Opera brings a flurry of crypto features to its Android mobile browser

Crypto markets may be down down down, but that isn’t stopping Opera’s crypto feature — first released in beta in July — from rolling out to all users of its core mobile browser today as the company bids to capture the ‘decentralized internet’ flag early on.

Opera — the world’s fifth most-used browser, according to Statcounter — released the new Opera Browser for Android that includes a built-in crypto wallet for receiving and sending Bitcoin and other tokens, while it also allows for crypto-based commerce where supported. So on e-commerce sites that accept payment via Coinbase Commerce, or other payment providers, Opera users can buy using a password or even their fingerprint.

Those are the headline features that’ll get the most use in the here and now, but Opera is also talking up its support for “Web 3.0” — the so-called decentralized internet of the future based on blockchain technology.

For that, Opera has integrated the Ethereum web3 API which will allow users of the browser to access decentralized apps (dapps) based on Ethereum. There’s also token support for Cryptokitties, the once-hot collectible game that seemingly every single decentralized internet product works with in one way or another.

But, to be quite honest, there really isn’t much to see or use on Web 3.0 right now, the big bet is that there will be in the future.

Ethereum, like other cryptocurrencies, in a funk right now thanks to the bearish crypto market, but the popular refrain from developers is that low season is a good time to build. Well, Opera has just shipped the means to access Ethereum dapps, will the community respond and give people a reason to care?

Pessimism aside, this launch is notable because it has the potential to get blockchain-based tech into the daily habits of “millions” of people, Charles Hamel — Opera’s product lead for crypto — told TechCrunch over email.

While Opera can’t match the user base of Apple’s Safari or Google Chrome — both of which have the advantage of bundling a browser with a mobile OS — Opera does have a very loyal following, which makes this release one of the most impactful blockchain launches to date.

Note: The author owns a small amount of cryptocurrency. Enough to gain an understanding, not enough to change a life.

Apple plans major US expansion including a new $1 billion campus in Austin

Apple has announced a major expansion that will see it open a new campus in North Austin and open new offices in Seattle, San Diego and Los Angeles as it bids to increase its workforce in the U.S. The firm said it intends also to significantly expand its presence in Pittsburgh, New York and Boulder, Colorado over the next three years.

The Austin campus alone will cost the company $1 billion, but Apple said that the 133-acre space will generate an initial 5,000 jobs across a broad range of roles with the potential to add 10,000 more. The company claims to have 6,200 employees in Austin — its largest enclave outside of Cupertino — and it said that the addition of these new roles will make it the largest private employer in the city.

Beyond a lot of new faces, the new campus will include more than 50 acres of open space and — as is standard with Apple’s operations these days — it will run entirely on renewable energy.

Apple already has 6,200 employees in Austin, but its new campus could add up to 15,000 more

The investment was lauded by Texas Governor Greg Abbott.

“Their decision to expand operations in our state is a testament to the high-quality workforce and unmatched economic environment that Texas offers. I thank Apple for this tremendous investment in Texas, and I look forward to building upon our strong partnership to create an even brighter future for the Lone Star State,” he said in a statement shared by Apple.

But Austin isn’t the only focal point for Apple growth in the U.S.

Outside of the Austin development, the iPhone-maker plans to expand to over 1,000 staff Seattle, San Diego and LA over the next three years, while adding “hundreds” of staff in Pittsburgh, New York, Boulder, Boston and Portland, Oregon.

More broadly, Apple said it added 6,000 jobs to its U.S. workforce this year to take its total in the country to 90,000. It said it remains on track to create 20,000 new jobs in the U.S. by 2023.

Apple says iPhones remain on sale in China following court injunction

Apple has filed an appeal to overturn a court decision that could ban iPhone sales in China, the company said on Monday, adding that all of its models remain available in its third-largest market.

The American giant is locked in a legal battle in the world’s biggest smartphone market. On Monday, Qualcomm announced that a court in Fujian Province has granted a preliminary injunction banning the import and sales of old iPhone models in China because they violated two patents owned by the American chipmaker.

The patents in question relate to features enabling consumers to edit photos and manage apps on smartphone touchscreens, according to Qualcomm.

“Apple continues to benefit from our intellectual property while refusing to compensate us. These Court orders are further confirmation of the strength of Qualcomm’s vast patent portfolio,” said Don Rosenberg, executive vice president and general counsel of Qualcomm, in a statement.

Apple fought back in a statement calling Qualcomm’s effort to ban its products “another desperate move by a company whose illegal practices are under investigation by regulators around the world.” It also claimed that Qualcomm is asserting three patents they had never raised before, including one which has already been invalidated.

It is unclear at this point what final effects the court injunction will have on Apple’s sales in China.

The case is part of an ongoing global patent dispute between Qualcomm and Apple, which saw the former seek to block the manufacturing and sale of iPhones in China over patent issues pertaining to payments last year.

Qualcomm shares were up 3 percent on Monday. Apple opened down more than 2 percent before closing up 0.7 percent. Citi lowered its Apple price target to $200 a share from $240 a share, saying in a note to investors that while it does not expect China to ban or impose additional tariffs on Apple, “should this occur Apple has material exposure to China.”

The Apple case comes as the tech giant faces intensifying competition in China, which represented 18 percent of its total sales from the third quarter. The American company’s market share in China shrunk from 7.2 percent to 6.7 percent year-over-year in the second quarter as local competitors Huawei and Oppo gained more ground, according to market research firm IDC.

The annual drop is due to Apple’s high prices, IDC suggests, but its name “is still very strong in China” and “the company will fare well should it release slightly cheaper options later in the year.”

Google is killing off Allo, its latest messaging app flop

It’s official: Google is killing off Allo.

The messaging app was only launched in September 2016 but it was pretty much flawed from the word go with limited usage. Google was, once again, painfully late to the messaging game.

The company said it had ceased work on the service earlier this year, and now it has announced that it’ll close down in March of next year.

“Allo will continue to work through March 2019 and until then, you’ll be able to export all of your existing conversation history from the app,” Google said in a blog post. “We’ve learned a lot from Allo, particularly what’s possible when you incorporate machine learning features, like the Google Assistant, into messaging.”

Google said it wants “every single Android device to have a great default messaging experience,” but the fact remains that the experience on Android massively lags iOS, where Apple’s iMessage service offers a slick experience with free messages, calling and video between iPhone and iPad users.

Instead of Allo, Google is pushing ahead with RCS (Rich Communication Services), an enhanced SMS standard that could allow iMessage like communication between Android devices.

But could is the operative word. The main caveat with RCS is that carriers must develop their own messaging apps that work with the protocol and connect to other apps, while the many Android OEMs also need to hop on board with support.

As I wrote earlier this year, with RCS, Google is giving carriers a chance to take part in the messaging boom, rather than be cut out as WhatsApp, Messenger, iMessage and others take over. But the decision is tricky for carriers, who have traditionally tightly held any form of income until the death. That’s because they won’t directly make money from consumers via RCS, though it allows them to keep their brand and figure out other ways to generate income, such as business-related services.

Verizon has already signed up, for one, but tracking the other supporters worldwide is tricky. Another problem: RCS is not encrypted, which flies in the face of most messaging apps on the market today.

Elsewhere, Google is keeping Duo — the video chat service that launched alongside Allo — while it continues to develop Hangouts into an enterprise-focused service, much like Slack .

Samsung fakes test photo by using a stock DSLR image

Samsung’s Malaysian arm has some explaining to do. The company, in an effort to show off the Galaxy A8 Star’s amazing photo retouching abilities, used a cleverly-shot portrait, modified it, and then ostensibly passed it off as one taken by the A8.

The trouble began when Serbian photographer Dunja Djudjic noticed someone had bought one of her photos from a service called EyeEm that supplies pictures to Getty Images, a renowned photo reseller. Djudjic, curious as to the buyer, did a quick reverse search and found her image – adulterated to within an inch of its life – on Samsung’s Malaysian product page.

Djudjic, for her part, was a good sport.

My first reaction was to burst out into laughter. Just look at the Photoshop job they did on my face and hair! I’ve always liked my natural hair color (even though it’s turning gray black and white), but I guess the creator of this franken-image prefers reddish tones. Except in the eyes though, where they removed all of the blood vessels.

Whoever created this image, they also cut me out of the original background and pasted me onto a random photo of a park. I mean, the original photo was taken at f/2.0 if I remember well, and they needed the “before” and “after” – a photo with a sharp background, and another one where the almighty “portrait mode” blurred it out. So Samsung’s Photoshop master resolved it by using a different background.

This move follows a decision by Huawei to pull the same stunt with a demo photo in August.

To be fair, Samsung warned us this would happen. “The contents within the screen are simulated images and are for demonstration purposes only,” they write in the fine print, way at the bottom of the page. Luckily for Djudjic, Samsung paid her for her photo.

Logitech is reportedly offering $2.2 billion to bring Plantronics headsets into its hardware empire

Logitech, the manufacturer best known for its computing peripherals like keyboards and web cameras, is in talks to buy Plantronics, a maker of bluetooth-enabled headsets, according to Reuters.

The company is reportedly offering as much as $2.2 billion for Plantronics, according to the Reuters report, in what would be Logitech’s biggest acquisition to date.

Driving the consolidation push is an effort by both companies to cut costs as tariffs on imports from China could eat into their margins or force them to raise prices for consumers against a backdrop of increasing competition from a number of different vendors.

Reuters is reporting that the deal between the two companies could be finalized as early as next week.

We’ve reached out to both Logitech and Plantronics for comment and will update this story when we hear back.

News of the deal sent Plantronics shares up in after hours trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

Both Logitech and Plantronics have been active acquirers in the past year. Most recently, Logitech acquired the Blue Microphone business, which made popular podcasting microphones like the Yeti and Snowball.

 

Meanwhile Santa Cruz, Calif.-based Plantronics had bought Polycom in a $2 billion transaction earlier this year. The company, which started out making headsets for airline pilots and later sold equipment to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, has struggled with low-cost competitors and new entrants into the headset market (like Apple).

 

 

Google’s News Initiative heads to APAC with grants of up to $300K for media orgs

Google is expanding its efforts to support media to Asia Pacific after the search giant brought its Google News Initiative to the region.

Known as GNI, the program is designed to “help quality journalism thrive in the digital age” by providing grants (i.e. cash without equity) to media organizations that are judged to have potential. The initiative started life in Europe in 2015 with a $170 million funda $300 million U.S-based incarnation went live earlier this year. It has also extended to YouTube after GNI set aside $25 million and pledged to work with media figures to combat fake news and develop new features.

For Asia Pacific, Google isn’t saying precisely how large the kitty is, but it is promising grants of “up to” $300,000 for publishers developing new and innovative business models and revenue streams.

“We are inviting proposals for projects aimed at increasing revenue from readers, including subscriptions, membership programs, contributions and/or new digital products and services. A panel of Googlers and other tech industry executives will review the submissions and fund selected projects up to $300,000 and finance up to 70 percent of the total project cost,” Kate Beddoe, Google’s head of news and publishing partnerships, wrote in a blog post.

A company spokesperson told TechCrunch that the grants will be staggered. Success applicants will be provided with their grant in tranches in exchange for sharing their experiences with the wider community, for example, as materials published online or at events. That information exchange is aimed at helping media within Asia Pacific to learn from each another and more generally share sustainability ideas and war stories.

The fund was announced today but it won’t kick off until 2019.

Those wanting to submit applications can do so at the dedicated website (here) from November 28 until January 9. Google said it’ll provide additional details on December 11 when it will host an “APAC town hall at its Singapore office — the live stream for that is here.

Google isn’t the only one backing media across APAC through grants. Blockchain media startup Civil recently announced a $1 million fund for Asia, although it remains to be seen if that will go ahead since the company canceled its ICO after failing to hit its $8 million minimum target.

Cities that didn’t win HQ2 shouldn’t be counted out

The more than year-long dance between cities and Amazon for its second headquarters is finally over, with New York City and Washington, DC, capturing the big prize. With one of the largest economic development windfalls in a generation on the line, 238 cities used every tactic in the book to court the company – including offering to rename a city “Amazon” and appointing Jeff Bezos “mayor for life.”

Now that the process, and hysteria, are over, and cities have stopped asking “how can we get Amazon,” we’d like to ask a different question: How can cities build stronger start-up ecosystems for the Amazon yet to be built?

In September 2017, Amazon announced that it would seek a second headquarters. But rather than being the typical site selection process, this would become a highly publicized Hunger Games-esque scenario.

An RFP was proffered on what the company sought, and it included everything any good urbanist would want, with walkability, transportation and cultural characteristics on the docket. But of course, incentives were also high on the list.

Amazon could have been a transformational catalyst for a plethora of cities throughout the US, but instead, it chose two superstar cities: the number one and five metro areas by GDP which, combined, amounts to a nearly $2 trillion GDP. These two metro areas also have some of the highest real estate prices in the country, a swath of high paying jobs and of course power — financial and political — close at hand.

Perhaps the take-away for cities isn’t that we should all be so focused on hooking that big fish from afar, but instead that we should be growing it in our own waters. Amazon itself is a great example of this. It’s worth remembering that over the course of a quarter century, Amazon went from a garage in Seattle’s suburbs to consuming 16 percent — or 81 million square feet — of the city’s downtown. On the other end of the spectrum, the largest global technology company in 1994 (the year of Amazon’s birth) was Netscape, which no longer exists.

The upshot is that cities that rely only on attracting massive technology companies are usually too late.

At the National League of Cities, we think there are ways to expand the pie that don’t reinforce existing spatial inequalities. This is exactly the idea behind the launch of our city innovation ecosystems commitments process. With support from the Schmidt Futures Foundation, fifty cities, ranging from rural townships, college towns, and major metros, have joined with over 200 local partners and leveraged over $100 million in regional and national resources to support young businesses, leverage technology and expand STEM education and workforce training for all.

The investments these cities are making today may in fact be the precursor to some of the largest tech companies of the future.

With that idea in mind, here are eight cities that didn’t win HQ2 bids but are ensuring their cities will be prepared to create the next tranche of high-growth startups. 

Austin

Austin just built a medical school adjacent to a tier one research university, the University of Texas. It’s the first such project to be completed in America in over fifty years. To ensure the addition translates into economic opportunity for the city, Austin’s public, private and civic leaders have come together to create Capital City Innovation to launch the city’s first Innovation District at the new medical school. This will help expand the city’s already world class startup ecosystem into the health and wellness markets.

Baltimore

Baltimore is home to over $2 billion in academic research, ranking it third in the nation behind Boston and Philadelphia. In order to ensure everyone participates in the expanding research-based startup ecosystem, the city is transforming community recreation centers into maker and technology training centers to connect disadvantaged youth and families to new skills and careers in technology. The Rec-to-Tech Initiative will begin with community design sessions at four recreation centers, in partnership with the Digital Harbor Foundation, to create a feasibility study and implementation plan to review for further expansion.

Buffalo

The 120-acre Buffalo Niagara Medical Center (BNMC) is home to eight academic institutions and hospitals and over 150 private technology and health companies. To ensure Buffalo’s startups reflect the diversity of its population, the Innovation Center at BNMC has just announced a new program to provide free space and mentorship to 10 high potential minority- and/or women-owned start-ups.

Denver

Like Seattle, real estate development in Denver is growing at a feverish rate. And while the growth is bringing new opportunity, the city is expanding faster than the workforce can keep pace. To ensure a sustainable growth trajectory, Denver has recruited the Next Generation City Builders to train students and retrain existing workers to fill high-demand jobs in architecture, design, construction and transportation. 

Providence

With a population of 180,000, Providence is home to eight higher education institutions – including Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design – making it a hub for both technical and creative talent. The city of Providence, in collaboration with its higher education institutions and two hospital systems, has created a new public-private-university partnership, the Urban Innovation Partnership, to collectively contribute and support the city’s growing innovation economy. 

Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh may have once been known as a steel town, but today it is a global mecca for robotics research, with over 4.5 times the national average robotics R&D within its borders. Like Baltimore, Pittsburgh is creating a more inclusive innovation economy through a Rec-to-Tech program that will re-invest in the city’s 10 recreational centers, connecting students and parents to the skills needed to participate in the economy of the future. 

Tampa

Tampa is already home to 30,000 technical and scientific consultant and computer design jobs — and that number is growing. To meet future demand and ensure the region has an inclusive growth strategy, the city of Tampa, with 13 university, civic and private sector partners, has announced “Future Innovators of Tampa Bay.” The new six-year initiative seeks to provide the opportunity for every one of the Tampa Bay Region’s 600,000 K-12 students to be trained in digital creativity, invention and entrepreneurship.

These eight cities help demonstrate the innovation we are seeing on the ground now, all throughout the country. The seeds of success have been planted with people, partnerships and public leadership at the fore. Perhaps they didn’t land HQ2 this time, but when we fast forward to 2038 — and the search for Argo AISparkCognition or Welltok’s new headquarters is well underway — the groundwork will have been laid for cities with strong ecosystems already in place to compete on an even playing field.

UK watchdog has eyes on Google-DeepMind’s health app hand-off

The shock news yesterday that Google is taking over a health app rolled out to UK hospitals over the past few years by its AI division, DeepMind, has caught the eye of the country’s data protection watchdog — which said today that it’s monitoring developments.

An ICO spokesperson told us: “An ICO investigation and an independent audit into the use of Google Deepmind’s Streams service by the Royal Free both highlighted the importance of clear and effective governance when NHS bodies use third parties to provide digital services, particularly to ensure the original purpose for processing personal data is respected.

“We expect all the measures set out in our undertaking, and in the audit, should remain in place even if the identity of the third party changes. We are continuing to monitor the situation.”

We’ve reached out to DeepMind and Google for a response.

The project is already well known to the ICO because, following a lengthy investigation, it ruled last year that the NHS Trust which partnered with DeepMind had broken UK law by passing 1.6 million+ patients’ medical records to the Google owned company during the app’s development.

The Trust agreed to make changes to how it works with DeepMind, with the ICO saying it needed to establish “a proper legal basis” for the data-sharing, as well as share more information about how it handles patients’ privacy.

It also had to submit to an external audit — which was carried out by Linklaters. Though — as we reported in June — this only looked at the current working of the Streams app.

The auditors did not address the core issue of patient data being passed without a legal basis when the app was under construction. And the ICO didn’t sound too happy about that either.

While regulatory actions kicked off in spring 2016, the sanctions came after Streams had already been rolled out to hospital wards — starting with the Royal Free NHS Trust’s own hospitals.

DeepMind also inked additional five-year Streams deals with a handful of other Trusts before the ICO’s intervention, including Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and Taunton & Somerset.

Those Trusts are now facing being switched to having Google as their third party app provider.

Until yesterday DeepMind had maintained it operates autonomously from Google, with founder Mustafa Suleyman writing in 2016 that: “We’ve been clear from the outset that at no stage will patient data ever be linked or associated with Google accounts, products or services.”

Two years on and, in their latest Medium blog, the DeepMind co-founders write about how excited they are that the data is going to Google.

Patients might have rather more mixed feelings, given that most people have never been consulted about any of this.

The lack of a legal basis for DeepMind obtaining patient data to develop Streams in the first place remains unresolved. And Google becoming the new data processor for Streams only raises fresh questions about information governance — and trust.

Meanwhile the ICO has not yet given a final view on Streams’ continued data processing — but it’s still watching.