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The Amazon Glow is a somewhat buggy blast

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The Amazon Glow is a somewhat buggy blast

I’m annoyed that the magic black box on the table occasionally seems unable to track my hands.

My three-year-old, meanwhile, doesn’t seem to mind at all. He’s laughing so hard he can barely breath as he repeatedly vacuums up dinosaurs his grandma is putting on the table from 200 miles away.

I suppose none of that really makes sense out of context, so let’s rewind a bit.

We’re playing with Amazon Glow — the new one, not to be confused with the other thing Amazon named “Glow” just two years ago.

Take a touchscreen and make it stand upright on its own. Give it a projector that can blast images onto the table in front of it, and two cameras — one to capture video of the person in front of it, and another, pointed at the table, to detect where your hands are and let that projected image act like a touch screen. That’s the Glow.

Image Credits: Amazon

The Glow is meant to let kids* play, read, and video chat with a strictly curated list of family and friends from afar. The screen up top always shows the person they’re talking to. What they see projected on the table, Grandma — or whoever — sees on their tablet. When Grandma turns the page in her book, the page on the kid’s end turns as well. When one side draws, the other sees it too.

(* “3 and up”, Amazon suggests, but in its current form I’d probably cap it at 3-8.)

The whole thing is built up around Amazon Kids+, a premium subscription service (separate from Prime) full of kids books, games, movies, and TV shows. Only the books and a handful of games work with the Glow; video content doesn’t show up on the Glow, which is probably the right call or my kid would just demand Blippi 100% of the time. Kids+ is free for a year with the purchase of a Glow, after which it costs $3 (or $5, if you don’t have Amazon Prime) per month.

The book selection seems good, particularly for a younger audience. The games are all simple, multiplayer-y things like memory matching, chess, a pong style arcade game, and a drawing app that throws me back hard to the days of sitting at my dad’s computer for hours on end to draw in Kid Pix. Except this time it’s projected onto a table, and my kid is co-op drawing with his grandma across the state. She places a dinosaur sticker on the screen; he uses the vacuum (erase) tool to gobble it up. They both laugh. Rinse and repeat about a million times.

Each person a kid can call has to be explicitly whitelisted by their parent’s account, and has to have an Amazon account. Getting that set up might take a bit depending on how savvy the other person is — but once it’s all configured, you won’t have to do it again. I like that whitelisting system because it means my kid probably won’t accidentally end up talking to a stranger.

The Glow is a device very much born from the pandemic, and from a time when seeing family in person — especially older members of the family — can feel like tempting fate.

“But wait,” you ask. “If they just want to talk with Grandma remotely, can’t they just FaceTime while using a reading app or something?”

Yes! Of course. And yet…

There’s something different about the Glow. My kid treats it entirely different from FaceTimes, or Zooms, or whatever. It feels different to me, too.

Image Credits: Greg Kumparak

Something about the design gives the person you’re chatting with… presence? Maybe it’s because you can’t really move the Glow around during a call; there’s no battery, so it flips off the second you unplug it from the wall. Maybe it’s because you’re interacting with something on the table and then looking up to someone on a separate/dedicated screen, nearly eye-to-eye. It feels less like staring at a screen, more like sitting at a table around a boardgame.

Whatever the case, it’s weirdly effective. My kid will usually spend about 5 minutes FaceTiming with Grandma, showing her his toys, and then running off to do something else. When I ask if he wants to call Grandma now, he specifically requests they “glow” (using it as a verb) instead. He’ll gladly sit in front of the Glow playing and reading with Grandma for a solid hour, bugs be damned.

Ah, right, the bugs.

The Glow is sort of strange in that it’s kind of out now, but also kind of not. It’s part of Amazon’s “Day 1 Editions” program, which is really a more marketable way of saying “products you buy when they’re still in beta.” You request an “invite,” Amazon chooses who gets to buy it, and said chosen ones get to play with things a bit early while Amazon tinkers. It costs $250 if you get it as part of the Day 1 program, and will cost $299 after that.

In a program like that, bugs come with the territory. And the Glow, as it currently exists at the end of 2021, has them. It fails to detect touches somewhat frequently (it seems particularly iffy when the kid is wearing longer sleeves), making a “KLONK” sound and throwing up an error (for both users!) when it gets confused. Books and games occasionally fail to load. Sometimes it just randomly resets.

There are also some bits that are less bugs, more just rough. Such as:

  • For some reason, the caller on the Glow’s screen tends to end up with half their face cut off, as pictured above. I think it’s because the Glow screen is portrait (taller than it is wide) mode, while the person calling will generally be in landscape (wider than it is tall) mode. Meanwhile, the caller generally can’t see their own face most of the time — just the kid’s, and a view of what the kid is seeing projected — so they don’t know it’s happening. At first I thought it was just that person not knowing how to position their tablet. Then it happened with another person. Then I called my kid on the Glow from another room, and my wife laughed at me for ending up with a cut-off face after maybe three minutes. Amazon should probably build in some Center Stage-style face following to account for that.
  • A number of books in Amazon Kid’s library don’t look great on these screens, with words that are too small for either side to read. There’s a “Bubble” mode that automatically tries to zoom in on these words to make them more readable; more often than not, it just gets in the way. Sometimes this mode just switches itself on, confusing anyone who hasn’t encountered it before.
  • The UI, overall, can be slow and oddly formatted.

All of these things seem like ones that can be fixed. And I hope Amazon does! Because with a bit more polish, and more content added over time, the Glow could be a really, really sweet little device. But how much love it gets from here is unclear; we’ve had it around our house for weeks now and, if there’s been patches, they’ve been… subtle.

But even in its current form, there’s a lot I like. The projected screen is nice and bright, picking up some extra brightness and tactility from a bright white roll-out mat included in the box. I’ve never had to adjust the room’s lighting to make it work. It’s very quick to set up and tear down if you don’t want it sitting out all the time — something Amazon clearly considered, as the box it comes in acts as a very nice, durable storage container. If you do want it out all the time, there’s a physical shutter switch you can use to cover the camera for added privacy. I also like that Amazon promises to replace it for free if it breaks in the first two years, because, well, kids break things.

But my kid doesn’t care about that stuff, either. He just wants to vacuum up more dinosaurs.

I like to end my reviews with a simple question: once I send this loaner review unit back, would I buy it? In this case, I already have. Or, at least, I’ve requested an invite to buy one. Partly because I think my kid would be very bummed if he couldn’t “glow with grandma” again, and partly because I honestly just like that uniquely physical presence it gives his grandparents when they call.

Should you? If your kid is already content with FaceTiming their grandparents, maybe not. If books and drawing and basic games won’t keep them interested, maybe not. If you’re not willing to put up with a bug or three while Amazon figures out what this thing means for them in the long run, maybe not. But if that all sounds fine, it really is a lot of fun.

Source: Tech

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Dashworks is a search engine for your company’s sprawling internal knowledge

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As a company grows, the amount of important information employees need to keep track of inevitably grows right along with it. And, as your tech stack gets more complicated, that information ends up split up across more places — buried in Slack threads, tucked into Jira tickets, pushed as files on Dropbox, etc.

Dashworks is a startup aiming to be the go-to place for all of that internal knowledge. Part landing page and part search engine, it hooks into dozens of different enterprise services and gives you one hub to find what you need.

On the landing page front, Dashworks is built to be your work laptop’s homepage. It’s got support for broadcasting company wide announcements, building out FAQs, and sharing bookmarks for the things you often need and can never find — your handbooks, your OKRs, your org charts, etc.

More impressive, though, is its cross-tool search. With backgrounds in natural language processing at companies like Facebook and Cresta, co-founders Prasad Kawthekar and Praty Sharma are building a tool that allow you to ask Dashworks questions and have them answered from the knowledge it’s gathered across all of those aforementioned Slack threads, or Jira tickets, or Dropbox files. It’ll give you a search results page of relevant files across the services you’ve hooked in — but if it thinks it knows the answer to your question, it’ll just bubble that answer right to the top of the page, Google Snippets style.

Image Credits: Dashworks

Right now Dashworks can hook into over 30 different popular services, including Airtable, Asana, Confluence, Dropbox, Gmail, Google Drive, Intercom, Jira, Notion, Slack, Salesforce, Trello, and a whole bunch more — with more on the way, prioritized by demand.

Giving another company access to all of those services and the knowledge within might be unsettling — something the Dashworks team seems quite aware of. Kawthekar tells me that their product is SOC-2 certified, that all respective data is wiped from their servers if you choose to disconnect a service, and that, for teams that are equipped to host the tool themselves, they offer a fully on-prem version.

This week Dashworks is announcing that it raised a $4M round led by Point72 ventures, backed by South Park Commons, Combine Fund, Garuda Ventures, GOAT Capital, Unpopular Ventures, and Starling Ventures. Also backing the round is a number of angels, including Twitch co-founder Emmett Shear and Gusto co-founders Josh Reeves and Tomer London. The company was also a part of Y Combinator’s W20 class.

Image Credits: Dashworks

Source: Tech

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Daily Crunch: Google will offer G Suite legacy edition users a ‘no-cost option’

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To get a roundup of TechCrunch’s biggest and most important stories delivered to your inbox every day at 3 p.m. PST, subscribe here.

Hello and welcome to Daily Crunch for January 28, 2022! It’s nearly blizzard o’clock where I am, so please enjoy the following newsletter as my final missive before hunkering down. In happier and better news, TechCrunch Early Stage is coming up in just a few months and not only am I hype about it, I’ll hopefully be there IRL. See you soon! – Alex

The TechCrunch Top 3

  • Google invests up to $1B in Airtel: With a $700 million investment and $300 million in “multi-year commercial agreements” with Airtel, and Indian telco, Google has made its second major bet on Indian infra. Recall that Google also put money into Jio, another Indian telco. The deal underscores the importance of the country in the future of technology revenues.
  • What’s ahead for Europe: On the heels of news that European startups had an outsized 2021 when it came to fundraising, TechCrunch explored what’s ahead for the continent. Some expect a slowdown from peak activity, while others anticipate further acceleration. Regardless of which perspective you favor, European venture investment is expected to remain elevated for some time to come.
  • Zapp raises $200M: And speaking of European startups, Zapp, the U.K.-based quick-convenience delivery startup, just raised a massive Series B. The company previously raised $100 million, meaning that this round was big in absolute and comparative terms. As we see some consolidation in the fast-delivery space, this deal caught our eye.

Startups/VC

  • Are charter cities the future for African tech growth? TechCrunch’s Tage Kene-Okafor has a great piece up on the site noting that “African cities have the fastest global urban growth rate,” which is leading to overcrowding. Some folks think that “charter cities offer a solution.” Special economic zones of all types have been tried before – will they offer African tech a faster route forward?
  • Personalized learning is hot: Our in-house edtech expert Natasah Mascarenhas has a great piece out today on personalized learning startups – Learnfully, Wayfinder, Empowerly, and others – that are taking the lessons of remote schooling to heart and working to make products that work better for our kids. It’s an encouraging, fascinating story.
  • Rise wants to remake team calendaring: There is no shortage of apps in the market to help individuals and teams work together. But we might not need as many as we have. That’s why Rise is making me think. The team calendaring app just raised a few million, and could replace a few tools that myself and friends use. I wonder if the solution to the Tool Overload of 2022 is tools that do less, intentionally.
  • Canvas wants non-tech folks to be able to squeeze answers from data: Developers are in short supply, so no-code tools that allow folks who don’t sling code to do their own building are blowing up. Similarly, a general dearth of data science talent in the market is creating space for tools like Canvas, which “is going all in with a spreadsheet-like interface for non-technical teams to access the information they need without bothering data teams,” TechCrunch reports.
  • Zigbang buys Samsung IoT business: The IoT promises of yesteryear are coming true, and not. Samsara recently went public on the back of its IoT business. That was a win for the category. That Zigbang, a South Korean proptech startup, is buying Samsung’s IoT unit feels slightly less bullish.
  • Series F-tw? Once upon a time I would have mocked a Series F as indication that the company in question had failed to go public. But that was then. Today Series Fs are not that rare. Indian B2B marketplace Moglix just raised one, which doubled its valuation to $2.6 billion. Tiger co-led the $250 million round.

And if you are looking down the barrel of a blizzard, TechCrunch’s Equity podcast has your downtime covered. Enjoy!

European, North American edtech startups see funding triple in 2021

Image Credits: Bet_Noire (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Pre-pandemic, VCs were notoriously reluctant to invest in education-related companies. Today, edtech startups are seeing higher average deal sizes, more seed and pre-seed funding from non-VC investors, and an influx of generalists.

According to Rhys Spence, head of research at Brighteye Ventures, funding for edtech startups based in Europe and North America trebled over the last year.

“Exciting companies are spawning across geographies and verticals, and even generalist investors are building conviction that the sector is capable of producing the same kind of outsized returns generated in fintech, healthtech and other sectors,” writes Spence.

(TechCrunch+ is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Big Tech Inc.

  • Northern Light Venture Capital’s He Huang says the Chinese robotics market is overheated: Per the investor, robotics in China is “riddled with speculation and overvalued companies,” calling the situation a bubble. It’s worth noting that China’s central government is working to retool where its tech investment dollars flow.
  • Robinhood goes down, back up: This morning, in the wake of the company’s lackluster earnings report, TechCrunch dug through why Robinhood’s stock sold off in after-hours, pre-market, and early trading sessions yesterday and today. And then Robinhood turned around and gained ample ground during the rest of the day. It’s a weird market moment, but good news for the U.S. fintech all the same.
  • Google to allow legacy G Suite users to move to free accounts: After angering techies still using the “G Suite legacy free edition” by announcing that it was ending the program and requiring payment, the search giant has decided to ”offer more options to existing users,” TechCrunch reports. Somewhere inside of Google, a business decision just met the market and was flipped on its head. Makes you wonder who is calling the shots over there, and if they previously worked for McKinsey.

TechCrunch Experts

Image Credits: SEAN GLADWELL / Getty Images

TechCrunch wants you to recommend growth marketers who have expertise in SEO, social, content writing and more! If you’re a growth marketer, pass this survey along to your clients; we’d like to hear about why they loved working with you.

Source: Tech

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3 experiments for early-stage founders seeking product-market fit

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At Human Ventures, we have a fund for pre-seed and seed-stage investments, a venture studio and an Entrepreneur in Residence (EIR) program.

Through this work, we’ve discovered a lot about how different founders fulfill their journey of customer discovery and product-market fit. One of the largest challenges for pre-seed and seed stage founders is determining where to start: There are a million things to do. What should you do at each stage?

We interviewed three founders from our portfolio, all of whom ran discovery experiments to find their product-market fit at different stages of their company’s development.

Here’s what they had to share:

Pre-MVP/customer discovery phase: Tiny Organics

Tiny Organics is a plant-based baby and toddler food company on a mission to shape childrens’ palates so they’ll choose and love vegetables from their earliest days. The company raised $11 million in their Series A in 2021 and is growing at over 500% annually.

Founders Sofia Laurell and Betsy Fore joined our venture studio as EIRs and went through a six-week discovery sprint. As Sofia explains, they knew they wanted to build something to make parents’ lives easier and threw a lot of initial ideas at the wall from the Finnish baby box 2.0 (Sofia is Finnish) to an easier way to create Instagrammable baby pictures.

They went through multiple exercises to test the viability of new parents’ most pressing and urgent needs:

  • Conduct a “Start with Why” exercise
  • Define the “Jobs to be Done”
  • Create a lean canvas for each (viable) concept
  • Define the user journeys
  • Conduct user surveys using platforms like pollfish.com and 1Q (instant survey tool)
  • Identify and define their customer personas
  • Conduct customer interviews and synthesize them
  • Construct concept prototypes

They also met prospective customers, conducting a focus group of 10-15 moms. When the founders asked them to text them what they were feeding their children along with pictures for a week, they realized the lack of healthy finger foods in the market, thus sparking the idea for Tiny Organics.

Source: Tech

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