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CES2020: The Rise of AI and Personalized Wellness

CES, the largest tech event of the year, is no stranger to the extremely cool, strange, repetitive or revolutionary when it comes to technology. Although the show boasts thousands of different types of technologies and products, certain themes and trends are pervasive throughout the week. 

After putting in about 18.5 miles in less than 3 days, I reflected on the few days of sensory overload and everything I had experienced. Many of the conversations I had during the conference revolved around personalized health, connected vehicle ecosystems, smart cities and artificial intelligence (AI). While there were more than a few companies exhibiting at the show attempting to be the next Peloton or claiming their ear pods rival Apple’s Air Pods, I was grateful to not have to endure too many of those conversations. 

Smart City Concepts

With 5G rolling out and the IoT industry maturing, smart cities are the inevitable next move to take advantage of all IoT has to offer. At CES, there was no shortage of smart city concepts to experience. From miniature models that included autonomous cars and helicopters to vehicles that deliver groceries, companies have invested a lot of time and money into building the next generation of automation for our every day lives. The one concept that CES really drove home was that the future of tech is all connected. Smart cities don’t exist without AI or without connected “things” and autonomous vehicles. 

As our infrastructure ages, it becomes all too important for tech companies and their partners to understand how to build, secure and launch a connected future. Smart cities will rely on IoT sensors to understand water and energy consumption, traffic patterns and more. How we understand, control and initiate change based on the data collected in these smart cities will have a direct reflection on whether or not smart cities can be both a sustainable and practical way of life. 

Toyota brought to life their proposed prototype “Woven City” at the conference this year. The concept Toyota used for their booth was inspiring. With a circular fabric set up to display live-action examples of how the city of the future will work, Toyota immersed visitors in their Woven City through sound, video and a 360-degree experience. 

The city will be built as a fully connected ecosystem powered by hydrogen fuel cells at the base of Mt. Fuji in Japan by 2021. This smart city is being hailed as a “living laboratory” where residents and researchers will utilize the from-scratch infrastructure to test and develop numerous technologies including robotics, smart homes and autonomy. Toyota is only one of several companies taking a techno-utopian approach to their plans for the city of the future. 

According to the Danish architect behind the city, Bjarke Ingels, “…connected, autonomous, emission-free and shared mobility solutions are bound to unleash a world of opportunities for new forms of urban life. With the breadth of technologies and industries that we have been able to access and collaborate with from the Toyota ecosystem of companies, we believe we have a unique opportunity to explore new forms of urbanity with the Woven City that could pave new paths for other cities to explore.”

As Toyota takes a step into the future, so too do other tech companies. Sprint, for example, will be utilizing their True Mobile 5G and Curiosity™ IoT in areas across the United States, including Greeneville, SC and Arizona State University in Tempe, AZ.

The combination of Sprint Curiosity™ IoT with advanced network deployment has set the stage for building a truly smart city. Sprint and their partners are developing and deploying connected vehicles, autonomous services/machines and other smart technologies in conditions that reflect what future smart cities will look like. This allows researchers and developers to operate, navigate and react in real-time with real-world scenarios – preparing us for the city of the future. 

The Next Step in Mobility and Autonomous Vehicles

One of, if not the biggest, draw of CES is the automotive section. Everything from flying taxis to augmented reality cars and the latest models are on display at the event. I had the great pleasure of speaking with several experts in the autonomous industry including Blackberry and RTI.

During CES, Blackberry announced two partnerships including the advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and an autonomous vehicle platform that will integrate BlackBerry QNX’s real-time operating system with Renovo’s intelligent automotive data platform. Renovo and QNX are jointly developing safety-critical data management tools for connected and autonomous vehicles with the plan to scale safety systems in new cars. Currently, Blackberry’s QNX is already in 150 million cars on the road today. 

I spoke with Kaivan Karimi, Senior Vice President and Co-Head of BlackBerry Technology Solutions about the importance of native and secure technology and data collection in our connected and autonomous vehicles. With technology now embedded in cars before they hit the lots, Karimi expressed how vehicles are becoming a vital component of the infrastructure of smart cities.

As we put the groundwork in now for how cities will look in the future, he also noted the importance of building infrastructure based on the data that these vehicles are collecting from Renovo’s data management system and AI pipeline. Blackberry’s focus on safe and secure technology combined with Renovo’s data capabilities is only one example of how partnerships between private companies, the government, public entities and citizens of the world are necessary for being able to manage connected car data in a safe, secure and private way. 

In addition to Blackberry, Real-Time Innovations (RTI), an IIoT connectivity company, is working on the future of autonomous driving. 

Bob Leigh, Senior Market Development Director, Autonomous Systems at RTI shared with me that RTI believes “that the advancement of autonomous driving will be transformative to industry and society. Right now, automotive and tech companies are grappling with the complexity of the new technology, how to bring it to market, and what business models will ultimately be successful. At CES this year, we saw [that the industry] is much more specific in how they are tackling the challenge; differentiating their technology between advanced ADAS, Level 2+ and Level 4 Autonomy levels. We think this is a sign of the maturing market and the industry as a whole becoming more confident in how they will deliver their first commercial products. At CES 2020 it was clear the exact future of autonomous cars may still be unclear, but there was much more confidence in the path to making this technology real.” 

Personalized Wellness

Human behavior is a peculiar thing. Whether it’s a daily skincare routine, morning yoga or meditation, we are creatures of habit. Technology is advancing the way we personalize our health in those habits. Any marketer will tell you that human connection is the number one way to convince users to buy. If you can find a way to meet consumers where they are and solve their pain points, buyers will be more likely to choose your product. A company’s ethos as well as how it approaches customer satisfaction is of utmost importance as we saturate the market with new solutions, cool tech and products. 

Neutrogena relaunched its NEUTROGENA Skin360™ app this year to democratize skin health information. I spoke with the team, including Global Communications Lead of Beauty and Baby at Johnson & Johnson, Michelle Dionne, who explained and walked me through the app. Skin360™ utilizes advanced skin imaging, behavior coaching and artificial intelligence to empower consumers with actionable, personalized steps to help achieve their skin health goals. 

The original app that launched in 2018 required a skin scanning tool. So why did they relaunch in 2019? The team at Neutrogena put their customers first. They took into consideration valuable insight from consumers who sought personalized recommendations, science-backed information, expert opinions, skincare product tracking and how routine care affects our facial skin health over time. 

The team also added the Neutrogena AI Assistant (NAIA). NAIA is a personal skincare coach that builds a relationship with each user through in-app and text messaging. NAIA uses AI and behavior change techniques to determine each individual’s skincare personality, what their current approach to care is and their current routine. Once you’ve added your information to the app and complete a 180-degree selfie analysis, the app will give you a score for wrinkles, fine lines, dark under-eye circles, dark spots and smoothness.

NAIA then helps users identify and build a personal 8-week skincare goal and routine based on the skin scores and a self-assessment of sleep, exercise, stress levels, external factors, etc. that is monitored and supported through coaching. This allows users to personalize their routine and place importance on various skin attributes such as moisture and tone.

In addition to continuing to accept user feedback and iterate on their app and AI technology, Neutrogena is combining their 360 app with MaskiD, a micro 3D printed facemask that is custom to face shape and structure, formulated with concern-specific ingredients on different areas of your face. Although they won’t be available until later this year, be on the lookout for these masks as they will be both personalized and affordable. Side note: I’ve used the app several times already since being introduced to it last week.

This year at CES, Panasonic also took into consideration how consumers are placing increased attention on their physical and mental health states with the launch of their ‘Human Insight Technology’. 

With Panasonic’s human insight technology, users are provided with data to make recommendations to improve an individual’s experience in the home.

Human insight technology uses non-invasive sensors and imaging to capture and interpret data based on human habits and behaviors. Panasonic demonstrated this technology through an interactive yoga studio. Through analysis of physical stress data, Pansonic was able to design products and environments optimized for typical human movements and physiology. At CES, participants can see human insight technology in action through an interactive yoga studio using the Yoga Synchro Visualizer.

Your face and body are scanned, and the technology prompts you to follow commands. The cameras and sensors recognize human motion and provide users with multiple scores including a pose, fatigue, stability, flow and stress. The best part? You’re able to see the physical representation of the changes taking place in your body while performing your yoga routine. 

AI Home Ecosystems

Among the flooded convention center floors and wave of beautiful displays, you’re more likely than not to have run into companies that are incorporating AI assistants and technology into their products in some way. The smart home industry, in particular, is embedding AI into their ecosystems. 

For example, Sharp has a vision of People-Oriented IoT according to Executive Vice President and Head of AIoT Business Strategy Office, Bob Ishida. With over 150 products in 10 categories, Sharp is rolling out products that meet lifestyle and culture needs. Sharp is only one of many companies that showcased AIoT and 8K solutions that “will explore new possibilities for computers to offer innovative experiences to both business users and individual consumers around the world.”

LG is another example of a company using AI to improve the home ecosystem. Revealed in 2019, LGThinQ artificial intelligence was on full display. LG’s slogan for AI: “anywhere is home”. From kitchen appliances to washing machines and personal wardrobes, all of LG’s appliances are using AI as a consumer experience. Washers are learning how users like certain types of clothing washed and air conditioners are adjusting automatically to your comfortability settings. 

IoT Takeover

As I walked the convention floor with little spare time, I was curious about the prevalence of IoT at CES. Although I had to explain more than a handful of times what IoT is and how it works (simple explanation of IoT), even those that didn’t know it by name were utilizing some element or elements tied deeply to the IoT industry. 

From sensors to AI, 5G and the future of mobility, CES 2020 made a few things clear: partnerships are necessary for how we will build a connected future; personalized wellness is becoming a need to have instead of a nice to have and AI is becoming less of a buzzword and more of an actuality. 

Source: IoT For All

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Mojo Vision’s AR contact lenses are very cool, but many questions remain

Companies keep trying to make glassholes happen. Understandably. After the smartphone and the wrist, the face is the next local battlefield for computational space, if decades of science fiction movies have taught us anything. But we’ve seen the Google Glass, the Snapchat Spectacles, The Magic Leap, the whatever that thing that Samsung just semi-announced was.

Contact lenses have been mentioned in that same conversation for some time, as well, but technical limitations have placed the bar much higher than a heads-up display standard pair of spectacles. California-based Mojo Vision has been working on the breakthrough for a number of years now, and has a lofty sum to show for it, with $108 million in funding, including a $58 million Series B closed back in March.

The technology is compelling, certainly. I met with the team in a hotel suite at CES last week and got a walkthrough of some of the things they’ve been working on. While executives say they’ve been dogfooding the technology for some time now, the demos were still pretty far removed from an eventual in-eye augmented reality contact lens.

Rather, two separate demos essentially involved holding a lens or device close to my eye in order to get a feel for what an eventual product would look like. The reason was two-fold. First, most of the work is still being done off-device at the moment, while Mojo works to perfect a system that can exist within the confines of a contact while only needing to be charged once in a 25-hour cycle. Second, the issue of trying on a pair of contacts during a brief CES meeting.

I will say that I was impressed by the heads-up display capabilities. In the most basic demo, monochrome text resembling a digital clock is overlaid on images. Here, miles per hour are shown over videos of people running. The illusion has some depth to it, with the numbers appearing as though they’re a foot or so out.

In another demo, I donned an HTC Vive. Here I’m shown live video of the room around me (XR, if you will), with notifications. The system tracks eye movements, so you can focus on a tab to expand it for more information. It’s a far more graphical interface than the other example, with full calendars, weather forecasts and the like. You can easily envision how the addition of a broader color palette could give rise to some fairly complex AR imagery.

Mojo is using CES to announce its intentions to start life as a medical device. In fact, the FDA awarded the startup a Breakthrough Device Designation, meaning the technology will get special review priority from the government body. That’s coupled with a partnership with Bay Area-based Vista Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

That ought to give a good idea of Mojo’s go to market plans. Before selling itself as an AR-for-everyone device, the company is smartly going after visual impairments. It should occupy similar space as many of the “hearable” companies that have applied for medical device status to offer hearing-enhancing Bluetooth earbuds. Working with the FDA should go a ways toward helping fast-track the technology into optometrist offices.

The idea is to have them prescribed in a similar fashion as contact lenses, while added features like night vision will both aid people with visual impairments and potentially make those with better vision essentially bionic. You’ll go to a doctor, get prescribed, the contact lenses will be mailed to you and should last about the length of a normal pair. Obviously they’ll be pricier, of course, and questions about how much insurance companies will shell out still remain.

In their final state, the devices should last a full day, recharging in a cleaning case in a manner not dissimilar from AirPods (though those, sadly, don’t also clean the product). The lenses will have a small radio on-board to communicate with a device that hangs around the neck and relays information to and from a smartphone. I asked whether the plan was to eventually phase out the neck device, to which the company answered that, no, the plan was to phase out the smartphone. Fair play.

I also asked whether the company was working with a neurologist in addition to its existing medical staff. After 10 years of smartphone ubiquity, it seems we’re only starting to get clear data on how those devices impact things like sleep and mental well-being. I have to imagine that’s only going to be exacerbated by the feeling of having those notifications more or less beaming directly into your brain.

Did I mention that you can still see the display when your eyes are closed. Talk about a (pardon my French) mind fuck. There will surely be ways to silence or disable these things, but as someone who regularly falls asleep with his smartphone in-hand, I admit that I’m pretty weak when it comes to the issue of digital dependence. This feels like injecting that stuff directly into my veins, and I’m here for it, until I’m not.

We still have time. Mojo’s still working on the final product. And then it will need medical approval. Hopefully that’s enough time to more concretely answer some of these burning questions, but given how things like screen time have played out, I have some doubts on that front.

Stay tuned on all of the above. We’ll be following this one closely.

CES 2020 coverage - TechCrunch

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Companies take baby steps toward home robots at CES

“I think there are fewer fake robots this year.” I spoke to a lot of roboticists and robot-adjacent folks at this year’s CES, but that comment from Labrador Systems co-funder/CEO Mike Dooley summed up the situation nicely. The show is slowly, but steadily, starting to take robotics more seriously.

It’s true that words like “fake” and “seriously” are quite subjective; surely all of those classified by one of us as the former would take great issue with the tag. It’s also true that there are still many devices that fit firmly within the realm of novelty and hypothetical, both on the show floor and in press conferences, but after a week at CES — including several behind-the-scenes conversations with investors and startups — the consensus seems to be that the show is slowly embracing the more series side of robotics.

I believe the reason for this shift is two-fold. First, the world of consumer robotics hasn’t caught on as quickly as many had planned/hoped. Second, enterprise and industrial robotics actually have. Let’s tackle those points in order.

As my colleague Darrell pointed out in a recent piece, consumer robotics were showing signs of life at this year’s event. However, those who predicted a watershed for the industry after the Roomba’s arrival on the scene some 18 years ago have no doubt been largely disappointed with the ensuing decades.

Source: TechCrunch

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GaN chargers are still worth getting excited about

Listen. Chargers aren’t sexy. You know it. I know it. Charger companies know it, regardless of what they tell you in their pitch deck. Honestly, you’d be hard-pressed to think of too many electronic accessories less utilitarian. Dongles, maybe? Cord wraps?

But I want it known that I’m still capable of being excited about them — even the wired kind — in 2020. Why? Two words: Gallium nitride. The material has a number of key applications, including next-gen wireless technologies. But right now, there’s only one thing I care about: small chargers.

Last year at CES I wrote about a great little charger from Anker. Since then, I’ve upgraded to a 15-inch MacBook Pro and put out the call to a couple of CES companies for something that would fulfill my very specific needs. First, it needs to charge my big computer. Second, I travel a lot, so I’d prefer if it didn’t fall out of the outlets that Delta sticks on their seats.

Seriously, it’s a real problem that I have. This sort of stuff matters on any flight longer than four hours.

Navitas answered the call with a pair of branded GaN chargers from RavPower and Eggtronic, at 61 and 65 watts, respectively. The primary distinction between the two is form factor. RavPower’s $36 charger is bigger and blockier, where as the significantly pricier ($100) Eggtronic lays flush. Honestly, preference comes down to what you need out of a charger. I was able to get both to sit in the Delta outlet, but still had them come loose a few times — which probably says as much about the airline’s outlets as anything.

Also, 61 or 65 watts isn’t going to charge up your system as fast as the standard 85/87 watt brick. It’s better for keeping a system charged, and most great for portable. I’m phasing out the Pixelbook charger I’ve been using and planning to have one or the other in my backpack at all times (along with the standard MacBook charger for long trips). There’s still a ways to go for my ideal charger, but we’re getting there. 

Both are currently available for purchase.

CES 2020 coverage - TechCrunch

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Quibi execs Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman explain their big vision

Last week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Quibi executives — including CEO Meg Whitman and founder/chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg — took the stage in a keynote laying out their vision for the mobile video service.

Katzenberg is a longtime Hollywood executive who led Walt Disney Studios during its animation renaissance in the late ’80s and early ’90s before co-founding Dreamworks Animation. Whitman worked at both Disney and Dreamworks, but she’s best known as the former CEO of eBay and Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

So it’s fitting that they presented Quibi as a company that exists at the intersection of Hollywood and Silicon Valley — as Whitman put it, creating “the very first entertainment technology platform optimized for mobile viewing.”

Source: TechCrunch

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Brunswick and Sea Ray debut a boat loaded with futuristic features at CES

The automobile industry has experienced considerable change when it comes to powertrain and cabin technology features in the past decade, but what about boats? They’re also getting some cutting edge upgrades made possible by the same technologies that are improving the power and performance of smartphones, and Sea Ray debuted a new top-end outboard boat at CES 2020 that puts a lot of that on display in one big, beautiful package.

The Sea Ray SLX-R 400e has one feature in particular that’s brand new and could easily trickle down to other pleasure craft, should it catch on with boaters: The Fathom e-Power system developed by partner Brunswick, which helped Sea Ray put together the innovate SLX-R 400e. This is an electrified part of the seacraft’s powertrain, featuring a lithium-ion battery pack with a high enough storage capacity that it can handle powering al the of the accessory systems on board the boat, including its entertainment features.

The SLX-R 400e’s main engines are still powered by traditional fuel – and there are three 450 hp V8 Mercury outboard engines to drive the 40-foot boat. But the Fathom e-Power system means that when you’re just sitting on the water entertaining up to 21 of your closest friends, you’re not burning fuel, making it “more eco-friendly” and providing more power longer than traditional alternators.

In addition to the e-Power system, the Sea Ray SLX-R 400e also features joystick piloting, giving you more precise control over orientation of the outboards while being user-friendly for people who don’t necessarily have a lot of experience piloting boats.

The cockpit is equally futuristic, with multiple 16-inch displays providing a comprehensive overview of the boat’s status and systems. The boat-wide audio system even boasts AirPlay support for streaming from Apple devices.

This isn’t just a concept: Sea Ray is actually going to be selling this to consumers, with availability set for sometime later this year.

CES 2020 coverage - TechCrunch

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Twitter is bringing twttr’s experiments in threaded conversations to its main app

At last year’s CES, Twitter introduced its first public prototype app, twttr — dubbed “little T” internally at Twitter. The app allows Twitter to develop and experiment with new features in the public, to see what works and what does not. The app’s main focus, to date, has been on making threaded conversations easier to read. Now, the company is ready to graduate the best of twttr to the main Twitter app.

“We’re taking all the different branches — all the different parts of the conversation — and we’re making it so it’s all in one global view,” explained Suzanne Xie, Twitter’s head of Conversations, speaking to reporters at CES 2020. “This means you can easily understand, and get a pulse of what’s happening in the conversation,” she added.

When the changes roll out, you’ll be able to see when the original tweet’s author is replying within a conversation thread. Twitter will also highlight people you’re following and people who are verified.

This way, Xie continues, “you can understand who is talking to who in a conversation.”

In addition, Twitter will release other features that build on top of threaded conversations to the public, including how the user interface reacts when you tap on a reply.

On twttr, when you tap into a reply within a conversation, you get more information about the tweet in question. You can also reply in-line to the tweet. And the reply itself is shaded to differentiate it from the surrounding tweets, when selected.

Threaded conversations also hide some of the replies to keep the conversation more readable — but you can click a link to load more of the replies as you scroll down. Twitter says it personalizes which replies are shown and hidden based on things like who you follow, who you interact with and people you’ve interacted with in the past.

“These are pieces of making this global conversation easier to use — so you don’t have to tab to new screens and go back and forth,” Xie explained.

Despite the initial excitement around Twitter’s new app, twttr, some felt the company didn’t take full advantage of having a public experimental playground. Few other new features beyond threaded conversations were tried out on the testing platform.

To some extent, Twitter’s plans could have been impacted by changes in twttr’s leadership. Twitter in August acquired Xie’s startup Lightwell. Meanwhile, Sara Haider, who had been leading the charge on rethinking the design of conversations on Twitter, which included the release of twttr, announced that she would be moving on to a new project at the company after a short break.

With twttr’s threaded conversations feature making its way to Twitter.com, the plan now is to use twttr to experiment with other conversational features.

For example, twttr may be used to try out new features in the incentives space — meaning, how small tweaks to Twitter’s user interface can influence different types of user behavior.

“Going forward, we’re investing and making a concerted effort, as we try new features and as we change different mechanics, to [determine] what we’re incentivizing and what we’re disincentivizing,” said Xie.

For instance, changing the prompts that Twitter displays when a user goes to compose a tweet or a reply could influence how they choose to respond. This is only one example of the sorts of things Twitter aims to test with Little T, as it’s called.

Twitter says the new threaded conversations features will begin to roll out on Twitter for iOS first, followed by web then Android, sometime in Q1.

CES 2020 coverage - TechCrunch

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At CES, Schneider Electric unveils its own upgrade to the traditional fusebox

As renewable energy and energy efficiency continue to make gains among cost-conscious consumers, more companies are looking at ways to give customers better ways to manage the electricity coming into their homes.

At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Schneider Electric unveiled its pitch to homeowners looking for a better power management system with the company’s Energy Center product.

Think of it as a competitor to products from startups like Span, which are attempting to offer homeowners better ways to integrate renewable energy power generation to their homes and provide better ways to route the electricity inside the home, according to Schneider Electric’s executive vice president for its Home and Distribution division, Manish Pant.

The new product is part of a broader range of Square D home energy management devices that Schneider is aiming at homeowners. The company provides a broad suite of energy management services and technologies to commercial, industrial and residential customers, but is making a more concerted effort into the U.S. residential market beginning in 2020, according to Pant.

Schneider will be looking to integrate batteries and inverters into its Energy Center equipment over the course of the year and is currently looking for partners.

In some ways, the home energy market is ripe for innovation. Fuse boxes haven’t changed in nearly 100 years and there are few startups looking to provide better ways to integrate and manage various sources for electricity generation and storage as they become more cost competitive.

Lumin, and Sense (which is backed by Schneider Energy) also have energy efficiency products they’re pitching to homeowners.

CES 2020 coverage - TechCrunch

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Asus and Samsung roll out the first Chromebooks with Intel’s Project Athena certification

A year after Intel first announced Project Athena — a set of laptop specifications underpinned by Intel processors to build what Intel believes will be the next generation of computers equipped for 5G, AI-based activities, and more responsive work — hardware makers are starting to roll out the first Chromebooks based on the specs, starting with Samsung and ASUS. At CES 2020, Samsung unveiled a new 2-in-1 Galaxy Chromebook, and Asus launched the Chromebook Flip C436. 

The Samsung device will start shipping this quarter, Q1, priced at $999.99; while the ASUS machine is estimated to arrive sometime in Q1 or Q2 and it’s not disclosing pricing.

There will be a lot more to come on Athena later today during Intel’s CES keynote at 4pm Pacific time. Samsung and ASUS’s devices are a sneak peak of sorts and point to how Intel (and Google) are getting an ecosystem on board to raise the performance and feature game of laptops — a consumer electronics category that has otherwise been under pressure and largely stagnating as users opt for smartphones as primary mobile “computing” devices, and connected TV screens for stationary use — making the replacement cycles for laptops longer and longer.

Samsung says that at 9.9mm, this Galaxy Chromebook — which will be available in Fiesta Red and Mercury Gray, both aluminum — is its thinnest yet, and that push to keep making its machines smaller comes also with making them more powerful. No surprise there: with laptops continuing to compete against faster, very media-friendly smartphones, the fact that laptops continue to trump them in other ways become unique selling points.

Its 13-inch screen has a 3.9 mm bezel and comes with an AMOLED display (also a first for a Samsung Chromebook) for 4K UHD resolution, with the machine powered by the Intel’s 10th generation Intel Core i5 processor with Intel Wi-Fi 6 (Gig+). It also comes with built-in-pen support, a fingerprint sensor, Google Assistant and close integration with Samsung Galaxy smartphone services.

“The notion that we do everything stationary at a desk is a thing of the past, and people need premium devices built for our new reality,” said Alanna Cotton, Senior Vice President and General Manager at Samsung Electronics America, in a statement.

The ASUS machine, meanwhile, also has a 13-inch screen but opts to house it in a thicker body at 13.7mm. However, with a magnesium alloy body, its weight is coming in at just 2.4 lbs, making it portable in a different sense to Samsung’s new Chromebook.

Processor specs are the same as the Samsung, and it, too, has stylus support and a fingerprint sensor. An “all-day” battery life specification speaks to the kind of usage and users ASUS is aiming for — like Samsung, possibly someone who is not a student but a working person, and someone who will be a heavy user of the machine, with expectations to match.

“The real-world experiences we’re delivering across instant wake, responsiveness and worry-free battery life that are designed to match the expectations of ambitious, on-the-move people who turn to their premium laptop to get things done,” Josh Newman, Vice President, Client Computing Group General Manager, Mobile Innovation Intel Corporation, in a statement.

The idea with both the Samsung and Asus machines is that the Chromebook is growing up: long a popular model in the education sector, these machines are aiming at an older market of professionals and “prosumers.”

“For years, students have come to love Chrome OS in classrooms around the world—but today, Chromebooks are being used for so much more, by the younger generation and working-professionals alike,” said Kan Liu, Senior Director of Product Management at Google, in a statement. “As we see the demand for premium Chromebook experiences rise, we are investing more and more with partners … to build the next generation of flagship Chromebook product innovations and offerings.”

CES 2020 coverage - TechCrunch

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Amazon’s Fire TV platform now reaches over 40 million monthly active users, topping Roku

Amazon’s Fire TV platform now has over 40 million users, the company announced today. That’s up from the 34 million it claimed in May 2019 and more than the 32.3 million active accounts Roku reported during its Q3 2019 results this past November.

Roku’s “active accounts” figure describes those accounts where users have streamed at least once during the past 30 days, but Roku notes that one Roku account may be shared by multiple members of the same household. However, the same can be said for Fire TV which, like Roku, doesn’t offer an easy interface for switching between different user profiles in order to create a personalized home screen or watch list.

When Fire TV was touting its 34 million users, it had then led Roku by 5 million active accounts. With now 40 million monthly actives, that lead has widened to 7.7 million users. But the two platforms are often very close in terms of user numbers, with Amazon’s lead narrowing when Roku’s earnings are released — as they’ll soon be in early 2020. At that point, Roku will have likely added several million more users to its own figures, keeping the two platforms more neck and neck.

Roku and Fire TV have proven to be fierce competitors, with Roku’s free movies and TV hub, The Roku Channel, spurring Amazon to leverage its IMDb subsidiary to launch a free streaming service, IMDb TV, also a Fire TV feature. Meanwhile, Roku has been developing its own voice control platform to counteract Fire TV’s advantage that comes from including virtual assistant Alexa with its connected TV platform.

And while Roku has benefitted from its reputation as a neutral platform providing access to any streaming service, Amazon has been evolving to better support its rivals’ streaming services, including most recently YouTube, YouTube TV, and Apple TV’s app.

Fire TV’s 40 million monthly actives figure is new today, but other figures about Alexa’s traction that Amazon shared were not. This includes the over 100,000 Alexa-compatible smart home products from more than 9,500 unique brands, the more than 100,000 skills from Alexa developers, and the hundreds of products with Alexa built-in. These were detailed at Amazon’s Alexa event this past fall, now an annual occurrence.

CES 2020 coverage - TechCrunch

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