Author: Lucas Matney

Postscript wants to be the Mailchimp for SMS

TECHCRUNCH Email is certainly not dead despite many such exclamations, but there’s no questions that it’s a bloated, seeping hog of a platform that’s incredibly difficult for businesses to develop meaningful relationships with customers on. Postscript, a startup launching out of Y Combinator’s latest class, wants to learn from what email marketing got right and translate that to the next frontier of B2C communications: SMS. It basically wants to be the Mailchimp for texts. “We are witnessing the decay of email.” Postscript President Alex Beller tells TechCrunch. “User behavior is all SMS now and e-commerce traffic and web traffic, in general, are so heavily mobile.” The startup specifically wants to focus on shaping how consumers and businesses engage in the relationship around online commerce. Do you have a subscription to some cook-at-home meal startup? Then maybe they’ll shoot you a message asking if you want to add a new dessert option to your meal this week. Reply “YES” to add. Then, that’s it. The startup handles ensuring that businesses have proper consent from users to get text messages sent to them. From there businesses are able to segment users, plan SMS campaigns with text and media and have everything backed up by a decent analytics suite so that customers can see what happens on the other end of the texts. Beyond campaigns, communications can be automated based on customer...

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Facebook mulled multi-billion-dollar acquisition of Unity, book claims

TECHCRUNCH Less than a year after making a $3 billion investment into the future of virtual reality with the purchase of Oculus VR, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was considering another multi-billion-dollar bet to ensure that his company dominated the VR platform, buying Unity, the popular game engine that’s used to build half of all gaming titles. This claim is made in a new book coming out next week, “The History of the Future,” by Blake Harris, which digs deep into the founding story of Oculus and the drama surrounding the Facebook acquisition, subsequent lawsuits, and personal politics of founder Palmer Luckey. In the early days while he was writing the book, Harris worked closely with the Facebook PR team and was granted regular interviews with key execs before, as he puts it, his “access came to an end.” Harris claims that through reporting out the book, he had gained access to more than 25,000 documents from sources, including a nearly 2,500-word email sent by Mark Zuckerberg to then-Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe, Sheryl Sandberg and a half-dozen other Facebook leaders detailing his interest in buying Unity. TechCrunch has not independently verified the contents of the email. The email, dated June 22, 2015, lays out an argument for further prioritizing AR/VR and buying the game engine company. The proposed deal,  codenamed “One” according to the book, would have brought one of the world’s...

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Asteroid is building a human-machine interaction engine for AR developers

TECHCRUNCH When we interact with computers today we move the mouse, we scroll the trackpad, we tap the screen, but there is so much that the machines don’t pick up on, what about where we’re looking, the subtle gestures we make and what we’re thinking? Asteroid is looking to get developers comfortable with the idea that future interfaces are going to take in much more biosensory data. The team has built a node-based human-machine interface engine for macOS and iOS that allows developers to build interactions that can be imported into Swift applications. “What’s interesting about emerging human-machine interface tech is the hope that the user may be able to “upload” as much as they can “download” today,”Asteroid founder Saku Panditharatne wrote in a Medium post. To bring attention to their development environment, they’ve launched a crowdfunding campaign that gives a decent snapshot of the depth of experiences that can be enabled by today’s commercially available biosensors. Asteroid definitely doesn’t want to be a hardware startup, but their campaign is largely serving as a way to just expose developers to what tools could be in their interaction design arsenal. There are dev kits and then there are dev kits, and this is a dev kit. Developers jumping on board for the total package get a bunch of open hardware, i.e. a bunch of gear and cases to build out hacked together...

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Tim Cook-backed shower startup Nebia shows off a warmer, water-saving shower head

TECHCRUNCH I’m not in the habit of getting naked during meetings at startup offices, but this time it felt appropriate. Nebia, a shower startup that has attracted investments from the likes of Apple CEO Tim Cook and former Google chairman Eric Schmidt’s foundation is back with some new cash (though it won’t divulge how much) and a new generation of its thoughtfully designed shower heads that aim to dramatically reduce the amount of water people use while cleaning up. After a lengthy chat with Nebia CEO Philip Winter who discussed all of the nuances of the Nebia’s second-gen “Spa Shower” that they just launched a crowdfunding campaign for today, he asked whether I’d like to try it out. With a couple hours of empty space in my calendar, I said “Why not?” and wandered over to the startup office’s shower showroom. Shower Thoughts This was probably the most analytical thinking I’ve done in the shower about the process of showering itself. The shower head in my bathroom at home is pretty standard and basically concentrates the water into a couple dozen streams organized in a circle that are firing at an even pace. It’s nothing fancy, I couldn’t tell you the brand, but I can say that I spend at least 20-30 minutes in there everyday without exception. Nebia’s shower is wildly more complicated — as a $499 shower should be —...

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Massless raises $2M to build an Apple Pencil for virtual reality

TECHCRUNCH Despite all of the VR over-hyping, for those observing from the inside, the capabilities are still uncharted. VR as a creative medium has probably been one of the more entrancing use cases since the first high-end headsets launched. Products like Google’s Tilt Brush isolated impossible use cases, where VR was the only way to experience that act of creating something mesmerizing from nothing. Massless has been intrigued by the potential of VR as a way to achieve new precision and more seamlessly shove designers and engineers into their digital workshops. The product they’re working on, the Massless Pen, is a professional stylus that functions with much of the pizzazz you’d expect from a product like the Apple Pencil, featuring things like deep pressure sensing and capacitive touch, in addition to upgrades like haptic feedback. Indeed, you can use the Massless Pen much like you would any other designer’s stylus, but things get a bit bizarre when you pick it up off the surface and manipulate the space in front of you. That’s because the startup’s product is also a tracked 6DoF VR controller, which users can utilize as a tool to manipulate, edit and further create. It utilizes its own tracking system, which can be mounted below hardware trackers used for VR headsets. “I think the most important thing about this product is that it works in three-dimensions,...

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Y Combinator’s latest batch of startups is too big for one Demo Day stage

TECHCRUNCH Y Combinator has been steadily ushering in more and more startups into its classes, but this year the poll position accelerator is having to make some major logistical adjustments to accommodate just how massive its group of startups has become. YC has more than 200 startups in their winter 2019 batch (!!) By comparison, the spring 2018 group was just 132 teams. (For the statistically inclined, that’s at least a 51 percent increase batch-over-batch.) In order to accommodate this truly wild amount of elevator pitches, the accelerator is moving to a new venue in San Francisco for its Demo Day event March 18 and 19. Yes, this means that the days of investors vainly searching for parking spots for their Teslas at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View or taking hour-long Ubers from SF may be behind them. The new location, Pier 48, (we hosted Disrupt SF 2017 here) boasts over 120,000 square feet of space — though YC Demo Days will almost certainly be utilizing a small portion of that total area. Indeed, Y Combinator will be hosting a “Virtual” Demo Day online stream for some investors to watch “because there are so few seats.” Photo: Max Morse for TechCrunch What’s more notable than the move from Mountain View to San Francisco, is the move from one stage where all the presenting founders shared their pitches,...

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Athenascope nabs $2.5M seed led by First Round to bring gamers AI-edited highlight reels

TECHCRUNCH As massive cross-platform gaming titles become even larger time-sucks for a lot of people, it’s probably worth reflecting on how to savor your in-game accomplishments. Streaming of eSports celebrities on sites like Twitch has taken off like no one imagined, but for the most part the toil-heavy editing processes has left this attention largely focused on those with the ambitions of making gaming their full-time gig. Athenascope is a small startup aiming to tap computer vision intelligence to record, review and recap what more novice gamers were able to pull off in their latest battle royale with a short, shareable highlight reel. The team is led by Chris Kirmse, who previously founded Xfire, a game messaging client that Viacom bought in 2006 for north of $100 million. The company announced this week that they’ve closed a $2.5 million seed round led by First Round Capital to grow its tools and its team. They’re also rolling out their AI highlight reel tool for gamers. The tool is pretty customized for individual titles; they’re launching with support for Fortnite, Rocket League and PUBG, but Kirmse hope to expand that list significantly in the future. Josh Kopelman, a partner at First Round Capital who is joining Athenascope’s board, highlighted that a lot of existing tools for gaming entertainment are “really skewed towards the high-end.” “They’re not democratized, they’re for professional gamers,” Kopelman told...

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References to next-gen Oculus ‘Rift S’ headset reportedly found in internal code

TECHCRUNCH After we broke the news in November that Oculus’s former CEO had left the company partially due to disagreements on the company’s PC hardware direction, including the cancellation of a high-end “Rift 2” in favor of a more iterative “Rift S” headset, new details are emerging that confirm Facebook’s directional shift for its flagship headset. UploadVR found some supporting files that back up my November report that Oculus is releasing a new headset with inside-out tracking called the Rift S https://t.co/9wK02Pr80n — Lucas Matney (@lucasmtny) February 5, 2019 User interface code discovered by UploadVR seems to confirm that...

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