Bedly raises $2.7 million to make renting an apartment a little less horrible

Craigslist is great for serial killers and spear-phishers, but less than ideal for anyone looking for housing.

As a platform for renters, Bedly aims to take some of the pain out of the housing rental process — and it’s hoping that’s a draw for landlords too. Co-founded by Martin Greenberg, formerly of IBM’s cybersecurity team, and Benjamin Chester, Bedly takes care of all of the annoying stuff on both ends. For renters, that means furnishing apartments, screening roommates, and setting up utilities. For landlords, that means attracting young professionals who don’t want to deal with the hassle of logistics, and offering property rentals through a clean, navigable platform.

Like Airbnb in its frictionless ideal, Bedly instead concentrates on medium to long term stays (think 3 months, 6 months and so on) rather than a per-night model. Once a renter is in Bedly’s network, the company wants to make it easy for them to move around if a place isn’t quite the right fit. Since 95% of its listings are pre-furnished, that’s not as much of an ordeal as it would be with a traditional rental. On top of furniture, Bedly unit pricing factors in furnishings (even bed linens and kitchen items), wi-fi, and secure access via a pre-programmed digital lock.

“Landlords haven’t changed their products in a very, very long time,” Bedly co-founder Martin Greenberg said. “The old way is antiquated and makes no sense for the new generation of renters.” Greenberg emphasizes mobility for its renters, boasting that the company does away with the concept of a 12-month lease altogether. “You’re not locked in, from a flexibility perspective.”

With a $2.7 million seed round led by Cambridge-based Accomplice, Greenberg hopes that Bedly can expand its rental inventory by partnering with more high-inventory landlords looking to switch things up. The Founder Collective also participated in the round, along with additional angel investors and the company went through AngelPad’s three-month incubator program in 2015. Right now, the company, formerly known as Launchpad, is operating on a very small scale, with 350 listings across its two markets and twelve full-time employees.

Bedly is live in New York and Boston, two competitive, stressful rental markets filled with young professionals who care less about where they live and how long they’ll be in one spot. In both cities, renters are used to paying substantial broker fees to rent an apartment, so Bedly hopes that its own perks “layer up” to replace those renter costs with something that provides ongoing value.

For young people who aren’t yet practically or psychologically tethered to a static sense of home, Bedly is a step or two beyond dorm life out into the real world. In the on-demand economy, having a place to hang your hat is just one more thing to worry about — and Bedly is hoping that for plenty of users, that’s just one thing too many.

Featured Image: Tom Sibley/Getty Images

GoPro to release prosumer spherical camera in fall 2017

GoPro today announced the Fusion, a camera capable of capturing spherical video for use in VR and standard video formats through a software solution. The camera will be released this fall. GoPro has yet to name the price. If nothing else GoPro is becoming a camera company again.

The Fusion shows that GoPro is going back to its core competency in creating hardware. Action cameras existed before GoPro. But GoPro provided a better complete solution and the market responded by making the company top-selling vendor. GoPro likely hopes the same thing will happen with the Fusion and the rest of the spherical camera market.

Specific details are still a bit light since the camera will not be released until the fall. Even the images released by GoPro are clearly carefully composed to reveal more about the camera’s intended use rather than specifics about the camera. We even boosted the levels of the photo above to reveal a bit more.

The company says in a press release that the Fusion records 360-degree video at 5.2K30 and features a mode called OverCapture that lets users go back and carve out a standard video file from the spherical footage. Essentially, GoPro is building a camera that lets users record literally everything and then select the best framing later.

GoPro has built similar solutions in the past that involved mounting several GoPros into a rig that positioned the cameras to capture every angle and software then stitched the footage together. But with GoPro cameras costing hundreds of dollars each, these rigs are expensive. The Fusion will likely be less expensive than these rigs.

There are several other spherical cameras on the market though none have made a big splash. They range in price from a few hundred dollars to a couple thousand. GoPro’s advantage could be the software that lets users produce a standard POV-looking video from the captured footage. Traditionally videos captured by spherical cameras have a fish-eye look, which can be off-putting and distracting.

GoPro is opening a beta program this summer to get the Fusion in the hands of creative users. The company hopes this program will help further refine the user experience prior to releasing the camera on the general market. This is a smart move. The expectations are different and could help reduce negative reactions once the camera hits stores.

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Shopify launches a free, in-house-designed card reader

Shopify has designed its own hardware for the first time, building out a design team and coming up with a unique approach to the simple card reader, that most basic tool in the real-world merchant’s arsenal. The new chip and swipe card reader makes its official debut at Shopify’s Unite developer conference in San Francisco today, and it’s a device with a superficial simplicity that only hints at how much care went into the design process.

From around 2013 onwards, Shopify began paying close attention to how much of its online-seller customer base began selling in person, via pop-up shops and also via small shops set up in their home towns. That year, it released Shopify POS for the first time, and the key difference in that was the hardware component. Shopify was happy to rely on partners for that hardware piece of the picture, as it wasn’t within its core set of skills.

“We’ve learned a ton over that period of time, in bringing people hardware and scaling point of sale to many tens of thousands of merchants,” explained Shopify VP of Product Satish Kanwar in an interview. “What we’ve seen is the evolution of the retail store as a place that was primarily a first channel for someone, to being a great experiential marketing strategy for people, and just a necessary part of the growth and evolution of any retail brand, whether you started online first or not.”

Retail is changing as a result, and that means merchants need a more seamless solution across both online and offline parts of their businesses, Kanwar says. That led them to set up creating their dedicated hardware unit within the company around one year ago, with the aim of taking all the lessons they’ve learned from their merchants’ collective experience with in-person sales.

“What people forget is that it’s not just the merchant that’s touching the hardware, like a cash register,” Kanwar said. “When it comes to a card reader, it’s the shopper that’s interacting with the device and inputting their card as well. What we realized is that it’s really hard to get a good balance of good quality, versatility and something that provides that delightful experience in something that’s also affordable.”

Shopify’s reader is a device designed to cover all those bases, with a detachable reader that you can use one-handed and can handle both swipes and chip-based “dips.” A subtle groove offers a solid thumb rest and Kanwar showed me how a merchant can even use it stacked with their phone with one hand thanks to the groove, paired with a textured surface that won’t slide off the back of your smartphone or tablet too easily.

The reader plugs into a base via micro USB, which is also the connector used to plug the base into a power source for charging. The battery in the reader should easily handle a full week’s worth of transactions even if left unplugged, and the modular design is intentionally made to fit with multiple different mounting options to come in the future, in addition to the current weighted base.

All of Shopify’s careful design work will likely remain mostly invisible to both merchants and shoppers, however, if they’ve done what they set out to do; Kanwar notes that the minimalist branding and largely white device is meant to help foreground the in-person shopping experience, rather than the tech that enables it.

Shopify’s card reader will be free, which for merchants might be the most important aspect of its design; that’s if you’re a Shopify merchant without a current Shopify POS solution — others can also buy them for $29 via the Shopify Hardware Store. The accessory supports both iOS and Android, and processes payments with rates starting at 2.4 percent per swipe. It connects to your phone via Bluetooth LE, too, meaning if you happen to be without a headphone jack you’re in luck.

Shopify is offering these for pre-order to its U.S.-based merchants now, and shipping should start in June. Now that the company has a dedicated team working on hardware, it’s likely this isn’t the end of their in-house device design efforts, but Kanwar only hinted at what might be possible in terms of different docking attachments for the reader when asked about the future.

GoPro’s new 360-degree camera will let you shoot first and pick images later

GoPro is finally sharing more details about the consumer 360-degree camera that CEO Nick Woodman teased way back at CES 2016. It’s called the GoPro Fusion, and it will shoot up to 5.2K video at 30 frames per second — good enough to just squeeze past the 4K capability of the new Samsung Gear 360 and the Nikon KeyMission 360. An early sample video provided by GoPro (seen below) shows the Fusion could compete with them on quality, too.

GoPro didn’t share any further specs or pricing information, saying only that the camera “will see a limited commercial release by the end of 2017.” In fact, Fusion will be available this summer, but only to “brands, agencies, content professionals” as part of a pilot program. That’s potentially frustrating, even if it’s kind of how GoPro typically treats its camera releases. The company has always sent new cameras to athletes and professionals before they’re released — they just typically don’t tell anyone.

Frankly, the most interesting thing about the Fusion right now is that in the press release, GoPro did backflips to avoid using the term “360-degree.” Instead, the company highlights a feature called “OverCapture” — essentially the ability to pull full HD imagery out of the 5.2K recording sphere. (The company doesn’t specify if that’s photos or videos, but I’d assume both.)

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“Fusion is just that, the ability to capture every angle simultaneously… as though you had six GoPro cameras fused into one,” Woodman is quoted as saying.

That’s an ambitious idea, but if you stare at the horizon a bit, it’s where the industry is heading. Many cameras allow you to shoot a bunch of frames first and pick your favorite later. The newest smartphones are even doing some version of this — Apple will select the “best” frame when you shoot a burst of photos, and both Samsung’s and Google’s latest phones take multiple shots when you press the shutter and combine the best elements of those into the final image.

One of the most frustrating things about using a GoPro is when you realize you weren’t recording after you did something crazy. Shooting in all directions at all times is a brute way of solving that problem, and it will be a big challenge for battery life and storage. It’s hard to tell from this announcement how exactly GoPro plans to execute on this idea, but I’m excited to see them try.

Samsung and Amazon introduce yet another HDR standard, HDR10+

Samsung and Amazon have announced a new open standard for high dynamic range video called HDR10+.

The companies are describing it as updated version of the HDR10 standard, with the major addition being “Dynamic Tone Mapping.” What that actually means is that the metadata attached to a video is dynamic based on individual scenes, allowing the brightness levels to shift depending on whether the particular scene is brightly lit or dark. That’s a change from HDR10, which mastered video content as a single unit with static data — meaning that if a movie was mostly dark with just a few brighter scenes, for example, then those scenes would have previously been oversaturated relative to the rest of the film.

  Chris Welch

Dynamic metadata is a particularly important addition in HDR10+ as it closes the gap between the open HDR standard and the closed Dolby Vision spec, which had previously touted dynamic metadata as one of its main differentiators over the original HDR10 standard. (Although Dolby still leads the pack when it comes to the highest color and brightness requirements, at least for now.)

And of course, I’d be remiss in noting that unfortunately, the addition of HDR10+ now marks the fifth major HDR standard vying for industry support, along with the original HDR10, Dolby Vision, HLG, and Advanced HDR, because clearly four different versions were not quite enough for anyone yet.

Fortunately, you probably won’t need to buy a new TV to take advantage of HDR10+ — the new standard is already supported on all of Samsung’s 2017 UHD sets, and will be rolling out to the company’s 2016 line via a firmware update later this year, meaning that other companies looking to support it should (in theory) be able to add it fairly easily. In terms of content, Amazon Video is set to support HDR10+ later this year, but its the only major company signed on so far.

Ultimately, HDR10+ is yet another example that shows that HDR standards are going to continue to be a sliding scale of different qualities, rather than a direct head-on format war like Blu-ray and HD-DVD or VHS and Betamax. Which is ultimately a good thing for consumers looking to avoid complicated hardware decisions, but also means that what we actually refer to as “HDR video” is going to refer to an increasingly wider range of things.

Your next MasterCard may have a fingerprint sensor built into it

Why it matters to you

Companies are taking security very seriously these days, and biometric authentication is rapidly becoming the standard way to protect our identity.

Most of us are used to using a fingerprint for an assortment of verification processes, from unlocking our smartphones, to authenticating entry into buildings, or at passport control at the airport. Soon, you may use your fingerprint to confirm purchases made in stores using a special MasterCard with a biometric reader built in to it. The company has revealed the first card to use the technology — something it has worked on for several years — which has been undergoing tests in South Africa.

The way it works is simple, and will be familiar to anyone that has used Apple Pay or another mobile payment system. Put the biometric card into the payment terminal as usual, and keep your finger on the card’s reader. Provided everything matches up, the payment will be approved. This means you no longer have to enter a PIN, and never having to hand the card over to a cashier. Of course, the biometric authentication aspect won’t work for online purchases, and it’s not compatible with contactless payments.

Don’t worry about fingerprints being stored in a cloud-based server. Remember, the card doesn’t have a data connection, so it compares a captured digital image of the print taken when the card is inserted into the terminal, with an encrypted digital template stored on the card itself that’s set up when you first get it. The transaction still has to be approved by the bank, even when the prints match. Think of it as a direct replacement for your PIN number, and because there’s no need for special equipment on the retailer’s part, the new cards are compatible with most existing chip-and-PIN readers.

While fingerprints are considered more secure and more convenient than PINs and passwords, they’re not the ultimate in security. For example, research into so-called “master prints” that could trick sensors has been carried out recently, and there are concerns that even high-resolution images could be used to make fake fingerprints for criminal use.

MasterCard has been running trials of its biometric card in South Africa, seeing success at a supermarket and Absa Bank, which is a subsidiary of Barclays Africa. Over the next few months, further trials will take place in Europe and Asia, with a full launch before the end of the year.

With revenue of $29.8 billion, Verizon’s first quarter earnings fall short of analyst expectations

Verizon just released its first quarter earnings results, with adjusted earnings per share of 95 cents on revenue of $29.8 billion.

Revenue (minus divestitures and acquisitions) is down 4.5 percent from the first quarter of 2016. The numbers also fall short of what analysts had been predicting: EPS of 96 cents per share on revenue of $30.5 billion.

Verizon says there was a net decline of 307,000 wireless postpaid connections in the past quarter. However, it also says the launch of its Unlimited data plan “positively changed the trajectory of customer additions” — after the February launch, Verizon says it added 109,000 postpaid connections.

On the digital media side, Verizon says AOL (which owns TechCrunch) saw revenue (minus traffic acquisition costs) decrease 4 percent year-over-year, a decline it attributes to the growth of programmatic advertising. Internet of Things revenue was up 17 percent.

“Our first-quarter results again demonstrated that customers value a high-quality network experience,” said Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam in the earnings release. “To build on our loyal customer base and the third-party recognition we have received for network leadership, we extended our wireless and fiber network capabilities, began offering an unlimited pricing option and expanded our opportunities in new markets. We’re executing on strategies to capture future growth and create long-term shareholder value.”

Earlier this week, McAdam told Bloomberg that Verizon would be open to merger talks with Comcast, Disney or CBS: “If [Comcast CEO Brian Roberts] came knocking on the door, I’d have a discussion with him about it.”

Of course, Verizon still needs to complete its acquisition of Yahoo, which it plans to combine with AOL into a digital media organization called Oath.

As of 8am Eastern, Verizon shares were down 2.3 percent in pre-market trading.

Apple May Be Getting Its Innovation Groove Back

By John P. Mello Jr.
Apr 20, 2017 5:00 AM PT

Apple reportedly has begun testing a premium iPhone with a revamped display and body, which could be one of three new models the company is expected to launch this fall. The other two likely will be upgrades to the two existing iPhones.

The new design will incorporate curved glass and stainless steel. It will increase the surface area of the display without increasing the size of the phone, Bloomberg reported Tuesday.

“The three-phone rumor has been a consistent rumor over time,” observed Kevin Krewell, a principal analyst at Tirias Research.

“That’s why I believe it to be what Apple is planning,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Introducing a trio of iPhones instead of the typical two makes sense, said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

“That’s especially true when you consider that this is the 10th anniversary of the iPhone, and the continuing criticism heaped on Apple for lack of innovation,” he told TechNewsWorld.

The new top-of-the-line model could cost more than $1,000, according to some Apple watchers.

Bezel-less Display

Giving a smartphone a bigger screen without increasing the overall device size has some design advantages, as Apple’s competitors have discovered.

“The taller, longer form factor that LG and Samsung have adopted creates an edge-to-edge display on the left and right side of the device,” noted Ross Rubin, principal analyst at Reticle Research.

“There’s a strong case for it from a design perspective,” he told TechNewsWorld. “It allows you to get a larger diagonal screen while making the phone easier to hold.”

With Samsung going to a bezel-less” display in its latest model, it’s likely Apple has something along those lines in the works, suggested Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies.

“It would make sense for Apple to streamline the design and give users more working space with a bezel-less screen,” he told TechNewsWorld.

OLED Display

The premium iPhone will have an OLED display, Bloomberg also reported. OLED displays are brighter, more flexible, and consume less power than conventional LED screens.

“Apple would like to use OLED across the lineup, but has had trouble sourcing enough OLED screens to do so,” noted Tirias’ Krewell, “but OLED is the right choice for the premium model.”

Use of stainless steel, although challenging, also would be a good choice for a premium model.

“Stainless steel is a material that Apple has continued to develop expertise in with its watch, so stainless may be justified in a premium edition of the phone,” Reticle’s Rubin said.

Stainless steel is more rigid than aluminum, which is used on the current iPhones, and harder to mill — so it could be challenging to Apple’s suppliers, Krewell noted.

“Steel also weighs more than aluminum, so it must be used more sparingly to keep the phone light,” he pointed out.

Significant Camera Changes

Significant camera changes are in the works for the premium iPhone, Bloomberg also reported.

For example, Apple is experimenting with placing the dual cameras in the phone horizontally instead of vertically, as they are in the iPhone 7 Plus. The design change could result in better photos.

Apple also may add dual cameras to the front of the phone as well as to the back.

One thing Apple hasn’t been able to get rid of yet, though, is the bump created by the rear-facing camera.

It’s likely that Apple is going to push the camera envelope with the new iPhones, said Andreas Scherer, managing partner at Salto Partners.

“The market expects improved dual lenses and potentially augmented reality-based features as well as depth of field enhancement,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“There is a plethora of photo-editing software in the App Store that allows the editing of pictures on a near professional level,” Scherer added. “As a result, Apple will continue to take market share from camera manufacturers of point-and-click cameras and entry-level DLSRs.”

Virtual Home Button

Another persistent rumor — repeated in Bloomberg’s report — is the replacement of the home button at the bottom of the iPhone with a virtual button on the screen.

“It’s a design necessity if you’re going to create a phone with a high display to surface ratio,” maintained Reticle’s Rubin.

A soft home button requires careful application of fingerprint sensors in or under the OLED screen, said Tirias’ Krewell. “That’s very cutting-edge technology and a hard manufacturing challenge, but Apple likes to push the envelope for a cleaner look.”

Can Apple hit a home run with its new 10th anniversary premium iPhone?

“It’s becoming much more difficult to differentiate in the smartphone market,” observed David McQueen, a research director at ABI Research.

“While Samsung has beaten Apple to the punch with many new features, it seems Apple will be adding most of them to its new lineup, too — as well as e-SIM, support for Apple Pencil, and an enhanced version of Siri,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“Apple’s inability to hit a home run with past iPhone products has allowed Samsung and others to catch-up,” noted Pund-IT’s King.

“It’s not clear to me whether the company’s focus on nominal iPhone upgrades and improvements is a system issue, or suggests that we’re reaching the limits of smartphone capabilities,” he continued. “The upcoming iPhones should help answer that question.”

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 $100 Kindle for Kids bundle is a great child-friendly tablet alternative

Keeping your kids free from online distractions can be a challenge, with modern mobile devices giving them ready access to videos, games, and more. A dedicated ebook reader for your child is a great alternative to a tablet, but if you’re looking for a device with built-in learning apps and a better warranty than most, then check out Amazon’s Kindle for Kids bundle.

Children’s literature tends to be fairly short and if your kid loves to read, you know how quickly they can burn through a stack of books. An ebook reader not only gives you access to much cheaper ebooks, but keeps all of them on a single device, making them ideal for road trips and reading on the go.

Kindle for Kids bundleThe Kindle for Kids bundle includes the standard Kindle ebook reader along with a folding case that protects the screen, and boasts the e-ink display that made the Kindle famous. This screen uses multiple shades of gray to mimic the appearance of paper, virtually eliminating the eye strain that comes from staring at a bright LCD display — an even bigger concern for children whose eyes are still developing.

Let’s face it: Kids can be rough-and-tumble with their stuff, so along with the protective cover, the Kindle for Kids bundle is covered by a generous two-year worry-free warranty from Amazon. If anything happens to your child’s device, Amazon will replace it for free, no questions asked. This ebook reader also comes loaded with features like Kindle FreeTime, Word Wise, and Vocabulary Builder to help your child learn new words, set goals, and track reading progress.

The eighth-generation Kindle alone normally costs $80, while the Kindle for Kids bundle is currently on sale for $100 after a neat $25 discount. This means that for a limited time, you can get your child a Kindle with a protective cover, two-year worry-free warranty, and built-in kid-friendly features, for just $20 more than the standard ebook reader.

$100 on Amazon

HTC will launch its squeezable phone on May 16

HTC was once the maker of some of the best Android phones on the planet. It still makes solid phones, but after a few uninspiring models and several years of financial troubles, the brand lost a lot of its luster. 

Soon, all that could be forgotten, as the company just announced the launch of its new flagship, the HTC U. 

The announcement, posted on HTC’s Twitter feed, contains a video that actually shows the new device. True, we don’t see much else besides its seemingly very thin profile and a hint that the phone will have stereo speakers (HTC has long focused on building phones that have great sound), but it’s just enough to tickle the imagination. 

A recent leak claimed the device will have a 5.5-inch QHD display, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor, 4/6GB of RAM, 64/128GB of storage, a 12-megapixel rear camera (and, possibly, a 16-megapixel selfie cam), and a 3,000mAh battery. 

The most important feature of the phone, according to the same report, will be Edge Sense, a technology that will let the phone recognize pressure on its sides. Users will be able to launch various functions of the phone by squeezing the phone — and if you look at the above video closely, you’ll see that the hand gently squeezes the phone to (presumably) play some music. 

The phone will be unveiled on May 16 at 2 a.m. ET. We’ll cover the launch as it unfolds. 

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