Daily Crunch: Meet Apple’s new MacBook Pro

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1. MacBook Pro 16” first impressions: Return of the Mack

Over the past few years, Apple’s MacBook game had begun to suffer from complacency — as problems with the models started to mount (unreliable keyboards, low RAM ceilings and anemic graphics offerings), the once insurmountable advantage that the MacBook had compared to the rest of the notebook industry started to show signs of dwindling.

So the new 16” MacBook Pro is an attempt to rectify most, if not all, of the major complaints of its most loyal, and vocal, users.

2. Google to offer checking accounts in partnership with banks starting next year

Google is calling the project “Cache,” and it’ll partner with banks and credit unions to offer the checking accounts, with the banks handling all financial and compliance activities related to the accounts.

3. A US federal court finds suspicionless searches of phones at the border is illegal

A federal court has ruled that the government is not allowed to search travelers’ phones or other electronic devices at the U.S. border without first having reasonable suspicion of a crime. The case was brought by 11 travelers — 10 of whom are U.S. citizens — with support from the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

4. Convoy raises $400 million to expand its on-demand trucking platform

Convoy co-founders Dan Lewis and Grant Goodale set out in 2015 to modernize freight brokerage, a fragmented and oftentimes analog business that matches loads from shippers with truckers. The company has gone from hundreds of loads per week in 2016 to tens of thousands per week across the U.S.

5. The AI stack that’s changing retail personalization

To be forward-looking, brands and retailers are turning to startups in image recognition and machine learning to know, at a very deep level, what each consumer’s current context and personal preferences are and how they evolve. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

6. These sneakers vibrate

Invented by a man named Brock Seiler, and led by former Beats by Dre CEO Susan Paley, DropLabs aims to take audio to a whole new level by syncing music, movies and other audio to shoes that vibrate the soles of your feet.

7. Elon Musk picks Berlin for Tesla’s Europe Gigafactory

Musk said Tesla is also going to create an engineering and design center in Berlin because “I think Berlin has some of the best art in the world.”

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Apple Music introduces a Replay, a playlist of your top songs of the year

Apple Music is taking on Spotify with the launch of a new feature, Apple Music Replay, that will allow subscribers to take a look back at their favorite music from 2019. The feature is similar in some ways to Spotify’s popular year-end review, known as Wrapped, but Apple’s version is more than just an annual summary — it’s an ongoing experience.

With Apple Music Replay, subscribers will get a playlist of their top songs from 2019, plus playlists for every year you’ve subscribed to Apple Music, retroactively. These can be added to your Apple Music Library, so you can stream them at any time, even when offline. Like any playlist, your Apple Music Replay can also be shared with others, allowing you to compare top songs with friends, for example, or post to social media.

But while Spotify’s Wrapped is more of an annual retrospective, Apple Music Replay will continue to be updated all year long, evolving as your musical tastes and interests do throughout the year. The playlist and its associated data insights will be updated on Sundays to reflect subscribers’ latest listening activity, says Apple.

That makes the playlist more of a compilation of favorites, which continues to add value throughout the year — not just at the end. And when January rolls around, the 2020 Replay playlist will be a blank slate to fill with your favorites from Apple Music’s catalog of 60 million tracks.

Apple Music Replay is available from the Apple Music app across platforms, including via the web at replay.music.apple.com.

Beyond being fun to use, the addition of Apple Music Replay aims to help Apple better compete against Spotify, which leverages streaming data to create numerous personalized playlists and features for its users and subscribers. Spotify recently reported better-than-expected earnings and said it turned a profit, as it reached 113 million premium subscribers by September’s end. Apple, meanwhile, had 60 million paying subscribers as of late June.

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Atlassian expands Jira Service Desk beyond IT teams

Atlassian today announced a set of new templates and workflows for Jira Service Desk that were purpose-built for HR, legal and facilities teams. Service Desk started six years ago as a version of Jira that was mostly meant for IT departments. Atlassian, however, found that other teams inside the companies that adopted it started to use it as well, including various teams at Twitter and Airbnb, for example. With today’s update, it’s now making it easier for these teams, at least in legal, HR and facilities, to get started with Jira Service Desk without having to customize the product themselves.

“Over the last six years, one of the observations that we’ve made was that we need to provide really good services — the idea that we can provide great services to employees is really something that is really on the rise,” said Edwin Wong, the head of the company’s IT products. “I think in the past, maybe we were a bit more forgiving in terms of what employees expected from services departments. But today you’re just so used to great experiences in your consumer life and when you come to work, you expect the same.”

But lots of service teams, he argues, didn’t have the tools to provide this experience, yet they were looking for tools to streamline their workflows (think onboarding for HR teams, for example) and to move from manual processes to something more automated and modern. Jira was already flexible enough to allow them to do this, but the new set of templates now codifies these processes for them.

Wong stressed this isn’t just about tracking but also managing work across teams and providing them a more centralized hub for information. “One of the big challenges that we’ve seen from many of the customers that we’ve spoken to is the challenge of just figuring out where to go when you want something,” he said. “When I have a new employee, where do I go to ask for a new laptop? Is that the same process as telling my facilities teams that perhaps there is an issue with a bathroom?”

Atlassian is starting with these three templates because that’s where it saw the most immediate need. Over time, I’m sure we’ll see the company get into other verticals as well.

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What AI startups need to achieve before VCs will invest

Funding of artificial intelligence-focused companies reached approximately $9.3 billion in the U.S. in 2018, an amount that will continue to rise as the transformative impact of AI is realized. That said, not every AI startup has what it takes to secure an investment and scale to success.

So, what do venture capitalists look for when considering an investment in an AI company?

What we look for in all startups

Some fundamentals are important in any of our investments, AI or otherwise. First, entrepreneurs need to articulate that they are solving a large and important problem. It may sound strange, but finding the right problem can be more difficult than finding the right solution. Entrepreneurs need to demonstrate that customers will be willing to switch from what they’re currently using and pay for the new solution.

The team must demonstrate their competence in the domain, their functional skills and above all, their persistence and commitment. The best ideas likely won’t succeed if the team isn’t able to execute. Setting and achieving realistic milestones is a good way to keep operators and investors aligned. Successful entrepreneurs need to show why their solution offers superior value to competitors in the market — or, in the minority of cases where there is an unresolved need — why they’re in the best position to solve it.

In addition, the team must clearly explain how their technology works, how it differs and is advantageous relative to existing competitors and must explain to investors how that competitive advantage can be sustained.

For AI entrepreneurs, there are additional factors that must be addressed. Why? It is fairly clear that we’re in the early stages of this burgeoning industry which stands to revolutionize sectors from healthcare to fintech, logistics to transportation and beyond. Standards have not been settled, there is a shortage of personnel, large companies are still struggling with deployment, and much of the talent is concentrated in a few large companies and academic institutions. In addition, there are regulatory challenges that are complex and growing due to the nature of the technology’s evolutionary aspect.

Here are five things we like to see AI entrepreneurs demonstrate before making an investment:

Demonstrate mastery over their data and its value: AI needs big data to succeed. There are two models: companies can either help customers add value to their data or build a data business using AI. In either case, startups must demonstrate that the data is reliable, secure and compliant with all regulatory rules. They must also demonstrate that AI is adding value to their own data — it must explain something, derive an explanation, identify important trends, optimize or otherwise deliver value.

With the sheer abundance of data available for companies to collect today, it’s imperative that startups have an agile infrastructure in place that allows them to store, access and analyze this data efficiently. A data-driven startup must become ever more responsive, proactive and consistent over time.

AI entrepreneurs should know that while machine learning can be applied to many problems, it may not always yield accurate predictions in every situation. Models may fail for a variety of reasons, one of which is inadequate, inconsistent or variable data. Successful mastery of the data demonstrates to customers that the data stream is robust, consistent and that the model can adapt if the data sources change.

Entrepreneurs can better address their customer needs if they can demonstrate a fast, efficient way to normalize and label the data using meta tagging and other techniques.

Remember that transparency is a virtue: There is an increased need in certain industries — such as financial services — to explain to regulators how the sausage is  made, so to speak. As a result, entrepreneurs must be able to demonstrate explainability to show how the model arrived at the result (for example, a credit score). This brings us to an additional issue about accounting for bias in models and, here again, the entrepreneur must show the ability to detect and correct bias as soon as they are found.

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GitHub faces more resignations in light of ICE contract

Microsoft-owned GitHub has been under intense scrutiny as of late for its $200,000 contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Now, another employee, engineer Alice Goldfuss, has resigned.

In a tweet, Goldfuss said GitHub has a number of problems to address and that “ICE is only the latest.”

Meanwhile, Vice reports at least five staffers quit today. These resignations come the same day as GitHub Universe, the company’s big product conference. Ahead of the conference, Tech Workers Coalition protested the event, setting up a cage to represent where ICE detains children.

Last month, GitHub staff engineer Sophie Haskins resigned, stating she was leaving because the company did not cancel its contract with ICE, The Los Angeles Times reported.

Last month, GitHub employees penned an open letter urging the company to stop working with ICE. That came following GitHub’s announcement of a $500,000 donation to non-profit organizations in support of “immigrant communities targeted by the current administration. In that announcement, GitHub CEO Nat Friedman said ICE’s purchase was made through one of GitHub’s reseller partners and said the deal is not “financially material” for the company. Friedman also pointed out that ICE is responsible for more than immigration and detention facilities.

“[…] We recognize that ICE is responsible for both enforcing the US immigration policies with which we passionately disagree, as well as policies that are critical to our society, such as fighting human trafficking,” Friedman wrote. “We do not know the specific projects that the on-premises GitHub Enterprise Server license is being used with, but recognize it could be used in projects that support policies we both agree and disagree with.”

But some employees were not persuaded by Friedman’s words.

“We are not satisfied with GitHub’s now-public stance on this issue,” GItHub employees wrote in an open letter. “GitHub has held a ‘seat at the table’ for over 2 years, as these illegal and dehumanizing policies have escalated, with little to show for it. Continuing to hold this contract does not improve our bargaining power with ICE. All it does is make us complicit in their widespread human rights abuses.”

In response to that open letter, GitHub COO Erica Brescia said preventing ICE from using GitHub could “hurt the very people we all want to help,” The Los Angeles Times reported last month. Still, employees are not letting up, as illustrated by the action this morning.

When reached for comment about GitHub’s stance on its contract with ICE, GitHub directed me to its blog post from last month. TechCrunch has sent a follow-up note to see if the company will comment on the resignation.

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Rocket Lab’s new ‘Rosie the Robot’ speeds up launch vehicle production – by a lot

Rocket launch startup Rocket Lab is all about building out rapid-response space launch capabilities, and founder/CEO Peter Beck is showing off its latest advancement in service of that goal: A room-sized manufacturing robot named ‘Rosie.’

Rosie is tasked with processing the carbon composite components of Rocket Lab’s Electron launch vehicle. That translates to basically getting the rocket flight ready, and there’s a lot involved in that – it’s a process that normally can take “hundreds of hours,” according to Beck. So how fast can Rosie manage the same task?

“We can produce one launch vehicle in this machine every 12 hours,” Beck says in the video. That includes “every bit of marking, every bit of machining, every bit of drilling,” he adds.

This key new automation tool essentially turns something that was highly bespoke and manual, and turns it into something eminently repeatable and expedited, which is a necessary ingredient if Rocket Lab is ever to accomplish its goal of providing high-frequency launches to small satellite customers with very little turnaround time. The company’s New Zealand launch facility recently landed an FAA license that helps sketch out the extent of its ambition, since it’s technically cleared to launch rockets as often as every 72 hours.

In addition to innovations like Rosie, Rocket Lab uses 3D printing for components of its launch vehicle engines that result in single-day turnaround for production, vs. weeks using more traditional methods. It’s also now working on an ambitious plan for rocket recovery, which should help further with providing high-frequency launch capabilities since it’ll mean you don’t have to build entirely new launch vehicles for every mission.

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GitHub launches a mobile app, smarter notifications and improved code search

At its annual Universe conference today, Microsoft -owned GitHub announced a couple of new products, as well as the general availability of a number of tools that developers have been able to test for the last few months. The two announcements that developers will likely be most interested in are the launch of GitHub’s first native mobile app and an improved notifications experience. But in addition to that, it is also taking GitHub Actions, the company’s workflow automation and CI/CD solution, as well as GitHub Packages, out of beta. GitHub is also improving its code search, adding scheduled reminders and it’s launching a pre-release program that will allow users to try out new features before they are ready for a wider rollout.

GitHub is also extending its sponsor program, which until now allowed you to tip individual open source contributors for their work, to the project level. With GitHub Sponsors, anybody can help fund a project and the members of that project then get to choose how to use the money. These projects have to be open source and have a corporate or non-profit entity attached to it (and a bank account).

“Developers are what’s driving us and we’re building the tools and the experiences to help them come together to create the world’s most important technologies and to do it on an open platform and ecosystem,” GitHub SVP of Product Shanku Niyogi told me. Today’s announcements, he said, are driven by the company’s mission to improve the developer experience. Over the course of the last year, the company launched well over 150 new features and enhancements, Niyogi stressed. For its Universe show, the company decided to highlight the new mobile app and notification enhancements, though.

The new mobile app, which is now out in beta for iOS, with Android support coming soon, offers all of the basic features you’d want from a mobile app like this. The team decided to focus squarely on the kind of mobile use cases that would make the most sense for a developer on the go, so you’ll be able to share feedback on discussions, review a few lines of code and merge changes, but this isn’t meant to be a tool that replicated the full GitHub experience, though at least on the iPad, you do get a bit more screen real estate to work with.

“When you start to look at the tablet experience, that then extends out because you now got more space,” explained Niyogi. “You can look at the code, you can navigate some of that, we support some of the key same keyboard shortcuts that github.com does to be able to look at a larger amount of content and a larger amount of code. So, the idea is the experience scales with the mobile devices you have, and but it’s also designed for the things you’re likely to do when you’re not using your computer.”

Others have built mobile apps for GitHub before, of course, and it turns out that the developers of GitHawk, which was launched by a group of engineers from Instagram, recently joined GitHub to help the company in its efforts to get this new app off the ground.

The second major new feature is the improved notifications experience. As every GitHub user on even a medium-sized team knows, GitHub’s current set of notifications can quickly become overwhelming. That’s something the GitHub team was also keenly aware of, so the company decided to build a vastly improved system that includes filters, as well as an inbox for all of your notifications right inside of GitHub.

“The experience for developers today can result in an inbox in Gmail or whatever email client you use with tons and tons of notifications — and it can end up being kind of hard to know what matters and what’s just noise,” Kelly Stirman, GitHub’ VP of Strategy and Product Management, said. “We’ve done a bunch of things over the last year to make notifications better, but what we’ve done is a big step. We’ve reimagined what notifications should be.”

Using filters and rules, developers can zero in on the notifications that matter to them, all without flooding your inbox with unnecessary noise. Developers can customize these filters to their hearts’ content. That’s also where the new mobile experience fits in well. “Many times, the notification will be sent to you when you’re not at your computer when you’re not at your desktop,” noted Stirman. “And that notification might be somebody asking for your help to unblock something. And so it’s natural we think that we need to extend the GitHub experience beyond the desktop to a mobile experience.”

Talking about notifications: GitHub also today announced a new feature in a limited preview that adds a few more notifications to your inbox. You can now set up scheduled reminders for pending code reviews.

Among the rest of today’s announcements, the improved code search stands out because that’s definitely an area where some improvements were necessary. This new code search is currently in limited beta, but should roll out to all users over the next few months. It’ll introduce a completely new search experience, the company says, that can match special characters and casing, among other things.

Also new are code review assignments, now in public beta, and a new way to navigate code on GitHub.

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WhiteSource acquires automated dependency update solution Renovate

Open-source security specialist WhiteSource has announced that it is acquiring Renovate. According to WhiteSource, Renovate is an open-source dependency update solution.

“Renovate was developed because running user-facing applications with outdated dependencies is not a serious option for software projects today,” said Rhys Arkins, founder of Renovate. “It increases the likelihood of unfixed bugs and increases the quantity and impact of security vulnerabilities within software applications. With Renovate, you can automatically and efficiently keep dependencies up-to-date, integrating this process into any DevOps workflow.”

As part of the acquisition, all of Renovate’s commercial offerings will be made available for free as WhiteSource Renovate. These include a GitHub app, a GitLab app, and a self-hosted solution. 

WhiteSource will keep driving the open-source project, which currently have over 5,000 commits from over 150 contributors. 

In addition, WhiteSource will work to integrate Renovate into its product portfolio, which includes WhiteSource Core and WhiteSource for Developers.

In a blog post announcing the acquisition, Renovate’s Arkins detailed what he hopes to achieve by becoming part of WhiteSource. According to Arkins, the company will now be able to extend cross-platform and multi-language leadership, release the WhiteSource Renovate Server in regular release cycles, and extend the WhiteSource Renovate app to support Bitbucket Cloud and Azure DevOps. In addition, Arkins will join WhiteSource as director of product.

“We’re excited to add Renovate’s technology to the WhiteSource product line, and we’re looking forward to getting it into the hands of as many developers as possible,” said Rami Sass, CEO of WhiteSource. “Dependency visibility and currency are essential ingredients for mature software organizations and an important complement to vulnerability and license management. We’re proud that a tool for updating dependencies is itself open source and will ensure the project continues to extend its leadership in multi-platform and language support.”

The post WhiteSource acquires automated dependency update solution Renovate appeared first on SD Times.

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Volkswagen’s $800M Tennessee factory expansion to include battery pack plant

Volkswagen said Wednesday it will build a battery pack assembly facility as part of an $800 million expansion project that will turn the Chattanooga, Tenn. factory into its North American base for manufacturing electric vehicles.

The Chattanooga factory expansion, which is includes a 564,000-square-foot addition to the body shop and is expected to create 1,000 new jobs at the plant, has been in the works for some time now. But the battery pack assembly announcement, while logical, came as a surprise.

“This is a big, big moment for this company,” Scott Keogh, president and CEO of Volkswagen Group of America said in a statement. “Expanding local production sets the foundation for our sustainable growth in the U.S. Electric vehicles are the future of mobility and Volkswagen will build them for millions of people.”

The automaker’s Chattanooga expansion is just a piece its broader plan to move away from diesel in the wake of the emissions cheating scandal that erupted in 2015. Globally, VW Group plans to commit almost $50 billion through 2023 toward the development and production of electric vehicles and digital services.

The Tennessee factory (along with the other new facilities) will produce electric vehicles using Volkswagen’s modular electric toolkit chassis, or MEB, introduced by the company in 2016. The MEB is a flexible modular system — really a matrix of common parts — for producing electric vehicles that VW says make it more efficient and cost-effective.

The company also built a European facility in Zwickau, Germany. Earlier this month, VW began production of the ID. 3 electric vehicle began at the Zwickau factory. By 2022, VW’s MEB vehicles will be produced at eight locations on three continents.

EV-production at facilities are expected to come online in Anting and Foshan in China in 2020, and in the German cities of Emden and Hanover by 2022.

Volkswagen currently produces the midsize Atlas SUV and the Passat sedan at the Chattanooga factory. Production of its electric vehicles is  set to begin in Chattanooga in 2022. First model will be a SUV of ID. family.

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Disney+ has already attracted over 10 million subscribers

Disney’s launch of its premium subscription streaming service Disney+ was not without issues – high demand resulted int content not being accessible for hours on its first day of availability. The company cited higher-than-expected demand as a factor, and now we have a rough estimate of the size of that demand – Disney has revealed that it signed up 10 million users since its Tuesday debut.

That’s a lot of subscribers in a very short period. To put it in perspective, Netflix recently reported 158 million subscribers, but that’s its total audience after many years of availability, across a broad global market. Disney+ is launching only in a few markets around the world, including the U.S. and Canada, and the Netherlands, while Netflix has grown to cover much of the world. Netflix also started out with much lower subscriber counts when it was U.S. only, with 7.38 million in 2007, the year it began offering streaming for the first time.

Disney+ has been offering customers in the U.S. the ability to pre-order their accounts since a couple of months ago, so its subscriber count represents a bit of runway and marketing effort, rather than just pent-up demand. It’s also offering a year of free access to qualifying Verizon subscribers. But that’s still a very impressive debut for a brand new streaming offering, and a firm basis upon which Disney can grow its audience through future releases and marketing efforts.

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