Cruise and DoorDash to test food delivery using self-driving cars in San Francisco

Cruise is partnering with DoorDash to pilot food and grocery delivery in San Francisco using self-driving vehicles.

The companies announced Thursday that the testing program will begin in early 2019 with an initial focus on the San Francisco market.

“Delivery is a significant opportunity for Cruise as we prepare to commercialize our autonomous vehicle technology and transform transportation,” said Dan Ammann, who became CEO of Cruise late last year. “Partnering with DoorDash will provide us with critical learnings as we further our mission to deliver technology that makes people’s lives better and more convenient.” Cruise co-founder Kyle Vogt stepped down as CEO and now holds the CTO position at the company.

The program will be available to select DoorDash customers, who will be able to receive deliveries from restaurants via a Cruise autonomous vehicle. The partnership will also explore grocery fulfillment via Cruise vehicles for select grocers already partnered with DoorDash.

“We see autonomous vehicles playing a major role in the future of delivery as consumer behaviors continue to shift online, and we are confident Cruise’s leading technology will help us scale to meet growing consumer demand,” DoorDash CEO Tony Xu said in a statement.

The pilot program adds an interesting twist to Cruise’s plans to launch a self-driving ride-hailing service in 2019. The partnership with DoorDash could be viewed as a way for Cruise to perfect its tech and how it can be used in different ways, particularly how it interacts with people.

Source: Tech Crunch

Apple’s App Store pulled in $1.22B over the holidays plus a record $322M on New Year’s

Apple today is sharing some good news in the wake of yesterday’s reveal of a significant, market-moving cut to its revenue forecast, attributed to declining iPhone sales in China’s slowing economy. The company says its App Store, at least, was having a good holiday. This year, customers spent $1.22 billion during the 2018 holiday season and broke a new single-day record on New Year’s Day.

The $1.22 billion in App Store spending occurred between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, Apple said. This is typically the peak season for App Store consumer spend, as customers load up new iPhones and iPads with apps, and use their App Store Gift Cards to buy paid apps and games.

Apple also said customers spent more than $322 million on New Year’s Day 2019, which set a new record for single-day spend.

Over the holidays, games and self-care apps were the most popular categories, with Fortnite and PUBG among the most downloaded games, along with Brawl Stars, Asphalt 9 and Monster Strike, Apple said.

Meanwhile, as the New Year kicks off, customers are now turning to health and fitness apps, educational apps and productivity apps — likely to some extent inspired by their New Year’s resolutions. The apps leading these categories include 1Password, Sweat and Luminosity.

Last year, Apple also announced a record-breaking holiday season, with $890 million spent during the week of Christmas Eve and $300 million on New Year’s Day 2018.

Apple CEO Tim Cook, in his letter yesterday, signaled that the App Store remains one of the bright spots in the company’s “Services” category, even as he delivered the crushing news of a slowdown in iPhone sales.

The company said it is now expecting $84 billion in the quarter that ended Saturday, down from its earlier estimate of $89 billion to $93 billion. However, “Services” generated more than $10.8 billion in revenue during the quarter, with each geography hitting a new quarterly record. The company noted, too, it’s still on track to achieve its goal of doubling the size of this business from 2016 to 2020.

Today, Apple said the “Services” business set all-time records beyond the App Store in Apple Music, Cloud Services, App Pay and the App Store’s search ad business.

A record-breaking end of the year for the App Store shouldn’t come as a surprise, given that the overall app economy is continuing to grow, with mobile games still driving revenues and the subscription app business also making gains. App Annie recently predicted app stores will surpass $122 billion globally in 2019, including the App Store, Google Play and third-party Android app stores in China, combined.

Prior to Apple’s report, app store intelligence firm Sensor Tower had last week noted that the U.S. App Store broke spending records on Christmas, with a record of $54 million on that day alone — up 31 percent over the year before. It had also passed the $52 million spent on Black Friday 2018, the firm said.

Apple typically releases an App Store holiday report at this time of the year, so its release today isn’t necessarily an attempt to create good press a time when its stock is crashing. But given Apple’s usual attempts at spin, it may be seen that way.

Source: Tech Crunch

Scratch 3.0 is now available

The only kids’ programming language worth using, Scratch, just celebrated the launch of Scratch 3.0, an update that adds some interesting new functionality to the powerful open-source tool.

Scratch, for those without school-aged children, is a block-based programming language that lets you make little games and “cartoons” with sprites and animated figures. The system is surprisingly complex, and kids have created things like Minecraft platformers, fun arcade games and whatever this is.

The new version of scratch includes extensions that allow you to control hardware, as well as new control blocks.

Scratch 3.0 is the next generation of Scratch – designed to expand how, what, and where you can create with Scratch. It includes dozens of new sprites, a totally new sound editor, and many new programming blocks. And with Scratch 3.0, you are able to create and play projects on your tablet, in addition to your laptop or desk computer.

Scratch is quite literally the only programming “game” my kids will use again and again, and it’s an amazing introduction for kids as young as pre-school age. Check out the update and don’t forget to share your animations with the class!

Source: Tech Crunch

Cloudera and Hortonworks finalize their merger

Cloudera and Hortonworks, two of the biggest players in the Hadoop big data space, today announced that they have finalized their all-stock merger. The new company will use the Cloudera brand and will continue to trade under the CLDR symbol on the New York Stock Exchange.

“Today, we start an exciting new chapter for Cloudera as we become the leading enterprise data cloud provider,” said Tom Reilly, chief executive officer of Cloudera, in today’s announcement. “This combined team and technology portfolio establish the new Cloudera as a clear market leader with the scale and resources to drive continued innovation and growth. We will provide customers a comprehensive solution-set to bring the right data analytics to data anywhere the enterprise needs to work, from the Edge to AI, with the industry’s first Enterprise Data Cloud.”

The companies describe the deal as a “merger of equals,” though Cloudera stockholders will own about 60 percent of the equity in the company.

The combined company expects to generate more than $720 million in revenue from its 2,500 customers that rely on it to help them manage the complexities of processing their data. While Hadoop itself is open source and freely available, Cloudera and Hortonworks abstract away most of the infrastructure. Both focused on slightly different markets, though, with Hortonworks going after a more technical user and a pure open-source approach, while Cloudera also offered some proprietary tools.

“Together, we are well-positioned to continue growing and competing in the streaming and IoT, data management, data warehousing, machine learning/AI and hybrid cloud markets,” said Hortonworks CEO Rob Bearden back when the deal was first announced. “Importantly, we will be able to offer a broader set of offerings that will enable our customers to capitalize on the value of their data.”

Source: Tech Crunch

Netflix pleads with people to stop doing the ‘Bird Box’ challenge

Netflix has issued a warning to its customers thanks to a meme challenge that has gone viral in which people are choosing to put blindfolds on and navigate the world around them just like the characters in the horror movie “Bird Box.”

Let the hilarity and the hospital visits begin.

For those who spent the holidays visiting friends and not watching Netflix, here’s a quick summary. Netflix released a horror concept movie called Bird Box starring Sandra Bullock. In Bird Box, Bullock and her children, Boy and Girl, are forced to wear blindfolds and navigate a river and spooky forest to protect themselves against the evil monster that, if seen, causes people to kill themselves.

The movie not only broke viewership records, it inspired a bevy of #BirdBoxChallenge memes, including ones in which folks video themselves blindfolded and attempting to do complete tasks, many of which are depicted in the movie.

Of course, these videos aren’t staying tucked away. They’re being shared with the world on social media. One viral meme shows a blindfolded family paddling away in their bathtub. Another shows a family running through their living room and one managing to hit the wall instead. There are numerous videos of random people walking blindfolded in cities like New York because sure, why not. One person put a hat over his head while driving.

Here’s a sampling.

The morning talk shows got into the mix as well.

Last month, the streaming service announced in a tweet that more than 45 million Netflix accounts had streamed Bird Box, which set a new record for the best-ever first week for a Netflix film.

Source: Tech Crunch

Behold Ultima Thule, the most distant object ever explored by a spacecraft

The New Horizons probe has just sent back its first real shots of Ultima Thule, a 21-mile-long rock or planetesimal deep in the reaches of the solar system — and now the most distant object ever visited up close by mankind. The principal investigator of the mission, Alan Stern, called the accomplishment “a technical success beyond anything ever attempted before in spaceflight.”

Ultima Thule is, as early occultation studies suggested with remarkable success, what’s called a contact binary object, composed of two individual objects fused together likely through impact billions of years ago — and it’s the first ever photographed up close. This is like candy for planet scientists: learning about the creation and characteristics of this interesting type of object is a chance decades — nay, centuries — in expectation.

“We think what we’re looking at is perhaps the most primitive object that has yet been seen by any spacecraft, and may represent a class of objects that are the oldest and most primitive objects that can be seen anywhere in the solar system,” said NASA Ames’s Jeff Moore, geology and geophysics lead on New Horizons.

This slide in NASA’s presentation shows how Ultima Thule is speculated to have formed.

It’s formed of two lobes, the larger and smaller of which are named Ultima and Thule respectively, which likely accreted individually in the earliest days of the solar system, then entered each other’s influence and eventually encountered one another, fusing.

But Ultima Thule was chosen as the next target just before New Horizons buzzed Pluto not because it’s particularly interesting in itself, but because every object out there is interesting — we’ve never been up close to one! Instead, this particular rock, called MU69 when it was first identified by the Hubble during a frantic two-week search, happened to be something that the probe could swing by with minimal fuel expenditure.

“As the principal investigator I’ll say I’m surprised that, more or less picking one Kuiper Belt object out of the hat, we were able to get such a winner as this, that’s going to revolutionize our knowledge of planetary science,” Stern said.

Once it was decided — though at the time, the team had no idea how compelling MU69 would turn out to be — New Horizons altered its course to come within a few thousand miles of the object, close enough to get detailed imagery.

Until today we’ve only had pictures taken from very far away with the probe’s Long Distance Reconnaissance Imager, or LORRI, which produced tiny monochrome shots a few pixels across:

Great for mission control, but not for the front page. But remember that the probe was perhaps half a million miles away when it took the above images (on December 31), plus it was traveling at a relative speed of about 32,000 miles per hour. And of course there’s no good Wi-Fi out in the Kuiper belt — the data has to be painstakingly relayed back through the Deep Space Network.

The image at above was taken while the probe was much closer — about 50,000 kilometers. LORRI still produces the best details, but at that range the team can bring Ralph into play, which added the color you see.

Ralph is a set of multispectral imagers covering a variety of wavelengths and resolutions. These more-detailed images necessarily require more data to be sent home, and often need to be interpreted or tweaked by the science team in order to create a reasonable representation of what a human might see if we happened to be rolling past Ultima Thule.

The object is “about as reflective as garden variety dirt,” and of a reddish tint the team thinks may be the result of exposed volatile substances. There’s tons of variation and terrain on the surface, which we’ll get much better imagery of in time. These are just the initial shots, and New Horizons will be sending its data back for more than a year.

It was enough, however, to make some rather potato-like rough models of the object:

These shots are “just the tip of the iceberg,” Stern said. “We have far less than one percent of the data.”

“The current best picture that we have I believe has 20,000 or 28,000 pixels on the target, which way beats the six pixels we showed you last time,” he continued. “But ultimately if everything worked just right… the highest resolution image set that we took, it’ll have 35 meter resolution — it’ll ultimately be a megapixel image. It’s just going to get better and better.”

The team will continue to receive and collate data and will surely hold more press conferences as they learn more, and even more detailed imagery arrives.

The New Horizons probe itself — still hurtling outwards at 32,000 MPH — could continue to operate for another 15 or 20 years, and has fuel to change its course to perhaps find another target, but that’s all a matter of speculation for now. Stay tuned over the next year, the team suggested, but for now they’re focused on the data from Ultima Thule.

Source: Tech Crunch

Report: Mary Meeker targets $1.25B for debut fund, called Bond

In what is clearly a missed opportunity to name her venture capital fund Money Meeker, famed venture capitalist and author of the annual Internet Trends Report Mary Meeker has informed limited partners that her firm will be called Bond, according to a report from Axios’ Dan Primack.

Meeker intends to raise $1.25 billion for Bond’s debut growth fund on a $1.5 billion hard cap. Meeker will have no trouble pooling capital, given her success at Kleiner Perkins, where she was a partner for eight years, backing companies such as Airbnb, Houzz, Slack and Peloton. In September, Kleiner Perkins confirmed it was spinning out its growth team to become an independent firm, with Meeker at the helm. Kleiner Perkins general partners Mood Rowghani and Noah Knauf joined Meeker in the new effort, as well as Juliet de Baubigny, a partner focused on team building.

“The environment for venture has evolved — with larger checks being written for seed and A rounds and more support from partners required to build companies — demanding a high degree of specialization and extreme focus to excel,” a spokesperson for Kleiner Perkins said in a statement provided to TechCrunch in September. “The changes in both areas have led to less overlap between venture and growth and creating two separate firms with different people and operations now makes sense.”

We’ve reached out to Meeker for comment.

Meeker joined Kleiner Perkins in 2010 after two decades as a managing director at Morgan Stanley. A well-established Wall Street tech analyst, she quickly rose in the Silicon Valley ranks and became one of few women to earn a GP title at Kleiner Perkins in an industry where women have traditionally been shut out from the highest roles.

With Bond, Meeker is set to be the first woman to raise a $1 billion-plus VC fund.

Source: Tech Crunch

Netflix hires Activision CFO & former Disney exec Spencer Neumann as its new CFO

Netflix has officially confirmed the hiring of its new Chief Financial Officer Spencer Neumann, formerly CFO at Activision Blizzard. The announcement directly follows reports from Reuters and The Wall Street Journal, which said Netflix had poached Neumann from Activision and would start him in his new position this year.

CNBC on Wednesday reported Neumann had been fired from Activision two days ago because he was pursuing another job. Activision declined to state the cause of his firing, saying only that it was “unrelated to the Company’s financial reporting or disclosure controls and procedures,” in a regulatory filing.

Activision said Dennis Durkin, who was CFO from 2012 through 2017, would return to his role to replace Neumann.

At Netflix, Neumann will replace David Wells, who served as CFO since 2010.

“Spencer is a stellar entertainment executive and we’re thrilled that he will help us provide amazing stories to people all over the world,” said Reed Hastings, Netflix chief executive officer, in a statement. “I also want to again say thank you to David Wells, on behalf of the company and our shareholders, for his invaluable contributions at Netflix over the past 14 years.”

Neumann became CFO at Activision Blizzard in May 2017. Prior to that, he held a number of roles within Disney and elsewhere. From 2012 up until his hiring at Activision, Neumann was CFO and executive vice president of Global Guest Experience of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. He also worked in private equity at Providence Equity Partners and Summit Partners.

Also at Disney, which Neumann first joined in 1992, he had served as executive vice president of the ABC Television Network from 2001 to 2004 and CFO of the Walt Disney Internet Group from 1999 to 2001.

His hiring is notable, given Disney’s plans to introduce a Netflix competitor of its own this year, with the forthcoming launch of the Disney+ streaming service. Netflix is also facing increased competition from AT&T, which is creating several new streaming services following its Time Warner acquisition, as well from Hulu, which becomes majority-owned by Disney with its acquisition of  21st Century Fox.

To keep up, Netflix has been increasing its spending on content. It reportedly spent $8 billion in 2018, and that figure is set to grow this year as the streamer invests heavily in originals to help grow and retain its customer base.

“Netflix is a singular brand, and I’m excited and honored for the opportunity to work with the Netflix team and all of our stakeholders to build on the company’s exceptional track record of success and innovation,” said Neumann in a statement.

Image credits: Netflix (logo); LinkedIn (profile photo)

Source: Tech Crunch

Windows 10 tops Windows 7 as most popular OS

Just in time for the new year, a report from Net Marketshare puts Windows 10 in the top spot for desktop operating systems. It’s the first time Microsoft’s OS took the top spot since hitting the market three and a half years ago.

At 39.22 percent of the market, Windows 10’s rise isn’t an overnight success story, but it’s notable, given the rocky reception its other operating systems have received in recent years. Windows 10 just edges out Windows 7’s 36.90. The more recent Windows 8.1, meanwhile, is a distant fifth — more than a percentage point below Windows XP.

Windows 10 is now in place on 700 million devices, comprising a broad range of products. Microsoft gambled with the release of a convertible operating system that could bridge the device between PC and tablet, and it appears to have paid off. As has the decision to bring the OS to its Xbox platform.

The numbers look solid, even as some enterprise customers continue to drag their feet. That’s to be expected with any relatively new operating system, as anyone who’s ever worked for a large business can tell you. There’s a reason XP is still in the top five.

All of this marks a nice end to Microsoft’s solid year, which found it once again at the top of the most valuable companies. Apple, which is now in the No. 2 spot, secured No. 3 on the OS list, with 10.14 Mojave pulling in 4.73 percent of the market.

Source: Tech Crunch