Media software Plex launches a new desktop app for Mac and Windows

Plex today is launching a new desktop application for Mac and Windows, with the goal of eventually replacing Plex Media Player as the company’s only desktop solution. The app’s arrival also signals a change in direction for the company, which will also now remove its existing Windows Store application and end support for the traditional home theater PC setup — the latter which involves a desktop computer connected to a TV or home theater.

The company explains this decision was made after examining how people were using Plex today, and found that most would have an equal or even better experience with a streaming device and its new players.

“It marks the end of an era for us, and we’d be lying if we said it wasn’t a little bittersweet,” the company wrote in a blog post about the change.

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Home theater PC-style configurations are today a bit of a holdover from an earlier era where there were fewer resources to stream personal media from your PC to your TV. Today, however, Plex’s apps for streaming devices are fairly capable, and a heck of a lot simpler to set up and use by mainstream consumers.

The company also noted that the new Apple TV and Android players support nearly all the same formats and that Plex’s app for streaming devices has come a long way in recent years.

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“Modern streaming devices don’t need as much care and feeding as desktop computers. They don’t need to sleep (much), they use a tiny amount of electricity…and they don’t require nearly as much effort to get up and running. They have remotes that work wonderfully out of the box (no more fiddly custom key mappings!) In short, they’re designed for the environment in which you’re using them, and it shows,” the company explained, in hopes of fending off any backlash.

Meanwhile, the new Plex desktop app includes all the capabilities of Plex Media Player along with support for offline access. Previously called “Sync,” this feature has been renamed to “Downloads,” and lets you take your media with you. Similar support for offline media will come to Plex’s mobile apps, too, at a later date, the company said.

To use the Downloads feature, you’ll need a Plex Pass subscription. But otherwise, the new desktop app is free.

Though the desktop app is meant to replace Plex Media Player, the company says it will continue to update the software until January 2020, to allow time for everyone to make the transition.

Plex’s overall business has been changing, in recent years, to become more than just a home media organizer. Today, Plex is a DIY streaming solution that allows users to watch not just their own media across platforms, but also stream podcastsnews, web series and music from TIDAL, as well as capture and record live TV from a digital antenna.

This change has led to other closures, including Plex’s decision last year to shutter Plugins, Cloud Sync and its “Watch Later” bookmarking feature, in addition to the technically challenging Plex Cloud.

It’s unclear how successful Plex’s changes have been as the company doesn’t disclose its number of paying subscribers. However, last year, Plex said it had 15 million registered users — meaning both free and paid. In January 2019, it upped that number to 20 million and noted it had “millions” of people using Plex on a monthly basis.

Apple, Samsung continue growth as North American wearables market hits $2B

New numbers out of Canalys show strong continued growth for the North America wearables market for Q2. The market hit $2 billion value for the quarter, according to the firm, marking a 38% year over year growth.

It’s not exactly earth-shattering, but it’s steady for a category that felt almost dead in the water a year or two back. Growth for the quarter was led by Apple and Samsung, which marked 32% and 121% growth, coming in at first and third place, respectively — at 2.2 million and 400,000 units.

Fitbit, meanwhile, retained its No. 2 position. The company showed a modest 18% growth, owing the slowdown to fewer smartwatches (versus fitness bands) shipped. That tracks with the company’s disappointing quarterly results as the new Versa Lite failed to hit the mark. The move marks a misstep for the Versa brand, which has otherwise contributed well to Fitbit’s bounce back.

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Interestingly, while North America is the No. 2 wearables market in terms of units shipped, it continues to be the most valuable. That’s likely due to higher unit prices, with the Apple Watch leading the pack, versus Xiaomi’s super-cheap fitness bands, which have a much stronger foothold in their native China.

Look inside Virgin Galactic’s shiny new Spaceport America

For a couple of years now Virgin Galactic’s Spaceport America was more aspirational than functional, but now it’s been built out with the necessaries for commercial spaceflight — mainly coffee. The company just showed off the newly redesigned space from which it plans to launch flights… sometime.

Much of the undulating, aesthetically rusted building, located deep in the desert of New Mexico, is dedicated to housing the carrier craft and rocket planes that the company has been testing for the last few years.

That was almost certainly the hard part, in fact: relocating the infrastructure necessary to support the spacefaring vehicles, including engineers, equipment and supply chain people, as Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides told me in May.

But the spaceport itself must also become a place for humans to arrive, park at, nervously sip coffee and have a pre-flight meal — if that’s really a good idea for your first trip to space. Maybe stick to coffee.

The “first phase” of the consumer-side build-out includes an elegantly appointed little restaurant and cafe, and upstairs can be found “mission control,” which looks more like a conference room than a spaceplane pilot staging area.

There are a number of little lounge areas for passengers and others to congregate in, and if the scale seems a little small, keep in mind that this isn’t an airport food court. These flights are going to be full, but they’re also going to be six passengers at a time.

Jeremy Brown, design director for Spaceport America, explains that the choice of materials and terraced surfaces, leading up to the lighter, airier second story, is meant to evoke the landscape outside, which nearly all the seating faces, and draw the attention outwards and upwards.

Although Virgin Galactic has had several successful test flights, there’s no indication when its first actual commercial flight will be.

“The last flight we did, we basically demonstrated a full commercial profile, including the interior of the vehicle,” Whitesides said in May. “Not only did we, you know, go up to space and come down, but because Beth was in the back — Beth Moses, our flight instructor — she was sort of our mock passenger. She got up a couple times and moved around, she was able to verify our cabin conditions.”

The paperwork is in order and the spaceport itself is now equipped with a cafe, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw the first flight from Virgin Galactic before the end of the year.

How about earning crypto tokens to carbon-offset your Uber rides?

Most of us, by now, are aware that all sorts of crazy stuff is happening to the planet’s climate, and the blame is pretty much universally recognized as lying with humans pumping more and more carbon into the atmosphere. Scientists are now saying tree planting, for instance, has to happen very, very quickly if we are to avert disaster.

A few startups, such as Changers, have tried to incentivize us to do things like walk instead of taking the car, with mixed results.

Now a blockchain startup thinks it may have the making of one solution, rewarding us with crypto tokens for making the right choices for the planet. Now, before you roll your eyes, hear me out…

Imagine rewarding people for taking the bus instead of their car — and them exchanging that token to offset their carbon by planting a tree? Or incentivizing passengers for sharing their travel data — helping companies to improve their experience in the future? That’s the big idea here.

Here’s how it works: The DOVU platform offers a token, wallet and marketplace and allows users to earn tokens and spend them to carbon-offset their activity and on rewards within the mobility ecosystem, starting with their Uber rides.

Users link their Uber account to their DOVU wallet, enabling them to earn DOV tokens for every journey taken. The startup has connected to Uber APIs, meaning that, once authenticated, the user has to do nothing other than take the journey.

The DOVU CO2 calculator then automatically rewards the value of tokens depending on the length of the journey. The DOV tokens can then be spent within the DOVU Action, and the user can choose the project to back or the user can ask DOVU to choose the project on their behalf to ensure the carbon offsetting happens.

The platform can connect to any published API, meaning it is in a notional position to have an immediate impact on all the new mobility solutions globally.

With Jaguar Land Rover as shareholders, DOVU potentially has the backing to try to make this happen.

Mobility-related organizations often have a need to reward, incentivize or nudge their users to do the right thing. It might be sharing their data for better service planning, taking an alternate route to help ease traffic congestion or charging electric batteries at times that are best for the grid. Whether it’s influencing consumer behavior or encouraging data sharing, the DOVU platform could, in theory, provide a solution that meets the needs of both the mobility provider and the end user. That at least is their pitch.

Hell, given the state of the planet, it might be worth a shot…

Cloudflare says cutting off customers like 8chan is an IPO ‘risk factor’

Networking and web security giant Cloudflare says the recent 8chan controversy may be an ongoing “risk factor” for its business on the back of its upcoming initial public offering.

The San Francisco-based company and former Battlefield finalist, which filed its IPO paperwork with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Thursday, earlier this month took the rare step of pulling the plug on one of its customers, 8chan, an anonymous message board linked to recent domestic terrorist attacks in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, which killed 31 people. The site is also linked to the shootings in New Zealand, which killed 50 people.

8chan became the second customer to have its service cut off by Cloudflare in the aftermath of the attacks. The first and other time Cloudflare booted one of its customers was neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer in 2017, after it claimed the networking giant was secretly supportive of the website.

Cloudflare, which provides web security and denial-of-service protection for websites, recognizes those customer cut-offs as a risk factor for investors buying shares in the company’s common stock.

“Activities of our paying and free customers or the content of their websites and other Internet properties could cause us to experience significant adverse political, business, and reputational consequences with customers, employees, suppliers, government entities, and other third parties,” the filing said. “Even if we comply with legal obligations to remove or disable customer content, we may maintain relationships with customers that others find hostile, offensive, or inappropriate.”

Cloudflare had long taken a stance of not policing who it provides service to, citing freedom of speech. In a 2015 interview with ZDNet, chief executive Matthew Prince said he didn’t ever want to be in a position where he was making “moral judgments on what’s good and bad,” and would instead defer to the courts.

“If a final court order comes down and says we can’t do something… governments have tanks and guns,” he said.

But since Prince changed his stance on both The Daily Stormer and 8chan, the company recognized it “experienced significant negative publicity” in the aftermath.

“We are aware of some potential customers that have indicated their decision to not subscribe to our products was impacted, at least in part, by the actions of certain of our paying and free customers,” said the filing. “We may also experience other adverse political, business and reputational consequences with prospective and current customers, employees, suppliers, and others related to the activities of our paying and free customers, especially if such hostile, offensive, or inappropriate use is high profile.”

Cloudflare has also come under fire in recent months for allegedly supplying web protection services to sites that promote and support terrorism, including al-Shabaab and the Taliban, both of which are covered under U.S. Treasury sanctions.

In response, the company said it tries “to be neutral,” but wouldn’t comment specifically on the matter.

Porsche packs the power into its newest Cayenne plug-in hybrids

Porsche is upping its plug-in hybrid game with several new vehicles added to its lineup, including a power-packing 2020 Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid.

The plug-in version of this flagship SUV combines a 14.1-kilowatt-hour battery and 134-horsepower electric motor with a 4.0-liter twin turbocharged V8 engine found in the traditional gas-powered Cayenne Turbo. The electric motor is located between the V8 engine and its standard eight-speed transmission.

The upshot is a 670-horsepower plug-in beast that produces 663 pound-feet of torque and can travel from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 3.6 seconds. Not bad for an SUV.

But it’s not all about power. Porsche also increased the energy capacity of its battery, 30% more than the one used in previous generation plug-in hybrid Cayenne models. EPA fuel economy figures have not been released yet, but if it’s like other Porsche plug-in hybrids, the range will be somewhere around 20 or so miles.

The automaker has a number of nifty standard items in the Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid (and two new plug-in variants of the Cayenne Coupé), including a 7.2 kW onboard charger and 21-inch AeroDesign Wheels. The upgraded charger enables a complete recharge of the battery in as little as 2.4 hours when using a 240-volt connection with a 50-amp circuit, according to Porsche.

The plug-in versions of Cayenne Turbo and the Cayenne Turbo Coupé also comes standard with Porsche’s ceramic composite brakes, dynamic chassis control and other bonuses like 18-way adaptive sports seats.

All of this has a price, of course. The base price of the 2020 Porsche Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid is $161,900.

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2020 Porsche Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid

Porsche also took the wraps off of two other plug-in variants of its new Cayenne Coupé, a smaller, flashier version of the Cayenne. Both Cayenne Coupé variants feature a fixed spoiler above the rear window with a new adaptive rear spoiler below it that’s designed to enhance aerodynamic stability.

The Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid Coupé has a base price of pricier $164,400, slightly more expensive than its Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid counterpart due to a few additional extras such as 20-inch alloy wheels and a glass panoramic roof.

But the two high-end vehicles share many of the same standard items and stats. Both vehicles can travel from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 3.6 seconds and reach a top speed of 183 miles per hour, which is electronically limited.

Porsche also unveiled a less powerful and cheaper 455-horsepower Cayenne E-Hybrid Coupé that has a V6 engine and a base price of $86,400. This coupé version, which has the same powertrain as the Cayenne E-Hybrid, has a top speed of 157 mph and can travel from 0 to 60 in 4.7 seconds.

Automattic’s bargain-bin Tumblr deal plugs right into the WordPress business model

Tumblr has been an millstone around the neck of its owners, first Yahoo and later Oath and Verizon Media, pretty much since it was acquired in 2013. They never found an answer to the question that new owner Automattic is presumably about to take a crack at: how to make this unruly erstwhile porn factory turn a profit.

Amazingly, the secret technique that Tumblr may have been waiting for was good old-fashioned business sense: make something people want, then charge them a good price for it. Tumblr may fit into the WordPress model and do just this — quite a change from the indirect monetization attempts of the past decade.

The Yahoo acquisition under the stewardship of Marissa Mayer seems to have been made with the assumption, naive in retrospect but incredibly common in that era, that you could buy an audience, plunk some ads in the product, then sit back and let the money roll in.

But beyond doing that, Yahoo never really did anything with Tumblr apart from adding a few features and expanding ads. And for a while growth was good and the network flourished, even rivaling Instagram on some metrics.

How lawyers help bring your acquisition deal to fruition

Last week when Salesforce announced it was buying ClickSoftware for $1.35 billion you might not have realized it, but the law firm Shearman & Sterling was advising Salesforce throughout the deal. In fact, there are lawyers involved in every transaction of this sort, from the initial call to the closing.

As you would expect, there are hundreds of tiny details involved in bringing a deal to fruition, from checking the validity of the offer to checking the financial health of the target company, negotiating a price and terms and clearing it with the boards/stockholders. Even after the deal is signed and agreed upon by both companies, the lawyers often have to ease it through the regulatory process before it finally closes.

The attorneys act as project managers, working with company executives and boards of directors, guiding them through the lengthy transaction process, advising them on the legal side of the equation — all while working with the investment banks to make sure everything goes as smoothly as possible.

Looking for a target

A company like Salesforce doesn’t go out and buy ClickSoftware randomly. There is in fact a method to its M&A madness. As I wrote in an article describing the process in 2016:

Blade raises $4.3M from Coinbase, SV Angel to reshape cryptocurrency derivatives trading

Exchanges like Coinbase have ballooned in size by taking the mechanics of equity markets and fitting them to cryptocurrency markets, but as the space expands in its scope and craftiness, new exchanges trading asset classes native to cryptocurrency are taking off and attracting the attention of top Silicon Valley VCs. Oh, and Coinbase, too.

Blade is a new cryptocurrency derivatives exchange launching in three weeks. Prior to starting the company, CEO Jeff Byun and his co-founder Henry Lee founded OrderAhead, a delivery startup platform that was eventually acquired in-part by Square in 2017. The pair’s newest company shares little in common with their previous venture, but they are bringing aboard some of the same investors to support them.

Blade is announcing that they’ve raised $4.3 million in seed funding from a host of investors, including Coinbase, SV Angel, A.Capital, Slow Ventures, Justin Kan and Adam D’Angelo.

The exchange is tackling perpetual swap contracts.

Perpetuals are a crypto-native trading instrument that Byun says are “arguably the fastest growing segment of cryptocurrency trading.” They allow traders to bet on the future values of cryptocurrencies in relation to another and the instruments have no expiration dates, unlike fixed maturity futures. Traders can bet on how the price of Bitcoin can increase relative to USD, but they can also make bets relative to other altcoins like Monero, DogeCoin, Zcash, Ripple and Binance Coin. Here’s what’s on the Blade menu at the moment.

Blade’s noteworthy spins on perpetuals trading — compared to other exchanges — are that most of the contracts will be set up on simplified vanilla contracts, the perpetuals will also be margined/settled in USD Tether and the company is offering higher leverages (up to 150x on BTC-USD and BTC-KRW) on trades.

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Blade is raising funds from Silicon Valley’s VCs, but U.S. investors won’t be legally able to participate in the exchange. U.S. government agencies have been a bit more stringent in regulating cryptocurrencies, so there’s more trading activity taking place on exchanges outside the jurisdiction. Blade itself is an offshore entity with a U.S. subsidiary; its primary market is East Asia.

“It’s kind of a bifurcated market,” Byun tells TechCrunch. “Either you have exchanges like Coinbase or Gemini or Bitrex that cater to the U.S. market that are highly regulated or the exchanges that cater to the non-U.S. market that are much less regulated, but that’s where most of the volume is.”

While the company is still three weeks away from launch, the founders have bold ambitions.

“In the long term, we want to be the CME (Chicago Mercantile Exchange) of crypto,” Byun tells me. “Coinbase and Binance are building this foundational structure for crypto, but I think we are too and in a sense that derivatives are at their core about risk transfer, we want to be building the foundational layer for risk transfer in the crypto markets.”

Verizon is selling Tumblr to WordPress parent, Automattic

Six years after Yahoo purchased Tumblr for north of $1 billion, its parent corporation is selling the once-dominant blogging platform. WordPress owner Automattic Inc. has agreed to take the service off of Verizon’s hands. Terms of the deal are undisclosed, but the number is “nominal,” compared to its original asking price, per an article in The Wall Street Journal.

Axios is reporting that the asking price for the platform is “well below $20 million,” a fraction of a fraction of its 2013 price tag.

Once the hottest game in town, the intervening half-decade has been tough on Tumblr, as sites like Facebook, Instagram, Reddit and the like have since left the platform in the dust. More recently, a decision to ban porn from the platform has had a marked negative impact on the service’s traffic. According to Sensor Tower, first-time users for Tumblr’s mobile app declined 33% year-over-year last quarter.

“Tumblr is one of the Web’s most iconic brands,” Automattic CEO Matt Mullenweg said of the news. “It is an essential venue to share new ideas, cultures and experiences, helping millions create and build communities around their shared interests. We are excited to add it to our lineup, which already includes WordPress .com, WooCommerce, Jetpack, Simplenote, Longreads, and more.”

The news certainly isn’t surprising. In May, it was reported that Verizon was looking for a new owner for the site it inherited through its acquisition of Yahoo. Tumblr was Yahoo’s largest acquisition at the time, as then-CEO Marissa Mayer “promise[d] not to screw it up” in a statement made at the time.

Tumblr proved not to be a great fit for Yahoo — and even less so Verizon, which rolled the platform into its short-lived Oath business and later the Verizon Media Group (also TechCrunch’s umbrella company). On the face of it, at least, Automattic seems a much better match. The company runs WordPress.com, one of the internet’s most popular publishing tools, along with Jetpack and Simplenote. As part of the deal, the company will take on 200 Tumblr staffers.

“We couldn’t be more excited to be joining a team that has a similar mission. Many of you know WordPress.com, Automattic’s flagship product. WordPress.com and Tumblr were both early pioneers among blogging platforms,” Tumblr fittingly wrote in a blog post. “Automattic shares our vision to build passionate communities around shared interests and to democratize publishing so that anyone with a story can tell it, especially when they come from under-heard voices and marginalized communities.”

“Today’s announcement is the culmination of a thoughtful, thorough and strategic process,” Verizon Media CEO Guru Gowrappan said in a statement. “Tumblr is a marquee brand that has started movements, allowed for true identities to blossom and become home to many creative communities and fandoms. We are proud of what the team has accomplished and are happy to have found the perfect partner in Automattic, whose expertise and track record will unlock new and exciting possibilities for Tumblr and its users.”

This hacker’s iPhone charging cable can hijack your computer

Most people don’t think twice about picking up a phone charging cable and plugging it in. But one hacker’s project wants to change that and raise awareness of the dangers of potentially malicious charging cables.

A hacker who goes by the online handle MG took an innocent-looking Apple USB Lightning cable and rigged it with a small Wi-Fi-enabled implant, which, when plugged into a computer, lets a nearby hacker run commands as if they were sitting in front of the screen.

Dubbed the O.MG cable, it looks and works almost indistinguishably from an iPhone charging cable. But all an attacker has to do is swap out the legitimate cable for the malicious cable and wait until a target plugs it into their computer. From a nearby device and within Wi-Fi range (or attached to a nearby Wi-Fi network), an attacker can wirelessly transmit malicious payloads on the computer, either from pre-set commands or an attacker’s own code.

Once plugged in, an attacker can remotely control the affected computer to send realistic-looking phishing pages to a victim’s screen, or remotely lock a computer screen to collect the user’s password when they log back in.

MG focused his first attempt on an Apple Lightning cable, but the implant can be used in almost any cable and against most target computers.

“This specific Lightning cable allows for cross-platform attack payloads, and the implant I have created is easily adapted to other USB cable types,” MG said. “Apple just happens to be the most difficult to implant, so it was a good proof of capabilities.”

In his day job as a red teamer at Verizon Media (which owns TechCrunch), he develops innovative hacking methods and techniques to identify and fix security vulnerabilities before malicious attackers find them. Although a personal project, MG said his malicious cable can help red teamers think about defending against different kinds of threats.

“Suddenly we now have victim-deployed hardware that may not be noticed for much longer periods of time,” he explained. “This changes how you think about defense tactics. We have seen that the NSA has had similar capabilities for over a decade, but it isn’t really in most people’s threat models because it isn’t seen as common enough.”

“Most people know not to plug in random flash drives these days, but they aren’t expecting a cable to be a threat,” he said. “So this helps drive home education that goes deeper.”

MG spent thousands of dollars of his own money and countless hours working on his project. Each cable took him about four hours to assemble. He also worked with several other hackers to write some of the code and develop exploits, and gave away his supply of hand-built cables to Def Con attendees with a plan to sell them online in the near future, he said.

But the O.MG cable isn’t done yet. MG said he’s working with others to improve the cable’s functionality and expand its feature set.

“It really just comes down to time and resources at this point. I have a huge list in my head that needs to become reality,” he said.

(via Motherboard)

Nio electric vehicles sales took a hit as it scrambled to handle battery recall

Nio delivered just 837 electric vehicles in July, a nearly 38% drop from the previous month that was largely caused by a voluntary recall of its high-performance ES8 SUV.

The Chinese automotive startup issued a voluntary recall in June of nearly 5,000 ES8 SUVs after a series of battery fires in China and a subsequent investigation revealed a vulnerability in the design of the battery pack that could cause a short circuit. The recall affected a quarter of the ES8 vehicles sold since they went on sale in June 2018.

Nio was able to complete its recall for the 4,803 ES8s by prioritizing battery manufacturing capacity for this effort, which significantly affected production and delivery results, NIO founder, chairman and CEO William Li said Monday in a statement.

“On the positive side, we completed the ES8 battery recall in approximately half the time compared to our original timeline,” Li said, adding that the customer confidence is returning. “Looking ahead, with battery capacity allocation back to normal, we will accelerate deliveries and make up for the delivery loss impacted by the recall.”

Nio expects August to be a “much stronger month” with a target to deliver between 2,000 and 2,500 vehicles, according to Li. That’s a considerable jump from what Nio has been able to achieve in the past several months, even without the added battery recall problem.

Nio delivered 1,340 vehicles in June, 1,089 in May and 1,124 in April. As of July 31, 2019, aggregate deliveries of the company’s ES8 and ES6 reached 19,727 vehicles, of which 8,379 vehicles were delivered in 2019.

Deliveries of the ES8 initially surpassed expectations, but they have since slowed in 2019. Now, Nio will have to double deliveries in August to meet its target.

Other factors, and ones that might prove more chronic, also affected delivery numbers in July. Li noted that anticipated reductions in EV subsidies and macroeconomic conditions in China such as a decline in passenger vehicle sales and the U.S.-China trade conflict as other causes.

The souring economic picture in China has already prompted Nio to cut its workforce by 4.5%, shift its vehicle production plans and reduce R&D spending. Nio reported in May a loss of $390.9 million in the first quarter from a slowdown in sales that was primarily driven by the EV subsidy reduction in China and macroeconomic trends in the country that have been exacerbated by the U.S.-China trade war, Li said at the time.