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Bugs Will Actually Make Your Next Phone Better

August 16, 2018 No Comments

In everything from cameras to batteries, researchers are pursuing biomimicry—basically, copping nature’s secrets.
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Elon Musk’s Tesla Tweets Could Spark a Fight With the SEC

August 15, 2018 No Comments

A fight the CEO would have trouble winning, according to experts.
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Fax Machines Are Still Everywhere, and Wildly Insecure

August 13, 2018 No Comments

Researchers have demonstrated that sending a single malicious fax is all it takes to break into a network.
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Vladimir Putin Is Basically Tywin Lannister

August 11, 2018 No Comments

The title of chess champion Garry Kasparov’s book ‘Winter Is Coming’ is no accident.
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When Twitter Engineers Speak Out, @Jack Listens

August 9, 2018 No Comments

Silicon Valley engineers have the power to shape products and companies—both of which have enormous impact on our society.
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Snapchat shrinks by 3M users to 188M despite strong Q2

August 8, 2018 No Comments

The Stories War has officially killed Snapchat’s growth, leading to its first user count decline ever. In Q2 2018 earnings today, Snapchat’s daily active users number shrank 1.5 percent to 188 million this quarter, down from 191 million and positive 2.9 percent user growth last quarter.

Snapchat did beat earnings expectations with $ 262.3 million in revenue and a loss of $ 0.14 while Wall Street estimated an EPS loss of $ 0.17 with $ 249.8 million in revenue. Snap’s net loss decreased by 20 percent year-over-year, so it only destroyed $ 353 million this quarter compared to $ 385 million last quarter. Snap will have some extra cash to extend its runway despite its still-massive losses thanks to a $ 250 million investment from Saudi Prince Al-Waleed Talal in exchange for a 2.3 percent stake in the company.

Despite its user count shrinking for the first time since its launch in 2011, the improvement to revenue (up 44 percent year-over-year) and reduced losses led Wall Street to give Snap’s shares an immediate 11 percent pop in after-hours trading. But after dodging multiple questions about how it would improve revenues and when its optimized Android app would arrive, shares fell back to just below the day’s closing price of $ 13.12.

Snapchat is coming off a disastrous Q1 earnings with its slowest-ever user growth rate that led to a 24 percent plunge in its share price in May. But the company has been highly volatile, seeing a 37 percent boost in its share price after surprisingly positive Q4 2017 earnings. Now it’s proving that Facebook isn’t the only social network with growth troubles.

In hopes of distracting from the shrinking DAUs, Snapchat shared a monthly active user count for the first time: 100 million monthly active users in the U.S. and Canada. Snap says this is the highest it’s ever been, yet the reveal highlights that teens are as addicted to daily Snapchat use as they once were. DAUs are a much more accurate way of measuring engagement and ad revenue potential, as opening a single notification and never returning can still register someone as an MAU.

CEO Evan Spiegel blamed the DAU shrinkage on “a slightly lower frequency of use among our user base due to the disruption caused by our redesign.” But since, he believes “we have now addressed the biggest frustrations we’ve heard” so he’s optimistic about future growth. On the other hand, he credits the redesign as producing an 8 percent increase in retention among users older than 35, demonstrating the new design is more obvious and well labeled.

During the earnings call, Snap’s new CFO Tim Stone mentioned that it’s interested in monetizing every part of the app, including “communication.” That could foreshadow more ads in the messaging inbox beyond the sponsored lenses users can play with to send augmented reality Snaps to friends. Snap is also hoping that after a decline in ad prices as it moved to self-serve auctions, ad prices and revenue will climb.

One big bright point for Snap was that its average revenue per user in the Rest Of World region grew 65 percent just this quarter to reach $ 0.96. Figuring out how to monetize these developing countries where buying power is lower will be key to the company’s outlook. Snap says it’s still working to re-engineer its Android app to boost performance and reduce churn, since that’s where most of its new users are coming in.

The quarter saw Snapchat escape much of the scrutiny facing other social networks regarding fake news and election interference. But it clearly still has issues with security, as Snapchat accidentally leaked its own source code, which was archived by someone who then posted it to GitHub today, though it was eventually taken down.

Snapchat started running un-skippable ads in its Shows that could be a big money maker if extended to Stories. It began experimenting with e-commerce in earnest, allowing brands to sell things people can buy without leaving the app. It also opened self-serve buying of its augmented reality lens ads that people not only post, but play with for extended periods of time. And it launched its privacy-safe Snap Kit developer platform in hopes that alliances and referral traffic would help revive its user growth.

But problematically, its competitors like Instagram Stories continued to surge, with it now having 400 million daily Stories users and WhatsApp Status now having 450 million. Combined, Facebook has over 1.1 billion daily (duplicated) Stories users across its family of apps. That reach could make it tough for Snap to compete for ad dollars. And with its user count actually decreasing, that could make for a grim future for the teen sensation.

Mobile – TechCrunch


Venezuela claims drones loaded with explosives used in failed attack on president

August 6, 2018 No Comments

Is the dystopian future of shoestrong budget weaponized drone attacks here already? The BBC and AP are reporting claims by the Venezuela government of an assassination attempt on its president using a couple of drones carrying explosives.

President Nicolás Maduro was giving a speech at a military event in Caracas which was being screened live on television when the incident occurred.

Footage of the speech on the BBC website shows the president, flanked by military generals and with his wife also standing alongside, being interrupted mid-flow by what appears to be a blast from above them.

The people in the shot react by looking startled and looking up. The audio to the video cuts out before the blast can be heard.

Footage of the incident from a different camera angle showing a panorama view of a military parade at a standstill during the speech, does include the sound of a blast. Afterwards people can be seen pushing into and then running into the frame. The soldiers break rank in panic and the sound of screams can be heard.

Venezuela authorities have reported that seven soldiers were injured in the incident and several people were later arrested. Communications minister, Jorge Rodriguez, said two drones loaded with explosives went off near the president’s stand.

In a national address later, Maduro said: “A flying object exploded near me, a big explosion. Seconds later there was a second explosion.”

However there has been no independent verification that explosive-carrying drones were the cause of the blast. And a report by AP cites firefighters at the scene of the blast disputing the government’s version of events.

It reports that three local authorities said there had been a gas tank explosion inside an apartment near the speech and where smoke could be seen streaming out of a window. But AP adds that they provided no further details on how they had reached that conclusion.

There has also been an unverified claim of responsibility for an attack using drones.

The BBC and AP report that a little known group called Soldiers in T-shirts has claimed on social media that it planned to fly two drones loaded with explosives at the president but that government soldiers shot them down before they reached their target.

Both news organizations say the group did not respond to attempts to contact it.

Venezuela’s president has blamed Colombia for the attack — an accusation that has been refuted by the neighboring state as “baseless”.

Gadgets – TechCrunch


Airport Surveillance, FBI Brain Drain, and More Security News This Week

August 4, 2018 No Comments

A Chipotle scam, FBI brain drain, and more of the week’s top security news.
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The Moto Z3 will get 5G via mod

August 3, 2018 No Comments

Say what you will about the success or general usefulness of the Moto Mod line — Motorola keeps plugging away. The company currently offers 17 Mods with an 18th on the way, bringing one of the most interesting use cases yet.

Along with the new Moto Z3 handset, Motorola unveiled a Mod that will bring 5G connectivity to the entire line via Verizon’s nascent network. Due out early next year for an undisclosed sum, the new Mod presents an interesting workaround to the pains of introducing a next-generation network to a handset.

With this backdoor approach, the company is able put the Z3 up for sale on August 16th, and work another half-year or so to get its ducks in a row on the 5G front. Perhaps Verizon’s 5G coverage map will be a bit more dense by then, though at present, the company has only announced three cities — Houston, Los Angeles and, oddly, Sacramento. A fourth unnamed city is also on tap to get coverage by the end of the year.

At the very least, this lets Motorola tout the claim of being one of — if not the — first phones to offer the technology to U.S. customers. The company also claims that putting this tech directly into the phone would have been much more resource intensive than just sticking it and an extended battery inside the mod.

I’m not sure how much I buy that line of reasoning, but it certainly helps keep the cost of the handset down — the new Z3 will be available for $ 480 unlocked. The company has long focused on providing budget options for users, and that’s certainly the case here, helped along by some good — but last-generation — silicon like the Snapdragon 835. 

Motorola also likely didn’t feel confident that most users would be willing to take the plunge on a 5G phone at this early stage. As for the phone itself, it looks pretty similar to the recently introduced Moto Z3 Play in most respects. There’s a six-inch display, a 3,000mAh battery and dual-cameras with depth sensing and Google lens built in. No word yet on whether Verizon will eventually bundle the phone with that new mod.

Disclosure: Verizon owns Oath, Oath owns TechCrunch.

Mobile – TechCrunch


Test.ai nabs $11M Series A led by Google to put bots to work testing apps

August 1, 2018 No Comments

For developers, the process of determining whether every new update is going to botch some core functionality can take up a lot of time and resources, and things get far more complicated when you’re managing a multitude of apps.

Test.ai is building a comprehensive system for app testing that relies on bots, not human labor, to see whether an app is ready to start raking in the downloads.

The startup has just closed an $ 11 million Series A round led by Gradient Ventures, Google’s AI-focused venture fund. Also participating in the round were e.ventures, Uncork Capital and Zetta Venture Partners. Test.ai, which was founded in 2015, has raised $ 17.6 million to date.

“Every advancement in training AI systems enables an advancement in user testing, and test.ai is the leader in AI-powered testing technology. We’re excited to help them supercharge their growth as they test every app in the world,” Gradient Ventures founder Anna Patterson said in a statement. “In a couple years, AI testing will be ingrained into every company’s product flow.”

The company’s technology doesn’t just leverage AI to cut down on how long it takes for an app to be tested; there are much lengthier processes it helps eliminate when it comes to developers readying lists of scenarios to be tested. Test.ai has trained their bots on “tens of thousands of apps” to help it understand what an app looks like and what interface patterns they’re typically composed of. From there, they’re able to build their own scenario list and find what works and what doesn’t.

That can mean, in the case of an app like our own, tracking down a bookmark button and then deducing that there are certain process that users would go through to use its functionality.

Right now, the utility is in the fact that bots scale so broadly and so quickly. While a startup working on a single app may have the flexibility to choose amongst a few options, larger enterprises with several aging products having to grapple with updated systems are in a bit more of a bind. Some of Test.ai’s larger unnamed partners that “make app stores” or devices are working at the stratospheric level having to verify tens of thousands of apps to ensure that everything is in working order.

“That’s an easy sell for us, almost too easy, because they don’t have the resources to individually test ten thousand apps every time something like Android gets updated,” CEO Jason Arbon tells TechCrunch.

The startup’s capabilities operate on a much more quantitative scale than human-powered competitors like UserTesting, which tend to emphasize testing for feedback that’s a bit more qualitative in nature. Test.ai’s founders believe that their system will be able to grapple with more nebulous concepts in the future as it analyzes more apps, and that it’s already gaining insights into concepts like whether a product appears “trustworthy,” though there are certainly other areas where bots are trailing the insights that can be delivered by human testers.

The founders say they hope to use this latest funding to scale operations for their growing list of enterprise clients and hire some new people.


Startups – TechCrunch