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Media software maker Plex has released two new projects today from its internal R&D group, Plex Labs. One is an updated take on the classic Winamp player it calls Plexamp, and another is a dedicated app for Plex server administration. The projects are meant to appeal largely to Plex power users who take full advantage of Plex’s software suite, which has grown over time from being only a home media solution to a one-stop shop for everything from live TV to streaming audio.

The first of the new apps, Plexamp, is actually a revamp of the first Plex Labs project released. In December 2017, Plex introduced its own music player, whose name Plexamp was a nod to the Winamp player it aimed to replace. The project, like others from Plex Labs, was built by Plex employees in their spare time.

The goal with the original Plexamp was to offer a small desktop player that could handle any music format. The app let you use media keys for playing, pausing and skipping tracks and it worked offline when the Plex server ran on your laptop. It also offered visualizations to accompany your music that pulled from the album art.

While the original app ran on Mac or Windows, the new release works across five platforms, now including iOS, Android and Linux.

The app itself has been completely redone, as well — rewritten from scratch, in fact. And it’s tied to Plex’s subscription service, Plex Pass — meaning you’ll need to be a paying customer to use it.

The company explains the original version of Plexamp had issues around portability and licensing; it didn’t have an easy way to add functionality; and it was built with React, which tied it to the web.

To create the new Plexamp (version 3.0), Plex built an audio player library called TREBLE on top of a low-level commercial audio engine. TREBLE has been shipping in Plex’s commercial applications, but this release brings it to Plexamp. The addition helped make the app portable across almost all desktop and mobile platforms, as was it being rewritten in React Native.

The new app provides features Plex Pass music listeners want, like gapless playback, high-quality resampling, Sweet Fades (Plex’s “smart” alternative to crossfades) soft transitions and pre-caching. Plex also added a few more effects, including one for voice boosting spoken word audio and another for silence compression.

But the app really sells itself to longtime Plex users, as Plexamp lets you go back to see your own “top personal charts” for what you’ve listened to the most in years past. (Sort of like a Plex version of Apple Music’s Replay playlists).

Plexamp 3.0 also introduces a feature that lets you build your own mixes by picking a set of artists. Plus it offers a more expansive list of stations, supports offline listening and improves its search functionality.

The new Recent Searches area, for example, will save your search results from across servers, as well as TIDAL and podcasts. And a new Recent Plays feature shows you the music you consciously chose to play, again including across all servers and TIDAL.

There are some little touches, too, that show the personal care that went into the app’s design — like the way Plexamp uses album art and a process called “UltraBlur” to give each artist and alum page its own look. Or how there are options for light and dark — and lighter and darker — themes.

The other big new release from Plex Labs is the new Plex Dash app.

This mobile and tablet app lets you keep a close eye on your personal media server, including a way to see all playbacks even across multiple servers, plus other administrative features.

With Plex Dash, you can edit your artwork, scan for new media, fix incorrect matches, check on server resource usage, tweak library settings and view server logs live.

Plex suggests you it run on the iPad you have mounted in the wall — like in your fancy media room, I guess — but for us poorer folks, it runs on your smartphone, too.

It’s a power user tool, but one that will be welcomed for those fully immersed in a Plex-run home media setup. (And also a good way to respond to criticism that Plex is too focused today on its streaming and TV options, and not its core home media software customer base.)

Like Plexamp, the new Plex Dash requires a Plex Pass subscription and runs on iOS and Android.

The apps launched today are notable as they’re the first to arrive from Plex Labs since the original release of Plexamp in 2017 and because they require a subscription in order to work.

Plex at the end of 2019 said it had 15 million registered households using its service. Though the service is profitable, only a small percentage are paid subscribers. New apps with extra features, then, could convince more Plex users to upgrade.

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2020/04/16/media-software-maker-plex-launches-new-subscriber-only-apps-for-music-and-server-management/

Microsoft today announced a slew of new products, but at the core of the release is a major change to how the company is marketing its tools and services to consumers.

Office 365, which has long been the brand for the company’s subscription service for its productivity tools like Word, Excel and Outlook, is going away. On April 21, it’ll be replaced by new Microsoft 365 plans, including new personal and family plans (for up to six people) at $6.99 and $9.99 respectively. That’s the same price as the existing Office 365 Personal and Home plans.

“We are basically evolving our subscription from — in our minds — a set of tools to solutions that help you manage across your work and life,” Yusuf Mehdi, Microsoft’s CVP of Modern Life, Search and Devices, told me ahead of today’s announcement.

Microsoft is making similar branding changes to its business plans for Office 365. They are a bit more convoluted, with Office 365 Business Premium now called Microsoft 365 Business Standard and Microsoft 365 Business now becoming Microsoft 365 Business Premium, but for the most part, this is about branding while prices stay the same.

These new Microsoft 365 Personal and Family plans will include access to Outlook and the Office desktop apps for Windows and macOS, 1 terabyte of OneDrive storage per person (including unlimited access to the more secure OneDrive Personal Vault service) and 50 gigabytes of Outlook.com email storage, Skype call recording and 60 minutes of Skype landline and mobile phone calls.

And since this is now Microsoft 365 and not Office 365, you can also get Windows 10 technical support with the subscription, as well as additional security features to protect you from phishing and malware attacks.

More than 37 million people currently have personal Office 365 subscriptions and chances are these lower prices will bring more users to the platform in the long run. As Mehdi stressed, Microsoft’s free offerings aren’t going away.

But with today’s release, Microsoft isn’t just changing the branding and launching these new plans, it’s also highlighting quite a few new capabilities in its various applications that are either launching today or in the coming months.

Microsoft Teams gets a personal edition

The highlight of this launch, especially given the current situation around COVID-19, is likely the announcement of Teams for consumers. Teams is already one of Microsoft’s fastest growing products for businesses with 44 million people using it. But in its efforts to help people bridge their work and personal lives, it will now launch a new Teams edition for consumers, as well.

Just like you can switch between work and personal accounts in Outlook, you will soon be able to do the same in Teams. The personal teams view will look a little bit different, with shared calendars for the family, access to OneDrive vaults, photo sharing, etc., but it sits on the same codebase as the business version. You’ll also be able to do video calls and shared to-do lists.

Microsoft Teams is coming to consumers — but Skype is here to stay

Better writing through AI

About a year ago, Microsoft announced that Word Online would get a new AI-powered editor that would help you write better. You can think of it as a smarter grammar checker that can fix all of your standard grammar mistakes but can also help you avoid overly complex sentences and bias in your word choices.

This editor is now the Microsoft Editor, and the company is expanding it well beyond Word. The new AI-powered service is now available in 20 languages in Word and Outlook.com — and maybe most importantly, it’ll be available as a Microsoft Edge and Google Chrome plug-in, too.

Free users will get basic spelling and grammar features, while Microsoft 365 subscribers will get a number of more advanced features like the ability to ask the editor to suggest a rewrite of a mangled sentence, a plagiarism checker, style analysis to see if your writing is unclear or too formal and access to an inclusive language critique to help you avoid unintentional bias.

If you’ve used Grammarly in the past, then a lot of this will sound familiar. Both services now offer a similar set of capabilities, but Microsoft may have an edge with its ability to rewrite sentences.

Better presentations through technology

In a similar vein, Microsoft also launched a presentation coach for PowerPoint as a limited test last September. This AI-driven feature helps you avoid filler words and other presentation no-nos.

This feature first launched in the online version of PowerPoint, with a basic set of features. Now, Microsoft 365 subscribers will get two new advanced features, too, that can help you avoid a monotone pitch that puts your audience to sleep and avoid grammar mistakes in your spoken sentences.

Currently, these are still available as a free preview to all but will become Microsoft 365-only features soon.

PowerPoint is also getting an updated Designer to help you create better presentations. It can now easily turn text into a timeline, for example, and when you add an image, it can present you with a set of potential slide layouts.

Microsoft 365 subscribers now also get access to over 8,000 images and 175 looping videos from Getty Images, as well as 300 new fonts and 2,800 new icons.

Excel + Plaid

For you spreadsheet jockeys out there, Microsoft also has some good news, especially if you want to use Excel to manage your personal budgets.

In partnership with Plaid, you can now link your bank accounts to Excel and import all of your expenses into your spreadsheets. With that, you can then categorize your spend and build your own personal Mint. This feature, dubbed “Money in Excel,” will launch in the U.S. in the coming months.

In addition, Excel is getting a lot more cloud- and AI-driven data types that now cover over 100 topics, including nutrition, movies, places, chemistry and — because why not — Pokémon. Like some of the previous features, this is an extension of the work Microsoft did on Excel in the last few years, starting with the ability to pull in stock market and geographical data.

And just like with the previous set of features, you’ll need a Microsoft 365 subscription to get access to these additional data types. Otherwise, you’ll remain restricted to the stock market and geography data types, which will become available to Office Insiders in the spring and then Personal and Family subscribers in the U.S. in the coming months.

Outlook gets more personal

Even though you may want to forget about Outlook and ignore your inbox for a while, Microsoft doesn’t. In Outlook on the web, you can now link your personal and work calendars to ensure you don’t end up with a work meeting in the middle of a personal appointment, because Chris from marketing really needs another sync meeting during your gym time even though a short email would suffice.

Outlook for Android can now summarize and read your emails aloud for you, too. This feature will roll out in the coming months.

Family Safety

While most of the new features here focus on existing applications, Microsoft is also launching one completely new app: Microsoft Family Safety. This app is coming to Microsoft 365 subscribers on iOS and Android and will bring together a set of tools that can help families manage their online activities and track the location of family members.

The app lets families manage the screen time of their kids (and maybe parents, too) across Windows, Android and Xbox, for example. Parents can also set content filters that only allow kids to download age-appropriate apps. But it also allows parents to track their kids in the real world through location tracking and even driving reports. This, as Mehdi stressed, is a feature that kids can turn off, but they’ll probably have to explain themselves to their parents then. Indeed, he stressed that a lot of what the app does is give parents a chance to have a dialog with their kids. What makes the service unique is that it works across platforms, with iOS support coming in the future.

This app is launching as a limited preview now and will be available in the coming months (I think you can spot a trend here).

Partner benefits

Mehdi noted that Microsoft is also partnering with companies like Adobe, Bark, Blinkist, Creative Live, Experian, Headspace and TeamSnap to provide Microsoft 365 subscribers with additional benefits like limited-time access to their products and services. Subscribers will get three months of free access to Adobe’s Creative Cloud Photography plan, for example.

At the core of today’s updates, though, is a mission to bring a lot of the productivity tools that people know from their work life to their personal life, too, with the personal edition of Teams being the core example.

“We’re very much excited to bring this type of value — not increase the price of Office 365 — take a big step forward, and then move to this,” Mehdi said. “We think now more than ever, it is valuable for people to have the subscription service for their life that helps them make the most of their time, protects their family, lets them develop and grow. And our goal or aspiration is: Can we give you the most valuable subscription for your life? I know people value their video subscriptions and music subscriptions. Our aspiration is to provide the most valuable subscription for your life via Microsoft 365 Personal and Family.”

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2020/03/30/office-365-becomes-microsoft-365-and-gets-new-personal-and-family-plans/

TikTok, the fast-growing user-generated video app from China’s ByteDance, has been building a new music streaming service to compete against the likes of Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music. And today it’s announcing a deal that helps pave the way for a global launch of it. It has inked a licensing deal with Merlin, the global agency that represents tens of thousands of independent music labels and hundreds of thousands of artists, for music from those labels to be used legally on the TikTok platform anywhere that the app is available.

The news is significant because this is the first major music licensing deal announced by TikTok as part of its wider efforts in the music industry. Notably, it’s not the first: I’ve confirmed TikTok has actually secured other major labels but has been restricted from going public on the details.

The Merlin deal is therefore a template of what TikTok is likely signing with others: it includes both its mainstay short-form videos — where music plays a key role (the app, before it was acquired by ByteDance, was even called “Musically”) — as well as new music streaming services.

Specifically, a source close to TikTok has confirmed to TechCrunch that the licensing deal covers its upcoming music subscription service Resso.

Resso was long-rumoured and eventually spotted in the wild at the end of last year when ByteDance tested the app in India and Indonesia. ByteDance owns the Resso trademark, so it’s a good bet that it will make its way to other markets soon. (Possibly with features that differentiate this later entrant from others in the market? Recall ByteDance acquired an AI-based music startup called Jukedeck last year.)

“Independent artists and labels are such a crucial part of music creation and consumption on TikTok,” said Ole Obermann, global head of music for TikTok, in a statement. “We’re excited to partner with Merlin to bring their family of labels to the TikTok community. The breadth and diversity of the catalogue presents our users with an even larger canvas from which to create, while giving independent artists the opportunity to connect with TikTok’s diverse community.”

Music is a fundamental part of the TikTok experience, and this deal covers everything that’s there today — videos created by TikTok users, sponsored videos created for marketing — as well as whatever is coming up around the corner.

A music streaming app, which TikTok has reportedly been gearing up to launch for some time, is one way that the company could help generate revenue. Despite being one of the most popular apps of 2019, monetisation has largely eluded the company up to now.

One reason why monetising may happen is because of the lack of deals at the other end of the chain. As of December, TikTok reportedly had yet to sign any deals with the “majors” — Sony Music, Warner Music and Universal Music. From what we understand, Merlin is the first big deal of its kind announced by the company, but others are already in place.

In any case, the company is ramping up its bigger music operation.

Obermann, who was hired away from Warner Music last year, in turn hired another former Warner colleague, Tracy Gardner, who now leads label licensing for the company. And just yesterday, the company opened an office in Los Angeles, the heart of the music industry.

The move to bring more licensed music usage to TikTok (and other ByteDance apps) is significant for other reasons, too.

On one hand, it’s about labels trying to evolve with the times, collecting revenues wherever audiences happen to be, whether that is in short-form user-generated video, in advertising that runs alongside that or in a new music service capitalising on the new vogue for streamed media.

“This partnership with TikTok is very significant for us,” said Jeremy Sirota, CEO, Merlin, in a statement. “We are seeing a new generation of music services and a new era of music-related consumption, much of it driven by the global demand for independent music. Merlin members are increasingly using TikTok for their marketing campaigns, and today’s partnership ensures that they and their artists can also build new and incremental revenue streams.”

Times are changing in the music industry. Sirota himself only joined Merlin earlier this month, after working on music efforts at Facebook for the last couple of years (and before that at Warner Music, like TikTok’s two key executives).

On the other hand, the deal is significant also because it underscores how TikTok is increasingly working to legitimise itself in the wider tech and media marketplace.

While ByteDance’s acquisition of TikTok continues to face regulatory scrutiny, the company has been working on ways to assert its independence from China’s control, which has included many clarifications about where its content is hosted (not China! it says) and even a search for a new U.S.-based CEO. On another front, more licensing deals should also help the company with the many legal and PR issues that have been hanging over it concerning how it pays out when music is used in its popular app.

Updated with clarification that Obermann works for TikTok, not ByteDance, and the news that there are other music deals in place that have yet to be announced.

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2020/01/23/tiktok-inks-licensing-deal-with-merlin-to-use-music-from-independent-labels-in-videos-and-new-resso-streaming-service/

Here is a small but useful new feature in Google Chrome: global media controls that allow you to control from a single widget all of the audio and video sources in your current tabs. With this, you can switch to the next song from your favorite web-based music streaming service, start and stop a YouTube video that’s playing in the background or switch back and forth between what’s playing in multiple tabs without having to hunt around your browser for the right tab. It’s not going to rock your world, but it’s a useful new feature.

Google started these media controls last year when it enabled it for Chromebook users, but it’s now live in the stable channel for all Chrome users across desktop platforms.

This seems to work with as many media tabs as you can handle, though from what I have seen, Google’s own services like YouTube and YouTube Music tend to get more extensive control options with thumbnails while Spotify only showed three controls to go back, skip to the next song and pause.

To give it a try, simply play media in any of your tabs and look for the new media control icon to pop up to the right of the URL field.

It’s worth noting that the new Chromium-based Microsoft Edge, which came out of preview yesterday, features the exact same media controls (down to the icon) in its pre-release channels, though they haven’t made it into the stable release yet. Firefox does not currently have a similar built-in feature.

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2020/01/16/chrome-gets-global-media-controls/

Internet platforms like Google, Facebook and Twitter are under incredible pressure to reduce the proliferation of illegal and abhorrent content on their services.

Interestingly, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg recently called for the establishment of “third-party bodies to set standards governing the distribution of harmful content and to measure companies against those standards.” In a follow-up conversation with Axios, Kevin Martin of Facebook “compared the proposed standard-setting body to the Motion Picture Association of America’s system for rating movies.”

The ratings group, whose official name is the Classification and Rating Administration (CARA), was established in 1968 to stave off government censorship by educating parents about the contents of films. It has been in place ever since – and as longtime filmmakers, we’ve interacted with the MPAA’s ratings system hundreds of times – working closely with them to maintain our filmmakers’ creative vision, while, at the same time, keeping parents informed so that they can decide if those movies are appropriate for their children. 

CARA is not a perfect system. Filmmakers do not always agree with the ratings given to their films, but the board strives to be transparent as to why each film receives the rating it does. The system allows filmmakers to determine if they want to make certain cuts in order to attract a wider audience. Additionally, there are occasions where parents may not agree with the ratings given to certain films based on their content. CARA strives to consistently strike the delicate balance between protecting a creative vision and informing people and families about the contents of a film.

CARA’s effectiveness is reflected in the fact that other creative industries including televisionvideo games, and music have also adopted their own voluntary ratings systems. 

While the MPAA’s ratings system works very well for pre-release review of content from a professionally- produced and curated industry, including the MPAA member companies and independent distributors, we do not believe that the MPAA model can work for dominant internet platforms like Google, Facebook, and Twitter that rely primarily on post hoc review of user-generated content (UGC).

Image: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch

Here’s why: CARA is staffed by parents whose judgment is informed by their experiences raising families – and, most importantly, they rate most movies before they appear in theaters. Once rated by CARA, a movie’s rating will carry over to subsequent formats, such as DVD, cable, broadcast, or online streaming, assuming no other edits are made.

By contrast, large internet platforms like Facebook and Google’s YouTube primarily rely on user-generated content (UGC), which becomes available almost instantaneously to each platform’s billions of users with no prior review. UGC platforms generally do not pre-screen content – instead they typically rely on users and content moderators, sometimes complemented by AI tools, to flag potentially problematic content after it is posted online.

The numbers are also revealing. CARA rates about 600-900 feature films each year, which translates to approximately 1,500 hours of content annually. That’s the equivalent of the amount of new content made available on YouTube every three minutes. Each day, uploads to YouTube total about 720,000 hours – that is equivalent to the amount of content CARA would review in 480 years!

Another key distinction: premium video companies are legally accountable for all the content they make available, and it is not uncommon for them to have to defend themselves against claims based on the content of material they disseminate.

By contrast, as CreativeFuture said in an April 2018 letter to Congress: “the failure of Facebook and others to take responsibility [for their content] is rooted in decades-old policies, including legal immunities and safe harbors, that actually absolve internet platforms of accountability [for the content they host.]”

In short, internet platforms whose offerings consist mostly of unscreened user-generated content are very different businesses from media outlets that deliver professionally-produced, heavily-vetted, and curated content for which they are legally accountable.

Given these realities, the creative content industries’ approach to self-regulation does not provide a useful model for UGC-reliant platforms, and it would be a mistake to describe any post hoc review process as being “like MPAA’s ratings system.” It can never play that role.

This doesn’t mean there are not areas where we can collaborate. Facebook and Google could work with us to address rampant piracy. Interestingly, the challenge of controlling illegal and abhorrent content on internet platforms is very similar to the challenge of controlling piracy on those platforms. In both cases, bad things happen – the platforms’ current review systems are too slow to stop them, and harm occurs before mitigation efforts are triggered. 

Also, as CreativeFuture has previously said, “unlike the complicated work of actually moderating people’s ‘harmful’ [content], this is cut and dried – it’s against the law. These companies could work with creatives like never before, fostering a new, global community of advocates who could speak to their good will.”

Be that as it may, as Congress and the current Administration continue to consider ways to address online harms, it is important that those discussions be informed by an understanding of the dramatic differences between UGC-reliant internet platforms and creative content industries. A content-reviewing body like the MPAA’s CARA is likely a non-starter for the reasons mentioned above – and policymakers should not be distracted from getting to work on meaningful solutions.

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2019/06/30/adopting-a-ratings-system-for-social-media-like-the-ones-used-for-film-and-tv-wont-work/

The Europas Awards for European Tech Startups came around again last week (Thursday 27th June), and once again proved that Europe’s enormous diversity in startups continues to shine through on the world stage.

Once again TechCrunch was the exclusive media sponsor of the awards, alongside new “tech, culture & society” event creator The Pathfounder. Attendees, nominees and winners were given discounts to TechCrunch Disrupt in Berlin, later this year.

The awards cover 20 categories, including new additions such as cover AgTech / FoodTech, SpaceTech, GovTech and Mobility Tech.

After an intense round of public voting and judges’ deliberations, the awards were held in the ‘Summer Festival’ atmosphere of the lawns of the iconic Geffrey Museum in London’s ‘Silicon Roundabout Area’ of Shoreditch and featured street trucks, lawn games, music and a fantastic after-party!

The judges came from the creme-de-la-creme of the European tech scene and their picks for the winners were combined with the results of a week of online voting.

Photos from The Europas Awards are now on Flickr where you can download them. They are also on Facebook here. The Live stream hosted by Hermione Way starts here, the panel sessions are here and The Europas Awards ceremony starts here.

You can sign up to get news of next year’s awards and similar events here.

The sponsors this year where:
Bizzabo
World Datanomic Forum
Currency.com
Target Global
Bayer G4A
CommsCo
Isotoma
iHorizon
FieldHouse Associates
Rocketmakers
Burlington PR
Home Grown

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So without further-a-do here are the winners and finalists for The Europas Awards 2019!

The Europas Awards — Hottest AgTech / FoodTech Startup
WINNER:
Small Robot Company: Building small robots to transform farming
Presented by Gemma Evans, HealthHackers

FINALISTS:
Agricool: grows and produces fruits and vegetables inside shipping containers
Allplants: Delicious, plant-based meals, delivered.
Breedr: a productivity and marketing platform transforming the livestock supply-chain
iFarm: Data-driven urban farming technology
Ynsect: Designs, constructs and operates giant vertical farm of beetles (Molitors) to produce high grade proteins.

The Europas Awards — Hottest CleanTech Startup
WINNER:
Solar Foods: Produces an entirely new kind of nutrient-rich protein using only air and electricity as the main resources
Presented by Laurence Kemball Cook, Pavegen CEO

FINALISTS:
Asperitas: a clean-tech company focused on greening the datacentre industry
Naefos: A fintech-IoT platform for enterprises to access off-grid households
Bulb: affordable renewable energy for homes and businesses
Orbital Systems: a Swedish clean-tech company that develops a water recycling technology to be used in domestic appliances
VoltStorage: Solar power storage for your home

The Europas Awards — Hottest CyberTech Startup
WINNER:
Panaseer: A continuous controls monitoring platform
Presented by Pratik Sampat, iHorizon

FINALISTS:
UK Barac: Using AI and behavioural analytics to detect malware hidden within encrypted traffic without the need for decryption
Cymulate: Breach and attack simulation
UK Immersive Labs: A fully interactive, on-demand, and gamified cyber skills platform
Passbase: a digital identity platform to streamline the identity verification process and enable identity ownership and reuse across different services
PixelPin: a secure authentication system using pictures instead of passwords
uBirch: Securing IoT data using blockchain

The Europas Awards — Hottest EdTech Startup
WINNER:
Perlego: Textbook subscription service

FINALISTS:
Busuu: Online community for language learning
Get My Grades: online learning platform for English, Maths and Science
MyPocketSkill: Connecting teens to pocket money earning jobs
Pigzbe: Crypto-friendly, digital wallet for 6+
PitchMe: Skills-based talent marketplace
Robo Wunderkind: developing modular and programmable robots to teach children robotics and coding
Lirica: Learn languages with the power of music

The Europas Awards — Hottest FashTech Startup
WINNER:
Metail: virtual fitting room service for fashion retailers that allows customers to create a 3D model of themselves and try on clothes

FINALISTS:
Bump: making commerce social
Euveka: develops connected smart-mannequins, using custom software, to assist fashion, sports and medical professionals in the prototyping and sale of individual garments
Heuritech: anticipating brand and product desirability through the eyes of millions of fashion influencers and consumers
HUUB: a logistics and tech platform for Fashion brands
Little Black Door: intelligent inventory platform that captures the value of your wardrobe and opens it up to a premium managed marketplace
Finda: Professional model booking platform

The Europas Awards — Hottest FinTech Startup
WINNER:
Auquan: data science platform for financial services
Presented by Malin Holmberg, Target Global VC

FINALISTS:
Curve: a platform allowing consolidation of all bank cards into a single smart card and app
Cytora: Using AI to enable insurers to underwrite more efficiently
Divido: a retail finance platform that allows companies to offer instant customer finance
Holvi: digital banking for freelancers and entrepreneurs
Monese: an online banking platform that offers quick current account opening for all EU residents
Moonfare: a technology-enabled platform allowing individuals to invest in top-tier private equity funds
Nuggets: Login, pay and verify ID without ever sharing or storing your data with anyone
PremFina: White label software to manage insurance policies
Yobota: cloud-based platform allows financial services to design and deploy financial products

The Europas Awards — Hottest GovTech, CivTech, PubTech, RegTech
WINNER:
New Vector: decentralised, secure communication for governments, businesses and individuals
Presented by Eloise Todd, Anti-Brexit Campaigner

FINALISTS:
Adzuna: digital service that connects jobseekers with employers online and through job centres around the UK
Apolitical Apolitical is a global policy insights platform and network helping governments and companies advance their work and business
Clause Match: end-to-end solution for fully automating regulatory compliance
Luminance: document analysis software to secure big data systems
novoville – novoville is a Citizen Engagement Platform, that bridges the gap between local governments and their citizens
Safened: Digital KYC Solution
SafeTeam: NHS community lone worker app

The Europas Awards — Hottest HealthTech Startup
WINNER:
BIOS, creating the open standard hardware and software interface between the human nervous system and AI
Presented by Rafiq Hasan, Bayer Health

FINALISTS:
Ada Health: an AI-powered health platform
eQuoo: evidence based mental health game for young adults
Lumeon: providing care pathway management solutions to the healthcare industry
Natural Cycles: a digital contraceptive app
Pregenerate: “cartilage-on-a- chip” to accelerate drug development for arthritis
Siilo: secure messenger app for medical teams
Straight Teeth Direct: Direct to consumer teledentistry platform that connects users to online dentists globally enabling low cost at home teeth straightening

The Europas Awards — Hottest MadTech (MarTech or AdTech) Startup
WINNERS:
Ometria: a customer insight and marketing automation platform
Videesha Bockle, signals Venture Capital

FINALISTS:
Codec: AI-powered audience intelligence for brands
MeasureMatch: find, book, pay & rate independent consultants or consultancies to accelerate marketing, commerce & customer experience capabilities
PlanSnap: a social planning platform that gets friends together
StreetBees: Connecting brands with real people on the ground to gather real time insights
Uberall: location marketing cloud
Vidsy: helps brands create original mobile video ads at scale
Waive: an intelligent trend spotting platform

The Europas Awards — Hottest Mobility Travel Tech Startup
WINNER:
Voi Scooters: owns, operates, and manages electric scooters for urban commuters
Joelle Hadfield, HelloFresh

FINALISTS:
Culture Trip: inspiring people to explore the world’s culture and creativity
daytrip: platform connecting independent travelers with local drivers
Dott: scooter startup
minicabit: an online minicab and taxi price comparison and booking service
Snap Travel: on-demand coach service
Trafi: Mobility solutions for connected cities
Wejo: unlocks the value in car data to help create smarter, safer, better and greener journeys for drivers globally

The Europas Awards — Hottest PropTech Startup
WINNER:
NPlan: machine learning – based risk analysis for construction projects
Simon Calver, BFG

FINALISTS:
Casavo: market maker within the residential real estate market
Good Monday: a digital office management system
Habito: digital mortgage broker
Home Made: property tech rental agent
Hubble: online marketplace for office space
Mews Systems: property management software for hospitality operations
Planner 5D: 3D home design tool using AI, VR & AR to create floorplans and interior design
Reposit: tenancy deposit alternative
Urban Jungle: A fully digital insurer, for a new generation of customers

The Europas Awards — Hottest Retail / ECommerce Tech Startup
WINNER:
NearSt: building the world’s source of real-time local inventory
Presented by Audrey Soussan, Ventech

FINALISTS:
Festicket: marketplace to discover and book music festival tickets, accommodation, transfers and extras
Keep Warranty: app that saves the warranties and purchase slips of your appliances
Picnic: online supermarket, that delivers groceries for the lowest price to people’s home
Pimcore: digital experience platform to manage product information
Spryker Systems: a commerce technology company
store2be: Online marketplace for short-term retail and promotion space
Trouva: curated marketplace for bricks and mortar independent shops

The Europas Awards — Hottest B2B / SaaS Startup
WINNER:
Infobip: Full-stack Communications Platform as a Service (CPaaS)
Sally MacDonald, Partner, CommsCo

FINALISTS:
Chattermill: Using deep learning to help organizations make sense of their customer experience
Dixa: conversational customer engagement software that connects brands with customers through real-time communication
Meero: On demand photography service combined with image processing artificial intelligence
Paddle: platform for all software companies to run and grow their business
Peakon: a platform for measuring and improving employee engagement
ProoV: a PoC platform that enables businesses to test new technologies
SeedLegals: platform for all the legals startups need to grow and get funded
TravelPerk: business travel booking & management platform for companies
Unbabel: a ‘translation-as-a-service’ platform, powered by AI and a worldwide community of translators

The Europas Awards — Hottest SpaceTech Startup
WINNER:
Open Cosmos: Simple and affordable space missions
Presented by Dr Barbara Ghinelli, Harwell

FINALISTS:
Aerial & Maritime: A Danish nanosatellite-based solution for monitoring aircrafts and maritime vessels
Aerospacelab: Develops a constellation of micro-satellites for earth observation and imagery
aXenic: Design, development and production of optical modulators for communications and sensing
Global Surface Intelligence: Environmental data service
Hawa Dawa: Combines proprietary IoT smart sensor data with other sources of data (including satellite data) to give highly accurate data on air quality
Monolith: Machine Learning Platform that helps engineers to predict the outcome of unknown, new tests or simulations by reusing historical data
Trik: Enterprise drone 3D mapping software for structural inspection
Unseenlabs – Unseenlabs designs and develops a spectrum surveillance payload
Xonaspace: Uses an XPS and LEO satellite constellation for extremely precise GPS systems

The Europas Awards — Hottest Tech for Good Startup
WINNER:
Beam: help a homeless person for the long-term by funding their employment training
Paula Schwarz, World Datanomic Forum

FINALISTS:
eWaterpay: Using mobile technology for the accountable collection of user fees to pay for the maintenance of water supply systems forever
Idka: a platform for private groups and organizations, where they can connect, communicate, share and store anything – while their privacy remains intact
OmoLab: develops tools that make easier for people with dyslexia to read
SafetoNet: an app that protects children online by using AI to detect harmful content, whilst respecting children’s privacy
Tick. Done.: a micro-video platform for instant knowledge sharing
Winnow: digital tools to help chefs run more profitable, sustainable kitchen

The Europas Awards — Hottest Blockchain Project
WINNER:
Argent: a smart wallet for cryptocurrencies and blockchain applications

FINALISTS:
Aeternity: a scalable blockchain platform that enables high-speed transacting, purely-functional smart contracts
AZTEC Protocol: building privacy technology for public blockchain infrastructures
Colendi: decentralized credit scoring protocol and microcredit platform with blockchain and machine learning technologies
Edge ESports: blockchain-based platform for professional gamers
FilmChain: blockchain enabled platform that collects data, verifies revenues and executes stakeholder payment splits for film, TV etc
Orbs: a blockchain Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) for large scale consumer applications
Veratrak: a shared workspace for collaborating with your supply chain partners

The Europas Awards — Hottest Blockchain Investor
WINNER:
Outlier Ventures: invests and partners with tokenised communities that will create the new decentralised economy
Presented by Kaisa Ruusalepp, Funderbeam

FINALISTS:
BlueYard Capital
Catagonia Capital
Earlybird Venture Capital
Fabric Ventures: A venture capital firm that invests in scalable decentralized networks
FinLab
KR1: crypto token Investment company supporting early stage decentralised and open source blockchain projects
Mosaic Ventures

The Europas Awards — Hottest A/A+ Investors
WINNER:
Atomico
Presented by Madhuban Kumar, Metafused

FINALISTS:
Accel
Anthemis Group
Balderton Capital
DN Capital
EQT Ventures
Index Ventures
Northzone
Project A Ventures
Ventech Capital

The Europas Awards — Hottest Early-Stage / Accelerator Investors
WINNER:
Founders Factory
Presented by Jenny Judova, TechHub

FINALISTS:
Seedcamp
Forward Partners
Generation S
Entrepreneur First
Techstars London
The Family
7percent Ventures
Backed VC
Firstminute Capital
LocalGlobe
Episode 1 Ventures

The Europas Awards — Hall of Fame
This category recognises a person who has gone above and beyond the call of duty to enhance the tech ecoosystem not just for themselves but for others.
WINNER:
Brent Hoberman of Founders Factory, Founders Forum, Firstminute Capital, Lastminute.com and many other initiatives for startups and entrepreneurs

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2019/07/01/the-winners-of-the-europas-awards-2019-display-europes-continuing-diversity-and-ambition/

Alphabet-backed UnitedMasters, the music label distribution startup and record label alternative that offers artists 100% ownership of everything they create, launched its iPhone app today.

The iPhone app works like the service they used to offer, only via the web, giving artists the chance to upload their own tracks (from iCloud, Dropbox or directly from text messages), then distribute them to a full range of streaming music platforms, including Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal and more. In exchange for this distribution, as well as analytics on how your music is performing, UnitedMasters takes a 10% share on revenue generated by tracks it distributes, but artists retain full ownership of the content they create.

UnitedMasters also works with brand partners, including Bose, the NBA and AT&T, to place tracks in marketing use across the brand’s properties and distributed content. Music creators are paid out via PayPal once they connect their accounts, and they also can tie-in their social accounts for connecting their overall online presence with their music.

UnitedMasters

Using the app, artists can create entire releases by uploading not only music tracks but also high-quality cover art, and by entering information like whether any producers participated in the music creation, and whether the tracks contain any explicit lyrics. You also can specify an exact desired release date, and UnitedMasters will do its best to distribute across services on that day, pending content approvals.

UnitedMasters was founded by former Interscope Records president Steve Stoute, and also has funding from Andreessen Horwitz and 20th Century Fox. It’s aiming to serve a new generation of artists who are disenfranchised by the traditional label model, but are seeking distribution through the services where listeners actually spend their time, and using the iPhone to manage the entire process definitely fits with serving that customer base.

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2019/07/04/unitedmasters-releases-iphone-app-for-diy-cross-service-music-distribution/

Apples announcement that it is to close the software is a reminder of its role in reconciling music and the internet

Last Monday, at Apples Worldwide Developers Conference, the companys head of software engineering, Craig Federighi, announced that it was terminating iTunes. In one way, the only surprising thing was that Apple had taken so long to reach that decision. Its been obvious for years that iTunes had become baroquely bloated, a striking anomaly for a company that prides itself on elegant and functional design. So the decision to split the software into three functional units dealing with music, podcasts and TV apps seemed both logical and long overdue. But for internet users dun certain ge (including this columnist) the announcement triggered reflections on personal and tech history.

Theres been music on the internet for a long time. The advent of the compact disc in the early 1980s meant that recorded music went from being analogue to digital. But CD music files were vast a single CD came in at about 700MB and for most people, the network was slow. So transferring music from one location to another was not a practical proposition. But then, in 1993, researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany came up with a way of shrinking audio files by a factor of 10 or more, so that a three-minute music track could be reduced to 3MB without much perceptible loss in quality. They called their new standard MP3 and in July 1994, released the first MP3 encoder, software that could take in CD tracks and compress them using the MP3 filter.

This was a pivotal moment for the music industry, but it took another five years for that penny to drop. In that time, music-loving geeks everywhere had ripped all of their CDs using MP3 encoders and were storing their music on hard drives. (I remember having to buy a bigger and ferociously expensive hard drive to house my collection.)

And then in 1999, a teenage geek named Shawn Fanning created a neat software system that enabled internet users who had MP3 tracks on their PCs not only to find others with similar assets but also to exchange these tracks with one another. Fanning called his file-sharing system Napster, released it on the internet and in the process changed the world. By the time the music industry managed to get Napster shut down in 2001, it had acquired upwards of 60 million users and virtually every track that had ever been recorded was available free on the internet, which had now become, as someone once put it, the celestial jukebox in the sky.

The problem was that most of these tracks were copyrighted and so much of what was going on was wholesale piracy. But the music industrys vanquishing of Napster turned out to be a pyrrhic victory: the genie had escaped from the bottle. Dozens of filesharing systems had come into being and the record business found itself facing an existential threat.

What it should have done was create a slick online system that would enable law-abiding citizens to pay for music tracks. But this apparently lay beyond the capacity of an industry driven by executives with analogue mindsets and incentivised only to sell physical objects called CDs.

Their ineptitude created the kind of vacuum that capitalism abhors. And into it strode an entrepreneur who saw in the music industrys incompetence the commercial opportunity of a lifetime. His name was Steve Jobs.

iTunes was his vehicle for exploiting the opportunity. Based on SoundJam MP, a program that Jobs had acquired in 2000 and treated to an Apple makeover, it was launched early in 2001. From the outset, it was a revelation: nicely designed, functional software that made it easy to upload, organise and play ones digitised music even if one were a complete newbie. And then in April 2003, Apple added the iTunes store to it, which made it easy to buy and download tracks legally.

It didnt stop online piracy overnight, but it did open up the promise of a celestial jukebox for anyone who believed that its better to pay for stuff. Which, in the end, turned out to be a lot of people. So, in a way, you could say that iTunes rescued the record industry from its own incompetence. But it also gave Apple a chokehold on a colossal market.

Music played an outsize role in the evolution of the internet. As Larry Lessig put in Free Culture: Filesharing music was the crack cocaine of the internets growth. It drove demand for access to the internet more powerfully than any other single application. Jobs became the first licensed dealer in that drug and iTunes provided the saddle that enabled Apple to ride the tiger.

But over the years, the company piled more and more functions on to the software until it came to resemble something that Microsoft would have designed in the old days. And we switched to wanting music on tap rather than in electronic containers, as David Bowie predicted in 2002. It should have been re-engineered years ago. But at least that penny has finally dropped. iTunes is dead; long live music.

What Im reading

Stick it to the cyberman
Robots coming for your job? No, your employers are, according to a sharp essay by Brian Merchant on Gizmodo, exploding the narrative that lets companies off the hook for automation.

Fighting the fake
Facebook and the fake Nancy Pelosi video: read an intelligent discussion of the issues by Laura Hazard Owen at the online home of Harvards Nieman Journalism Lab.

Cybercoins
Ross Anderson and his colleagues in the Security Group of Cambridges Computer Laboratory have published a landmark study on their Light Blue Touchpaper site of whats changed (and hasnt) in the cost of cybercrime since 2012.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jun/09/farewell-itunes-thanks-for-saving-music-industry-from-itself

Tim Cook will announce separate apps for music, TV and podcasts, according to reports

It was once heralded as a possible saviour of the music industry in the digital age, famously annoyed fans by forcing a U2 album on them, and its 20,699-word terms and conditions have even inspired a graphic novel, but now Apple is to replace its iTunes download service.

According to a report by Bloomberg, the tech company will announce that three separate apps for music, TV and podcasts will supersede iTunes, as Apple seeks to reposition itself as an entertainment service rather than a hardware company powered by products such as the iPhone.

The move is expected to be part of the keynote address by the Apple chief executive, Tim Cook, at the companys Worldwide Developers Conference in San Jose, California, which starts on Monday and will focus on software updates and Apples new approach to apps.

Steve
Steve Jobs gives his keynote address on the opening day of Apple Expo in Paris in 2003. Photograph: Vladimir Sichov/EPA

Launched on 9 January 2001, iTunes was Steve Jobss then revolutionary platform for music storage, where users could rip their CDs into digital form. In 2003 the iTunes Store added the ability to buy tracks legally rather than using popular peer-to-peer file sharing sites such as Napster, which had arrived in 1999.

The attraction of Napster was not just that it was free, but more importantly, it gave people a way to connect with pretty much any piece of music, the former Warner Music vice-president Paul Vidich told Rolling Stone in 2013. What Steve was doing with iTunes was to replicate that type of experience a vast catalogue, available on a singles basis, with a convenient interface. It had to be easier than Napster.

Although other companies including Microsoft and Sony had considered launching music stores, they werent companies that had demonstrated Apples sophistication with regard to software, according to Vidich. It really took a company that was able to bridge those two things and come up with an attractive consumer product.

But in the ephemeral world of tech, iTunes and its use of downloads quickly became old-fashioned as companies including Spotify introduced successful streaming models as musics most radically democratic era began.

Launching in 2008, Spotify offered unlimited ad-free access to its catalogue of music for a fee (now 9.99 a month for its premium service). The company claims to have 217 million users worldwide with 100 million paid subscribers to the service. In comparison, Apple Music has approximately 56 million paid subscribers worldwide.

There was a period when iTunes looked like it could still be the future. In December 2013, it scored a huge success when Beyoncs eponymous fifth album sold 828,773 copies on the iTunes Store in the first few days of its surprise release. I didnt want to release my music the way Ive done it, Beyonc said in a statement. I am bored with that. I feel like I am able to speak directly to my fans.

But two years later the singer and a long list of other pop stars including Madonna and Kanye West would help to launch Tidal, her husband Jay Zs Spotify and iTunes competitor. Even though Tidal has since struggled, the streaming model has proved to be the most robust digital music service as downloads have declined. In December 2016, physical sales bolstered by a revival in vinyl overtook digital downloads with 2.4m spent in one week compared with the 2.1m made from digital music purchases.

In 2014, a marketing stunt, in which U2s album Songs of Innocence was automatically added to 500 million users iTunes accounts, backfired when customers complained at not having a choice over whether it was included on their device. U2s lead singer, Bono, apologised a month later.

The writing seemed to be on the wall for iTunes when the tech company launched Apple Music in 2015, with rumours circulating that iTunes would not exist beyond 2020.

A streaming service in a similar mould to Spotify, Apple Music signalled a move away from a download model, and arrived at the same time as the companys radio service, which featured regular shows from DJs such as Zane Lowe, Drake and the Louis Vuitton menswear artistic director Virgil Abloh, as well as artists including Nicki Minaj and Elton John.

Apple did not respond to a request for comment from the Guardian.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/jun/02/apple-expected-close-itunes-tim-cook

The spat between Spotify and Apple is going to be the focus on a new investigation from the EU, according to a report from the FT.

The paper reported today that the European Commission (EC), the EU’s regulatory body, plans to launch a competition inquiry around Spotify’s claim that the iPhone-maker uses its position as the gatekeeper of the App Store to “deliberately disadvantage other app developers.”

In a complaint filed to the EC in March, Spotify said Apple has “tilted the playing field” by operating iOS, the platform, and the App Store for distribution, as well as its own Spotify rival, Apple Music.

In particular, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek has said that Apple “locks” developers and their platform, which includes a 30 percent cut of in-app spending. Ek also claimed Apple Music has unfair advantages over rivals like Spotify, while he expressed concern that Apple controls communication between users and app publishers, “including placing unfair restrictions on marketing and promotions that benefit consumers.”

Spotify’s announcement was unprecedented — Ek claimed many other developers feel the same way, but do not want to upset Apple by speaking up. The EU is sure to tap into that silent base if the investigation does indeed go ahead as the FT claims.

Apple bit back at Spotify’s claims, but its response was more a rebuttal — or alternative angle — on those complaints. Apple did not directly address any of the demands that Spotify put forward, and those include alternative payment options (as offered in the Google Play store) and equal treatment for Apple apps and those from third-parties like Spotify.

The EU is gaining a reputation as a tough opponent that’s reining in U.S. tech giants.

Aside from its GDPR initiative, it has a history of taking action on apparent monopolies in tech.

Google fined €1.49 billion ($1.67 billion) in March of this year over antitrust violations in search ad brokering, for example. Google was fined a record $5 billion last year over Android abuses and there have been calls to look into breaking the search company up. Inevitably, Facebook has come under the spotlight for a series of privacy concerns, particularly around elections.

Pressure from the EU has already led to the social network introduce clear terms and conditions around its use of data for advertising, while it may also change its rules limiting overseas ad spending around EU elections following concern from Brussels.

Despite what some in the U.S. may think, the EU’s competition commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, has said publicly that she is against breaking companies up. Instead, Vestager has pledged to regulate data access.

“To break up a company, to break up private property would be very far-reaching and you would need to have a very strong case that it would produce better results for consumers in the marketplace than what you could do with more mainstream tools. We’re dealing with private property. Businesses that are built and invested in and become successful because of their innovation,” she said in an interview at SXSW earlier this year.

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2019/05/06/eu-will-reportedly-investigate-apple/