Comics Writer Grant Morrison signs a content deal with Magic Leap

Grant Morrison’s Square Slice Studios just signed a content deal with Magic Leap. If you’re read a comic book at some point in the past two decades, odds are you’re very excited at this news. Morrison is, after all, one of the most exciting writers working in the comics media today.

The Scottish writer came to prominence with series like the mind bending 90s title The Invisibles, before helming some of the most exciting big name superhero books, from All-Star Superman to the New X-Men. Magic Leap, meanwhile — well, those precious few who have actually tried the thing say it’s pretty cool, at least.

Morrison’s been trying his hands with a number of different storytelling mediums of late. The writer is behind the well-received SyFy series, Happy!, along with the channel’s upcoming Brave New World adaptation. He’s also been flirting with augmented reality for a while, having served as a consultation for Magic Leap since its early days.

“Storytelling is my passion and I’ve found that new platforms allow me to extend my creative boundaries,” Morrison told Deadline, which broke the news during San Diego Comic Con this week. “We see Magic Leap as the next great platform for storytelling and we are excited to collaborate on content that helps bring our wildest dreams to life in the near future.”

That, apparently, will be happening sooner than later. Magic Leap announced earlier this month that its One headset will finally start shipping this summer. That announcement came in the wake of years of building up a crazy amount of funding that pegged the company at a $6.3 billion valuation.

Morrison cofounded Square Slice in 2016, along with a handful of gaming industry veterans, including Rockstar’s Stewart Waterson.

Source: Tech Crunch

Niantic explains how and why it bans players in Pokémon GO

Getting banned for cheating is nothing new in Pokémon GO. There’ve been big ol’ ban waves every few weeks for ages now.

The policies have never been totally set in stone, however — at least not publicly. Like many of the game’s mechanics, the player base has had to share info amongst themselves to figure out the offenses and their relative punishments, from slaps on the wrist to lifetime bans.

At long last, Niantic has published a proper “Three-strike Discipline Policy.”

As the name implies, most infractions will be handled on a three-strike system. Niantic notes, however, that “some misbehaviors” (they leave that one pretty open ended) will work out to an instant perma ban.

So what’s worthy of a strike? Spoofing (making the game think you’re somewhere you’re not), using modified Pokémon GO clients or bots, or doing something that accesses Pokémon GO’s backend in an unauthorized way.

On the first strike, you’ll get a warning message. You’ll still be able to play, technically, but you won’t see anything even remotely rare for seven days.

On the second strike, they’ll close your account for a month.

On the third strike, the account is banned for good.

And if you think you got stuck in the crosshairs by accident? Niantic has an appeal process for that.

It’s worth noting that these punishments aren’t really new; bans of all variety have been happening since shortly after the game’s release. This is just the first time Niantic has really put the hows-and-whys in stone.

Niantic could probably go a few steps further in their clarifications here, though, as plenty of players are still confused as to whether or not they’re breaking the rules.

Will they get in trouble for using third party software (like an automated IV calculator) that doesn’t modify the client or access Niantic’s backend but does provide the player with more info? What about players using third party versions of the Go Plus hardware, like the Go-tcha? That thing pretty much automates catching/spinning as you walk around… but it’s also been sold in retail stores for years now, likely to many players who’ve never considered that this thing they bought in their local Gamestop might not be allowed.

Source: Tech Crunch

Oscar and Lemonade founders will join us at Disrupt SF to strategize about the future of insurance innovation

Insurance premiums total more than a trillion dollars in the U.S., and yet, where that money goes is something of a mystery. It certainly doesn’t seem to get invested in the consumer experience, where ancient incumbent companies still process paperwork as if it is the 1800s, and consumers are left wanting for new insurance options that meet their needs.

Insurance might well be the last frontier for disruptive innovation, but now, a generation of insurance tech startups is bringing new data models and product experience talent to bear on this sclerotic industry. In the process, they may well become some of the most durable and profitable companies the industry has ever seen.

Those startups face challenging questions. How can a startup even get started in an industry where an insurer often needs millions sitting on the balance sheet just to get started? How can a startup compete in a highly regulated industry, where incumbents have the financial might to actively stamp out competition? Can there be such a thing as delightful insurance?

These are just some of the questions we will be investigating during a high-powered insurance tech panel at Disrupt SF this September 5-7. We will be joined by two founders who are spearheading a complete overhaul of the industry through their companies.

Mario Schlosser is the CEO and co-founder of Oscar, a New York-based health insurance startup that has raised approaching a billion dollars in venture capital. Schlosser started programming as a young boy in Germany, and eventually moved to the U.S. to work on computer science research at Stanford. Later, he migrated to Harvard Business School, where he met his Oscar co-founder Joshua Kushner.

Mario Schlosser (Oscar Health) at TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2017

Working with Kevin Nazemi, the trio launched Oscar in 2013 just as Obamacare’s exchanges were becoming operational. Since then, the company’s health insurance products have become available in six states, and it has more than 700 employees. The company is reportedly on track to hit a billion in revenue in 2018, and recorded its first quarterly profit a few months ago.

Health is just one segment of the insurance landscape though. We also will be hosting Daniel Schreiber, who is the CEO and co-founder of Lemonade, a New York-based renters and home insurance startup. Lemonade, which uses artificial intelligence to make the insurance process faster and more consumer friendly, has gotten huge attention from investors since its launch in 2015, receiving $180 million in venture capital, including a mega round from SoftBank late last year.

Daniel Schreiber (Lemonade) at TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2017

Schreiber, a former attorney who was perviously president of wireless charging startup Powermat, joined with Shai Wininger to launch the startup, and since then the company’s product has been made available in 19 states and the District of Columbia. Perhaps most interestingly, Lemonade has a unique service model for its policyholders. Policyholders are grouped together with “peers” who want to commit to helping the same causes. Then, at the end of the calendar year, any premiums remaining in that group of peers is donated to their cause as part of a “Giveback.” Lemonade takes a fixed cut of the premium, to incentive-align itself with customers and ensure they always pay out claims as efficiently as possible.

If you want to understand the challenge but incredible opportunities present in regulated businesses like insurance, these two founders are not to be missed. They will be chatting on the Next Stage of Disrupt SF the morning of September 5th.

The full agenda is here. Passes for the show are available at the Early-Bird rate until July 25 here.

Source: Tech Crunch

Now this… this is an ultra-wide monitor

I’ve been working with an ugly but functional lopsided two-monitor setup for years, and while it has served me well, I can’t say the new generation of ultra-wide monitors hasn’t tempted me. But the truth is they just aren’t wide enough. Or rather, they weren’t.

Samsung has just blown my mind with a monitor so wide it will serve as a ramp that you can trick off of in the summer. It’s so wide that when it puts on a pair of BVDs they read BOULEVARD. It’s so wide that the Bayeux Tapestry got jealous.

Actually it’s a little less wide than a couple of the monitors Samsung announced at CES — but those had two problems. First, they were 3840×1080. And I just need more vertical pixels than that. Second, they were 49 inches wide. That’s a BIG monitor! Not just big, but with those pixels spread out that far, it’s not going to be sharp at all.

On the other hand, this new one not only adds an extra 120 pixels, bringing it to the far superior 1200 vertical (for a total of 3840×1200), but it is 43 inches corner to corner. Forty-three inches… would that be too big, too small, or would it be…

Just right?!

(Yes, my left monitor is a bit warmer than my right, but it’s not as bad as it looks — that’s a viewing angle issue.)

One of the downsides of a giant monitor is that it can be a pain to separate workspaces or, say, have a movie playing “full screen” on one half while you browse Etsy for vintage kettles on the other. But Samsung has a “picture-by-picture” mode and some other useful features that help with this. So I’m going to give it a shot.

It’s also got 120Hz refresh (though no word on sync tech), a bunch of USB ports, and even a headphone jack. I don’t know why you would want built-in sound on a thing like this, since you clearly are a media freak if you buy it, but they felt the need to add in speakers.

The Samsung C43J89 monitor will cost $900 when it comes out, which admittedly is two or three times what I would normally pay for a monitor — I’m more of a Dell Ultrasharp guy, IPS all the way. But my whole workflow could change when this thing goes on sale.

Source: Tech Crunch

Wilson is like Longreads for podcasts

Meet Wilson, a new iPhone app that plans to change the way you discover and listen to podcasts. The company describes the app as a podcast magazine. It has the same vibe as Longreads, the curated selection of longform articles.

With its minimalistic design and opinionated typography, Wilson looks like no other podcasting app. On an iPhone X, the black background looks perfectly black thanks to the OLED display. It feels like an intimate experience.

Every week, the team selects a handful of podcast episodes all tied together by the same topic. Those topics can be the Supreme Court, the LGBTQ community, loneliness, dads, the World Cup…

Each issue has a cover art and a short description. And the team also tells you why each specific podcast episode is interesting. In other words, Wilson isn’t just an audio experience. You can listen to episodes in the app or open them in Apple Podcasts.

Navigating in the app is all based on swipes. You can scroll through past editions by swiping left and right. You can open an edition by swiping up, and go back to the list by swiping down. This feels much more natural than putting buttons everywhere.

Wilson also feels like tuning in to the radio. Podcasts are great because they let you learn everything there’s to learn about any interest you can have. But it also narrows your interests in a way. Podcast apps are too focused on top lists and “you might also like” recommendations.

Gone are the days when you would switch on the radio and listen to a few people talk about something you didn’t know you cared about. Human editors can change that. That’s why Wilson can be a nice addition to your podcasting routine.

Source: Tech Crunch

Instagram adds a status indicator dot so people know when you’re ignoring them

In a blog post today, Instagram announced a new feature: a green status dot that indicates when a user is active on the app. If you’re cruising around Instagram, you can expect to see a green dot next to the profile pics of friends who are also Instagramming right then and there.

The dot will show up in the direct messaging part of the app but also on your friends list when you go to share a post with someone. Instagram clarifies that “You will only see status for friends who follow you or people who you have talked to in Direct” so it’s meant to get you talking more to the people you’re already talking to.


Instagram already displayed how long ago someone was active by including information like “Active 23m ago” or “Active Now” in grey text next to their account info where your direct messages live.

You can disable the status info in the “Activity Status” bit of the app’s settings menu, where it’s set to on by default. Still, even after disabling Activity Status, I can see which of my friends are active now in grey text. For those of us who prefer a calm, less realtime experience, that’s a bummer and it feels creepy.

Given that, the status dot is not really that much of a change, but it’s one design choice closer to making Instagram a compulsive realtime social media nightmare like Facebook or Facebook Messenger. The quiet, incremental rollout of features like the grey status text is often so subtle that users don’t notice it — as a daily Instagram user, I barely did. But that’s the same game Facebook always plays with its products, making slight design changes that alter user behavior until one day you wake up and aren’t using the same app you used to love, but you still can’t stop using it. Instagram is working on a feature for in-app time management, but stuff like this negates Facebook’s broader supposed efforts to make our relationship with its attention-hungry platforms less of a compulsive tic.

It’s a shame to see that happening with Instagram, which used to feel like one of the only peaceful places online, a serene space where you weren’t thrown into fits of realtime FOMO because usually your friends were #latergramming static images from good times previously had, not broadcasting the fun stuff you’re missing out on right now. It’s hard to see how features like this square with Facebook’s ostensible mission to move away from its relentless pursuit of engagement in favor of deepening the quality of user experiences on its social apps. As users start to resent the steep attentional toll they pay that makes Facebook “free”, it’s a shame to see Instagram follow Facebook down the same dark path.

Source: Tech Crunch

FCC issues ‘de facto merger death sentence’ to Sinclair-Tribune deal

A broadcast merger that has been the poster boy for the FCC’s pro-industry agenda has been ordered to undertake a lengthy and potentially embarrassing process that amounts to, in the words of one commissioner, a “de facto merger death sentence.”

The proposed takeover of Tribune by Sinclair has been criticized by many as an unnecessary and potentially dangerous consolidation of media properties. The resulting company would have incredible reach and influence, especially combined with other recent rule changes that have further unshackled big media companies.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has himself been the target of many a sharp inquiry from the public, lawmakers, and even the Office of the Inspector General. The general feeling seems to be: We understand that you have a deregulatory to-do list here, and that’s valid, but practically everything you do benefits Sinclair directly or indirectly. Justify yourself.

Whether it was because of this unremitting scrutiny or simply because Sinclair’s merger proposal was blatantly disingenuous, Pai decided to do an about-face and put the brakes on the deal. He announced his intentions earlier this week and today brings the actual “hearing designation order,” which would require Sinclair to appear before a judge in an adversarial courtroom setting and explain its misdeeds.

What misdeeds, you ask? Well, the main one cited in the HDO is this: Sinclair was required to divest itself from certain media holdings, but instead of doing so, it set up one (WGN-TV) to be sold massively below market price to a corporate confederate, who would then effectively cede control back to Sinclair.

Here’s how the order puts it:

The record raises significant questions as to whether those proposed divestitures were in fact ‘sham’ transactions.

…One application proposed to transfer WGN-TV in Chicago to an individual (Steven Fader) with no prior experience in broadcasting who currently serves as CEO of a company in which Sinclair’s executive chairman has a controlling interest. Moreover, Sinclair would have owned most of WGN-TV’s assets, and pursuant to a number of agreements, would have been responsible for many aspects of the station’s operation.

…There is a substantial and material question of fact as to whether Sinclair affirmatively misrepresented or omitted material facts with the intent to consummate this transaction without fully complying with our broadcast ownership rules.

There are pages and pages of allegations and hints regarding the cozy relationship between Fader and Sinclair, as well as a few other entities that would be part of this obvious sweetheart deal. The order says, essentially, that Sinclair will be given the chance to explain all this — but it would be on the record, in court. Only after they offer sufficient justification could the merger go forward.

But does a company like Sinclair really want to appear publicly before a judge and attempt to convince them that this was all just an innocent mistake? That it was planning to sell a major media property to a good friend for 90 percent off while retaining editorial and operational control? Not only that, but it would take a non-trivial amount of time and money to prepare for this debacle.

Sinclair’s board and stakeholders may understandably choose rather to abandon the merger than subject the company to that kind of scrutiny — not to mention the financial disincentives of delays, extra costs, and any other concessions that might need to be made to put the deal forward. It’s already been revised again and again, with less favorable terms for Sinclair — at some point it stops being a deal worth pursuing.

That’s why Commissioner O’Rielly, in a rather sour-sounding accompanying statement, calls the order a death sentence. Not only would the Administrative Law Judge process be potentially damaging to Sinclair’s reputation, but it would be a mess of red tape. He managed to slip in some revisions, however, which “some may refer to as an initiation of a hint of due process.” Corporations do have rights, too.

Although for now the Sinclair-Tribune merger is only temporarily halted, the end result is as likely as not that it will be withdrawn. That’s entirely up to the company, of course, but it may be that the FCC has in this case succeeded in effectively regulating its industry. That would be cause for celebration.

Source: Tech Crunch

That $20 Wyze Cam now works with Alexa

The Wyze Cam has long been a strong contender for the best deal in connected home security. I haven’t actually tried the thing out, but Greg was “surprisingly impressed” with his hands-on time with the 1080p camera. That’s probably enough in and of itself to justify the $20 price tag.

Now the dirt cheap camera’s getting some added features courtesy of a software update. Starting today, owners of the Wyze Cam v2 and the $30 Wyze Cam Pan will be able to use Alexa to summon live video feeds on the Echo Show, Spot and through the Fire TV Stick (using the voice-enabled remote). Sorry, no luck for those who picked up the first gen device. Hope that $20 camera is working out for you, otherwise. 

The feature is available this week as a free update to the Alexa app. Wyze joins Ring, Arlo, Nest, and Canary, along with Amazon’s own security cameras, of course. But if nothing else, its option is certainly the cheapest of the bunch. One of these and an Echo Spot will set you back $150 — not too shabby for an on-the-fly home security system.

Source: Tech Crunch

With new tech coming online, cities need a department of urban testing

The design and operation of cities is the province of urban planning. But an explosion of startups in cities means a lot of new products and services for urban areas. The problem is, we don’t really know how people are going to use these new products and services.

“The company launched a trial service in Santa Monica just last year and when I first saw the scooters (parked literally outside of our office) I was convinced nobody would want to ride them…The volume grew so steadily that I finally hopped on one, rode down to Bird’s offices and pleaded with Travis to take money from us. I had literally never seen a consumer phenomenon take off so quickly,” says Mark Suster in All The Questions You Wanted Answered about Bird Scooters and Their Recent $300 Million Funding.

There is no doubt Santa Monica scooter usage has benefited from a significant investment in bike lanes, as you can see from this map. If you doubt this, take a look at what happens as you travel a little outside of Santa Monica, where bike infrastructure doesn’t exist. Scooter riders take to sidewalks, just as they do on bikes. (I suspect data would also reveal less usage in these areas and that there are a lot of complaints in these areas about the scooters.)

Adapting To New Behavior

Just four-and-a-half years ago, people were stunned by the then huge valuation of Uber at over $3.5b. It took Uber just over four years to get to that valuation. Now Uber is acquiring electric, dockless bike companies and investing in shared scooters, as they dial back their self-driving activities. The chart below explains why.

The practice of sharing rides came out of nowhere five years ago, and two years ago, docked bikeshare seemed to be rewriting what was possible with on-demand transportation. (Let’s see if/where scooters show up in Q1:19.) It’s hard to appreciate the impact of these new mobility models until you look at them against some well-established existing modes of transportation like taxis and car rentals. These industries trace their roots back to the explosion of the automobile with Model T’s a century ago and to when entrepreneurial companies like Hertz decided taxis should be yellow to enhance their visibility for hailing. (And yes, that’s the same yellow Hertz car rental sign.) As the chart below shows, these 100-year-old industries are rapidly melting away in the face of on-demand competition.

Revisiting City Planning

What does this mean for city planners? For a very long time in the US, cars have so dominated public spaces that we’ve mostly focused on parking and roads. e forget that companies lobbied for the car – they hadn’t always dominated public spaces, and now cities around the world are steadily pushing back. With new mobility options come new corporate alliances.

“San Francisco has more than 250,000 on-street parking spaces for “dockless” cars, so why does the addition of a few thousand dockless scooters spark such a heated debate?” says Roelof Botha, who is also an investor in Bird.

Parking for small shared EVs is just the start. What about the impact of last-mile options on public transit usage? Lyft’s “friends with transit” policy could be viewed cynically as a way to win favor with regulators, but last-mile trends are also playing out with smaller on-demand vehicles. In Germany, DB figured out the relationship between bikes and transit more than 10 years ago with the first dockless shared bikes, and the massive bike parking infrastructure connected to Dutch transit.

In the city most associated with car culture, you can now stop by any Metro station along the Expo Line in LA and see a growing number of bikes and scooters. Is this associated with an increase in transit usage? Is this another reason to sort out parking for small, last-mile vehicles? With more venture dollars in the mix, there are now strong alliances seeking to test new approaches.

Maybe We Just Forgot History

Just before cars finally took over most public spaces for transportation, there were more public transit options provided by some weirdly familiar looking vehicles. You can almost see how this 1922 Austro Motorette would eventually be given a seat to become the more familiar looking Vespa.

There are some important differences now. Electric vehicles need new charging infrastructure, which has led to debates about who will pay for it. On the other hand, scooter-sharing companies have learned infrastructure doesn’t need to look like charging stations. Small vehicles can have their batteries swapped out (as with the scooter- share Coup) or companies can offer incentives to people to take vehicles home to charge (and then return them). Electric vehicles will  continue to drop in price as the main cost – batteries – become cheaper. Finally, shared vehicles have never been more available, and electric scooters are almost 100x cheaper than cars. What happens to behavior when availability is so high that it doesn’t require you to leave your block to find a vehicle.

Bad Old Assumptions

It seems inevitable that AVs will replace drivers at some point. While we wait for the takeover, there are some approaches we can take to improve safety. Unfortunately, some of these seem to have unintended negative consequences. Growing up I used to visit Zimbabwe, where speed bumps were called “sleeping policemen” because it was believed that they caused drivers to slow down and obey posted speed limits. But data from a recent NYU and Urban Us portfolio company Dash, reveal that “drivers have a tendency to accelerate quickly after traffic calming infrastructure like speed bumps, which can lead to dangerous situations for pedestrians.” This is potentially a new issue as more drivers discover previously quieter streets via navigation apps and it should still force us to revisit how we try to manage drivers who are going too fast.

Beyond Mobility

With NYC’s L train shutting down in 2019, people have started to plan their housing options and new commutes to and from Manhattan. The city has responded by saying they will add additional ferries and CitiBikes. But is there a way to add more options quickly? How might they fare in the winter? It’s hard to know, but the consequences go far beyond mobility to impact everything from restaurants to residential real estate.

Mobility ultimately has lot of consequences for real estate. Are people going to live in smaller private spaces in exchange for better shared amenities? Will they use robotic furniture to get more from smaller spaces? What might cause homeowners to purchase backup power in the form of a home battery system? How will this impact the grid? Will people be OK sharing sidewalks with delivery robots?

With so many questions about how our behavior will change, we need to find better, faster ways to test new solutions. Maybe alongside Departments of Urban Planning, we need  Departments of Urban Testing.

Source: Tech Crunch

Self-driving car startup Voyage brings on ex-Tesla, Cruise and Uber exec as CTO

Voyage, the autonomous driving startup that currently operates self-driving cars in retirement communities, has brought on its first CTO, Drew Gray. Gray most recently worked at Uber as its director of engineering, leading the deep learning and perception team in San Francisco, according to his LinkedIn. This comes shortly after the company poached Uber’s head of policy for autonomous vehicles and aviation, Justin Erlich, to lead its strategy, policy and legal efforts.

Voyage, Gray said, was the obvious choice because of the mobility needs it addresses for the 125,000 residents in The Villages in Florida.

“Private communities like The Villages are often much simpler with respect to roadways and traffic patterns, and allow us to implement creative technical solutions that aren’t possible everywhere else due to regulation,” Gray wrote in a Medium post. “We believe there to be a massive un-tapped autonomous ride-sharing business in locations like The Villages — all with approachable autonomy requirements we believe we can solve sooner rather than later.”

Gray, who has also held roles at Tesla, Cruise and Otto, joined Voyage about a month ago to help the company achieve its mission of bringing autonomous vehicles to the masses.

“The autonomous vehicle industry is still so young, it’s an incredibly rare to work side-by-side with someone who has held senior leadership positions at many of the foundational companies in the field,” Voyage CEO Oliver Cameron wrote on Voyage’s blog. “Drew has done just that, contributing to major engineering initiatives at places like Tesla, Cruise, Otto, and Uber ATG.”

Gray and Cameron met back in 2016 when the two collaborated for the self-driving car nanodegree program at Udacity, which Voyage spun out from last year. Cameron was Udacity’s head of curriculum and Gray taught some of the deep learning content for the nanodegree program.

I’ve reached out to Uber and will update this story if I hear back.

Source: Tech Crunch