Monday, December 4, 2017 by Kristen Hicks
December 2017's Biggest Tech StoriesThe holiday season is upon us. Many tech companies are working at a fast pace to provide new updates and products before the end of the year. To keep you posted on some of the last big tech stories of the year, here are some of the main trends and news stories to be on the lookout for in December.
1. The Fight for Net Neutrality ContinuesIf you spend much time on social media, you may have seen pleas from your contacts to call your reps about net neutrality. Ever since the FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced his plans to repeal the Obama-era net neutrality rules, people and businesses have been up in arms imagining the worst-case scenarios that could result. Critics are worried that the repeal of these rules will give too much power to internet companies, allowing them to control what people are able to access online and stifling competition from companies that can’t pay-to-play enough to reach an audience online. A vote on the repeal is set for later this month and in the meantime, opponents are lodging complaints with the FCC and calling their representatives in the hopes of keeping the rules in place. For now though, the future for net neutrality looks uncertain.
2. Uber Reveals Cyber Attack Cover-upEven as the country continues to reel from the news of Experian’s data breach earlier this year, we just got news of the next one. Uber announced last month that in late 2016, some hackers managed to access some of their user data. At the time, the company chose to pay a ransom and keep the data breach secret, but under new management, they’ve now chosen to alert people to what happened. If a data breach is normally bad for a brand’s reputation, one that’s accompanied by a cover up is even worse. Uber’s current leadership is hoping late transparency is better than none at all in the eyes of their customers.
3. Stitch Fix Launches IPOOne of the biggest tech IPOs in November was the fashion startup Stitch Fix. The company’s model of matching online personal stylists with customers wanting to let someone else do the job of picking out their clothes has been popular with customers. Their initial showing on the stock market suggested they were less popular with investors, but soon that changed as stocks soared 50% in the first two weeks. For now, they seem to be going strong.
4. SendGrid Also Launches Successful IPOStitch Fix got the most attention, but the email marketing company SendGrid also entered the New York Stock Exchange last month. They managed to raise $131 million when they first launched, and saw stock prices go up 13% by the end of the first day. To any business owners reading this, that’s not much of a surprise. Email marketing is one of the most important parts of business success in the internet age and investors are simply showing they recognize its importance too.
5. Facebook Announces Facebook Creator AppInfluencers have become a big part of the way that people and brands experience social media. In a bid to try to attract more influencers to Facebook, the company has announced Facebook Creator, an app which provides a number of features to make creating and sharing content on the platform easier. Users can add intros, outros, interactive stickers and custom frames to their videos. They can more easily respond to social media messages on a unified platform. And they can access more analytics on how people interact with their content. For businesses doing content marketing and any influencers they work with, these changes are worth being aware of.
6. Amazon Offers New AI Tool for BusinessesOnce again, Amazon’s done something to make it into our monthly write-up. This month, they launched a suite of products that bring AI technology to businesses. This includes the DeepLens camera, which uses AI technology to fuel features like image recognition for objects, animals, and people. They also released SageMaker, a machine learning service that will help data engineers use AI services better. In short, they’re throwing their support behind the importance of AI and expecting to make a lot of money with this technology by helping other businesses make more with it too.
7. AirBnb Makes Moves Toward AccessibilityAirBnb’s popular service has given lots of people more attractive alternatives to hotels when they travel, but until recently its options largely left one population out: the disabled. Last month they made an important move to rectify the situation by acquiring the startup Accomable. The acquisition was a natural fit for the company, since Accomable was essentially offering a version of the same service AirBnb provided, but with a focus on accessibility. AirBnb listings will now provide more specific information on the types of accessibility options available, and a portion of customers previously left out by the service will be able to find options that work for them on the site.
8. Companies Begin Work on Smart CitiesIn the past couple of months, multiple businesses have begun planning “smart cities.” Alphabet is working on a smart community on the waterfront in Toronto. And Bill Gates is building a smart city in Arizona. Both projects aim to test out concepts on how to build a better city that uses less energy, has less traffic, is better equipped to face climate change, and is better able to take advantage of the kinds of tech solutions the companies are working on – most notably self-driving cars.
There are a lot of good ideas out there for how to make cities better, but most of them are hard to implement in cities that already exist. These high-tech city design projects will help prove the difference these tech solutions can make in an atmosphere where they’re easier to build and start using.
9. Robots Keep AdvancingRobotic technology continues to little by little see impressive advancements. Last month, a robot from Boston Dynamics successfully pulled off a backflip. In case it’s not clear, that’s a really big deal. It’s hard to master the technology required to make a bipedal robot backflip, making this one more notable step toward robots being able to accomplish human tasks. On the more commercial side of things, Ubtech has just released Lynx, a small humanoid robot with Alexa built in. The robot can walk, talk, and supposedly work as an avatar for busy people who can’t make it to events or meetings. You can see what’s happening through the robot’s camera and respond in real time with live audio. If you have $800 to spend on a tiny advanced robot, then the future is here for you.
See you next month!December’s a busy month for everybody, but especially business owners and marketers. If you don’t have time to keep up with this month’s tech news, then be sure to check back in early January for our next installment. Until then, happy holidays!
Monday, October 9, 2017 by Kristen Hicks
Tech News for October 2017The spookiest season of the year is upon us, but most of the tech news this month isn’t that scary (with one notable exception). For those of you too busy to stay on top of all the tech news happening each month on your own, here’s a quick rundown of some of the top stories that should be on your radar in October.
Equifax Breach Puts Much of Population at RiskQuite possibly the scariest story of the fall this year is the Equifax data breach. The credit reporting agency had access to the social security numbers, birth dates, and addresses of everyone in the country who’s ever had a credit score – which is just about every adult in the United States. The breach puts about 146 million people at risk of having their sensitive information exposed. The country’s angry and people are scared. Companies, government institutions, and individuals are all still trying to figure out exactly what this means for the future of data security.
Samsung Releases New Mixed Reality HeadsetSamsung just revealed their new mixed reality headset designed for use with Windows devices. While the VR headset market is a crowded one, Samsung is offering higher-resolution displays and a larger field of view in order to be competitive in the space. This brings us one step closer to the mainstreaming of VR technology.
Google Testing Video ReviewsMany websites and channels on the web seem committed to shifting to a greater emphasis on video over text. Google’s never one to be behind on a trend, so they’ve begun testing out providing a video option for reviews in Google Maps. Currently the option’s only available to people who are part of the company’s Local Guides program. If the videos prove popular, they may well expand access to the rest of us.
Google Joins Companies in the Crossfire for Workplace SexismLast month, three former Google employees announced a lawsuit against the company for paying its female employees less than male employees in similar roles and promoting men into higher-level positions much more often than similarly qualified women. Google’s far from the first tech company to face accusations of sexism, but it’s one that’s worked to create a reputation for being progressive. This lawsuit reveals a side of the company that’s not living up to that intention.
Google, Twitter, and Facebook Targeting Now Includes Anti-Semites and RacistsAd targeting is a valuable service for businesses and provides more relevant ads for users. But several of the biggest tech companies on the web faced recent criticism based on their targeting algorithms creating offensive categories. Users discovered and drew attention to racist categories in Facebook’s targeting options, and soon thereafter advertisers realized both Google and Twitter offered (and even sometimes recommended) targeting for racist terminology. In all three cases, the options and recommendations were technologically generated and the companies are taking steps to change how their platforms work to avoid advertisers encountering these options in the future.
iPhone X Includes New Tech and FeaturesApple has recently revealed some of the main features consumers will see in their soon-to-come iPhone, the iPhone X. While the new iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus hit stores last month, techies are generally more interested in the model coming early next month. The iPhone X will be much more expensive than recent models, priced at over $1,000. It includes Face ID to unlock the phone, an especially big screen, an upgrade to the phone’s camera features, and a longer battery life than other iPhones. At such a high price tag, they may only capture the most devoted Apple fans with this one, but the excitement in the tech community is palpable.
Roku Launches IPOThe video streaming technology company Roku launched an IPO late last month, valued at $2 billion. Unlike most of the giants in the streaming space, the company doesn’t bother with trying to produce its own content, they simply provide users access to the content available on a wide number of streaming sites and channels. In its first few days on the market, the company’s shares have been dropping in value, although they’re still above the original price the company launched at.
Facebook Getting into Video ChatFacebook has given video priority on the platform for some time, but they’re exploring features that would give users even more video options. Last month, they started quietly testing a mobile video chat app called Bonfire. The app allows users to chat with up to eight friends at a time on live video. So far, only users in Denmark have access and no plans to move beyond the country to other markets have been announced.
Electric Trucks About to Join Us on US StreetsElectric cars already take up a certain amount of space on our streets, but electric semi trucks are about to join them. Daimler, a company whose trucks are already on the streets of Europe, has plans to move into New York. And Elon Musk (who we can’t seem to go a month without mentioning in our regular tech roundups) has announced plans to unveil a Tesla semi truck later this month.
World Summit AI Meets in AmsterdamArtificial intelligence remains one of the biggest topics in the tech world, as many of the biggest companies in the space continue to make investments into AI research and development. This month, many of the top professionals and businesses in the AI world will meet in Amsterdam for the World Summit AI to discuss their research, learn from each other, and explore what’s to come in AI technology. With big product releases, new features being explored, and companies grappling with high-profile controversies, in some ways October’s just another month in tech. Check back next month to see what news and stories will be dominating the industry in November.
Monday, September 4, 2017 by Kristen Hicks
Top Tech News for September 2017As summer winds down, the tech world keeps moving. A number of tech companies are announcing new product releases, features to come, and social initiatives this month. Here are a few of the top stories to be on the lookout for.
New iPhones Soon to Be ReleasedWhile it’s hard to imagine a world without smartphones, this year marks the 10th anniversary of the first iPhone going on sale. And as is typical for September, Apple is expected to roll out its new iPhone models this month. Early talk suggests that the company will be releasing three new phone models. Tech journalists anticipate that this year’s phones will continue to make waves in the tech world, as the iPhone has done ever since day one.
Galaxy Note 8 Also Gets a ReleaseSharing the spotlight with the new iPhones, the Galaxy Note 8 is set to be released this month as well. The phone is faced with the lofty task of satisfying customers whose view of the brand was tarnished by the last model famously bursting into flames for many owners. The new phone provides a bigger screen, new camera features, and animated messaging.
Tech Companies Find Ways to Help Harvey’s VictimsOne of the biggest world news stories of the past month was Hurricane Harvey. Texas is still reeling from one of the biggest storms the country has ever seen as people scramble to find ways to help. Tech companies have also joined the efforts to help those victimized by the storm. Many are providing matching donations and AirBnb is helping match rental properties with people in need of shelter. And notably, social media apps played a key role in helping rescue teams find the people most in need of their help. Not all important tech stories are about product releases and IPOs. Sometimes we get a reminder of the ways tech can be a public good.
Chrome to Allow Permanent Mute FeatureAutoplay videos are one of those things that pretty much every internet user hates, but websites just keep using. Google has a long history of siding with user experience over business interests and is once again making a move in that direction with their decision to release a mute option that allows people to set a website as silent permanently in their browser. If you normally use autoplay on your website, know that your visitors will soon be able to easily tune you out.
AR Apps About to Take OffBoth Google and Apple have recently released technology that makes it easier for developers to create augmented reality apps for Android and iOS devices. Consumers can expect an influx of AR apps to become available on their smartphones in the coming months, and businesses have easier access to a technology that can be used for clever marketing concepts.
Tech Companies Decry White Supremacist GroupsBefore Harvey began to dominate the news cycle, one of the biggest stories of August was the violence of white supremacist groups at a rally in Charlottesville. A number of tech companies were disturbed by the incidents and took a stand against white supremacy. Both Stormfront and The Daily Stormer, well known white supremacist websites, have faced difficulties staying online as hosting providers refuse them service. A number of other tech sites have started to boot members from their platforms based on hate speech, including PayPal, OkCupid, Spotify, and most of the main social media platforms. Technology has played a role in allowing people to disseminate hateful views. Many of the tech industry’s main players are hoping to show that it can play a role in helping silence the hate as well.
Spotify Preparing to Go PublicSpotify has started to make moves that make clear their intention to go public in the near future. Most notably, they signed a new licensing deal with Warner Music to increase the site’s offerings to users and hopefully make it more attractive to both subscribers and investors.
IFA Conference Meets in BerlinThe oldest and largest technology show in Europe takes over Berlin this week. The biggest technology companies from around the world will display new and upcoming technologies from phones to computers to smart home devices. Techies converge to get a glimpse of what tech companies are working on, and you can expect to see a stream of tech journalism covering what shows up at the event.
TechCrunch Puts on Disrupt ConferenceMeanwhile, TechCrunch is preparing their own conference in San Francisco on September 18-20 focused on startups. The Disrupt Conference attracts startup companies and thought leaders who come together to talk and learn about startup culture, raising funds, and the main issues facing the tech industry in today’s culture.
Microsoft Ignite Conference Meets in OrlandoIt must be conference season, because in addition to those two, the Microsoft Ignite conference will also meet this month in Orlando from September 25-29. Windows users from around the world meet to attend learning sessions, learn about new products to come, and network with other professionals.
Walmart and Google Join to Offer Voice ShoppingMost months, the posts in this series include big moves and acquisitions by Amazon aimed at taking over a bigger and bigger portion of the country’s commerce. This month, two huge players, Walmart and Google, teamed up to stay competitive against the online giant. The partnership is focused on enabling easier voice-activated shopping to entice more online customers to consider Walmart as an alternative to Amazon. And you thought you were busy with back-to-school efforts this month. The tech industry looks set to go into the fall at full speed, barely pausing to take a breath. As always, there are likely to be trends and stories we couldn’t foresee this month. Check back next month for a look at the trends yet to come.
Wednesday, August 9, 2017 by Kristen Hicks
August 2017's Top Tech NewsThe month of August looks likely to be a big month in the tech world. Many of the biggest players in tech are making big announcements and moving forward on anticipated projects. To help you stay on top of this month’s tech news, here are a few main stories to look out for.
Google Announces Facebook-Like News FeedGoogle has announced that its feed feature, which is already available to anyone using the company’s mobile app, will be moving to the desktop homepage for the site. The company hasn’t said exactly when this change will happen, but for people who pull up the site every day (which is most of us), the change may have a big effect on how we interact with the service. Instead of a primary focus on the search box, people will see a collection of suggested news and culture stories based on their interests.
Facebook Launching Facebook TVIf you were concerned that there just aren’t enough places online to watch TV, Facebook’s got you covered. They’ve partnered with a number of other media properties to start developing shows that will become available to users this month when they launch Facebook TV. Including original TV shows in the Facebook feed provides the company a new format for displaying ads, and could potentially give people a reason to spend more time on the site.
Hyperloop May Be Moving Forward (Maybe)Elon Musk has talked before about the possibility of a hyperloop – a type of transportation technology that can move people very quickly from one city to another. He shook up the tech news world last month with a Tweet suggesting a hyperloop project had received government approval. In a later tweet he verified that the verbal approval was preliminary and there was a lot of work to do before any project would receive the formal go-ahead, yet even the level of approval he’s got now feels like a big leap forward in the likelihood of seeing this ambitious project realized.
Just received verbal govt approval for The Boring Company to build an underground NY-Phil-Balt-DC Hyperloop. NY-DC in 29 mins.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 20, 2017
Debates Rage Over AI ConcernsAnother day, another example of Elon Musk in the news. Not content just to shake things up with hyperloop talk, he also made headlines last month by expressing his fear that AI posed a threat to humankind. The comment has set off a battle of ideas between Musk and other prominent techies who have criticized his concern, including roboticist Rodney Brooks and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.
Amazon Launches Spark and Pay PlacesBecause Amazon can’t go a month without some big news, they’ve recently launched not one, but two new services. Amazon Spark is an Instagram-like feature for app users that will provide photos and other product-related content from customers and influencers with similar interests to yours in the app’s feed. In addition, they announced Amazon Pay Places which will allow people to use their Amazon account when shopping at brick-and-mortar businesses. While the option is only available at a few TGI Fridays locations so far, if you were worried about Amazon taking over the world of commerce, this is a step that seems poised to make that more of a possibility.
Release of Samsung Galaxy NoteAfter a high profile mishap, with the Note 7 becoming the butt of many jokes when it famously burst into fire for some customers, Samsung is ready to try again. The company has announced that they’ll be releasing the Note 8 later this month. The recent release of the Galaxy S8 went off without a hitch, so the company is surely hoping to accomplish the same with the Note 8.
Google Analytics Offers Voice NavigationGoogle Analytics is joining the list of services that offers users the option of using voice-activated commands to navigate the service. If you use Google Analytics (and you should), the feature could add some efficiency to the process for you.
Lyft Joins the Ranks of Self-Driving Car DevelopersLyft is throwing their hat into the ring of companies working to develop the technology for autonomous cars. They’ve stated that they expect a majority of their rides to become autonomous over the next few years, so they’re making a move now to be one of the players in developing the technology their business is likely to be dependent on.
The Dark Web Takes a HitThe dark web – sites where people can buy illegal materials – is under attack. The U.S. government shut down AlphaBay, a site considered to be the biggest online market for illegal drugs last month. They followed that up with the shutdown of Hansa, a popular AlphaBay alternative. Each time one market goes down though, another one manages to open up. Nonetheless, the government has made its intentions clear with these moves and there’s reason to expect they’ll continue to follow the illegal trade to shut it down wherever it goes.
Dropbox Starting to Prepare for IPOWhile the timing on when the IPO would happen is still unclear, Dropbox has made moves that show a plan to go public is in the works. They hired underwriters to help determine their valuation and may make the move later this year. If they do go public this year, they’ll be one of the biggest tech companies to do so in 2017. As full as August is looking to be with tech news, September is likely to be just as busy. Check back for our next installment of the top tech trends to watch for and subscribe to the HostGator blog.