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Redesigned Google Shopping goes live, with price tracking, Google Lens for outfits and more

By Sarah Perez

Google Shopping is getting a redesign with several new features, including options to shop local stores, track prices and even find style inspiration through Google Lens. Already, Google Lens’ smart image recognition technology can help identify objects, translate text and find similar items. Now, using a photo of an outfit you like — for instance, something you found on Instagram — Google Lens will be able to pull up other “style ideas” from around the web.

These style ideas are focused on showing you how other people are wearing the item in question, not just returning matches of similar items, Google explains.

For example, if you found a skirt on social media, you could take a screenshot then use Lens in Google Photos to see how other people have been photographed wearing that same skirt.

Lens style ideas

But Lens isn’t limited to photos of new clothes posted online. You also can photograph an item hanging in your own closet, or seen on a store rack, and get suggestions of people wearing similar pieces.

The feature complements Lens’ existing item suggestions for things like home décor and individual items of clothing.

It’s also clearly meant as a challenger to Pinterest, which has been heavily investing in its own image recognition technology. This has allowed it to capture consumers’ interest long before their placing items in their online shopping cart — an existential threat to Google’s business, potentially.

Pinterest users often browse the site for inspiration, whether that’s what to wear or how to wear it, or how to decorate their home, or even where to travel. Later, those interests and desires may translate to clicks and purchases. The challenge for Pinterest is being able to connect the inspirational browsing with the checkout process.

Pinterest’s latest efforts on that front is the launch of its own “shop” tab, designed to showcase products.

Google, meanwhile, is doubling down on Google Shopping.

Its big redesign has now rolled out in the U.S. on both web and mobile, following the merger with Google Express earlier this year, and last month’s final shutdown of the Google Express brand and destination. 

The new version of Google Shopping aims to make itself a one-stop shop for everything that’s around the web… and not on Amazon.

Price tracking

The updated Google Shopping experience includes a personalized homepage based on your habits and purchases, a price tracker for getting notifications of changes and drops and the ability to shop from both online and local retailers. (Buying locally means you’ll have the option to go pick it up — great for last-minute gifts.)

Google says you can now shop from more than 1,000 stores through Google Shopping and check out using the information saved to your Google account. It also offers a “Google guarantee,” on the items you purchase, which includes customer support and help with things like returns and exchanges.

Google is pitching the new experience as a redesign. And to some extent, it is, thanks to new features like price tracking and universal shopping carts. However, at the root of it, you’ll find it’s still very much the same concept that once was Google Express. That is: it’s an online Google-branded destination where shopping is meant to be as convenient as on Amazon.

Nearby results

But Google Express failed to capture consumers’ attention the first time around because of what Google lacks: a Prime competitor. There is no subscription that promises fast, two-day (or less) shipping on millions of items, nor the wider perks program that Amazon Prime offers.

That said, it’s smart for Google to capitalize on the shopping search traffic it does have, and make that experience feel more connected and seamless. After all, Amazon doesn’t have everything — especially when it comes to specific fashion brands. That will see users turn to Google to search instead.

Google Shopping homepage

Google says the new Google Shopping is live in the U.S. on web and mobile today.

Google Lens’s new feature is also live in the U.S. only for now.

Why is Dropbox reinventing itself?

By Greg Kumparak

According to Dropbox CEO Drew Houston, 80% of the product’s users rely on it, at least partially, for work.

It makes sense, then, that the company is refocusing to try and cement its spot in the workplace; to shed its image as “just” a file storage company (in a time when just about every big company has its own cloud storage offering) and evolve into something more immutably core to daily operations.

Earlier this week, Dropbox announced that the “new Dropbox” would be rolling out to all users. It takes the simple, shared folders that Dropbox is known for and turns them into what the company calls “Spaces” — little mini collaboration hubs for your team, complete with comment streams, AI for highlighting files you might need mid-meeting, and integrations into things like Slack, Trello and G Suite. With an overhauled interface that brings much of Dropbox’s functionality out of the OS and into its own dedicated app, it’s by far the biggest user-facing change the product has seen since launching 12 years ago.

Shortly after the announcement, I sat down with Dropbox VP of Product Adam Nash and CTO Quentin Clark . We chatted about why the company is changing things up, why they’re building this on top of the existing Dropbox product, and the things they know they just can’t change.

You can find these interviews below, edited for brevity and clarity.

Greg Kumparak: Can you explain the new focus a bit?

Adam Nash: Sure! I think you know this already, but I run products and growth, so I’m gonna have a bit of a product bias to this whole thing. But Dropbox… one of its differentiating characteristics is really that when we built this utility, this “magic folder”, it kind of went everywhere.

GoPro teases next-generation action camera announcement for October 1

By Darrell Etherington

GoPro’s successor to the Hero 7 is likely coming on October 1, as the action camera maker has posted a teaser with the date to its official website. The tagline “This is Action” appears over a fast cut mash-up of variety of shots, including off-road racing, underwater diving and what looks like close-up footage of Frank Zapata (or someone else with a jetpack) flying around, along with the date.

The mostly shadowed image above is the closest we get to an official product shot, but we’ve seen leaks sourced from photo-focused rumor site Photo Rumors that suggest a redesign with added expandability options for advanced accessories including front-facing display monitors and external flash. These leaks also include some potential specs, like a new GP2 chip to help with on-board image stabilization, better lenses and image quality, and a new 12MP sensor, in addition to the new optional housing and accessories.

this is action gopro

GoPro’s Hero 7 introduced HyperSmooth stabilization, which provides gimbal-like results without the actual gimbal thanks to advanced digital stabilization technology that GoPro developed in-house. But the company also saw the introduction of its strongest-yet competitor in the market this year with the DJI Osmo Action, a GoPro-like action camera from drone and gimbal-maker DJI, which is at least on par with the Hero 7 in terms of stabilization and quality, with added features aimed at the vlogging market like a built-in front-facing display.

The slogan “This is Action.” could actually be interpreted as a dig against its newest rival, since Action is capitalized and the DJI camera is literally named the “Osmo Action.” Hopefully GoPro does indeed get a little spicy about its competitor, since it’s a market that could definitely stand to benefit from some genuine competition in the higher end of the category.

Ricoh’s Theta Z1 is the first truly premium consumer 360 camera

By Darrell Etherington

Ricoh has a well-earned good reputation when it comes to building smart, technically excellent photographic equipment — including the almost legendary Ricoh GR series of pocketable APS-C cameras, which are a favorite among street photographers everywhere. Earlier this year, the company released the Ricoh Theta Z1, which builds on its success with its pioneering Theta line of 360-degree cameras and delivers a step-up in terms of image quality and build that will feel at home in the hands of enthusiasts and pro photographers.

The Theta Z1 is what happens when you push the limits of what’s possible in a portable form factor 360 camera, both in terms of build materials and what’s going on on the inside. Like its more affordable, older sibling, the Theta V, it shoots both stills and video in 360 degrees — but unlike the V, it does so using two 1-inch sensors — unprecedented for a 360 camera in this category. Sony’s celebrated RX100 series was pushing boundaries with its own 1-inch sensor in a traditional compact camera, and the Ricoh is similarly expanding the boundaries of 360 photography by including not just one, but two such sensors in its Z1. That translates to unmatched image quality for 360 photographers — provided you’re willing to pay a premium price to get it.

Design and build

The Ricoh Theta Z1 feels a lot like previous iterations of the Theta line — it’s essentially a handle with two big lenses on top, which is a pretty optimal design overall for a device you’re mostly going to be holding up to take 360 photos and video. It’s a bit bulkier than previous generations, and heavier, too, but it’s still a very portable device despite the increased size.

Ricoh Theta Z1 7

With the bulkier build, you also get a magnesium outer case, which is textured and feels fantastic when held. If you’ve ever held a pro DSLR or mirrorless camera, then the feel will be familiar, and that says a lot about Ricoh’s target audience with this $1,000 device. The magnesium alloy shell isn’t only for making it feel like it’s worth what it costs, however; you also get big durability benefits, which is important on a device that you’re probably going to want to use in remote locales and off the beaten path.

The build quality also feels incredibly solid, and the button layout is simple and easy to understand. There’s a single shutter button on the front of the camera, just above an OLED display that provides basic info about remaining space for images or video, battery life and connection status. A single LED indicates both mode and capture status information, and four buttons on the side control power on/off, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections, photo and video mode switching and enabling basic functions like a shutter countdown timer.

[gallery ids="1884065,1884067,1884066"]

Using the hardware buttons to control the Theta Z1 independent of your smartphone, where you can remotely control all aspects of the camera when connected via Wi-Fi and using the app, is intuitive and easy, and probably the way you’ll use the Z1 more often than not when you’re actually out and about. There’s little to worry about when it comes to framing, for instance, because it captures a full 360 image, and you can handle all of that after the fact with Ricoh’s editing tools prior to sharing.

On the bottom, there’s a USB-C port for charging and wired data transfer, and a 1/4″ standard tripod mount for attaching the Z1 to tripods or other accessories. This is useful, because if you use a small handle you’ll get a better overall image, as the Z1’s software automatically edits out the camera, and, to some extent, the thing that’s supporting it. There’s also a small lug for attaching a wrist strap, but what you won’t find is a flap or door for a micro SD card — the Theta Z1 relies entirely on built-in storage, and offers just under 20GB of usable storage.

Ricoh Theta Z1 9

Still images

Ricoh’s Theta Z1 has two 1-inch sensors on board, as mentioned, and those combine to provide an image resolution of 670×3360. The camera captures two 180-degree fields of view from each lens, and automatically stitches them together in software to produce the final image. The result is the sharpest, most color-accurate still photos I’ve ever seen from a 360-degree camera, short of the kind of content shot by professionals on equipment costing at least 10x more.

The resulting images do incredibly well when viewed through VR headsets, for instance, or when you use Theta’s own 360 viewer for web in full-screen mode on high-resolution displays. They also make it possible to export flat images that still look sharp, which you can crop and edit in the Theta+ app. You can create some truly amazing images with interesting perspective that would be hard to get using a traditional camera.

A769B0EF 55C0 483E 82AE 19EFF4212B2D 3

Indoors in low-light situations, the Ricoh Theta Z1 still performs pretty well, especially compared to its competitors, thanks to those big 1-inch sensors. Especially in well-lit indoor environments, like in the restaurant example below, details are sharp and crisp across the frame and colors come out great.

In settings where a lot of the frame is dark or unevenly lit, as in the example at the Robot Restaurant in Tokyo below, the results aren’t nearly as good when operating in full automatic mode. You can see that there is some blur in the parts of the scene with motion, and there’s more grain apparent in parts of the frame, too. Overall though, the audience is pretty well captured and the colors still look accurate and good despite the many different tones from different sources.

The Ricoh Theta Z1 still does its best work in bright outdoor settings, however — which is true for any camera, but especially for cameras with sensors smaller than full-frame or APS-C. It’s still definitely capable enough to capture images you can work with, and that provide a great way to revisit great events or memories in a more immersive way than standard 2D images can accomplish.

You can adjust settings, including aperture to optimize your photo capture, as well as choosing between f/2.1, f/3.5 and f/5.6, with higher apertures offering higher-resolution images. The built-in lens has been designed to reduce ghosting, purple fringe artifacts and flare, and it does an outstanding job at this. RAW capture allows you to edit DNG files using Lightroom, and it works amazingly well with Lightroom mobile for advanced tweaks right on the same device.

Video

The Ricoh Theta Z1 does video, too — though the specs for the video it produces are essentially unchanged from the Theta V on paper. It can capture 4K video at 30 fps/56 mbps or 2K video at 30fps/16mbps, and live stream in both 4K and 2K. There’s a four-channel built-in microphone for immersive audio recording, and it can record as much as 40 minutes of 4K or 130 minutes of 2K footage, though each individual recording session is capped at 5 minutes and 25 minutes for 4K and 2K, respectively.

Ricoh has tougher competition when it comes to video in the 360 camera game — Insta 360’s One X has been a clear winner in this category, and has led to this camera even finding some fans when compared to action cameras like the GoPro Hero 7 and the DJI Osmo Action, thanks in large part to its fantastic built-in image stabilization.

The Ricoh Theta Z1 just frankly doesn’t impress in this regard. The sensors do allow for potentially better image quality overall, but the image stabilization is definitely lacking, as you can see, and overall quality just isn’t there when measured against the Insta360 One X. For a fixed installation for real-time live-streaming, the Ricoh probably makes more sense, but video isn’t the device’s strength, and it’s a little disappointing given its still shooting prowess.

Features and sharing

The range of editing options available either via Theta+ or using the DNG files in both mobile and desktop photo editing software for the Theta Z1 is outstanding. You can really create and compose images in a wide variety of ways, including applying stickers and text that stick to the frame as a viewer navigates around the image. Sharing from the Theta app directly works with a number of platforms, including YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and theta360.com, where you can get embeddable 360 images like those found in this post above.

Ricoh has done a great job making sure you can not only capture the best possible 360 images with this camera, but also share them with others. It’s also leading the pack when it comes to the range of options you have for getting creative with slicing up those 7K spherical images in a variety of ways for traditional flat image output, which is not surprising, given the company’s heritage.

Bottom line

Simply put, the Ricoh Theta Z1 is the best 360 camera for still photos that you can buy for less than $1,000 – even if just squeaks under that line. It’s the best still photo 360 camera you can pick up for considerably more than that, too, given its sensor arrangement and other technical aspects of the device, including its selectable aperture settings and RAW output.

The $999.95 asking price is definitely on the high end for this category — the Theta V retails for less than half that, as does the Insta360 One X. But I mentioned the Sony RX100 above, and the pricing is similar: You can get a compact camera for much less money, including very good ones, but the latest RX100 always commands a premium price, which people are willing to pay for the very best-in-class device.

If what you want is the best still photography 360 camera on the market, the Ricoh Theta Z1 is easily it, and if that’s the specific thing you’re looking for, then Ricoh has packed a lot of cutting-edge tech into a small package with the Z1.

Zindi rallies Africa’s data scientists to crowd-solve local problems

By Jake Bright

Zindi is convening Africa’s data scientists to create AI solutions for complex problems.

Founded in 2018, the Cape Town-based startup allows companies, NGOs or government institutions to host online competitions around data-oriented challenges.

Zindi’s platform also coordinates a group of more than 4,000 data scientists based in Africa who can enroll to join a competition, submit their solution sets, move up a leader board and win the challenge — for a cash prize payout.

The highest purse so far has been $12,000, split across the top three data scientists in a competition, according to Zindi co-founder Celina Lee. Competition hosts receive the results, which they can use to create new products or integrate into their existing systems and platforms.

Zindi’s model has gained the attention of some big corporate names in and outside of Africa. Digital infrastructure company Liquid Telecom has hosted competitions.

This week, the startup announced a partnership with Microsoft to use cloud-based computing service Azure to power Zindi’s platform.

Microsoft will also host (and sport the prize money) for two competitions to find solutions in African agtech. In a challenge put forward by Ugandan IoT accelerator Wazihub, an open call is out for Zindi’s data scientist network to build a machine learning model to predict humidity.

In a $10,000 challenge for Cape Town-based startup FarmPin, Zindi’s leader board is tracking the best solutions for classifying fields by crop type in South Africa using satellite imagery and mobile phones.

Zindi Africa competition board

 

There’s demand in Africa to rally data scientists to solve problems across the continent’s public and private sectors, according to Zindi CEO Celina Lee.

“African companies, startups, organizations and governments are in this phase right now of digitization and tech where they are generating huge amounts of data. There’s interest in leveraging things like machine learning and AI to capitalize on the asset of that data,” she told TechCrunch.

She also noted that “80% of Zindi’s competitions have some sort of social impact angle.”

Lee recognizes a skills gap and skills building component to Zindi as a platform. “Data science skills are relatively scarce still… and companies are looking for ways to access data science and AI solutions and talent,” she said.

“Then there’s this pool of young Africans coming out of universities working in data…looking for opportunities to build their professional profiles, hone their skills and connect to opportunities.”

Lee (who’s originally from San Francisco) co-founded Zindi with South African Megan Yates and Ghanaian Ekow Dukerand, who lead a team of six in the company’s Cape Town office. The startup hopes to get 10,000 data scientists across Africa on its platform by this year and 20,000 by next year, according to Lee.

Zindi Team in Cape Town 1

“The idea is to just keep growing and growing our presence in every country in Africa,” Lee said. Zindi could add some physical presence in additional African countries by the end of this year, Lee added, noting Zindi currently hosts data scientists and competitions online and on the cloud from any country in Africa.

Zindi received its first funds from an undisclosed strategic investor and is in the process of raising a round. The startup, which does not disclose revenues, generates income by taking a fee from hosting competitions.

Zindi is also looking to add a recruitment service to connect data scientists to broader opportunities as a future source of revenue, according to Lee.

As a startup, Zindi’s emerging model could see it enter several existing domains in African business and tech. When Zindi adds recruitment, it could offer a service similar to talent accelerator Andela of connecting skilled African techies to jobs at established firms.

CEO Lee acknowledges such, but makes a distinction between data scientists and Andela’s developer focus. “We’re honing more in on statistical modeling, AI, machine learning and predictive analytics,” she said. “I also think the developer market in Africa is much more mature and lot of developers want to move into data science.”

In addition to competing on tech recruitment, Zindi could also become a cheaper and faster alternative for African companies and governments to contracting big consulting firms, such as Accenture, IBM or Bain.

Zindi’s co-founder Lee confirmed the startup has received inbound partnership interest from some established consulting firms — which indicates they’ve taken note of the startup.

“I think we are a bit disruptive because we’re offering companies in Africa the best data scientists in the continent at their fingertips,” she said.

Lee highlighted a couple distinctions between Zindi and data-driven consulting firms: affordability and potential scale.

The startup could also provide data science solutions to many African organizations that don’t have the resources to pay big consulting firms — meaning Zindi could be on to a much larger addressable market.

Google Images on desktop adds a side panel and feels more purpose-driven

By Darrell Etherington

If you’re browsing Google Image search results today, you might notice a new interface element: A sticky side panel that displays any images you click on, providing a closer look at the specific image you want to see, including related images, additional info like ratings, price and in-stock status, ingredients and cooking times, depending on whether you’re searching for products, recipes or something else.

The new sidebar replaces a full-width, in-column interface element, with the advantage that the new interface allows you to continue to browse the image result thumbnails returned on the left. Clicking on any other images will replace the one in the sidebar, but you can easily navigate back and forth with your browser’s built-in navigation features, or you can page through the results in sequence using the right and left arrow keys.

These work already for a lot of existing results and products, but developers who want to ensure their product image results likewise provide this info in a way that means Google’s search engine will pick them up can reference this developer documentation to find out how.

[gallery ids="1865212,1865213,1865214"]

Overall, even though this is not a massive change from what came before, it feels directionally like a big deal: Google has been iterating in a very Pinterest-like direction with image search in general, but this feels functionally like a mature product aimed squarely at comparison shopping, hobbyist cooks, decorators and designers. It’s a very different product from what Images used to be, and that probably affords Google a lot more opportunity in terms of how it monetizes image search in the future.

Week in Review: Regulation boogaloo

By Lucas Matney

Hello, weekenders. This is Week-in-Review, where I give a heavy amount of analysis and/or rambling thoughts on one story while scouring the rest of the hundreds of stories that emerged on TechCrunch this week to surface my favorites for your reading pleasure.

Last week, I talked about how services like Instagram had moved beyond letting their algorithms take over the curation process as they tested minimizing key user metrics such as “like” counts on the platform.


John Taggart/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The big story

The big news stories this week intimately involved the government poking its head into the tech industry. What was clear between the two biggest stories, the DoJ approving the Sprint/T -Mobile merger and the FTC giving Facebook a $5 billion slap on the wrist, is that big tech has little to worry about its inertia being contained.

It seems the argument from Spring and T-Mobile that it was better to have three big telecom companies in the U.S. rather than two contenders and two pretenders, seems to have stuck. Similarly, Facebook seems to have done a worthy job of indicating that it will handle the complicated privacy stuff but that they’ll let the government orgs see what they’re up to.

Fundamentally, none of these orgs seem to want to harm the growth of these American tech companies and I have a tough time believing that perspective is going to magically get more toothy in some of these early antitrust investigations. The government might be making a more concerted effort to understand how these businesses are structured, but even focusing solely on something like the cloud businesses of Microsoft, Google and Amazon, I have little doubt that the government is going to spend an awfully long time in the observation phase.

The danger is erraticism and for that the worst government fear for tech isn’t a three-letter agency, it’s the Twitter ramblings of POTUS.

feedback -> @lucasmtny

Onto the rest of the week’s news.

Intel and Apple logos

(Photo: ALASTAIR PIKE,THOMAS SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Trends of the week

Here are a few big news items from big companies, with green links to all the sweet, sweet added context:

  • Apple dropping $1 billion on Intel’s modem business
    Apple is snapping up a missing link in its in-house component production with the $1B purchase of most of Intel’s modem business. This follows a dramatic saga between Intel, Qualcomm and Apple over the past year, but Apple will be making its own smartphone modems the question is when they actually end up in new iPhones. Read more here.
  • Microsoft dropping $1 billion on OpenAI
    Microsoft announced this week that it is dumping $1 billion into Sam Altman’s OpenAI research group. The partnership is pretty major, but it’s just one of the interesting avenues Microsoft is using to ensure its Azure services gain notable customers. Read more here.
  • Galaxy Fold is coming back!
    After a very embarrassing soft launch, Samsung which managed to make it a several devices beyond the Note 7 before another garbage fire is trying its hand at the Galaxy Fold again and will be releasing it sometime in September. It seems like the carriers are a little dubious of the prospect and T-Mobile has already opted out of carrying it. Read more here.

darkened facebook logo

GAFA Gaffes [Facebook Edition!!]

How did the top tech companies screw up this week? This clearly needs its own section, in order of badness:

  1. Facebook gets five:
    [Facebook settles with FTC: $5 billion and new privacy guarantees]
  2. FTC isn’t quite done with Facebook:
    [Facebook says it’s under antitrust investigation by the FTC]
  3. Facebook dismissed CA warnings:
    [Facebook ignored staff warnings about sketchy Cambridge Analytica in September 2015]
  4. Facebook left kids vulnerable:
    [Facebook fails to keep Messenger Kids safety promise]

Extra Crunch

Our premium subscription service had another week of interesting deep dives. This week, my colleague Danny spoke with some top VCs about why fintech startups have been raising massive amounts of cash and he seemed to walk away with some interesting impressions.

Why fintech VC mega rounds have become so common

“…The biggest challenge that has faced fintech companies for years — really, the industry’s consistent Achilles’ heel — is the cost of acquiring a customer. Financial customer relationships are incredibly valuable, and the cost of acquiring a user for any product is among the most expensive in every major channel.

And those costs are going up…”

Here are some of our other top reads for premium subscribers.

We’re excited to announce The Station, a new TechCrunch newsletter all about mobility. Each week, in addition to curating the biggest transportation news, Kirsten Korosec will provide analysis, original reporting and insider tips. Sign up here to get The Station in your inbox beginning in August.

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