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September 21, 2018
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Everyday home gear made smart

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Editor’s note: This post was done in partnership with Wirecutter. When readers choose to buy Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, Wirecutter and TechCrunch may earn affiliate commissions.

If you only have one smart home device, it’s likely something simple and fun like a voice-controlled speaker or color-changing LED light bulb. As you expand your smart home setup, you can begin to swap out gear that isn’t as flashy but you still use everyday.

Switching to connected locks, power outlets and smoke alarms are all simple installs that can improve your safety and comfort in your own home. We’ve pulled together some of our favorite essentials made smart for anyone looking to upgrade.

Smart lock: Kwikset Kevo Smart Lock 2nd Gen

The Kwikset Kevo Smart Lock 2nd Gen is the most versatile smart lock that we’ve tested. Whether you prefer to use a wireless fob, smartphone app or key, you’ll be able to control the lock with all of them. When we compared it to similar models, the Kevo’s Bluetooth-activated tap-to-unlock mechanism was the easiest to use.

The second generation of the Kevo improved on security and has all-metal internal components for better protection against forced break-in attempts. With the optional Kevo Plus upgrade, you’ll add the ability to control the lock remotely and receive status-monitoring updates.

Photo: Liam McCabe

Robot Vacuum: iRobot Roomba 960

If cleaning is neither your forte or preferred pastime, a robot vacuum will come in handy. Our upgrade pick, the iRobot Roomba 960, is one of the most powerful models that we tested. It can be controlled through the iRobot Home app and uses a bump-and-track navigation system that helps vacuum an entire floor without missing spots.

If its battery is running low during a session, it’ll return to its dock to power up before finishing the job. It’s easy to disassemble for maintenance and is equipped with repairable parts that make it worth its price over some of our less serviceable picks.

Photo: Rachel Cericola

Plug-in Smart Outlet: Belkin Wemo Mini

We tested 26 smart outlet models over more than 45 hours and chose the Belkin Wemo Mini Wi-Fi plug as our top pick. If you’ve ever thought it’d be nice to remotely turn on or off home essentials such as lamps, air conditioners and fans from your smartphone, plugging them into a smart outlet makes it possible.

The Wemo Mini has proven to be reliable throughout long-term testing, it doesn’t block other outlets on the same wall plate and it’s compatible with iOS and Android devices and assistants, including HomeKit/Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant. The interface of the Wemo app is intuitive and easy to use. You can view all of your connected devices on one screen, set powering timers and from anywhere power on or off a device plugged into the Wemo outlet.

Photo: Jennifer Pattison Tuohy

Smart Thermostat: Nest Thermostat E

For a smart thermostat that’s affordable and doesn’t require extensive programming, we recommend the Nest Thermostat E. After about a week, it creates a schedule after learning cooling and heating preferences that you’ve set. It isn’t compatible with as many HVAC systems as similar Nest models, but it’s easy to install and doesn’t lack any features we expect.

It does come with Eco Mode — an energy-saving geofencing feature that detects when your home is empty (or when your smartphone is nowhere near your house). The Nest app uses the same technology to set the thermostat to a preferred temperature when it senses you’re on your way home. If you don’t have your smartphone on hand, you can still operate the Thermostat E by turning its outer ring and pressing selections on its touchscreen.

Photo: Michael Hession

Smart Smoke Alarm: Nest Protect

A smoke alarm is one of the most relied-upon safety devices in every home. Nonetheless, it’s easy to forget to do routine checks to ensure it’s in tip-top shape and functioning properly. With a smart smoke alarm like the Nest Protect, we found that its simple app, self-tests, monthly sound checks and consistent alerts are enough to keep fire safety worries at bay.

It isn’t difficult to install, has a sleek design and integrates with other smart home devices like the Nest Cam (which can record video of a fire) and the Nest Learning Thermostat (which shuts down HVAC systems that may be the cause of a fire). It’s sensitive to fast- and slow-burning fires, plus it monitors homes for both smoke and carbon monoxide.

These picks may have been updated by Wirecutter. When readers choose to buy Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, Wirecutter and TechCrunch may earn affiliate commissions.

News Source = techcrunch.com

JBL’s smart display combines Google smarts with good sound

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If you’re looking for a smart display that’s powered by the Google Assistant, you now have two choices: the Lenovo Smart Display and the JBL Link View. Lenovo was first out of the gate with its surprisingly stylish gadget, but it also left room for improvement. JBL, given its heritage as an audio company, is putting the emphasis on sound quality, with stereo speakers and a surprising amount of bass.

In terms of the overall design, the Link View isn’t going to win any prizes, but its pill shape definitely isn’t ugly either. JBL makes the Link View in any color you like, as long as that’s black. It’ll likely fit in with your home decor, though.

The Link View has an 8-inch high-definition touchscreen that is more than crisp enough for the maps, photos and YouTube videos you’ll play on it. In using it for the last two weeks, the screen turned out to be a bit of a fingerprint magnet, but you’d expect that given that I put it on the kitchen counter and regularly used it to entertain myself while waiting for the water to boil.

At the end of the day, you’re not going to spend $250 on a nice speaker with a built-in tablet. What matters most here is whether the visual side of the Google Assistant works for you. I find that it adds an extra dimension to the audio responses, no matter whether that’s weather reports, a map of my daily commute (which can change depending on traffic) or a video news report. Google’s interface for these devices is simple and clear, with large buttons and clearly presented information. And maybe that’s no surprise. These smart speakers are the ideal surface for its Material Design language, after all.

As a demo, Google likes to talk about how these gadgets can help you while cooking, with step-by-step recipes and videos. I find that this is a nice demo indeed, and thought that it would help me get a bit more creative with trying new recipes. In reality, though, I never have the ingredients I need to cook what Google suggests. If you are a better meal planner than I am, your mileage will likely vary.

What I find surprisingly useful is the display’s integration of Google Duo. I’m aware that the Allo/Duo combo is a bit of a flop, but the display does make you want to use Duo because you can easily have a video chat while just doing your thing in the kitchen. If you set up multiple users, the display can even receive calls for all of them. And don’t worry, there is a physical slider you can use to shut down the camera whenever you want.

The Link View also made me appreciate Google’s Assistant routines more (and my colleague Lucas Matney found the same when he tried out the Lenovo Smart Display). And it’s just a bit easier to look at the weather graphics instead of having the Assistant rattle off the temperature for the next couple of days.

Maybe the biggest letdown, though (and this isn’t JBL’s, fault but a feature Google needs to enable) is that you can’t add a smart display to your Google Assistant groups. That means you can’t use it as part of your all-house Google Home audio system, for example. It’s an odd omission for sure, given the Link View’s focus on sound, but my understanding is that the same holds true for the Lenovo Smart Display. If this is a deal breaker for you, then I’d hold off on buying a Google Assistant smart display for the time being.

You can, however, use the display as a Chromecast receiver to play music from your phone or watch videos. While you are not using it, the display can show the current time or simply go to blank.

Another thing that doesn’t work on smart displays yet is Google’s continued “conversation feature,” which lets you add a second command without having to say “OK, Google” again. For now, the smart displays only work in English, too.

When I first heard about these smart displays, I wasn’t sure if they were going to be useful. Turns out, they are. I do live in the Google Assistant ecosystem, though, and I’ve got a few Google Homes set up around my house. If you’re looking to expand your Assistant setup, then the Link View is a nice addition — and if you’re just getting started (or only need one Assistant-enabled speaker/display), then opting for a smart display over a smart speaker may just be the way to go, assuming you can stomach the extra cost.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Indonesian fintech startup Moka raises $24M led by Sequoia India

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Indonesia’s Moka, a startup that helps SMEs and retailers manage payment and other business operations, has pulled in a $24 million Series B round for growth.

The investment is led by Sequoia India and Southeast Asia — which recently announced a new $695 million fund — with participation from new backers SoftBank Ventures Korea, EDBI — the corporate investment arm of Singapore’s Economic Development Board — and EV Growth, the later stage fund from Moka seed investor East Ventures. Existing investors Mandiri Capital, Convergence and Fenox also put into the round.

The deal takes Moka to $27.9 million raised to date, according to data from Crunchbase.

Moka was started four years ago primarily as a point-of-sale (POS) terminal with some basic business functionality. Today, it claims to work with 12,500 retailers in Indonesia and its services include sales reports, inventory management, table management, loyalty programs, and more. Its primary areas of focus are retailers in the F&B, apparel and services industries. It charges upwards of IDR 249,000 ($17) per month for its basic service and claims to be close to $1 billion in annual transaction volume from its retail partners.

That’s the company’s core offering, a mobile app that turns any Android or iOS device into a point-of-sale terminal, but CEO and co-founder Haryanto Tanjo — who started the firm with CTO Grady Laksmono — said it harbors larger goals.

“Our vision is to be a platform, we want to be an ecosystem,” he told TechCrunch in an interview.

That’s where much of this new capital will be invested.

Tanjo said the company is opening its platform up to third-party providers, who can use it to reach merchants with services such as accounting, payroll, HR and more. The focus is initially on local services that cater to SMEs in Indonesia, but as Moka targets larger enterprises as clients, he said that it will integrate larger, global solutions, too.

Moka offers services beyond point-of-sale, but the core offering is turning any smart device into a cash machine

Moka itself is expanding its capabilities on the payment side.

Indonesia, the world’s fourth largest country based on population and Southeast Asia’s largest economy, is in the midst of a fintech revolution with numerous companies pioneering mobile-based wallet services aimed at ending the country’s fixation on cash-based transactions. That’s mean that there are a plethora of options available today. Tanjo said Moka is working to support them all in order to help its merchants grow their businesses and consumers to have easier lives.

There are so many wallets here in Indonesia,” he said. “There are more than 10 right now and maybe in the next few months there’ll be 15-20, we want to be the platform that works with all of them.”

Already it works with the likes of OVO, T-Cash and Akulaku, and e-wallets including DANA and Kredivo. The startup is also working in another area of fintech: loans.

As an extension of its platform, it has tied up with SME loan companies who can reach out to Moka businesses using its platform. With the merchant’s consent, Moka can provide business data — including revenue, profit, etc — to help provide data to assess a loan application. That’s important because the process is particularly challenging in Southeast Asia, where few organized credit checking facilities exist — it makes sense that Moka — which has built its business around encouraging business growth and management — uses the information it has access to help its partners.

Tanjo said the company takes an undisclosed cut of the loan in cases where it has successfully connected the two parties. He said that he doesn’t expect that to initially become a major revenue stream, but over time he anticipates it will help its customer base grow and become a more important source of income for the startup.

Sequoia India has some experience in POS startups having backed Pine Labs in India, which recently landed a big $125 million round from PayPal and Singapore sovereign fund Temasek. Still, there are plenty of local players across various markets in Southeast Asia, including StoreHub, which is backed by Temasek subsidiary Vertex Ventures, and Malaysia’s SoftSpace.

While those two competitors have established a presence in multiple markets in Southeast Asia, Tanjo — the Moka CEO — said there are no plans to venture overseas for at least the next 12 months.

“We’re still scratching the service,” he said. “So doesn’t make sense to expand too soon.”

News Source = techcrunch.com

Anaxi brings more visibility to the development process

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Anaxi‘s mission is to bring more transparency to the software development process. The tool, which is now live for iOS, with web and Android versions planned for the near future, connects to GitHub to give you actionable insights about the state of your projects and manage your projects and issues. Support for Atlassian’s Jira is also in the works.

The new company was founded by former Apple engineering manager and Docker EVP of product development Marc Verstaen and former CodinGame CEO John Lafleur. Unsurprisingly, this new tool is all about fixing the issues these two have seen in their daily lives as developers.

“I’ve been doing software for 40 years,” Verstaen told me.” And every time is the same. You start with a small team and it’s fine. Then you grow and you don’t know what’s going on. It’s a black box.” While the rest of the business world now focuses on data and analytics, software development never quite reached that point. Verstaen argues that this was acceptable until 10 or 15 years ago because only software companies were doing software. But now that every company is becoming a software company, that’s not acceptable anymore.

Using Anaxi, you can easily see all issue reports and pull requests from your GitHub repositories, both public and private. But you also get visual status indicators that tell you when a project has too many blockers, for example, as well as the ability to define your own labels. You also can define due dates for issues.

One interesting aspect of Anaxi is that it doesn’t store all of this information on your phone or on a proprietary server. Instead, it only caches as little information as necessary (including your handles) and then pulls the rest of the information from GitHub as needed. That cache is encrypted on the phone, but for the most part, Anaxi simply relies on the GitHub API to pull in data when needed. There’s a bit of a trade-off here in terms of speed, but Verstaen noted that this also means you always get the most recent data and that GitHub’s API is quite fast and easy to work with.

The service is currently available for free. The company plans to introduce pricing plans in the future, with prices based on the number of developers that use the product inside a company.

News Source = techcrunch.com

With a $10 million round, Nigeria’s Paga plans global expansion

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Nigerian digital payments startup Paga is gearing up for an international expansion with $10 million in funding let by the Global Innovation Fund. 

The company is planning to release its payments product in Ethiopia, Mexico, and the Philippines—CEO Tayo Oviosu told TechCrunch at Disrupt San Francisco.

Paga looks to go head to head with regional and global payment players, such as PayPal, Alipay, and Safaricom’s M-Pesa, according to Oviosu.

“We are not only in a position to compete with them, we’re going beyond them,” he  said of Kenya’s M-Pesa mobile money product. “Our goal is to build a global payment ecosystem across many emerging markets.”

Founded in 2012, Paga has created a multi-channel network and platform to transfer money, pay-bills, and buy things digitally that’s already serving 9 million customers in Nigeria—including 6000 businesses. All of whom can drop into one of Paga’s 17,167 agents or transfer funds from one of Paga’s mobile apps.

Paga products work on iOS, Android, and basic USSD phones using a star, hashtag option. The company has remittance partnerships with the likes of Western Union and Moneytrans and allows for third-party integration of its app.

Paga has also built out considerable scale in home market Nigeria—which boasts the dual distinction as Africa’s most populous nation and largest economy.

Since inception, the startup has processed 57 million transactions worth $3.6 billion, according to Oviosu.

That’s no small feat given the country straddles the challenges and opportunities of growing digital payments. Only recently did Nigeria’s mobile and internet penetration break 50 percent and 40 percent of the country’s 196 million remain unbanked.

To bring more of Nigeria’s masses onto digital commerce, Paga recently launched a new money transfer-app that further simplifies the P2P payment process from mobile devices.

For nearly a decade, Kenya’s M-Pesa—which has 20 million active users and operates abroad—has dominated discussions of mobile money in Africa.

Paga and a growing field of operators are diversifying the continent’s payment playing field.

Fintech company Cellulant raised $47 million in 2019 on its business of processing $350 million in payment transactions across 33 African countries.

In Nigeria, payment infrastructure company Interswitch has expanded across borders and is pursuing an IPO. And Nigerian payment gateway startups Paystack and Flutterwave have digitized volumes of B2B transactions while gaining global investment.

So why does Paga—a Nigerian payments company—believe it can expand its digital payments business abroad?

“Why not us?,” said CEO Oviosu. “People sit in California and listen to Spotify that was developed in Sweden. And Uber started somewhere before going to different countries and figuring out local markets,” he added.

“The team behind this business has worked globally for some of the top tech names. This platform can stand shoulder to shoulder with any payments company built somewhere else,” he said.

On that platform, Oviosu underscores it has positioned itself as a partner, not a rival, to traditional banks. “Our ecosystem is not built to compete with you, it’s actually complimentary to you,” he said of the company’s positioning to big banks—enabling Paga to partner with seven banks in Nigeria.

Paga also sees potential to adapt its model to other regulatory and consumer environments. “We’ve built an infrastructure that rides across all mobile networks,” said Oviosu. “We’re not trying to be a bank. Paga wants to work with the banks and financial institutions to enable a billion people to access and use money,” he said.

As part of the $10 million round (which brings Paga’s total funding up to $35 million), Global Innovation Partners will take a board seat. Other round participants include Goodwell, Adlevo Capital, Omidyar Network, and Unreasonable Capital.

Paga will use the Series B2 to grow its core development team of 25 engineers across countries and continents. It will also continue its due diligence on global expansion—though no hard dates have been announced.

On revenues, Paga makes money on merchant payments, bank to bank transfers, and selling airtime and data. “As we roll out other services, we will build a model where we will make money on savings and lending,” said the company’s CEO.

As for profitability, Paga does not release financials, but reached profitability in 2018, according to Oviosu—something that was confirmed in the due diligence process with round investors.

On the possibility of beating Interswitch (or another venerable startup) to become Africa’s first big tech IPO, Oviosu plays that down. “For the next 3-5 years I see us staying private,” he said.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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