INTERNATIONAL – Facebook Inc. acquired a small video-shopping startup earlier this year to help build a live shopping feature inside the company’s Marketplace product, according to a person familiar with the plans.
The social media company bought Packagd, a five-person company founded by Eric Feng, a former partner with Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, and most of the startup’s team joined Facebook in September. Packagd was building a shopping product for YouTube videos. “Think of it as a re-imagination of QVC or a home shopping network,” Feng said in a 2017 interview with Bloomberg Television’s Emily Chang.
The acquisition by Facebook wasn’t announced, but the small team is now working on a project for Marketplace, which would let users make purchases while watching live video broadcasts. Facebook tested a similar product a year ago in Thailand, though that effort didn’t include a way to buy merchandise directly from the video and has been shut down, a person familiar with the matter said.
A Facebook spokeswoman confirmed the efforts. “As we’ve shared in the past, we’re exploring ways to let buyers easily ask questions and place orders within a live video broadcast,“ she said in a statement.
Live shopping is growing in popularity, especially in China. Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. made it an important element of its Single’s Day this year, a massively popular one-day event that generated $38 billion in sales. Kim Kardashian announced a new fragrance via livestream to help hype the event, for example. Amazon.com Inc. is also dabbling in live video shopping.
Facebook has tried to take advantage of e-commerce for years without much success, though its Marketplace product — a Craigslist-like feature for buying and selling used goods — has nearly 1 billion monthly users and launched just three years ago. Facebook-owned Instagram has also said that shopping will be a key focus in 2020, and recently added the ability for users to buy directly from brands inside the app.
Packagd had raised $7.5 million from Kleiner Perkins, Forerunner Ventures and Alphabet Inc.’s GV.
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Uber and Hyundai Are Planning to Offer Flying Taxi Rides by 2023
At CES 2020, Uber and Hyundai showed off a full-size mock-up of a flying taxi that both companies hope will be ferrying you above congested city streets by 2023.
The electric plane, called Uberdai, will carry a pilot and three passengers up to 60 miles, at speeds of up to 180mph, slashing journey times and helping get cars off the road. Eventually the craft will be automated, but for now the two companies are focusing on manned craft.
The flying taxi market is starting to get pretty lively. Last year, Boeing began test flights to test the safety of Boeing. Next, an electric aircraft with passenger pods designed to travel up to 50 miles, and Bell Helicopter unveiled the Bell Nexus, which the company hopes will “redefine air travel”.
The difference with Hyundai’s plane is its partnership with Uber, which is a name synonymous with ride-sharing throughout much of the world, and already has the infrastructure in place to offer flights as an option alongside trips by car, bike, scooter, helicopter and even submarine.
Ready for lift-off?
Uber has been aiming for the skies for several years now, teaming up with various aerospace companies to build a fleet of mini aircraft. At the Uber Elevate Summit in June 2019, it revealed a concept created in collaboration with Jaunt Air Mobility – a business that’s aiming to create a fully autonomous aircraft by the end of 2029.
This design was a cross between a helicopter and a plane, with a rotor to get it off the ground, and wings for gliding once airborne to conserve power.
“It’s called the compound aircraft, and what it’s doing is really trying to get the best of both worlds of hover and high-speed efficient flight,” Uber’s head of engineering Mark Moore said at the event.
Uber intends to launch its first swarm of flying cars in the US and Australia in 2023, with schemes planned for Dallas, Las Vegas and Melbourne. We’ll keep you updated as we learn more over the coming months.
Elon Musk Sees Las Vegas Tunnel Opening in 2020
Entrepreneur Elon Musk said he believes the Las Vegas tunneling system his Boring Company is creating under the city’s convention center could be done by next year, possibly months ahead of schedule.
Musk, the founder of Tesla and SpaceX, made the prediction on Twitter. The $48.7 million project will transport visitors to and from the massive Las Vegas Convention Center along three spots to the Las Vegas Strip, turning a 15-minute walk into a one-minute trip.
“Boring Co is completing its first commercial tunnel in Vegas, going from Convention Center to Strip, then will work on other projects,” Musk said on Twitter. When asked when it would be completed, he tweeted, “Hopefully fully operational in 2020.”
An earlier announcement had the convention center tunnel being completed by January 2021.
Steve Hill, president of the chief executive of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, said this weekend that The Boring Company’s two-mile tunnel under the convention center is scratching the surface of a possible tunnel system that could span the entire Las Vegas Strip from Fremont Street to McCarren International Airport.
“We do think that over time, this just doesn’t have to be just a convention center or just a [Las Vegas[ Strip type of transportation system,” Hill said. “This can be a system that everybody in the valley can take advantage of.”
A map on The Boring Company’s websites shows a future tunnel system that would have stops at virtually every major Las Vegas casino and hotel on the Las Vegas Strip, taking visitors from the airport through the city.
“We also see it as a real opportunity to solve some of the congestion problems in Las Vegas going forward,” Hill said. “So it is helpful to start at the convention center, make sure that it works, work the kinks out and then look at the opportunity of moving into the city.”
Musk said his tunnel projects won’t replace other forms of transportation.
“These would be road tunnels for zero emissions vehicles only – no toxic fumes is the key,” Musk tweeted. Really, just an underground road, but limited to EVs (from all auto companies). This is not in place of other solutions, eg light rail, but supplemental to them.
Last December, Musk unveiled an “entirely new system of transport” with a demonstration of a 1.14-mile test tunnel intended to ease Los Angeles traffic.
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Big Tech Comes Out Ahead Again in 2019. Can it be Stopped?
It’s mid-December, which means it’s time for the staff prognosticators at Bloomberg Technology to sheepishly revisit last year’s predictions while peering ahead with a brash certainty that we haven’t earned.
On its surface, 2019 was the difficult year that most of us anticipated. The simmering trade tensions (perhaps diffused by the new phase-one trade agreement) raised the prospect of constrained opportunities for U.S. tech companies in China.
Fears of intrusive government regulation, antitrust scrutiny and a consumer privacy backlash hung like a San Francisco fog over the major tech firms.
And there was a lot of turnover in the C-suite: a record 181 tech chiefs left their posts through October, which doesn’t even include the departure of Google co-founder Larry Page from his operational role at Alphabet Inc.
Yet, anyone who predicted this would stop or even slow the expansion of Big Tech, or the advancement of technology even deeper into our lives, was wrong. Just like 2018, it was a banner year for tech. Alphabet stock is up 29% this year, Microsoft 52% and Apple Inc. 74%. They’re all beating the S&P 500 index, which is up 26%, and the year saw a slate of tech IPOs—a record haul, despite the poor market performance of unicorns like Uber Technologies Inc. and Slack Technologies Inc. and the debacle at WeWork.
By my measure, the year was defined by several breakthroughs:
AirPods took off. Critics can no longer claim that Apple under Tim Cook hasn’t minted a mainstream hit, after the success of the Apple Watch and now these awkward ear accessories. The company is expected to sell 60 million units, double last year’s tally, and retailers are having a hard time keeping them in stock. One new research report said the AirPod’s popularity has surpassed the iPod’s at its peak. It’s a remarkable shift in fashion and culture—we’re now a species with no compunction about sporting white dongles from the sides of our heads. Amazon.com Inc., Google and others have introduced their own versions, with limited success so far.
Three iconic products from Apple have made it to the Time magazine’s most significant 10 gadgets’ of the decade list. These are: Apple iPad (2010), Apple Watch (2015) and AirPods (2016).
Voice-activated speakers continue to boom. This year, 78 million people in the U.S. used a smart speaker like the Amazon Echo or Google Home, up about 18% from last year, according to estimates from EMarketer. That’s almost a quarter of the American population and comes despite the troubling revelations that companies farm out a small percentage of customer queries to human workers. Do people care about Silicon Valley snooping on their most intimate conversations? Some do, but apparently most are either confident in the noble intentions of tech companies or comfortable with sacrificing a bit of privacy for the privilege of asking a computer to play the latest hit tunes and recite the weather.
It was the year of TikTok. Maybe I’m biased by having kids who walk around practicing a medley of dances they learned on the app, but the Bytedance Inc.-owned video service is suddenly everywhere and putting a scare into Facebook and Snap Inc. The service has 680 million users, crossed a million downloads in February and then 1.5 billion in November, according to SensorTower. Irony isn’t dead, after all: At the very height of Sino-U.S. tensions, teenagers around the world, in unison, flocked to an internet service operated and owned by a Chinese company.
So what’s on tap for 2020?
This year, I’m going to stay positive. 5G will reinvigorate the growth of smartphone sales; Samsung Electronics Co. and Lenovo Group Ltd.’s Motorola will finally make foldable phones work; streaming services will push further into sports and live news, striking another blow to terrestrial cable and satellite TV; new products will invigorate a market for home robotics, and a distracted Trump administration in an election year will fail to mount any credible attack on the tech giants.
Those are my bets. But don’t hold me to them.
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