el producto #70 👉 a weekly round-up of Tech and Product goodness
Slack growth, Google I/O updates, Twitter encrypted messaging, Xiaomi EU expansion, Self-driving ride-hailing tests (Waymo, Drive.ai), & more.
Welcome to another week full of fresh ideas and innovation at el producto!
✍️ Editor’s note
Perhaps the most stunning presentation of Google I/O event, was seeing Google Assistant making a phone call to book a hairdresser appointment, testing a new AI system called Duplex. Google is trying to circumvent the limited or null online booking capabilities of certain businesses, by keeping the process offline for them. I remember the former CEO of Just Eat saying (at some point early 2017): “Our main competitor is still the telephone. More than x% of food delivery orders are still taken by phone”. Well, Google may now be OK with that.
On the other hand, the new capabilities of Assistant are generating widespread concerns about the ethical and philosophical dilemmas that such a smart AI poses. Duplex laughs at the Touring test by mimicking humans’ to the extent of adding “umm’s” and “aah’s” in a conversation. In a later statement Google said that Duplex will identify itself to humans. But the technology is already here, and if Google has reached this level, others will do. Who and how uses this technology is yet to be seen.
Scroll down to the Google I/O section to see all other announcements made during the event.
🎰 The week in figures
8M Slack daily active users and 3M paid users; up from 6M daily active users and 2M paid users in September; the company also claimed 50k teams and ~$200M ARR in September; +50% of Slack’s users are outside the US.
79% of Facebook users are unwilling to pay $1 per month for an ad-free experience, according to research firm Alpha; the survey also found 84% would not pay $1 per month for messaging; 26% said they were extremely concerned about their privacy on social media.
📰 What’s going on
Amazon has established a “health & wellness” team within Alexa; the team is working toward making Alexa useful in health care while maintaining HIPPA compliance.
Instagram plans to let users add licensed music to Stories; app code suggests users will be able to search for songs within the stickers tab and then drag a selected track onto their video or photo; the search feature is also able to identify music playing on a user’s device.
Twitter developing an encrypted messaging feature; code found within the Android app makes reference to a “Secret Conversation” mode; the feature lets users view each other’s encryption keys to ensure the conversation is secure.
Microsoft to integrate Pay (formerly Wallet) with Outlook; e.g. if a company sends an invoice through Outlook, users can pay within Outlook.
Microsoft demonstrates Cortana integration with Alexa; will enable an Echo speaker user to, for example, launch Cortana with a voice command; no need to say “Cortana” again for following commands and questions; a Windows user can tell Cortana to open Alexa.
Square launches Square for restaurants: an operations platform that handles booking tables, after-meal checks, more; integrates with food-delivery service Caviar, which Square acquired in 2014.
Ebay says it will relaunch in India after selling its Flipkart stake to Walmart for $1.1B; the company will focus on on cross-border sales rather than domestic transactions; the firm merged its previous India operations with Flipkart in 2017.
Japan-based Recruit acquires jobs platform Glassdoor for $1.2B cash; Glassdoor lets users rate companies, search for jobs, compare salaries, and more; raised ~$200M to date. Recruit also owns Indeed.
Mozilla launches Firefox v60 with support for the Web Authentication API; enables users to log into websites using USB tokens such as YubiKey; also adds Group Policy support for enterprise.
Medium shuts down its memberships program, which enabled publishing partners to collect revenues from reader subscriptions; the company notified partners on April 27 that, starting on May 7, subscriptions up for renewal would be canceled.
Dropbox beats expectations on with first quarterly report as a public company: $316M revenue ($309M expected); 11.5M paid users, each of which generated an average $114 revenue; debuted on the Nasdaq on 23/03.
Xiaomi will begin selling devices in France from May 22 and Italy from May 24; last week announced UK launch (no dates); plans to launch in the US by the end of 2018 or early 2019.
Walmart is set to end its grocery delivery partnerships with Uber and Lyft; initially announced in 2016, the service is available in four markets; Walmart says it will begin using other delivery partners.
Uber showcases its latest “flying car” concept; the VTOL aircraft features four sets of twin-rotors, with a fifth rotor for forward propulsion; the craft is designed to fly at a height of up to 600m; Uber is developing an air taxi service to take passengers from rooftop to rooftop.
Uber shuts down in Singapore, its last active market in Southeast Asia; the company is merging its regional operations with Grab.
Lyft announces a wait list for users interested in the company’s All-Access Plan (monthly subscription); Lyft has been testing the service in selected markets and will soon expand to more cities; users will pay $200 up front for $15 off of 30 rides; rides under $15 are free.
Waymo says it will launch a self-driving ride-hailing service in Phoenix, AZ later this year; vehicles won’t have safety drivers; the company worked closely with Google Brain for its pedestrian detection system which led to an exponential reduction in its error rate.
Autonomous driving tech company Drive.ai announces a TX pilot for an on-demand ride service using self-driving vehicles; beginning in July, the company will serve a geo-fenced, limited test area in the town of Frisco.
Volvo launches traffic information sharing for vehicles using the company’s Connected Cloud; initially limited to Norway and Sweden, the feature is available for Volvo cars and Volvo trucks, which are independent manufacturers; example: a car encounters a road hazard and sends data to the cloud; the cloud system warns a cargo truck approaching the hazard.
🤖 Google I/O
Google announces a number of updates for Google Maps; includes AR walking navigation with a map overlay; also adds a For You section with details on nearby restaurants, trending locations, and more; a user can also create a shortlist of venues to share with friends; social features roll out this summer; unclear when AR directions will launch.
Google Pay (Android) adds support for airline boarding passes and event tickets; supports QR barcodes and NFC passes; launch partners include Singapore Airlines, Southwest, and Eventbrite.
Google to update Assistant with food ordering for pickup and delivery; will remember purchase history to simplify reordering; will integrate with third-party apps; partners include Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, Just Eat, and Door Dash; for example, a user can say, “Hey Google, order my usual from just Eat”; Assistant will also provide visual snapshots of the user’s day.
Google updates Gmail with Smart Compose, which uses machine learning to offer suggestions for completing phrases and sentences; suggestions appear in the message body as the user types; when an appropriate suggestion appears, the user taps the “tab” button to insert the text.
Google launches Photos API and developer Partner Program; the API enables developers to create apps that connect to a user’s Google Photos library for uploading and sharing; can also search photos based on image content; launch partners include HP, Xero, and TimeHop.
Google announces its coming Smart Displays (smart speakers with touch screens) will launch in July; partners include Lenovo, LG, Sony, and JBL; will compete with Amazon’s Echo Show.
Google to update Chrome OS with support for Linux apps, including the terminal and apt-get, more; will initially launch in preview on the Pixelbook; will enable developers to write code on Chromebooks; Google is also working on Android Studio for Chrome OS.
Google offers a limited edition 4K HDR Android TV dongle to developers; known as ADT-2, features 2GB RAM and 8GB storage; includes a voice remote with Google Assistant support; available to Google I/O attendees and those who apply online.
Google launches six new voices for Assistant; the company says the male and female voices are better at emulating human speech than the original voice due to natural pauses and other subtleties.
Google to acquire workload mobility company Velostrata; enables companies to migrate from on-premises data centers to the cloud, decoupling storage from compute; can move workloads as needed.
Google launches Tour Creator: an educational tool enabling teachers and students to create VR tours using Google’s Street View and 360-degree images; the tours work with Google Cardboard and the Expeditions app; creators can also embed buttons within scenes to provide additional information on landmarks, etc.
New Pixel-branded watch this fall, according to a source for VentureBeat’s Evan Blass; Google will also introduce Pixel 3, Pixel 3 XL, and second-generation Pixel Buds.
📚 Stuff to think about
The Bing Rule. How raw numbers matter, by Avinash Kaushik.
The transformational shifts that mature companies make to stay relevant. Richard Banfield writes about how deliberate cannibalization, focus on experiences and rationalization can help companies to stay relevant in times of change.