The connected speaker wars are upon us, and one day they will be detailed in history books for all to remember. But here now, it can be hard to cut through the various narratives surrounding the options out there and pick a winner. Now that the cards are on the table in terms of offerings from the major players, however, it’s pretty clear that Sonos has the best option available for most people.
Sonos One, the connected speaker that the company released last year, is a terrific sounding Wi-Fi-enabled speaker that also has built-in support for Amazon’s Alexa, which is if not the best smart assistant out there, then at least tied for first with Google’s Assistant.
On the sound front, Sonos has the most experience of any of the top three companies making smart speakers worth your consideration, too. The Sonos One is, in many ways, just an updated version of the Sonos Play:1 that’s acoustically very similar – but that’s actually a really good thing. The Sonos One, like the Play:1, is a terrific sounding audio device, especially given its size and physical footprint.
I’ve been using a pair of Sonos Ones for the past couple of weeks, and it’s clear that they do a great job of filling a room with sound, thanks in part to Sonos’ sound shaping tech that uses a two-minute setup process involving waving your phone around to properly model the audio they put out for your space.
Individually, a Sonos One is already a strong contender even against the Google Home Max and HomePod for sound quality for most people (who don’t need the additional power or won’t notice the auditory improvements afforded by the larger speakers) but the Sonos One has a another neat trick up its sleeve, since it can form a stereo pair with a second Sonos One. This provides true sound separation, meaning left and right channels reproduced as they were actually meant to be, instead of via some simulated stereo separation effect (which can be pretty cool, as HomePod reviews show, but which ultimately can’t match true stereo separation).
Another huge benefit of Sonos vs. the competition: the Sonos One integrates out of the box with the rest of your Sonos setup, should you have one. You can control all speakers via voice, and group them together for whole home/room-by-room playback. Google’s Home Max can work together with Chromecast-enabled speakers for similar multi-room streaming setups, and HomePod is set to get an update that will add multi-room and stereo syncing, but Sonos One offers both of these now, and using a method that’s proven to work.
There’s also pricing to consider. Sonos One, in a bundle with two, is available for $349 right now, which is the same price as a single HomePod. It’s an unbeatable deal, given the other advantages listed above, especially since it means you can see if you like it alone, or equip multiple rooms with Alexa smarts and quality connected sound in one go.
There are reasons to consider other options, to be sure, especially if you’re 100 percent committed to the Apple ecosystem of device and services, but in general for most people, for most use cases, Sonos One is the far better choice.
Jason Rowley is a venture capital and technology reporter for Crunchbase News.
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Chances are high you have heard of Google. You are likely a contributor to one of the 3.5 billion search queries the website processes daily. But unless you’re a venture capitalist, an entrepreneur or a slightly obsessive technology journalist, you may not know that Google — or, more properly, Alphabet, the corporate parent to the search and internet ad giant — is also in the business of investing in startups. And, like most of what Google does, Alphabet invests at scale.
Today we’re going to undertake, if you will forgive the pun, a search of Google’s venture investments, its portfolio’s performance and what the company’s investing activity may say about its plans going forward.
Alphabet was the most active corporate investor in 2017
Taken together, Alphabet is one of the most prolific corporate investors in startups. In 2017, Crunchbase data shows that Alphabet’s three main investing arms — GV (formerly known as Google Ventures), CapitalG and Gradient Ventures — and Google itself invested in 103 deals.
(Crunchbase News contacted Alphabet for this story but did not hear back in time for publication.)
Below, you’ll find a chart comparing Alphabet’s investment activity to other major corporate investors, based on publicly disclosed deals captured in Crunchbase data.
As we alluded to earlier, Alphabet has a somewhat unusual setup for a corporate investor. Data shows that Alphabet makes the overwhelming majority of its equity investments out of four primary entities:
GV, formerly known as Google Ventures, is Alphabet’s most prolific venture fund.
Growth equity fund CapitalG invests primarily in late-stage deals.
Gradient Ventures, Google’s newest fund, is focused on artificial intelligence deals.
Finally, Google itself, has made a number of direct corporate venture investments.
Alphabet and its funds upped their pace of investing too, as the chart below shows:
In 2017, Alphabet’s equity investment deal volume topped historical highs from 2014.
In addition to these equity investment operations, Google operates the Launchpad Accelerator, which grants $50,000 equity-free to startups in Africa, Asia, South America and Eastern Europe. The company also issues grants and makes impact-oriented investments out of an entity called Google.org.
Taken together, here is what the Alphabet investment universe looks like:
The network visualization above shows the connections between Alphabet’s various investing groups and their respective portfolios.1 This graphic depicts 676 connections between six Google investing groups (labeled above in yellow), 570 portfolio organizations and 75 companies that acquired Alphabet-backed portfolio companies.
And, for the most part, there isn’t as much overlap as one may expect. CapitalG and GV only share two portfolio companies. GV invested in the seed round of Gusto, the payroll and HR software platform, and both GV and CapitalG invested in Gusto’s Series B round. GV and CapitalG also invested in Pindrop’s Series C round, although CapitalG led that round. Apart from those two companies, though, Crunchbase data doesn’t suggest any other portfolio overlap between GV and CapitalG.
If there isn’t much overlap between Alphabet’s assorted funds and their investing activity, where is it then? The answer, it seems, may be in the exit data.
A wide range of companies have acquired startups in which one or more of Alphabet’s capital deployment arms invested. Crunchbase data shows that 81 entities have acquired 100 companies in which Google invested. Of those, it seems like Alphabet is its own best customer, as the chart below shows:
And as the network visualization above shows, Tesla isn’t the only Alphabet portfolio company to go public. Alphabet funds struck venture deals with 11 other companies that have since gone public, including Baidu, HubSpot, Cloudera, Spero Therapeutics, Lending Club and Zynga.
The diversity of Alphabet’s venture investments echoes the diverse collection of businesses, initiatives and long-shot bets under its corporate umbrella. And just like it’s difficult to predict what kind of new project Alphabet will launch next, it seems that no amount of searching and sifting can say what its venture arms will embrace next.
The network visualization was created using Gephi, an open-source software package used for making network visualizations, and the ForceAtlas2 layout algorithm.
Time Warner will be fine even if the government blocks the bid from AT&T to buy the company.
That’s the word from John Martin, the free-wheeling chief executive of Time Warner subsidiary, Turner Inc., who was speaking at the Code Media conference in Huntington Beach.
For the record, Martin says that the government’s position on the acquisition offer is “stupid” and that it will likely lose its case. “It is a massive misallocation of resources and capital to fight this thing,” Martin said. “They are going to lose.”
Martin argued that while the value of AT&T had remained flat after news of the acquisition broke, Amazon and Google added roughly the equivalent of the telecommunications company’s market cap over the same period. Meanwhile Facebook’s valuation grew to the size of two Time Warners, Martin said.
“So if you’re the government and you’re worried about fixing the competitive landscape, what are you worried about?”
His point was that the competitive landscape would not be harmed by a merger of the two companies.
“In the history of the country, what vertical merger has tilted the landscape of the competitive environment? Let me give you the answer: Zero.”
Still, should for some reason the government make its case, Time Warner could survive… for a time. The company is coming off of its best year across most of its media properties, according to Martin.
“Time Warner is a pretty, stable, big successful company. So I mean, HBO is on fire right now. Warner Brothers had the most successful year in its history in 2017. We did too. Whatever happens happens,” said Martin. “The future is really bright.”
That said, consolidation is the name of the game, and should Time Warner not be bought by AT&T it would need to find another acquirer eventually.
Martin and his fellow panelist, A+E Networks chairman and chief executive Nancy Dubuc noted that in this new media landscape size does matter. They both expected that Viacom would have to reintegrate with CBS — and that observation matters for Martin’s own assessment of Time Warner’s stability.
The numbers are estimates based on market data but they still point to a trend. In Q1 2016 Apple shipped 1.5 million watches to Switzerlands 5.9 million. The intervening quarters were about the same until the launch of the Apple Watch 3 in September 2017, just in time for holiday shopping. The boost of a new phone and a new watch at the same time meant a perfect storm for upgraders, driving the total number of Apple Watches sold past the Swiss watch sales numbers.
This switch does not mean Apple will maintain that lead – they have one product while Switzerland has thousands – but comparing a single company’s output to an entire industry’s in this case is telling.
Wearing watches is, as we all remind each other, is passé.
“I check the time on my phone,” we said for almost a decade as phones became more ubiquitous. Meanwhile watch manufacturers abandoned the low end and began selling to the high end consumer, the connoisseur.
Take a look at this chart:
Sales of low- to mid-tier watches – and a mid-tier watch can range in price between $500 and $3,000 (and I would even lump many $10,000 watches in the mid-tier category) – were stagnant while the true cash cows, the expensive watches for the ultra-rich, fell slowly from a high in 2014. This coincides with falling purchases in China as what amounted to sumptuary laws reduced the number of expensive gifts given to corrupt officials. Sales are up as December 2017 but don’t expect much of a bump past the current slide.
As a lover of all things mechanical – I did ruin a few years of my life writing a book about a watch – I look at these trends with dismay and a bit of schadenfreude. As I’ve said again and again the Swiss Watch industry brought this on itself. While they claim great numbers and great success year after year the small manufacturers are eating each other up while nearly every major watch brand is snooping around for outside buyers. There is no money in churning out mechanical timepieces to an increasingly disinterested public.
As time ticks ever forward things will change. The once mighty Swiss houses will sink under the weight of their accreted laurel-resting and Apple will move on to embedded brain implants and leave watches behind. The result, after a battle that raged for more than four decades, will be a dead Swiss industry catering to a world that has moved on.
YouTube Red will expand its subscription service to as many as 100 countries in the next year, according to YouTube chief executive Susan Wojcicki .
Speaking at Recode’s Code Media conference in Huntington Beach, Calif., Wojcicki said that YouTube will be looking to expand its Red service “to many more countries”.
The subscription service first launched in October 2015 as a $9.99 subscription for ad-free viewing and was designed as a replacement to Google Music Key to give users a simple way to watch or listen to YouTube video and Play Music — as a tier on existing YouTube and Google accounts.
The company said it would split subscription revenue with rights holders of content people listen to or see on the service. And the company has signed on independent creators, record labels, TV networks and movie studios to the program, we’ve reported.
As YouTube moved away from Red’s use as a music service and began layering exclusive access to original series and movies, featuring YouTube stars like PewDiePie and the toxic influencer of the moment Logan Paul.
Both men have stirred up controversy and highlight the many problems that YouTube has with content from some of its most popular entertainers.
As YouTube continues to launch its premium content, the question remains whether it will continue to rely on YouTube-made celebrities like PewDiePie and Paul, which could be disastrous for the company’s advertisers, or tries to make more premium content in the Hulu or Netflix mold.
If the latest seed-funded startups have their way, this is what your future will look like.
You’ll find your mortgage through a company named Morty, refill your contact lenses with Waldo and get your cannabis news from Herb. (Which is not to be confused with Bud, the startup that handles your banking.)
Notice any patterns here? Yes, first names, foods and animals have been quite popular lately with founders choosing startup names.
Those are a few of the top naming trends Crunchbase News identified in our latest perusal of seed-stage startups. The project involved parsing through names of more than 1,000 startups that raised seed rounds of $200,000 and up in the past nine months.
This data crunch was an update (see our methodology section below) to a prior overview of the often bizarre naming trends that startups follow. At that time, we found top trends included putting AI into your name, using popular first names and employing creative misspellings of common words.
Most of these things are still popular in startup naming, but some more than others. Adding AI at the end of a name, for instance, is still common, but seems to be waning some. Creative misspellings are still getting done, but less frequently.
Meanwhile, other naming styles are getting more fashionable. Below, we take a look at what’s hot now and what might be in vogue next.
First names that startups are using are getting nerdier and less common. Morty, for example, is commonly short for Mortimer, which peaked in popularity in the 1880s. It was most recently ranked No. 12,982 on the list of most common baby names. Then there’s Fritz, a learning software developer with a name that also hit its peak in the late 1800s. Last year it ranked No. 4,732.
Another mini-trend that we’d like to see expand is the use of startup names based on textures.
This is a stark contrast with the chatbot crowd. They tended to go with popular monikers, like Ava, Aiden and Riley, that rank high on the latest baby name lists. Some of the more offbeat names, however, do tie into their sectors. Herb has been used as slang for marijuana. Morty, for instance, shares a first syllable with mortgage.
It’s also noteworthy that many startups go with single-word names. This is a shift from the old school practice of combining a first name with another word, as in well-known brands like Trader Joe’s and Sam’s Club.
Startups also like naming themselves after foods lately. Of course, this isn’t an entirely new phenomenon, and it has worked well before. Apple named itself after a fruit and later became the world’s most valuable technology company.
It should be noted that the food names we refer to here are for companies that, like Apple, have nothing to do with the food industry. Carrot Fertility, which raised $3.6 million in seed funding last fall, for example, offers insurance policies for employers to help cover costs of workers’ fertility treatments. MoBagel is a data science startup. Parsley Health provides primary care. The list goes on.
One of the nice things about naming yourself after a food is that these are general purpose nouns that don’t seem to raise a lot of copyright issues. Vegetables and baked goods aren’t going to sue you for misappropriating their names.
Animal names are also good from a trademark perspective. Plus, with an animal name you can also create a cute logo featuring the creature.
Those may be some of the reasons why animal names are also in vogue lately with startups developing both consumer-facing and backend technologies. The formula is also pretty straightforward: pick an animal and then add another descriptive word.
There are plenty of textures out there that don’t have a funded startup associated with them, including spongy, slimy, gelatinous, puffy, gloppy, stringy, pasty, hairy and fluffy.
Of course, for most of the animal-monikered startups, mascots have nothing to do with the underlying businesses. MortgageHippo obviously doesn’t expect hippopotamuses to use its mortgage tool, and Purple Squirrel doesn’t cater to furry-tailed job seekers.
That said, we do worry about the animal kingdom theme getting a bit overused. For instance, MortgageHippo and Hippo Insurance were both funded in the past couple of years.
Other mini-trends we saw and liked
Another interesting trend is that many startups hopping on the fashionable name bandwagon are in the insurance sector. We’ve seen a huge spike in insurance startup funding over the past couple of years, with many upstarts looking to re-architect the industry to appeal to millennial consumers. They have names like Oscar, Lemonade and The Zebra.
On board the Tesla Roadster that Elon Musk sent hurtling towards the sun, aiming for a long, leisurely Earth-Mars orbit, there were a few pieces of miscellaneous cargo.
A so-called ‘Starman,’ which is a life-size mannequin wearing a production version of the SpaceX crew spacesuit; a miniature car created by Hot Wheels to commemorate the Roadster and its primary passenger; and something called an Arch (pronounced “Ark”), which is not so easy to summarily describe.
The Arch on board is a data crystal (sort of like a Jedi Holocron if you’re a nuke for Star Wars lore) that contains all three books from Isaac Asimov’s classic Foundation trilogy. It’s actually a modest amount of data relative to the possibilities of the storage medium – in this case, a quartz silica structure which, using 5D optical storage techniques, can eventually achieve a max storage capacity of 360 terabytes on a disk just 3.75 inches in diameter.
But why shoot a tiny quart disc into space? Why Foundation, and why aboard the Falcon Heavy, the crowning achievement of Elon Musk’s SpaceX private launch venture thus far?
First, while the disc itself and the technology behind it (developed by University of Southampton’s Dr. Peter Kazansky and his research team) is incredibly interesting (it’s expected to last for over 14 billion years, even accounting for outer space dangers including cosmic radiation) – it’s not the definition of what an Arch actually is. That, according to Arch Mission co-founder Nova Spivack, is actually something much more ambitious, broad in scope and technology agnostic.
The Arch Mission was actually inspired by Asimov’s Foundation series, which envisions an “Encyclopedia Galactica” that contains all the knowledge ever gathered by a civilization that has grown to galaxy-spanning scale. Spivack, along with co-founder Nick Slavin and a team that includes a number of council members from a wide range of background and industries, want to make this theoretical vision a functional reality – and the Arch SpaceX sent to space is the first, tiny piece of the puzzle.
Arch Mission’s first five Arch data storage devices, each inscribed with Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series.
Spivack explains that the Arch Mission isn’t about any one specific piece or even category of technology: The goal is essentially to build the largest, most resilient and most complete offsite backup ever created – an offsite backup of all human knowledge, spread across space in a variety of formats and mediums, with ample redundancy and hopefully multiple means of access.
“It really is a backup of civilization that’s designed to last for millions of years, and to do that effectively we have to have replication just like a large server farm would,” Spivack said. “In this case, our replication is solar system scale, which means that we’ll be putting archives literally around every planet in the solar system that we can get to. Think of it almost like Saturn’s rings, but in this case the ring will be tiny little crystals containing data.”
Just like how offsite backup is a smart idea for your home office because it means you’ll still have your data even if something happens to your entire house, like a fire or a flood, a galaxy-spanning repository of information provides something of an insurance policy in case of events like massive electromagnetic pulses, solar flares, or (and it hardly seems all that fantastic anymore) global thermonuclear war.
That’s not the only thing that a galaxy-wide encyclopedia can provide: If we achieve Elon Musk’s goal of becoming an interplanetary species, then we need to take into consideration how an interplanetary internet would work – Spivack notes that even transmitting at light-speed via lasers, it would take a long time for information to cross the distance of space, and so having a local database orbiting the Moon or Mars, for instance, would be a more practical option. Plus, far into the future, should any human colony somehow be cut off from Earth, or vice versa, it would be immensely useful to still have access to the sum total of human knowledge up to that point, for obvious reasons.
But how did Musk and SpaceX get involved? Twitter. Spivack told me about how he was lucky enough to catch the SpaceX CEO’s attention with a tweet about Arch Mission and Foundation, which Spivack chose as the first piece of information stored on an Arch after reading an article about Musk’s favorite books.
Asimov’s Foundation books should def be part of the mission. They’re amazing.
The tweet eventually led to a meeting, at which Spivack presented Musk with one of the Archs encoded with Asimov’s seminal series. Musk was thrilled, according to Spivack, and immediately said he’d be adding it to his personal library. Spivack was taken aback; this was, after all, supposed to be an Arch destined to tag along on the Falcon Heavy payload’s trip to Mars – eventually, he agreed to provide Musk with not one, but two of the first five Archs, including one to keep and one to send off into the cosmos.
It’s no small feat to convince Elon Musk to not only pay attention to what you’re doing, but then to also load up your payload aboard his rocket and blast it into space just because he thinks you’ve got a good idea. But this accomplishment is just the start for Arch Mission and its plans, Spivack assures me.
The nose cone of the Falcon Heavy and its outer boosters.
Next, the non-profit organization (yes, it’s registered and is always seeking donations, Spivack says) is going to encode non-living DNA with other data sets, to be sent off on similar missions. The method is still in its relative infancy, but it has the potential to store tremendous amounts of data with incredible layers of redundancy, so that even if a portion is lost or damaged by cosmic rays, many more duplicates of the information will survive, for a very, very long time.
It’s crucial, Spivack says, that this be “non-living” DNA, since there are rules about sending out biological matter into the wider universe beyond our Earth, and for very good reason. But when I ask about whether Spivack has ever considered the possibility that a pan-galactic encyclopedia already exists, left by some other sentient race that we just haven’t noticed or figured out how to read yet, he admits that’s been a key founding idea all along Arch Mission’s development, and brings up an interesting idea about our own DNA as one example of how that might work.
“I started wondering whether there was a message somewhere for us to find,” Spivack told me. “And I started thought, well, where would that message be? If I was creating a message like that, I’d put it somewhere where I could guarantee it would be found, but it wouldn’t be found too soon.”
He continued that he’d also likely hide other clues related to the first in more difficult to access locations, so that as society progressed it could unlock additional information, but only when ready. The logical first place Spivack says he’d likely hide the first piece of the puzzle was in our own DNA, or in the DNA of something else we’re likely to observe as a sufficiently advanced species, including, for instance, an Apple. Our DNA and the DNA of other living things has long stretches of segments about which we understand little to nothing, he points out, so a message could be hidden there.
Ultimately, Spivack suggested that we can’t know right now if Arch Mission isn’t just an echo of a far-distant project currently beyond human understanding. But he does know that Arch is doing what it can today to make its vision a reality, including securing other launch partners, and berths aboard future missions to the Moon, Mars and the rest of the Solar System. There’s the non-living DNA project coming up, and Arch will also send a full archive of Wikipedia to space in one of its forthcoming forays.
The next data storage tech Arch is using will be non-living DNA.
Where it needs help, Spivack says, is in securing additional datasets to be added to the collection (he asked for both TechCrunch’s archive and Crunchbase, and we’ll certainly see about sending both because that’s definitely something crucially missing from space), as well as funding (they help fund research into different data storage methods through the foundation) and tip-offs to interesting research in the field. Spivack admits the idea can seem a little difficult to wrap your head around, but he also believes that it’s work that will have impact for humans now, since they’re spurring the development of tech and research that can be used in other ways.
There are obviously tremendous challenges ahead for Arch Mission, including how to encode the data so that it’s likely to be decipherable by future humans (or anyone else, for that matter), but the information is encoded in a number of different ways to make interpretation more likely. There’s also a matter of seeding physical information in the outer reaches of our galactic reach, but Arch has already hitched a ride on one rocket, so how hard can it be?