Flywheel lets people flag down a cab and still pay via the app

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Flywheel, the app used by some cab services, is taking customers back to the roots of the taxi business — letting them flag down any passing cab.

The taxi-hailing app announced a new feature Thursday called “Pay by Flywheel” that lets passengers grab a cab from any street corner and pay for the ride through the app.

“We’re giving people the ability to get in and out of a taxi without having to fish for cash or a credit card — something that’s not possible with rideshares,” said Flywheel CEO Rakesh Mathur.

Flywheel’s service is a bit like popular ride-sharing apps Uber and Lyft, which let passengers hire an on-demand ride and pay automatically through the app. But instead of pairing passengers with drivers who use their own cars, Flywheel partners with taxi companies.

Flywheel is looking to distinguish itself in the hyper-competitive world of ride-hailing, which is dominated by Uber and Lyft. That won’t be easy. Uber, the second highest-valued venture-backed company in the world, has raised $5.9 billion in funding. Lyft has raised $862.5 million and Flywheel has raised $34.9 million.

Since Flywheel works directly with taxi services, it could have an edge to counter its deeper pocketed rivals. Cab companies have already hammered out regulatory and insurance policies with city and state officials, while the ride-sharing industry remains in flux. About 100 million cab rides take place in the US each month, Mathur said.

“A unique value exists with taxis, which is the fact that you can walk right into them,” Mathur said. Pay by Flywheel is “built to give people the best of both the digital and physical worlds of transportation, so that whether it’s most convenient to order a car with your app or hop into a cab in front of you, the whole process is integrated.”

Mathur became Flywheel’s CEO in November and has since been working to rev up the company’s business. The company launched in 2013 and initially operated in just San Francisco. It’s since moved into Seattle, Los Angeles, San Diego and Sacramento, Calif. Flywheel is also launching in Portland, Ore., on Thursday.

 

Apple, IBM to give 5 million iPads to Japanese seniors

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NEW YORK — Apple and IBM are getting into the senior care business.

The two companies said Thursday that they plan to give 5 million iPads to seniors in Japan over the next five years. The iPads will come with special software designed to help the elderly manage health care and other needs.

“We will dramatically improve the lives of millions of people,” Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook said an event here. “Sooner or later almost every country on the face on the earth will encounter this same issue.”

Cook spoke alongside IBM CEO Ginni Rometty and Taizo Nishimuro, CEO of Japan Post, his partners in the initiative.

The move expands IBM and Apple’s joint push to get more iPads into different areas, including business and health care. Though Apple’s iPhone and Mac sales are strong, iPad shipments have slumped. The company earlier this week reported iPad sales of 12.6 million units, coming in below Wall Street’s expectations and marking a fifth consecutive quarterly decline .

¬†Apple reached a deal with IBM in July to help push Apple devices and iOS apps to businesses. IBM will optimize its cloud-computing services — such as device management, security and analytics — for iOS. The companies have already introduced the first bunches of apps for industries such as airlines, telecommunications, insurance, banking and government.

Japan Post — which handles postal, banking and insurance services in the country — will distribute the iPads as part of its Watch Over service. That offering sends workers to the homes of elderly customers to check in on their well-being for a monthly fee. Japan Post Group will pilot the iPad initiative in the second half of the year, aiming to reach 4 million to 5 million customers by 2020.

The iPads will be preloaded with custom apps designed for the elderly by IBM, such as software that provides reminders and alerts about medications, exercise and diet and help accessing community activities, grocery shopping and job matching.

The companies are starting the program in Japan because of its large population of aging citizens. The country’s 33 million senior represent about 25 percent of the population, with that percentage expected to rise to 40 percent in the next 40 years.

But the executives, including Rometty and Nishimuro, noted that the issue is one facing countries across the globe. Cook said that should the pilot spread to the US, it likely would need to be administered by a collection of regional companies that IBM and Apple cobble together.

Cook has talked about the opportunities that would arise from the IBM deal. At the event, he cited the benefits of getting senior citizens to utilize an iPad to improve their lives, giving the example of Edith Kirkmeyer, a Santa Barbara woman who — at 107 — is the oldest known person with an iPad. “We’d like more people like Edith out there, that are living well, not just long.”

Bezos' space company tests suborbital rocket

 

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Blue Origin, a spacecraft startup owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, carried out an unmanned maiden test flight of its New Shepard suborbital rocket Wednesday, the company revealed early Thursday.

A dramatic video posted on the Blue Originwebsite showed the squat rocket being erected on a launch platform at the company’s west Texas development facility followed by a brief countdown — with Bezos looking on — then a smooth liftoff and a vertical climb to an altitude of 58 miles.

At that point, the dummy crew capsule separated from its booster and completed a parachute descent to Earth.

“Our 110,000 pound thrust liquid hydrogen, liquid oxygen BE-3 engine worked flawlessly, powering New Shepard through Mach 3 to its planned test altitude of 307,000 feet,” Bezos said in a blog post. “The in-space separation of the crew capsule from the propulsion module was perfect. Any astronauts on board would have had a very nice journey into space and a smooth return.”

However, the New Shepard is intended to be a fully reusable suborbital spacecraft with the propulsion module flying itself to a vertical, rocket-powered landing after separation from the crew capsule. That part of the test flight Wednesday was not successful, and the video did not include any shots of its descent.

“One of our goals is reusability, and unfortunately we didn’t get to recover the propulsion module because we lost pressure in our hydraulic system on descent,” Bezos wrote. “Fortunately, we’ve already been in work for some time on an improved hydraulic system. Also, assembly of propulsion module serial numbers 2 and 3 is already underway — we’ll be ready to fly again soon.”

Blue Origin is one of several space-focused companies owned by tech industry leaders who have a keen interest in either tourism or cargo delivery. Blue Origin wants to send tourists on brief trips into space, as does Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic. Meanwhile, Elon Musk’s SpaceX is more focused on cargo trips to the International Space Station and possibly colonizing Mars. These private companies have celebrated small successes but have discovered that rocketry is no easy feat, with repeated crash landings and even a pilot’s death last fall.


The New Shepard vehicle is built around the company’s hydrogen-fueled BE-3 engine, which can be throttled through a wide range of power settings. The booster is designed to propel a crew/cargo capsule to altitudes above 62 miles, the generally accepted boundary of space. The capsule then separates for four to five minutes of weightlessness before falling back into the discernible atmosphere for a parachute descent.

The booster, meanwhile, is designed to carry out an autonomous powered descent, using the variable-throttle BE-3 engine to fly back to a vertical touchdown for refurbishment and reuse. After an extensive series of test flights, Blue Origin hopes to begin launching people, payloads or both as a commercial endeavor

“New Shepard is designed to carry three or more astronauts up to sub-orbital space,” Blue Origin President Rob Meyerson told reporters earlier this month. “We say ‘three or more’ because there are combinations of astronauts and science payloads. We believe the science payload market is going to be a big one, as well.”

The New Shepard unmanned crew capsule descends.Blue Origin

“We continue to be big fans of the vertical takeoff, vertical landing architecture,” Bezos said. “We chose VTVL because it’s scalable to very large size. We’re already designing New Shepard’s sibling, her Very Big Brother — an orbital launch vehicle that is many times New Shepard’s size and is powered by our 550,000-pound thrust liquefied natural gas, liquid oxygen BE-4 engine.”

The BE-4 has been selected by United Launch Alliance, a partnership between Boeing and Lockheed Martin, to power the company’s new Vulcan rocket, the successor to the Atlas 5 and Delta 4 families of boosters.

After a string of losses, Sony sees good times ahead for profit

 

Sony might have posted a loss for the fiscal year ended in March, but the company says that the future looks much brighter.

Sony said (PDF) on Thursday that it expects to post a profit in the fiscal year ended March 2016 of 140 billion yen ($1.2 billion), more than making up for the loss of 126 billion yen the company suffered for the fiscal year ended in March. That profit would be the first the company would tally since the fiscal year ended in 2013 and its biggest profit in seven years. It would also mark an important turnaround for a company that has been facing its fair share of troubles over the last couple of years.

Looking even further ahead, the company is predicting a $4.2 billion profit by the end of its 2017 fiscal year, ending in March 2018.

So how do they aim to do that?

Although Sony has been able to turn its gaming division around and focus its efforts in other areas, mobile continues to be a source of trouble as consumers opt for devices from Samsung, Apple, and countless China-based handset makers, like Xiaomi and Huawei. In February, Sony acknowledged its woes in mobile, saying that the “challenging competitive landscapes” in that market has forced it to rethink its strategy. Over the next several years, Sony will focus on only a few territories to sell its products. The company also hasn’t ruled out selling its mobile division.

Meanwhile, Sony has experienced issues in other areas, forcing it to shed its television division and get out of the PC business. It plans to also offload its audio and video segments and says it will continue to get rid of more business segments that are proving to be a drag on its financials.

Those efforts are part of a broader strategy, announced in February, that will focus the conglomerate on four core businesses: the PlayStation gaming division, its film studio Sony Pictures, Sony Music, and the devices business that includes sensors and other components bundled into popular smartphones andtablets. Sony said at the time that it would invest heavily in those areas and reduce its spending on other, under-performing segments.

Meanwhile, Sony’s latest forecast seems to follow the company’s logic on growth. Sony’s Devices business will see its operating income jump by 32 billion yen year-over-year in the 2015 fiscal year ended March 2016. Sony Pictures and Sony Music will also generate a higher operating profit. Sony’s gaming business, however, is expected to be down.

Sony was once a dominant force in the tech space. Many of its products, including televisions, gaming products and devices like the Walkman music player, established the company as a leader and helped it achieve billions of dollars in profits in the 1990s and early 2000s. By the start of this decade, however, the company’s business started on a steep decline as the PlayStation 3 initially failed to gain traction, the Walkman was a distant memory, and everything from digital cameras to mobile devices were getting hit hard by competitors.

Sony’s troubles in mobile have been a thorn in CEO Kazuo Hirai’s side. In October, the company tried to shake up the division by appointing a new executive. The effort, which proved to be fruitless, came after Sony slashed its full-year smartphone sales forecast from 50 million units to 43 million. To put that into perspective, Apple sold over 61 million iPhones in its last-reported quarter, alone.

Interestingly, Sony’s mobile business, which has been a source of trouble for company, will contribute heavily to the company’s success this fiscal year. The company expects its operating loss in that division to fall from 217.6 billion yen to 39 billion yen. However, the reduction will be due to a decline in costs related to the restructuring of Sony’s business and not necessarily greater demand for its products. Indeed, the company says it expects fewer sales this fiscal year.

Although all eyes are on Sony’s future, its past year wasn’t nearly as troubling as some of its recent years. The company reported on Thursday that revenue was up 5.8 percent to 8.2 trillion yen. Sony was also able to reduce its losses a bit from 128.4 billion yen in the prior year to 126 billion yen for the year ended March 31. According to Sony, its gains in the past year was built atop the “strong performance ofPlayStation 4” and the popularity of its image sensors in mobile products. Still, shareholders don’t seem all that pleased with Sony’s performance and forecast for next year. The company’s shares are down 68 cents, or about 2 percent, to $30.02 in early trading on Thursday.

Flipkart acquires mobile marketing firm Appiterate

Online marketplace Flipkart has said it has acquired mobile marketing start-up Appiterate as the e-commerce firm looks to strengthen its mobile platform.

The financial details of the deal were not disclosed.

In line with its ‘Mobile First’ focus, this acquisition strengthens Flipkart’s presence in the area of mobile technology, Flipkart said in a statement.

Post the deal, Appiterate’s mobile marketing automation platform will be integrated into Flipkart’s mobile app, which will help the Bangalore-based e-c0mmerce firm in targeting users based on their activity on the app and website.

“Flipkart has been persistently looking to improve and expand its mobile app capabilities to cater to the shifting preferences on its user base. It plans to invest in and acquire other firms in this domain,” the firm said.

Appiterate’s technology helps validate whether a new design or change to an element on a webpage improves the conversion rate (sales).

Appiterate has helped leading e-commerce firms combine the power of mobile apps and big data to allow them to do one-on-one targeting of users though push notifications and in-app messages, it said.

It has raised money from institutional investors like SAIF Partners and angel investors such as Greg Badros (ex-VP of Product and Engineering at Facebook) and Prashant Malik (co-creator of Apache Cassandra).

“In a short span of 1.5 years, Appiterate has carved out a niche in the industry as being one of the most disruptive companies in its space. We are confident that their platform and tech team will bring deep mobile capabilities to the table which is a key focus area for Flipkart,” Flipkart senior director corporate development Nishant Verman said.

AT&T sacks president over racist MMS

AT&T has confirmed that it has fired Aaron Slator, a president who became the subject of a $100 million discrimination lawsuit for using his work phone to send racially offensive images.

AT&T said in a statement that Slator has been terminated, saying that there is no place for demeaning behavior within the company. The company says it regretted not taking the action earlier.

On Monday, Knoyme King, a 50-year-old black woman who worked for Slator, filed suit in Los Angeles Superior Court against Slator, the company and its CEO, Randall Stephenson.

King’s lawyer, Skip Miller, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the suit will continue and alleged that racism permeates the company. He said its board of directors was aware of the offensive images for over a year.

Google makes your Gmail accounts safer on Chrome

The new extension, which took about three years to create, is an addition to Google’s other security measures, including safe browsing technology that warns users against potentially malicious sites and verification tools that help protect private accounts.
NEW YORK: Google Inc has announced a free extension for its Chrome web browser that better protects Google accounts, including email, against online attackers trying to steal passwords and other personal information.

The extension, called Password Alert, can be downloaded on Google Chrome and warns users before they enter account information on “phishing” pages, or imitation sites designed to steal passwords and access personal information, such as emails or online bank accounts.

Millions of phishing emails and websites are sent every day, Google said. Nearly 2% of messages sent through Gmail, Google’s email service, are designed to steal passwords.

“Right now, it’s left up to the user to decide whether or not to enter their password,” said Drew Hintz, the lead engineer for Password Alert. “We expect users to know the difference between these sites, and that’s an unreasonable request to make of users.”

The new extension, which took about three years to create, is an addition to Google’s other security measures, including safe browsing technology that warns users against potentially malicious sites and verification tools that help protect private accounts.

GoPro acquires virtual reality technology company

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GoPro is adding new ways to make extreme video even more out there — with virtual reality.

The company said Tuesday it had acquired French software maker Kolor. Kolor’s technology stitches together photos and videos into interactive media. Terms of the deal, announced as part of GoPro’s first quarter earnings results, were not disclosed.

“We are excited to welcome Kolor to GoPro,” GoPro CEO Nicholas Woodman said in a statement. “GoPro’s capture devices and Kolor’s software will combine to deliver exciting and highly accessible solutions for capturing, creating and sharing spherical content.”

Imagine a moving version of Google Street View from the perspective of a hang glider or rock climber, which you can control by simply looking around. Combine that with a virtual reality headset, like the Facebook-owned Oculus Rift, and you’ll have what GoPro hopes is a more realistic view o

GoPro is searching for a way to expand its business beyond simply selling cameras for skiers, race drivers and other sports-adventure enthusiasts. The company is reportedly planning to enter the drone market; GoPro-equipped drones are frequently used to record landscapes for real estate companies and film movie sequences. Now, the company is investing in spherical video to convey the sensation of being part of not just extreme feats, but NFL games, live concerts and other events.

To take it up a notch, virtual reality can enhance those sensations.

“Kolor’s mission is to enable the ultimate visual experience — to transport an audience to another time and space,” Kolor CEO Alexandre Jenny said in a statement. “When the best spherical media software is combined with the world’s most versatile capture devices, our imagination become our only limitation. We’re excited to see what the world captures and shares with GoPro and Kolor.”

GoPro and Kolor will be competing against much bigger rivals. For the past two years, Google has offered free online software to create interactive photo-spheres that can be embedded in Google Maps, and the company has its own virtual reality platform, Google Cardboard, to help developers create more VR experiences. Facebook in March said it would support spherical videos on its News Feed and plans to incorporate them into Oculus

Russian supply capsule misses rendezvous with ISS, now spinning out of control

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The Russian space agency Roscosmos is trying to gain back control of its robotic Progress 59 cargo ship, which is now spinning in orbit after suffering a serious malfunction.

The malfunction occurred just after the Progress 59 space capsule was launched into orbit on Tuesday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan by Roscosmos. Carrying “more than three tons of food, fuel, and supplies for the space station crew,” according to NASA, the capsule was meant to orbit the Earth four times before docking with the International Space Station to have its cargo offloaded.

Shortly after the capsule separated from the rocket carrying it skyward, however, “an unspecified problem prevented Russian flight controllers from determining whether navigational antennas had deployed and whether fuel system manifolds had pressurized as planned,” said NASA in a statement.

Since that time, Russian ground control has attempted to make contact with the unmanned craft several times as it flew over Russian ground sites, but they’ve all failed. Additionally,according to NASA, flight controllers also confirmed that the craft has now entered a slow spin, a fact that has been confirmed in the NASA video below that shows the view from Progress 59’s onboard camera.

The Russian space agency had originally planned to try docking maneuvers again on Thursday, but they’ve now scrapped that plan indefinitely due to the continued lack of success with communicating with the pod.

Except for a launch malfunction in August 2011 that caused Progress 44 to crash, Progress craft have been successfully servicing the International Space Station since 2000, when people began living and working up there, according to Space.com.

Although the current Progress craft is holding 1,940 pounds of propellant, 110 pounds of oxygen, 926 pounds of water and 3,128 pounds of spare parts, supplies and scientific experiment hardware, NASA says that none of the gear is critical.

“The spacecraft was not carrying any supplies critical for the United States Operating Segment (USOS) of the station. Both the Russian and USOS segments of the station continue to operate normally and are adequately supplied well beyond the next planned resupply flight,” the space agency said.

That flight will take place around June 19 when a SpaceX cargo ship will make the journey up to the ISS carrying about 5,000 pounds of supplies and experiments. Russia’s Progress spacecraft are part of a fleet of robotic spacecraft that periodically send over supplies to the ISS

Hulu closes in on 9 million paid subscribers

 

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NEW YORK — More people are paying Hulu so that they can watch more TV online.

Paid subscribers to the television-streaming service increased 50 percent to nearly 9 million in the last year, Chief Executive Mike Hopkins said here Wednesday.

“2015 is the year Hulu will break out,” Hopkins said.

By comparison, Netflix just surpassed 40 million subscribers in the US, where Hulu operates. Netflix has nearly 60 million paying subscribers globally.

As more consumers shift to watching television online, Hulu straddles the old world and the new. Owned by traditional TV networks but a fully online venture, Hulu has a dual personality that has complicated its growth compared to rivals like Netflix. Rather than focusing purely on what online video watchers want, it balances consumer trends with the the needs of traditional TV programmers — two forces sometimes at odds with each other.

At a flashy presentation here for advertisers and brands, Hopkins rattled off updates on Hulu’s audience: Total streams of video were up 77 percent in the first 90 days of the year, and viewers streamed more than 700 million hours, an 83 percent jump from the previous year.

That means the average Hulu subscriber is watching more content — 30 percent more this year versus last year.

The company also announced it reached a deal with AMC on Wednesday morning for content from shows that the cable channel makes out of its own studio. That means the streaming site will have “The Walking Dead” spinoff series “Fear the Walking Dead” — but not episodes of the hit main show itself.

Hulu offers a free option with ads, as well as a paid service for $7.99 a month — still with ads. The paid version allows members to get many full episodes from traditional television the day after they air. Hulu is owned by traditional TV giants Disney, 21st Century Fox and Comcast, through its NBC Universal arm. By striking deals with HBO Now and Hulu, Cablevision is still working with traditional TV programmers.