el producto #96 👉 a weekly round-up of Tech and Product goodness

Amazon new HQ, WeChat mini-apps, Samsung foldable phone, Alexa for the shower, AI in China, Facebook’s Portal on sale, UberEats expansion & more.

Welcome to another week full of fresh ideas and innovation at el producto!

🎰 The week in figures

$4B on a $30B valuation raised by Alibaba’s on-demand services subsidiary; the division was formed when Alibaba combined on-demand business Ele.me with restaurant guides unit Koubei.

$154M Series C on a $1B valuation raised by travel firm TripActions; Ben Horowitz (a16z) joins the board; the company offers an enterprise booking platform for flights, hotels, and more; raised $231.5M.

1M mini apps offered by WeChat now, representing 200M active users; the apps exist within the WeChat app and don’t require app store-hosted downloads; e.g. a user can hail a ride via Didi mini app without launching the full app store; comparatively, Apple’s App Store claimed 2.1M apps in April.

$200 - Facebook’s Portal video chat devices go on sale; $200 Portal and $350 Portal Plus available from Amazon, Best Buy, and Facebook itself; Facebook says it doesn’t listen to or view video calls, but says it does capture the same data as Messenger.

2 - Amazon plans to split its second headquarters across two cities; the move will allow the company to recruit from a broader pool of tech talent; Amazon intends to hire 25k people in each location; Amazon is considering Crystal City, VA, Dallas, TX, and New York City.


📰 What’s going on

Google announces the Android Updates API; enables two new app update options: the first, intended for significant bug patches, lets the developer prevent users from launching an app before an update; the second allows the user to access the app, but while a required update is downloading.

Facebook is set to introduce an unsend feature for Messenger; users will have 10 minutes to delete a message once sent; WhatsApp lets users delete messages up to an hour after sending.

Instagram is testing URL linking for Stories, allowing users to access Stories from external websites; also developing Stories that can be limited to schools and their students; code shows the stories will be manually reviewed to prevent bullying.

Apple releases WatchOS 5.1.1 after pulling v5.1 due to reports of bricked devices; 5.1 added audio-only Group FaceTime calls, additional faces, more; users with Watches disabled by the 5.1 update must contact support.

Amazon Web Services updates its Rekognition image and video analysis service; the tech can now identify the location of objects in an image, detect how many times a given object appears, and show users where the objects are located.

Dropbox launches Extensions, tools for taking quick actions on files using third-party services; available via the desktop web, supports Adobe, DocuSign, Vimeo, Nitro, Pixlr, and Smallpdf; adjustments immediately saved back to Dropbox without having to download/upload anything.

Samsung formally unveils Winner, a foldable phone prototype running the new One UI on top of Android; the company says the 7.3-inch Infinity Flex Display can tolerate hundreds of thousands of folds without sustaining damage; Samsung worked with Google to optimize Android for UI transitions between portrait and tablet modes.

Samsung showcases One UI, its new Android smartphone skin; places key interaction areas toward the bottom of the display and offers a system-wide dark mode; also features redesigned app icons and more; One UI will be available as a public beta later this month; it’s set to launch for Galaxy S9, S9 Plus, and Note 9 devices from Jan 2019.

Microsoft teases Project xCloud: an Azure-powered game streaming service that promises console-quality play on any device, including smartphones (playable with Bluetooth-paired Xbox One controllers); the company plans to begin public trials next year.

The Linux Foundation will host the in-development GraphQL Foundation; Facebook incubated the GraphQL data-query language in 2012 and open sourced it in 2015; users include Twitter, GitHub, Netflix, and Airbnb; the foundation will use an open governance model.

Disney announces that its streaming service, slated to launch late next year, will be branded Disney+; Lucasfilm is currently developing a “Star Wars” live-action series for the service, and Marvel Studios is creating a live-action series based on the Marvel character Loki.

Wasserstein launches a Kickstarter for Aqua Dew, an Alexa-powered splash-proof smart speaker; also has Bluetooth support and available in four colors; comes with a hanging strap and suction cup for use in the shower; raised $7.5k on a $5k goal, ends Dec 4.

Vine Co-Founder Dom Hofmann announces Byte, a looping video app slated to launch in spring; he previously referred to the Vine successor as V2 and paused the project due to legal and financial challenges.

Uber Eats plans to triple its workforce to 900 staff across Europe, the Middle East, and Africa over the next year; the move is part of broader expansion plans which include encouraging more customers to order meals via the Uber Eats website; the company is also rolling out local payment methods for individual markets such as prepaid meal vouchers in France.

Lime launches in Australia; the company has rolled out its dockless e-bikes in Sydney, and partnered with Monash University for a three-month scooter-sharing pilot scheme; Lime plans to also expand to Brisbane.

Scooter-sharing firm Bird launches a limited pilot scheme in London; the e-scooters are only usable on a single route in the city’s Olympic Park, which is classified as private property; Bird does not have approval for use on public streets so the scooters will power down if they stray outside of their geofence.

Volkswagen and D-Wave announce a quantum computing-based traffic management system that promises to maximize operational efficiency for public transit businesses and taxi companies, reducing customer wait times; Volkswagen hopes to test its new algorithm in Barcelona.

The Vatican releases its own ‘Pokémon Go’ app that lets you chase Jesus and it’s just as unbelievable as it sounds.


📚 Stuff to think about

Why China can do AI more quickly and effectively. AI is more like electricity than nuclear weapons: once a technology reaches certain level of maturity, the center of gravity quickly shifts from a handful of elite researchers to an army of tinkerers.

The McRib Effect illustrates why it’s so hard to understand causality.

Too long; didn’t watch. Short video clips are taking up around 9% of Chinese people’s online time, worrying its internet giants.


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