Google May Have Pixel Chromebook Showcase, Tiny Home in the Works

By John P. Mello Jr.
Aug 23, 2017 1:11 PM PT

Google appears to be planning a Pixel-branded Chromebook and a downsized version of its Home smart speaker, following in the steps of Microsoft and Amazon respectively.

Along with two expected new Pixel phones, Google this fall will unveil a Pixel-branded Chromebook and smaller, lower-priced version of its Home smart speaker, Android Police reported Monday, citing a source familiar with the company’s plans.

Chromebooks typically have been popular with budget-conscious schools and penny-pinching consumers, but the Pixel laptop may be setting it sights on a segment of the market that’s willing to spend more, the Android Police report suggests.

If so, it won’t be Google’s first effort to sell a premium Chromebook. It first introduced a Pixel Chromebook in 2013, and it offered an upgrade with a base model price of US$999 in 2015. Neither captured much market share.

If Google should decide to continue its Chromebook line, price could be a big factor in its success.

“Chromebooks have never sold as high-end notebooks,” said Bob O’Donnell, chief analyst at Technalysis Research.

“For them to try to do something in the premium area would be challenging,” he told TechNewsWorld. “That has never been a product category where Chromebooks have sold well.”

Benchmark for Others

Sales may be a secondary consideration for Google in the Chromebook market, though. Like Microsoft with its Surface tablet and laptop products, Google likely wants to show other Chromebook makers the platform’s potential.

“What they’re trying to do is establish a benchmark product that shows the market what the technology can do, and hope the other guys follow suit,” noted Jack E. Gold, principal analyst at J.Gold Associates.

“I don’t think Google is going to play the low-end price game,” he told TechNewsWorld. “They’re going to try and show more capabilities and encourage OEMs to get more creative with their Chromebooks.”

The impetus behind a new Pixel Chromebook is the same as always, noted Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

“It allows Google to demonstrate just how robust and great a Chromebook can be,” he told TechNewsWorld.

A high-end Chromebook also could prove the value of the ChromeOS to Google’s partners by opening a premium market to them.

“Its partners have been reluctant to push the price opportunity for Chromebooks above $400,” said Stephen Baker, an analyst with the NPD Group.

“To be a viable alternative to Windows, Google has to offer its device partners a path to better revenue and profits with Chromebook,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“The Pixel Chromebook will be designed to help create a viable more premium market, which the partners want,” Baker said, but they “can’t take the financial risk that Google can in building it.”

Bison Spinoff?

Because the Pixel Chromebook likely will be a premium product, it won’t be stepping on the sales of existing Chromebook makers, said Rhoda Alexander, director of tablet and notebook research at IHS Markit.

“I don’t see this offering serious competition to their hardware partners,” she told TechNewsWorld. “It’s Google taking a leadership role, showing how things can be done, rather than a volume-hardware play.”

Although details were sparse, it seems likely the new Pixel Chromebook will spring from Project Bison, a Google project veiled in secrecy and originally scheduled for release in this year’s third quarter, the Android Police report suggested.

Bison was intended as a serious competitor to Apple’s MacBook and Microsoft’s Surface Pro, according to the report. It was to have a 12.3-inch screen, 32 or 128 gigabytes of storage, 8 or 16 gigabytes of RAM, and an optional Wacom stylus that would be sold separately.

“The biggest rumor about the Pixel Chromebook concerns Google integrating support for Android apps, which would be a large, significant step forward,” Pund-IT’s King said.

“It also seems possible that the company could add support for features tied to it’s Home devices or emerging technologies like Cardboard,” he added.

Home’s ‘Little Brother’

Google’s introduction of a “little brother” for its Home smart speaker is a much-expected move, said Brad Russell, a research analyst at Parks Associates.

“They need a low-cost entry point for consumers that aren’t already in the space,” he told TechNewsWorld.

One of the goals of these product lines is ubiquity in the home, Russell pointed out.

“The reason Amazon’s Dot has been so successful is not just because it’s cheap — it’s because you can afford to put one in every room if you choose to,” he said.

Offering a range of devices enhances a vendor’s prospects for appealing to a wider audience, noted Jonathan Collins, a research director at ABI Research.

While the idea is to expand the number of devices in the home, vendors’ ambitions reach beyond the devices.

“In the long term, each vendor wants to get their voice assistant platform in the smart home,” Collins told TechNewsWorld.

“These speakers have become a Trojan horse for the digital assistants,” said Technalysis’ O’Donnell.

“People are using these speakers to get access to personal assistants more than they’re even using them on their phones,” he said, “so if Google wants to have more people use Google Assistant, they have to sell more smart speakers.”


John P. Mello Jr. has been an ECT News Network reporter
since 2003. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, IT issues, privacy, e-commerce, social media, artificial intelligence, big data and consumer electronics. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including the Boston Business Journal, the
Boston Phoenix, Megapixel.Net and Government
Security News
. Email John.

The top 7 startups from Y Combinator S’17 Demo Day 2

Py – Teach coders new skills on mobile

Py is an app for teaching coders new skills. From Python to iOS development, they help software engineers learn and also match them with jobs. With a ranking system that can identify strengths in categories like data science and app development, Py believes that it will help job seekers demonstrate what they’re good at. With 100,000 monthly active users, Py hopes to make a dent in what it estimates is a $3 billion market opportunity.

Why we picked it: Online education hasn’t caught up with our mobile consumption habits. Programming is an ideal and growing market to focus on and the gameification of Py seems to be paying off, earning the startup healthy retention.

English teaching service VIPKID raises $200M and reportedly hits a $1.5B valuation


VIPKID, an online English teaching tool, announced today that it has raised $200 million in financing. That financing round values the company at $1.5 billion, according to a report by Bloomberg.

That wouldn’t just give VIPKID unicorn status — it also exposes a huge amount of demand there is in China and other countries as a tool to learn English from English speakers. VIPKID had raised $100 million in financing in August last year and already seemed to have quite a bit of momentum at the time. This financing round was led by Sequoia Capital, including a strategic investment from Tencent.

VIPKID is a play that taps into the growing need for training in English in China. While that’s the sweet spot for VIPKID right now, a service like this has natural applications in other countries as well. But at the moment, China is such a big market that it can already support a company with a $1.5 billion valuation that started in 2013. It’s become one of the largest resources of English tutoring for children and has attracted venture interest from basically all directions.

If you haven’t heard of VIPKID out in our little Silicon Valley bubble, it’s probably for the reason above: it’s huge outside of the U.S. The company said that it has more than 20,000 teachers delivering lessons to 200,000 paying students from 32 countries. It also said it had monthly revenue of $60 million in July this year and is projecting annual revenue of $750 million. Including this round, VIPKID has raised $350 million in venture financing.

VIPKID fills an interesting niche that helps English speakers — whether teachers or other professions — put in a bit of time to make a little extra money on the side. It’s a unique twist on the education model, putting it closer to an Uber model. There are other spins on online foreign language education like Duolingo, which raised $25 million at a $750 million valuation in July this year, but it seems like VIPKID has tapped into some kind of use case at the right time to get the attention of investors.

VIPKID founder Cindy Mi’s longtime focus on teaching English basically morphed into a platform that’s tapped into growing demand amid an increasingly global economic environment. We’ve reached out to VIPKID for some additional details about the funding round as well as the valuation and will update the post when we hear back.

Cindy Mi will also join us at TechCrunch Disrupt SF in September this yearWe’re incredibly excited to be joined by so many top names, and hope you’ll be there as well. Tickets are available for what’s shaping up to be another blockbuster Disrupt.

With SpaceX in the mix, check out all these modern spacesuit designs

SpaceX’s new spacesuit design got photographed for the first time today, and it’s a high-fashion option for extra-atmospheric wear. But SpaceX’s suit isn’t the only option for galactic explorers – a lot of new options have been debuted recently, fueled in part by the glut of interest in commercial crewed spaceflight.

Not all spacesuits are created equal, or with the same use cases in mind, so there’s a fair bit of variation in the incarnations laid out in this gallery. But all of them have to put safety first, since the hope is they’ll help usher in a new era of humans doing work in orbit and beyond.

Tech Leaders Urge UN to Ban AI-Based Lethal Weapons

A group of the world’s top technology leaders, led by Tesla founder Elon Musk, on Sunday published an open letter urging the United Nations to ban the use of artificial intelligence in weapons systems, amid growing concerns that autonomous killer robots could wind up taking control.

The group of 116 companies, most of which specialize in robotics or artificial intelligence, argued that the growing use of AI could revolutionize modern warfare in irreversible ways and pose a danger to nation states.

“Lethal autonomous weapons threaten to become the third revolution in warfare,” the letter states. “Once developed, they will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, at timescales faster than humans can comprehend.”

Such weapons could be placed in the hands of terrorists, the letter points out. Despots could use them against innocent civilians. Further, cybercriminals possibly could hack them, turning the weapons against innocent victims.

AI All Stars

Among the signatories to the letter are many of the world’s top names in AI: Musk, who also is founder of SpaceX and OpenAI; Mustafa Suleyman, founder and head of applied AI at Google’s DeepMind; Esben Ostergaard, founder and CTO of Universal Robotics in Denmark; and Jerome Monceaux, founder of Aldebaran Robotics.

A key figure behind the letter, Toby Walsh, a professor of AI at the University of New South Wales in Sydney Australia, presented it at the opening of the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Melbourne, Australia. The annual event is considered the world’s most important gathering of AI experts.

Walsh also was behind a 2015 letter that warned of the dangers of using AI in autonomous weapons development, noting that such systems could spark a public backlash that would create long-term damage for AI technology in general.

Walsh likely will attend the next UN Convention on Conventional Weapons meeting to discuss the open letter, he told the E-Commerce Times.

Building Consensus

Sunday’s joint statement from the world’s leading experts in the field could mark a turning point on the issue.

A group of 123 member nations of the UN’s Review Conference on the Convention on Conventional Weapons last year unanimously agreed to begin formal discussions on the use of lethal autonomous weapons, University of New South Wales officials said. So far, 19 member nations have called for an outright ban.

AI specialists previously have raised questions about the potential for lethal autonomous weapons to create very destructive and lasting security issues for the world.

Musk just last month got into a public spat with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg over the potential for unregulated AI to put the public at increased risk.

Musk’s position is that global regulatory changes must be enacted to maintain long-term peace and security, said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

However, “past history makes it difficult to imagine a scenario where many global powers would be willing to [accept] such restrictions,” he told the E-Commerce Times. “Some would argue that they require such weaponry for their own protection, where others will say the threat of robotic firepower will deter their enemies from pursuing war.”

It is possible that the outlook portrayed by Musk and others is more than a little hyperbolic, suggested Jim McGregor, principal analyst at Tirias Research.

“This is a person that is promoting the augmentation of humans through technology and the use of AI for self-driving cars,” he told the E-Commerce Times, “but AI in robots is bad? Didn’t anyone see Maximum Overdrive?”

Tech Industry’s Responsibility

The question of whether or how to regulate lethal AI weaponry is one that is deeply connected to values, suggested Ryan Gariepy, CTO of Clearpath Robotics, which previously had called for an outright ban.

It is a choice between using AI for good versus using it for lethal means, Gariepy, who was the first to sign Sunday’s letter, told the E-Commerce Times.

Clearpath and its founders have made a conscious decision to align their business values to their personal values of using technology for good.


David Jones is a freelance writer based in Essex County, New Jersey. He has written for Reuters, Bloomberg, Crain’s New York Business and The New York Times.

Apple could announce the next iPhone on September 12


Mark down September 12 in your calendar as Apple could be unveiling the next iPhone at 9 AM on that day. Mac4Ever wrote a report saying that it confirmed with telecom companies that Apple should hold a press event on September 12.

This wouldn’t be a big surprise as Apple has been announcing new iPhones every September since 2012. Apple also always holds press conferences on Tuesday for some reason. So many people were hesitating between September 5 and September 12. We’ll know for sure very soon as Apple should be sending press invites in a few days.

So if you’re thinking about buying a new iPhone right now, you should wait a few weeks. Apple usually starts pre-orders on the Friday after the press conference (September 15). And devices go on sale a week later (September 22).

If you don’t plan on buying a new iPhone, you’ll still a get a big software update with iOS 11. Apple is going to release the final version of iOS 11 at some point between September 12 and September 22.

Apple is also probably going to announce a new version of the Apple Watch. The main change with this new watch could be that it’s going to have LTE connectivity. There could be a small update to the Apple TV as well with 4K video output.

Rumor has it that Apple has been working on not one, not two but three different iPhone models. The company should be announcing a more powerful iPhone 7s and iPhone 7s Plus, as well as a brand new super premium phone. This rumored “iPhone 8” (or whatever they call it) is going to feature a taller screen that is going to completely fill the front of the device, except for the speaker, camera and sensors at the top.

The camera should be much better on the back and the front of the device. Your phone is also going to learn new tricks when it comes to facial detection, inductive charging and more.

Featured Image: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Facebook now lets you take 360 photos in-app, use them as Cover Photos


Facebook has been a big supporter of 360-degree photos and video, adding support for the immersive media formats early on Facebook itself. Now, the social tech company is adding support for capturing 360-degree photos right within the Facebook app itself.

The 360 photo capability is rolling out across both iOS and Android starting today, and includes the ability to zoom and tag friends. It’s also now possible to use 360-degree images (from any source) as Cover Photos. This is the first ever update to format support Facebook has made for Cover Photos since its introduction.

  1. 360 Photo Capture from Timeline

  2. 360 Photo Capture Path

  3. 360 Photo in Feed

360 photos otherwise behave as regular pictures on Facebook, meaning you can post them to your Timeline, share them in albums alongside other standard images, and add them to groups. Capturing using the Facebook camera is designed to be as easy as possible, too, with Facebook employing computer vision to automatically stitch the photo after you rotate your phone to capture it panorama-style.

[embedded content]

Here’s how to take 360 images in Facebook according to Facebook itself, an expert on the subject, should you want to give it a shot:

  • Open the Facebook app and click the ‘360 Photo’ option from the top of your News Feed where you update your status

  • Press the blue button and follow the path from start to finish until you’ve taken a complete panorama

  • Select your preferred ‘starting view’ within the photo and share

A new LG factory in Detroit will build components for electric vehicles

Why it matters to you

Electrification is letting new players enter the automotive industry, and in turn creating new jobs across the nation.

South Korean electronics company LG has chosen America’s Motor City as the home of its brand-new factory. The 250,000-square-foot facility located on the outskirts of Detroit will begin producing power components for electric vehicles starting next year.

The company told Digital Trends it is recommissioning an existing building instead of starting from scratch. The facility will undergo significant renovations inside for the product lines. The project represents a sizable investment of about $25 million, according to LG, and it’s backed by a $2.9 million capital grant provided by the Michigan Business Development Program. State officials have also pledged to help LG hire and train workers at every level.

The LG factory in Hazel Park, Michigan, will create at least 292 new jobs in the coming months, a figure that includes employees who will work in the factory and engineers who will move into the expanded research and development center located in nearby Troy. The company already created hundreds of jobs in the Wolverine State when it moved production of the Chevrolet Volt‘s battery pack from South Korea to a state-of-the-art facility in Holland, Michigan. The factory was recently expanded, which created 150 new jobs.

“When leading global companies like LG invest in Michigan and create hundreds of good, high-paying jobs here, it speaks volumes about the strong business and mobility climate in the state today,” governor Rick Snyder said. “LG’s great technological advancements and our outstanding workforce will help pave the way for the vehicles of the future right here in Michigan,” he added.

LG is relatively new to the vehicle components market. It never built carburetors, spark plugs, or ignition points, but the automotive industry’s gradual shift towards electrification and tech-intensive cars has opened up new possibilities for the South Korean giant. The vehicle components division has become its fastest-growing business thanks in part to a lucrative deal with General Motors. It supplies Chevrolet with numerous Bolt parts including the electric motor, the power inverter module, the on-board charger, the battery pack and the cells, the instrument cluster, and even the infotainment system, according to CleanTechnica.

As Bolt production increases, so do the revenues of LG’s vehicle components business. The division made $1.5 billion in the first half of this year, a 43 percent increase over the same period last year.

Musical.ly’s redesign adds video recommendations, new user profiles


Musical.ly, an app best known for its lip-syncing music videos, but which has more recently begun to air shows from Viacom, NBCU and Hearst, is today rolling out an overhaul of its mobile app that will put an increased emphasis on personalization and recommendations. Most notably, the update includes a new “similar musical.lys” feature that uses computer vision to figure out what a video is about, in order to recommend others you may like.

The news of the update was first reported by Variety, which also noted the app is backed by $147 million in funding and has grown to over 215 million users.

That user numbers figure, however, appears to reference the number of app downloads Musical.ly has – its active user base tends to be smaller.

According to app analytics firm Sensor Tower (which sees a somewhat lower number of installs), the U.S. market plays a large role for Musical.ly in terms of its monetization from in-app purchases of coins. Though only 31 percent of the app’s downloads are from the U.S., this market accounts for 71 percent of revenue, the firm found.

Musical.ly is also growing, says Sensor Tower. Its new installs for the first half of 2017 were approximately 45 million worldwide, a 24 percent increase from the estimated 36 million during the same time last year.

With the new look-and-feel and enhanced functionality, it appears that Musical.ly is now aiming to grow its audience beyond the kids and teens who today make up its core demographic, while also increasing people’s time in the app.

Of course, “what to watch next”-style recommendations aren’t anything new for video networks, but the addition of the feature could still help to boost session times by continually pointing users to something else they might like to see. That’s increasingly important for the mobile social network, as it moves to encompass a wider range of videos than just lip-syncing clips.

Today, there are a number of non-music videos on its network, including those similar to what you might find on YouTube – like personal vlogs or comedy videos, for example.

The company in June also announced deals with Viacom, NBCU and Hearst for short-form series from MTV, E!, and Seventeen, respectively. Assuming Musical.ly continues to grow its original content lineup, video recommendations will come into play there, as well.

The other new feature in Musical.ly’s upgraded experience worth a mention is a change to users’ profile pages, where you can now upload a video instead of a photo.

As you may recall, Facebook introduced a similar option to use a video as your profile picture back in 2015, but it’s seen limited adoption to date. On Musical.ly, uptake may be different, however, because of the video-only focus of its network.

The new app is rolling out now on the App Store and Google Play.

Image credit: Musical.ly, via Variety

What’s new with Samsung’s Galaxy Note 8

Samsung promised to “Do Bigger Things” with the Note 8, but the company’s new phablet isn’t exactly earth shattering. Instead, the phone is more of a refinement of the line, perhaps hampered by an abundance of caution following last year’s Note 7 debacle.

Many of the updates present are adapted directly from the S8/S8+ — though the company has taken some steps to distinguish the device from its Galaxy brethren. Chief among those distinctions are a slightly larger screen and, of course, the tried and true S Pen.

Pre-orders for the phone open tomorrow, and it’s set to start shipping on September 15. Here’s what you can expect with the new phone.