Aug 26, 2017

Google expands its offline YouTube Go app to Indonesia

To refresh your memory, the beta version of YouTube Go launched in India in April. It essentially adds some clever compression tech to Google's popular service, making it easier to watch videos with poor connectivity. Users can save videos to watch offline, check the data demands for clips, and even share them over Bluetooth.

Google Assistant is also receiving a bunch of country-centric updates for Indonesia, via the Allo chat app. Users can now ask questions and get answers from the virtual assistant in Bahasa Indonesia. Similarly, the country will also be one of the first to get locally-tailored answers to questions about health on Google Search. These too will be in Bahasa. Additional features include tappable shortcuts on the Search mobile app, for topics like food and drink, movie showtimes, and directions.

Waze is getting a few nifty updates too. The app is adding a new routing feature, hands-free Bahasa voice commands, and navigation with street names. Users will also be able to record and use their own voice for directions. Oddly, there was no mention of Android Go: A special configuration of Android Oreo, designed to run on low-end smartphones. The OS highlights Google's apps aimed at bilingual users in underserved markets.

To ensure all these services won't go ignored, Google is committing to bolster Indonesia's online infrastructure. The Google Station initiative will work with local ISPs to install hundreds of Wi-FI hotspots in Java and Bali. Google also took the event to announce a number of training and humanitarian programs. You can get the low-down on all its updates via its blog.

from The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW)

Amazon will lose money on Whole Foods — but probably not for long

Sometimes giving up something in the short-term can yield a big reward in the long-term. That’s the idea behind many of Amazon’s businesses, and that’s particularly true of the recent Whole Foods deal.

Amazon’s purchase of the upscale Whole Foods grocery chain for $13.7 billion will go through on Monday, and already the online retailer has said prices will drop on certain organic staples starting then.

The news sent other grocery retailer stock prices tumbling. Walmart fell by 5 percent, Costco was down by 7 percent and Kroger plummeted a whopping 9 percent. Altogether, the three lost nearly $19 billion in market value the June day that Amazon announced the deal.

Like most other Amazon business services, the Everything Store stands to lose a good deal of money on the grocery chain. “This is going to be a money pit for them,” says Gene Munster, managing partner at Loup Ventures and a former Amazon analyst at Piper Jaffray.

So why the acquisition? Because food sales haven’t really shifted online, and Amazon aims to change that. Sure, there are apps for meal delivery services. There’s also Instacart and even Amazon’s grocery delivery Amazon Fresh. But Munster argues the Whole Foods deal changes the game. “This is global domination theory,” he says. “That may take five years, but as the order density starts to increase it can scale.”

In other words, it doesn’t matter right now that Amazon is losing potential billions. For the first time, it will have a physical location in every well-heeled zip code in America. Combine that with its ability to run logistics at scale, and Amazon is betting that it will crush the competition and increase sales to a point where it starts turning a much larger profit later on.

You can bet that other groceries are taking a much harder look at their delivery and online purchase options as a result. Walmart has already introduced plans for a drone-deploying blimp to deliver items in specific locations and a drive-up option at its warehouses to make purchasing easier. (Amazon, you may recall, filed a patent for a similar drone-filled floating warehouse a year ago for the same purpose.) Many regional and local chains are also looking to speed deliveries by expanding their online services, including Albertson’s.

Not everyone is excited about the moves, unsurprisingly. President Trump has called Amazon a monopoly. A union representing grocery workers has also warned that the deal is a “threat to Whole Foods workers and their families,” and suggested these employees demand a commitment from Amazon that it not automate their jobs.

There’s seemingly little to stop it now, however. The Federal Trade Commission has blessed the deal, saying that following an investigation into the tie-up, it doesn’t think it will substantially lessen competition.

That’s a good thing, too, as far as Munster is concerned.  He sees lower prices, more selection, better experience and quicker delivery on everything you can imagine a pretty great proposition for customers —  especially because it’s one retailer who is providing all of it, not in spite of the fact.

“The beautiful thing about Amazon is that you have infinite choice,” Munster says. “The selection is 300 million-plus [products]. As long as the consumer experience is good, and choice is good, that’s what’s most important.”

from TechCrunch

Aug 16, 2017

$550 dock turns a smartphone into a medical lab

Retrofitting medical technology onto smartphones isn't anything new. We've already seen innovation in HIV testing and fertility tracking, for example. But researchers say the TRI analyzer boasts a wider spectrum of applications, and the relatively cheap, portable nature of the kit means it could have uses in other sectors such as animal health, food safety and environmental monitoring, as well as health diagnostics.

"Our TRI Analyzer is like the Swiss Army knife of biosensing," said Professor Brian Cunningham. "It's capable of performing the three most common types of tests in medical diagnostics, so in practice, thousands of already-developed tests could be adapted to it."

from The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW)

Aug 10, 2017

AssemblyAI wants to put customized speech recognition within reach of any developer

It’s clear that voice is becoming a major interface, as we witness the rise of the Amazon Echo, Google Home, Siri, Cortana and their ilk. We’re also seeing an increasing use of chat bots and other voice-driven tools, which often require speech recognition with a very specific vocabulary.

That’s where AssemblyAI, a member of the Summer ’17 Y Combinator class comes in. The startup is building an API that will help developers build customized chat interfaces quickly.

“We’re building an API for customized speech recognition. Developers use our API for transcribing phone calls or creating custom voice interfaces. We help them recognize an unlimited number of custom words without any training,” Dylan Fox, AssemblyAI’s founder told TechCrunch.

He says, most off-the-shelf speech recognition APIs are designed to be one size fits all. If you want to customize it, it gets really expensive. AssemblyAI hopes to change that.

When Fox was working at his previous job as an engineer at Cisco, he saw first-hand how difficult it was to create a speech recognition program with custom words. It usually involved a lot of engineering resources and took a long time. He came up with the idea of AssemblyAI as a way to make it easier, less costly and much faster. He added, that recent advancements in AI and machine learning have made it possible to do what his company is doing now.

It’s worth noting that the tool requires GPUs, rather than CPUs, for increased processing power because the task is so resource-intensive. Getting access to a sufficient number of GPUs to build and run the tasks has been a challenge for the three-person startup, but their affiliation with Y Combinator has helped in that regard. It’s also brand new tech, so they have to solve every problem they encounter on their own. There are no books to read or solutions to look up on Google. Right now the team consists of just three people, creating the tool, while trying to build a company.

Even though they are just three people, they believe user experience is going to be key to their success, so they have one team member fully devoted to developing the front end. They claim that no training is required to run the API. You just upload a list of terms or names and the API takes care of the rest.

Fox fully recognizes that it’s hard for startup to build a speech recognition tool without constantly worrying about the bigger companies swooping in and grabbing their market share, but he says his company is working hard to differentiate itself as a go-to tool for developers.

“As a smaller company focused on a speech recognition technology, we can provide a better experience [than the bigger companies].” He says that means paying attention to the little things that attract developers to a tool like better documentation, simpler integration and just making it easier to use overall.

So far the product is in private beta with several companies deploying it on GPUs in the cloud, but it’s early days. He says when the customers come, they will have to scale to meet those demands using additional cloud-based GPU resources. If it works as described, that shouldn’t be long now.

Featured Image: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

from TechCrunch