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Sarah Perez «TechCrunch»

Tue, 18 Sep 2018 17:32:44 +0000
Kayak’s new AR feature will tell you if your carry-on bag fits the overhead bin
Popular travel app Kayak has put augmented reality to clever use with a new feature that lets you measure the size of your carry-on bag using just your smartphone. Its updated iOS app now takes advantage of Apple’s ARKit technology to introduce a new Bag Measurement tool that will help you calculate your bag’s size […]

Hulu’s live TV streaming service has hit a milestone number of more than 1 million subscribers. That’s up from the estimated 450,000 CNBC reported at the beginning of the year, and the 800,000 official number Hulu announced in May. But although the live TV audience may be growing, it’s still a small fraction of Hulu’s total subscriber base of 20 million-plus, which includes those who pay for the service’s on-demand programming.

The new figures were first reported by USA Today, in a report detailing Hulu’s Emmy campaign. (The streamer took home four Emmys this year – far behind market leaders, HBO and Netflix, which tied for the top spot with 23 wins apiece, across both last night’s ceremony and the earlier Creative Arts awards.)

Hulu also confirmed the number’s accuracy with us.

This one million subscriber milestone is notable given the fierce competition among live TV streaming services these days.

Dish’s Sling TV and AT&T’s DirecTV Now still lead the space, thanks to Sling’s early mover advantage, and DirecTV Now’s distribution through AT&T’s wireless business. The former had 2.3 million subscribers as of June, per Reuters, while AT&T said DirecTV Now had 1.8 million, as of its last earnings report in July.

Meanwhile, newcomer YouTube TV hit 800,000 around May – a number also cited by The Information in July, when reporting the difficulties in making profits in the live TV space. At the time, Hulu with Live TV was said to be “nearing a million.”

Sony’s PlayStation Vue is trailing the lot with somewhere over half a million – no doubt stymied by its branding, which seems to imply its only for PlayStation owners.

And these are just the major players, too.

There are also a growing number of niche streaming services, ranging from the sports-focused fuboTV to the valued priced cable-like package offered by Philo, which was recently trying to increase distribution through a bundle deal with Pandora. (Hulu has a similar deal with Spotify).

Plus, AT&T quickly capitalized on the Time Warner merger with a second, low-cost service called WatchTV. 

While there are now several skinny bundle options clogging the market, they’re no longer looking like the value they once were. Many – like Sling, YouTube TV, DirecTV Now, and Vue – have recently raised their prices, which feels like a flashback to the cable TV era.

And if you factor in their extras – like expanded storage on “cloud DVRs” (a feature that costs very little to providers, compared with the price for the consumer), extra streams, or premium add-ons – they’re actually more in line with a cable TV bill than ever before.

It remains to be seen if consumers will opt out of live TV streaming, as a result, at some point further down the road. For now, however, the services are growing as more people cut the cord with traditional TV.


Tue, 18 Sep 2018 16:30:27 +0000
Hulu with Live TV tops a million subscribers
Hulu’s live TV streaming service has hit a milestone number of more than 1 million subscribers. That’s up from the estimated 450,000 CNBC reported at the beginning of the year, and the 800,000 official number Hulu announced in May. But although the live TV audience may be growing, it’s still a small fraction of Hulu’s […]

YouTube will no longer maintain a separate app targeting gaming and live game streaming, the company announced today. The YouTube Gaming app, which first arrived in 2015, will be sunset sometime next spring as its host of features make their way over to YouTube’s main site.

Over the years, the YouTube Gaming app has been a place where YouTube experimented with features catering to game creators and viewers who like to watch live and recorded esports. Here, it tested things like Game Pages to make games more discoverable, Super Chat, and Channel Memberships – features which the Amazon-owned game streaming site Twitch had also popularized among the game community.

Some of YouTube Gaming’s features became so well-received that the company brought them to YouTube. For example, this June YouTube introduced channel memberships to its main site. And before that, it had brought Super Chat – a way for creators to make money from live streams – to its broader community, as well.

But while gaming remains one of YouTube’s top verticals, no one was really using the standalone YouTube Gaming app, the company says.

“We have 200 million people that are logged in, watching gaming content every single day,” Ryan Wyatt, YouTube’s Director of Gaming Content and Partnerships, tells TechCrunch. “And the majority of them, quite frankly, are just not using the YouTube Gaming app for their gaming experiences,” he says.

However, data from Sensor Tower shows the app had over 11 million installs across iOS and Android, and those installs have remained consistent over time. That indicates a large number of people were at least willing to try the app. But the firm also found that its daily users were a “tiny fraction” of Twitch’s on iOS, which confirms Wyatt’s point about lack of usage.

Instead, gamers are logging into YouTube to watch gaming, Wyatt explains.

They watch a lot of gaming, too – over the last twelve months, fans streamed more than 50 billion hours of gaming content, and YouTube has over 500,000 quarterly active live gaming streamers.

In other words, YouTube’s decision to sunset the standalone app should not be seen as an admission that it’s ceding this space to Twitch – rather, that it’s now deciding to use the power of YouTube’s flagship app to better compete.

On that front, the company is today launching a new YouTube Gaming destination at youtube.com/gaming. The destination is first available in the U.S., and will roll out globally in the months ahead.

A link to the new vertical will appear in the left-side navigation bar, where you find other top-level sections like Trending and Subscriptions.

The Gaming destination will feature personalized content at the top of the page, based on what you like to watch, along with top live games, the latest gaming videos from your subscriptions, and dedicated shelves for live streams and trending videos.

Another feature, “gaming creator on the rise,” will highlight up-and-coming gaming creators who are still trying to build an audience. That’s something that many say is still an issue on Amazon-owned Twitch – often, their early days are spent streaming to no one. They soon find that they need the blessing of an existing influencer to bring more viewers to their channel.

Wyatt points out, too, that YouTube Gaming won’t be all about live streams.

“The other thing that we learned through this process was that the gaming app, and the narrative around it, was very heavily live-focused. Everybody always talked about all the live streaming and live gaming,” he says. “But what that did was underserve the vast gaming

business. So by moving it over to YouTube main, you have this beautiful combination of both the living gaming streams that are continuing to grow massively on YouTube, as well as all the other VOD content on the platform.”

There are several things that YouTube’s new Gaming destination still lacks, however. Most notably, the ability to live stream gameplay right from your phone.

That’s why the YouTube Gaming app won’t immediately disappear. Instead, it will stick around until March or maybe even April 2019, while YouTube works on porting the experience over to its main site and app.

“We’re still working through that,” Wyatt admits, when asked how the live streaming component will come to YouTube proper. “We haven’t made a decision on if [live game streaming] will be in there by March, but we do need to have a solution for easy mobile capture from the phone,” he says.

The YouTube Gaming app was never a global release, as it was only live in select markets, we should note. YouTube’s Gaming vertical will eventually be launched worldwide. That could make it more of a challenge to Twitch, as it taps into the eyeballs of YouTube’s 1.8 billion users, while also expanding to take advantage of other new YouTube features like Premieres or Merchandise.

“It’s a great opportunity to use those features,” Wyatt notes, regarding the shift from YouTube Gaming to YouTube proper. “And we’re going to keep creating more features that will that will really lend themselves to live, but ultimately we’ll be thinking about really unique ways to apply them to VOD as well,” he says.


Tue, 18 Sep 2018 15:12:12 +0000
YouTube to shut down standalone Gaming app, as gaming gets a new home on YouTube
YouTube will no longer maintain a separate app targeting gaming and live game streaming, the company announced today. The YouTube Gaming app, which first arrived in 2015, will be sunset sometime next spring as its host of features make their way over to YouTube’s main site. Over the years, the YouTube Gaming app has been […]

Amazon wants developers to build their own Alexa Gadgets. As you may recall, Amazon last year launched its own gadgets – those weird, Bluetooth-connected Echo Buttons – but told us this year at CES that it had plans to open up gadget-building to the wider developer community. Now, it has. The company today is launching the Alexa Gadgets Toolkit into beta, allowing developers to build accessories that pair with Echo over Bluetooth.

The gadgets themselves could use things like lights, sound chips, or even motors, and can work with Alexa interfaces like notifications, timers, reminders, text-to-speech, or wake word detection. For example, you could create a device designed for outdoor use that chimes when a timer has concluded, or a switch that drops dog food into a bowl when an alarm expires. A pill box could chime or flash to remind you to take medications, and so on.

Support for interacting with music will be added soon, Amazon says. Yes, that’s right – Big Mouth Billy Bass will respond to Alexa voice commands and dance to music streamed via Alexa, as promised. It’s no longer just a hack.

The Alexa Gadgets Toolkit offers self-service APIs, including Gadget Interfaces that expose metadata of Alexa’s capabilities on compatible Echo devices, as well as technical documentation, sample code and more.

Already, a number of companies are building Alexa Gadgets, including HasbroWowWee Group LimitedGemmy IndustriesBaby PlusTOMY InternationalNovalia, and eKids (an affiliate of iHome). The partners aren’t necessarily detailing their creations at this point, but have offered some hints.

Toy maker Hasbro is working on immersive play experiences; TOMY will bring hands-free assistance to parents using its products; WowWee is creating Alexa-connected smart toothbrushes; BabyPlus is offering a connected rubber duckie that controls smart home devices and streams music; and Novalia is developing a touch-sensitive mat for kids’ immersive play.

These products will later be sold on Amazon, the retailer notes, starting later this year with the updated Big Mouth Billy Bass from Gemmy Industries.

The news comes just ahead of an Amazon Alexa press event, where the company is preparing to announce a variety of new Alexa devices. According to a recent CNBC report, Amazon has at least 8 in the works, including a microwave oven, subwoofer, and in-car gadget.


Tue, 18 Sep 2018 14:47:21 +0000
Amazon’s new toolkit helps developers build Echo-connected accessories
Amazon wants developers to build their own Alexa Gadgets. As you may recall, Amazon last year launched its own gadgets – those weird, Bluetooth-connected Echo Buttons – but told us this year at CES that it had plans to open up gadget-building to the wider developer community. Now, it has. The company today is launching […]

Google’s parental control software for mobile devices, Family Link, will now help parents of teenagers, too. The company announced this morning the addition of new features aimed at parents of children over the age of 13. Perhaps the most controversial choice Google has made with this expansion is that teens can choose to turn off supervision via the software. While this does send an alert to parents, it’s a decidedly odd choice.

After all, if parents are planning on controlling smartphone use through Family Link – which lets them do things like manage and track screen time, view the location of the device, or control which apps are able to be installed, for example – it seems that parent and child would have already had a conversation about the topic.

And while it’s a nice gesture to ask teens to give consent to monitoring, it’s a hollow one – teens, after all, are still children, and parents likely bought them their device and are paying the phone bill. Parents at this point should have already established that using a phone is a privilege, not a right, and that there are ground rules, as well as what those rules are.

Parents should have had the conversation about how usage and location is tracked, and discussed what sort of content should or should not be viewed and shared on the teens’ phone. Allowing the kid to just “opt out” should not be how that conversation starts.

Plus, you can’t really argue that teens could somehow be surreptitiously monitored by parents, given that parents are approving their app downloads and setting screen time limits, among other things, if on Family Link. They must have some awareness there’s a control mechanism in place.

The software’s support for teens rolls out this week worldwide, Google says, as part of Family Link’s global expansion. The applicable age for a teen varies by country, but in the U.S. it’s 13. The app will also be available for Chromebook devices. And soon, parents will be able to manage Family Link devices through Google Assistant voice commands, too.


Mon, 17 Sep 2018 21:20:17 +0000
Google’s parental control software Family Link expands to teens
Google’s parental control software for mobile devices, Family Link, will now help parents of teenagers, too. The company announced this morning the addition of new features aimed at parents of children over the age of 13. Perhaps the most controversial choice Google has made with this expansion is that teens can choose to turn off […]

Last November, Amazon quietly re-entered the diapers market with the launch of its own private label diapers under the Mama Bear brand – its first diaper brand since pulling its Amazon Elements line back in January 2015. Now, Amazon has added a new, exclusive premium diapers brand, this time under the new name of Earth + Eden. Unlike Mama Bear, which is the Amazon equivalent to something like Pampers, Amazon’s Earth + Eden appears to be more of a competitor to premium diapers, like those sold on Honest.com.

The Honest Company touts its diapers’ super-soft, safe, gentle, hypoallergenic, and most importantly, sustainably-sourced materials, as does the Earth + Eden diapers’ product page.

The Amazon diapers are described as:

Cruelty free – not tested on animals; Made with SFI Certified sustainably sourced fluff; Printed with non-toxic water-based inks; Produced in a Zero Waste to Landfill Facility

In the Q&A section of the product page and in the images, the manufacturer also notes other “green” choices it made – like how the diapers are “free from harsh chemicals,” have “no lotions, parabens, fragrance, latex, or chlorine bleaching,” and use “non-toxic, water based inks.”

The product images themselves also have an eco vibe to them with photos of babies in green grass fields, or mothers cuddling little ones with flowers and trees all around them.

Also like Honest.com’s diapers, the Earth + Eden diapers come in prints instead of just plain white. However, its print is not all over the diaper as with Honest’s diapers – just a band at the top. (And frankly, Earth + Eden’s prints are a little boring by comparison.)

But the new diapers may not be competing so much on looks, as they are on price.

The diapers range in price from $0.21 each (size 1) to $0.51 each (size 7), which puts them more in line with a mainstream disposable diaper brands, like Luvs, Huggies or Pampers – not premium diapers like Honest or Pampers Pure, for example.

The website This Just In was first to spot the diapers’ launch, and notes that the manufacturer identifies themselves as by “First Quality Enterprises” of Great Neck, N.Y.

Multiple sources initially told TechCrunch the diapers were a new private label. In addition, the listing for the Earth + Eden diapers shows up under a heading entitled “Our Brands” when shoppers search for baby diapers on Amazon’s site. (See photo below)

However, Amazon said that this is not an “Amazon” brand – it’s a new exclusive brand to Amazon.

Amazon explains that despite listing the product (as pictured above) as “Our Brand” that doesn’t mean it’s an Amazon brand. Instead, the company tells us it will refer to things that are manufactured by others but made exclusive to Amazon as “Our Brand,” as well.

That seems a bit misleading – the text should probably read “Amazon Exclusive,” in that case.

The new diapers arrived on Amazon in July, we’re told. Amazon Some customers received them for free through Amazon Vine, the retailer’s own program that connects manufacturers to trusted reviewers.

Diapers are a huge business, but one where Amazon could still do better.

While its Amazon Elements line of wipes had achieved a 14% market share as of the time the Mama Bear brand of diapers launched last November, those same diapers are currently the #46 best-seller in their category.

In addition, Amazon last year exited its Quidsi business, whose flagship property was Diapers.com. That URL now redirects to a landing page on Amazon.com, where baby products are listed. (The Earth + Eden brand appears on this page, as well, when you click on the link to view the diapers.)

The Honest Company now has its own Amazon storefront where shoppers can buy its diapers, overnight pants, lotions, shampoos, and other personal care products. The storefront was launched last year, as part of the business’ larger shift from e-commerce to omnichannel.

For The Honest Company, it was already difficult to compete with Amazon.com, despite its eco focus. Now, Amazon is adding products to its site that will directly compete with an Honest Company top seller.

Update, 9/17/18, 5:30 pm et: Post updated shortly after publication, as Amazon reached out to clarify the brand is a new exclusive product to Amazon.com, but is not a private label. See above text in bold for details.


Mon, 17 Sep 2018 17:59:56 +0000
Amazon takes on The Honest Company with an exclusive brand of eco diapers, Earth + Eden
Last November, Amazon quietly re-entered the diapers market with the launch of its own private label diapers under the Mama Bear brand – its first diaper brand since pulling its Amazon Elements line back in January 2015. Now, Amazon has added a new, exclusive premium diapers brand, this time under the new name of Earth […]

With today’s release of iOS 12, Apple is also rolling out a new feature called Siri Shortcuts, which allows users to create their own voice commands to take actions in apps. For example, you could create a shortcuts for ordering your morning coffee, playing your favorite music, getting your daily schedule, and much more. In preparation for the iOS 12 launch, a number of app developers have already added support for Siri Shortcuts – sometimes even through a dedicated button in their app – in order to help nudge users towards adoption.

You can configure Siri Shortcuts in iOS Settings or create more complex voice commands using Apple’s new Shortcuts app, also out today. But these are things that will appeal more to power users – at least for the time being.

Mainstream users, meanwhile, will likely come across Siri Shortcuts for the first time when using their favorite iOS apps.

With iOS 12, app developers can integrate an “Add to Siri” button right in their app’s interface for common tasks that their app can perform – like playing a favorite playlist, for instance.

When a user taps this button, they’ll be directed to a screen where they can record their own custom voice command to launch whatever task or action the developer is suggesting.

In time, a number of apps will roll out this functionality.

But if you’re keen to play with it today, on day one, here are some of the early adopters of this feature.

Pandora

A new playlist isn’t the only update Pandora is rolling out today – it’s also one of the first apps to launch a Siri Shortcuts button. With the app’s iOS 12-optimized update, users can head to the Settings in the Pandora app and tap “Add to Siri.” They can then choose a specific station, album, or playlist and record a custom phrase to say the next time they want to hear it.

Streaks

Habit-tracker Streaks is also among the first to include an “Add to Siri” button. When tapped, users can record custom phrases to complete their tasks. That way you can say things in a more natural style – like, “Hey Siri, I drank my water,” or “I ate healthy today.”

PCalc

Always an early adopter, the popular calculator app has added a Siri Shortcut button that will let you record voice commands for any common activity in the app, like converting currencies, setting the clipboard, opening conversions, and more.

CARROT Weather

The funny and sarcastic weather application CARROT Weather added support for Siri Shortcuts so you can ask for a short-term or long-term forecast for your location or any other location you’ve saved in the app.

The Weather Channel

If you prefer a more traditional weather app, The Weather Channel is also out with Siri Shortcuts support today, too, so you can check your forecast with a voice command.

Things

To do list app Things represents a good use case for Siri Shortcuts, as you can create voice commands for common actions you take in the app, then have them also appear on your Lock screen. For instance, you could ask Siri to “Show Today” or “Add To-Do.” You can even record shortcuts for things you add to your to-do list app a lot, like lists of movies you want to see or errands you need to run.

When you say “Hey Siri, add an errand,” Things will launch a new to-do with everything filled in, including the tags, so all you have to do is enter the title and save.

There are also ready-made to-do’s available for things that are always the same, like a packing list or a favorite recipe. And using the new Shortcuts app, you can combine multiple shortcuts from different apps into one workflow.

 

Sky Guide

Longtime favorite app Sky Guide, a map to the night sky, now lets you ask questions about the stars using your voice. With Siri Shortcuts, you can say “Hey Siri, what start is that?” (or something else you choose) after pointing your phone at a bright star, planet, or satellite.

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