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As the FDA moves to ban most flavored e-cigs sold in stores, Juul pushes back harder on copycats

As the FDA moves to ban most flavored e-cigs sold in stores, Juul pushes back harder on copycats

Love Juul or hate it, you can probably appreciate why the e-cigarette company is frustrated.

It has grown like gangbusters since the first Juul vaporizer was introduced in 2015, leaving competitors — including traditional tobacco companies with their own e-cigarettes — gagging on its smoke. Yet now, a meaningful percentage of that business is being threatened by FDA Commission Scott Gottlieb, who is so concerned about Juul’s soaring popularity with high school and middle school students that last week, he said he’s looking to have flavored e-cigs made available only in “age-restricted, in-person locations and, if sold online, under heightened practices for age verification.”

Even limited to selling more of its menthol-, tobacco- and mint-flavored nicotine cartridges, one imagines that Juul — which also sells mango, cucumber, and fruit-flavored liquids — will be just fine as a business concern.

As cofounder and CTO Adam Bowen recently told this editor of the opportunity in front of his company: “We’re 75 percent of the e-cigarette market, which sounds like a lot, but we’re only 4 to 5 percent of the U.S. cigarette market . . .So we’re really just getting started here, and we’ve just scratched the surface outside of the U.S., where 95 percent of smokers live.”

Juul clearly doesn’t want to take any chances, however. Just two months after filing a lawsuit aimed at stopping 30 entities in China from selling counterfeit Juul products on eBay, and a filing a separate complaint with the United States International Trade Commission (ITC), claiming that 18 organizations are infringing on Juul’s many patents, Juul has filed a new patent-infringement complaint with the ITC and again, it’s looking to block sales of competing e-cigarette devices and nicotine cartridges made mostly in China.

As Bloomberg notes, the company also fired mirror lawsuits in eight district courts around the U.S., accusing companies of infringing on its patents.

What happens next remains to be seen, pending any investigation the ITC may conduct. The biggest questions for the agency will seemingly be whether these competing and often flavored products may more easily fall into the hands of underage smokers, or whether Juul is instead trying to box out a growing field of competitors and knockoffs while busy trying to deal with the FDA. Likely, it will find both to be true.

In the meantime, Juul’s customers are also preparing themselves for the changes ahead, seemingly. As one longtime smoker turned Juul enthusiast told the New York Times this week, she has been stocking up on Juul’s mango cartridges at her corner smoke shop, while also accepting that she may have to adjust to a more traditional flavor profile.

“I’ll switch to Juul’s tobacco flavor,” she told the outlet. “I can get around this. Just like the kids will — they can always find a way.”

You can check out the list of companies that Juul is newly going after here.

As the FDA moves to ban most flavored e-cigs sold in stores, Juul pushes back harder on copycats
Source: TechCrunch

Tumblr booted from App Store due to child porn

Tumblr booted from App Store due to child porn

Tumblr’s app was booted out of the iOS App Store a few days ago due to an issue with child pornography getting its way past the app’s filtering technology, according to a report from CNET, which Tumblr then confirmed.

The app’s disappearance was first spotted on November 16,  and Tumblr’s help documentation had also confirmed the company was “working to resolve an issue with its iOS app.” The statement said Tumblr hoped to have it fully functional again soon.

However, Tumblr nor Apple had said what the issue was until CNET confirmed through sources it was related to child pornography.

Tumblr then released a statement which explained that it discovered content during an audit that wasn’t included in the industry database it was using to filter out child sex abuse material from appearing in its app.

That statement reads as follows:

“We’re committed to helping build a safe online environment for all users, and we have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to media featuring child sexual exploitation and abuse. As this is an industry-wide problem, we work collaboratively with our industry peers and partners like [the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children] (NCMEC) to actively monitor content uploaded to the platform. Every image uploaded to Tumblr is scanned against an industry database of known child sexual abuse material, and images that are detected never reach the platform. A routine audit discovered content on our platform that had not yet been included in the industry database. We immediately removed this content. Content safeguards are a challenging aspect of operating scaled platforms. We’re continuously assessing further steps we can take to improve and there is no higher priority for our team.”

As of 11/19/18, 7:45pm EST, Tumblr’s help page reads that the company is working to restore its app to the App Store. It also included the above statement.

The company has had issues with being blocked outside the U.S. in the past for hosting adult material, but this is the first time it has been pulled from the App Store due to child porn.

The issue is an example of relying on a database, instead of a combination of algorithms, A.I. technology and human moderation for managing content filtering.

[Disclosure: Tumblr is owned by TechCrunch parent company, Oath]

Tumblr booted from App Store due to child porn
Source: TechCrunch

A closer look at Royole’s foldable display

A closer look at Royole’s foldable display

A closer look at Royole’s foldable display

You’d be forgiven if Royole doesn’t ring any bells. Even here China, it’s far from a household name. Still, the Shanghai-based startup recently secured an undisclosed Series E, vaulting its valuation to an apparent $5 billion, up from $3 billion in late 2016.

Founded in 2012, Royole’s best-known release was a wearable cinema display. That changed last month, however, when it surprised the industry by announcing the imminent arrival of the FlexPai, a flexible screen smartphone that appears on track to to beat the Samsung Galaxy X to market.

The FlexPai’s anticipated December release seemingly came out of nowhere. Like competitors, Royole had shown off its proprietary folding technology as part of a standalone demos, but it hadn’t teased the arrival of a smartphone until the device was ready to ship. It’s a far cry, certainly, from the not ready for prime time prototype Samsung marched out on stage last month.

At an event in Shenzhen, CEO Bill Liu told TechCrunch that the company was built around the desire to bring the technology to market. “We started from the flexible displays and flexible sensors,” he explained. “We started the company with a focus on the flexible displays and sensors. And then along the way, we realized this could be a huge application for the technology.”

A foldable smartphone was simply the first product that made sense for the underlying tech. With development dating back a half-dozen year, Royole was the first to achieved the industry’s long standing goal of delivering a foldable screen — beating even the massive Samsung to market.

Being first isn’t always a blessing in this industry, but it’s an impressive feat, nonetheless. The FlexPai is real. I can’t speak to the scalability of the product, until it actually starts shipping out next month, but I can attest to the fact that at least one of the things exists in the world. I held it in my hands. I folded it. It worked.

It’s a difficult problem and Royole solved it with in-house technologies. No one can take that away from the company. I can’t say my initial apprehensions were ultimately dissuaded, however. The FlexPai mostly works as desired, but the execution isn’t what ultimately the kind of premium product one would expect, given the ultra-premium price tag (around $1,300 American).

Liu happily dropped the phone a couple of times on stage, in an attempt to put to rest any durability question. While the display ultimately didn’t crack or scratch, the flexible material looks almost like cellophane and sports crinkles that catch the light — the clarity also leaves something to be desire.

As far as portability, it’s true that you can fold it up and stuff it in your pocket, though it’s pretty chunky when you do so. Ultimately, these are first generation products — and likely a result of a company pushing to be first to market, knowing full well that companies like Samsung were breathing down its neck.

Royole sees potential to license the technology out for other categories. “Right now for the smartphone industry, we haven’t done any licensing,” said Liu. “For industrial applications like automotive or media, we do have customers. We sell the licenses to them, and we’ve already sold a lot of licenses.”

The company will also be working with developers to create content for the new form factor, with a $30 million program it launched last month. The Chinese version is due out in December.

 

A closer look at Royole’s foldable display
Source: TechCrunch

Cities that didn’t win HQ2 shouldn’t be counted out

Cities that didn’t win HQ2 shouldn’t be counted out

Cities that didn’t win HQ2 shouldn’t be counted out

The more than year-long dance between cities and Amazon for its second headquarters is finally over, with New York City and Washington, DC, capturing the big prize. With one of the largest economic development windfalls in a generation on the line, 238 cities used every tactic in the book to court the company – including offering to rename a city “Amazon” and appointing Jeff Bezos “mayor for life.”

Now that the process, and hysteria, are over, and cities have stopped asking “how can we get Amazon,” we’d like to ask a different question: How can cities build stronger start-up ecosystems for the Amazon yet to be built?

In September 2017, Amazon announced that it would seek a second headquarters. But rather than being the typical site selection process, this would become a highly publicized Hunger Games-esque scenario.

An RFP was proffered on what the company sought, and it included everything any good urbanist would want, with walkability, transportation and cultural characteristics on the docket. But of course, incentives were also high on the list.

Amazon could have been a transformational catalyst for a plethora of cities throughout the US, but instead, it chose two superstar cities: the number one and five metro areas by GDP which, combined, amounts to a nearly $2 trillion GDP. These two metro areas also have some of the highest real estate prices in the country, a swath of high paying jobs and of course power — financial and political — close at hand.

Perhaps the take-away for cities isn’t that we should all be so focused on hooking that big fish from afar, but instead that we should be growing it in our own waters. Amazon itself is a great example of this. It’s worth remembering that over the course of a quarter century, Amazon went from a garage in Seattle’s suburbs to consuming 16 percent — or 81 million square feet — of the city’s downtown. On the other end of the spectrum, the largest global technology company in 1994 (the year of Amazon’s birth) was Netscape, which no longer exists.

The upshot is that cities that rely only on attracting massive technology companies are usually too late.

At the National League of Cities, we think there are ways to expand the pie that don’t reinforce existing spatial inequalities. This is exactly the idea behind the launch of our city innovation ecosystems commitments process. With support from the Schmidt Futures Foundation, fifty cities, ranging from rural townships, college towns, and major metros, have joined with over 200 local partners and leveraged over $100 million in regional and national resources to support young businesses, leverage technology and expand STEM education and workforce training for all.

The investments these cities are making today may in fact be the precursor to some of the largest tech companies of the future.

With that idea in mind, here are eight cities that didn’t win HQ2 bids but are ensuring their cities will be prepared to create the next tranche of high-growth startups. 

Austin

Austin just built a medical school adjacent to a tier one research university, the University of Texas. It’s the first such project to be completed in America in over fifty years. To ensure the addition translates into economic opportunity for the city, Austin’s public, private and civic leaders have come together to create Capital City Innovation to launch the city’s first Innovation District at the new medical school. This will help expand the city’s already world class startup ecosystem into the health and wellness markets.

Baltimore

Baltimore is home to over $2 billion in academic research, ranking it third in the nation behind Boston and Philadelphia. In order to ensure everyone participates in the expanding research-based startup ecosystem, the city is transforming community recreation centers into maker and technology training centers to connect disadvantaged youth and families to new skills and careers in technology. The Rec-to-Tech Initiative will begin with community design sessions at four recreation centers, in partnership with the Digital Harbor Foundation, to create a feasibility study and implementation plan to review for further expansion.

Buffalo

The 120-acre Buffalo Niagara Medical Center (BNMC) is home to eight academic institutions and hospitals and over 150 private technology and health companies. To ensure Buffalo’s startups reflect the diversity of its population, the Innovation Center at BNMC has just announced a new program to provide free space and mentorship to 10 high potential minority- and/or women-owned start-ups.

Denver

Like Seattle, real estate development in Denver is growing at a feverish rate. And while the growth is bringing new opportunity, the city is expanding faster than the workforce can keep pace. To ensure a sustainable growth trajectory, Denver has recruited the Next Generation City Builders to train students and retrain existing workers to fill high-demand jobs in architecture, design, construction and transportation. 

Providence

With a population of 180,000, Providence is home to eight higher education institutions – including Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design – making it a hub for both technical and creative talent. The city of Providence, in collaboration with its higher education institutions and two hospital systems, has created a new public-private-university partnership, the Urban Innovation Partnership, to collectively contribute and support the city’s growing innovation economy. 

Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh may have once been known as a steel town, but today it is a global mecca for robotics research, with over 4.5 times the national average robotics R&D within its borders. Like Baltimore, Pittsburgh is creating a more inclusive innovation economy through a Rec-to-Tech program that will re-invest in the city’s 10 recreational centers, connecting students and parents to the skills needed to participate in the economy of the future. 

Tampa

Tampa is already home to 30,000 technical and scientific consultant and computer design jobs — and that number is growing. To meet future demand and ensure the region has an inclusive growth strategy, the city of Tampa, with 13 university, civic and private sector partners, has announced “Future Innovators of Tampa Bay.” The new six-year initiative seeks to provide the opportunity for every one of the Tampa Bay Region’s 600,000 K-12 students to be trained in digital creativity, invention and entrepreneurship.

These eight cities help demonstrate the innovation we are seeing on the ground now, all throughout the country. The seeds of success have been planted with people, partnerships and public leadership at the fore. Perhaps they didn’t land HQ2 this time, but when we fast forward to 2038 — and the search for Argo AISparkCognition or Welltok’s new headquarters is well underway — the groundwork will have been laid for cities with strong ecosystems already in place to compete on an even playing field.

Cities that didn’t win HQ2 shouldn’t be counted out
Source: TechCrunch

YouTube quietly added free, ad-supported movies to its site

YouTube quietly added free, ad-supported movies to its site

YouTube quietly added around 100 ad-supported Hollywood movies to its site, beginning last month, according to a new report from AdAge. The titles include a mix of classics like “Rocky” and “The Terminator,” as well as other family fare like “Zookeeper,” “Agent Cody Banks,” and “Legally Blonde,” among others.

Before, YouTube had only offered consumers the ability to purchase movies and TV shows, similar to how you can rent or buy content from Apple’s iTunes or Amazon Video.

Currently, YouTube is serving ads on these free movies, but the report said the company is open to working out other deals with advertisers – like sponsorships or exclusive screenings.

YouTube’s advantage in this space, compared with some others, is its sizable user base of 1.9 million monthly active users and its ability to target ads using data from Google .

The addition of a an ad-supported movies marketplace on YouTube follows Roku’s entry into this market, which began last year with the launch of its free collection of movies, called The Roku Channel.

This year, Roku has been expanding the type of content on that channel to also include things like live news from ABC News, Cheddar, Newsmax, Newsy, People TV, Yahoo and The Young Turks, and – more recently – entertainment and live sports. 

Walmart also offers its own free movies collection through Vudu, and recently teamed up with MGM on original content for the service. Tubi operates a streaming service with free, ad-supported content, too. And Amazon is rumored to be working on something similar.

 

 

YouTube quietly added free, ad-supported movies to its site
Source: TechCrunch