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Samsung skips nine numbers, announces the Galaxy S20 – TechCrunch

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The world will likely never see the Galaxy S11. Or the Galaxies S12-S19, for that matter. At an event this morning in San Francisco, Samsung announced that it was skipping a decade’s worth of handsets and going straight to the Galaxy S20.

The new flagship debuted onstage today, in three flavors: the S20, S20+ and S20 Ultra, a sign of the company’s ever-shifting approach to the market. Samsung clearly has no plan to back away from the premium market, even as smartphone sales flag. With starting prices of $999, $1,199 and $1,399, respectively, the company’s making a big bet that consumers are still willing to pay top dollar for premium specs.

Paying top dollar means, among other things, 5G for all-comers. All three devices will be 5G-enabled, a year after Samsung introduced its first device with the next-gen technology. It’s 2020, and Samsung is all-in on 5G — on its flagships, at least. The S10/Note 10 and their Lite versions are continuing to stick around at a lower price, maintaining a broad range of devices currently on the market for the company. 

Another big new feature here is the addition of a 120hz refresh rate and improved touch response. In all cases, you’ve got a hole punch “Infinity O” camera up top. Once again, however, the biggest news is coming on the imaging side. The company’s using the phrase “pro grade” to describe the camera across the board.

All three models feature pretty massive camera modules, but the Ultra’s is next-level. Both the S20+ and Ultra feature the prominent Space Zoom camera (with a three-camera system, to the S20’s two). On the Ultra, the 48-megapixel folded lens is a hybrid of optical and digital zoom that offers a combined 100x. There’s some degradation of the image, naturally, but it’s still pretty impressive what the handset is capable of. This could be a game changer for amateur smartphone photographers.

Other camera improvements include 8K video recording at 24FPS, implode super-steady zoom and the addition of night time hyper-lapse shooting. On the camera software side, there’s the new Single Take mode, which saves a whole bunch of versions of a shot, including live focus and wide angle — basically all of the different shots at once, so you can go in and choose the best. The combined photos take up between 50 and 70MB a piece and you have to go in and manually delete the ones you don’t want, so probably don’t use that for every shot.

Samsung Galaxy S20

Nona binning is another one of the Ultra’s special photography surprises. Like the ridiculous Space Zoom, the technology could prove a game changer for amateur photographers looking to step up their game. The technology (which slipped out recently as a patent filing) reduces the mostly excessive 108-megapixel sensor down to 12 megapixels, utilizing the tremendous amount of light the sensor lets in.

Bixby is still hanging around. The smart assistant is still present as one of the side buttons, though, as with the recent Note, it’s easily mapped to different technologies. The tech did, however, make an appearance courtesy of a partnership with Spotify, which brings the popular music streaming platform for Bixby Routines. That essentially means that playlists are integrated into different modes, like wake-up and working out.

More interesting on the music side is a clever little feature called Music Share. With it, users with compatible Galaxy devices can piggyback on your Bluetooth connection and play songs on a connected stereo. The idea is to create a kind of collaborative playlist. The applications are admittedly extremely limited (especially when coupled with limited device compatibility), but it’s fun nonetheless.

Samsung Galaxy S20

There’s another surprise partnership in the form of Google. The software giant’s video chat platform is being baked directly into Samsung’s UI with an icon available in the dialer, so users can choose between a voice or video display — similar to Apple’s longtime FaceTime integration, albeit through a third-party here. The S20 is also the first device that can deliver a chat in full HD — though that will require a good 5G connection on both sides, so it’s safe to say it’s going to be…limited at launch.

One more big partnership to mention here is Microsoft. The company will be launching Forza Street in the Galaxy Store — its first appearance on Mobile. That arrives at some point in the spring.

Samsung Galaxy S20

As for internals, the S20 sports a healthy 4,000 mAh battery, which the S20+ and Ultra bump up to 4,500 mAh and 5,000 mAh, respectively. The systems will sport the latest Qualcomm 865 here in the system, along with healthy starting specs of 12GB of RAM and 128GB of storage.

Pre-order for the new flagships opens February 21, with wide availability on March 6. Rather than the more traditional bundles of things like earbuds or charging pads, Samsung is tossing in credits for pre-orders. Those who pick up the S20, S20+ or S20 Ultra will get a $100, $150 or $200 credit, respectively, redeemable for Samsung software or services.

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Amazon assembles video streaming apps to fight with Netflix and Disney in India – TechCrunch

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Amazon has launched Prime Video Channels in India, allowing its customers to subscribe to eight streaming services including Discovery+ and Mubi from one hub (Prime Video website or app), the latest in a series of efforts by the U.S. giant to win customers in the South Asian nation.

The new offering makes it easier for users to login and pay for additional streaming services, the company said. To make things more enticing, Amazon said the services are available at discounted prices for the first year. Discovery+ costs $4 per year, Mubi $27, Hoichoi ($8.2), DocuBay $6.8, ErosNow $4, Lionsgate Play $9.5, manoramaMax $9.5, and ShortsTV $4.

The company, which is currently at the centre of several controversies in India, did not share how much of the revenue it is taking from the streaming services and the duration of the partnerships. India is the 12th market where Amazon has launched Prime Video Channels.

Friday’s launch will likely be more beneficial to the third-party streaming services, all of which are struggling to make inroads in India, than Amazon itself. Discovery+ has amassed fewer than 4 monthly active users in India on mobile, Mubi has fewer than 100,000, DocuBay has fewer than 50,000, ErosNow has fewer than half a million, Lionsgate Play and manoramaMax each has fewer than 750,000, according to mobile insight firm App Annie (the data of which an industry executive shared with TechCrunch).

“With the launch of Prime Video Channels, we now take the next big step in our journey to entertain India by creating a video entertainment marketplace – first of its kind in India – which will not only delight our customers by giving them even more entertainment choices, but also benefit the OTT Channel partners who collaborate with us to leverage Prime Video’s distribution, reach and tech infrastructure,” said Gaurav Gandhi, Country Manager of Amazon Prime Video India, in a statement.

Amazon’s Prime Video, which has amassed over 55 million monthly active users in India, competes with Netflix, Disney’s Hotstar and Times Internet’s MX Player in the country. Both Hotstar and MX Player have established larger reach than Prime Video in India, and Netflix has courted most elite customers in the country.

The e-commerce group, on its part, has attempted to push for more reach by securing some rights to cricket matches — though the vast majority of those rights are still owned by Hotstar — and has also launched a free, ad-supported streaming service.

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Livestream video shopping app NTWRK raises $50M from Goldman Sachs, Kering – TechCrunch

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NTWRK, a video shopping app that has helped to popularize the idea of livestreamed commerce in the U.S., announced today it has closed on $50 million in new funding led by Goldman Sachs Asset Management and global luxury group Kering, owners of luxury brands Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, Bottega Veneta and others. The company has been working to capitalize on the growing interest in live commerce and creator content, and shifted into live virtual events and festivals as COVID-19 ravaged the U.S. last year. Now it says it will invest in furthering its growth and working to establish a more global footprint.

Other participants in the new round include LionTree Partners and Tenere Capital. They join the company’s prior backers: Main Street Advisors (whose investors include Jimmy Iovine, Drake and LeBron James), Live Nation, Foot Locker and others. Allison Berardo, a vice president within the Growth Equity business within Goldman Sachs Asset Management, will join NTWRK’s board of directors.

Aimed at a younger crowd of Gen Z and millennial consumers, NTWRK offers tools that allow creators to interact with viewers and sell products in real time, in what’s been called a mix of QVC, Twitter and Twitch. The experience blends commerce with entertainment, as viewers watch and chat with other viewers and hosts in real time, as they shop for streetwear, shoes, collectibles and other items. The company has also created its own exclusive content where it has featured hosts like Billie Eilish, Juice WRLD, DJ Khaled, Odell Beckham Jr., Eddie Huang, Blake Griffin, Alexander Wang, FaZe Clan, Nadeshot, Jonah Hill, Gary Vee, A$AP Ferg, Wu-Tang Clan, Doja Cat and others. (It even invested into FaZe Clan last year, we should note.)

Its business model extends beyond just offering live video shopping that you can tune into at any time, as it also regularly features product drops that work to build up anticipation and excitement. This sort of feature is only now making its way to larger social media platforms, like Instagram, which introduced drops just this spring.

NTWRK has also embraced live events and virtual festivals as another way to engage audiences. Last year, for instance, it ran TRANSFER, which featured 30 brands and artists, panels, interviews, DJ sets and musical performances. It also ran BEYOND THE STREETS, a virtual art fair that attracted over 250,000 attendees. Earlier this year it ran a two-day designer toy and collectibles festival, Unboxed, as the first of a slate of digital events which have subsequently run throughout the year, including Surface Festival, a virtual food festival and a virtual home goods festival. It’s now gearing up for the return of its flagship event, TRANSFER.

Image Credits: NTWRK (opens in a new window)

This summer, NTWRK also embraced the world of digital goods with the launch of NTWRK NFT, its own curated shop for unique crypto art from creators like BADBOI, Imaginary Foundation, MILKMAN, Young & Sick, Fafi, KidEight, MGOGLKTKO and Eddie Gangland.

Livestream shopping is already a popular activity overseas, but is still gaining ground here in the U.S. The company, in announcing its news today, noted that livestream shopping in China reached $150 billion in 2020 and is expected to grow to $300 billion this year. But in the U.S. it’s expected to reach $11 billion by the end of 2021 and $25 billion by 2025, leaving much room for growth.

“Our vision is to become the biggest, most culturally relevant, livestream shopping marketplace for Gen-Z and Millennial audiences who are obsessed with pop culture,” said NTWRK CEO Aaron Levant, in a statement. “It’s exciting for NTWRK to have Goldman Sachs and Kering sign on for the future of livestream shopping.”

NTWRK had previously raised a $10 million Series A, according to Crunchbase data.

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Google powers up assistive tech in Android with facial gesture-powered shortcuts and switches – TechCrunch

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Making smartphones more accessible is always a good idea, and Google’s latest features bring quick actions and navigation to people whose expressions are their primary means of interacting with the world. Project Activate and Camera Switches let users perform tasks like speaking a custom phrase, or navigating using a switch interface, through facial gestures alone.

The new features rely on the smartphone’s front-facing camera, which can watch the user’s face in real time for one of six expressions: a smile, raised eyebrows, opened mouth, and looking left, right, or up. It relies entirely on local computing and no image data is saved, nor is it doing what is generally understood as “facial recognition” — this type of machine learning can focus specifically on, for example, identifying the eyebrows and sending a signal whenever they move past a certain, customizable threshold.

Each expression can be assigned a different role. Camera Switches integrates with Android’s existing switch compatibility, by which people who use assistive tech like a joystick or blow tube can navigate the phone’s OS. Now that can be done without any peripheral device at all, and users can pick various facial gestures for iterating through selections, confirming a choice, backing out, and so on.

Image Credits: Google

Using Project Activate, expressions can be tied to self-contained actions like speaking a phrase. Many people with disabilities rely on caretakers for a variety of reasons, but one thing you can’t ask a caretaker to do is get your caretaker’s attention! So one useful application might be assigning (say) an extended eyebrow raise to have the device speak the phrase “hey!” or “I need help with something,” or “thanks!”

The gestures can also be used to play an audio file, or text or call a predetermined number. More expressions and more capabilities are on the way, as well as more languages — of course faces don’t have languages, but the app and support documentation do, so Project Activate will start with English-speaking countries and move out from there. Camera Switches, on the other hand, will be available in 80 languages from the start.

Note that these can’t both be used at once, since they both require access to the camera and expression recognition thing. So users should make sure they have a backup method for navigation. Both should run on pretty much any Android phone from the last five years or so.

Lastly, an update to Google’s Lookout app, which reads labels for people with visual impairments, adds the ability to scan and read out handwritten content the way it can with printed things. That’s useful for sticky notes, “gone fishing” type signs on the doors of stores, and things like greeting cards with notes from the sender. The app has seen big increases in usage over the last year so they’re building it out. (Support for identifying euro and Indian rupee banknotes should help fuel that growth too.)

All the new stuff should be available later this week free of charge.

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