After canceling ‘Rift 2’ overhaul, Oculus plans a modest update to flagship VR headset

Facebook’s virtual reality arm may soon find itself in the unfamiliar position of playing catch-up with hardware competitors.

Last week, TechCrunch reported that Oculus co-founder Brendan Iribe had decided to leave Facebook partially due to his “fundamentally different views on the future of Oculus” and decisions surrounding the cancellation of a next-generation “Rift 2” project.

The company’s prototype “Rift 2” device, codenamed Caspar, was a “complete redesign” of the original Rift headset, a source familiar with the matter tells us. Its cancellation signified an interest by Facebook leadership to focus on more accessible improvements to the core Rift experience that wouldn’t require the latest PC hardware to function. Iribe did not agree with the direction, with a source telling us that he was specifically not interested in “offering compromised experiences that provided short-term user growth but sacrificed on comfort and performance.”

Former Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe sharing details on the Oculus Rift in 2015

In the wake of the overhaul’s cancellation, the company will be pursuing a more modest product update — possibly called the “Rift S” — to be released as early as next year, which makes minor upgrades to the device’s display resolution while more notably getting rid of the external sensor tracking system, sources tell us. Instead, the headset will utilize the integrated “inside-out” Insight tracking system which is core to Facebook’s recently-announced Oculus Quest standalone headset.

The “Constellation” tracking system on the current-generation Rift offers precise accuracy thanks to the static external sensors that track the headset and Touch controllers. While the Insight system would likely offer users a much more simplified setup process, a clear pain point of the first-generation product, “inside-out” tracking systems have greater limitations when it comes to the lighting conditions they work in and are generally less accurate than systems with external trackers.

While Oculus has long led the way on hardware advances, this release could be seen as the company playing catch-up with competitors like Microsoft, which has partnered with OEMs including Samsung, Lenovo and LG to release headsets on its Windows Mixed Reality platform that also feature inside-out tracking as well as higher resolution displays than the Oculus Rift.

“While we don’t comment on rumors/speculation about our future products, as we shared last week, PC VR remains a part of our strategy and is a category we will continue to invest in. In addition to hardware, we have a robust software roadmap and are funding content well into 2020,” an Oculus spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg introducing the $399 Oculus Quest

There are some clear benefits for Oculus pushing iterative hardware in an iPhone-like “S” manner, especially around affordability, as a more drawn out device life cycle gives both Oculus and PC component manufacturers time to reduce VR’s high barrier to entry in terms of cost.

The cancellation of its Caspar “Rift 2” project, does suggest a less aggressive pace of innovation for the company with its flagship premium VR product. The move away from a redesign could alienate early adopters and send them to other platforms. It could also lead Oculus into a situation where new titles that take advantage of the latest systems aren’t compatible with Rift hardware.

At its Oculus Connect developer conference, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg shared that the Oculus Rift, Quest and Go represented “the completion of its first-generation of VR products.” As Zuckerberg continues to double-down on his long-term goal to bring 1 billion users into VR, the need to build the Oculus user base is growing more important but it’s unclear how essential the company believes leading the high-end PC VR market is to defining that early mainstream success.

Source: Tech Crunch

SpaceX shuffles Starlink leadership, hoping to accelerate launch

SpaceX is changing the lineup at the Seattle-based offices of Starlink, the company’s nascent satellite broadband division. A Reuters report depicts a whirlwind visit by CEO Elon Musk as a middle management bloodbath, but SpaceX says it’s just the usual fast-moving space company stuff.

Starlink plans to put thousands of satellites into space with which to blanket the world in broadband — SpaceX isn’t the only aspirant to this plan, but it is farther along than some. It launched a pair of prototype satellites in February, Tintin A and B, which are reportedly working perfectly well as ongoing test platforms.

Space is no place to rush into, however, but that clashed with aggressive timelines set by Musk years ago and apparently not quite being met. Reuters reported that several leads on the project were pushing for more testing, and Musk visited Seattle to provide a kick in the pants.

Among those reported fired were VP of satellites Rajeev Badyal and designer Mark Krebs, both of whom have overseen the project through and after launch. SpaceX did not directly confirm their departures but confirmed that Starlink had seen significant restructuring.

“We have incorporated lessons learned and re-organized to allow for the next design iteration to be flown in short order,” a SpaceX representative told TechCrunch, saying the move was consistent with the “rapid iteration design and testing” the company is known for.

Will it be enough to put more birds in the air by mid-2019, as Musk hopes? That remains to be seen, but the SpaceX strategy of launching early and often has so far paid off in the long run, so perhaps this maneuver will as well.

Source: Tech Crunch

CBS launches a streaming entertainment network, ET Live

CBS is today launching another streaming network, this time focused on entertainment news. The service, which is called ET Live, was developed by CBS Interactive and CBS TV’s “Entertainment Tonight” news magazine, and will be available both as a standalone app as well as a part of the CBS streaming app aimed at cord cutters, CBS All Access.

The new service will deliver 24/7 coverage of entertainment news, including breaking news, celebrity interviews, features, behind-the-scenes and red carpet coverage, plus trends stories across celebrity fashion, beauty and lifestyle.

The content isn’t just a rehash of the “Entertainment Tonight” on-air broadcast, the network claims. Instead, it will feature original programming and a roster of new hosts, including Lauren Zima, Denny Directo, Cassie DiLaura, Tanner Thomason, Jason Carter and Melicia Johnson.

The flagship show’s current hosts — Nancy O’Dell, Kevin Frazier, Nischelle Turner and Keltie Knight — will make regular appearances, however, to promote what’s up next and other exclusives.

At launch, the service is available on its own website at and through an ET Live app on iOS, Android, Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV, with more platforms expected in the future.

It’s also being integrated into CBS All Access’s live feed across platforms, and as a feed within CBSN, the network’s 24/7 streaming news service.

The new streaming network is the latest of several launches aimed at bringing more CBS content to a new generation of viewers who no longer tune in to traditional pay TV.

A few months ago, CBS debuted a portfolio of streaming services under the brand CBS Local. These help deliver local news to cord cutters and other digital media consumers, including its CBS All Access subscribers. It also operates news network CBSN, which it added to CBS All Access last year. And it launched streaming sports news service CBS Sports HQ earlier this year. This can now also be found in CBS All Access.

Like CBSN, CBS Sports HQ and your local CBS News (where available), the new ET Live feed is available in the “Live” section of the CBS All Access app. Users can toggle between the various live streams with a tap, then can choose to watch live or jump back to watch previous segments on demand.

ET’s brand made sense to be the next to transition to reach over-the-top viewers because of its existing reach, including on digital platforms. The TV show has nearly 5 million daily viewers, while the website averages 20 million monthly U.S. uniques, per comScore. Its social audience is even larger, with more than 70 million U.S. users monthly, the network says.

“From CBS All Access to CBSN and CBS Sports HQ, we are dedicated to bringing consumers best-in-class streaming services,” said Rob Gelick, executive vice president and general manager, CBS Entertainment Digital for CBS Interactive, in a statement about the launch.

“ET Live is a natural expansion of our strategy and expertise in this area. We have the great advantage of being able to apply key learnings from our leading digital entertainment properties and marry that with the #1 entertainment brand in ‘Entertainment Tonight’ to create a new offering for the next generation of entertainment consumers, those that are platform-agnostic and expect content to be accessible anytime, anywhere,” he said.

Source: Tech Crunch

Lime recalls some scooters due to fire concerns

Lime, the electric scooter and bike-share startup, has pulled some of its scooters from the streets of Los Angeles, San Diego and Lake Tahoe. That’s because of two hardware challenges the company has experienced, Lime wrote in a blog post last night.

In August, Lime says it became aware of a potential issue with some of its Segway Ninebot scooters. Specifically, Lime identified a problem with one of the two batteries in some of its earlier scooter versions.

“In several isolated instances, a manufacturing defect could result in the battery smoldering or, in some cases, catching fire,” Lime wrote on its blog. “We took this issue very seriously. Immediately upon learning of the defect, we worked with Segway Ninebot to create a software program to detect the potentially affected batteries. We then worked independently to create an even more thorough software program to ensure that no potentially faulty scooters remained in circulation. When an affected battery was identified — with a red code — we promptly deactivated the scooter so that no members of the public could ride or charge it.”

Lime says it then removed those scooters from circulation and “at no time were riders or members of the public put at risk.” But fast-forward to more “recently,” and Lime has received another report that one of its Segway Ninebot scooters may be vulnerable to battery failure. In total, Lime says less than 0.01 percent of its scooter fleet is affected.

In addition to potential battery failures leading to fire, Lime has experienced issues with scooter manufacturer Okai. Specifically, Lime says it’s received reports that the baseboards can break after repeated abuse.

“It’s possible for Okai baseboards to crack or break if ridden off a curb at high speed,” Lime said. “We are currently studying this issue and incorporating these learnings into our design process.”

It’s not clear if Lime will continue to work with Segway, which it partnered with a few months ago around a next generation of scooters. It’s also not clear if Lime will continue to use scooters from Okai. I’ve reached out to Lime to learn more.

Other electric scooter companies rely on Segway’s Ninebot, including Bird.

“Upon reading The Washington Post news article pertaining to Lime’s recall, we contacted Segway Ninebot to obtain their verification that all scooters purchased by Bird are free of any manufacture defects found in Lime’s earlier model scooters,” a Bird spokesperson told TechCrunch. “We have conducted our own initial investigation of the reported claims and believe that none of the vehicles Bird purchased from Segway Ninebot are affected. At Bird, our number one priority is the safety of our riders, chargers, mechanics, and all others who interact with our vehicles”

TechCrunch has reached out to Segway for comment.

It’s worth noting that in San Francisco, operators Skip and Scoot do not use Segway scooters. Skip modifies the Speedway Mini4 36V 21Ah, while Scoot works with Telepod.

Source: Tech Crunch

Scared to trade stocks? Titan algorithmically invests for you

Titan could put an end to stock market FOMO. The app chooses the best 20 stocks by scraping top hedge fund data, adds some shorts based on your personal risk profile and puts your money to work. No worrying about market fluctuations or constantly rebalancing your portfolio. You don’t have do anything, but can get smarter about stocks thanks to its in-app explanations and research reports. Titan wants to be the easiest way to invest in stocks for a mobile generation that wants an affordable coach to guide them through the market themselves.

“Our goal is to take things that aren’t accessible [in wealth management] and make them accessible, starting with hedge funds,” says Titan co-founder Joe Percoco. That potential to democratize one of the keys to financial mobility has won Titan a $2.5 million seed round from Y Combinator’s co-founder Paul Graham, president Sam Altman and partners including Gmail creator Paul Bucheit. The rest of the capital comes from Maverick Ventures, BoxGroup and Liquid2 Ventures.

Titan is where investing meets virality,” says Graham. “Those are two very powerful forces.” Since TechCrunch broke the news of Titan’s launch in August, it’s doubled its assets under management to $20 million and hired its first non-founder engineer.

Now it’s launching in-app educational videos so stock market dummies can get up to speed if they want to understand where their money’s going amidst a swirling see of financial news. “There are so many different headlines telling so many different narratives,” Percoco tells me. “Everyone is searching for explanations in a voice they trust. An ‘ETF’ can’t talk back. Sometimes a human face is better than writing. A video can really help people make choices.” Here’s its two-minute video about Facebook’s Q2 earnings a few months ago, explaining why the share price crashed 25 percent:

Percoco and Clayton Gardner met on their first day of Wharton business school, while their third co-founder was earning a hedge fund patent and studying computer science at Stanford. They went on to work at hedge funds and private equity firms like Goldman Sachs, but got fed up just growing the fortunes of the already rich.

So they started Titan to invent a modern, mobile version of BlackRock, the investment giant founded in the 1980s. Titan uses the public disclosures of hedge funds to find consensus around the 20 best performing stocks. With as little as $1,000, users can let Titan robo-manage their investments for a 1 percent fee on assets. Users provide some info on how big they want to gamble, and Titan personalizes their portfolio with more or less conservative shorts to hedge their bets.

Titan’s simplicity combined with the sense of participation could help it grow quickly. It sits between do-it-yourself options like Robinhood or E*Trade, where you’re basically left to fend for yourself, and totally passive options like Wealthfront and Betterment, where you’re so divorced from your portfolio that you’re not learning. Managed hedge funds and fellow active investment vehicles like BlackRock with a human advisor can require a $100,000 minimum investment that’s too steep for millennials.

“Even the best hedge fund in the world is only going to send you a PDF every 90 days,” Percoco explains. But Titan doesn’t want you nervously checking your portfolio non-stop. “Our median user checks the app once per day.” That seems like a healthy balance between awareness and sanity. It thinks its education and informative push notifications make it worth a higher required investment and fees than Wealthfront charges.

Essentially, Titan is a stock trading auto-pilot merged with a flight simulator so you improve your finance skills without having to fear a crash. Percoco tells me the sense of accomplishment that engenders is why clients say they’re telling friends about Titan. “When I invest, I look for companies that are growing quickly and making a huge positive impact on the world. Titan is one of those companies,” investor Altman says. “I think they could improve the financial well-being of an entire generation.”

Source: Tech Crunch

To actually change the world, Big Tech needs to grow up

“Fierce competitor” is one of the biggest, and most culturally ingrained, compliments that exists in sports. The same is true in the technology world. However, as competitors originating from outside of Silicon Valley rise, so do the stakes for previously unchallenged tech firms, like Uber, Facebook and Google, to enter new markets responsibly. Companies that were once earnest startups helmed by say-anything, hoodie-wearing twenty-somethings are now big corporations with boards, stakeholders and tremendous impacts on society.

They need to start acting like it.

Amid mounting government and public pressures, tech firms famous for pushing far beyond boundaries now need to play by the rules when they enter new cities and towns. They now have to embrace more humble methods of conducting business and admit defeat when younger upstarts create better, faster innovations. Freshly relocated tech companies need to respect the indigenous innovation scene in a chosen location — not simply conduct headquarter operations somewhere else. They need to bring to every new market entrepreneurial thinking, jobs and a willingness to develop strong connections with public and private sector leaders.

The good news is that it’s not too late for tech giants to learn to be responsible, self-aware competitors. However, a few central questions need to be answered: Will big tech companies begin to bring more to cities than they take? Will they become responsible community partners building smart technologies in a way that respects new market values — especially around diversity, privacy and respect for people’s data? Or will they use their heft to out-maneuver municipal authorities, outbid local startups for engineering talent and ship intellectual property and data back to headquarters?

As Uber’s rebrand takes hold, for instance, CEO Dara Khosrowshahi needs to guide his organization toward working with municipal and community leaders — rather than coexisting with them at best. He and his team need to deepen their understanding of regulatory environments at the city level, play within the rules governing specific places and work to encourage homegrown tech talent in Uber’s new markets to pursue career opportunities with international reach. Uber needs to back up the company’s newly rolled out softer, safer image with concrete efforts to complement the innovation ecosystems already flourishing in cities outside of its hometown of San Francisco — and compete collaboratively in markets around the world.

Other tech giant founders, CEOs and executive teams around the world need to follow suit — regardless of whether actual suits are involved.

Success requires a balance of fierce competitiveness and humble respect.

Indeed, there’s a right way for tech companies to contribute to local causes and be good corporate citizens in general. The process starts with bigger tech companies establishing information exchanges with new communities that build trust and prioritize learning. After establishing operations and understanding the needs of communities surrounding them, tech companies need to prove their genuine interest in local innovation ecosystems. One way to do this is by donating money to a relevant charity or nonprofit organization that provides useful skill development to underserved communities.

Another, more humbling, option for tech giants is to invest in native startups building innovations that help them improve corporate citizenship — a technology that reduces their global carbon footprint, for example — and complement their own capabilities.

I am a serial entrepreneur and optimist. That’s why I believe that technology companies like Uber, Google and Facebook have a unique opportunity to deliver more than monetary investment into communities around the world. They need to assume responsibility for advancing innovation and talent upon arrival in a new city — and actively build programs that bridge location-specific digital, skill and transportation gaps.

Tech giants need to work with government and community peers to connect with local competitors already building the next generation of technology platforms. Success requires a balance of fierce competitiveness and humble respect. The entry of a tech giant to a new place should inspire connectivity, understanding and competition that lifts a community’s entire innovation ecosystem.

Source: Tech Crunch

Can Apple finish 2018 on a high note? We’ll find out Thursday

Apple (NASDAQ: APPL) has had a great 2018.

Even as the other FAANG stocks slumped, the trillion-dollar electronics company has continually satisfied Wall Street with quarter-over-quarter revenue growth. But will Apple’s momentum continue after it reports its fourth-quarter earnings on Thursday?

The consensus, so far, is yes. Apple is expected to post revenue of $61.43 billion (earnings per share of $2.78), an increase of 17 percent year-over-year and GAAP EPS of $2.78, according to analysts polled by FactSet. Investors will be paying close attention to iPhone unit sales, which account for the majority of Apple’s revenue, as well as Mac sales, which accounted for roughly 10 percent of the company’s revenue in Q3.

The company reported its Q3 earnings on July 31, posting $53.3 billion in revenue, its best June quarter ever and fourth consecutive quarter of double-digit revenue growth, the company said.

At today’s hardware event in Brooklyn, Apple’s chief executive officer Tim Cook shared that the company’s Mac business had grown to 100 million monthly active users — a big accomplishment for the nearly 10-year-old product. Cook also showcased the new MacBook Air and introduced the new iPad Pro and Mac Mini.

Not even Lana Del Rey’s surprise performance at the event was enough to rile up Wall Street. Apple’s stock was unreactive today, as is typically the case with hardware spectacles like these. Apple ultimately closed up about .5 percent. That’s a better outcome than its last hardware event in September, which despite the highly-anticipated announcements of the iPhone XS and Apple Watch Series 4, forced the company’s stock down about 1.2 percent on the news.

Apple’s stock performance year to date.

Year to date, Apple’s stock has risen more than 30 percent from a February low of $155 per share to an October high of $229.

If it fails to meet analyst expectations on Thursday, it’s bad news for the stock market: “Apple is the last domino standing,” Market Watch wrote earlier today. “Its FAANG brethren have all crashed, even the mighty Amazon, which has slumped about 25% from all-time highs.”

If you missed today’s event, we live-blogged the whole thing here and detailed all the new hardware here.

Apple Fall Event 2018

Source: Tech Crunch

WeWork-owned Meetup brings on David Siegel as CEO

Late this past summer, Meetup founder and CEO Scott Heiferman moved into the chairman position, leaving the CEO role vacant. Today, Meetup has announced that David Siegel will be taking the helm at the 15-year-old company.

Siegel hails from Investopedia, where he served as CEO for three years, tripling the company’s revenue and doubling its traffic in that period. Before his time at Investopedia, Siegel was President of Seeking Alpha, overseeing U.S.-based functions including sales, marketing, product and bizdev.

At the end of 2017, coworking behemoth WeWork acquired Meetup for a reported $200 million. Meetup’s entire premise is based on the idea of community — use the internet to get people off the internet and talking in real life. That’s a central theme in the WeWork strategy. 

Here’s what Siegel had to say about the transition:

In a world where technology often drives greater distances between people, Meetup uses technology to bring real, in-person and life-changing connections to millions of people globally. Together with WeWork, Meetup is reinventing how people work, live, learn, play, and create community every day. I am thrilled to be a be a part of this incredibly exciting venture to bring more people together.

Meetup currently has more than 40 million members, 320,000 Meetup groups and facilitates 12,000 Meetups per day around the world.

Source: Tech Crunch

Even Financial acquires Birch Finance, a credit card rewards startup

On the heels of a funding round to the tune of $18.8 million, Even Financial has acquired Birch Finance for an undisclosed sum.

Even offers products like a pre-approval API, real-time pricing, machine learning optimization, a product comparison and recommendation engine for consumers and more. Birch Finance, a TC Startup Battlefield alum that raised $1 million earlier this year, aims to help people make the most of the credit cards in their wallets by telling them which cards will earn them the most points. It works by analyzing your transaction history to identify missed rewards opportunities. Even’s plan with this acquisition is for Even to expand its offerings within the credit card space.

“The credit card market continues to expand with millions of consumers opening up hundreds of different types of credit cards every year for countless reasons,” Rosen said in a statement. “Birch already has one of the largest credit card databases and their technology perfectly complements our existing platform as we expand our offering to the credit card space. This acquisition will allow our partners to optimize the process of getting the right cards to the right consumers.”

Even’s slate of partners includes, a personal loans marketplace, The Penny Hoarder and Transunion. With the Birch team on board, Even will enable its partners to save on consumer acquisition while also scaling its credit card recommendation platform. At Even, Birch co-founder Cohen will serve as senior director of the credit card marketplace.

In a statement, Cohen said, “We saw a clear synergy with Even’s business strategy and growth plans, and I’m thrilled to join Even’s team as we expand and scale our offerings into new areas.”

Source: Tech Crunch

Google Pixel 3 XL users are getting twice the notch, thanks to a bug

Over the past two years, the notch move from anomaly to fact of life, and no company has proven itself more pro-notch than Google. From its embrace of #notchlife in Android Pie to the downright gigantic one found up top on the Pixel 3 XL, Google’s really notchin’ it up.

In fact, as noted by Android Police the Pixel 3 XL has a notch so nice, Google’s delivering it twice. A number of owners have reported an (admittedly hilariously bug) that’s causing the massive headset to double up on the notch, with a second cutout appear on the side of the device.

Google has acknowledge (acknotchleged?) the issue and noted that it’s working on a fix, which should be coming soon. The company hasn’t offered a reason behind the issue, but it appears to stem from Pie’s built-in notch feature, and likely has something to do with how the background adjusts when the handset changes from portrait to landscape mode.

It seems even in 2018, that’s a notch too far.

Source: Tech Crunch