Here’s everything Google announced today

Google held a press conference today in San Francisco, where the company announced everything from new phones to crazy machine learning-powered wearable cameras.

It was a flurry of news. Don’t have time to catch up with all of it? We get it — that’s why we condensed it all down into one quick slideshow just focusing on the highlights.

Tap that right arrow to advance to the next slide, or, if you’re on mobile, just scroll.

Show Season

Autumn officially kicked off about a week ago — not with some celestial convergence but with show season, with companies like HubSpot and SugarCRM holding conclaves of their faithful. This is traditionally the beginning of attempts at closing the calendar year on a high note, as CRM vendors work to garner customer dollars based on the promises of new technologies unveiled at conferences.

Coming in November, there is Dreamforce. If past is prologue, it will offer myriad new applications and services, like artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Oracle OpenWorld 2017 is currently under way and set to wrap on Thursday. This year’s OpenWorld is an attempt to leverage the company’s increasing financial success from its cloud offerings to help it prosper as a leader in the cloud market. This isn’t a hard lift.

Oracle’s Unique Cloud Conversion

Oracle is in the midst of turning over its entire product line to operate in the cloud, and to take advantage of the cloud’s many advantages — such as high performance and low costs. Executives last year predicted the process would take a decade or more, and that’s likely a fair estimate.

The estimate actually is more about converting the company’s more than 425,000 customers to some version of cloud computing. This means rolling out infrastructure-only solutions for those who just want to move the data center to the cloud, for the moment, while Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Software as a Service (SaaS) focus on customers more prepared to retire their older systems.

Oracle continues to emphasize that there’s plenty of life left in the older systems, and it included sessions at OpenWorld for adapting older products like Siebel CRM and JD Edwards (ERP) to new circumstances.

This was the path that Oracle had to take given its huge legacy base. It could not abandon the base, because it still generates a great deal of maintenance revenue — and new sales — and, perhaps more importantly, because Oracle’s reputation in enterprise data centers would be at stake. So the Oracle transition to the cloud doesn’t look like a typical cloud offering by a company born there.

For customers already situated in the cloud or contemplating it, Oracle will offer a variety of high-performance solutions based on analytics and machine learning additions to all of its customer experience product lines, including sales, marketing, service and field service, as well as less traditional CRM areas like retailing. Oracle is also making a big push into the Internet of Things, or IoT, which will further the disruption that cloud computing has caused for most of this century.

The Importance of Process

The big question that this fall’s shows will attempt to answer is this: Where are we in the market lifecycle? We’re a culture trained to think about what’s new and exciting, but the CRM space is about 20 years old now. That’s not exactly new, but given our penchant for reinvention, the current version of CRM that is heavy on analytics and machine learning is just a toddler.

Perhaps a better way to look at the situation is to ask about the business processes affected rather than the technologies that affect them. The simple reason is that as disruption proceeds, new technologies support new process options, and I see process as even more important than technology at this point. With disruption comes automation and commoditization, and we’re beginning to see a lot of it. Perhaps the greatest example of this is the new automated Oracle database that I will be briefed on.

Based on Larry Ellison’s talk during the recent earnings call, the DB is supposed to use analytics to set up and tune itself. If you work off the assumption that most instances of the database have some minor tuning inconsistencies, then this automation will enable better performance with very little investment — something CIOs will love.

It also will mean less work for IT professionals. It’s hard to say whether this will result in job losses, which is typical with automation. After all, cloud computing is its own form of automation and commoditization, but we rarely talk about it as a job killer.

Salesforce claims that in its base alone, there are north of 350,000 jobs going begging for lack of qualified people. So I doubt the absolute number of IT jobs is about to plummet, and for any job erased at this still early stage of IT automation, there should be plenty of new opportunities. Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean pay parity or job satisfaction for a displaced IT person — it just means the absolute number of jobs will remain constant and probably grow.

So, the answers to my questions won’t be found only at OpenWorld or only at Dreamforce or any of the multitude of other shows that I can’t possibly get to. However, as an industry watcher, I have my hypotheses, and I’ll be doing plenty of legwork in the weeks ahead to disprove or validate them.


Denis Pombriant is a well-known CRM industry researcher, strategist, writer and speaker. His new book, You Can’t Buy Customer Loyalty, But You Can Earn It, is now available on Amazon. His 2015 book, Solve for the Customer, is also available there. He can be reached at
denis.pombriant@beagleresearch.com.

Pixel 2 dethrones iPhone 8 Plus and Galaxy Note 8 in camera rankings


Well, that was quick! The iPhone 8 Plus had a short reign at camera testing outfit DxOMark as “the best smartphone camera we’ve ever tested” — the Galaxy Note 8 tied it after only a few weeks. And now Google’s Pixel 2 has bested them both.

Citing excellent video performance, great color and scene reproduction, incredibly fast and accurate autofocus, and good (if not great) artificial background blur, the Pixel 2 ended up with an aggregate score of 98, beating out the other two, which had tied at 94.

Now, the folks at DxOMark are experts, and I trust their determination here. There’s no doubt the Pixel 2 has an amazing camera. But as with other aggregate scores for things like DSLRs, games, movies and so on, the big number only tells part of the story (especially when it’s so close to the other big numbers).

The Pixel 2 has a slight edge on the iPhone 8 Plus in full crops like this.

Looking through the sample photos of all these flagship phones, you may find that you prefer the look one creates more than another’s — I certainly think Apple’s portrait mode looks much better than the others, and its luminance noise in tricky situations is preferable to me. Yet I like the Pixel 2’s color reproduction (and on its OLED screen the photos should pop). Yet again the zoom performance of the Note 8 is definitely superior.

What kind of photos do you take? What are your needs as a photographer? Will a zoom be an asset, or do you need an ultra-wide angle? Do you use the flash often? Are you willing to let an HDR mode do the work for you? If your phone is going to be your primary camera, it’s worth considering the qualities and shortcomings of that camera as much as the phone’s storage, screen resolution, color, and so on.

And lastly, it’s pretty clear that cameras are just going to get better from here. If you compare their results to those of a competent mirrorless today (that even with a lens may end up costing far less than a flagship phone) you will find them quite lacking. There’s lots of room to improve, and as DxOMark points out, there’s no reason their scores can’t go above 100.

Senate Intel committee calls on Facebook to release Russian ads


In an update on the progress of its investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, the Senate Intelligence Committee weighed in on recent revelations that have implicated major tech companies. The committee plans to hear open public testimony from Facebook, Twitter and Google on November 1 pertaining to their role in selling political ads to Russian government entities and fostering an environment in which shadowy foreign-funded political propaganda efforts could thrive.

According to the chairman, Richard Burr, it took time for tech leaders to warm up to the notion that they were responsible for influence campaigns run on their platforms. “I was concerned at first that some social media platforms did not take this threat seriously enough,” Burr said. “The three companies we’ve invited, Google, Twitter and Facebook, will appear in a public hearing.”

Burr made it clear that his committee could not release the ads that Facebook handed over as part of the investigation, but Facebook and the other companies are not constrained by the committee from doing so.

“We don’t release documents provided by to our committee, period,” Burr said. “[It’s] not a practice that we’re going to get into. Clearly if any of the social media platforms would like to do that, we’re fine with them doing it because we’ve already got scheduled an open hearing. We believe that the American people deserve to know firsthand.”

Senate Intelligence Vice Chairman Mark Warner echoed Burr’s statement.

“There will be more forensics done by these companies,” Warner said. “I think they’ve got some more work to do and I’m pleased to say I think they’re out doing that work now.”

“At the end of the day it’s important that the public sees these ads,” he added.

The committee is focused on three areas of the Russian ad scandal. First, Burr and Warner stated that Americans have a right to know the source of social media ads and if they were created by “foreign entities.” Second, when a story is trending, the committee believes that Americans should be able to determine if that trending topic is a result of bots or otherwise artificial engagement. Third, “you ought to be able to go down and take a look at an ad run for or against you like you’d be able to get a look at that content on TV,” Burr said.

The committee reiterated that its investigation had made it clear that Russia’s efforts to interfere with the American political process are ongoing.

“The Russian active measures efforts did not end on election day 2016,” Warner said. “We need to be on guard.”

For its part, Facebook tried to get ahead of Wednesday’s press briefing, printing a full page ad in The Washington Post as damage control for whatever Burr and Warner said about the company’s role in the election and its interactions with the committee.

TechCrunch has reached out to Facebook about its reaction to today’s committee briefing and will update if and when we hear back.

Featured Image: Facebook

Google Clips is a new $249 smart camera that you can wear

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Google debuted a product that basically no one saw coming at its big hardware event today: A camera called Clips. It’s not your typical camera, however – it’s designed essentially for passive use, as a way to help capture moments that you’d miss with a dedicated camera or your smartphone.

Clips grabs “motion photos,” the new picture format that Google created that includes some brief movement around the frame, like a Live Photo from Apple. It doesn’t grab audio, but it does have smart recognition features on board. It also doesn’t use any kind of network connection, so it’s not broadcasting the stuff it captures anywhere. You can connect to your phone to check what you’ve got.

It’s a twist on the lifelogging wearable camera, which included devices like the Narrative Clip, and it uses machine learning to key in on certain people and pets of your choosing and only capture them, so you don’t miss out on adorable moments. Clips is designed to be clipped anywhere, however, including around them house.

Developing…

Google Lens will finally make its debut on Pixel phones later this year


Google first demoed Lens, its smart Google Assistant-connected image recognition app, at its I/O developer conference earlier this year. At the time, it was one of the highlights of the show, but like so many other announcements at the time, the company wasn’t quite ready to release it to the public yet and only said that it would arrive “soon.” That was in May.

As Google announced during its hardware event today, the first preview of Lens will make it to the company’s Pixel phones — but only as a preview — later this year. It’ll come to other devices “in time.”

Lens brings together a wide swath of Google’s machine intelligence services. It combines the company’s image recognition smarts with the real-time translation of Google Translate and the Google Assistant. That means that you can snap a picture of a flower, for example, and Lens can tell you what flower you are looking at and then tell you more about it. Same with landmarks and even restaurants.

The feature that probably got the most applause at I/O was Lens’ ability to read a Wi-Fi router’s SSID and password and automatically connect your phone to it.

Here’s Google’s new Pixel 2 XL smartphone


Google unveiled the new Pixel 2 XL smartphone today, and the early leaks proved pretty much accurate: It’s a larger screened smartphone with a new body design that mostly eliminates the front bezels, with a back that bears a two-segment design with a glass upper portion and metal covering the remainder of the body.

The smartphone’s front face is a big improvement over the previous generation, putting all the attention on that display, which is a 6.0-inch diagonal pOLED screen with 2880 x 1440 resolution (538 ppi density), with wide color gamut in an 18:9 aspect ratio. It’s also protected by Gorilla Glass 5, Corning’s strongest glass for smartphones yet. The display also features always-on tech for constant display of info like the time and notifications.

As rumored, the Pixel XL 2 does ditch the headphone jack (a USB-C to headphone adapter is included in the box), and it also comes in 64 and 128GB storage options. Pixel 2 XL also features a ‘squeezable’ body, another feature reported prior to its release, which allows a user to simply apply pressure to the sides of the device in order to trigger Google Assistant. It also has front-facing stereo speakers, and an aluminum body.

The smartphone offers a front-facing camera with an 8 megapixel camera, and a rear-facing 12 megapixel camera with an f/1.8 aperture. The camera hardware is actually unchanged from last year, but it’s made better thanks to software advances by Google as well as the inclusion of optical image stabilization, for both photos and video.

It also has a portrait photo mode similar to the iPhone’s but it uses two sensors in close proximity gathering data from the single lens, since there’s only one on the camera. It works on both front and rear facing cameras, and Google says it’s available instantly, unlike the portrait mode on iPhone which requires a few seconds to perceive depth and frame the subject.

Developing…

Astell & Kern AK70 Mk II hands-on review

Two is always better than one, right? When you’re Astell & Kern it certainly is, as demonstrated by the the new AK70 Mk II music player, which has dual Cirrus Logic CS4398 digital-to-analog-converter (DAC) chips inside, instead of the single one used in the previous model. Not that you’d know just from looking at the player, as the same eye-catching, hewn-from-a-solid-metal-block look has been retained. In our AK70 Mk II hands-on review, we find out if doubling the DAC chipsets means the player delivers double the audio pleasure.

The look

Let’s talk about design and feel first. Smartphones, which have become the go-to music player for most, have increasingly grown in size over the past few years. The Astell & Kern AK70 Mk II is much more compact, and easily fits in the palm of your hand, or slips in your pocket. It’s not a tiny sliver of a thing that’ll fall out of your hand like the last generation Apple iPod, Sony’s NW-ZX300, or even Astell & Kern’s own AK Jr, though. There’s genuine heft and thickness from the anodized duralumin body, which weighs 150 grams; but instead of being off-putting, it feels high quality, expensive, and reassuringly well made.

A 3.3-inch AMOLED screen shows the custom, Google Android-based operating system. It’ll be familiar to anyone coming from a phone, with swipes, taps, and gestures controlling the main functions. However, the OS lacks the responsiveness one expects from a modern Android phone, and some of the buttons are tiny on the small screen, which means there is potential for it to be frustrating to use on the move. It looks wonderful though, with the deep blacks and high contrast colors we expect from an AMOLED display shining through.

The oversize volume control on the side looks great, adding visual punch to the player, and while it requires lots of twists to dramatically increase the volume, this is by design: Unlike phones that present broad changes between volume levels, Astell & Kern’s players offer a higher level of control so you can dial in the sound just right. That said, it’s easier – and faster — to swipe up and down on the touchscreen for volume control.

Astell & Kern AK70 Mk II Compared To

Otherwise, the buttons are all easy to reach, and it’s obvious what they do. We’re less likely to constantly interact with the AK70 Mk II than we are a phone, so the minor interface sluggishness will be just that — minor.

Vocal superiority

We only had a small selection of demo tracks to try after plugging in our headphones — for our demo, we used our trusty pair of B&O Play H2 on-ears — but there was enough variety to give us a strong impression. It’s instantly obvious just how much the AK70 Mk II loves to sing. Vocal tracks soar and beguile, demonstrating the AK70 Mk II’s rich tuning. Rebecca Pidgeon’s Spanish Harlem was utterly involving, and wonderfully intimate.

Doubling the DAC chipsets means double the audio pleasure.

The strummed bass line never overpowered the singer’s sweet voice, and it made us smile all the way through — which ultimately, is what quality sound should do. It’s very easy to fall for the AK70 Mk II when it facilitates these emotions. This isn’t to say non-vocal tracks suffer. Duke Ellington’s In A Mellow Tone was detailed and lively, while the stereo separation at the start of David Bowie’s Starman was precise and fun.

Listening to music on a device dedicated to doing so is an eye-opening experience. Smartphones can sound great — the LG G6 and LG V30 spring to mind — but can’t deliver the same power, versatility, or musical energy as the AK70 Mk II. It plays most major file types, from MP3 to FLAC, and in 24bit/192KHz resolution, while DSD files will be converted to PCM. The player offers 64GB of storage, with 256GB more available via an SD slot. Upgraded circuitry means improved signal-to-noise ratio, crosstalk, and reduced jitter over the AK70 Mk 1. Onboard Wi-Fi lets you connect to streaming music services, and the good news is the player has AptX HD support through the Bluetooth connection.

Astell & Kern AK70 Mk II review

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The AK70 Mk II also has a larger battery than the original, though Astell & Kern tells us this mostly gets eaten up by the second DAC chipset, making the upgrade a wash. Battery playback is estimated between 6-8 hours per charge. In addition to the regular 3.5mm headphone jack, a more powerful 2.5mm balanced output — almost doubling the Mk I player’s 2.3Vrms output to 4.0Vrms — is alongside it, ready to drive more capable, demanding headphones. We didn’t get the chance to try this out in our quick demo. Finally, we like the way the AK70 Mk II can be plugged into your computer to act as a dedicated headphone DAC, letting you enjoy improved sound quality at home too.

Doubling the technology hasn’t given Astell & Kern reason to double the price. The AK70 Mk II is $700, up $100 from the AK70 Mk 1, which although pricey when your smartphone will play at least some of the music files with moderate results, is excellent value when you consider this is the first A&K music player to include dual-DACs below the $1,000 price point.

Whether it’s worth that level of financial investment will come down to your love of music and depth of wallet. However, as storage space and battery life on smartphones becomes more of a concern, and availability of high quality music becomes greater, owning a dedicated music player is making more sense every day. We’d recommend testing the versatile, great sounding, and eye-catchingly styled Astell & Kern AK70 Mk II if this predicament sounds familiar.

Google’s Home Max brings premium audio to its Assistant speaker


Google Home is getting bigger, in more ways than one: Google announced a few updates for its smart home speaker line, and one is the Home Max, a larger version that packs in stereo speakers and more premium looks and materials.

The new, larger Home speaker is clearly intended to be an answer to critics who suggested the original Home lacked good audio quality (myself included) by providing something for users who care more about sound. It’s also likely a move that will help address forthcoming competition for Home from Apple, which is set to launch its own Siri-enabled premium speaker, the HomePod, by the end of this year.

It can tune its audio to its own space, analyzing the sound coming from the speaker using its built in microphones to determine the best equalizer settings. This is called Smart Sound, and it evolves over time and based on where you move the speaker, using built-in machine learning. It has Cast functionality, as well as input via stereo 3.5 mm jack.

Home Max can output sound that’s up to 20 times more powerful than the standard version of Home, Google says, and it has two 4.5 inch woofers on board with two 0.7 inch custom-built tuners. It can sit in either vertical or horizontal orientation, and it comes in both ‘chalk’ and ‘charcoal.’

Of course, this bigger speaker also includes a noise isolating array that makes it work even in open rooms with background noise, and it’s Assistant-enabled, so you can use it to control your music playback via voice, or manage your smart home devices, set yourself reminders, alarms, and timers and much more.

Home Max is shipping in December in the U.S., with a retail price of $399, and a release in more markets coming next year. It’s bundled with a 1-year subscription to YouTube Red, too.

Developing…

Google has sold 55M Chromecasts, and provided 100M+ answers via Assistant


Google announced on stage a few numbers to update its progress on its hardware program – the company said that it’s sold over 55 million Chromecast devices, and that it has provided over 100 million answers to users via Google Assistant, its voice-powered AI software.

The other success metric that Google noted was that its Google WiFi mesh networking router is the top-selling in that category in both the U.S. and Canada. It’s still a relatively young category, but there are lots of entrants now, so that’s impressive.

Google didn’t share any specific numbers on WiFi sales, however, nor did it reveal numbers for Pixel sales, though it said that the smartphone is selling well – despite Google not being able to make enough, even.

Analyst estimates suggest that Pixel sales weren’t huge (not by a long shot) but it’s a start, and apparently Google is still eager to continue the program.