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Samsung electronics and Google are teaming up to take on Apple’s watchOS [TechCrunch]
Samsung Electronics and Google announced a partnership featuring a “unified platform” between the two. The goal of the deal is to essentially create a way for developers to build apps for both Wear OS and Tizen at once. Wear OS has already gone through a number of cycles, including a big rebrand from Android OS a while back, but nothing has really stuck over the years. Moreover, Samsung added that the next version of the Galaxy Watch will be the first to leverage this partnership, but offered little additional information on the hardware front.
Google announced a range of new product launched and initiative at its I/O 2021 developer conference [Engadget, TechCrunch, TechCrunch, TechCrunch, TechCrunch, TechCrunch, TechCrunch, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, TechCrunch, TechCrunch]
• Google kicked off its Google I/O Developer event with a set of new collaborative workspace tools, which it’s calling, as a group, “Smart Canvas.” The company said that it is enhancing its everyday collaborative documents, like Google Docs, Sheets and Slides, with a dozen some new features, as a part of its effort in the Smart Canvas new product experience
• Launched the next generation of its custom Tensor Processing Units (TPU) AI chips. Google said that the fourth generation chips are twice as fast as the last version. CEO Sundar Pichai noted that these chips are combined in pods with 4,096 v4 TPUs and a single pod delivers over one exaflop of computing power
• Google has been working on a new language model called LaMDA – which is much better at following conversations in a natural way, rather than as a series of badly formed search queries. LaMDA is meant to be able to converse normally about almost anything without any kind of prior training. This was demonstrated in a pair of rather bizarre conversations with an AI first pretending to be Pluto and then a paper airplane
• Google is working with BMW and other automakers to develop a digital key that will let car owners lock, unlock and start a vehicle from their Android smartphone. The digital key is one of many new features coming to Android 12, the latest version of the company’s mobile operating system. The digital car keys will become available on select Pixel and Samsung Galaxy phones later this year, according to Sameer Samat, VP of PM for Android & Google Play
• Announced partnering with Shopify, giving the e-commerce platform’s more than 1.7 million merchants the ability to reach consumers through Google Search and its other services. The integration will allow merchants to sign up in just a few clicks to have their products appear across Google’s 1 billion “shopping journeys” that take place every day through Search, Maps, Images, Lens and YouTube
• Unveiled version 2.2 of its open source UI development kit Flutter. Google showcased a handful of features, including new ways for developers to funnel into other Google products and help them monetize through in-app purchases or adaptive ads
• Announced a new feature for its Chrome browser that alerts users when one of their passwords has been compromised and then helps them automatically change their password with the help of its Duplex technology. The new feature will start to roll out slowly to Chrome users on Android in the U.S. soon (with other countries following later), assuming they use Chrome’s password-syncing feature
• Google Cloud announced Vertex AI, a new managed machine learning platform that is meant to make it easier for developers to deploy and maintain their AI models. The service is also integrated with Vizier, Google’s AI optimizer that can automatically tune hyperparameters in machine learning models
• Google said its Android TV OS now reaches over 80 million monthly active devices, including through its new experience Google TV for Chromecast, as well as other platforms like smart TVs. The company also previewed a series of upcoming features for Android TV OS, including a remote control feature for consumers and several developer updates around casting, emulators, and more
• Announced that it’s extending its Android for Cars App Library, which is available as part of Jetpack, to support the Android Automotive operating system. Google is already working with Early Access Partners, including Parkwhiz, Plugshare, Sygic, ChargePoint, Flitsmeister, SpotHero and others to bring apps in these categories to cars powered by Android Automotive OS
Facebook VR exec Hugo Barra is leaving [TechCrunch]
After four years of service, Facebook’s VP of VR, Hugo Barra has left the company. Barra led Facebook’s VR efforts during a particularly tumultuous time for Oculus, coming aboard to helm the division, as the once independent arm was folded deeper into its parent company after the departure of co-founder and CEO Brendan Iribe. During Barra’s time at Facebook, the company pivoted from PC-based VR systems toward all-in-one designs, relying on a partnership with Barra’s previous employer Xiaomi to help the company scale its entry-level Oculus Go headset. Barra didn’t detail where he’ll be landing next, but said he’s joining an effort in the healthcare technology space.
Facebook debuts ‘Live Shopping Fridays’ featuring beauty, fashion and skincare brands [TechCrunch]
Facebook launched “Live Shopping Fridays” event series, which will see larger brands live streaming beauty, skincare, and fashion content on a weekly basis. The event begins on May 22nd and runs through mid-July, with streams from brands like Abercrombie and Fitch, Bobbi Brown, Clinique, Sephora, Dermalogica, Alleyoop, and Zox. The events are meant to encourage larger brands to try out live shopping as a medium, as well as generally raise awareness about live shopping on Facebook among consumers. During the live streams, viewers can comment and ask questions which brands can read and respond to. Facebook’s Live Shopping Fridays series will roll out across both mobile and desktop in the US this week, and will also pop on Facebook’s Shop Tab for easy access.
Amazon’s market power to be tested in Germany in push for ‘early action’ over antitrust risks [TechCrunch]
Germany’s Federal Cartel Office (FCO) is seeking to make swift use of a new competition tool to target Big Tech, announced that it has opened a proceeding against Amazon. If the FCO confirms that Amazon is of “paramount significance for competition across markets,” as defined by an amendment to the German Competition Act, the authority will have greater powers to proactively impose conditions on how it can operate in order to control the risk of market abuse. Moreover, the FCO proceeding to confirm whether Facebook falls under the law remains ongoing.
Amazon extends ban on police use of facial recognition software [VentureBeat]
Amazon said that it is extending until further notice a moratorium it imposed last year on police use of its facial recognition software. The company had halted the practice for one year starting in June, 2020. Its announcement came at the height of protests across the United States against police brutality toward people of color. Amazon’s extension underscores how facial recognition remains a sensitive issue for big companies. Moreover, Amazon did not comment on the reason for its decision.
Apple readies MacBook Pro, MacBook Air revamps [CNBC, Bloomberg]
Apple is preparing to release several new Mac laptops and desktops with faster processors, new designs and improved connectivity to external devices, accelerating the company’s effort to replace Intel chips and leapfrog rival PC makers. The overhaul encompasses a broad range of Macs, including Apple’s higher-end laptop, the MacBook Pro; the laptop aimed at the mass market, the MacBook Air; and its desktop computers, the Mac Pro, iMac and Mac mini. Redesigned MacBook Pros are expected to debut as soon as early this summer, followed by a revamped MacBook Air, a new low-end MacBook Pro and an all-new Mac Pro workstation. The company is also working on a higher-end Mac mini desktop and larger iMac. The machines will feature processors designed in-house that will greatly outpace the performance and capabilities of the current M1 chips.
SoftBank plans $3.7 billion bond sale after record profit [Bloomberg]
SoftBank Group is planning its second yen-denominated bond offering of 2021 after recently posting the biggest-ever quarterly profit by a Japanese company. The technology conglomerate plans to issue ¥405 billion ($3.7 billion) of bonds, targeting mainly individual investors, according to a statement by the group on Wednesday. SoftBank reported net income of ¥1.93 trillion for the three months ended March 31, with essentially all of that coming from its investment in the newly public Coupang. Masayoshi Son’s technology investment giant has seen a sharp upturn in fortunes over the past twelve months, with SoftBank’s Vision Fund investment arm driving recent profits after being the source of its biggest loss a year ago. SoftBank has long tapped individual investors in Japan rather than institutions for most of its yen funding from the local bond market, taking advantage of its strong brand recognition.
DigiLens launches developer prototype for extended reality glasses [VentureBeat]
DigiLens launched a new prototype for its extended reality glasses (XR), which will offer augmented reality features, such as overlaying digital images on what a person see. The glasses will enable software developers to come up with applications for the final product. The prototype is based on the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2 platform, as well as the DigiLens Crystal50 waveguide for displaying imagery on the glasses. DigiLens’ premiere product is a holographic waveguide display containing a thin-film, laser-etched photopolymer embedded with microscopic holograms of mirror-like optics. A micro-display is projected into one end of the lens and the optics turn the light wave, guiding it through the surface before another set of optics turn it back toward the eye.
Google plans to build a commercial quantum computer by 2029 [Engadget]
Google developers are confident they can build a commercial-grade quantum computer by 2029. CEO Sundar Pichai announced the plan during the I/O stream conference, and a quantum AI lead engineer Erik Lucero further outlined the company's goal to build a useful, error-corrected quantum computer within the decade. Executives also revealed Google's new campus in Santa Barbara, California, which is dedicated to quantum AI. The campus has Google's first quantum data center, hardware research laboratories, and its very own quantum processor chip fabrication facilities.
Investment and M&A
SK hynix mulling complete acquisition of former foundry unit of Magnachip [TheKoreaHerald]
SK Hynix is reportedly considering a complete takeover of domestic foundry company Key Foundry, of which it holds a 49.8% stake in. Key Foundry was separated from Magnachip last year, and become an independent 8-inch wafer foundry firm operating in Cheongju, North Chungcheong Province. SK hynix currently controls 49.8% of the company via a PE fund set up by Magnus PEF, for which the company spent ₩207 billion ($183 million) in March last year. The rest of the stake is held by the fund’s another investor, MG Community Credit Cooperatives.
IBM will buy Salesforce partner Waeg to boost hybrid cloud, AI strategy [VentureBeat]
IBM said on May 18th that it would buy Waeg, a consulting partner for Salesforce, in a deal that will extend its range of services and support its hybrid cloud and AI strategy. The deal to acquire Waeg, which is based in Brussels and serves clients across Europe, complements IBM’s acquisition in January of 7Summits, a U.S. consultancy that specialises in Salesforce’s customer management software. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Amount raises $99 million at a $1 billion+ valuation to help banks better compete with fintechs [TechCrunch]
Amount, a company that provides technology to banks and financial institutions, raised $99 million in a Series D funding round at a valuation of just over $1 billion. WestCap and Blackstone CFO Laurence Tosi, led the round, with participation from Hanaco Ventures, Goldman Sachs, Invus Opportunities and Barclays Principal Investments. Amount was spun out of Avant to provide enterprise software built specifically for the banking industry. It partners with banks and financial institutions to rapidly digitize their financial infrastructure and compete in the retail lending and buy now, pay later sectors. The company plans to use its new capital to further accelerate R&D by investing in its technology and products. It also will be eyeing some acquisitions.
Explorium closes $75 million Series C amid soaring demand for external data [GlobeNewswire]
Explorium, an External Data platform that automatically discovers thousands of relevant data signals and uses them to improve analytics and ML, has closed its $75M Series C funding round. The financing was led by Insight Partners, with existing investors Zeev Ventures, Emerge, F2 Venture Capital, 01 Advisors and Dynamic Loop Capital also participating. Since the start of the pandemic, Explorium has doubled its customer base and more than quadrupled revenue. In addition to its ML Engine for automated external data discovery and feature engineering, Explorium has released Signal Studio, a new product that enables data and business analyst teams to quickly find and integrate the most relevant external data signals to their analytics pipelines.