Virtual reality boom brings giant robots, cyberpunk castles to China

GUIYANG, China (Reuters) – Giant robots and futuristic cyberpunk castles rise out of lush mountain slopes on the outskirts of Guiyang, the capital of one of China’s poorest provinces.

A view of the Oriental Science Fiction Valley theme park at sunset, in Guiyang, Guizhou province, China November 16, 2017. Picture taken November 16, 2017. REUTERS/Joseph Campbell

Welcome to China’s first virtual reality theme park, which aims to ride a boom in demand for virtual entertainment that is set to propel tenfold growth in the country’s virtual reality market, to hit almost $8.5 billion by 2020.

The 330-acre (134-hectare) park in southwestern Guizhou province promises 35 virtual reality attractions, from shoot-‘em-up games and virtual rollercoasters to tours with interstellar aliens of the region’s most scenic spots.

“After our attraction opens, it will change the entire tourism structure of Guizhou province as well as China’s southwest,” Chief Executive Chen Jianli told Reuters.

“This is an innovative attraction, because it’s just different,” he said in an interview at the park, part of which is scheduled to open next February.

The $1.5-billion Oriental Science Fiction Valley park, is part of China’s thrust to develop new drivers of growth centered on trends such as gaming, sports and cutting-edge technology, to cut reliance on traditional industries.

In the push to become a center of innovative tech, Guizhou is luring firms such as Apple Inc, which has sited its China data center there, while the world’s largest radio telescope is in nearby Pingtang county.

Staff members stand underneath a giant robot statue at the Oriental Science Fiction Valley theme park in Guiyang, Guizhou province, China November 16, 2017. Picture taken November 16, 2017. REUTERS/Joseph Campbell

The park says it is the world’s first of its kind, although virtual reality-based attractions from the United States to Japan already draw interest from consumers and video gamers seeking a more immersive experience.

The Guiyang park will offer tourists bungee jumps from a huge Transformer-like robot, and a studio devoted to producing virtual reality movies. Most rides will use VR goggles and motion simulators to thrill users.

Slideshow (9 Images)

“You feel like you’re really there,” said Qu Zhongjie, the park’s manager of rides. “That’s our main feature.”

China’s virtual reality market is expected to grow tenfold to 55.6 billion yuan ($8.4 billion) by the end of the decade, state-backed think-tank CCID has said.

Farmers in the nearby village of Zhangtianshui said they were concerned about pollution from big developments, but looked forward to the economic benefits a new theme park would bring. Most were less sure about virtual battles or alien invasions, though.

“There are lots of good things that come out of these projects,” one farmer, Liu Guangjun, told Reuters. “As for the virtual reality, I don’t really understand it.”

($1=6.5849 Chinese yuan renminbi)

Reporting by Joseph Campbell in GUIYANG; Editing by Adam Jourdan and Clarence Fernandez

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Miramax, Weinstein, Hollywood and Sexual Harassment The number one way to gut-check your company's culture.

The flood of women coming forward in recent weeks to tell their stories of “Me Too” has shed a light on the fact that it’s not only Miramax, Harvey Weinstein, and Hollywood but our country at large that has created a culture of mindlessness when it comes to sexual harassment.

These revelations are raising awareness across the business sector as companies try to make sure they and their employees do not fall prey to a mindless culture.

Brenda’s story.

Brenda was a newly minted VP on her first business trip with Miramax. She had turned in early after dinner as to make a good impression on her boss and fellow employees leaving them in the bar downstairs.

When she woke up to a knock on her hotel room door, the voice on the other side was a familiar one, so she opened it.  

Before she knew what was happening, her boss pushed the door open and threw her on the bed. He pinned her down but was drunk and she managed to wriggle away, locking herself in the adjoining room.

Weeks later her boss had not spoken a word to her about that night. No conversations, no “I’m sorry,” it was business as usual.

When she mustered up the courage to confide in her boss’ boss, he apologized for the unfortunate incident, but he let her know that if she went public, he would deny their conversation ever happened.

I asked Brenda if the fear of it happening again stayed with her while she was at Miramax. She said, “Oh yeah, it wasn’t if, in my mind, it was when. I learned that’s how it was there.”

In business, we talk about culture. It’s a buzzword. How do you create a good, a healthy, a positive, a winning–the adjectives abound followed by the 4, 5 or 6 steps you need to create that culture.

But the culture of your business doesn’t live in your mission statement or in your HR manuals, it’s a living breathing thing. It lives in the decisions you make and in the way you handle people, especially those who have less power.

A culture is a set of set of norms, values, and behaviors of a group. One definition says it’s the way we do things around here. However, if those ideals are left to collect dust in the pages of your mission statement, your mission will get lost.

The biggest reason the culture of a business will fail is mindlessness. When a group or a company of people go mindless, they begin to accept things they would not normally accept under the banner of this is the way it’s done around here, regardless of what it says in the manuals.

In a mindless culture, all manner of bad, unsafe and repugnant behavior can become part of a company’s tacit traditions, including sexual harassment. These behaviors infect and redefine a group’s stated core values.

Mindlessness can become systemic, as employees old and new become acceptant of the prevailing culture that is practiced, not preached.

Brenda experienced the real values held at Miramax. At minimum, her bosses were supporting a culture of mindlessness with respect to women and they expected Brenda to drink the Kool-aid.

The systemic mindlessness of Hollywood is being exposed as scores of actresses are coming forward with remarkably similar stories of sexual abuse.

Many of these women, like Rachel Mcadams, were sent to hotel meetings with predators by their own agents, some of whom were also women, aware of the danger but gave no warning.

In order to weed out systemic mindlessness and any accepted norms that go against their core values, companies need to gut-check their culture.

Introducing mindfulness, the practice of being present and attuning to the people around us can help employers better monitor the direction their company’s culture has taken.

Employees trained in mindfulness are not as susceptible to the priming of a culture, especially if it is wrought with questionable values. Mindfulness practitioners are proving to be more compassionate toward others and are prone to make moral choices.

One surprising study showed that mindful people are less likely to fall prey to the “bystander-effect” and are more likely to speak up when confronted with the suffering of others or injustice.

Some of the old guard in Hollywood has admitted to knowing about the sexual misconduct of Weinstein and others but did nothing. The “bystander-effect” was a key reason so many in Hollywood stayed quiet for so long.

Creating a space that is safe and supportive for employees to speak openly and honestly about their experiences goes a long way toward maintaining a company’s integrity.

While sensitivity training is important, it falls short of creating a culture that is aware, compassionate and attuned to others.

We have an opportunity in this moment to become mindful of how power is wielded and lorded over others. It’s time for a gut-check, not only of our business culture but the culture of our country at large.

Every Entrepreneur Should Think More Like a Scientist. Here's How.

Don’t be intimidated by experimentation. Sure, it sounds complicated — test tubes bubbling away in a perfect arrangement while people in lab coats jot down notes. And yes, it can sound expensive — hundreds of man hours, expensive equipment, possibly specialized consultants or labs.

In reality, experimenting isn’t expensive or difficult. Every product-based company and startup should embrace basic research principles, as there are a lot of good cues that businesses can take from researchers working in the hard sciences. Here are a few basic (and proven!) principles to start with:

1. Have a product hypothesis.

You may have learned it in elementary school, but having a working hypothesis is a bit harder than it seems. Say you’re a product developer and you have a technology for smarter, faster bluetooth connections. Your first instinct will be to explore all of the applications of that sweet new technology and look for the most useful and profitable ones.

But before you begin, bring a hypothesis to the table. Exploring a ton of information without a grounding research question or theory can make it difficult to know if you did a good job, or even when you should stop exploring.

A hypothesis is an essential rudder when looking for your best course of action. Make a statement that can be proven or disproven, and before you start your experiment – make sure either answer would provide valuable next steps for the team.

2. Search wide, then dive deep.

Before you invest a lot of time in a single area — say, heavily targeting a specific audience or adding a specific set of features — it’s critical to know you’re on the right path. One of the most common mistakes I see people make: Their intuition kicks in and they go with their first idea, then only explore that option.

Take a large set of options, be they design decisions or market strategies, then test them against some of the best criteria you can measure. Then, and only then, will you have the confidence that an experiment is working or not.

In our hypothetical super-bluetooth example, we would pick a criteria like potential market size, then consider different industries like medical devices and consumer electronics against each other. We may all emphatically believe that the applications for smartphones will make consumer electronics the true winner, but we won’t know until we explore how exactly how many pacemakers or hearing aids need our super-bluetooth.

After testing a broad set of options, you’ll be left with a smaller and more manageable set of categories to explore in order to move your project forward.

3. Fail hard and often.

If you’re approaching decisions and problems with a hypothesis, then doing a fair and rigorous job at testing them, at some point you should find yourself disproving an assumption — being wrong. This is essential to a good experiment; it proves you’re serious about finding the right answer and not validating your own assumptions into an echo chamber.

If you’re just dipping your toes, it won’t hurt to go with some relatively binary tests at first, looking at just X and Y. Eventually, a well-designed experiment will test a number of different hypothesis and variables at once, hopefully giving more invalidated assumptions than validated ones as the experiment goes on.

In these cases, being wrong is exceptionally valuable; it closes off a worthless course of action and frees you up to dive deeper on a more valuable one. Once we prove that our super-bluetooth is best suited for the consumer electronics industry, we should feel comfortable being wrong as often as possible when looking for the first devices and applications to pursue first.

There’s a classic quote from inventor-mogul Thomas Edison that gets referenced in these sort of lessons that I’d like to leave you with — here’s the most accurate version I could find, published in American Magazine:

“After we had conducted thousands of experiments on a certain project without solving the problem, one of my associates, after we had conducted the crowning experiment and it had proved a failure, expressed discouragement and disgust over our having failed to find out anything. I cheerily assured him that we had learned something. For we had learned for a certainty that the thing couldn’t be done that way, and that we would have to try some other way.”

Designers, app developers, marketers and business leaders — don’t be afraid to experiment more scientifically. You can apply these techniques to a massive portion of the decisions you make without a lab coat, without big data, and without a big budget.

5 Things The World's Most Exceptional Thinkers Have in Common

Originals drive creativity, innovation and ultimately change the world. History’s best minds have a lot of things in common. Every great achievement you have heard about or probably used came from exceptional thinking. From Einstein to Jobs, and Musk, here are five things the world’s greatest minds have in common.

1. Exceptional thinkers start their day on purpose

Success can only be achieved by design. Without a plan, you can’t make progress. In as much as original and exceptional thinkers embrace the opportunity to defy convention, they maintain schedules that make it easy for them to get things done.

They do their best work on purpose. Their deliberate actions make the biggest difference in how they achieve their goals, visions, and purpose in life. They value improvement, hence the need to keep schedules that allow them to live in the reality of making progress. Exceptional innovators are constantly fixing and iterating. 

2. Great thinkers look for patterns and connect ideas

The ability to make meaning from unrelated ideas and information is unique. Most innovators are great at it. It’s called Apophenia, the tendency to attribute meaning to perceived connections or patterns between seemingly unrelated things. 

Original thinkers and creative people intentionally look for patterns within their industries and other unrelated industries to be able to spot relationships that others cannot.

After dropping out of school, Steve Jobs wandered into a calligraphy course. It seemed irrelevant at the time, but the design skills he learned were later useful when he built the first Mac Computer. You never know what will be useful ahead of time.

Steve once said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”

The best minds in the world are great bridging the gap between unrelated concepts and ideas.

3. They value learning 

Curiosity is a big driver of creativity and novelty. Creativity happens when you make the effort to learn or try something new every day. Original thinkers know and understand the importance of connecting ideas, even the most remote ones to create something truly unique. They learn new skills that complement what they do. 

At the age of 14, Leonardo da Vinci began a lengthy apprenticeship with Andrea del Verrocchio, a well-known artist in Florence. He was exposed to a vast range of technical skills including, metalworking, leather arts, carpentry, drawing, painting, and sculpting. He learned a wide breadth of skills. 

If you’re a writer, you could take up photography. Start enhancing your career with the skills that complement it. The connection between ideas doesn’t happen unless you explore it a little.

4. They are insanely curious

Nothing beats a curious mind! Great minds make room for different mental models. They don’t disregard other ideas. They look for meaning in every pursuit. The most innovative and exceptional thinkers in the world are also the most inquisitive among us.The best way to connect dots is to be intellectually curious about the world around you.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, a great American novelist once said, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” 

Einstein made a profound statement about questioning and staying curious. He once said:

“Don’t think about why you question, simply don’t stop questioning. Don’t worry about what you can’t answer, and don’t try to explain what you can’t know. Curiosity is its own reason. Aren’t you in awe when you contemplate the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure behind reality? And this is the miracle of the human mind — to use its constructions, concepts, and formulas as tools to explain what man sees, feels and touches. Try to comprehend a little more each day. Have holy curiosity.”

Maintain to curious mind to explore and discover amazing ideas, innovations, and products that could spark new concepts for your next big idea. To improve your sense of curiosity, all you have to do is to embrace new ideas and try new things to stimulate your mind and senses.

5. Exceptional minds take productive breaks

According to research, your brain gradually stops registering a sight, sound or feeling if that stimulus remains constant for too long. You lose your focus and your performance on the task declines.

Great thinkers make time on their calendars to think, wander and refresh the brain. You can’t benefit from focused attention for too long. Sustaining attention on a task for an extended period of time can deplete your ability to think and create.

 Successful innovators and original thinkers know the importance of stepping away from projects briefly to re-conceptualize the problem with new perspectives.

Take intentional breaks by going for long walks, meditating, exercise or indulge in daydreaming. It pays to connect with your subconscious.

Japan's MUFG to automate operations to free bankers for wealthy clients

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc (MUFG) plans to automate 30 percent of operations at its core banking unit by 2024, using software robots and artificial intelligence for paperwork that would otherwise take 9,500 employees to process.

Automation would free bankers to better serve Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ Ltd’s [MTFGTU.UL] wealthier clients, where there are opportunities such as estate management, said Kanetsugu Mike, the unit’s chief executive since June.

“Branch officials spend 50 to 60 percent of their time processing customer documents,” Mike said in an interview. “We can free up that time with robotics technology so more time can be spent with customers.”

The comments come as Japanese banks turn to automation under an efficiency drive aimed at blunting the impact of the central bank’s negative interest rates on profit margins, stricter capital requirements and a shrinking population.

Japanese banks have been slow to eliminate paper-based documentation compared with major global peers, partly because many forms require customers’ personal ink stamps – Japan’s official method of identification – rather than signatures.

Having fallen behind, they are now scrambling to reform processes – such as introducing stamp-free accounts – and employ new technology to fend off potential threats from their more tech-savvy competitors.

Mizuho Financial Group Inc, Japan’s second-biggest financial group after MUFG, last year set up joint venture J.Score Co with SoftBank Group Corp, using artificial intelligence to calculate individuals’ creditworthiness.

At MUFG, Mike said “robotics process automation” will handle half of branch operations by the end of the business year to March 2024, or 30 percent of the bank’s total. By the time of full installation, the automation would have handled the equivalent of 9,500 employee’s workload, he said.

Freeing up staff will allow for increased focus particularly on 1.2 million clients with assets over 100 million yen ($ 890,000), currently served by only 2,600 bankers, Mike said.

“We need more bankers, so we don’t have much of an excess workforce to begin with,” he said, dismissing any connection between automation and headcount.

Mike, who has spent nearly half of his 38-year MUFG career outside Japan, also said overseas business will continue to be a growth-driver, and that further acquisitions are likely in Asia and the United States.

He said the rate of expansion will not be as fast as in recent years given constraints such as higher capital requirements. MUFG’s assets grew nearly $ 1 trillion over the past decade to $ 2.7 trillion at the end of June.

“Our growth so far has been led by balance sheet expansion, especially after the global financial crisis,” he said. “We need to use our balance sheet more prudently now.”

Reporting by Taiga Uranaka; Editing by Clara Ferreira Marques and Christopher Cushing


Snapchat Is Launching A New Discovery Tool: Context Cards

I don’t know I’ve reached Snap’s global headquarters until I am standing in front of them, leaning on the handle of my rolling suitcase and puzzling over a map app. A baby-faced security guard in braces approaches me. “I’m here to see Evan Spiegel,” I tell him.

Earlier, when I’d asked for a tour of Snap’s offices, the company spokesperson said it would be hard. This doesn’t make sense until I am on campus, which is marked by a door mid-block with a small wooden sign that says in nearly invisible script: Snap Inc. It’s designed to be missed. The building’s last tenant was the actor Matthew McConaughey and, fun fact, McConaughey’s former bedroom is now a conference room called Cuttlefish. The campus is really just a half-dozen unmarked buildings up the street from the Venice Beach Boardwalk, each about the size of McConaughey’s former abode, with white shades pulled down over the windows.

Yet it’s extraordinary that I’m here at all, considering how the company has interacted with the public—which is not very much. Since Snap launched six years ago, founders Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy have preferred to keep a very low profile. “I really am trying to do a better job communicating,” Spiegel told an audience at the Vanity Fair conference last week. “You know, we run a survey across our company and…overwhelmingly this year it was like, we want to hear more from you and I’m like…really? All right.”

As CEO, Spiegel has given few on-the-record interviews to the press, and even within the company, he has preferred to work with small, product-focused groups. In contrast to the large tech companies to which Snap is often compared, which create press events out of product launches and use conferences and interviews to allow their founders to become the company’s public face, Spiegel has preferred to let Snap’s products speak for themselves. For a long time, that strategy worked, allowing Spiegel to parlay the service into a global messaging app with 173 million daily active users who publish three billion photo and video “Snaps” every single day.

But that was before Snap went public. In the seven months since, the stock has lost nearly 40 percent of its value as investors question its strategy and its growth prospects. One of the most significant demands of a public company is that its leaders communicate—constantly—about their plans for the future and the progress they are making. The challenge Spiegel now faces is that he must help a much broader variety of people—investors, analysts, reporters, potential hires, and its current employees—to understand Snap’s vision, and persuade them of its capabilities without losing the company’s long-term focus on innovation.

Spiegel knows it means he has to change. “I think evolving really quickly is part of the job here,” he tells me. We sit in a lofted conference room in a building across the street, and he is dressed in black jeans and a t-shirt with white sneakers, one leg crossed over the other, smiling. “In the beginning, the most valuable thing for me to be doing was work on the product, and now one of the most valuable things for me to be doing is communicate. I’ve had to really shift my perspective for what I consider valuable.”

That perspective shift is why I have come. Today, Snapchat is launching Context Cards, which allow users to swipe up on some Snaps to find out more information and connect to other services such as Lyft or OpenTable. Snap has always based its product on the idea that images are their own context—that in the mobile era, they’re evolving into their own form of communication. By adding words and information, Spiegel is elevating them further, inviting Snap’s users to act on what they see by searching and discovering directly through images.

It’s not yet clear that Spiegel will have what it takes to build Snapchat into the type of company that competes with the likes of Google and Facebook. It’s not clear that he’ll be able to expand beyond his core user base—young people, particularly those under 25, who spend an average 40 minutes every day on Snap, according to the company. (That’s more than Instagram, which recently announced that its users in the same age range spend 32 minutes daily on the service.)

But what is clear is that Spiegel knows something about how to build products for this fundamental communication shift. From the moment he turned down Facebook’s $ 3 billion acquisition offer, the behemoth social network has been copying it. Stories has become embraced as a format for sharing mobile visual information just as Facebook’s News Feed became the dominant format for the last decade of social services. So when Spiegel, who had the foresight to grok this change, offers to talk, it makes sense to listen.

Spiegel’s vision for Snap begins with the assumption that most pictures aren’t precious. Rather, images are evolving into a new language, and as the tools to capture and manipulate them become more ubiquitous, we are able to express ourselves more frequently and fully. That’s why the app he launched opens to the camera, and that’s why he calls Snap a “camera” company. Like phone calls, Snaps aren’t intended to be stored so much as they’re meant to be absorbed, decoded, and released.

With Context Cards, Spiegel is attempting to rethink the way we discover new information. Currently, he explains, people find stuff on the internet by typing queries into search boxes and following hyperlinks to the content. Consider a YouTube video. “You upload the video, and you tag it with a bunch of text,” says Spiegel. “If you want to go find that video again, you type in the text and it surfaces the video.” In other words, the text directs you to video.

On mobile devices, Spiegel believes that the order is inverting. Users will instead begin with images and video that will direct them to text—and more images and video. He pulls out his Samsung J5. (He regularly switches up his phone, but, he says, “I’m kinda stuck on this phone for now.”) Spiegel opens Snapchat and taps on a story featuring a restaurant with the miniscule “more” icon at the bottom. He swipes up to reveal a card that looks a lot like the screens that pop up on Google Maps when you search for, say, a drugstore. It offers contact information, hours of operation, and directions to the venue, as well as reviews, maps, tips, and more information about whatever is in the Snap. Want a ride to that beach bonfire where your friends are roasting marshmallows right now? Care for a reservation at that fried chicken joint you stumbled across on Snap Map? Snap has struck partnerships with a host of services including Lyft and Uber, Tripadvisor, OpenTable, and Foursquare to offer services and information.

Context Cards in action.

Courtesy of Snap

Many of the locations will also have Stories integrated into the cards. These Stories will feature Snaps that users send to the public “Our Story” option, curated through machine learning and human selection in the same way they’re curated for Snap Map. In some cases, Snaps will disappear after 24 hours, but in other cases they may remain longer. In time, partners may also choose to provide images. It’s clear that Context Cards will appeal to advertisers looking for new ways to win attention from Snap’s users. And, of course, they may appeal to investors looking for new business opportunities within the service. Snap will wait to see how users embrace this new approach to discovery before the company attempts to make money off of it.

That is, assuming Snapchatters embrace Context Cards at all. There are good reasons to assume they will. Like Twitter or Facebook or any social service, Snap’s design can be confusing to people coming to it for the first time. For one, it relies on a network effect, which means it’s a lot more interesting when you discover that your friends are already there and using it. Also, there are no directions for a new user; you figure it out by messing around on it. But just as Twitter’s users eventually figured out the hashtag and the significance of adding a period before the “@” sign in a Tweet, Snap’s users have grown up inside of it and grown accustomed to its design. They visit it, on average, 20 times each day. They aren’t blindsided when they open up to a camera. They’re used to swiping up in order to discover new things because they’ve been swiping up on the Discover page to see more content, and swiping up on channels like Vulture or the New York Times to read longer articles. It’s not inconceivable that they’ll also swipe up on the Context Cards, though Snap will wait to review their interactions before developing it further.

Courtesy of Snap

What’s more, these cards are a recognition of how people are already using images in social. Social has ushered in the age of the digital influencer, in which we make decisions about everything from where to eat to what dining room table to buy by scrolling daily through our feeds. We are living in the age of the Instagram restaurant. People are seduced by a personal story, and want the information to make it happen for themselves. In that way, the cards are a less of an innovation than a recognition of the power already embodied in Spiegel’s product.

Spiegel takes pride in choosing to embrace ideas that run counter to those taken up by his Bay Area-based competitors. Among them is the need for speed in releasing new products. “One of the things that happens when you’re an innovator is there’s actually no benefit to being really, really fast,” he says. “You’re the one creating the new stuff, so there’s no one who’s racing you. It’s actually very important that you are slow and deliberate.” He says that when people join Snap from the Valley, they often want to ship products right away. “It’s like, why?” he says. “That just doesn’t make sense.”

Growth, too, is not something Snap has valued above all else. Instead, driven in part by the fact that Snap rents its computing infrastructure from Google and Amazon and seeks to control its costs, Spiegel prioritizes attracting economically valuable users. In its most recent quarterly earnings, the company reported it had grown its user base by just 21 percent over the past year. But most of those users came from the lucrative North American market where Snapchat was also able to increase the amount of revenue it made per user.


  • Jessi Hempel

    It Took a Natural Disaster for Me to Understand Snap Map

  • Roni Jacobson

    How Snapchat’s Sponsored Lenses Became a Money-Printing Machine

  • David Pierce

    Time for Snap to Prove It’s Bigger Than Snapchat

Spiegel believes Snap’s value is wrapped up in its ability to advance transformative new ideas. In the S-1 document that the company filed to go public, Spiegel wrote, “Our strategy is to invest in product innovation and take risks to improve our camera platform.”

But it’s not yet clear that innovation is a strong enough strategy for Snapchat to beat out competitors over the long run. Both Facebook and Google have made a practice of copying Snap’s most significant developments. After Instagram launched a mimic of its Stories feature in August 2016, the service saw engagement escalate considerably, and Facebook has now rolled out a Stories clone in Messenger, WhatsApp and its flagship app. Meanwhile, Google is reported to be working on its own version of the multimedia format, codenamed “Stamp.”

And more, it’s not yet clear whether Context Cards qualify as an innovation, or if Spiegel is simply adopting the best aspects of other visual services. There are many social services that invite users to click on images to discover more information, from Instagram and Google Maps to Pinterest and Houzz.

If Spiegel’s approach does take off among Snap’s users, he runs the risk he always runs—which is that Snap has the vision to create new products in line with how a new generation wants to create on their phones, but it ends up being copied and spread by a company with a more user-friendly open façade and a broader user base.

Spiegel, at least, is certain his approach will work. He’s betting the company’s future on the fact that Snap will be capable of reinventing itself and its service over and over again to become the dominant tool for communication on the visual web. “We have an opportunity to really change things,” he tells me, when I ask specifically about Snapchat’s current culture. “If you look at the past five or six years, in every category—whether it’s communication or media—we have absolutely transformed the technology landscape.” He ticks through the impact he believes Snap has had on technology to date, including the shift in how we use cameras to communicate and the rise of new formats like Stories. “There is no better place to be than Snap right now,” he says.

We shake hands and I stumble out to the sidewalk where, apart from the jovial security guard, there’s little trace of the $ 17 billion tech company just a few feet away. This, too, will change. Many of the company’s engineers have already moved to a much larger office a lot farther from the beach in neighboring Santa Monica in a building where Matthew McConaughey would likely never choose to live. Some time next year, Spiegel will join them in the new headquarters. The sign on the door—Snap Inc—will likely remain small.


Social Capital Hires a Partner to Lead Its New Growth Unit

Just three months after hiring longtime tech exec Tony Bates to run its new growth arm, Social Capital has made another senior addition to the team.

Sandhya Venkatachalam has joined the firm as a partner leading growth investing. Previously, she was one of the founding partners at private investment firm Centerview Capital. Venkatachalam will report to Bates, whom she’d previously worked with at Skype and Cisco.


Reported Shooting At Mandalay Bay In Las Vegas

Bringing in operators like Bates and Venkatachalam, who will invest in later-stage companies (and could even do buyouts) is part of Chamath Palihapitiya’s larger vision for the firm, which has traditionally focused on venture and seed investments. Going forward, Palihapitiya wants Social Capital to become a capital partner to the businesses it invests in throughout their lifecycles.

“I’m thrilled Sandhya will be working with Tony to build our growth investing practice as we scale Social Capital to support entrepreneurs and founders at all stages of their journey,” Palihapitiya said.

Venkatachalam joins the firm at a time of some high-profile turnover. Social Capital co-founder Mamoon Hamid abruptly departed in August to join Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, and there are rumors that third co-founder Ted Maidenberg also plans to leave the company. Social Capital confirmed reports that Maidenberg won’t be making new investments or participating in any future funds, although he’s currently still supporting the portfolio.

Palihapitiya ultimately wants to change the way Social Capital makes investments. As the firm begins to expand and veer toward being stage-agnostic, the co-founders reportedly didn’t see eye to eye.

After speaking with Bates and Venkatachalam, the vision seems to be pretty clear — operational experience coupled with a focus on data. The growth team will continue to scale as Bates hints he’ll be making more hires in the near future. “We’ll be selective,” he says. “[Sandhya and I] both understand that data is really going to be important. And when you augment that with operating teams, we should get strong results.”


Swipe for Professional Connections With Bumble’s New Networking App

Now the Bumble app can get you more than just a date.

The female-first dating app is breaking into career networking with the launch of Bumble Bizz. Similar to its dating counterpart, the app seeks to make networking easier and more efficient.

Read: LinkedIn Suffers a Big Legal Setback Over Data

To use Bumble Bizz, users create a LinkedIn-style digital resume. You can upload education and professional experience details, write a professional bio, and note what kind of opportunities you’re looking for. There’s also a skills section to list talents and awards, and the option to include examples from your portfolio. The app can be used for general networking, job seeking, or even mentoring.

While Bumble Bizz can be accessed within the Bumble app, it functions separately. Nevertheless, it will use the same swiping approach as the dating app, allowing users to swipe right on those they’re interested in speaking with further. Women will also still be the ones who have to make the first move by sending a message, maintaining Bumble’s focus on empowering women.

Read: Bumble Introduces New SuperSwipe That Is Just Like Tinder’s Super Like

Bumble has more than 21 million users around the world and has facilitated more than 350 million women-led first moves. With the launch of Bumble Bizz, the company says it wants to “empower women to have the confidence to make the first move within a professional environment.” For the time being, Bumble Bizz is only available in the U.S., Canada, the U.K, France, and Germany.

Oh, and Bumble will be using the new feature itself to look for potential new employees. So if you’re hoping to get a job at the female-first company, it might be a good idea to get on Bumble Bizz and start swiping.


U.S. Supreme Court rejects Samsung appeal in warranty dispute

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to consider a bid by Samsung Electronics Co Ltd to force customers who have filed proposed class-action lawsuits against the company to arbitrate their claims instead of bringing them to court.

The justices left intact a lower court’s ruling that purchasers of certain Galaxy smartphones made by the South Korean electronics company were not bound by a warranty provision that compelled arbitration of customer complaints.

Warranties with arbitration clauses have become common in consumer electronics and other industries. Courts and regulatory agencies increasingly are scrutinizing arbitration agreements that seek to limit options for resolution of future disputes.

The Samsung case involves two smartphone buyers from California who separately filed proposed class-action lawsuits in 2014 over concerns about the products’ performance and resale value.

Neither Daniel Norcia, who owned an Galaxy S4 device, nor Hoai Dang, who owned an SIII, saw the arbitration provisions when they bought the phone because the language was placed deep inside the warranty booklet and not mentioned on the box, according to their legal papers.

The agreement states that all disputes must be resolved through arbitration, and specifically rules out class actions.

Samsung tried to force the customers to arbitrate their claims, but a unanimous three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco denied the request in January. The court said Samsung did not provide proper notice of the arbitration provision and neither customer had expressly consented to be bound by it.

Appealing to the Supreme Court, Samsung noted that the 9th Circuit decided that the warranty was valid except for the arbitration provision. Samsung argued that the 9th Circuit ruling violated a U.S. law called the Federal Arbitration Act that requires arbitration agreements to be treated equally with other contracts.

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


Roku Ultra, Roku Streaming Stick+, Roku Express: Price, Specs, Release Date

Fresh from last week’s NASDAQ debut, blushing ingenue Roku is celebrating by refreshing its entire product line and rebooting the software that runs across all its devices. The new Roku boxes look promising, with updated specs and more affordable pricing. And those software enhancements are plentiful. If you use a Roku box for your HBOing, Plexing, and Netflixing, ice up the champagne and join the party.

The biggest news is that the company’s entire line of players will see a refresh, from Roku’s basic streaming stick to its beefy 4K-capable home entertainment hub. The top-of the line Roku Ultra, which has 4K capability and the best-performing innards of any Roku device, gets an updated remote but stays at $ 100. Last year’s Ultra recently saw a price drop from $ 130 to $ 100, and the lower cost will stick around for the 2017 holiday season. That means Roku’s premiere box is $ 80 cheaper than Apple’s new 4K streamer. With the Roku Ultra, you also get a wider selection of streaming options and a remote that won’t send you into a petulant frenzy after five minutes.

Apple’s not the only company applying pressure; Amazon’s new 4K-capable Fire TV showed up just last week boasting a competitive $ 70 price tag. Serendipitously, Roku now has its own $ 70 4K option, the upgraded Roku Streaming Stick+. This thumb-sized chunklet plugs directly into your set’s HDMI port, and now includes a wireless receiver built into the power cable. The company claims this new antenna design will greatly improve upon the Wi-Fi performance of last year’s stick, so 4K HDR content streaming at 60 frames per second shouldn’t show any degradation problems.

Want to go cheaper? There’s the regular Roku Streaming Stick, which does HD streaming and now comes with a remote that uses voice controls. That’s $ 50.

But the cheapest way into the 2017 Roku experience is the updated Roku Express. The $ 30 HD streamer—which looks like a Roku puck of old that’s been halved—gets an update today with a new processor the company claims offers five times the power of last year’s low-end streamers. That should translate into snappier menus and an overall less sluggish experience.

The Roku Express+ is the same device, but it’s enhanced with analog component connections for people who have very old televisions, or those without nieces or nephews courteous enough to maybe purchase them something nice with HDMI inputs after all they’ve done for you. It costs $ 40.

All of these new streamers are available for pre-order at Amazon and all the other big retailers, or directly from Roku. The products should show up on shelves within a week. The Roku Express+ is exclusive to Walmart—preferred retailer of the CRT zombie army—and goes on sale October 8.

Prime Time

The software updates coming to Roku devices and Roku TVs—sets manufactured by TCL, Hisense, and Roku’s other partners that are sold with Roku functionality built in—see the company investing extra effort in refining the search features, particularly those powered by voice.

On Roku TVs, there’s a new “Smart Guide” for HD antenna owners that shows a familiar, DVR-style grid of whatever’s playing on over-the-air stations. Programs listed in the grid that are also available over streaming apps appear with a purple asterisk next to them. Choose to switch to the streaming option and Roku kicks you to the exact episode page within Hulu, Netflix, or wherever the show lives.

One key enhancement coming to both Roku TVs and the company’s sticks, pucks, and boxes is natural-language voice search. Users can hold the remote to their lips and ask for “science fiction shows,” or “The Expanse,” or “Ridley Scott movies” and get relevant results aggregated from across all the services they use.

The plain-speaking search feature brings Roku closer in line with Apple, Google, and Amazon, all of whom have been selling devices with this functionality since last year. The competition in streaming hardware is furious on all fronts—price, performance, search, content libraries. It’s just more evidence that in this current television renaissance, what you’re watching is just as fascinating as how you’re watching.


Next Page »