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Kano, the kids-focused coding and hardware startup, inks deal with Microsoft, launches $300 Kano PC – TechCrunch

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Kano, the London-based startup that builds hardware designed to teach younger people about computing and coding, is taking a significant step forward in its growth strategy today. The startup has inked a partnership with Microsoft that sees Kano launching the Kano PC, a new 11.6-inch touch-enabled, Intel Atom-powered computer, its first to run Windows — Windows 10 S specifically. As part of the deal, Microsoft is also making an investment of an undisclosed amount in Kano.

The Kano PC is up for pre-order now at $299.99 and £299.99 on Kano.me and the Microsoft Store, to ship in October. It will also go on sale at selected retailers in the US, Canada, and the UK starting October 21, 2019.

The shift to building a Windows-powered device is a significant one for Kano.

The startup first made its name with a popular Kickstarter campaign based around a device built using Raspberry Pi, speaking to the DIY ethos that has shaped it over the last several years.

Alex Klein, Kano’s founder and CEO, said in an interview that while Kano will continue to support its Raspberry Pi-powered devices, it has yet to determine what its roadmap will be in terms of launching new hardware on this processor:

“The Raspberry Pi devices remain in the portfolio at good price points, but this machine is designed for a much broader age set. It’s a proper Windows PC” — Klein said, pointing to the Intel Atom x5-Z8350 Quad core 1.44 GHz processor, the 4GB of memory, and 64GB of storage — “and a powerful machine for the price point.”

While the Kano line up to now has largely been used and tracked by 6-13 year-olds, Klein describes the Kano PC as a “K-12 device,” acknowledging that “branding might take more time to unfold” to connect with the younger and older ends of that range.

It will be doing so with an army of software now supplied by way of its Microsoft partnership:

Make Art – Learn to code high-quality images in Coffeescript
Kano App – Make almost anything, including magic effects and adventurous worlds, with simple steps and programming fundamentals
Paint 3D – Make and share 3D models and send them out for printing
Minecraft: Education Edition – The award-winning creative game-based learning platform
Microsoft Teams – To get new projects and content, and share your work (Yes, Slack, now kids will be using Teams)
Live Tiles – Personalized projects on coding and creativity delivered directly to your dashboard

Up to now, Kano’s traction with a core group of users — younger kids who are interested in computers and coding, as well as parents who want to encourage their kids to be interested in these — has led to it launching a number of other accessories to work with its basic computers. It’s also launched a clever tech toy that plays to its demographic: last year, it launched a Harry Potter magic wand that you could build yourself, program and use. Klein hinted in the interview that we’re going to see more products of this kind coming soon from Kano.

The Microsoft deal will bring it a higher profile among a wider set of consumers beyond early adopters, and likely a new entry point into selling into educational environments, where Microsoft has been making a big push.

This is the second side of the deal that’s also interesting: Microsoft has a long history of selling software and hardware into educational environments and this — a different brand from the rest of the pack — will bring move diversity into the mix, with a brand designed specifically for younger people, rather than adult-focused brands that have been downsized in functionality (but possibly not in price) for children.

“We’re very excited to partner with Kano for the launch of the Kano PC. We align with Kano’s goal of making classroom experiences more inclusive for teachers and students, empowering them to build the future, not just imagine it,” said Anthony Salcito, VP of Education at Microsoft, in a statement.

Kano’s scrappy success up to now has also led to it raising some $50 million in funding from a list of backers that include Saul and Robin Klein (relatives of the founder Alex Klein), as well as Marc Benioff, Index Ventures, Breyer Capital, Troy Carter and a number of other investors. Klein said that it’s likely to be looking for another equity round in the near future, but declined to comment further on that.

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LG enters fray with Google, Amazon, Roku for TV operating system dominance

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LG has announced that it will begin licensing its webOS TV software for use by other TV manufacturers. That will put webOS in direct competition with other platforms in use across TV brands, such as alternatives from Roku, Amazon, and Google.

LG says “over 20 TV manufacturers” have “committed to the webOS partnership” and names RCA, Ayonz, and Konka as examples. They’ll ship the OS in their TVs and, in so doing, gain access to voice control features, LG’s AI algorithms, and a fairly robust library of already built streaming apps like Netflix, YouTube, or Disney+.

For smaller manufacturers, this is more cost-effective than developing these features on their own or lobbying companies like Netflix or Disney to support new platforms.

At the annual Consumer Electronics Show this January, LG announced webOS 6, a major revamp of the interface that adopts a design language that more closely resembles what’s found in most other TV operating systems. However, licensees of webOS will at least for now be limited to an earlier version of webOS which has the old interface.

In addition to any licensing fees, LG will be able to leverage this larger install base to profit from a more robust advertising network and from larger-scale user data collection. The company will also put its LG Channels content operation on more TVs. Further, LG has bigger ambitions for webOS than just TVs, so this move aids the company’s efforts to make webOS more ubiquitous as the software expands into cars, home appliances, and other products.

Users may balk at the advertising and data collection, but there is one upside for them: a larger install base for webOS will likely lead to more frequently updated, higher-quality apps from content companies.

As is the custom, this announcement came with a published statement from a prominent executive at the company—in this case, LG Home Entertainment President Park Hyoung-sei, who said:

The webOS platform is one of the easiest and most convenient way to access millions of hours of movies and TV shows… By welcoming other manufacturers to join the webOS TV ecosystem, we are embarking on a new path that allows many new TV owners to experience the same great UX and features that are available on LG TVs. We look forward to bringing these new customers into the incredible world of webOS TV.

webOS for TVs as we currently know it dates back to 2014, and reviewers and users have admittedly responded well to it because it’s one of the nicer-to-use TV operating systems. Part of its ease of use stems from the Wii remote-like magic remote that comes with LG TVs; LG’s press release says that partners who license webOS will ship TVs with similar remotes.

LG previously released an open source version of webOS in 2018, and Samsung announced plans to make its Tizen TV OS available for licensing by other TV manufacturers back in 2019. But a year and a half later, we haven’t heard anything more concrete about the latter.

Listing image by LG

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Google Maps for Android officially gets dark mode support

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Google Maps has finally decided to support dark mode on Android 539 days after it officially launched Android 10. Google’s latest blog post says that dark mode in Google Maps is “soon expanding to all Android users globally,” making the feature official after lots of public experiments.

Google’s uneven rollout strategy makes it hard to nail down when any feature officially “launches.” Some users have had dark mode for a while, though, through various experiments and early rollouts. Google has been teasing a dark mode for Google Maps since October 2019, and experimental rollouts hit some users in September 2020. Google Maps has also been showing a dark-colored map in navigation mode for some time, but that’s not the same thing as a comprehensive dark mode for all the UI elements.

If Google Maps is following Android’s best practices, the UI should automatically switch over to the dark theme if your system settings have dark mode enabled. Google says you’ll also be able to find a new “theme” section in the Google Maps settings, where you can toggle the feature manually. The Google Maps dark mode that has been floating around for a while has been on a server-side switch. The code is already on your device, so there’s no version we can point to that will enable dark mode; you just have to wait for Google to flag your account.

With Google Maps finally on the dark mode train, that should cover all of Google’s major apps. The Play Store, Gmail, Google Assistant, Chrome, Calendar, Drive, Photos, and YouTube all support dark mode.

Listing image by Google

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Lenovo updates ThinkPad lineup with 16:10 screens and more

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Today, Lenovo announced a broad overhaul of its ThinkPad laptop lineup, led by the popular X13 and X13 Yoga.

Lenovo has added many features previously seen in its X1 Nano model to various other laptops across the ThinkPad line. Among those is a continuing shift to 16:10 displays, which most productivity users will greatly appreciate compared to the more media-focused 16:9 aspect ratio found in recent prior models.

There’s also human-presence detection; the laptops use a radar sensor to detect when you’re sitting down in front of them, and they wake up accordingly. And of course, like so many similar laptops in this day and age, you can get these machines with fingerprint readers built into the power buttons now.

As for specs, CPU options for the X13 and X13 Yoga include Tiger Lake (11th Gen) Intel Core chips with optional vPro, plus AMD Ryzen 5000 options. A big focus of this refresh is bridging the previously existing gap in features between the Intel and AMD configurations, now that interest is particularly high in AMD’s processors. We’re not 100 percent to parity, but we’re closer than before.

The X13 and X13 Yoga have 13.3-inch displays at either 1920×1200 or 2560×1600, Finally, the redesign includes wider touchpads, Wi-Fi 6E, and in the X13 only, optional sub-6 5G support.

Lenovo also overhauled the T-series lineup. The new T-series laptops still have 16:9 displays, though that admittedly makes a bit more sense for laptops that offer 4K Dolby Vision display configurations, discrete graphics, and other specs and features oriented around media consumption.

The T14 and T14s have 14-inch displays, and the 15 has a 15.6-inch display. CPU options offer 11th-Gen Core i7 CPUs (also with vPro options) or, alternatively, AMD Ryzen 5000 Pro. Intel versions of various new Thinkpad laptops have an “i” after the name—as in, Lenovo ThinkPad T14 i. The AMD versions don’t.

Across the T series lineup, you’ll find Wi-Fi 6 or 6E, 4G and 5G configurations, and FullHD webcams—though many features are optional or not default when you configure the devices. Here are the starting prices and availability dates for each of the T and X series laptops:

Model Availability Starting price
ThinkPad T14s i March 2021 $1,499
ThinkPad T14s May 2021 $1,279
ThinkPad T14 i March 2021 $1,379
ThinkPad T14 May 2021 $1,159
ThinkPad T15 March 2021 $1,379
ThinkPad X13 Yoga April 2021 $1,379
ThinkPad X13 i March 2021 $1,299
ThinkPad X13 May 2021 $1,139

Other updated products include the L14, L15, and PL14s, as well as a new monitor carrying the P40w label. If you’re interested in those models, you can learn more at Lenovo’s website.

Listing image by Lenovo

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