Hands-on with the Oculus Rift S: the ‘S’ stands for Subpar

The Oculus Rift S is a bit of an odd one. Three years after the Rift’s initial launch, Oculus has released a product that feels like a lateral move rather than a leap forward. It’s better in a few ways and worse in a few ways. After spending some time playing with it and spending a lot more time thinking about it, it’s not super clear to me why Oculus made it.

The best reason I can think of is that Facebook sees standalone VR as the area where it should be completely ignoring profits to achieve a mass audience and PC VR users should essentially be subsidizing the broader market with hardware they actually make money off of. Oculus seems to be wanting it both ways though, because they could have released a headset that pushed the limits and charged more for it, but they opted to launch a product that moved laterally and made sacrifices, but they still are charging more for it.

We reported that former Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe left his position as head of PC VR at Facebook partially over the frustration of this project being settled on, something he saw as representative of the company’s “race to the bottom,” a source told us in October.

I will say that the Rift S looks better in real life than it does on paper, but compared to the Oculus Quest and Oculus Go headsets, it still feels like Oculus is launching something below their own standards with the Rift S and that their co-designer Lenovo ultimately made them a headset on-the-cheap that got the job done while lowering the build-of-materials costs.

Well, what is there to like about the new headset?

The new Insight tracking is great, and while this headset basically feels like a minor upgrade to Lenovo’s Mixed Reality headset, the tracking is undoubtedly better than what is available on Microsoft’s two-camera reference layout. By comparison, the Quest has 5 cameras which seem to capture a much greater tracking volume which really encapsulates all of those edge cases where the controllers are far out of sight.

This is a great system and while outside-in tracking is probably always going to be more accurate in certain situations, moving away from the old method was worth it in terms of making the setup process easier. On that note, the new passthrough mode which you can use to set up your boundaries in the Guardian system seems quite a bit easier to use.

On the note of displays, Oculus made some sacrifices here moving from OLED to LCD… and from 90hz to 80hz… and from dual adjustable-panels to a single-panel, but I was largely pleased with the clarity of the new, higher-res single display. This is an area that I’ll really need to dig more into with a full review, but there weren’t any apparent huge issues.

Otherwise, not a ton jumps out as a clear improvement.

The new “halo” ring strap system isn’t for me comfort-wise, but I can imagine others will prefer the fit. Even so, it gives the headset a much more rickety build quality, which has taken an overall downgrade from the original Rift in my opinion. Lenovo’s headsets have typically been bulkier and harder feeling than the softer-edged products from Google, Oculus and HTC; Lenovo’s VR design ethos is on full display here.

The removal of built-in headphones seems like the most outright poor decision with this release and while the integrated speakers are serviceable, it’s clear you’ll want to add some wired headphones if you’re looking for a serious experience, which most PC VR users definitely are.

The new Touch controllers are fine, they’re the same as what will ship with the Oculus Quest. They have a different design that feels pretty familiar but they feel smaller and a bit cheaper. The tracking ring has moved from around your knuckles to the top of the controller.

When it comes to gameplay — when the headset is on and you’re buried in an experience — most of these issues aren’t as apparent as when you consider them individually. The issue is that while the Quest and Go are miles better than any other products in their individual categories, this latest effort is just very mehh. It’s actually odd how much more high-quality the Oculus Quest feels than the Rift S when trying one after the other, it seems like it should be the other way around.

I’ll have to spend more time with the headset for a full review, of course, but on first approach the Rift S seems to be a misstep in Facebook’s otherwise stellar VR product line even if the new Insight tracking system is a push forward in the hardware’s overall usability.

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Postmates’ newest feature is like Uber pool for food delivery

Postmates is launching a new feature called Postmates Party that lets customers within the same neighborhood pool their orders. In return, these customers get the food delivered for free, eliminating a major pinch point for potential Postmates users.

The feature illustrates how Postmates, one of the earlier entrants to the billion-dollar food delivery wars, is trying to remain competitive by appealing to price-sensitive customers.

Customers using the app can tap on the Postmates Party tab, which will show trending merchants that people in their neighborhood are ordering from at that exact moment. By joining the “party,” customers can share the delivery from popular restaurants and get free delivery.

For now, the company’s party feature will only be offered in a handful of the nearly 3,000 U.S. cities it currently operates in. The feature is now available in Chicago, Las Vegas, Long Beach, Calif., Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, Phoenix, San Francisco, San Diego, Seattle, Orange County, Calif., and Philadelphia.

And there is an important caveat. The party feature has a five-minute time limit in which the customer must place their order to get the deal.

“We are driven by the vision of creating a logistics infrastructure that allows goods to move throughout a city at nearly zero cost to the consumer. Postmates Party is the latest innovation in on-demand delivery that will help us deliver on this vision,” Postmates CEO and co-founder Bastian Lehmann said in a statement. “Postmates Party is a fun way to give customers the option to save money by ordering from popular restaurants that people all around them are ordering from in real time.”

Earlier this year, Postmates raised an additional $100 million in equity funding at a $1.85 billion valuation.The round comes four months after the eight-year-old startup drove home a $300 million investment that knocked it into “unicorn” territory.

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TC Sessions: Mobility, a one-day session event on the future of transportation

The way people and packages move from Point A to Point B is in the midst of a remarkable transformation driven by technological innovations in AI, robotics, electric battery development, digital platforms and manufacturing.

A mobility revolution is in the making. And TechCrunch is here — and we’re not just along for the ride. We’re here to uncover new ideas and startups, root out vaporware and dig into the tech and people spurring this change.

In short, we’re helping drive the conversation around mobility. And it’s only fitting we dedicate an event to the topic.

TechCrunch is hosting a one-day event on July 10, 2019 in San Jose, Calif., that’s centered around the future of mobility and transportation: TC Sessions: Mobility.

TC Sessions: Mobility will present a day of programming with the best and brightest founders, investors and technologists who are determined to inventing a future Henry Ford might never have imagined. TC Sessions: Mobility aims to do more than highlight the next new thing. We’ll dig into the how and why, the cost and impact to cities, people and companies, as well as the numerous challenges that lie along the way from technological and regulatory to capital and consumer pressures.

Consider changes in the past five years. Automakers are breaking free from the traditional business model of producing and selling vehicles and investing capital and resources into carsharing, ride-hailing, on-demand shuttles and even subscription services. Buying a used car no longer means visiting a dealership; and electric vehicle ownership, driven by Nissan and Tesla and now joined by a bevy of OEMs and startups, is on the rise.

Breakthroughs in AI has prompted large established technology companies, automakers and hundreds of startups to work on autonomous vehicle technology. The rise in e-commerce has Amazon and other startups investing and experimenting with autonomous delivery bots — and on the other spectrum, into self-driving trucks.

Meanwhile, dockless scooters and bikes are flooding cities and startups are popping up to pursue flying taxis and even space tourism. At the center of all of this are people, and the towns and cities they live in.

TC Sessions: Mobility is the latest in TechCrunch’s growing series of Sessions events that feature a deep dive into a specific topic. In the past, TechCrunch has hosted similar events on robotics, the blockchain and social justice. Through intimate interviews and in-depth discussions, attendees of TC Session events hear from the top individuals and companies pushing their respective field forward.

Through the coming weeks, TechCrunch will announce the participants of TechCrunch Mobility’s fireside chats, panels and workshops.


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What latency feels like on Google’s Stadia cloud gaming platform

After peppering Google employees with questions regarding Stadia’s latency, pricing and supported devices to mostly no avail, I got my hands on one of their new controllers and pressed play on the Doom Eternal gameplay they were showing off on a big-screen TV.

Things started off pretty ugly. The frame rate dropped to a fast-paced PowerPoint presentation, the resolution dipped between 4K crispness and indecipherable blurriness and latency seemed to be as much as a half-second. As the Google employees looked nervously at each other, someone grabbed the controller from me and restarted the system.

After a system restart, things moved along much, much more smoothly. But what the situation sums up is that when it comes to game-streaming things can be unpredictable. To give Google credit, they stress-tested their system by running Stadia on hotel WiFi rather than taking me down to Mountain View and letting me play with Stadia under much more controlled conditions.

Stadia is Google’s cloud game-streaming service and while there’s a lot we don’t know the basic tenants are clear. It moves console-level gaming online into your Chrome browser and lets you access it from devices like smartphones that wouldn’t be able to handle the GPU-load initially.

Despite the initial hiccup, my experience with Stadia was largely positive. Doom Eternal was in crisp 4K and I was able to focus on the game without thinking about the service I was playing it on, which is ultimately the best endorsement of a new platform like this.

This will likely be a great service for more casual gamers but might not be the best fit for the most hardcore users playing multi-player titles. While you may be launching this service directly from YouTube feeds of eSports gamers, this is something they probably wouldn’t use. That’s because the latency between input and something being displayed onscreen isn’t imperceptible, though it’s probably good enough for the vast majority of users (myself included) which is still a worthy prize for the company’s efforts to take on the massive gaming market.

Google wouldn’t give me a proper range of where exactly latency fell, but they did say it was less than the time it took for a human to perceive something and react — which a Google employee then told me differed person-to-person but was generally 70ms-130ms — so I suppose the most official number we’ll get is that the latency is probably somewhere less than 70ms.

There is no hard truth here though because latency will really depend on your geographic proximity to the datacenter. Being in San Francisco, I connected to a data center roughly 50 miles away in San Jose. Google confirmed to me that not all rural users in supported countries will be able to sign-up for the service at launch because of this.

Other interesting things to note:

  • Google said they’d confirm devices later, but when asked about iOS support at launch they highlighted that they were focused on Pixel devices at launch.
  • It doesn’t sound like you’ll be able to restore purchases of games you’ve previously gotten, you’ll unsurprisingly have to buy all of your Stadia titles on the platform.
  • You’ll be able to access games from YouTube streams, but there will also be an online hub for all your content and you can access games via links.
  • The controller was nice and probably felt most similar to the design of Sony’s DualShock controller.

We’ll probably be hearing a lot more at Google I/O this summer, but with my first hands-on demo, the service certainly works and it certainly feels console-quality. The big freaking question is how Google prices this, because that pricing is going to determine whether it’s a service for casual gamers or hardcore gamers, and that will determine whether it’s a success.

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Uber Freight is expanding into Europe

Uber Freight, the newly spun out Uber business unit that helps truck drivers connect with shipping companies, is kicking off its global expansion plans. The company said Wednesday it is launching the app in Europe, starting with the Netherlands.

Local carriers and drivers will be able to book and move their first loads with Uber Freight in the next few weeks, CEO Lior Ron wrote in a blog posted Wednesday. Uber Freight plans to expand to more European countries this year.

The EU and U.S. freight markets have problematic similarities. They’re both huge — the EU truckload market is a $400 billion marketplace and third after China and the U.S. — and inefficient.

“The European trucking market is experiencing a severe shortage of drivers, and of the time drivers are on the road, 21 percent of total kilometers travelled are empty,” Ron wrote. “Inefficiency of this scale results in shippers struggling to find available drivers to move their goods. Additionally, small- to medium-sized carriers in the EU make up more than 85% of the total carrier pool, and just like in other international freight markets, they experience the most difficulty connecting with larger shippers.”

Ron argues that the Uber Freight app has the ability to address these pain points in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere.

Uber Freight has been scaling up its business since launching in May 2017, growing from limited regional operations in Texas to the rest of the continental U.S. The company has offices in San Francisco and Chicago. Uber Freight has launched a series of programs and features since March 2018, including “fleet mode” and Uber Freight Plus, which gives app users access to discounts on services such as fuel, tires and phone plans.

In August, Uber announced that it would make Uber Freight a separate unit and more than double its investment into the business. Since then, the company has redesigned the app, adding new navigation features that make searching for and filtering loads easier to customize and more intuitive as well as other features, including an updated map view and a search bar across the top of the screen.

It’s also made some key hires, one of which intimated the company’s global ambitions. The company hired Andrew Smith, one of Box’s early employees, to head up global sales at Uber Freight, and Bar Ifrach, formerly of Airbnb, to lead its marketplace team, TechCrunch learned last month.

The company has made headway breaking into the U.S. market. The app has been downloaded more than 328,000 times and 12 percent of 350,000 U.S. owner operators have completed the Uber Freight onboarding process, which means they’ve booked or are ready to book a load, the company says. 

Uber Freight had about 30,000 active users last quarter.

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Skymind raises $11.5M to bring deep learning to more enterprises

Skymind, a Y Combinator-incubated AI platform that aims to make deep learning more accessible to enterprises, today announced that it has raised an $11.5 million Series A round led by TransLink Capital, with participation from ServiceNow, Sumitomo’s Presidio Ventures, UpHonest Capital and GovTech Fund. With this, the company has now raised a total of $17.9 million in funding.

The inclusion of TransLink Capital gives a hint as to how the company is planning to use the funding. One of TransLink’s specialties is helping entrepreneurs develop customers in Asia. Skymind believes that it has a major opportunity in that market, so having TransLink lead this round makes a lot of sense. Skymind also plans to use the round to build out its team in North America and fuel customer acquisition there.

“TransLink is the perfect lead for this round, because they know how to make connections between North America and Asia,” Skymind CEO Chris Nicholson told me. “That’s where the most growth is globally, and there are a lot of potential synergies. We’re also really excited to have strategic investors like ServiceNow and Sumitomo’s Presidio Ventures backing us for the first time. We’re already collaborating with ServiceNow, and Skymind software will be part of some powerful new technologies they roll out.”

It’s no secret that enterprises know that they have to adapt AI in some form but are struggling with figuring out how to do so. Skymind’s tools, including its core SKIL framework, allow data scientists to create workflows that take them from ingesting the data to cleaning it up, training their models and putting them into production. The promise here is that Skymind’s tools eliminate the gap that often exists between the data scientists and IT.

“The two big opportunities with AI are better customer experiences and more efficiency, and both are based on making smarter decisions about data, which is what AI does,” said Nicholson. “The main types of data that matter to enterprises are text and time series data (think web logs or payments). So we see a lot of demand for natural-language processing and for predictions around streams of data, like logs.”

Current Skymind customers include the likes of ServiceNow and telco company Orange, while some of its technology partners that integrate its services into their portfolio include Cisco and SoftBank .

It’s worth noting that Skymind is also the company behind Deeplearning4j, one of the most popular open-source AI tools for Java. The company is also a major contributor to the Python-based Keras deep learning framework.

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Daily Crunch: Apple unveils new AirPods

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. Apple announces new AirPods

The new AirPods are fitted with the H1 chip, which is meant to offer performance efficiencies, faster connect times between the pods and your devices and the ability to ask for Siri hands-free with the “Hey Siri” command.

“They are powered by the new Apple -designed H1 chip which brings an extra hour of talk time, faster connections, hands-free ‘Hey Siri’ and the convenience of a new wireless battery case,” said Apple’s Phil Schiller in a press release.

2. Google fined €1.49BN in Europe for antitrust violations in search ad brokering

Speaking at a press conference today, EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager said the search giant — “by far the biggest” search ad broker in the region, with its AdSense platform taking a share in Europe of “well above 70% since 2006” — had engaged in illegal practices in order to “cement its dominant market position.”

3. All 88 companies from Y Combinator’s W19 Demo Day 2

And there were already 85 startups that pitched on Day 1!

4. The 9 biggest questions about Google’s Stadia game streaming service

Google’s Stadia is an impressive piece of engineering to be sure: Delivering high-definition, high frame-rate, low latency video to devices like tablets and phones is an accomplishment in itself. But the game streaming service faces serious challenges if it wants to compete with the likes of Xbox and PlayStation, or even plain old PCs and smartphones.

5. Disney closes its $71.3B Fox acquisition

The goal of the enormous acquisition is to help Disney position itself for a streaming-centric future.

6. Kickstarter CEO Perry Chen steps down

Chen says he will stay with the service as chairman of the board, focusing “on high-level and long-term company needs.” Kickstarter will be promoting its head of Design and Product, Aziz Hasan, as interim CEO, as Chen steps away from day to day operations.

7. The Oculus Rift S is indeed real and arrives in spring for $399

After years of high-profile onstage announcements, Oculus has decided to quietly deliver the successor to its flagship Rift virtual reality headset, confirming most of our October report with the release of the new Oculus Rift S.

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How CrunchMatch helped Yoolox increase distribution

German startup Yoolox, makers of a portable wireless charger for smartphones, tablets and laptops, exhibited in Startup Alley at Disrupt with the goal of spreading awareness of their first products, Yoolox 10k and 16k. Given Disrupt’s global brand exposure, Yoolox decided it would be the perfect place to debut what they had been working on:

TechCrunch Disrupt gave us the opportunity to exchange with potential distribution partners and investors. It was a great opportunity to get a direct feedback. — Pascal Bosten, co-founder, Yoolox

Through CrunchMatch, TechCrunch’s matchmaking tool, Yoolox had a number of meetings set up with various Disrupt attendees, outside of just investors, notably, U.S.-based CWO Distribution, which focuses on helping hardware startups with e-commerce distribution, retail strategies and more. They helped Yoolox get a listing on Amazon while both Walmart and Home Depot are currently underway. In addition, CWO also is handling their entire fulfillment process. Following the conference, Yoolox and CWO took the products to CES and were subsequently featured in Gizmodo and The Verge.

We met CWO at TechCrunch Disrupt in Berlin and since then we have been constantly increasing sales. Disrupt helped us to connect with the right people. The CrunchMatch networking app made it very easy to efficiently filter interests and find the right contact persons. — David Photien, co-founder, Yoolox

If you’re looking to connect with investors, partners or others at Disrupt, taking advantage of the CrunchMatch networking platform may connect you with the right people to propel your business. If you’re interested in exhibiting in Startup Alley, grab your exhibitor package here, which includes three Founder Passes. Or if you were thinking about bringing a group of startups to Disrupt, reach out to startupalley@techcrunch.com and someone from the TechCrunch team will be in touch with you.


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Java 12 is now available

Oracle has released the latest version of Java, which is the first of two major releases for the programming language this year.

According to Oracle, Java 12 will receive at least two more updates before Java 13 is released in September.

Related content: Java 12 to be released next month

New features in Java 12 includes a new low-pause-time garbage collector, microbenchmark suite, switch expressions, a JVM constraints API, a single AArch64 port, default CDS archives, abortable mixed collections for G1, and the ability to return unused committed memory from G1. More detailed information on these features can be found here.

According to Oracle, the rate of change between updates has drastically improved since the company switched to releasing updates every six months. This is because instead of making tens of thousands of fixes available in a release every few years, enhancements can be made on a more manageable and predictable schedule, Oracle explained.

There were 1,919 JIRA issues that were marked as being fixed in Java 12, of which 1,433 were completed by Oracle employees and 486 by individual developers.

The post Java 12 is now available appeared first on SD Times.

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Disney closes its $71.3B Fox acquisition

As of 12:02am Eastern today, Disney has closed its acquisition of 21st Century Fox .

The goal of the enormous acquisition is to help Disney position itself for a streaming-centric future. The company has already taken a step in that direction with the ESPN+ streaming service, and it has plans to launch another service called Disney+ later this year, which will include new shows based on the Star Wars and Marvel universes, as well as Disney’s entire movie library.

With the Fox acquisition, Disney has even more films, TV shows and intellectual property to draw on — as indicated by the redesigned lead image on the on Disney corporate website, which now features “The Shape of Water,” “Avatar” and “Deadpool” (all Fox films), as well as “The Simpsons” and “Atlanta” (which are produced by Fox studios and air on Fox networks). It also becomes the majority owner of Hulu, with CEO Bob Iger (pictured above) saying that Disney will invest in more original content for Hulu and help it expand internationally.

In addition, the deal solidifies Disney’s already-dominant position in Hollywood — seemingly the one studio that can still reliably draw massive audiences to movie theaters. Thanks to its previous acquisitions of Marvel and Lucasfilm, Disney has had the number one movie at the worldwide box office for each of the past four years, and in 2018, it released all of the top three films, while Fox had two movies in the top 10.

Even after Disney won its bidding war with Comcast last year by making an offer of $71.3 billion, the deal has still taken nine months to gain all the necessary regulatory approval.

Meanwhile, Fox’s news and sports divisions — including Fox News, the Fox broadcast network and Fox Sports — have a spun out as a new Fox Corporation, and the acquisition is expected to result in more than 4,000 layoffs.

“I wish I could tell you that the hardest part is behind us; that closing the deal was the finish line, rather than just the next milestone,” Iger said in a staff memo. “What lies ahead is the challenging work of uniting our businesses to create a dynamic, global entertainment company.”

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