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Archivo del Autor: Belen De Leon

Amex blocks Curve as the fintech startup vows to fight “anti-competitive” decision

Well, that was short-lived: Just 36 hours after Curve, the London fintech that lets you consolidate all of your bank cards into a single Curve card, re-instated support for Amex, the feature has once again been unceremoniously blocked by American Express. This time, however, the context feels very different from 2016 when the startup was barely off the ground, with Curve telling customers in an email this morning that it intends to “fight Amex’s decision with our full might”.

Going up against the deep pockets and dominant market position of American Express will undoubtedly be a “David and Goliath” battle, although, unlike two years ago, Curve is now backed by an array of investors that includes Connect Ventures and Santander. Arguably, the startup will have U.K. and EU payments and competition regulations on its side, too, although it is hard to predict with certainty if the U.K. regulators will use their full teeth in a situation like this and how they will interpret those existing U.K. and EU regulations.

Curve’s position, however, is clear: In the same email to customers, the company has called the move “anti-competitive” and says it is “entirely disproportionate and discriminatory” to Curve. “U.K. payment regulations clearly state that Curve should be allowed to access the Amex payment network on a level-playing field with every other fee-paying and legitimate merchant,” writes the startup.

However, American Express disputes this, telling TechCrunch it doesn’t have regulatory obligations to work “with Curve or any individual merchants”.

Meanwhile, the credit card giant has been busy briefing journalists that it ended its merchant contract with Curve for business reasons, following what looked like a successful beta test with a small number of joint customers. Perhaps the trial was too successful, with American Express telling me Curve customers were using Amex added to Curve in ways that were different to its regular customers, which, one could argue, is the whole point. To truly innovate, you have to offer something new. Something truly new, has to be different.

With that said, the method with which Curve was accessing the Amex network is a well-established one. Technically, Curve had signed a “merchant” contract with American Express, just like any other merchant and many existing e-wallet products, such as PayPal or YoYo Wallet, which, notably, haven’t been blocked. As part of the trial period, the fintech had also made changes to its own product to accommodate Amex, requiring customers to top up their Curve card in advance if they wanted to spend from their Curve-Amex wallet.

In other words, this was definitely not a “don’t ask for permission, ask for forgiveness” situation on Curve’s part. The two companies had been working together for months, and in talks for even longer, to get Curve back on the Amex network. A merchant contract had been signed. What changed at the 11th hour is unclear, although we can be sure this one has a long way to play out just yet.

American Express provided TechCrunch with the following statement:

We participated in a limited Curve beta test in which we explored enabling Card Members to load funds onto an e-wallet using their Amex Card in the Curve app. A very small number of Amex Card Members participated in the test. Based on the results, we communicated to Curve that we would not participate in the further roll out of Curve because of concerns related to the overall American Express Card Member experience. Subsequently we terminated our contract with them.

And here’s the full email sent out by Curve to customers, myself included:

Dear Steve,

We are extremely sorry that the top-up functionality of your Amex wallet is currently disabled.

Like thousands of other UK merchants, Curve has a valid merchant agreement to accept Amex payments into its e-wallet. However, on Tuesday evening, Amex decided to terminate this agreement and block all Amex transactions to Curve with immediate effect.

Amex has given no good or fair reason for their decision and we believe it is entirely disproportionate and discriminatory to Curve and all our (joint) customers. UK payment regulations clearly state that Curve should be allowed to access the Amex payment network on a level-playing field with every other fee-paying and legitimate merchant.

Rest assured that you can still spend the funds that you have already topped up to your existing Amex Wallets. If you have contacted us for support, we apologise for the delay in response and will endeavour to do so as soon as possible. We will update you as soon as we have any further information.

With your interests in mind, and our mission to deliver a truly innovative product, we intend to fight Amex’s decision with our full might. We believe financial freedom is the future and we are prepared to fight for yours.

Team Curve

Source: TechCrunch

China continues 5G push despite economic slowdown and Huawei setbacks

China will fast-track the issuance of commercial licenses for 5G as part of a national plan to boost consumer spending, said a notice published this week by the National Development and Reform Commission. The move appears to be multifaceted, for 5G plays a key role in China’s bid to lead the global technology race and one of its biggest 5G champions, Huawei, has been facing troubles on a global scale.

In its statement, the economic regulator calls on local governments to support the promotion and showcase of services utilizing the super-fast network technology. Ultra-high definition TVs, virtual/augmented reality handsets and other futuristic products will be eligible for government subsidies, though the regulator didn’t outline the detailed criteria.

The acceleration of 5G licenses comes as Beijing copes with a weakening national economy, a move that will “drum up demand with upgraded technology experiences across devices, automotive and manufacturing leveraging 5G technology,” said Neil Shah, research director at Counterpoint Research, to TechCrunch. 5G is on course to generate 6.3 trillion yuan ($947 billion) worth of economic output and 8 million jobs for China by 2030, according to estimates from the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology.

Beijing has been gearing up to be the world leader in the next-generation network tech, pouring resources into 5G research and infrastructure. But it has been hit with a speed bump overseas as western countries grow increasingly wary of spy threat posed by Chinese 5G equipments. A souped-up domestic drive, therefore, could help neutralize some of the global setbacks faced by its 5G crown jewels like Huawei.

The U.S. and Australia have banned local firms from procuring equipment from Huawei, and Canada and the U.K. are currently reviewing whether to continue using 5G parts made by the Chinese telecom equipment giant. Meanwhile, Huawei is facing a list of criminal charges from the U.S. for stealing state secrets and its financial chief Meng is accused of bank fraud.

“Aaccelerating 5G licenses should indirectly help Huawei gain competitive edge for 5G considering it will be supplying solutions to the world’s largest mobile cellular market, China,” observes Counterpoint’s Shah. “This also gives Huawei an early platform to showcase its technology to the world and attract more global business.”

Huawei has continued with its 5G push despite being dogged by a string of global woes. Last week, the Shenzhen-based conglomerate unviled a 5G chipset for multiple commercial uses across smartphones, home and work. The chip, dubbed the Balong 5000, will be launching in February at a Barcelona tech trade show.

Source: TechCrunch

Wanna Kicks, a new AR app from Wannaby, lets you virtually “try on” your next pair of kicks

Wannaby, a startup out of Belarus that is building “AR commerce” experiences, has launched a beta of its latest app, which aims to make it easier to find the perfect sneakers.

Dubbed “Wanna Kicks,” the iOS app uses augmented reality to let you “try on” various pairs of sneakers. You simply choose a pair of kicks from the list of 3D models, point your camera at your feet and — bingo — you’re now virtually wearing your chosen footwear.

The effect is pretty instant and tracks reasonably well as you move and rotate your feet or change camera angle. You can even try walking and the AR app will follow your footsteps. It doesn’t work quite as well standing in front of a mirror, which would be more useful, but that is something Wanna Kicks’ makers say they are working on.

Ultimate, however, Wannaby believes its technology can help both customers and retailers. The premise is simple: the better idea you have of how a pair of sneakers will look when you’re actually wearing them, the more likely you are to make the right purchase and the less likely you are to return an item. Online retailers spend a lot of their margins trying to get customers to convert, and arguably even more servicing returns.

“Our mission is to break online shopping barriers,” Wannaby CEO and ex-Googler Sergey Arkhangelskiy tells me. “We believe that AR try-on can help customers to shop online and will wash away the difference between online and offline shopping. We see two major problems in the shoe market. Online conversions are quite low, and returns are quite high, in comparison to traditional ‘brick-and-mortar’ shopping. The ability to try sneakers with your phone before buying online should shift conversions, engagement, and returns”.

Arkhangelskiy argues that AR is also a great marketing tool. Unsurprisingly, Wanna Kicks lets you save a photo of your feed clad in new virtual sneakers, which you can then share on social media. Video sharing is in the pipeline, too.

“Many shoe brands are presenting their new releases both online and offline,” he says. “Lots of customers are eager to know more about new sneaker releases, and AR is a great new way for people to experience sneakers that are new to the market or are about to get to the market. Essentially, this is the main idea behind Wanna Kicks: allowing users to choose and decide whether they like a shoe or not without visiting a physical store”.

Under the hood, Wannaby says it uses sophisticated “3D geometry algorithms” together with neural networks to identify the position of the shoe in space. It’s these algorithms that the startup says are its secret sauce and the company’s main innovation. To onboard sneakers into the app, Wannaby utilises its own studio to create bespoke 3D models.

“We’ve built Wanna Kicks for Gen Z and millennials who are interested in buying sneakers and eager to know whether they will fit their style or not,” adds Arkhangelskiy. “The AR and AI community will love our launch as well — we’ve accomplished a really difficult task in computer vision and rendering”.

Meanwhile, Wannaby is backed by Bulba Ventures, and Haxus. The startup has raised $2 million in seed funding to date.

Source: TechCrunch

Your smartphone may soon pack 1TB in storage thanks to Samsung’s new memory chip

Sick of filling the limited space on your phone with apps, photos and videos? Sometime in the near future, your smartphone could ship with more than one-terabyte (1TB) of internal storage and run 10 times faster than a standard memory card.

Samsung is best known for making smartphones but the company’s memory division — one of its most profitable units — just announced that it has begun mass-producing a 1TB flash storage chip for phones. There’s no word on when they’ll be inside smartphones but Samsung said it plans to increase production during the first half of this year.

“Smartphone enthusiasts will soon be able to enjoy storage capacity comparable to a premium notebook PC, without having to pair their phones with additional memory cards,” Samsung said.

That 1TB capacity is double the previous highest that the Korean firm has produced. Its newest chip gave the Galaxy Note 9 a 512GB model which passes the terabyte milestone when a 512GB SD card is added. This new breakthrough promises to offer that without the help of a card, but the company also boasted of improved performance.

Samsung said its new tech reaches speeds of up to 1,000 megabytes per second (MB/s) — that would transfer a 5GB-sized full HD video in just five seconds to transfer, as opposed to nearly one minute with conventional microSD cards. Increased memory will also enable better quality high-resolution video shooting thanks to faster random read speed, it said.

Sounds good, but might this ship before the end of the year? The Samsung rumor mill is already speculating that the upcoming Galaxy Note 10 could include a 1TB model, but at this stage there is no concrete evidence. Keep an eye out for future leaks for more hints.

Source: TechCrunch

Chat app Line’s mobile payment service is getting its own Visa card

Brown, Cony and the gang are coming to a credit card near you in Japan. Line, the messaging app company behind the cute sticker characters, announced today that it is bringing its payment service to plastic through a tie-in with Visa.

Line is Japan’s largest chat app with an estimated 50 million registered users. The cards will be released later this year and they’ll allow Line Pay, the company’s digital wallet service, to stretch beyond its existing merchant base to allow users to pay at any retailer accepting Visa . In addition, the first year of use will see customers get 3 percent of their spending back in Line’s ‘Points’ virtual currency, which is used to buy stickers and other content.

The partnership is a step up from Line’s own payment cards, which were introduced in 2016 and supported by JCB.

It’s an interesting deal because mobile is generally seen as being the future form factor for payments. In China, for example, using cash or card to pay is considered antiquated — you’ll get glares from other patrons forced to wait while you complete your transaction — but digital payments face a struggle in most other markets.

WeChat and Alipay have become de facto in China, but retailers — and particularly smaller ones — don’t always have the awareness, confidence or resources to add support for Line or other digital wallets. Japan, where cash is still king, is perhaps most emblematic of that struggle. The government is making a sustained push towards cashless — particularly ahead of the 2020 Olympics — and Line, as the country’s dominant chat app, may help that along with this partnership.

Line wrapped up a deal with WeChat last November that allows users of the China-based chat app to make payment via Line Pay points of sale. Tencent’s WeChat and Alipay from Alibaba have spent recent years developing a system that lets Chinese tourists pay while they are overseas.

Source: TechCrunch

Man reportedly paid $11 for a PS4 after pretending it was fruit – CNET

He was arrested and sentenced to four months in jail.
Source: CNET

Altice to acquire majority stake in OTT startup Molotov

Telecom company Altice is about to close a significant investment in French startup Molotov — the two companies have entered into exclusive negotiations. While terms of the deal are undisclosed, Altice should end up with a majority stake in Molotov for hundreds of millions of euros.

This is an interesting move as it greatly increases the reach of Molotov and opens up some new opportunities when it comes to internationalization, content and more.

Molotov is an over-the-top streaming platform in France. You can find all major TV channels, stream live content and watch replays for free. There are optional subscriptions to unlock more features, such as cloud recordings and premium channels.

The service is available on all major platforms — desktop, mobile, tablet, Apple TV, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, smart TVs from Samsung, LG, Panasonic, etc. It is one of the most popular apps on tvOS and Android TV, always at the top of the stores with Netflix and myCanal.

When I last covered Molotov, the company told me that it has 7 million users in France. Every day, 1.2 million users watch something on Molotov. They stream a total of 1.1 million hours of content. As you can see, those Molotov sessions can be quite long.

Altice currently operates in France under the name SFR, Israel, Portugal, Dominican Republic and the U.S. following the acquisition of Cablevision. Like many telecom companies, Altice and its founder Patrick Drahi also has invested in content and media.

The company owns NextRadioTV (BFM TV, BFM Business, BFM Paris, RMC Story and RMC Découverte). It operates premium sports channels as the company currently has the distribution rights of the Premier League in France. It owns different newspapers and magazines, such as Libération and L’Express.

Interestingly, Altice has also acquired video adtech company Teads. You could already imagine new monetization opportunities for Molotov and Teads.

As Altice has already negotiated distribution rights with every TV network in France for its own set-top boxes, you can imagine a better offering on Molotov in the coming months. For instance, you could imagine being able to subscribe to Canal+ or BeIN Sports from Molotov.

Molotov had raised around $35 million from Idinvest (Benoist Grossmann), Sky, TDF, Cherry Tree Invest and others. While the service will remain available to everyone even if you’re an Orange subscriber for instance, SFR customers will get an extended version of Molotov for free. Altice will keep the name Molotov.

Molotov co-founder and CEO Jean-David Blanc will remain at the head of Molotov. With this open approach, Altice doesn’t just want to integrate the service into its offering. Molotov will remain an independent service and grow independently from Altice’s telecom operations.

Source: TechCrunch

Samsung unveils 1TB smartphone storage in 'industry first' – CNET

No more choosing which photo to delete…
Source: CNET

iRobot’s robotic lawnmower was 10 years in the making

Meet Terra, the latest product line from iRobot destined to be forever known as the “Roomba for lawns.” There are worse names, of course. After all, with the Roomba line, iRobot was able do what countless startups have tried and failed before and after — introduce a truly mainstream home robot. If the Massachusetts-based hardware company is able to do the same for yard work, it will be a truly impressive feat indeed.

Like most of what iRobot does, however, work on the lawn-mowing robot has been slow and deliberate. In a closed-door meeting with the company at CES this year, CEO Colin Angle lifted the veil off of the robot. It was a kind of grand unveiling for a party of one. But first he explained why, precisely, it had taken iRobot so long to get into the space.

After all, the Terra is far from the first product to attempt to do for lawns what the Roomba has done for floors. Honda has already entered the space, along with lesser-known names like Robomow and Worx. But iRobot has one key thing none of the competition has — 17 years of experience building and evolving the Roomba line.

Even so, Angle tells me that Terra (Codenamed: Wichita) was nearly a decade in the making, with a team of between 35 and 50 members of its R&D staff devoted solely to the new product. There are many moving parts — both figuratively and literally — required to get a product like this just right. And certainly moving outdoors on uneven surfaces with a new objective requires more than simply iterating on the Roomba team’s work. The slanted legs on trampolines have apparently proven particularly difficult for roboticists to get their brains around.

In fact, the company has been covertly testing the mower outdoors, in a fenced-off section of the company’s Bedford, Mass. parking lot that was once a battleground for its military robotics (spun off in 2016 as Endeavor Robotics). I know I’d visited the company’s HQ a few times in those intervening years and wasn’t any the wiser.

The Terra’s operations should prove familiar to anyone who has spent time with recent versions of the Roomba. The mower lives primarily on a charging dock. The first time you send it out, the mower cases the joint using iRobot’s Imprint smart mapping technology — a larger-scale version of what you’ll find on the Roomba. The vision system is more equipped for obstacles and uneven lighting situations that arise in the outdoor setting.

The top of the robot opens to reveal a small remote control so the driver can cruise it around manually the first time to help show Terra where to go. The remote can also be used later, for those who’d prefer to take it for a joy ride.

Similar to the Roomba, the system utilizes a beacon system (it ships with two). Here they’re relatively unobtrusive poles that stake into the ground, helping create virtual boundaries for yards that don’t have fences or other natural borders. The system also utilizes the same Home app as Roomba, so users can remotely monitor its progress and the like.

Terra doesn’t have a bag on board, instead relying on a mulching system like you get on most industrial mowers. The robot takes on a lawn in a much more orderly fashion than Roomba, going back and forth to stripe the lawn. The battery should be more than enough for most residential lawns, but if it runs out of juice, Terra will return to its base to charge back up and pick up where it left off.

The system is weatherproof — though if you live in a particularly cold area, if might be best to bring it in when the snow piles up. There’s also a security system on board that assures Terra can’t be used if moved from its given lawn.

Lots of details like pricing are still forthcoming. Interestingly, the robot will launch first in Germany, later this year, with a beta program launching in the U.S., so the company can continue to tweak the system.

Source: TechCrunch

iRobot's Terra robot lawn mower cuts the grass while you relax – CNET

The Terra from iRobot will automatically mow your lawn like a Roomba.
Source: CNET