The Surface Go is the laptop of the year

The Surface Go is the laptop of the year

As a nearly constant traveler I’ve been looking for something like the Surface Go all my life. I’ve lugged around everything from massive ThinkPads to iPad Pros and I’ve always found myself stuck in one of two situations – the laptops that made the most sense were too heavy to be comfortably portable and the tablets and ultraportables I used, including the Surface Pro, offered too much of a performance trade-off to warrant swapping from a full desktop device.

I tried a number of other laptops over the past year including my daily driver, the TouchBar-powered MacBook Pro, as well as a Lenovo’s oddly designed YogaBooks. Nothing quite clicked. The trade offs were always drastic. Wanted power? Sacrifice weight. Wanted thin and light? Sacrifice the keyboard. Want battery life and compatibility? Sacrifice the desktop experience. So when the Surface Go came out I wasn’t too excited.

Now I am.

When Brian Heater first reviewed the device he found them lacking. “And the Surface Go isn’t a bad little device, at the end of the day. At $400, it’s on the pricier side for a tablet, and certain sacrifices have been made for the sake of keeping the price down versus the souped up Surface Pro,” he wrote. “And unlike other Surface devices, the Go is less about pioneering a category for Windows 10 than it is simply adding a lower-cost, portable alternative to the mix. As such, the product hits the market with a fair bit of competition. Acer and Lenovo have a couple, for starters, most of which fall below the Go’s asking price.”

He’s right. There are thin and lights available for far less, and the Surface Go, with its 6-hour battery life and mid-range specs, is no hard core gaming machine. However, the user experience of the Go when matched with a keyboard cover have blown other contenders out of the water. Why? Because, like Google’s Pixel line, Microsoft knows how to tune its hardware to its software.

The Surface Go easily replaced by MacBook for most activities including light photo editing, writing, and communications. The Go ships with Windows 10 in S mode, a performance improving mode that reduces the total number of available apps available but, thanks to a certification process, ensures the apps will be more performant. It is trivial to turn off S Mode and install any other app you want and most people will do this, realizing that while noble, S Mode just doesn’t fly if you’re trying to use the whole breadth of the Windows universe.

Once I turned off S Mode I could install Scrivener and a few other tools and even got some games running, although the tablet gets a little hot. That’s the real benefit of the Surface Go – you don’t compromise on apps, performance, or size and all of it is specially tuned to the software it runs.

If you’re thinking of exploring the Surface Go you’ll find it’s not the cheapest ultraportable on the market. At $399 for the entry level model – I regret not splurging on the $150 upgrade – and $99 for the keyboard cover – it’s still more expensive than similarly appointed devices from Asus and Lenovo . That said none of those manufacturers could hit on all of the sweet spots that Microsoft hit. In terms of design and ease-of-use the Surface Go wins and in terms of price you’re basically paying a little more for more compatibility and performance.

So if you’re looking for a portable, usable, and fun device that beats many other current laptops hands down, it might be time to turn your gaze on Microsoft. As someone who got sciatica from lugging around too many heavy laptops, your buttocks will thank you.

Source: Tech Crunch

macOS Mojave is now available

macOS Mojave is now available

Enjoy reading lots of words about new operating systems? Good news! There are plenty of those here. Enjoy actually downloading and running said new operating systems? Gooder news! macOS 10.14 Mojave is now available in final public form over at the Mac App Store.

As with the last several versions of the desktop OS, Mojave’s a free download — though every time the company launches a new one, there tends to be a bit of a bottleneck with downloads, so you may want to give this one a bit of time before attempting.

As far as what you’ve got to look forward to on the this new version, Dark Mode is the biggest marquee feature here. Mojave offers the ability to switch windows and backgrounds to a dark design with light text — which, like many of the OS’s new features, is targeted at the company’s core audience of creative pros.

Stacks is probably my personal favorite of the bunch. With a click of a button, it cleans your ridiculously messy desktop into piles of files sortable by type and various other categories. The first batch of iOS apps have been ported to the desktop here, as well, including Voice Memos, Stocks, Home and News.

Screenshots have been pretty thoroughly tweaked, while Safari’s got a bunch of new security features.

Source: Tech Crunch

macOS 10.14 Mojave review

macOS 10.14 Mojave review

Against my better judgement and repeat warnings from those who knew better, I went ahead and installed Mojave on my work computer the first chance I got. Sure, there were certain standard beta bugs and capability issues that made me regret the decision on occasion, but the only way to sufficiently test a product like this is use it day to day.

I can’t claim to have used every feature with any regularity. But that’s just the nature of an operating system upgrade. There’s a lot of ground to cover, in order to assure the update covers as wide a swath of users as possible. There are international features and updates to Apple’s machine learning offering — things that, in my case, don’t really impact usage.

Even with the broad scope of updates contained herein, however, 10.14 represents what is arguably the most focused macOS release in recent memory. Unlike High Sierra, which felt, in many respects (name included), like a refinement over its predecessor, Mojave finds Apple with specific mission in mind.

The last few years have seen the company hit mounting criticism that it had taken its eye off the ball when it comes to creative professionals — a segment of users long regarded to be the spirital core of its desktop offerings. There was a backlash against Final Cut, when Apple made changes for the sake of simplifying/streamlining, removing the high level of customization videographers had come to rely on.

Last year, meanwhile, Apple presented an uncharacteristically transparent view into the trials and tribulations of the Mac Pro line. “If we’ve had a pause in upgrades and updates,” Phil Schiller said during a roundtable discussion, “we’re sorry for that — what happened with the Mac Pro — and we’re going to come out with something great to replace it.”

Companies like Microsoft have seen opportunity in Apple’s further push into populism, targeting the ever-growing Surface line at those creative Pros. After all, while the category isn’t ultimately a huge one, the videographers, artists, musicians, et al. who use the products are among the most influential when it comes to buying decisions.

But Apple has begun to address these concerns. While the Mac Pro won’t be arriving until next year, it’s made important strides on the hardware front. The iMac Pro, for instance, presents an all-in-one alternative to the modular desktop, while the latest MacBook pros offer up some downright nutty specs on the high-end.

Mojave plays a central role in all of this. Many of the operating system’s marquee features cater to precisely those power users. Dark Mode, Gallery View, file metadata and Stacks are among the top new features here, and each have creative pros firmly in their sights.

I’ll be the first to admit that you’ll need to broaden your definition of “creative professional” pretty damn wide before I start to fit in. When Apple trotted out photogs, producers and interactive artists for a recent event, I’d be lying if I said I felt like I belonged.

That said, I’ve found a place for many of the aforementioned features in my own daily workflow. In the interest of giving the most time to those features I’ve spent the most time with over the course of the last four or so months, let’s start with the Mojave additions I’ve found the most useful.


Every new version of macOS comes with several features that I can easily visualize becoming a part of my daily process. I get excited about the ways in which these additions will help me become faster, more productive, better organize. Invariably, however, they slowly fade into the background. I stop making the effort to engage and ultimately forget they’re even there.

In the case of many of them, I know my own disorganization and idiosyncratic methods are as much to blame as anything. The features are well-intentioned, but workflows are stubborn. And besides, just because you pay for the gym membership doesn’t mean you’re going to keep that New Year’s resolution, right?

Stacks, on the other hand, is straight up useful. As Apple has moved away from the desktop-based folder system, I’ve found my desktop growing more and more messy. It’s become the throw the dirty laundry anywhere approach to computer use. It’s bad and I hate myself for it, but what are you going to do?

Upgrade to Mojave, for one thing. While it’s true the company’s leaning heavily on Dark Mode as the flagship feature, Stacks is quietly the best and most useful addition. If you’ve got a messy desktop, simply Control+click the wallpaper or chose Use Stacks under view in the menu bar. Choosing this will automatically sort files into piles.

By default, the feature groups files by type. From the drop down, you can toggle this to group things by Date Last Opened, Date Modified, Date Added, Date Created or Tags. Clicking the top of the pile expands them out, so you can view everything at once.

Oh, and if you click Use Stacks again, everything will fly back into place, resorting your unruly desktop in the process.

Dark Mode

When Apple announced Mojave back at WWDC, Dark Mode got far and away the biggest response from the crowd. That’s what you get for putting on a show in a room full of developers. Of course, they’re not the only ones who’ve been champing at the bit for the feature. Videographers, photographers — really anyone who spends a lot of time staring at screens in dark rooms will likely appreciate the option.

When the feature is enabled, those applications that support it will default to the mode. The borders and backgrounds turn dark and white text is highlighted on a black background. In my Mojave first look a few months back, I lamented the lack of apps supporting the feature. At the time, Dark Mode was largely the realm of Apple’s own apps. Mail, Contacts, Calendar, and Safari Reader are among them.

Understandably so. Lead by example, I guess. Things have improved a bit since then. According to the site Dark Mode List, which aggregates examples from both macOS and iOS, there are at least 78 applications that currently support the feature .

It’s a start, but there’s still a long ways to go. After all, you lose some of the effect when you switch back and forth between apps that do and don’t offer the setting. For example, while Safari supports it, neither Firefox nor Chrome do. Also, some of Apple’s own, not pre-installed applications don’t support it either, including Pages. That said, the list is understandably pretty heavy on developer tools.

With Mojave launching today, however, I’d anticipate that we’re going to see more companies rolling out the option soon. In the meantime, it’s a handy feature for those who need it and it’s a nice option for the rest of us.

Dynamic Desktop is a fun addition — though there are two options at the moment. there’s the standard Mojave sand dune, and Solar Gradient. Both shift during the day, gradually darkening as the sun starts going down. It’s a nice complement to Dark Mode, and a neat spin on the blue light reducing Night Shift feature that’s been around for a while now. Of course, more wallpaper options would be welcome.


Okay, this is one of those ones I know I’m going to get a lot more use out of than most of you normal folks. Day to day, however, I’d say this is the feature I interact with the most. When you take a screenshot, a small thumbnail pops up in the bottom, right hand corner of the screen, similar to what you get on iOS.

It stays for a few seconds and then quickly slides off screen. It’s a quick and handy way to see if you got the job done. You can also click into the thumbnail to open it up to full size and edit it accordingly. Screenshots can now be saved to a number of different destinations to help avoid messing up your desktop, including Preview, Messages, Mail, Documents and Clipboard.

There’s a new control panel accessible by hitting Shift-Command-5. From here, you can capture the entire screen, capture a window, select a portion of the screen, record a video of the full screen or just record a piece of the screen. I used those last bits with a little less regularity, but all of the above really came in handy when putting together the images for this writeup.

Continuity Camera is a new feature worth mentioning in the same breath. It’s yet another avenue where the company is able to flex its cross-device functionality. The somewhat clunkily named feature is built into updates to first-party apps like Pages, Keynote, Numbers, Notes, Mail, Messages and Text Edit.

Once in the program, click Take Photo and it will utilize a connected iPhone or iPad to capture media. Take the shot, click Use Photo and boom, the image is inserted into the application. It’s a clever feature that works like a charm, though I’ll be honest — I haven’t found a ton of applications for it in my own life. The number of times I’ve been writing something on my laptop I felt would be enhanced by taking a shot of something nearby have been fairly limited, thus far.

That said, I could certainly see using it to scan a document into a PDF being a handy one. I probably could/should have used then when applying for a Chinese visa a few months back. With so many of these new features, however, the trick is making a point to make it a part of your workflow.


Gallery View is a nice tweak on the old Apple Cover flow feature, offering large thumbnails of files, with smaller, scrollable versions down below. Here, however, you get a full, straight on shot of the image. It’s particularly useful when scrolling through a lot of images quickly.

The addition of full metadata is clearly another bit aimed at appealing to professionals. Click a photo and you get a LOT of information in the side pane — more than most users will likely know what to do with. Along with the standard file size and dimensions, Apple now serves up things like camera model, aperture number and other EXIF data.

Quick Actions, meanwhile, brings some iPhone-style editing tools to the bottom of the side pane. From here, you can rotate an image — which is actually pretty helpful in my line of work — or mark it up in a number ways, including highlighting and the adding in a signature, a la Adobe PDF. Apple’s actually made Preview a bit redundant here, by bringing some of its best features directly to the desktop.

iOS apps on desktop

This is arguably the most interesting addition from an overall strategy perspective. Apple made a point of assuring its audience of developers and users that macOS and iOS are not merging, as has long been rumored. We all breathed a collective sigh of relief, before the company showed off one new way in which the lines are being further blurred.

The company is making it easier to convert mobile apps into a desktop versions. Why? For one thing, Apple would love it if more desktop applications were purchased through the Mac App Store — there are plenty of economic, ecosystem and security reasons for this, most of which should be fairly obvious. It’s also in the company’s best interest to have its most popular developers creating content for all of its platforms.

To kick things off, Apple made three of its own first-party apps available in desktop form: Voice Memos, Stocks, Home and News. Of the three, News is the one that’s made its way into my heavy rotation. It seems a bit silly to have a standalone news app, with all of the access desktop browsers afford. But after installing it and walking through the curation process, I’ve grown to appreciate the desktop notifications for breaking news.

Again, there are a thousand other ways to access that information, but News is a handy one-stop shop. That said, I rarely found myself interacting directly with the app. I mostly clicked through interesting notifications as they popped through. Thankfully, they never came through with too much frequency, which would be absolutely maddening.

Voice Memo is an interesting addition, as well. The cloud sharing with iOS devices is the killer app here. You can record something on your iPhone and listen to and edit it on the desktop. The use for desktop recording is a bit less clear. In most cases, it probably makes more sense to pull out your smartphone to record.

The gesture makes it clear that you’re recording the other person, it’s easier to move to device closer to the source of audio, and you don’t have to deal with the sound of your own typing during the recording process.

The desktop versions of iOS apps are also interesting from a UX perspective. Aside from scaling, not all that much appears to be tweaked — and that’s kind of the point. It’s a heck of a lot easier to essentially port something over than it is to rebuild from the ground up. Of course, without a touchscreen Mac, you’re interfacing with the applications through the cursor. In a few of my less proud moments, if found my hand wanting to reach out to tap the screen.

This is particularly the case with Home. The desktop version of Apple’s smart home app retains the square tiles from its predecessors. Still, the inclusion of the app in this original quartet makes sense from a user stand point. It’s handy, having access to all your connected home info in a single place accessible at work or on the road.

Odds and ends

Okay, time to bust out the bullet points.

  • That 32-person FaceTime chat is arriving some time later this fall on macOS. That will be a fun one to test — and I suspect a bit more manageable on a larger screen.
  • Both the Mac App Store and iTunes have gotten makeovers. The updates are in keeping with the company’s push toward editorial curation to help drive engagement. Anything that pays more humans to write about things like music is a good thing, in my book.
  • Your Mac will now ask for consent when apps access your camera or microphone, similar to what the company does on the iPhone. I people won’t be in a rush to remove the masking tape from their webcams, but this is definitely a good thing.
  • Safari’s protections have been beefed up. Passwords are stronger and last year’s cookie-busting Intelligent has been beefed up. Per Apple,

When you browse the web, the characteristics of your device can be used by advertisers to create a “fingerprint” to track you. Safari now thwarts this by only sharing a simplified system profile. And now improved Intelligent Tracking Prevention keeps embedded content such as social media Like buttons, Share buttons, and comment widgets from tracking you without your permission.

Time to upgrade

Is Mojave worth the upgrade? Well, yeah, duh. It’s free and brings a number of interesting new features. I’m not sure I’d call it a “love letter to developers,” to borrow a phrase from our iMac Pro review, but coupled with that new hardware, Apple’s clearly letting creatives know that there’s a place for them in the Mac’s future.

Your mileage will vary, of course, but I’ve found plenty of new features that integrate nicely into my own workflow. Stacks, Dark Mode and improved screenshots have all proven handy in the months I’ve been running the beta on both my work and personal systems. The final version of the operating system drops today for everyone, so you can partake without in all of those with a much more certainty.

Source: Tech Crunch

License caps and CCTV among ride-hailing rule changes urged in report to UK gov’t

License caps and CCTV among ride-hailing rule changes urged in report to UK gov’t

Uber and similar services could be facing caps on the number of licenses for vehicles that can operate ride-hailing services in London and other UK cities under rule changes being recommended to the government.

CCTV being universally installed inside licensed taxis and private hire vehicles for safety purposes is another suggestion.

A working group in the UK’s Department for Transport has published a report urging a number of changes intended to modernize the rules around taxis and private hire vehicles to take account of app-based technology changes which have piled extra pressure on already long outdated rules.

In addition to suggesting that local licensing authorities should have the power to cap vehicle licenses, the report includes a number of other recommendations that could also have an impact on ride-hailing businesses, such as calling for drivers to be able to speak and write English to a standard that would include being able to deal with “emergency and other challenging situations”; and suggesting CCTV should be universally installed in both taxis and PHVs (“subject to strict data protection measures”) — to mitigate safety concerns for passengers and drivers.

The report supports maintaining the current two-tier system, so keeping a distinction between ‘plying for hire’ and ‘prebooking’, although it notes that technological advancement has “blurred the distinction between the two trades” — and so suggests the introduction of a statutory definition of both.

“This definition should include reviewing the use of technology and vehicle ‘clustering’ as well as ensuring taxis retain the sole right to be hailed on streets or at ranks. Government should convene a panel of regulatory experts to explore and draft the definition,” it suggests.

Legislation for national minimum standards for taxi and PHV licensing — for drivers, vehicles and operators — is another recommendation, though with licensing authorities left free to set additional higher standards if they wish.

The report, which has 34 recommendations in all, also floats the idea that how companies treat drivers, in terms of pay and working conditions, should be taken into account by licensing authorities when they are determining whether or not to grant a license.

The issues of pay and exploitation by gig economy platform operators has risen up the political agenda in the UK in recent years — following criticism over safety and a number of legal challenges related to employment rights, such as a 2016 employment tribunal ruling against Uber. (Its first appeal also failed.)

“The low pay and exploitation of some, but not all, drivers is a source of concern,” the report notes. “Licensing authorities should take into account any evidence of a person or business flouting employment law, and with it the integrity of the National Living Wage, as part of their test of whether that person or business is ‘fit and proper’ to be a PHV or taxi operator.”

UK MP Frank Field, who this summer published a critical report on working conditions for Deliveroo riders, said the recommendations in the working group’s report put Uber “on notice”.

“In my view, operators like Uber will need to initiate major improvements in their drivers’ pay and conditions if they are to be deemed ‘fit and proper’,” he said in a response statement. “The company has been put on notice by this report.”

Though the report’s recommendation on this front do not go far enough for some. Also responding in a statement, the IWGB UPHD’s branch chair, James Farrar — who was one of the former Uber drivers who successfully challenged the company at an employment tribunal — criticized the lack of specific minimum wage guarantees for drivers.

“While the report has some good recommendations, it fails to deal with the most pressing issue for minicab drivers — the chronic violation of minimum wage laws by private hire companies such as Uber,” he said. “By proposing to give local authorities the power to cap vehicle licenses rather than driver licenses, the recommendations risk giving more power to large fleet owners like Addison Lee, while putting vulnerable workers in an even more precarious position.

“Just days after the New York City Council took concrete action to guarantee the minimum wage, this report falls short of what’s needed to tackle the ongoing abuses of companies operating in the so-called ‘gig economy’.”

We’ve reached out to Uber for comment on the report.

Field added that he would be pushing for additional debate in parliament on the issues raised and to “encourage the government to safeguard drivers’ living standards by putting this report into action”.

“In the meantime, individual licensing authorities have an important part to play by following New York’s lead in using their licensing policies to guarantee living wage rates for drivers,” he also said.

London’s transport regulator, TfL, has been lobbying for licensing authorities to be given the power cap the number of private hire vehicles in circulation for several years, as the popularity of ride-hailing has led to a spike in for-hire car numbers on London’s streets, making it more difficult for TfL to manage knock-on issues such as congestion and air quality (which are policy priorities for London’s current mayor).

And while TfL can’t itself (yet) impose an overall cap on PHV numbers it has proposed and enacted a number of regulatory tweaks, such as English language proficiency tests for drivers — changes that companies such as Uber have typically sought to push back against.

Earlier this year TfL also published a policy statement, setting out a safety-first approach to regulating ride-sharing. And, most famously, it withdrew Uber’s licence to operate in 2017.

Though the company has since successfully appealed, after making a number of changes to how it operates in the UK, gaining a provisional 15-month license to operate in London this summer. But clearly any return to Uber’s ‘bad old days‘ would be dealt very short shrift.

In the UK primary legislation would be required to enable local licensing authorities to be able to cap PHV licenses themselves. But the government is now being urged to do so by the DfT’s own working group, ramping up the pressure for it act — though with the caveat that any such local caps should be subject to “a public interest test” to prove need.

“This can help authorities to solve challenges around congestion, air quality and parking and ensure appropriate provision of taxi and private hire services for passengers, while maintaining drivers’ working conditions,” the report suggests.

Elsewhere, the report recommends additional changes to rules to improve access to wheelchair accessible vehicles; beef up enforcement against those that flout rules; as well as to support disability awareness training for drivers.

The report also calls on the government to urgently review the evidence and case for restricting the number of hours that taxi and PHV drivers can drive on the same safety grounds that restrict hours for bus and lorry drivers.

It also suggests a mandatory national database of all licensed taxi and PHV drivers, vehicles and operators, be established — to support stronger enforcement, generally, across all its recommended rule tweaks.

It’s not yet clear how the government will respond to the report, nor whether it will end up taking forward all or only some of the recommendations.

Although it’s under increased pressure to act to update regulations in this area, with the working group critically flagging ministers’ failure to act following a Law Commission review the government commissioned, back in 2011, writing: “It is deeply regrettable that the Government has not yet responded to the report and draft bill which the Commission subsequently published in 2014. Had the government acted sooner the concerns that led to the formation of this Group may have been avoided.”

Source: Tech Crunch

Slack acquires Astro to conquer email

Slack acquires Astro to conquer email

Slack announced today that it has acquired Astro, the Bay Area startup behind email assistant, Astrobot. The deal, which marks Slack’s largest to date, will go a ways toward helping the popular enterprise chat platform achieve its vision of fully integrating workplace mainstays like email and calendars into its channels.

As Slack notes, the company hopefully predicted last year that channels would usurp other forms of business comms in the next seven or so years. Achieving that optimistic goal, however, will mean convincing business users to shift from mainstays like email.

“We’ve taken some steps to make it possible to integrate email into Slack,” the company writes, “but now we’re in a position to make that interoperability much simpler and much, much more powerful. Our goal is to make it as easy as possible to help teams shift conversations to where they would be most productive — in a channel, alongside the relevant context and software tools teams use at work, from ServiceNow and Salesforce to Workday and Box.”

Astro was founded in 2015 by Zimbra cofounders, Andy Pflaum, Roland Schemers and Ross Dargahi. Last year, it introduced Astrobot (along with $8.3 million in funding), a Slack app that integrates email and calendars directly into the chat platform. Among other things, it lets users search both at once, without leaving Slack.

“And as we explored with Slack how to bring together messaging, email and calendar,” Astro wrote in a blog post announcing the move, “it became evident that we would have the biggest impact on workplace communications and realize our original vision by joining Slack.

The standalone Mac, iOS, Android, Amazon Alexa, and Slack apps will be shut down on October, with signups for new users being disabled immediately. Existing users will still have access to changes made through the app, courtesy of syncing. Most of the company’s roughly 30 or so employees will be making the transition to Slack. 

Source: Tech Crunch

Sony is bundling Red Dead Redemption 2 with a 1TB PlayStation 4 Pro

Sony is bundling Red Dead Redemption 2 with a 1TB PlayStation 4 Pro

Considering it’s been eight years since Red Dead Redemption came out, it’s no surprise that fans of the franchise are ravenous for the next installment of the game, which launches October 26.

Last week, Rockstar Games offered some publications the opportunity to preview the game, giving gamers even more to salivate over. But Sony is offering a way to take action.

Sony is offering a RDR2 + PlayStation 4 Pro bundle that actually makes sense for the game. Instead of changing up the physical design of the console, Sony is offering 1TB of storage on a jet black PS4 Pro alongside the RDR2 disc and a dual-shock controller.

Now, for a game like Red Dead Redemption, which offers a massive open world to explore and an extensive campaign, storage is key. That storage will come in handy for folks playing Red Dead alongside other games without forcing those players to make decisions about what to keep and what to delete.

Pre-orders for the bundle went live today on Amazon for customers in the U.S. and Canada, and costs $399 or $499 CAD.

Source: Tech Crunch

FabFitFun expands its video reach with a new experiment in live programming

FabFitFun expands its video reach with a new experiment in live programming

The Los Angeles-based women’s subscription box and media business FabFitFun is expanding its video catalog with the launch of new live programming set to coincide with the launch of its latest seasonal box.

FabFitFun is creating a new slate of live programming which will air every day on its Facebook page from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Pacific and is set to feature interactive product showcases, beauty demonstrations, DIY projects, and a game show.

It’s an expansion of video efforts that the company began last year with the launch of a new app for AppleTV and Amazon Fire.

FabFitFun also has been streaming live shows on its Facebook page; experimenting with subjects like sale previews, product showcases, and “Founder Chats” between its co-founder and editor-in-chief Katie Rosen Kitchens and various entrepreneurs. In early 2017, the company debuted its streaming FabFitFunTV, which includes shows focused on health and fitness, cooking, dating & relationships, and do it yourself projects.

The new slate of live programming will run from Sept. 24 to Oct. 5 and will include sneak peaks of the company’s Fall Edit Sale; industry experts for in-studio demos on fashion, beauty, fitness and hair; an expansion of the company’s produced FabFitFun TV content; and a game show called “the Fab Challenge”, where viewers can compete to win prizes.

With the push into live television, FabFitFun moves one step closer toward the vision of creating a millennial version of morning programming like the Today show or something like the Home Shopping Network . Daytime appointment television isn’t what it used to be, but the format does appeal to brands both historic and new.

“Initially we’re doing it in conjunction with the sales we have,” says Michael Broukhim, co-chief executive of FabFitFun. “The plan is to build on that. Make it more than just seasonal. Our goal is what is cheddar for women with commerce and community deeply integrated into it… As we learn about which formats are successful we’ll double down on those.”

Source: Tech Crunch

Facebook expands its video Ad Breaks to 21 new countries

Facebook expands its video Ad Breaks to 21 new countries

Facebook Ad Breaks, the social network’s pre-roll and mid-roll video ads, are launching in 21 new countries.

Facebook announced that Ad Breaks were generally available last month in five countries: the United States, United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. Now it’s adding territories in Europe, Latin and South America and Asia to the list.

Maria Smith, Facebook’s director of product for the news feed and media monetization, noted that Facebook first started testing these ad units more than a year ago.

“We started very conservatively,” she said. “It’s a very new initiative for us … We needed to get the user experience right.”

In particular, she said the company found that that these ads work best with longer videos, which is why there’s now a minimum length of three minutes.

Facebook has rolled out other improvements too, like the ability to automatically detect the best moments to insert the ad (though video publishers can still place the Ad Breaks manually, if they choose).

“As you watch a video, there are points in this video where the pause or Ad Break feels natural to the viewer,” Smith said. “For example, between scenes, or where it doesn’t interrupt speech, where the story line feels good to take a break — those are all signals” used to select Ad Break locations.

Facebook Ad Break

Beyond the minimum length for individual videos, Facebook also requires that Pages participating in the Ad Breaks program have at least 10,000 followers and need to have received at least 30,000 one-minute views on videos that are at least one minute long. They also need to meet Facebook’s general monetization standards.

The Ad Breaks sign-up page will now automatically tell creators whether they’re eligible to participate. Smith described these standards as a way to ensure “a really positive experience” for video creators, advertisers and regular users. (After concerns that ads were being played before inappropriate or controversial content, YouTube set a higher bar for eligibility earlier this year, though that’s led to widespread complaints from creators.)

Here are the new countries where Ad Breaks are generally available: Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Peru and Thailand. As part of this expansion, Facebook is adding support for five new languages, namely French, German, Portuguese, Spanish and Thai.

“We’re making sure we’re very thoughtful, rolling this out in phases,” Smith said. “As we get ready to honor our commitment to our partners to enable them to monetize, we’re very excited.”

Source: Tech Crunch

Apple closes its $400M Shazam acquisition and says the music recognition app will soon become ad free

Apple closes its 0M Shazam acquisition and says the music recognition app will soon become ad free

Last year, we broke the news that Apple was buying the music recognition startup and app Shazam for about $400 million, and nearly one year later, the deal has finally closed. Today, Apple announced that it has completed the acquisition, and that it would soon be making the service ad free to use for everyone, removing the app’s ad-supported free tier.

“Apple and Shazam have a long history together. Shazam was one of the first apps available when we launched the App Store and has become a favorite app for music fans everywhere,” said Oliver Schusser, Apple’s vice president of Apple Music, in a statement. “With a shared love of music and innovation, we are thrilled to bring our teams together to provide users even more great ways to discover, experience and enjoy music.”

It’s not clear how Apple longer term will integrate Shazam’s core product into its service — a pretty clever piece of technology that can identify a song by hearing a fragment of it. The two main directions appear to be to let it continue to remain a standalone app longer term, or to subsume part or all of it into a bigger Apple Music offering. (The two are not mutually exclusive.)

At $400 million — a figure confirmed to us by several sources when we were first reporting on the deal — Shazam is one of Apple’s biggest acquisitions both in music and overall, and it underscores the amount of investment that the iPhone maker is willing to put into expanding its role as a force not just in hardware, but in the services that run on that hardware.

In music, it’s in hot competition with over-the-top providers like Spotify — which, along with Snap, was also looking into buying Shazam — and Pandor, (which is now going to be a part of SiriusXM. Other notable Apple acquisitions specifically in music have included the acquisition of Beats, which became the basis of Apple Music, which Apple acquired for $3 billion in 2014.

In May, Apple announced that it has passed the 50 million user mark for Apple Music.

The deal comes three weeks after the EU finally gave a green light to the deal after Apple first made public its intention to buy the startup. (We write “startup” only in name: it was venture-backed to the tune of about $143 million but had been around since 1999.)

The app has hundreds of millions of users and had passed 1 billion downloads back in September 2016, but it had never managed to turn a profit.

In September 2017, Shazam reportedly made £40.3 million ($54 million) in revenues in its 2016 fiscal year, which was a turnaround from the declines between FY 2014 and 2015. It made a statutory pre-tax loss of £4 million ($5.3 million) in 2016, which was still a loss but significantly smaller than the £16.6 million loss in FY 2015.

Although it is one of the most popular apps in the music category, Apple was not found to be making an antitrust violation in buying it.

“Any concerns in that respect were dismissed because Shazam’s data is not unique and Apple’s competitors would still have the opportunity to access and use similar databases,” the EU noted in its approval earlier this month.

More to come.

Source: Tech Crunch

Hulu is first to live stream TV to Amazon’s Echo Show

Hulu is first to live stream TV to Amazon’s Echo Show

Amazon’s Echo Show will apparently also work like a little TV, not just a visual interface for Alexa and her many apps. When the newly announced 10-inch HD screen Echo Show begins shipping next month, it will offer support for Hulu – the first live streaming TV service to work on the screen-based Alexa device. Users will be able to tune into Hulu with Live TV using just their voice, by saying things like “Alexa, play…” followed by the name of TV show, movie or channel.

Amazon also tells us that the streaming won’t be limited to only the new Echo Show devices – the first gen Echo Show will support live streaming, too.

Company execs at Amazon said at an event last week that one of the primary use cases for Echo Show was in the kitchen – and the new device takes particular advantage of that, by offering step-by-step cooking instructions from apps like Kitchen Stories, Allrecipes, Epicurious, Food52, TheKitchn and SideChef.

But there are many other times you’re working in the kitchen, but not following a specific recipe, when you’d rather just have the TV on to keep you entertained instead. That’s where Hulu’s live streaming service comes in. You could have the news on, or a game, or whatever else you want to watch while you prep your meal.

Hulu was one of two TV apps announced for Echo Show, the other being NBC. But Hulu is the only one for now that supports live streamed TV.

As to why Hulu would bother building for what is still a fairly niche Echo device – after all, the top seller is the entry-level Dot, not the Show by any means – the company says it’s about engagement.

Since launching a voice app on Fire TV last November, Hulu says that those who use Alexa watch double the number of hours of content, compared with those who use remotes.

Separately from its live-streaming plans for Echo Show, Hulu also announced a redesigned web version last week. The updated site now supports multiple windows, picture-in-picture mode while browsing, and support for Chromecast.

Source: Tech Crunch