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A look back at the best tech ads of the last 35 years

20:47 | 22 June

Last week the Association of Independent Commercial Producers announced the winners of its annual awards honoring the best moving image marketing of the year and Apple’s “Welcome Home” ad took home the prize for Advertising Excellence in the single commercial category. Directed by Spike Jonze, the person behind movies like Her and Being John Malkovich, the musical short film follows the journey of a young woman, FKA Twigs, as she returns home from a challenging work day to an empty apartment. After asking Siri to “play something [she’d] like” her world is literally transformed as the music of Anderson .Paak’s “Til It’s Over” spills out of her HomePod.

With stunning visuals (most of which were not CGI) and captivating choreography, Jonze breathes life into a product that got mixed reviews after its release in February. This made us think, what other tech commercials have grabbed our attention in the last 35 years and transformed how we think about technology? Here’s a few of our favorites.

 

“1984”

It’s hard to talk about transformative tech ads without mentioning this one first. This Super Bowl ad from 1984 was directed by Ridley Scott (who directed Alien in 1979) and was the world’s introduction to the Macintosh personal computer. The ad draws some not-so-subtle connections between PC consumerism and soulless corporate office spaces of the 80s to George Orwell’s dystopian ‘1984.’

In the commercial, a depiction of Big Brother speaks hypnotically to a mass of identical workers as woman in bright colors streaks through the crowd, mallet in hand. With Olympian effort, she sends it flying into the screen, disrupting the status quo of personal computing and promising the world that with the Macintosh “1984 won’t be like ‘1984′.” 

 

“Dude, You’re Getting a Dell”

Noticeably less high-concept than the introduction of the Macintosh, this 26 commercial campaign still captured a lot of attention in the earlier 2000s. The spots feature a character named Steven – a stereotypical easy-going, cool teenager who has a particular knack for charming parents into buying Dell computers for their families. A popular spot for Dell, the commercials even launched the star Ben Curtis into a little bit of fame himself. The actor recently appeared in a 2017 off-Broadway show ‘The Crusade of Connor Stephens.’

 

“Get a Mac”

Confession time: I loved these commercials as a kid. Like, binge-watched-them-on-Apple .com loved them. This campaign ran for four years between 2006 and 2009 and featured suit-clad John Hodgman as a PC and hoodie-toting Justin Long as a Mac. The commercials put these two computers in direct conversation with each other (quite literally) and highlighted different features of Mac computers (e.g. iMovie, Time Machine and being dual compatible with Windows) against its PC counterparts.

Not biting or hostile, Mac came across as laid-back and creative — everything Apple was telling its customers they could be — and left PC flustered in its wake. In 2010 Adweek declared this campaign the best in the first decade of a new century.

 

“Can You Hear Me Now?”

Stepping outside the world of personal computing, we can’t fail to mention this famous Verizon campaign. These spots ran between 2002 and 2011 and featured a character named Test Man, decked out in a Verizon jacket and large glasses, who traveled around to test the strength of Verizon’s network. Ever thorough, he consistently asks the tech on the other side of the line “can you hear me now?” In 2002 Test Man won an award from Entertainment Weekly for “Most Mysterious Pitchman.”

While the Verizon campaign ended a little under ten years ago, the character has been recently revived — for Sprint. As another campaign of my childhood, this betrayal still stings.

 

“Parisian Love”

You might want to get some tissues ready for this one. This minimalist commercial aired during the Super Bowl in 2010 and follows the love story of a couple from first their first meeting, to marriage and starting a family; all within the window of a Google search. The ad was one of the most popular aired during the game and was actually designed by a handful of ad and design students known as ‘Google 5.’ According to AdAge, the commercial concept was sparked by a comment in a Google brief to “remind people what they love about Google search” and a maxim by Google Creative Lab VP Robert Wong that “the best results don’t show up in a search engine, they show up in your life.”

 

Did we miss any ads that changed how you thought about technology? Let us know in the comments!

 


0

Tech leaders condemn policy leading to family separations at the border

01:04 | 20 June

By now you’ve seen the photos and videos and probably heard the audio tape. The media coming out of the U.S./Mexico border over the past week has been truly heart-wrenching and horrifying, including, most shockingly, images of young children being housed in what amounts to human cages.

Many prominent politicians across the world (and in the G.O.P.) have called out the Trump administration’s policy of separating families at the border. A number of prominent executives from top tech companies have also begun to use their soapbox to address — and largely admonish — the policies that have led to this humanitarian crisis.

Here’s what those individuals are saying.

Microsoft

Microsoft was among the first tech giants to issue a statement about the situation. The official company line was both an admonishment of current administration policy and somewhat defensive after speculation arose that the company’s cloud computing platform Azure may have somehow been involved.

Here’s the full statement issued on Monday:

In response to questions we want to be clear: Microsoft is not working with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement or U.S. Customs and Border Protection on any projects related to separating children from their families at the border, and contrary to some speculation, we are not aware of Azure or Azure services being used for this purpose. As a company, Microsoft is dismayed by the forcible separation of children from their families at the border. Family unification has been a fundamental tenet of American policy and law since the end of World War II. As a company Microsoft has worked for over 20 years to combine technology with the rule of law to ensure that children who are refugees and immigrants can remain with their parents. We need to continue to build on this noble tradition rather than change course now. We urge the administration to change its policy and Congress to pass legislation ensuring children are no longer separated from their families.

Apple

Rather than issuing a public statement, Tim Cook called the situation “inhumane” during a talk in Dublin this week. Apple’s CEO expounded upon that thought during an interview with The Irish Times, telling the paper, “It’s heartbreaking to see the images and hear the sounds of the kids. Kids are the most vulnerable people in any society. I think that what’s happening is inhumane, it needs to stop.”

As far as his own strained relationship with Trump, Cook added diplomatically, “I have spoken with him several times on several issues, and I have found him to listen. I haven’t found that he will agree on all things.”

Google

The stories and images of families being separated at the border are gut-wrenching. Urging our government to work together to find a better, more humane way that is reflective of our values as a nation.

— Sundar Pichai (@sundarpichai)

CEO Sundar Pichai

to urge a more “humane” approach, writing, “The stories and images of families being separated at the border are gut-wrenching. Urging our government to work together to find a better, more humane way that is reflective of our values as a nation.”

Facebook

Organizations like Texas Civil Rights Project and RAICES are doing great work helping families at the US border get…

Posted by Mark Zuckerberg on Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Mark Zuckerberg, naturally, issued a call to action via Facebook. The post is largely a call to action asking followers to donate to nonprofit orgs Texas Civil Rights Project and RAICES, adding, “we need to stop this policy right now.”

Listening to the cries of children separated from their parents is unbearable. The practice of family separation on our…

Posted by Sheryl Sandberg on Tuesday, June 19, 2018

COO Sheryl Sandberg also encouraged users to donate to the two aforementioned charities, though her language was decidedly more pointed than Zuckerberg’s. “Listening to the cries of children separated from their parents is unbearable,” she wrote. “The practice of family separation on our border needs to end now. We can’t look away. How we treat those most vulnerable says a lot about who we are.”

YouTube

Regardless of your politics, it's heartbreaking to see what's happening to families at the border. Here are some ways you can help: https://t.co/IFVG6g8AKO

— Susan Wojcicki (@SusanWojcicki)

In a

, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki wrote, “Regardless of your politics, it’s heartbreaking to see what’s happening to families at the border,” while linking to a list of charities.

Tesla/SpaceX

I hope the kids are ok

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk)

Elon Musk’s

was a bit less…verbose than the rest, simply writing, “I hope the kids are ok” and linking to a YouTube video of “Shelter” by xx.

Airbnb

Ripping children from their parents’ arms is cruel. This policy must end. pic.twitter.com/R2b3FXtxqU

— Brian Chesky (@bchesky)

Airbnb co-founders Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia and Nathan Blecharczyk

on Twitter in both English and Spanish:

Ripping children from the arms of their parents is heartless, cruel, immoral and counter to American values of belonging. The U.S. government needs to stop this injustice and reunite these families. We are a better country than this.

Uber

As a father, a citizen and an immigrant myself, the stories coming from our border break my heart. Families are the backbone of society. A policy that pulls them apart rather than building them up is immoral and just plain wrong.

https://t.co/g2Cu40zvcX

— dara khosrowshahi (@dkhos)

CEO Dara Khosrowshahi cited his own experience as an immigrant to

, writing, “As a father, a citizen and an immigrant myself, the stories coming from our border break my heart. Families are the backbone of society. A policy that pulls them apart rather than building them up is immoral and just plain wrong.”

Lyft

We are taking action to help the families and children that are being unjustly separated at the border by offering

Relief Rides to 12 organizations (including
,
,
)

— johnzimmer (@johnzimmer)

The cofounders of the country’s other major ride sharing service also issued a joint statement condemning the actions. They went a step further, as well, offering free rides to a dozen organizations providing help at the border.

 


0

YouTube rolls its music subscription services into 12 more markets

19:37 | 18 June

YouTube has rolled out its music streaming service to a bunch more international markets, adding 12 new countries today, and also launching the premium music video version of the service across the full 17 markets.

In February CEO YouTube chief executive Susan Wojcicki discussed the company’s ambitious expansion plans for the service, saying it was intending to expand to as many as 100 countries.

The first markets for YouTube Music were the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Mexico and South Korea. The additional markets being added today are: Austria, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Russia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

YouTube launched the streamlining revamp of its subscription service offerings in May, routing a streaming music service, called YouTube Music, in pay monthly and ad-supported flavors (the latter with pared back features), to replace Google Play Music; and also announcing YouTube Premium (formerly called YouTube Red) — for music with video streaming.

It also announced new apps and web player in tandem with the service restructuring — which includes features such as dynamic custom recommendations; expansive search options (search by lyrics or generic description); and “thousands” of playlists across genre, mood and activity.

The audio only YouTube Music offering — which in the US is priced at $9.99 monthly (or $14.99 for a family plan) — is intended to compete with the likes of Spotify and Apple Music. While YouTube Premium includes a full video service, albeit for $2 more ($11.99) per month than the YouTube Red service it replaced. (Or $17.99 per month for a Family Plan.) Though it’s currently running a promotion offering the premium service free for the first three months.

As well as offering ad-free music streaming, YouTube Premium includes background listening/playing and downloads across all the platform. Members also get access to all YouTube Originals shows and movies.

The company says current members of YouTube Red and Google Play Music members (including family plans) in the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, and Mexico will automatically receive access to YouTube Premium at their current price.

While Google Play Music subscribers in all other countries will automatically receive access to YouTube Music Premium at their current price as it becomes available in their markets. It also claims nothing is changing for subscribers of Google Play Music — saying users will still be able to access all their purchased music, uploads and playlists.

 


0

AI edges closer to understanding 3D space the way we do

00:51 | 15 June

If I show you single picture of a room, you can tell me right away that there’s a table with a chair in front of it, they’re probably about the same size, about this far from each other, with the walls this far away — enough to draw a rough map of the room. Computer vision systems don’t have this intuitive understanding of space, but the latest research from DeepMind brings them closer than ever before.

The new paper from the Google -owned research outfit was published today in the journal Science (complete with news item). It details a system whereby a neural network, knowing practically nothing, can look at one or two static 2D images of a scene and reconstruct a reasonably accurate 3D representation of it. We’re not talking about going from snapshots to full 3D images (Facebook’s working on that) but rather replicating the intuitive and space-conscious way that all humans view and analyze the world.

When I say it knows practically nothing, I don’t mean it’s just some standard machine learning system. But most computer vision algorithms work via what’s called supervised learning, in which they ingest a great deal of data that’s been labeled by humans with the correct answers — for example, images with everything in them outlined and named.

This new system, on the other hand, has no such knowledge to draw on. It works entirely independently of any ideas of how to see the world as we do, like how objects’ colors change towards their edges, how they get bigger and smaller as their distance changes, and so on.

It works, roughly speaking, like this. One half of the system is its “representation” part, which can observe a given 3D scene from some angle, encoding it in a complex mathematical form called a vector. Then there’s the “generative” part, which, based only on the vectors created earlier, predicts what a different part of the scene would look like.

(A video showing a bit more of how this works is available here.)

Think of it like someone hand you a couple pictures of a room, then asking you to draw what you’d see if you were standing in a specific spot in it. Again, this is simple enough for us, but computers have no natural ability to do it; their sense of sight, if we can call it that, is extremely rudimentary and literal, and of course machines lack imagination.

Yet there are few better words that describe the ability to say what’s behind something when you can’t see it.

“It was not at all clear that a neural network could ever learn to create images in such a precise and controlled manner,” said lead author of the paper, Ali Eslami, in a release accompanying the paper. “However we found that sufficiently deep networks can learn about perspective, occlusion and lighting, without any human engineering. This was a super surprising finding.”

It also allows the system to accurately recreate a 3D object from a single viewpoint, such as the blocks shown here:

I’m not sure I could do that.

Obviously there’s nothing in any single observation to tell the system that some part of the blocks extends forever away from the camera. But it creates a plausible version of the block structure regardless that is accurate in every way. Adding one or two more observations requires the system to rectify multiple views, but results in an even better representation.

This kind of ability is critical for robots especially because they have to navigate the real world by sensing it and reacting to what they see. With limited information, such as some important clue that’s temporarily hidden from view, they can freeze up or make illogical choices. But with something like this in their robotic brains, they could make reasonable assumptions about, say, the layout of a room without having to ground-truth every inch.

“Although we need more data and faster hardware before we can deploy this new type of system in the real world,” Eslami said, “it takes us one step closer to understanding how we may build agents that learn by themselves.”

 


0

Here are the experts who will help shape Europe’s AI policy

14:03 | 14 June

The European Commission has announced the names of 52 experts from across industry, business and civil society who it has appointed to a new High Level Group on AI which will feed its strategy and policymaking around artificial intelligence.

In April the EU’s executive body outlined its approach to AI technology, setting out measures intended to increase public and private investment; prepare for socio-economic changes; and ensure an appropriate ethical and legal framework.

The High Level Group is a key part of the Commission’s AI strategy as the experts will feed its policymaking here by making detailed recommendations on ethical, legal and societal issues.

The EC put out a call for experts for this “broad multi-stakeholder forum” back in March.

The group announced today is comprised of 30 men and 22 women, and includes industry representatives from AXA, Bayer, Bosch, BMW, Element AI, Google, IBM, Nokia Bell Labs, Orange, Santander, SAP, Sigfox, STMicroelectronics, Telenor and Zalando.

Google is represented by Jakob Uszkoreit, an AI Researcher in the Google Brain team.

Also in the group: Jaan Tallinn, a founding engineer of Skype and Kazaa, and a former investor in and director of the Google-acquired AI company DeepMind.

European civil society bodies represented in the forum include consumer rights group BEUC; digital rights group Access Now; algorithmic transparency advocacy group AlgorithmWatch; the EESC civil society association; the ETUC which advocates for workers rights and well being; and Austrian association that supports the blind and visually impaired.

The list also includes representatives from several technology associations, along with political advisers and policy wonks, and academics and legal experts of various stripes.

The full list is here.

Towards a comprehensive AI strategy

Back in April the Commission said it hoped to be able to announce a “coordinated plan on AI” by the end of the year — after saying, in March, that a “comprehensive European strategy on AI” was on the way “in the coming months”.

“As any technology that has a direct impact on people’s lives and work, the emergence of AI also raises legitimate concerns that should be addressed to build trust and raise awareness,” it wrote then. “Given the broad impact AI is expected to have, the full participation of all actors including businesses, academics, policy makers, consumer organisations, trade unions, and other representatives of the civil society is essential.”

The multi-stakeholder forum is also intended to serve as the steering group for the work of another, even broader multi-stakeholder forum — also announced in April, and called the European AI Alliance — which the Commission said will include an online platform to allow for anyone who wants to participate to sign up and join in the discussion.

So the High Level Group is basically an AI expert talking shop intended to support this more public AI talking shop — to try to achieve some kind of pan-EU consensus on how to respond to the myriad socio-economic and ethical challenges that flow from the increasingly use and capabilities of autonomous technologies.

In terms of specific tasks for the group, the Commission says it will be tasked to:

  • advise it on next steps addressing “AI-related mid to long-term challenges and opportunities”, feeding policy development, legislative evaluation and next-gen digital strategy;
  • propose draft AI ethics guidelines — covering issues such as “fairness, safety, transparency, the future of work, democracy and more broadly the impact on the application of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, including privacy and personal data protection, dignity, consumer protection and non-discrimination”;
  • and help with “further engagement and outreach mechanisms to interact with a broader set of stakeholders in the context of the AI Alliance, share information and gather their input on the group’s and the Commission’s work”

 


0

Salesforce deepens data sharing partnership with Google

15:00 | 13 June

Last Fall at Dreamforce, Salesforce announced a deepening friendship with Google . That began to take shape in January with integration between Salesforce CRM data and Google Analytics 360 and Google BigQuery. Today, the two cloud giants announced the next step as the companies will share data between Google Analytics 360 and the Salesforce Marketing Cloud.

This particular data sharing partnership makes even more sense as the companies can share web analytics data with marketing personnel to deliver ever more customized experiences for users (or so the argument goes, right?).

That connection certainly didn’t escape Salesforce’s VP of product marketing, Bobby Jania. “Now, marketers are able to deliver meaningful consumer experiences powered by the world’s number one marketing platform and the most widely adopted web analytics suite,” Jania told TechCrunch.

Brent Leary, owner of the consulting firm CRM Essentials says the partnership is going to be meaningful for marketers. “The tighter integration is a big deal because a large portion of Marketing Cloud customers are Google Analytics/GA 360 customers, and this paves the way to more seamlessly see what activities are driving successful outcomes,” he explained.

The partnership involves four integrations that effectively allow marketers to round-trip data between the two platforms. For starters, consumer insights from both Marketing Cloud and Google Analytics 360, will be brought together into a single analytics dashboard inside Marketing Cloud. Conversely, Market Cloud data will be viewable inside Google Analytics 360 for attribution analysis and also to use the Marketing Cloud information to deliver more customized web experiences. All three of these integrations will be generally available starting today.

A fourth element of the partnership being announced today won’t be available in Beta until the third quarter of this year. “For the first time ever audiences created inside the Google Analytics 360 platform can be activated outside of Google. So in this case, I’m able to create an audience inside of Google Analytics 360 and then I’m able to activate that audience in Marketing Cloud,” Jania explained.

An audience is like a segment, so if you have a group of like-minded individuals in the Google analytics tool, you can simply transfer it to Salesforce Marketing Cloud and send more relevant emails to that group.

This data sharing capability removes a lot of the labor involved in trying to monitor data stored in two places, but of course it also raises questions about data privacy. Jania was careful to point out that the two platforms are sharing metadata, rather than specific information about individual consumers, which could be in violation of the new GDPR data privacy rules that went into effect in Europe at the end of last month.

“What we’re [we’re sharing] is either metadata or aggregated reporting results. Just to be clear there’s no personal identifiable data that is flowing between the systems so everything here is 100% GDPR-compliant,” Jania said.

But Leary says it might not be so simple, especially in light of recent data sharing abuses. “With Facebook having to open up about how they’re sharing consumer data with other organizations, companies like Salesforce and Google will have to be more careful than ever before about how the consumer data they make available to their corporate customers will be used by them. It’s a whole new level of scrutiny that has to be apart of the data sharing equation,” Leary said.

The announcements were made today at the Salesforce Connections conference taking place in Chicago this week.

 


0

Google puts an end to Chrome extension installs from third-party sites

20:00 | 12 June

Google today announced a major change to its Chrome Web Store policy that aims to shield users from websites that try to fool them into installing their Chome extensions. Until now, developers who publish their apps in the Web Store, could also initiate app and extension installs from their own websites. Too often, though, developers combined these so-called ‘inline installs‘ with deceptive information on their sites to get users to install them. Unsurprisingly, that’s not quite the experience Google had in mind when it enabled this feature back in 2011, so now it’s shutting it down.

Starting today, inline installation will be unavailable to all newly published extensions. Developers who use the standard method for calling for an install from their site will see that their users will get redirected to the Chrome Web Store to complete the installation.

Come September 12, 2018, all inline installs of existing extensions will be shut down and users will be redirected to the store, too. Come December and the launch of Chrome 71, the API that currently allows for this way of installing extensions will go away.

“As we’ve attempted to address this problem over the past few years, we’ve learned that the information displayed alongside extensions in the Chrome Web Store plays a critical role in ensuring that users can make informed decisions about whether to install an extension,” James Wagner, the product manager for the extensions platform, writes in today’s update. “When installed through the Chrome Web Store, extensions are significantly less likely to be uninstalled or cause user complaints, compared to extensions installed through inline installation.”

As Wagner notes, inline installations have been an issue for a long time. Back in 2015, for example, sites that tried to deceive users into installing extensions by getting them to click on fake ads or error messages were the main issue.

 


0

Google brings offline neural machine translations for 59 languages to its Translate app

20:00 | 12 June

Currently, when the Google Translate apps for iOS and Android has access to the internet, its translations are far superior to those it produces when it’s offline. That’s because the offline translations are phrase-based, meaning they use an older machine translation technique than the machine learning-powered systems in the cloud that the app has access to when it’s online. But that’s changing today. Google is now rolling out offline Neural Machine Translation (NMT) support for 59 languages in the Translate apps.

Today, only a small number of users will see the updated offline translations, but it will roll out to all users within the next few weeks.

The list of supported languages consists of a wide range of languages. Because I don’t want to play favorites, here is the full list: Afrikaans, Albanian, Arabic, Belarusian, Bengali, Bulgarian, Catalan, Chinese, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Esperanto, Estonian, Filipino, Finnish, French, Galician, Georgian, German, Greek, Gujarati, Haitian, Creole, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Icelandic, Indonesian, Irish, Italian, Japanese, Jannada, Korean, Lavtian, Lithuanian, Macedonian, Malay, Maltese, Marathi, Norwegian, Persian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish, Swahili, Swedish, Tamil, Telugu, Thai, Turkish, Ukrainian, Urdu, Vietnamese and Welsh.

In the past, running these deep learning models on a mobile device wasn’t really an option since mobile phones didn’t have the right hardware to efficiently run them. Now, thanks to both advances in hardware and software, that’s less of an issue and Google, Microsoft and others have also found ways to compress these models to a manageable size. In Google’s case, that’s about 30 to 40 megabytes per language.

It’s worth noting that Microsoft also announced a similar feature for its Translator app earlier this year. It uses a very similar technique but for the time being, it only supports about a dozen languages.

 

 


0

YugaByte’s new database software rakes in $16 million so developers can move to any cloud

16:46 | 12 June

Looking to expand the footprint of its toolkit giving developers a unified database software that can work for both relational and post-relational databases, YugaByte has raised $16 million in a new round of funding.

For company co-founder, Kannan Muthukkaruppan, the new database software liberates developers from the risk of lock-in with any provider of cloud compute as the leading providers at Amazon, Microsoft and Google jockey for the pole position among software developers and reduces programming complexity.

“YugaByte DB makes it possible for organizations to standardize on a single, distributed database to support a multitude of workloads requiring both SQL and NoSQL capabilities. This speeds up the development of applications while at the same time reduces operational complexity and licensing costs,” said Kannan Muthukkaruppan, co-founder and chief executive of YugaByte, in a statement. 

Muthukkaruppan and his fellow co-founders know their way around database software. Alongside Karthik Ranganathan and Mikhail Bautin, Muthukkaruppan built the NoSQL platform that powered Facebook Messenger and its internal time series monitoring system. Before that Ranganthan and Muthukkaruppan had spent time working at Oracle . And after Facebook the two men were integral to the development of Nutanix’s hybrid infrastructure.

“These are tens of petabytes of data handling tens of millions of messages a day,” says Muthukkaruppan.

Rangantahan and Muthukkaruppan left Nutanix in 2016 to begin working on YugaByte’s database software. What’s important, founders and investors stress is that YugaByte breaks any chains that would bind software developers to a single platform or provider.

While developers can move applications from one cloud provider to another, they have to maintain multiple databases across these systems so that they inter-operate.

“YugaByte’s value proposition is strong for both CIOs, who can avoid cloud vendor lock-in at the database layer, and for developers, who don’t have to re-architect existing applications because of YugaByte’s built-in native compatibility to popular NoSQL and SQL interfaces,” said Deepak Jeevankumar,  a managing director at Dell Technologies Capital

Jeevankumar’s firm co-led the latest $16 million financing for YugaByte alongside previous investor Lightspeed Venture Partners.

What attracted Lightspeed and Dell’s new investment arm was the support the company has from engineers in the trenches, like Ian Andrews, the vice president of products at Pivotal. “YugaByte is going to be interesting to any enterprise requiring an elastic data tier for their cloud-native applications,” Andrews said in a statement. “Even more so if they have a requirement to operate across multiple clouds or in a Kubernetes environment.” 

With new software infrastructure, portability is critical, since data needs to move between and among different software architectures.

The problem is that traditional databases have a hard time scaling, and new database technologies aren’t incredibly reliable when it comes to data consistency and durability. So developers have been using legacy database software from folks like Oracle and PostgreSQL for their systems of record and then new database software like Microsoft Azure’s CosmosDB, Amazon’s DynamoDB, Apache’s Cassandra (which the fellas used at Facebook), or MongoDB for distributed transactions for applications (things like linear write/read scalability, plus auto-rebalancing, sharding and failover).

With YugaByte, software developers get support for Apache Cassandra and Redis APIs, along with support for PostgreSQL, which the company touts as the best of both the relational and post-relational database worlds.

Now that the company has $16 million more in the bank, it can begin spreading the word about the benefits of its new database software, says Muthukkaruppan.

“With the additional funding we will accelerate investments in engineering, sales and customer success to scale our support for enterprises looking to bring their business-critical data to the cloud,” he said in a statement. 

 


0

The largest buys of tech’s Big Five: a look at M&A deals

19:30 | 10 June

In startup land, the mandate is to get bought, go public or die trying.

And, as far as getting bought goes, one of tech’s Big Five could be a desirable acquirer. They have a lot of weight to throw around. Alphabet (the parent company of Google), AmazonAppleFacebook and Microsoft account for a titanic amount of market value — close to $3.9 trillion at time of writing. At least, that’s according to Crunchbase News’s dashboard of notable tech stocks.

When challenged by one another, these hulking behemoths of the tech sector more often fight than flee. And when challenged by a scrappy upstart, it is likely that they will gobble up the talent, technology and business of any aspiring competitor. It’s the circle of life.

And it’s those acquisitions we’re going to look at here.

Taken together, tech’s Big Five account for a relatively small portion of the overall M&A market. The chart below shows the number of acquisitions made by members of tech’s Big Five from 2007 through 2017. (For reference, Crunchbase records thousands of acquisitions per year.)

But what the Big Five lack in quantity is made up for in size. If you’ll forgive the big-game pun, acquisitions by Big Five account for a lion’s share of big deals in dollar terms.

So, for each of the Big Five, let’s see just how big some of those deals got. We base our analysis on Crunchbase data that, whenever possible, has been cross-checked with public news sources and regulatory filings. We’ll proceed from the most valuable (in market capitalization terms) to the least.

Apple

Despite being the most valuable among the Big Five, Apple’s acquisitions are not just among the smallest of the bunch, but also the least disclosed. In other words, out of the deals listed in Crunchbase and elsewhere, most of them don’t have dollar values attached to them. This may speak to Apple’s secretiveness and its tendency to build most of its products and services in-house.

Apple’s biggest M&A deal to date was its $3 billion buyout of Beats Electronics, which is perhaps best known for its flashy wireless headphones. But it’s not the headphones that caught Apple’s eye. Rather, it was its streaming service, which Apple CEO Tim Cook told ReCode’s Peter Kafka was “the first subscription service that really got it right.”

Including the Beats deal, here are the largest M&A deals we were able to find.

Amazon

It’s hard to find a business vertical Amazon isn’t somehow involved in. Web hosting? Check. White-labeled staples like batteries and paper towels? Check. Doorbells? Check. They apparently sell books online, too.

Now, in all seriousness, Amazon’s $13.7 billion buyout of Whole Foods in June 2017 brought the online shopping giant squarely into the world of brick-and-mortar retail as well. And while the Whole Foods deal was Amazon’s biggest splurge to date, it’s certainly not alone in the company’s collection of commerce company buys. These include Amazon’s buyout of Quidsi (the parent company of Diapers.com and Soap.com, which was the first to offer the free two-day shipping for which Amazon Prime is famous), footwear and clothing retailer Zappos, and Middle Eastern e-commerce site Souq.com.

Alphabet

Of tech’s big five, Alphabet is the most acquisitive, and it makes the most corporate venture investments. It’s also the company with the most complicated corporate structure. Recall that Alphabet is the parent organization of Google, and it’s Google which has made the surpassing majority of Alphabet acquisitions.

But for all the resources Alphabet has put toward M&A, its acquisitiveness resulted in a rather mixed bag of results. Most glaring amongst its duds is its $3.2 billion buyout of Nest Labs and, relatedly, the $555 million spent on Dropcam (which would later be rebranded as part of Nest’s home security offering).

Nest reportedly failed to meet revenue expectations and seize a dominant position in the connected home market, ceding ground to incumbents like Honeywell. And there are plenty of scrappy upstarts nipping Nest’s heels in markets like home security, smart doorbells and smart locks.

This being said, then-Google’s YouTube deal is likely Alphabet’s best acquisition from an ROI perspective. Although Alphabet doesn’t break out YouTube’s revenue, some good estimates and public market comps suggest the video streaming unit could be worth a cool $100 billion.

Microsoft

Microsoft made news this week by announcing its acquisition of software version control and code hosting platform GitHub for $7.5 billion. And, at this point, it seems like Microsoft is timing announcements of its biggest deals just to dunk on Apple. Myke Hurley, a tech podcaster and the founder of Relay FM, observed 

 that Microsoft’s 2016 acquisition of LinkedIn and its GitHub deal were both announced on the opening day of Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference.

Apart from cheeky timing, you will notice that Microsoft has made the largest M&A deals among tech’s Big Five.

Facebook

Of the Big Five companies in tech, Facebook’s M&A patterns seem to be the most binary. Its deals are either tiny or humongous. There isn’t much of a middle ground.

Some of Facebook’s biggest acquisitions present a case study of acquiring one’s way to nearly insurmountable market dominance. Although its acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp didn’t cause much of a stir at the time, today these deals are seen as a cautionary case for current and future antitrust regulators.

On a brighter note, though, Facebook’s M&A record is also a lesson in the “buy versus build” dilemma many companies face. It’s sometimes more expedient to buy a company (and, critically, its engineering team) than to build new features from scratch. For many of the smaller deals listed here, we can see that Facebook opted to buy.

The Big Five’s acquisitions in perspective

At the very top of the tech food chain, the Big Five are in a unique position, and not just as rainmakers for VCs seeking liquidity.

Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft are some of the most powerful companies operating today, and their acquisitions tell part of the story of how they got to prominent positions in the first place.

Although some acquisitions appear to come out of the blue, it’s important to remember that one doesn’t just buy a company for the heck of it. There’s a strategic motivation for these deals at the time they’re made. And when these deals are struck, they can telegraph the company’s future plans.

 


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