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Pegging Libra to just the $ could soothe regulators, a16z says – TechCrunch

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What if Libra wasn’t backed by a basket of international currencies, but only the dollar?

Regulatory pushback to the Facebook-led cryptocurrency Libra has caused major partners — including Visa, Mastercard, PayPal and eBay — to pull out of the Libra Association. But one of the remaining members has floated a major change to the stablecoin that could calm concerns that Libra could hurt the world economy by challenging national currencies for supremacy.

Last week, venture partner Chris Dixon of Andreessen Horowitz’s a16z Crypto, one of the remaining members of the governing Libra Association, spoke  onstage at TechCrunch Disrupt. He said he still believed Libra will launch, but it might require some changes to get the green light from governments. When I asked what changes might assuage regulators, he told me, “For example, denominating the currency in U.S. dollars. I’m giving a hypothetical example. My understanding is the intention was never to create a new currency. It’s much focused on the payment rails.”

Dixon meant that Libra could be pegged directly to the U.S. dollar instead of to a basket of international currencies as is currently the plan, a16z Crypto clarified when asked.

Originally, Libra was slated to be denominated in…Libra, using the unicode symbol ≋. It would be a stablecoin backed 1:1 with a basket of the world’s top currencies that Reuters says Der Spiegel reports Facebook told a German legislator would be made up of 50% U.S. dollar, 18% Euro, 14% Japanese Yen, 11% British pound and 7% Singaporean dollar.

The purpose of the basket was to make Libra’s value more consistent. A spike or decline in value of any currency in the basket would have limited impact on Libra’s value, and the basket could be altered in makeup to further protect it from fluctuations.

But if it was denominated in $, the U.S. regulators in particular might be less worried that citizens might choose to use the Libra instead of the dollar. This might demonstrate that Libra sees itself as deferential to the American economic system and government Facebook must answer to.

Conversely, the Libra would become vulnerable to shifts in value of the U.S. dollar. But since many international currencies and financial systems are also linked to the dollar, there at least would be more precedent for how Libra would operate. The move could make foreign governments less skiddish about the cryptocurrency since their national currencies wouldn’t be directly influenced.

On Monday, the Libra Association will meet to finalize its membership, elect a board and create a charter governing its efforts. How Libra is denominated could be reviewed at this meeting.

Denominating in dollars could quell another worry about the cryptocurrency — that if it became popular and the Libra Association decided to change the basket’s components or remove one currency, it could significantly impact that currency’s value.

The French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire previously said, “the monetary sovereignty of countries is at stake from a possible privatisation of money . . . we cannot authorise the development of Libra on European soil.”

Facebook’s head of Libra David Marcus has tried to dispel this idea, saying Libra is designed to run “on top of existing currencies . . . there’s no new money creation, which will strictly remain the province of sovereign Nations.” Yet regulators are still largely opposed to its planned launch in 2020.

Pegging Libra to the dollar would give the Libra Association less flexibility to maintain a steady value, but also less power. Governments wouldn’t fear that they’d need to maintain a positive relationship with the Libra Association for fear of their currency being ejected from the basket. It would put Libra more directly in competition with other stablecoins like Tether that are locked to the U.S. dollar.

Chris Dixon DSC02399

a16z Crypto’s Chris Dixon (left) speaks with TechCrunch’s Josh Constine at Disrupt SF 2019

Dixon also announced that Andreessen Horowitz is launching the a16z Crypto Startup School, which will offer a free, zero-equity educational program for blockchain entrepreneurs. The goal is to pass knowledge from seasoned cryptocurrency startup founders to newer entrants to the space.

Dixon says the hope is that the best students would seek investment from the fund, but that won’t be required. Those interested can sign up for more info on how to apply when it’s available, though videos of the school’s sessions will be available.

Andreessen Horowitz’s commitment to cryptocurrency could make it less likely to abandon the Libra Association than some other payments companies more firmly rooted in the status quo financial system. That loyalty will only pay off if Libra ever passes muster with regulators and actually reaches the market.



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Epson’s new smart glasses get a big field-of-view and blunt expectations

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Epson is launching a new set of augmented reality glasses, with the Moverio BT-40 and BT-40S promising a bigger field of view and much higher resolution. Targeting enterprise applications – though not averse to tech-hungry consumers – the new AR eyewear can either be connected directly to a smartphone, or plug into Epson’s new Android mini-computer.

Compared to the old BT-350 and BT-30C, the BT-40/BT-40S use Epson’s Gen.4 Si-OLED displays. Each eye gets a 0.45-inch panel built into the arms of the glasses, running at 1080p resolution with a 500,000:1 contrast ratio.

That’s a big uptick from the 720p HD resolution of the old eyewear, and it’s also capable of producing a far larger picture in your field of view. At 34-degrees it’s now up 225-percent, compared to the BT-3x series’ 23-degrees, Epson says. That’s roughly equivalent to watching a 120-inch screen from 15 feet away.

The glasses’ ergonomics have been tweaked, too. They still come with a magnetic dark shade for use in brighter environments, but the weight distribution has been modified with the arms now folding at the temples. That should mean more comfortable extended use, Epson promises, along with a better fit thanks to springs to auto-adjust to different head sizes, and removable nose pads.

Both versions of the eyewear have the same displays, the same 9-axis motion sensor, gyroscope, accelerometer, magnetometer, and ambient light sensor. The Epson BT-40 has a USB Type-C connector, designed to plug directly into a laptop, phone, or tablet. That way it can be used as a private external display, or for media consumption.

The Epson BT-40S, meanwhile, comes with the latest version of Epson’s Intelligent Touch Controller. The BO-IC400 is effectively a mini-PC running Android 9.0 – though Epson says Android 11 should arrive within a year of launch – on a Qualcomm Snapdragon XR1 chipset. There’s a 2.95-inch 854 x 480 touchscreen and 7 physical buttons, along with a 13-megapixel camera, WiFi 802.11ac and Bluetooth, a speaker and noise-cancelling microphone, and 64GB of storage with a microSD slot for up to 2TB cards.

The BO-IC400 has two USB-C ports – one for the BT-40S headset, the other for accessories – and Epson says it should run for up to 5 hours depending on how you use it. You can mirror apps, having them open on both the touchscreen and the headset, or use it in extended mode where the touchscreen shows the Android app launcher while software loads on the glasses. Alternatively, you can use the touchscreen as a trackpad or directional controller to navigate what you see in the headset.

While this isn’t Epson’s first mini-PC, of the big advantages for this iteration is that it has Google Mobile Services. That means it’ll be able to come preloaded with apps like Gmail, Google Maps, Chrome, Google Photos, and the Google Play store. Epson is also looking at the possibility of loading video conferencing apps like Teams and Zoom, the company says, since remote collaboration is one of the big use-cases businesses are already relying on its headsets for.

The Moverio BT-40 will be priced at $579, while the BT-40S bundle will be $999. Meanwhile the existing Epson BT-35E will be $799, and continue targeting the drone pilot audience.

While Epson will be happy to sell the new headsets to individual consumers, it’s increasingly realistic about where augmented reality will grow, at least for the moment. “Lots of AR companies look for that sticky consumer application,” Remi Del Mar, senior product manager of Digital Experiences, Augmented Reality and Commercial Display Solutions at Epson America, pointed out in an interview; for Epson, that’s mainly been drones in the US, and tourism in Europe. However, for the time being, the “majority of our focus is going to be on enterprise applications.”

It’ll mean Epson can bypass, for the time being at least, questions around whether smart glasses should include cameras. “This privacy aspect is sticky,” Del Mar agrees. “If you do a non-camera version, it’s more consumer friendly, but is there enough of an application for it?”

The other side to that strategy is that Epson isn’t just building AR glasses to sell, but using them to pitch its own Si-OLED optical engines. The company is tight-lipped on who it might be talking to on that front – Del Mar says that there are some pilots underway in Taiwan, but won’t be drawn on any more details – but it means that Epson doesn’t feel the need to be in every segment, or compete on every front.

It doesn’t, for instance, have versions of the Moverio range for healthcare or telemedicine, despite seeing them as potential growth segments, in no small part because of the intricacies of the regulations around devices used in medical settings. However, Epson would be quite happy to provide the optical engines to go into third-party solutions for that.

The new Moverio BT-40 and BT-40S will go on sale in Q2 2021.

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Google TV app to include deprecated Android TV Remote app

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Just like with its messaging platforms, Google hasn’t exactly been consistent about its digital media ecosystems. Google News was once Google Play Newsstand which was once Google Play Magazines and Google Currents combined. Google Play Music was supplanted by YouTube Music and now the Google Play Movies & TV app has been renamed Google TV, which is different from the Google TV “skin” based on Android TV. To be fair, Google does try to consolidate things, like retiring an obsolete Android TV remote control app and shoving it into the new Google TV app.

It probably won’t be long before Google consolidates its video-on-demand platforms and branding into a single “Google TV”. Whether that will replace Android TV, just as Wear OS replaced Android Wear, is still an open question but, at least for now, Google TV seems to be focused on the user interface, viewing experience, and, of course, its digital content store.

The old Google Play Movies & TV Android app that Google TV replaced mostly focused on those as well but it seems it’s being primed to do more soon. 9to5Google found traces of functionality that refers to a directional pad as well as enter and back buttons. There’s also mention of pairing the phone to an Android TV.

These operations are already found on the standalone Android TV Remote Control. Although the app still exists on the Google Play Store, it hasn’t seen an update since 2017. Considering Google may be moving to put all its Android TV and videos in one basket, it makes sense to retire such a standalone app and just incorporate its pretty basic features into a single Google TV app.

At the moment, these new features don’t work at all but it does hint at the direction Google might be heading for Google TV. While it might be nice to have everything under a single Google TV banner, there is also the overlap with YouTube and YouTube TV that could make some wary of another Google Play Music scenario in the near future.

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ASUS ROG Phone 5 might have more RAM you’ll ever need for now

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How much RAM do you need for a smartphone? Disregarded the old joke about 640KB of RAM for PCs in the late 80s, smartphone memory seems to have stalled at 12GB in the past year or so with very few exceptions. That said, it seems that high-end smartphones are ready to push the envelope again with the ROG PHone 5 going beyond the 16GB that you’d find on the Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G this year.

Just for a quick refresher, RAM is that volatile (meaning it loses data when power goes out) memory space that’s used not for holding data you want to keep but for programs to stay while running. To keep it overly simple, the more RAM you have, the more programs you can have running at the same time before the operating system starts killing unused programs to make room for more. This is why phones with less RAM often have problems multi-tasking, forcing apps to be restarted when you switch back to them because they were killed in the background.

That is true for normal apps but is even more true for games that have large pieces of code and data that need to be kept in memory to run fast and smoothly. It’s really no surprise, then, that the first smartphones that boasted 16GB of RAM were gaming phones like the Lenovo Legion Duel (or Pro) and the ASUS ROG Phone 3. According to a Geekbench sighting, the ASUS ROG Phone 5 will be taking that to the next level even.

The benchmark notes a RAM size of 16.97GB which, given how these numbers work, suggests that the phone could actually have 18GB of RAM. That is quite a large amount of RAM that, even with today’s demanding mobile games, might sound almost too much. Then again, ASUS offers various configurations for its ROG Phones so this could simply be the top-end variant.

The entry doesn’t have other details to offer but we can already piece some of those together. The phone will undoubtedly take advantage of all the power that the Snapdragon 888 has to offer, for example, and DxOMark’s recent audio benchmark revealed not just the return of the 3.5mm headphone jack but also what seems to be a display on its back purely for branding purposes. The ASUS ROG Phone 5 is slated to debut on March 10 so Android gamers won’t have too long to wait for confirmation.

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