Bogus hot takes about low iPhone X demand being repeated about iPhone XS

Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL leak side-by-side in press renders

Answering its critics, Google loosens reins on AMP project

Accelerated Mobile Pages, or AMP, has been a controversial project since its debut. The need for the framework has been clear: the payloads of mobile pages can be just insane, what with layers and layers of images, JavaScript, ad networks, and more slowing down page rendering time and costing users serious bandwidth on metered plans.

Yet, the framework has been aggressively foisted on the community by Google, which has backed the project not just with technical talent, but also by making algorithmic changes to its search results that have essentially mandated that pages comply with the AMP project’s terms — or else lose their ranking on mobile searches.

Even more controversially, as part of making pages faster, the AMP project uses caches of pages on CDNs — which are hosted by Google (and also Cloudflare now). That meant that Google’s search results would direct a user to an AMP page hosted by Google, effectively cutting out the owner of the content in the process.

The project has been led by Malte Ubl, a senior staff engineer working on Google’s Javascript infrastructure projects, who has until now held effective unilateral control over the project.

In the wake of all of this criticism, the AMP project announced today that it would reform its governance, replacing Ubl as the exclusive tech lead with a technical steering committee comprised of companies invested in the success in the project. Notably, the project’s intention has an “…end goal of not having any company sit on more than a third of the seats.” In addition, the project will create an advisory board and working groups to shepherd the project’s work.

The project is also expected to move to a foundation in the future. These days, there are a number of places such a project could potentially reside, including the Apache Software Foundation and the Mozilla Foundation.

While the project has clearly had its detractors, the performance improvements that AMP has been fighting for are certainly meritorious. With this more open governance model, the project may get deeper support from other browser makers like Apple, Mozilla, and Microsoft, as well as the broader open source community.

And while Google has certainly been the major force behind the project, it has also been popular among open source software developers. Since the project’s launch, there have been 710 contributors to the project according to its statistics, and the project (attempting to empathize its non-Google monopoly) notes that more than three-quarters of those contributors don’t work at Google.

Nonetheless, more transparency and community involvement should help to accelerate Accelerated Mobile Pages. The project will host its contributor summit next week at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, where these governance changes as well as the technical and design roadmaps for the project will be top of mind for attendees.

Evernote just slashed 54 jobs, or 15 percent of its workforce

It’s no secret that Evernote, the productivity app that lets people take notes and organize other files from their working and non-work life, has been trying to regain its former footing as one of the most popular apps in the U.S., and that doing so has been an ongoing struggle.

Just two weeks ago, we reported that Evernote had lost several of its most senior executives, including its CTO Anirban Kundu, CFO Vincent Toolan, CPO Erik Wrobel and head of HR Michelle Wagner.

Now, Chris O’Neill — who took over as CEO of Evernote in 2015 after running the business operations at the Google X research unit — is sharing more demoralizing news with employees. To wit, he’s firing dozens of them. At an an all-hands meeting earlier today, he told gathered staffers that Evernote has no choice but to lay off 54 people —  roughly 15 percent of the company’s workforce — and to focus its efforts instead around specific functions, including product development and engineering.

We’ve reached out to the company for more information about what the move means for Evernote. In the meantime, the move certainly doesn’t look encouraging. In fact, a person who tipped TechCrunch off to the executive departures two weeks ago characterized Evernote as “in a death spiral,” saying that user growth and active users have been flat for the last six years and that the company’s enterprise product offering hasn’t caught on.

It’s worth noting that in addition to shoring up its ranks, Evernote may soon be facing a funding shortage, if these layoffs were’t prompted by one. The company has raised nearly $300 million over the years, including from Sequoia Capital, New Enterprise Associates, and T. Rowe Price, but the last round it raised, according to Pitchbook, was a $6 million mezzanine round that closed in 2013.

You can learn more about what happened today via a note that O’Neill just sent to staffers.

For those of you who missed our All Hands today, I have some difficult news to share.

As part of an ongoing evaluation of our business, we’ve decided to make a tough, but necessary decision to set Evernote up for future success. We’ll be saying goodbye to 54 talented and dedicated people, each of whom has contributed to Evernote’s mission. This was an extremely difficult decision and one that we did not take lightly.

As you’ve heard me say during the past few months, I set incredibly aggressive goals for the year. We’ve grown significantly this year, but at the same time we invested too far ahead of that growth.

We must adjust quickly when part of our strategy is not meeting our expectations. Going forward, we’re streamlining certain functions and will continue to make investments to speed up and scale others, like product development and engineering.

I understand that today’s news may cause concern. We need to remember our amazing community of people who rely on our products and believe in our mission. Together, we have built a product that serves over 225 million people around the world who trust us with more than 9 billion notes containing their most important thoughts, ideas, and inspirations.

As I discussed in All-Hands, Evernote grew over 20% in the first half this year and we are in a stable financial position. Our Q3 revenue numbers remain strong and we expect to end the quarter north of $27 million. We have over $30 million in cash on our balance sheet and will exit 2018 generating more cash than we spend.

Though today is hard, this is the right decision for the business and the best way for us to invest in our future. For those friends and colleagues impacted today, we’ll be providing severance and other benefits to support them in their transition. We’ll have a series of AMAs to answer your questions that were not addressed today. As always, feel free to contact me with your questions. Tomorrow, I will publicly address our customers, partners and community on our blog.

Chris

Here’s what Google’s $149 Home Hub smart display will reportedly look like

Google is reportedly getting ready to launch some new hardware at its October 9 hardware event and we just learned a lot more about a new product that might be launching.

It was rumored that Google was working on its own Smart Display, now we’ve got images of the Google Home Hub and details about its price tag via a report from AndroidAuthority.

via Android Authority

The device certainly looks like a Google Home product with all the fabric anyone could ask for and then far, far more on top of it.

It’s rocking a 7-inch screen and will cost just $149, which is quite a bit cheaper than the 8-inch Lenovo Smart Display which is currently the cheapest option at $199 while its 10-inch varietal ships for $249 as does the stereo-speakered JBL Link View.

Having played around with Lenovo’s product, Google has some very pretty software for their Smart Displays but there are some strange quirks given that the screen is basically superfluous by design as it can’t ever assumed that the speaker can see the screen when an answer is being given. Google has their work cut out for them, but it might be in their best interest to introduce some light touch interactions that allow you to perform more actions without speaking at all, otherwise the screen is always going to feel a bit misplaced aside from pulling up a YouTube video or watching a slideshow.

What will be interesting to see is what exclusive software wizardry the device has, if anything. The report details that the device will not have a camera like other Smart Displays which is a bit funny given that the whole point of it was to bolster its Duo video call service, which Google seems to realize either isn’t worth the inexpensive components or the potential privacy overhead.

If the rumored price of $149 proves accurate and Google opts for most of the internals that the partner Smart Displays have, this will be a very cool device at a great deal that will not get used very often. It is wildly unclear what the point is of this product vertical, and without breaking it free of its software prison Google seems to be missing a big opportunity that could be fulfilled by whatever the big G’s competitors eventually release.

This report seems pretty solid, but we only have to wait a couple more weeks to see what Google has in store, TechCrunch will be keeping up with the details at the company’s Pixel 3 hardware event on October 9.

Amplify Partners locks in $200 million to transform technical founders into people who can actually lead a startup

Sunil Dhaliwal has had a solid run in his 20 years so far as a VC. Just two years out of Georgetown, Dhaliwal landed at Battery Ventures, a highly regarded venture firm. Fifteen years later, in 2012, he struck out on his own, creating Amplify Partners. It wasn’t so easy at first. His first fund required 18 months of on-again, off-again fundraising before closing with $49.1 million in capital commitments. But things have picked up substantially since. In fact, today, Amplify, once a micro fund, is taking the wraps off a third fund that it just closed with $200 million.

Some early bets made this newest fund much easier to raise than even its second fund, which closed with $125 million in 2015.

In addition to Dhaliwal’s personal track record, which includes leading deals at Battery like Netezza, acquired by IBM, and CipherTrust, acquired by Secure Computing,  Amplify has already seen four of its portfolio companies get acquired, including: the breach-detection software company LightCyber, which sold last year to Palo Alto Networks for $105 million; the sale of Conjur, which made DevOps security software, to publicly traded CyberArk Software last year for $42 million in cash;  the sale of the app development service Buddybuild to Apple (for undisclosed terms); and the sale of AppNeta, an end-user experience performance monitoring startup, to the private equity firm Rubicon Technology Partners.

Two others portfolio companies, which represent the firm’s biggest bets, look like they could eventually represent even bigger outcomes for the firm: Fastly, which operates a content delivery network to speed up web requests, is already talking about going public, after raising $220 million from investors over the last few years. Meanwhile, DataDog, which offers monitoring and analytics for cloud-based workflows, said five months ago that it had already surpassed $100 million in recurring revenue and that it has been doubling that amount every year so far.

A growing team has helped, too. In addition to David Beyer, a cofounder of Chartio who joined as a principal early on and is today a partner with Amplify, the firm features general partner Mike Dauber, who, like Dhaliwal, previously worked at Battery; partner Lenny Pruss, who was previously principal with Redpoint Ventures; principals Lisha Li and Sarah Catanzano. Li has a PhD from UC Berkeley and worked previously as a data scientist at both Pinterest and Stitch Fix; Catanzano was previously head of data at Mattermark and, before that, as a data partner at the venture firm Canvas Ventures.

Yet perhaps most helpful, Amplify would argue, is the opportunity it is chasing, which is broadly: distributed computing and developer-centric and data analytics companies, because they increasingly cheaper to launch, and they get their products into the hands of technical buyers faster than ever. In fact, roughly 80 percent of the teams with which Amplify is working are led by first-time founders and 90 percent of these are “hyper technical domain experts” who Amplify aims to help evolve from “technical founders to just founders and CEOs who know how to build out a organization,” says Dhaliwal on a call yesterday.

It’s become increasingly competitive for some of that talent, Dhaliwal acknowledged. But staking out Amplify’s territory from the get-go has helped, he suggests. “We work with technical founders on novel applications of computer science at the seed and Series A stages. When you draw a box around that, a lot of people will gladly identify out. Some will say, ‘You really aren’t me.’ But for others who do self-identify, it’s clearly a fit on both sides. We tend to have a deep and powerful connection early on.”

Amplify, which writes checks ranging from $500,000 to upwards of $10 million, has backed roughly 50 companies to date. You can check out its porfolio here.

Kayak’s new AR feature will tell you if your carry-on bag fits the overhead bin

Popular travel app Kayak has put augmented reality to clever use with a new feature that lets you measure the size of your carry-on bag using just your smartphone. Its updated iOS app now takes advantage of Apple’s ARKit technology to introduce a new Bag Measurement tool that will help you calculate your bag’s size so you can find out if it fits in the overhead bin – you know, before your trip.

The tool is handy because the dimensions of permitted carry-on luggage can differ from airline to airline, Kayak explains, so it’s not as simple these days to figure out if your bag will fit.

In the new Kayak iOS app, you can access the measurement tool through the Flight Search feature.

The app will first prompt you to scan the floor in order to calibrate the measurements. You then move your phone around the bag to capture its size. Kayak’s app will do the math and return the bag’s size, in terms of length, width, and height.

And it will tell you if the bag “looks good” or not to meet the carry-on size requirements.

Plus, the company says it compares all the airlines’ baggage size requirements in one place, so you’ll know for sure if it will be allowed by the airline you’re flying.

Augmented reality applications, so far, have been a mixed bag. (Sorry).

Some applications can be fairly useful  – like visualizing furniture placed in a room or trying on new makeup colors. (Yes, really. I’m serious). But others are more questionable – like some AR gaming apps, perhaps. (For example, how long would you play that AR slingshot game?)

But one area where AR has held up better is in helping you measure stuff with your phone – so much so that even Apple threw in its own AR measuring tape with iOS 12.

Kayak’s tool, also timed with the release of iOS 12, is among those more practical applications.

The company says the AR feature is currently only live on updated iOS devices.

Microsoft launches new AI applications for customer service and sales

Like virtually every other major tech company, Microsoft is currently on a mission to bring machine learning to all of its applications. It’s no surprise then that it’s also bringing ‘AI’ to its highly profitable Dynamics 365 CRM products. A year ago, the company introduced its first Dynamics 365 AI solutions and today it’s expanding this portfolio with the launch of three new products: Dynamics 365 AI for Sales, Customer Service and Market Insights.

“Many people, when they talk about CRM, or ERP of old, they referred to them as systems of oppression, they captured data,” said Alysa Taylor, Microsoft corporate VP for business applications and industry. “But they didn’t provide any value back to the end user — and what that end user really needs is a system of empowerment, not oppression.”

It’s no secret that few people love their CRM systems (except for maybe a handful of Dreamforce attendees), but ‘system of oppression’ is far from the ideal choice of words here. Yet Taylor is right that early systems often kept data siloed. Unsurprisingly, Microsoft argues that Dynamics 365 does not do that, allowing it to now use all of this data to build machine learning-driven experiences for specific tasks.

Dynamics 365 AI for Sales, unsurprisingly, is meant to help sales teams get deeper insights into their prospects using sentiment analysis. That’s obviously among the most basic of machine learning applications these days, but AI for Sales also helps these salespeople understand what actions they should take next and which prospects to prioritize. It’ll also help managers coach their individual sellers on the actions they should take.

Similarly, the Customer Service app focuses on using natural language understanding to understand and predict customer service problems and leverage virtual agents to lower costs. Taylor used this part of the announcement to throw some shade at Microsoft’s competitor Salesforce. “Many, many vendors offer this, but they offer it in a way that is very cumbersome for organizations to adopt,” she said. “Again, it requires a large services engagement, Salesforce partners with IBM Watson to be able to deliver on this. We are now out of the box.”

Finally, Dynamics 365 AI for Market Insights does just what the name implies: it provides teams with data about social sentiment, but this, too, goes a bit deeper. “This allows organizations to harness the vast amounts of social sentiment, be able to analyze it, and then take action on how to use these insights to increase brand loyalty, as well as understand what newsworthy events will help provide different brand affinities across an organization,” Taylor said. So the next time you see a company try to gin up some news, maybe it did so based on recommendations from Office 365 AI for Market Insights.

Why Apple doesn’t care that people aren’t buying new iPhones every year