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Google: Your hotel, flight planning just got much easier with mobile search

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Following Google’s updates to make search more visual and faster on mobile, the company will soon roll out new time-saving features in mobile search for planning travel.

The company is aiming for Search to be the go-to app for all travel-planning needs by cutting down time spent on preparing for trips using mobile.

Even before anything’s booked, Search will offer suggestions, such as things to do, and then as flight and hotel confirmations roll into Gmail, it will use these to personalize trip recommendations in search results.

Google is also building on the travel-planning features it introduced to mobile search earlier this year, which added a new hotel search tab next to flight search, as well as a Your Trips feature that contains a summary of future and past travel reservations.

Your Trips can be accessed in Search by typing in ‘my trips’ or tapping the Your Trips tab from Google Flights or Hotels. Google also has the Your Trips Android and iOS app for offline access to travel plans.

The new feature coming next month will let users pick up a travel plan later and continue working on it after leaving Google Search.

“For example, if you’ve recently started looking at traveling to Milan, we’ll show you potential trip information in Your Trips like flight prices you’re tracking (if you have any), destination-specific flight and hotel searches, and places you’ve saved,” Google explains.

“That way, you can easily pick up your travel research when you come back to Google.”

It’s also expanding a Google Flights feature that offers users historical price-trend data for key travel periods, which could assist with picking the cheapest time to book a flight or finding cheap destinations during a holiday season.

Google already has the data available for Thanksgiving, and is now adding data for Christmas and New Year. This feature will roll out globally in coming weeks, according to Google.

To see the type of price-trend information that Google may show, its recently launched infographic tool can be set to display flight-trend data and hotel deals for Thanksgiving or the Christmas break.

Google will also roll out new location scores for hotels when searching for a particular hotel, which is based on information from Google Maps, such as proximity to bars, landmarks, and public transport.

The company also wants to be at the center of your group planning too, via a new feature in Google Maps that lets users create shareable shortlists of restaurants.

Long-pressing a location on the list will add it to a bubble on the side of the screen, which can be shared via any messaging app.

To see Your Trips, search for ‘my trips’ on Google, or tap the Your Trips tab from Google Flights or Hotels on your phone.

Source: Google

The new location scores for hotels are based on information from Google Maps, such as proximity to bars, landmarks, and public transport.


Image: Google

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Founder of auto giant Geely buys Meizu as smartphone demand weakens – TechCrunch

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Remember Meizu, the once-promising competitor to Xiaomi? The Alibaba-backed Chinese smartphone maker is making a comeback — in a way — as it gets acquired by the founder of Geely, China’s largest private automaker and Volvo’s parent comapny.

China’s smartphone industry is notoriously competitive. Founded in 2003, Meizu has been making affordable, trendy Android-based smartphones that allowed it to gain brief moments of prominence at home and abroad. As of late, the phone maker’s market share in China has been marginal — 1% in Q4 2019, according to market research firm Counterpoint.

But the firm is now taking another shot as Xingji Technology, a smartphone company launched by Geely’s founder and chairman Eric Li last September, acquired a controlling stake of 79.09% from it.

Meizu will continue to operae as an “independent brand” following the strategic investment. Its founder Huang Zhang, also known as Jack Wong, will be involved as the brand’s “product strategy advisor.”

The tie-up joins a raft of phone and auto makers working closer together and betting on a future where in-car control and handset operating systems are more integrated. Last March, Xiaomi created a subsidiary to make electric vehicles and pledged to spend $10 billion on the new business in the upcoming years.

In the highly homogenous consumer device market, Meizu and Xingji aim to build “a multi-device, scenario-agnostic, and immersive” digital experience. Xingji was founded with a focus on premium smartphones, mixed reality and wearables.

It’s hard to be too excite about another new phone brand at a time global economy is slowing down. Smartphone shipment worldwide is expected to slump 3.5% this year, according to market researcher IDC. And there’s ample competition. The upcoming Nothing phone, spearheaded by OnePlus’s co-founder Carl Pei, vows to be different with refreshing designs and affordability, but its success will hinge on actual execution.

Xingji plans to release its first phone model by 2023 and sell 3 million units in the first year, Reuters reported earlier. Taking on premium-phone leaders Apple and Huawei, as well as aspiring players like Oppo, will be no small feat.

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UK’s Oxford Quantum Circuits snaps up $47M for quantum-computing-as-a-service – TechCrunch

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Quantum computing has been making quantum leaps of progress in the last several years — going from theoretical concept to multiple testing environments, to help organizations prep for a time when quantum computers, and their unparalleled processing power, become a scaled reality. Now, UK-based Oxford Quantum Circuits is announcing £38 million ($47 million) in funding to fuel the growth of its own contribution to the space — a patented 3D processor architecture it calls Coaxmon, plus quantum-computing-as-a-service that will run on it. OQC says that this Series A is the largest to date for a UK-based quantum computing startup.

“We work at pace, and our systems are being optimized. We’ll continue to scale and reduce error rates,” said Ilana Wisby, OQC’s founding CEO, in an interview. “Our vision is seamless quantum access.”

Lansdowne Partners and The University of Tokyo Edge Capital Partners (UTEC) a deep tech fund out of Japan, are co-leading the round, with British Patient Capital, Oxford Science Enterprises (OSE) and Oxford Investment Consultants (OIC) also participating. OSE and OIC previously led a £2.2 million seed round into the startup, which began life as a spinout from Oxford University and work done there by quantum physicist (and OQC founder) Dr Peter Leek.

The plan will be to use the funding to keep hiring more talent (it’s now at 60 employees), continue improving accessibility to quantum computing for developers interested in working with it, and to continue building out its computing infrastructure, which today is based on an 8-qubit machine. And as you might guess from the investor list, it will also be using some of the funds to expand into Asia Pacific, and specifically Japan, to tap would-be customers there in financial services and beyond.

“Quantum computing promises to be the next frontier of innovation, and OQC, with its state-of-the-art Coaxmon technology, aims to integrate the forefront of modern physics into our everyday lives,” said Lenny Chin, a principal at UTEC, in a statement. “UTEC is honoured to be part of OQC’s mission of making quantum technology accessible to all and will support OQC’s expansion into Asia-Pacific through collaborations with academia including the University of Tokyo, and partnerships with Japan’s leading financial and tech corporations.”

Wisby told me that OQC actually started raising this Series A before the pandemic, back in early 2020; but it opted to shelve that process and go for grants instead to build out the company in its earlier phases.

That got OQC quite far, advancing from a 1-qubit, to a 2-qubit, then a 4-qubit, and now currently an 8-qubit machine.

The startup is also already providing services to a variety of customers who work across either OQC’s private cloud or via Amazon Braket, AWS’s quantum computing platform that also provides developers access to other quantum-as-a-service providers such as Rigetti, IonQ and D-Wave. (OQC notes that its quantum computer, named Lucy, is the first European quantum provider on Braket — a key detail for companies and quantum researchers based out of Europe who need to comply with data protection laws by keeping data and the processing of it local: this gives them a local option.)

Its customers include Cambridge Quantum, which runs its IronBridge cryptographic number generator on OQC’s computer; financial services companies; molecular dynamics researchers; government organizations and large multinationals with in-house R&D teams working on systems capable to be run on quantum machines when they are eventually spun up.

“Eventually” is the operative word here: the real promise of quantum computing is vast computing power, but there has yet to be a quantum computer built that can achieve that at scale without also producing a lot of errors.

But it seems that a lot of the hope these days is not on “if” but “when” that hurdle will be overcome. “We’re well past theory,” Wisby said.

That’s led to a big wave of both large tech players such as IBM, Amazon and Alphabet to get involved, as well as a number of smaller startups, and companies like Rigetti, IonQ and D-Wave that sit between those two poles. While there are some opting to build and sell quantum devices, the economics don’t make sense for most potential use cases, so for now the bigger efforts appear to be around quantum in the cloud: offering it as an infrastructure-free, use-as-you-need-it compute service.

Although Oxford Quantum Circuits’ 8-qubit computer is not the largest in the field, Wisby said that one reason it’s picking up users, and this investment in what has been a tough fundraising climate, is because its platform is better, in that it produces less faults than others.

“We’re all working towards larger scale processes,” Wisby said. But, she added, there is something to be said for better quality and less errors. “We have low error rates, and the funding will enable us to deliver on the next steps.”

Another major fillip in the process is the fact that regions, and countries, are looking to back leaders in the field early on to help cement their respective standing in that next generation of technology, and so backing Oxford Quantum Circuits is seen to be part of that strategy. British Patient Capital is a strategic backer in that regard: it’s the investment arm of the British Business Bank, which is a government-owned bank focused on developing business and industry in the U.K.

“Since launching the UK’s first commercially-available quantum computer, we have continued to be highly impressed with both the technical developments and also the future ambitions of OQC,” said Peter Davies, partner and head of developed markets strategy at Lansdowne Partners, in a statement. “We are very excited to be investing in this innovative and forward-thinking company.”

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MarketWolf is a trading-first platform for new investors – TechCrunch

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Live in India, Singapore-based MarketWolf has plans to introduce stock trading to first-time investors in more markets. The platform announced today it has raised $10 million in Series A funding led by Singaporean venture capital firm Jungle Ventures and Mumbai-based Dream Capital. Returning investors 9Unicorns, iSeed, Crescent and Riverwalk also participated.

This brings MarketWolf’s total raised to $17.4 million since it was founded in 2017 (it launched in India in 2020). The new funding will be used to build product suite and on hiring for its product, marketing and engineering teams.

MarketWolf wants to making trading accessible to first-timers with low minimum investment amounts and a risk management system, as well as modules for practicing and learning about investing. They can invest in options, futures, ETFs and stocks, starting at $5. Most of its users are in the 18 to 35 year old age bracket.

MarketWolf’s risk-management features include setting mandatory risk and reward levels, listing only liquid instruments, preventing selling of options to avoid unlimited risk and its practice and learn module.

Founded by Vishesh Dingra and Thomas Joseph, MarketWolf says it has seen over 1.5 million app downloads in India over the last 18 months and that its number of trading accounts and retail active clients have grown 10x year-over-year. It was listed among the top 15 brokers in terms of trades by India’s National Stock Exchange (NSE) in 2021.

Before co-founding MarketWolf, Dingra worked at Merrill Lynch and Barclays Capital, building quantitative models and strategies for algorithmic trading in capital markets.

He told TechCrunch that he and Joseph wanted to launch an investment app because “we saw that existing products were focused on investing for long-term only, and short-term trading was overlooked. Thomas and I have worked at trading desks in Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, etc. and understood that there could be an easier, more engaging and risk-managed way of trading made available to people globally.”

The startup is among a number of investment apps based in Southeast Asia that have raised funding–and are continuing to raise). Just over the past month, wealth management platform PINA, Indonesian crypo trading app Pintu and Vietnam’s Anfin, also for first-time investors, have all raised venture capital.

Dingra said MarketWolf differentiates from other investment apps with its gamified interface (many of its users come from mobile gaming communities) and a trading-first approach.

“Most brokerages in the market are investment-first products, whereas MarketWolf is a trading-first product creating its own new market segment—people who can trade well in all market conditions, bullish, bearish, flat or volatile,” he said.

In a prepared statement, Jungle Ventures principal Arpit Beri said, “Retail participation in the stock market in India continues to remain abysmally low at ~3-5% and we believe that MarketWolf has the right product, as well as the right team and expertise to break-through this market.”

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