Sonos delays Google Assistant integration until 2019, private beta to launch in 2018

Sonos today announced that Google Assistant will not be available on its products until at least 2019. The service was supposed to launch in 2018 but the company said in a blog posting it needs a bit more time. Additional information about timing will be released in early 2019, Sonos says.

Eager customers can sign-up for a private beta as long as they agree to use the service extensively and respond to surveys within a few days. Sonos products already have access to Amazon Alexa. Given Sonos’s long-standing notion of supporting all platforms, it makes sense that the company would want customers to have access to both Alexa and Google Assistant. That’s what makes Sonos compelling: They provide the hardware, and owners use whatever software platform they want. This is clearly critical for Sonos. For a long time, Sonos provided the best-sounding smart speaker system on the market but Amazon,
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As stock rises on a slim earnings beat, eBay tells analysts to focus on payments and ads

Despite increasing competition from traditional retailers like Walmart and Target, which have invested heavily in e-commerce, and the whupping it’s routinely taking from Amazon among pure e-commerce companies, eBay the 20-year-old lumbering Pez dispenser of an e-tailer, keeps plugging along.

Now, as it manages to eke out another earnings win by matching analysts’ expectations, the company is telling the bankers that watch it to look to advertising and payments for its future growth. The company met analysts’ estimates of revenue totaling $2.65 billion, up from $2.41 billion in the year-ago period. That amounts to adjusted earnings of 56 cents per share, up from 48 cents per share in the year-ago period and beating analyst estimates of 54 cents per share. Profits for the company hit $720 million for the quarter. The news sent shares up over 4 percent in trading after the market closed on Tuesday. But more
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Blue Apron gets a much-needed boost with Jet.com partnership

The enemy of my enemy is my friend. That explains a coming-together between two startups today after Jet.com announced it will give beleaguered Blue Apron a leg-up by introducing its meal kits for customers in New York.

The deal will an initially rotating selection of four meal kits from Blue Apron made available as part of Jet’s ‘City Grocery’ experience. The kits — which will rotate every six weeks — will be available for same-day or next-day order in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, as well as Jersey City and Hoboken. Jet — which is the first e-tailer partner for Blue Apron — said the kits are designed specifically for its customers based on “extensive feedback” based around what they want to eat, how they want to make it, etc. As a part of that focus, all of the kits take less than 30 minutes to prepare. The initial selection includes the
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Forget Watson, the Red Hat acquisition may be the thing that saves IBM

With its latest $34 billion acquisition of Red Hat, IBM may have found something more elementary than “Watson” to save its flagging business.

Though the acquisition of Red Hat  is by no means a guaranteed victory for the Armonk, N.Y.-based computing company that has had more downs than ups over the five years, it seems to be a better bet for “Big Blue” than an artificial intelligence program that was always more hype than reality.

Indeed, commentators are already noting that this may be a case where IBM finally hangs up the Watson hat and returns to the enterprise software and services business that has always been its core competency (albeit one that has been weighted far more heavily on consulting services — to the detriment of

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You can now use Alexa to move around inside apps like Netflix and Hulu on Fire TV Cube

Amazon is making it easier to use Alexa to do more than launch apps and streaming services on Fire TV devices, but to also navigate once inside them. The company confirmed it quietly launched an update specifically for Fire TV Cube devices that allows device owners to use Alexa instead of a remote control for doing things like making profile selections, moving up and down or left and right, as well as selecting items.

In other words, Fire TV Cube owners can now use Alexa to navigate their Fire TV, with no remote control required. The feature began its rollout a few weeks ago, the company told TechCrunch, but reached all Fire TV Cube devices around a week ago. AFTVNews was the first spot the new navigation option in the wild.  According to Amazon, the decision to enable Alexa to take place of a remote control was based on
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Amazon shares fall as record profits are offset by conservative holiday forecasts

Amazon is still raking in the cash, but its slower than expected customer growth in its web services offerings and a weaker than expected sales outlook for the holiday season shook investor confidence and caused the stock to slide around 5 percent in after-hours trading.

Profits for the company continued to soar, reaching $2.9 billion, or $5.75 per share, up from $2.5 billion in the second quarter, and handily beating analysts’ estimates of $3.14 per share. Those earnings were offset by slower revenue growth at $56.6 billion versus the $57.1 billion analysts had expected. Potentially more worrying for investors were the figures that Amazon predicted for the all-important holiday fourth quarter. The company said it was expecting $66.5 billion to $72.5 billion in sales, versus analyst estimates of somewhere around $73.8 billion for the giant e-commerce company. Sales from Amazon Web
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Confirmed: ShopRunner acquires Spring, raises $40M

ShopRunner chief executive Sam Yagan conquered the online dating world. Can he conquer the e-commerce world, too?

Hot off the heels of its first profitable year, ShopRunner is announcing its first infusion of venture funding under Yagan, an acquisition of the shopping app Spring and, sources tell TechCrunch, it’s readying a major overhaul to its mobile app, signaling what could be a new era for the company. Yagan, the co-founder of OkCupid, former CEO and vice chairman of The Match Group and managing director of the venture fund Corazon Capital joined ShopRunner in 2016 to test the waters of online retail. “If you look at founding OkCupid, running Match and incubating Tinder, arguably, I had my hands on the three most important dating businesses ever,” Yagan told TechCrunch. “Finally, I was like, ‘what else is there?’ I am either going to the grave as the online dating guy, or this
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Alexa for Business opens up to third-party device makers

Last year, Amazon announced a new initiative, Alexa for Business, designed to introduce its voice assistant technology and Echo devices into a corporate setting. Today, it’s giving the platform a big upgrade by opening it up to device makers who are building their own solutions that have Alexa built in.

The change came about based on feedback from the existing organizations where Alexa for Business is today being used, Amazon says. The company claims thousands of businesses have added an Amazon Echo alongside their existing office equipment since the program’s debut last year, including companies like Express Trucking, Fender and Propel Insurance, for example. But it heard from businesses that they want to have Alexa built in to existing devices, to minimize the amount of technology they need to manage and monitor. The update will allow device makers building with the Alexa Voice Service (AVS) SDK to now create products
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Amazon Alexa goes AWOL for many users

Some Amazon Alexa users are currently having problems reaching the voice assistant. Instead of reacting to commands, Alexa simply says “sorry, something went wrong.” Amazon hasn’t commented publicly yet on the issue.

Based on tweets and Down Detector, users began having trouble reaching Alexa around 7AM PST. While some had their connection issues resolved quickly, many others are still waiting.

Lyft speeds ahead with its autonomous initiatives

Lyft, the transportation on demand company that is heading to a $15 billion IPO in 2019, is racing ahead with its autonomous vehicle plans. TechCrunch has learned that it is acquiring the London-based augmented reality startup Blue Vision Labs and unveiling its first test vehicle with Ford to advance its vision for self-driving cars.

The first Ford car from Lyft’s Level 5 self-driving initiative will be the Ford Fusion Hybrid. It’s the culmination of a yearlong partnership the two companies had announced last September and will be hitting city streets “soon” the company said.

The Ford Fusion (now with Lyft autonomy!)

While the integration of Lyft’s autonomous technologies and Ford’s hardware is impressive, perhaps more meaningful is the company’s acquisition of Blue Vision Labs, a startup out of London that has developed a way of ingesting street-level imagery and is using it to build collaborative, interactive
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The White House hopes tech employees will drive government innovation

The Trump administration has a major ask to make of big tech companies. In a meeting at the White House today, officials will ask Amazon, Microsoft, Google and IBM, among others, to make it easier for employees to do stints in the government.

It’s a heavy lift, of course, asking well-compensated workers to take time out from demanding gigs for the betterment of federal and state governments. A number of companies, including Facebook and Google, already allow employees to take time off for this exact reason. However, the particularly polarizing nature of politics in 2018 and all of the ill-will surrounding the current administration, have further complicated the ask.

The Washington Post quotes an anonymous official, who stressed the importance of “put[ting] politics aside” for the greater good. “This event on Monday is not just about our efforts, it’s about our successor, and their successor after that,” the person

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Amazon says it will add 1,000 more employees in the UK, bringing the total to 28,500, bucking the Brexit chill

A lot of uncertainty hangs over the U.K. as it continues its slow march out of the European Union, but today one of the world’s biggest companies announced plans to expand its presence in the country. Amazon today said it would add another 1,000 workers in the U.K., including establishing its first corporate and R&D office in Manchester.

Amazon said it also plans to add more people to its R&D bases in Edinburgh and Cambridge — respectively known for developing search technology as well as the AI technology that powers Alexa, among other things. The company says it currently has 27,500 “roles” in the U.K. The government is positioning Amazon’s news as a win at a time when many have been criticising how it has been handling Brexit negotiations. “Ensuring that the world’s best and brightest companies continue to invest and innovate in the UK is
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Alexa’s new Whisper Mode goes live

At Amazon’s Alexa event last month in Seattle, the company teased a new feature soon coming to its voice assistant: the ability to whisper. The company demonstrated how whispering a request – like “play a lullaby” – to Alexa would trigger the voice assistant to respond in kind. Today, Amazon says Whisper Mode is officially going live.

The feature is now rolling out to users in the U.S., the company tells us, and works in U.S. English. It’s particularly useful around bedtime or nighttime scenarios, where you’re trying to keep the room quiet. And, of course, it’s especially helpful for parents, who don’t want to wake a sleeping child to command Alexa, or who are trying to set a more peaceful “bedtime,” “nap time,” or just generally “quiet time” tone to their interactions. Whisper Mode is one of several features Amazon has been working on to make
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Building a great startup requires more than genius and a great invention

Many entrepreneurs assume that an invention carries intrinsic value, but that assumption is a fallacy.

Here, the examples of the 19th and 20th century inventors Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla are instructive. Even as aspiring entrepreneurs and inventors lionize Edison for his myriad inventions and business acumen, they conveniently fail to recognize Tesla, despite having far greater contributions to how we generate, move and harness power. Edison is the exception, with the legendary penniless Tesla as the norm.

Universities are the epicenter of pure innovation research. But the reality is that academic research is supported by tax dollars. The zero-sum game of attracting government funding is mastered by selling two concepts: Technical merit, and broader

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Investors see an opportunity framed in Lensabl’s prescription lens fulfillment business

Lensabl, the company that has built a business putting prescription lenses into any style of glasses frame, has raised $3.7 million in a new round of funding. 

Based in Los Angeles, Lensabl already has an agreement inked with the city’s latest tech wunderkind, partnering with the spectacles producing augmented reality luminaries at Snap. “We are the preferred prescription provider of Snapchat Spectacles,” says Lensabl chief executive Andrew Bilinsky. “[And] we are already talking to and partnering with a variety of brands to start and scale their prescription operations [and] really scale our direct to consumer lens business.” Powering that effort is the new $3.7 million in funding which came from a clutch of big name strategic partners, venture firms and individual angel investors. Rogue Venture Partners, the

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UK health minister sets out tech-first vision for future care provision

The UK’s still fairly new in post minister for health, Matt Hancock, quickly made technology one of his stated priorities. And today he’s put more meat on the bones of his thinking, setting out a vision for transforming, root and branch, how the country’s National Health Service operates to accommodate the plugging in of “healthtech” apps and services — to support tech-enabled “preventative, predictive and personalised care”.

How such a major IT upgrade program would be paid for is not clearly set out in the policy document. But the government writes that it is “committed to working with partners” to deliver on its grand vision. “Our ultimate objective is the provision of better care and improved health outcomes for people in England,” Hancock writes in the ‘future of healthcare’ policy document. “But this cannot be done without a clear focus on improving the technology used by the 1.4 million
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These are the most successful companies to emerge from Y Combinator

Earlier this month, Brex, a credit card provider to startups, announced it had raised $125 million at a $1.1 billion valuation.

The round was impressive for a couple of reasons. 1. The founders are a pair of 22-year-olds that had set out to build a virtual reality company before pivoting to payments. And 2. They had only completed Y Combinator, a well-known Silicon Valley startup accelerator, the year prior. Y Combinator is responsible for many successes in the startup world, certainly more than its fellow accelerators, which are all known to provide early-stage companies with a seed investment  — in YC’s case, $150,000 — mentorship and educational resources through a short-term program that culminates in a demo day. Today, YC has released the latest list of its most successful companies since it began backing startups in 2005. Ranked by valuation and/or market cap, Brex, sure enough, is
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The new Kindle Paperwhite is thinner and waterproof

The Voyage may be dead, but the Kindle line still has some life left in it. This time last year, Amazon upgraded the high-end Oasis model, and now the mid-range Paperwhite is getting a little love.The workhorse of the company’s devoted e-reader line just got a handful of upgrades that will give users a more premium experience, while keeping the device’s starting price at $130.

Waterproofing is the most exciting among the upgrades here. Remember that time four years ago when we ran a story with the headline, “This Waterproof Kindle Paperwhite Is Humanity’s Greatest Achievement?” Well, this is that potential fulfilled — now directly from Amazon. The reader sports an IPX8 rating, meaning it can be dunked in two meters of water for up to an hour.

That bit comes, in part, courtesy of another key upgrade. Like the Oasis before it, the reader sports a

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Amazon puts $10M in Closed Loop Fund to make recycling easier in more American cities

Amazon announced today that it has invested $10 million in Closed Loop Fund, which finances the creation of recycling infrastructure and services in U.S. cities. In a statement, the e-commerce behemoth claimed that its investment will keep one million tons of recyclable material out of landfills and “eliminate the equivalent of two million metric tons of CO2 by 2028, equivalent to shutting down a coal-fired power plant for six months.”

Founded in 2014, Closed Loop Fund invests in companies and organizations working on services, infrastructure, or technology that will make recycling accessible to more communities in the U.S. Only a few cities have made recycling mandatory and in many municipalities, trucking trash to the landfill is still much cheaper than offering curbside recycling. According to Amazon’s announcement, about half of Americans “lack access to convenient, sufficient curbside recycling at their homes.” Over the next 10
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Jeff Bezos is just fine taking the Pentagon’s $10B JEDI cloud contract

Some tech companies might have a problem taking money from the Department of Defense, but Amazon isn’t one of them, as CEO Jeff Bezos made clear today at the Wired25 conference. Just last week, Google pulled out of the running for the Pentagon’s $10 billion, 10-year JEDI cloud contract, but Bezos suggested that he was happy to take the government’s money.

Bezos has been surprisingly quiet about the contract up until now, but his company has certainly attracted plenty of attention from the companies competing for the JEDI deal. Just last week IBM filed a formal protest with the Government Accountability Office claiming that the contract was stacked in favor one vendor. And while it didn’t name it directly, the clear implication was that company was the one owned by Bezos. Last summer Oracle also filed a protest and also complained that they believed the government had set up
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