Our 8 favorite startups from Y Combinator W18 Demo Day 2

Our 8 favorite startups from Y Combinator W18 Demo Day 2

Microbiome pills, gambling for one-on-one video games and potential cancer cures were the highlights from legendary startup accelerator Y Combinator’s Winter 2018 Demo Day 2. You can read about all 64 startups that launched on Day 1 in verticals like biotech and robotics, our picks for the top 7 companies from Day 1 and our full coverage of another 64 startups from Day 2. TechCrunch’s writers huddled and took feedback from investors to create this list, so click (web) or scroll (mobile) to see our 8 picks for the top startups from Day 2.

Additional reporting by Greg Kumparak, Lucas Matney and Katie Roof

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Mobile gaming is having a moment, and Apple has the reins

Mobile gaming is having a moment, and Apple has the reins

It’s moved beyond tradition and into the realm of meme that Apple manages to dominate the news cycle around major industry events, all while not actually participating in said events. CES rolls around and every story is about HomeKit or its competitors; another tech giant has a conference and the news is that Apple updated some random subsystem of its ever-larger ecosystem of devices and software .

This is, undoubtedly, planned by Apple in many instances. And why not? Why shouldn’t it own the cycle when it can — it’s only strategically sound.

This week, the 2018 Game Developers Conference is going on and there’s a bunch of news coverage about various aspects of the show. There are all of the pre-written embargo bits about big titles and high-profile indies, there are the trend pieces and, of course, there’s the traditional ennui-laden “who is this event even for” post that accompanies any industry event that achieves critical mass.

But the absolute biggest story of the event wasn’t even at the event. It was the launch of Fortnite and, shortly thereafter, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds on mobile devices. Specifically, both were launched on iOS, and PUBG hit Android simultaneously.

The launch of Fortnite, especially, resonates across the larger gaming spectrum in several unique ways. It’s the full and complete game as present on consoles, it’s iOS-first and it supports cross-platform play with console and PC players.

This has, essentially, never happened before. There have been stabs at one or more of those conditions on experimental levels, but it really marks a watershed in the games industry that could serve to change the psychology around the platform discussion in major ways. 

For one, though the shape of GDC has changed over the years as it relates to mobile gaming, it’s only recently that the conference has become dominated by indie titles that are mobile centric. The big players and triple-A console titles still take up a lot of air, but the long tail is very long and mobile is not synonymous with “casual gamers” as it once was.

I remember the GDC before we launched Monument Valley,” says Dan Gray of Monument Valley 2 studio ustwo. “We were fortunate enough that Unity offered us a place on their stand. Nobody had heard of us or our game and we were begging journalists to come say hello, it’s crazy how things have changed in four years. We’ve now got three speakers at the conference this year, people stop you in the street (within a two-block radius) and we’re asked to be part of interviews like this about the future of mobile.”

Zach Gage, the creator of SpellTower, and my wife’s favorite game of all time, Flipflop Solitaire, says that things feel like they have calmed down a bit. “It seems like that might be boring, but actually I think it’s quite exciting, because a consequence of it is that playing games has become just a normal thing that everyone does… which frankly, is wild. Games have never had the cultural reach that they do now, and it’s largely because of the App Store and these magical devices that are in everyone’s pockets.”

Alto’s Odyssey is the followup to Snowman’s 2015 endless boarder Alto’s Adventure. If you look at these two titles, three years apart, you can see the encapsulation of the growth and maturity of gaming on iOS. The original game was fun, but the newer title is beyond fun and into a realm where you can see the form being elevated into art. And it’s happening blazingly fast.

“There’s a real and continually growing sense that mobile is a platform to launch compelling, artful experiences,” says Snowman’s Ryan Cash. “This has always been the sentiment among the really amazing community of developers we’ve been lucky enough to meet. What’s most exciting to me, now, though, is hearing this acknowledged by representatives of major console platforms. Having conversations with people about their favorite games from the past year, and seeing that many of them are titles tailor-made for mobile platforms, is really gratifying. I definitely don’t want to paint the picture that mobile gaming has ever been some sort of pariah, but there’s a definite sense that more people are realizing how unique an experience it is to play games on these deeply personal devices.”

Mobile gaming as a whole has fought since the beginning against the depiction that it was for wasting time only, not making “true art,” which was reserved for consoles or dedicated gaming platforms. Aside from the “casual” versus “hardcore” debate, which is more about mechanics, there was a general stigma that mobile gaming was a sidecar bet to the main functions of these devices, and that their depth would always reflect that. But the narratives and themes being tackled on the platform beyond just clever mechanics are really incredible.

Playing Monument Valley 2 together with my daughter really just blew my doors off, and I think it changed a lot of people’s minds in this regard. The interplay between the characters and environment and a surprisingly emotional undercurrent for a puzzle game made it a breakout that was also a breakthrough of sorts.

“There’s so many things about games that are so awesome that the average person on the street doesn’t even know about,” says Gray. “As small developers right now we have the chance to make somebody feel a range of emotions about a video game for the first time, it’s not often you’re in the right place at the right time for this and to do it with the most personal device that sits in your pocket is the perfect opportunity.”

The fact that so many of the highest-profile titles are launching on iOS first is a constant source of consternation for Android users, but it’s largely a function of addressable audience.

I spoke to Apple VP Greg Joswiak about Apple’s place in the industry. “Gaming has always been one of the most popular categories on the App Store,” he says. A recent relaunch of the App Store put gaming into its own section and introduced a Today tab that tells stories about the games and about their developers.

That redesign, he says, has been effective. “Traffic to the App Store is up significantly, and with higher traffic, of course, comes higher sales.”

“One thing I think smaller developers appreciate from this is the ability to show the people behind the games,” says ustwo’s Gray about the new gaming and Today sections in the App Store. “Previously customers would just see an icon and assume a corporation of 200 made the game, but now it’s great we can show this really is a labor of love for a small group of people who’re trying to make something special. Hopefully this leads to players seeing the value in paying up front for games in the future once they can see the craft that goes into something.”

Snowman’s Cash agrees. “It’s often hard to communicate the why behind the games you’re making — not just what your game is and does, but how much went into making it, and what it could mean to your players. The stories that now sit on the Today tab are a really exciting way to do this; as an example, when Alto’s Odyssey released for pre-order, we saw a really positive player response to the discussion of the game’s development. I think the variety that the new App Store encourages as well, through rotational stories and regularly refreshed sections, infuses a sense of variety that’s great for both players and developers. There’s a real sense I’m hearing that this setup is equipped to help apps and games surface, and stayed surfaced, in a longer term and more sustainable way.”

In addition, there are some technical advantages that keep Apple ahead of Android in this arena. Plenty of Android devices are very performant and capable in individual ways, but Apple has a deep holistic grasp of its hardware that allows it to push platform advantages in introducing new frameworks like ARKit. Google’s efforts in the area with ARCore are just getting started with the first batch of 1.0 apps coming online now, but Google will always be hamstrung by the platform fragmentation that forces developers to target a huge array of possible software and hardware limitations that their apps and games will run up against.

This makes shipping technically ambitious projects like Fortnite on Android as well as iOS a daunting task. “There’s a very wide range of Android devices that we want to support,” Epic Games’ Nick Chester told Forbes. “We want to make sure Android players have a great experience, so we’re taking more time to get it right.“

That wide range of devices includes an insane differential in GPU capability, processing power, Android version and update status.

“We bring a very homogenous customer base to developers where 90 percent of [devices] are on the current versions of iOS,” says Joswiak. Apple’s customers embrace those changes and updates quickly, he says, and this allows developers to target new features and the full capabilities of the devices more quickly.

Ryan Cash sees these launches on iOS of “full games” as they exist elsewhere as a touchstone of sorts that could legitimize the idea of mobile as a parity platform.

“We have a few die-hard Fortnite players on the team, and the mobile version has them extremely excited,” says Cash. “I think more than the completeness of these games (which is in and of itself a technical feat worth celebrating!), things like Epic’s dedication to cross-platform play are massive. Creating these linked ecosystems where players who prefer gaming on their iPhones can enjoy huge cultural touchstone titles like Fortnite alongside console players is massive. That brings us one step closer to an industry attitude which focuses more on accessibility, and less on siloing off experiences and separating them into tiers of perceived quality.”

“I think what is happening is people are starting to recognize that iOS devices are everywhere, and they are the primary computers of many people,” says Zach Gage. “When people watch a game on Twitch, they take their iPhone out of their pocket and download it. Not because they want to know if there’s a mobile version, but because they just want the game. It’s natural to assume that these games available for a computer or a PlayStation, and it’s now natural to assume that it would be available for your phone.”

Ustwo’s Gray says that it’s great that the big games are transitioning, but also cautions that there needs to be a sustainable environment for mid-priced games on iOS that specifically use the new capabilities of these devices.

“It’s great that such huge games are transitioning this way, but for me I’d really like to see more $30+ titles designed and developed specifically for iPhone and iPad as new IP, really taking advantage of how these devices are used,” he says. “It’s definitely going to benefit the App Store as a whole, but It does need to be acknowledged, however, that the way players interact with console/PC platforms and mobile are inherently different and should be designed accordingly. Session lengths and the interaction vocabulary of players are two of the main things to consider, but if a game manages to somehow satisfy the benefits of all those platforms then great, but I think it’s hard.”

Apple may not be an official sponsor of GDC, but it is hosting two sessions at the show, including an introduction to Metal 2, its rendering pipeline, and ARKit, its hope for the future of gaming on mobile. This presence is exciting for a number of reasons, as it shows a greater willingness by Apple to engage the community that has grown around its platforms, but also that the industry is becoming truly integrated, with mobile taking its rightful place alongside console and portable gaming as a viable target for the industry’s most capable and interesting talent.

“They’re bringing the current generation of console games to iOS,” Joswiak says, of launches like Fortnite and PUBG, and notes that he believes we’re at a tipping point when it comes to mobile gaming, because mobile platforms like the iPhone and iOS offer completely unique combinations of hardware and software features that are iterated on quickly.

“Every year we are able to amp up the tech that we bring to developers,” he says, comparing it to the 4-5 year cycle in console gaming hardware. “Before the industry knew it, we were blowing people away [with the tech]. The full gameplay of these titles has woken a lot of people up.”

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Omega takes us to the Dark Side with their new moonwatch

Omega takes us to the Dark Side with their new moonwatch
Omega has just announced a new version of their iconic Moonwatch, the chronograph that was worn most notably by Neil Armstrong on the surface of the moon. Their new model, the Dark Side of the Moon Apollo 8, features the traditional Moonwatch design with a few unique tweaks.
The has an exhibition back – you can see the movement through a glass crystal – as well as a skeletonized face. The bridges – the pieces that hold the gears in place – are laser etched with a representation of the lunar surface and blackened for effect. It contains a manual wind mechanical movement and, while there is no pricing yet, should come in at about $9,000.
The back of the case features an interesting quote. From the release:
“WE’LL SEE YOU ON THE OTHER SIDE” – the special words engraved on the caseback – were spoken by Command Module Pilot Jim Lovell on board the Apollo 8 mission at the start of the crew’s pioneering orbit to the dark side of the moon – a mysterious hemisphere never seen before by human eyes. Seconds before the spacecraft disappeared beyond the range of radio contact, Lovell spoke these final assuring words to ground control.
Why is this fancy and particularly expensive watch interesting? First, it’s a nice riff on the original Moonwatch, the first mechanical watch on the moon. Omega has been flogging the Moonwatch brand for decades and now they’re expanding to other space missions, including the Apollo 8. It’s a beautiful homage to the Golden Age of space exploration and it’s a bit more modern-looking than the original, austere black-and-white Speedmaster.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

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

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

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 Made.com).
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

Ecobee’s new voice-powered light switch moves closer to whole-home Alexa

Ecobee’s new voice-powered light switch moves closer to whole-home Alexa
Alexa is already everywhere in a lot of homes, thanks to the affordability and ease of installation/setup of the Echo Dot. But Alexa could become even more seamlessly integrated into your home, if you think about it. And Canadian smart home tech maker ecobee did think about it, which is how they came up with […]

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

This robo-bug can improvise its walk like a real insect

This robo-bug can improvise its walk like a real insect
There are plenty of projects out there attempting to replicate the locomotion of insects, but one thing that computers and logic aren’t so good at is improvising and adapting the way even the smallest, simplest bugs do. This project from Tokyo Tech is a step in that direction, producing gaits on the fly that the researchers never programmed in.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch