 million customers in Nigeria who can transfer funds from one of Paga’s 24,411 agents or through the startup’s mobile apps.

Paga products work on iOS, Android, and basic USSD phones using a star, hashtag option. The company has remittance partnerships with the likes of Western Union and allows for third-party integration of its app.

Since inception, the startup has processed 104 million transactions worth $6.6 billion, according to Oviosu.

With the acquisition, Paga absorbs Apposit’s tech capabilities and team of 63 engineers.  The company will direct its boosted capabilities and total workforce of 530 to support expansion.

Paga plans its Mexico launch in 2020, according to Oviosu.

Adam Abate is now CEO of Paga Ethiopia, where Paga plans to go live as soon as it gains local regulatory approval. The East African nation of 100 million, with the continent’s seventh largest economy, is bidding to become Africa’s next startup hub, though it still lags the continent’s tech standouts — like Nigeria and Kenya — in startup formation, ISP options and VC.

Ethiopia has also been slow to adopt digital finance, with less than 1% of the population using mobile-money, compared to 73% for Kenya, Africa’s mobile-payments leader.

Paga aims to shift the financial needle in the country. “The goal is straight-forward. We want Ethiopians to use the Paga wallet as their payment account. So it’s about digitizing cash transactions and driving financial services,” said Oviosu.

Paga CEO Tayo Oviosu

With the Apposit acquisition and country expansion, he also looks to grow Paga’s model in Africa and beyond, as an emerging markets fintech solution.

“There are several very large countries around the world in Africa, Latin America, Asia where these [financial inclusion] problems still exist. So our strategy is not an African strategy…We want to go where these problems exist in a large way and build a global payments business,” Oviosu said.

Fintech competition in Nigeria

As it grows abroad, Paga faces greater competition in Nigeria. For the last decade, South Africa and Kenya — with the success of Safaricom’s  M-Pesa product — have been Africa’s standouts in digital payments.

But over the last several years, Nigeria has become a magnet for VC and fintech startups. This trend reached a high-point in 2019 when Chinese investors put $220 million into Opera owned OPay and Transsion backed PalmPay — two fledgling startups with plans to scale in Nigeria and broader Africa.

That’s a hefty war chest compared to Paga’s total VC haul of $34 million, according to Crunchbase.

Oviosu names product market fit and benefits from the company’s expansion as factors that will keep it ahead of these well-funded new entrants.

“That’s where the world-class technology comes in,” he said.

“We also take a perspective that we cannot build every use-case,” he said — contrasting Paga’s model to Opera in Africa, which has launched multiple startup verticals around its OPay product, from ride-hailing to food-delivery.

Oviosu compares Paga’s approach to PayPal, which allows third-party developers to shape businesses around PayPal as the payment solution.

With its Apposit acquisition and continued expansion, PayPal may become more than a model for Paga.

Founder Tayo Oviosu sees big fintech players, such as PayPal and Alipay, as future competitors with Paga’s plans to move into more emerging markets.

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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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At CES, Schneider Electric unveils its own upgrade to the traditional fusebox

Posted by | CES 2020, electricity, energy, Energy Conservation, energy efficiency, energy management, Gadgets, Las Vegas, Logistics, renewable energy, sustainable energy, TC, United States | No Comments

As renewable energy and energy efficiency continue to make gains among cost-conscious consumers, more companies are looking at ways to give customers better ways to manage the electricity coming into their homes.

At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Schneider Electric unveiled its pitch to homeowners looking for a better power management system with the company’s Energy Center product.

Think of it as a competitor to products from startups like Span, which are attempting to offer homeowners better ways to integrate renewable energy power generation to their homes and provide better ways to route the electricity inside the home, according to Schneider Electric’s executive vice president for its Home and Distribution division, Manish Pant.

The new product is part of a broader range of Square D home energy management devices that Schneider is aiming at homeowners. The company provides a broad suite of energy management services and technologies to commercial, industrial and residential customers, but is making a more concerted effort into the U.S. residential market beginning in 2020, according to Pant.

Schneider will be looking to integrate batteries and inverters into its Energy Center equipment over the course of the year and is currently looking for partners.

In some ways, the home energy market is ripe for innovation. Fuse boxes haven’t changed in nearly 100 years and there are few startups looking to provide better ways to integrate and manage various sources for electricity generation and storage as they become more cost competitive.

Lumin, and Sense (which is backed by Schneider Energy) also have energy efficiency products they’re pitching to homeowners.

CES 2020 coverage - TechCrunch

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American Airlines starts trialing Google Nest Hubs as translators in its lounges

Posted by | Airline Industry, Airlines, American-Airlines, Assistant, aviation, brand management, CES 2020, customer experience, Gadgets, Google, Japan Airlines, TC, United States | No Comments

Delta is keynoting CES today and launching a slew of updates to its digital services. Its competitors don’t want to be left behind, of course, so it’s probably no surprise that American Airlines also made a small but nifty tech announcement today. In partnership with Google, American will start trialing Google Nest Hubs and the Google Assistant interpreter mode in its airport lounges, starting at Los Angeles International Airport this week.

The idea here is to make it easier for the company’s customer service teams to provide personalized service to its customers when no multilingual representative is available. Because the interpreter mode supports 29 languages, including the likes of Arabic, French, German, Japanese, Russian, Spanish and Vietnamese, the Assistant should be able to help in most cases.

“The science fiction universal translator is now science fact,” said Maya Leibman, American’s chief information officer. “Incorporating technology like the Google Assistant’s interpreter mode will help us break down barriers, provide a worry-free travel experience and make travel more accessible to all.”

While this isn’t exactly a groundbreaking new airline experience, what we’re seeing here is how the airline industry is now starting to see technology as a way to differentiate. There is only so much you can do once a customer has boarded (though a good seat, meal and friendly service sure help). What the airlines want to do, though, is extend their relationship with their customers beyond that initial booking experience and the flying experience, with more proactive services through its mobile apps and other touchpoints. That’s pretty clear from Delta’s announcements today, and the rest of the industry is pushing in the same direction.

CES 2020 coverage - TechCrunch

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Kid-focused STEM device startup Kano sees layoffs as it puts Disney e-device on ice

Posted by | Amazon, Barclays, China, Collaborative Fund, computing, Disney, Education, Europe, Gadgets, Google, hardware, harry potter, Intel, Kano, London, Marc Benioff, Microsoft, microsoft windows, TC, United States | No Comments

London-based STEM device maker Kano has confirmed it’s cutting a number of jobs which it claims is part of a restructuring effort to shift focus to “educational computing”.

The job cuts — from 65 to 50 staff — were reported earlier by The Telegraph. Kano founder Alex Stein confirmed in a call with TechCrunch that Kano will have 50 staff going into next year. Although he said the kid-focused learn to code device business is also adding jobs in engineering and design, as well as eliminating other roles as it shifts focus.

He also suggested some of the cuts are seasonal and cyclical — related to getting through the holiday season.

Per Stein, jobs are being taking out as the company moves from building atop the Raspberry Pi platform — where it started, back in 2013, with its crowdfunded DIY computer — to a Windows-based learning platform.

Other factors he pointed to in relation to the layoffs include a new manufacturing setup in China, with a “simpler, larger contract manufacturer”; fewer physical retail outlets to support, with Kano leaning more on Amazon (which he said is “cheaper to support”); fewer dependencies on large partners and agencies, with Stein claiming 18% of US parents with kids aged 6-12 are now familiar with the brand, reducing its marketing overhead; and a desire to shrink the number of corporate managers vs makers on its books as “we’ve seen a stronger response to our first-party Kano products — Computer Kit, Pixel Kit, Motion Sensor Kit — than expected this year”.

“We have brought on some roles that are more focused on this new platform [Kano PC], and some roles that were focused on the Raspberry Pi are no longer with us,” he also told TechCrunch.

Kano unveiled its first Windows-based PC this fall. The 11.6-inch touch-enabled, Intel Atom-powered computer costs $300 — which puts it in the ballpark price-range of Google’s Chromebook.

The tech giant has maintained a steady focus on the educational computing market — putting a competitive squeeze on smaller players like Kano who are trying to carve out a business selling their own brand of STEM-focused hardware. Against the Google Goliath, Stein touts factors such as relative repairability and attention to computing performance for the Kano PC (which he claims is “on a par with the Surface Go”), in addition to having now thrown its lot in with rival giant, Microsoft.

“The more and more we got into school environments the more and more we were in conversations with major North American distributors to schools, the more we saw that people wanted that ‘DIY’… product design, they wanted the hackability and extensibility of the kit, they wanted the tools to be open source and manipulable but they also wanted to be able to run Photoshop and to run Class Dashboard and to run Microsoft Office. And so that was when we struck the partnership with Microsoft,” said Stein.

“The Windows computing is packed with content and curriculum for teachers and an integration with Microsoft Teams which requires a different sort of development capability,” he added.

“The roles we’re adding are around subscription, they’re around the computer, building new applications and tools for the computer and continuing to enrich the number of projects that are available for our members now — so we’re doing things like allowing people to connect the sensors in their wands to household IoT device. We’re introducing, over the Christmas period, a new collaborative drawing app.”

According to Stein, Kano is “already seeing demand for 60,000 units in this next calendar year” for its Windows-based PC — which he said is “well beyond what we expect… given the price-point.

Although he did not put a figure on exact sales to date of the Kano PC.

He also confirmed Kano will be dialling back the range of products it offers next year.

It recently emerged that an own-brand camera device, which Kano first trailed back in 2016, will not now be shipping. Stein also told us that another co-branded Disney product they’d been planning for 2020 is being “put back” — with no new date for release as yet.

Stein denied sales have been lacklustre — claiming the current Star Wars and Frozen e-products have “done enough for us”. (While a co-branded Harry Potter e-wand is selling faster than expected, per Stein, who said they had expected to have stock until March but are “selling out”.)

“The reorganization we’ve done has nothing to do with growth and users,” he told us. “We are on track to sell through more units as well as products at a higher average selling price this fiscal year. We’re selling out of Wands when we expected to have stock all the way to March. We have more pre-launch demand for the Kano PC than anything we’ve ever done.”

Of the additional co-branded Disney e-product which is being delayed — and may not now launch at all next year, Stein told us: “The fact is we’re in negotiations with Disney around this — and around the timing of it. Given that we’re not certain we’re going to be doing it in 2020 some of the contractor roles in particular that we brought on to do the licensing sign off pieces, to develop some of the content around those brands, some of the apparatus set up to manage those partnerships — we don’t need any more.”

“We introduced three new hardware SKUs this year. I don’t think we’ll do three new hardware SKUs next year,” he added, confirming the intention is to trim the number of device launches in 2020 to focus on the Kano PC.

One source we spoke to suggested Kano is considering sunsetting its partner strategy entirely. However Stein did not go that far in his comments to us.

“We’ve been riding a certain bear for a few years. We’re jumping to a new bear. That’s always going to create a bit of exhilaration. But I think this is a place of real promise,” was how he couched the pivot.

“I think what Kano does better than anyone else in the world is crafting an experience around technology that opens up its attributes to a wider audience,” Stein also said when asked whether hardware or software will be its main focus going forward. “The hardware element is crucial and beautiful and we make some of the world’s most interesting dynamic physical products. It’s an often told story that hardware’s very hard and is brutal — and yeah, because you get it right you change the fabric of society.

“It’s hard for me to draw a line between hardware and software for the business because we’ve always been asked that and seven years into the business we’ve found the greatest things that people do with the products… it’s always when there’s a combination of the two. So we’re proud that we’re good at combining the two and we’re going to continue to do it.”

The STEM device space has been going through bumpy times in recent years as early hype and investment has failed to translate into sustained revenues at every twist and turn.

The category is certainly filled with challenges — from low barrier to entry leading to plentiful (if varied quality) competition, to the demands of building safe, robust and appealing products for (fickle) kids that tightly and reliably integrate hardware and software, to checking all the relevant boxes and processes to win over teachers and support schools’ curriculum requirements that’s essential for selling direct to the education market.

Given so many demands on STEM device makers it’s not surprising this year has seen a number of these startups exiting to other players and/or larger electronics makers — such as Sphero picking up littleBits.

A couple of years ago Sphero went through its own pivot out of selling co-branded Disney ‘learn to code’ gizmos to zoom in on the education space.

While another UK-based STEM device maker — pi-top — has also been through several rounds of layoffs recently, apparently as part of its own pivot to the US edtech market.

More consolidation in the category seems highly likely. And given the new relationship between Kano and Microsoft joining Redmond via acquisition may be the obvious end point for the startup.

Per the Telegraph’s report, Kano is in the process of looking to raise more funding. However Stein did not comment when asked to confirm the company’s funding situation.

The startup last reported a raise just over two years ago — when it closed a $28M Series B round led by Thames Trust and Breyer Capital. Index Ventures, the Stanford Engineering Venture Fund, LocalGlobe, Marc Benioff, John Makinson, Collaborative Fund, Triple Point Capital, and Barclays also participated.

TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden contributed to this report 

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The Samsung Galaxy Fold is headed to Canada, with in-store pre-orders starting today

Posted by | brian, CAD, electronics, Gadgets, hardware, Mobile, mobile phones, oled, Samsung, Samsung Electronics, samsung galaxy, Samsung Galaxy Alpha, samsung galaxy fold, smartphone, smartphones, TC, technology, toronto, United States | No Comments

The Samsung Galaxy Fold is a very unique smartphone, in more ways than one. The most obvious differentiator is that it folds out to expose a large, continuous 7.3″ display, hiding the seam thanks to a flexible OLED screen. It’s also at the very top end of the smartphone market price-wise, which could explain why it only debuted in a few limited markets at launch. Samsung says that customer interest has helped expand that initial pool of availability, however, which is why it’s launching pre-orders in Canada today.

There’s going to be some sticker shock for Canadians, however: The Fold starts at $2,599.99 CAD in its newest market. That’s the price you’d pay for a well-specced computer, but it’s actually right in line with the price of the phone in the U.S. when you account for currency conversion. Pre-orders are also going to be exclusively in-store, at Samsung’s Eaton Center, Sherway Gardens and Yorkdale locations, all of which are in Toronto. Retail sales, also exclusive to Samsung’s own retail operations, are starting December 6 but pre-order customers will be able to ensure a day one pickup.

Samsung’s Galaxy Fold has had a bit of an uneven launch, with a first attempt cancelled in light of multiple reviewers experiencing issues with their devices. Samsung re-designed elements of the phone as a result, including adding caps to prevent dust entering the crucial hinge component that powers the folding actions, and embedding a necessary pre-installed protective screen covering under the phone’s bezels. Still, our own Brian Heater experienced a display hardware issue within a day with his redesigned review device.

Samsung is offering free “Fold Premiere Service” which includes discounted screen replacements and standard free repairs when an issue is not due to any misuse on a user’s part. Overall, the takeaway should be that this is a first-generation device, but also a totally unique piece of technology in today’s marketplace for those willing to risk it.

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Amazon launches a Dash Smart Shelf for businesses that automatically restocks supplies

Posted by | Amazon, Amazon Business, amazon dash, Coffee, dash express, eCommerce, food and drink, Gadgets, hardware, TC, United States | No Comments

Amazon may have stopped selling its Dash buttons for consumers, but it’s not done with dedicated Dash hardware: The company is launching its new Amazon Dash Smart Shelf today. Aimed at small businesses rather than individuals, the Dash Smart Shelf is also even more automated than the Dash buttons, as it uses a built-in scale to automatically place an order for re-stocking supplies based on weight.

Available in three sizes (7″x7″, 12″x10″ and 18″x13″), the Dash Smart Shelf is just 1″ tall and can basically be placed under a pile of whatever stock of supplies you commonly run through while operating a business. That could mean printer paper, coffee cups, pens, paper clips, toilet paper, coffee or just about anything, really — and Amazon’s replenishment system can either be set to automatically place an order when it detects that on-hand supply has fallen below a certain weight, or you can just have it send someone in your organization a notification if you’d rather not have the order happen automatically.

The Dash Smart Shelf connects via built-in Wi-Fi, and can be powered either by a connected cable to a power outlet, or via four AAA batteries, providing flexibility as to where you want to put it. Using the web or the Amazon app, you then sign in with your Amazon Business account and just pick which product you’re using on the scale that you want to top up. And if you find that your staff doesn’t like the coffee selection, for instance, you can easily change up the brand or product your’e re-ordering from your account, too.

Dash Smart Shelf isn’t available immediately for anyone to purchase directly, but instead Amazon is going to be working with select small businesses in a trial pilot this month, with the plan being to open up general availability to any Amazon Business customers that have a registered U.S. business license beginning next year. If people are keen on getting Smart Shelf into their business, they can sign up directly with Amazon to be notified about availability.

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John Legere is stepping down as CEO of T-Mobile, succeeded by deputy Mike Sievert on May 1

Posted by | adam neumann, AT&T, deutsche telekom, john legere, M&A, Mobile, Personnel, Softbank, SoftBank Group, sprint, T-Mobile, TC, telecommunications, united nations, United States, Verizon, WeWork | No Comments

He’s reportedly not going to take over WeWork, but John Legere is definitely on his way out of the CEO role at T-Mobile, the carrier that is currently merging with SoftBank-controlled Sprint. Today the carrier and Legere confirmed that Mike Sievert — currently T-Mobile’s COO — will succeed Legere as CEO on May 1 of 2020. Legere will stay on the board.

Neither Legere nor T-Mobile commented on what his next move will be, and specifically if this will pave the way for him to take over the top job at WeWork. There had been reports that Legere — something of a turnaround specialist — was being lined up for the job at the very troubled office-space startup, which had to shelve its IPO earlier this year after showing poor financials amid questionable management that not only led to the departure of its founder Adam Neumann as CEO, but a strong devaluation of the company that resulted in SoftBank, as a major creditor, taking control.

The reports of Legere coming in to fix things at WeWork seemed to get refuted quite swiftly. However, the same “sources” that quashed that story also insisted he had “no plans” to leave T-Mobile. With elements of the report in doubt, that could put the WeWork rumors (or thoughts of other SoftBank roles, for that matter) back on the table. We’ve asked Legere directly and will update this post if he replies.

Legere has been with T-Mobile since 2012, where he used his irreverent personality to directly spar with the industry while at the same time position the carrier — which has long trailed bigger competitors like AT&T and Verizon (which owns us) in size — as a growth story and different from the pack (hence the “un-carrier” marketing strategy). The stock price has over that time gone up, and the carrier is currently valued at around $65 billion. (Notably, the stock is down about 1.5% today on the back of this news.)

Sievert will be tasked with continuing the route that Legere set, T-Mobile said, “demonstrating that T-Mobile will remain a disruptive force in US wireless marketplace to benefit consumers.”

“I hired Mike in 2012 and I have great confidence in him. I have mentored him as he took on increasingly broad responsibilities, and he is absolutely the right choice as T-Mobile’s next CEO,” said Legere in a statement. “Mike is well prepared to lead T-Mobile into the future. He has a deep understanding of where T-Mobile has been and where it needs to go to remain the most innovative company in the industry. I am extremely proud of the culture and enthusiasm we have built around challenging the status quo and our ongoing commitment to putting customers first.”

“The Un-carrier culture, which all our employees live every day, will not change,” Sievert said in a separate statement. “T-Mobile is not just about one individual. Our company is built around an extraordinarily capable management team and thousands of talented, committed, and customer-obsessed employees. Going forward, my mission is to build on T-Mobile’s industry-leading reputation for empowering employees to deliver an outstanding customer experience and to position T-Mobile not only as the leading mobile carrier, but as one of the most admired companies in America.”

Regardless of whether this is a sign that SoftBank indeed has a job lined up for Legere at one of its other portfolio companies, such as WeWork, the changing of the guard makes some sense, as the merger with Sprint would leave a question mark over who would lead the combined business. The two companies were reportedly close to releasing a management line-up for the merged business earlier this year, but that has yet to happen. The merger is due to be completed early next year.

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San Francisco smokes Juul’s hopes by voting to keep e-cigarette ban

Posted by | dennis herrera, e-cigarette, e-cigarettes, electronic cigarettes, fda, Gadgets, juul, prop c, San Francisco, tobacco, United States | No Comments

Voters in San Francisco have resoundingly rejected an attempt to overturn a citywide ban on e-cigarettes by a margin of around 80:20.

Reporting on the count in the Bay Area, CBS SF says at least 78 per cent of voters rejected the ballot measure, known as Proposition C.

The measure had been heavily back by e-cigarette maker Juuluntil just over a month ago. It is reported to have spent at least $10M promoting the attempt to flip the ban, before withdrawing its support at the end of September as part of a company-wider review under new CEO, K.C. Crosthwaite, that’s also seen between 10-15% of its workforce lay off.

The 2017-founded company, which has raised some $14.4BN in funding to date per Crunchbase, has faced trenchant criticism over the level of youth usage of its products.

In a statement responding to the Prop C vote, San Francisco city attorney Dennis Herrera attacks Juul — dubbing the company “Big Tobacco” — and writing: “San Francisco voters are too smart to be fooled by Juul. Juul is Big Tobacco, and it’s using a classic ploy from the Big Tobacco playbook to try and hook another generation of kids on nicotine. Voters saw right through Juul’s deception. San Francisco already has the toughest e-cigarette regulations in the nation. By law, e-cigarettes must undergo FDA review to ensure they are safe for public health. Complete FDA review and you can sell your product here. If you don’t, you can’t. It’s that simple.”

We’ve reached out to Juul for comment. Update: A company spokesman told us:

As previously announced, Juul Labs ceased active support of Proposition C in September as part of new CEO K.C. Crosthwaite’s broad review of the company’s practices and policies. Crosthwaite said at the time, “I am committed to seeing that Juul engages productively with all stakeholders, including regulators, policymakers and our customers. This decision does not change the fact that as a San Francisco-founded and headquartered company we remain committed to the city. San Francisco is not only the home of our company’s founding but is also the home of many of our talented employees.”

In October Juul announced it would stop selling mango, creme, fruit and cucumber flavored nicotine products in the US, while continuing to sell the flavors elsewhere. But it did not commit to permanently giving up on selling flavored nicotine products — in the US or anywhere.

Vaping generally has also been under a growing cloud of suspicion after a number of e-cigarette users died from an acute lung condition which appears related to the process of chemicals being vaporized and inhaled — and potentially to devices being used to vape THC.

Third party sellers hawk unofficial cartridges for e-cigarette devices such as Juul’s which can contain the psychoactive compound found in marijuana, along with other unknown substances. But studies have also shown that even popular e-cigarette brands don’t know exactly what chemicals are produced when the substances contained in their cartridges are vaporized.

“If the FDA can’t verify that these products are safe, then they don’t belong on store shelves,” added Herrera in the statement. “The U.S. Surgeon General has warned that we are in the midst of a youth vaping epidemic. Juul spent millions trying to mislead San Franciscans and rewrite the rules to benefit itself before realizing that was a fool’s errand. It could have put that time and effort into completing the required FDA review. If Juul had done that the day Supervisor Shamann Walton and I introduced our e-cigarette legislation back in March, Juul would have had its answer from the FDA by now. Perhaps FDA review is a test that Juul is afraid it can’t pass.”

Last month a lawsuit filed by a former Juul executive alleged the company knew that a batch of contaminated e-liquid had been used in about one million pods shipped to retailers earlier this year but did not inform customers.

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Senegal’s NIMA Codes to launch address app in 15 African countries

Posted by | africa, Android, api, carsharing, commuting, IBM, kenya, location based service, NIMA Codes, north america, ovi, senegal, Snap, Startups, TC, transport, Uber, United States, west africa | No Comments

Senegalese startup NIMA Codes — a digital mapping service for locations without formal addresses — has upgraded its app and plans to go live in 15 African countries in 2020.

The pre-seed stage startup launched in 2018 around an API that uses mobile-phone numbers to catalog coordinates for unregistered homes and businesses in Senegal.

NIMA Codes is adding a chat tool to its platform, to help users locate and comment on service providers, and is integrating a photo-based location identifier, NIMA Snap, in the application.

“What we offer right now is a reliable street-addressing product. Because it’s very difficult for people…to communicate location in Africa and a lot of services are using location. So we need a service that can communicate reliable locations,” NIMA Codes co-founder and CEO Mouhamadou Sall told TechCrunch.

By several rankings, NIMA Codes has become a top-three downloaded navigation app in Senegal (for Android and iOS). The platform has 16,000 subscribed users and has recorded more than 100,000 searches, according to Sall.

He and co-founder Steven Sakayroun (a software engineer and IBM alum) came up with the idea for assigning location coordinates to mobile numbers in previous software development roles.

“If you look at street addresses in North America, in the end they are just a way to name longitude and latitude, because the computer doesn’t know what 6th Avenue really means,” Sall said.

Because mobile-phone penetration in Senegal and broader Africa is high, mobile numbers serve as a useful reference point to attach location information tagged for both homes and businesses, Sall explained. Mobile-phones can also serve as an entry point for people to input location coordinates to NIMA Codes’ database.

There are advantages to assigning coordinates to digits, versus letters, in Sub-Saharan Africa with its thousands of language groupings, Sall explained. “Nima Codes is a cross-border and language-agnostic solution,” he said.

Mouhamadou Sall

Sall believes that will work to the startup’s advantage when it expands services and database building to all 15 countries of the Economic Community of West African States by the end of 2020.

NIMA Codes is still plotting prospects for its best use-cases and revenue generation. It hasn’t secured partners yet and is still identifying how those downloading the app are using it. “Right now it’s mostly people who download the app…and register locations. Some delivery companies may be using it and not telling us,” said Sall.

Ecowas Countries

The startup plans to generate revenue through partnerships and API usage fees.

Sall believes NIMA Codes’ new image-based location and chat-based business search functions could come together — akin to Google Maps and finding nearby places — to create commercial revenue opportunities across merchants in West Africa’s large, informal economies.

Another obvious plug-in for NIMA Codes’ service is Africa’s fast-growing ride-hail and delivery markets. Sall points to 2019 data that Uber paid $58 million over three years for map and search services.The U.S. ride-hail company has also tested an image-based directions app called OKHi in Kenya. And there are reports of Uber’s imminent expansion into Senegal.

Whatever the application, Sall believes NIMA Codes is cornering a central point of demand in Sub-Saharan Africa.

“The use case is so big, you need to start with something and eventually expand,” he said.

“But everything wraps around having a reliable location service for people and small business.”

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