Spotify tests native voice search, groundwork for smart speakers

Spotify tests native voice search, groundwork for smart speakers

Now Spotify listens to you instead of the other way around. Spotify has a new voice search interface that lets you say “Play my Discover Weekly,” “Show Calvin Harris” or “Play some upbeat pop” to pull up music.

A Spotify spokesperson confirmed to TechCrunch that this is “Just a test for now,” as only a small subset of users have access currently, but the company noted there would be more details to share later. The test was first spotted by Hunter Owens. Thanks to him we have a video demo of the feature below that shows pretty solid speech recognition and the ability to access music several different ways.

Voice control could make Spotify easier to use while on the go using microphone headphones or in the house if you’re not holding your phone. It might also help users paralyzed by the infinite choices posed by the Spotify search box by letting them simply call out a genre or some other category of songs. Spotify briefly tested but never rolled out a very rough design of “driving mode” controls a year ago.

Down the line, Spotify could perhaps develop its own voice interface for smart speakers from other companies or that it potentially builds itself. That would relieve it from depending on Apple’s Siri for HomePod, Google’s Assistant for Home or Amazon’s Alexa for Echo — all of which have accompanying music streaming services that compete with Spotify. Apple chose to make its HomePod speaker Apple Music-only, cutting out Spotify. Its Siri service similarly won’t let people make commands inside third-party apps, so you can ask your iPhone to play a certain song on Apple Music, but not Spotify.

To date, Spotify has only worked with manufacturers to build its Spotify Connect features into boomboxes and home stereos from companies like Bose, rather than creating its own hardware. If it chooses to make Spotify-branded speakers, it might need some of its own voice technology to power them.

Spotify is preparing for a direct listing that will make the company public without a traditional IPO. That means forgoing some of the marketing circus that usually surrounds a company’s debut. That means Spotify may be even more eager to experiment with features or strategies that could be future money-makers so that public investors see growth potential. Breaking into voice directly instead of via its competitors could provide that ‘x-factor.’

For more on Spotify’s not-an-IPO, check out our feature story:

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

PlayTable uses blockchain to connect video games and physical objects

PlayTable uses blockchain to connect video games and physical objects
I’ll be honest: When I first got the pitch for “the first blockchain-based video game console,” I assumed it must be some kind of gimmick.
But Jimmy Chen, co-founder and CEO of Blok.Party, said the Ethereum blockchain is “a critical part of this experience,” allowing his team to create “this seamless bridge between the digital and physical worlds.”
Today, Blok.Party is unveiling its PlayTable console, which combines elements of tabletop and console gaming.
This isn’t the first time someone’s tried to incorporate real-world objects into video games — for example, there was Disney Infinity, which shut down a couple of years ago. But by using blockchain technology, Chen said he can avoid many of the pitfalls that tripped up previous efforts.
For one thing, instead of manufacturing new toys and pieces for every game, PlayTable uses RFID tags, which can be attached to existing objects. So players can use the tags to incorporate their own toys and cards into the games.
“We’ve been trying to make toys smart for a very, very long time, but all we’ve been doing is stuffing resistors and transistors inside of them, making them incresingly more inaccessible,” Chen said. Blok.Party, in contrast, is “creating a data set that is inexpensive, that can easily attach to the physical object.”

He demonstrated PlayTable for me using Battlegrid, a card-based fantasy duel game developed by Blok.Party, which Chen described as “if Magic the Gathering, Hearthstone and Skylanders had a baby.” I won’t pretend that I followed all the ins and outs of the battle, but I saw that Chen could place different cards and pieces down and the table would recognize them and bring the related characters into play.
“The core of it, the physical manifestation of it that exists only in one space, has proven to be fairly difficult [in the past],” Chen added. “By creating that backend infrastructure, we can make the system a lot more successful. The element that blockchain really enables is this idea of having a truly unique, open dataset that people can contribute to and can build on top of.”
Chen said Blok.Party is working with third-party developers to create about 25 different titles, some of them based on classic games like poker and mah jong.
The PlayTable is currently available for pre-order at a discounted price of $349. (The company says the regular price will be $599.) The plan is to ship the console in the fourth quarter of this year.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

Insta360 teases new ‘FlowState’ stabilization tech for 360 cameras

Insta360 teases new ‘FlowState’ stabilization tech for 360 cameras
360-degree camera maker Insta360 just released a video that shows off a new feature it’s calling “FlowState,” which stabilizes a ‘flat,’ traditional HD video frame by extracting it from a 360 capture. This might be a familiar technique if you’ve followed what GoPro and Rylo are doing with their own 360 cameras, but Insta360’s take looks powerful and feature-rich, based on this clip.

As you can see, the stabilization tech not only produces video that looks like it’s shot on a gimbal, even for fast, bumpy action like from a camera mounted on a dog’s back, but also allows for interesting effects like following even very small moving objects (butterflies) and doing dramatic time dilation effects combined with cinematic pans.
Insta360 has noticed that a lot of action camera and smartphone gimbal users are interested in its line of 360-degree cameras, and has been working on user-friendly in which its 360-degree footage can be translated into more interesting traditional clips and movies.
The company’s Insta360 ONE already features automatic framing, free capture for HD resolution flat cropping and six-axis stabilization, so it seems like with FlowState Insta360 is hoping to up its game in these areas by easier to use and more effective. This clip doesn’t mention anything about new hardware, so it’s possible that whatever Insta360 is planning could come to existing devices, including the $299 Insta360 ONE.
We’ll know more on March 20, when the company details its latest feature in full, but it should have GoPro a bit worried if it works as advertised and comes in at a more attractive price point than the expensive GoPro Fusion.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

Broadcom gives up and drops Qualcomm bid

Broadcom gives up and drops Qualcomm bid
It was already a complicated deal, but it now looks like Broadcom’s plans to take over Qualcomm are done. The company announced that it would respect Donald Trump’s block and drop its Qualcomm bid.
“Although we are disappointed with this outcome, Broadcom will comply with the order,” Broadcom said in a statement.
At one point, Broadcom was willing to pay $121 billion to acquire Qualcomm. It would have been the biggest tech acquisition of all time and a risky deal. But Qualcomm rejected the offer (without closing the door entirely).
After months of discussions, some Qualcomm shareholders became impatient. It led to a board shakeup with Executive Chairman Dr. Paul E. Jacobs leaving the board. Retrospectively, resisting Broadcom’s offer may have been the smartest move given the regulatory risks of the deal.
Trump’s administration said that Qualcomm’s acquisition represented a security risk. Broadcom is currently based in Singapore, and the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States didn’t want to let Qualcomm become a foreign company.
Broadcom has mentioned plans to relocate its headquarters to the U.S. And Reuters confirmed that it would still move to the U.S.
Qualcomm has been manufacturing systems-on-a-chip for Android phones as well as modems and other communications chips. In addition to this semiconductor business, Qualcomm earns a significant portion of its revenue from patent licensing deals. But Apple, South Korea and others don’t want to pay those fees anymore.
Broadcom also produces a ton of chips that you can find in all sorts of electronics devices, from networking to modems, GPUs and more. Chances are that all the devices that you have around you have one or multiple Qualcomm and Broadcom chips.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

Tech Will Save Us raises $4.2M for its tech-focused range of toys, partners with Disney

Tech Will Save Us raises .2M for its tech-focused range of toys, partners with Disney
Tech Will Save Us, the U.K. startup getting kids excited about technology through a range of ‘hackable’ toys, has raised $4.2 million in Series A funding led by Initial Capital. The round also includes Backed VC, SaatchInvest, All Bright, Unltd-inc, and Leaf VC, along with angel investors Chris Lee (co- founder of Media Molecule), Martin McCourt (ex CEO of Dyson) and Jonathan Howell (CTO of
The London-based startup says the new capital will be used to expand its product range — which now includes a first partnership with Disney with a Marvel Avengers themed kit inviting children to help superheroes complete secret missions — and to continue its mission to “create a brighter future for kids by encouraging them to create with, rather than be fearful of or passive to, technology”.
Founded by wife and husband duo Bethany Koby and Daniel Hirschmann, over the last four and a half years Tech Will Save Us has developed a range of digital and physical toys that combine play with STEM education to help kids get on the front foot of learning the skills they’ll need in the future. It sells its products direct online and through retailers such as Amazon, John Lewis, Best Buy and Target, and claims to have reached customers in over 97 countries.
“We were just very aware that education doesn’t move fast enough to keep up with technology and it probably never will,” Koby tells me when I ask why her and Hirschmann started the company. “The other thing that really motivated us is having a child. Going into the toy department was actually slightly depressing. It didn’t really feel like there was any motivation around empowering kids with technology that was future-facing, that was about the way the world is unfolding, and in a way that is really creative and fun. It just felt like tech shoved inside of plastic”.
In contrast, the Tech Will Save Us product range is anything but. Covering multiple price points and age groups, the ‘kits’ span electronic dough products, wearables where kids have to program their own games and activities that respond to movement, all the way to gaming devices where kids build their own game consoles and invent and program their own video games. For the first few years of the company’s existence, you would have been hard pressed to find anything quite like it on toy store shelves.
“We’re creating a category, ultimately,” says Koby. “And I think creating a category, in addition to scaling and growing a business — with people, with culture, with all of the beautiful and complicated things that businesses possess — is a challenge, right. Building a category is not the same as just entering a category, and when we started, this category didn’t even exist”.
Fast-forward to today and Tech Will Save Us is benefiting from an aligning of the macro stars, with Koby noting that governments in Europe and the U.S. are pushing STEM education and computer science, and that Target now has a STEM buyer, and Walmart has a STEM section. “The challenge has been riding these macro trends and really building the category, while simultaneously building a product business,” she says.
Reaching kids also means securing buy-in from parents, which has its own challenges from a marketing but also product perspective. “Parents are really fearful of tech. They don’t understand it, they want their kids to be a part of it, they want their kids to understand it, but they themselves are fearful of it,” says Koby. To mitigate this, it was important to design products that ensure parents “are on that journey too” and can support their kids being creators of technology.
To that end, the tie-in with Disney, in addition to today’s Series A round, feels like a major milestone for the startup. Koby says it came about after someone from Disney bought one of the startup’s products at John Lewis and contacted the company to say they were really excited about the area of STEM. This led to Tech Will Save Us meeting lots of interesting people within Disney and developing a multi-year, multi-product pipeline, launching with Marvel Avengers.
“We’ve not just taken characters and slapped them on a product, we’ve created new experiences,” explains Koby. “Our product is the first for kids to go on secret missions with the Avengers, and solve these secret missions by learning about electronics… with the Incredible Hulk, Captain America, Iron Man, using electronic dough and electronics as part of their problem solving tools to solve these missions”.
Like all of the Tech Will Save Us products, the experience mixes digital and physical, and Koby says there is the capacity to add new missions with different superheroes and different characters from the Avengers, as well as superheroes and missions that kids create.
“I’ve always believed that there is a partnership strategy in our business. We are a play experience business, we’re not a character business, and the beauty of having partnerships like Avengers and Disney is that our goal is to reach as many kids as possible and to help them see that they have the capacity to be creators of technology. But the way we do that is not by necessarily convincing them, it’s by meeting them where they’re at. Leveraging the things that kids already love and using those things to create new experiences and tell stories”.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

Raspberry Pi Model B+ arrives just in time for Pi Day 2018

Raspberry Pi Model B+ arrives just in time for Pi Day 2018
It’s March 14, which means it’s Pi Day for math appreciators everywhere (I appreciate math, I just don’t understand it). To mark the occasion, the Raspberry Pi Foundation has a brand new version of its diminutive, affordable computer for DIY computing enthusiasts, the new Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+.
This latest iteration has the same footprint as both the Raspberry Pi 2 Model B and Raspberry Pi 3 Model B, which means it’s about the size of a deck of cards, but it’s now got a 64=-bit quad core processor clocked at 1.4GHz, dual-band 2.4GHz and 5GHz 802.11ac Wi-Fi connectivity, Bluetooth 4.2/BLE and Gigabit Ethernet with maximum transfer network speeds of up to 300 Mbps, or three times higher than that of the Model B.
The Pi 3 Model B+ also has one full size HDMI port for display output, as well as four USB 2.0 ports, a microSD port for storing data and running the OS, and support for Power over Ethernet (PoE) with a separate PoE HAT add-on which will be available as an official accessory soon. It’s also got both. CSI and DSI port for connecting Raspberry Pi camera and touchscreen displays.
This version’s new higher clock speed is possible thanks to improved power integrity and thermal design, and the dual-band Wi-Fi included on the board actually already has modular compliance certification, so it’s far easier to integrate his version of the Pi into end products design for consumer and commercial sale without having to do a load of testing and certification on the buyer’s end.
The new updated Pi 3 sounds like a good upgrade for both personal and business projects, and it’s available from Raspberry Pi’s official retail partners via its website.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

Security researchers find flaws in AMD chips but raise eyebrows with rushed disclosure

Security researchers find flaws in AMD chips but raise eyebrows with rushed disclosure
A newly discovered set of vulnerabilities in AMD chips is making waves not because of the scale of the flaws, but rather the rushed, market-ready way they were disclosed by the researchers. When was the last time a bug had its own professionally shot video and PR rep, yet the company was only alerted 24 hours ahead of time? The flaws may be real, but the precedent set here is an unsavory one.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch