Last week, Nasdaq fell 0.2% mostly due to Friday’s 1.2% fall, S&P 500 was up 0.45%, and Dow Jones rose 0.8%. Chinese ride-hailing app Didi Global, which delisted from New York last year, is planning to list its shares in Hong Kong next year, Bloomberg reported. The Company’s autonomous vehicle arm also raised US$149 million from state investors. ChatGPT’s mobile app hit a record US$4.58 million in revenue last month, but growth is slowing. Microsoft is contesting an IRS audit that found that the company owes US$28.9 billion in unpaid taxes dating back to 2004. Activist Nelson Peltz is planning a fresh push for board seats at Disney following a relentless slide in the entertainment giant’s shares, even as Comcast and Disney hired investment banks to value Hulu. Atlassian is acquiring video messaging service Loom for US$975 million, the same company that had a US$1.53 billion valuation in May 2021 when it announced a US$130 million Series C. PC shipments’ decline slowed in Q3 2023, but Apple plunged over 23%. Apple is reportedly already designing a lighter Vision Pro to fix “neck strain”, while Meta’s plans to beat Apple’s Vision Pro include cheaper headsets and no controllers. In Canada, Sophic Client UGE announced a Marketed Offering of up To US$5 million of project development Green Bonds and achieved a Notice to Proceed milestone for a 3.5-Megawatt community solar project in Oregon (its first in the state). In news that bodes well for Sophic Client, Kraken, US based HII was awarded a US$347 million U.S. Navy Lionfish small UUV contract.

Canadian Technology Capital Markets & Company News

Sophic Client UGE International (UGE-TSXV, UGEIF-OTC) announces Marketed Offering of up To US$5 million of project development Green Bonds.

UGE entered into an engagement agreement with Canaccord Genuity Corp. dated October 5, 2023 and has filed a preliminary short form prospectus, all in connection with a commercially reasonable efforts marketed offering of debentures of the Company. The Offering is being conducted through a syndicate of underwriters led by Canaccord Genuity Corp. The size of the Offering, which will be for gross proceeds of up to US$4,999,850. “As our project backlog continues to grow and mature into a portfolio of long-term revenue generating assets, we are excited to be launching our Q4 2023 green bond,” said UGE’s CEO, Nick Blitterswyk. The Green Bonds will be denominated in Canadian and US dollars and will be issued at a price of CAD$950 per CAD$1,000, or US$950 per US$1,000, principal amount, respectively. The Green Bonds will have a term of approximately five years, maturing December 31, 2028, and will bear interest at a rate of 9% per annum, payable semi-annually in US dollars in arrears commencing June 30, 2024. The net proceeds from the Offering are anticipated to be used for the development of solar and energy storage projects of UGE and its subsidiaries. The Offering is expected to close on or about October 30, 2023. https://bit.ly/3rN5W6u

Sophic Client UGE International (UGE-TSXV, UGEIF-OTC) achieves Notice to Proceed milestone for 3.5-Megawatt community solar project in Oregon.

UGE reached the ‘Notice to Proceed’ (NTP) milestone for its 3.5-megawatt community solar project in Polk County, Oregon. The Notice to Proceed milestone indicates that financing for the project has closed, and all necessary permits and interconnection approvals for the project are in place. The Polk County project marks UGE’s first in the state of Oregon and is the Company’s largest project to reach the Notice to Proceed milestone since transitioning to an independent power producer (“IPP”) model. At 3.5-megawatts, the project will produce enough electricity to power more than 800 homes each year. Over its lifetime, the project is expected to offset, at minimum, the equivalent CO₂ emissions produced by burning over 10 million gallons of gasoline. Prominent national companies are subscribing to purchase energy from the project under long-term agreements and will account for approximately 40% of the energy generated. The remaining energy will be reserved for Low-to-Moderate Income (LMI) households and businesses, who will realize significant savings on their electricity costs for the next 20 years. By assisting LMI households, UGE may also qualify for a larger investment tax credit. With this project, UGE has reached NTP on 18.1MW of projects and commercial operation on 1.4MW of projects so far this year. The 3.5MW Polk County project is set to reach commercial operation at the end of June 2024. https://bit.ly/3QdYBGB

Sophic Client Kraken Robotics (PNG-TSXV, KRKNF-OTC) related — HII is awarded US$347 million U.S. Navy Lionfish small UUV contract.

HII announced that its Mission Technologies division was awarded a contract to build nine small unmanned undersea vehicles (SUUV) for the U.S. Navy’s Lionfish System program. The contract has the potential to grow to as many as 200 vehicles over the next five years with a total value of more than US$347 million. The Lionfish System, based on HII’s REMUS 300, is a highly portable, two-person SUUV with an open architecture design and versatile payload options. In early 2022, REMUS 300 was chosen as the Navy’s official program of record for the next-generation SUUV. Administered by Naval Sea Systems Command, this contract provides for the delivery and support of the Navy’s next generation SUUVs, as well as afloat and auxiliary support equipment and engineering services. The vehicles, incorporating the latest in autonomous and unmanned technology, will conduct critical undersea missions for the Navy. The Lionfish System was developed through an innovative process with the Department of Defense’s Defense Innovation Unit and the Navy that incorporated feedback from multiple user groups to uniquely meet the needs of the warfighters. HII is the largest producer of unmanned undersea vehicles (UUV) worldwide. Serving customers in more than 30 countries, HII provides design, autonomy, manufacturing, testing, operations and sustainment of unmanned systems, including UUVs and unmanned surface vessels (USV). https://bit.ly/3tuG8wt

Quisitive (QUIS-TSXV) Shareholders for Accountability announce intent to requisition a Special Meeting of Shareholders to restore value and reconstitute the Board at Quisitive.

Quisitive shareholders announced that they intend to requisition a special meeting (the “Meeting”) of shareholders (“Shareholders”) for the purpose of removing and replacing David Guebert, Philip Sorgen and Amy Brandt as members of the board of directors (the “Board”) of Quisitive. Shareholders will have the opportunity to take back control of their Company from an entrenched Board that has presided over a period of massive value destruction with little regard for Shareholder interests. The Quisitive Shareholders for Accountability anticipate announcing a slate of highly qualified directors concurrent with delivery of the requisition to the Company. The Quisitive Shareholders for Accountability, together with their joint actors, exercise control or direction over approximately 133.1 million Quisitive shares representing approximately 33% of Quisitive’s shares and have made it clear to the Board that there is overwhelming support for Shareholder led Board renewal at the Company. Given this significant support for immediate change and the Board’s track record of value destruction, the Quisitive Shareholders for Accountability will request that Quisitive arrange for the Meeting to be held as soon as possible. https://tinyurl.com/2z4n75p5

Vendasta raises $20 million to fuel strategic acquisitions.

Vendasta Technologies announced a $20 million financing. At the same time, a $52.5 million debenture converted to equity. This financing provides the company with a clean capital structure and funding for future acquisitions to accelerate growth. Vendasta was recognized on the Globe and Mail’s 2023 list of Top Growing Companies in Canada with 135% growth from 2020 to 2022. https://tinyurl.com/3t4bah9v

HaiLa Technologies raises US$10.35 million from Murata Electronics and supporting investors.

HaiLa Technologies Inc., a Canadian fabless semiconductor and software company developing highly power-efficient radio communications solutions, announced that it has raised US$10.35 million from new strategic investor Murata Electronics as well as the entire group of existing investors including Stanford University, Mika, Ecofuel Fund, Chrysalix, and TandemLaunch. Founded in 2019 in Montreal, Canada, HaiLa is a fabless semiconductor and software company developing low power multi-protocol (like Wi-Fi) radio communication for IoT devices. Originally conceptualized at Stanford University, HaiLa is focusing on scaling IoT sustainably by using complimentary methods to the way data is received and transmitted, removing the need for battery maintenance, and leveraging existing wireless infrastructures. Customers and partners are focussed on the smart home and building automation spaces, along with consumer electronics, mobile, industrial, transportation, medical, and agriculture markets. HaiLa has raised US$16.8 million in funding, including non-dilutive financing from Sustainable Development Technology Canada and TechnoClimat Quebec. https://tinyurl.com/5833m4k8

Quickly secures $10 million in equity and debt to help businesses pay vendors promptly.

A Calgary-based FinTech startup that helps small-and-medium-sized businesses unlock capital has secured $10 million in debt and equity in seed financing. The round closed in early October, and ATB Financial provided the debt for Quickly to be able to supply early payment funds if a company chooses not to use its own finances. https://tinyurl.com/5n7kchaz

Global Markets: IPOs, Venture Capital, M&A

China’s Didi Global plots Hong Kong listing in 2024.

Chinese ride-hailing app Didi Global, which delisted from New York last year, is planning to list its shares in Hong Kong next year, Bloomberg reported. A Hong Kong listing would be an indication that Didi’s relationship with the Chinese government is improving, after the company two years ago ran afoul of Chinese regulators and became a major target of Beijing’s harsh crackdown on the internet sector. In the summer of 2021, shortly after Didi went public in the U.S., China’s top internet regulator launched a cybersecurity investigation into the company, saying the app violated data privacy laws. The Didi probe was followed by Beijing’s further tightening of regulations on Chinese companies that list their shares overseas. Last year, Didi delisted its shares in the U.S. The talks about Didi’s listing come at a time when the environment for new listings in Hong Kong is extremely challenging. This year, Hong Kong’s IPO market could hit its lowest fundraising level in 11 years, Deloitte China said last month. https://tinyurl.com/2f42mt5b

Didi’s autonomous vehicle arm raises US$149 million from state investors.

When Didi created an autonomous vehicle subsidiary in 2020, the venture was seen as a Chinese counterpart to Uber’s AV unit. The tides of change have since swept across China’s tech landscape, where internet firms went through a wave of regulatory crackdown and foreign investments dwindled amid worsening U.S.-China relations. Didi’s AV unit remained in the shadow during Beijing’s data security probe into its parent firm, but it has finally weathered the storm, now freshly pumped with financing. Previously backed by SoftBank, Didi Autonomous Driving announced that it will receive up to US$149 million in funding from two investors affiliated with the municipal government of Guangzhou, a southern Chinese metropolis: GAC Group’s wholly owned subsidiary GAC Capital and Guangzhou Development District Investment Group. In China, a relationship with local governments is crucial to bringing a company’s robotaxis onto the road. Though not spelled out in its announcement, it won’t be surprising to see accelerated progress in Didi’s robotaxi rollout in the megacity with 18 million people. In March, Didi’s autonomous vehicles already started commercial operation in the Huadu District of Guangzhou. In April, Didi announced ambitions to introduce self-developed robotaxis to the public on a 24/7 basis by 2025. It’s struck partnerships with a handful of OEMs to build the hardware, including Lincoln, BYD, Nissan and Volvo. Its ties with GAC deepened when it emerged in May it had formed a joint venture with the carmaker’s electric vehicle subsidiary Aion to mass produce plugged-in robotaxis. https://tinyurl.com/mr2kyuuy

Planisware shares priced at 16 euros in Euronext’s biggest IPO in two years.

French software company Planisware has priced its shares at 16 euros (US$16.97) each for its initial public offering announced last week, a bookrunner said on Wednesday, making it the largest IPO on Euronext Paris in the last two years. The IPO aims to “strengthen Planisware’s position across strategic markets by increasing its market visibility and brand awareness.” the group said in a statement last week. The group previously said it aimed for a valuation of between 1.11 billion euros (US$1.17 billion) and 1.25 billion euros, with a price bracket of 16 to 18 euros per share. The company’s shares are due to begin trading on Oct. 16 on Euronext Paris. Planisware provides project porfolio management tools to a wide range of industries. Among its customers are Société Générale, Airbus, Philips, Ford and Pfizer. https://tinyurl.com/y7yjwajp

Sequoia China plans global push following split with U.S. arm.

Sequoia China, or HongShan, plans to invest in companies outside of China following its split from the U.S. venture capital giant earlier this year, according to a Financial Times report. HongShan recently opened an office in Singapore, a sign it plans to pursue investments across Asia, and it may establish a presence in the Bay Area in the future, according to the FT. A spokesperson for HongShan told the FT that it has no plans to open an office in the U.S. or Europe. If it were to do so, it would be in direct competition with Sequoia in the U.S., which is headquartered in Silicon Valley and has an outpost in London. Peak XV, formerly known as Sequoia Capital India, plans to invest in companies in the U.S following its divorce from Sequoia Capital. In June, Peak XV managing director Shailendra Singh told Nikkei Asia that the firm would make cross-border investments “where one of the co-founders is in India or Southeast Asia, or they have engineering teams there.” HongShan is led by star dealmaker Neil Shen. The firm raised US$9 billion in new U.S. dollar-denominated capital last year, including from American institutions. https://tinyurl.com/mptdkymc

ChatGPT’s mobile app hit record US$4.58 million in revenue last month, but growth is slowing.

There’s some good news and bad news for ChatGPT’s mobile efforts. On the positive side, the AI chatbot continues to see the number of app installs and its revenue grow, with September setting a new record on both fronts: 15.6 million downloads and nearly US$4.6 million in gross revenue across its iOS and Android apps worldwide. However, according to new data from market intelligence firm Appfigures, revenue growth has now begun to slow. While over the past couple of months, revenue growth was topping 30% — 31% in July and 39% in August — that dropped to 20% growth as of September. Slowing revenue growth could be the first indication that ChatGPT is nearing saturation in terms of how many mobile users are willing to pay for the upgraded ChatGPT+ subscription service — a fairly hefty US$19.99 per month in-app purchase that offers faster response times, priority access at peak times and early access to new features and improvements. The subscription has sold well so far, as ChatGPT on mobile brought in gross revenues of US$2.1 million in June, increasing to US$2.74 million in July, then US$3.81 million in August, and now, the latest record, US$4.58 million in September. Surprisingly, however, ChatGPT is not the largest AI app by revenue. A competitor called Ask AI is making more thanks to heavy ad spending, rising from US$6.48 million in May, when ChatGPT mobile launched, to a peak of US$6.55 million in August, Appfigures’ data indicates. It dropped slightly in September, down to US$5.51 million — but that’s still larger than ChatGPT. Other competitors like Genie and AI Chat Smith have not grown as big as Ask AI. Net revenue may be a different story, given Ask AI’s ad spend, of course. As for ChatGPT, it netted around US$3.2 million in September after Apple and Google took their cut of the in-app purchase revenues. In addition to its revenue record, ChatGPT saw 15.6 million installs in September, bringing its lifetime total to 52.2 million, Appfigures estimates. Google Play is driving the downloads, accounting for 9 million in September while the App Store accounted for the other 6.6 million. But the App Store, not surprisingly, is driving revenue — or US$3 million of the total in-app purchases last month. The U.S. is the largest market for the AI chatbot app, accounting for 60% of ChatGPT’s revenues. https://tinyurl.com/2wvsf557

DeepMind cut 20% of its expenses before merging with Google.

DeepMind, the former Alphabet subsidiary focused on artificial intelligence research, cut expenses 20% to US$1.23 billion in 2022, the company said in an annual regulatory filing in the UK, where most of its employees are based. DeepMind, which earlier this year merged with Google’s AI unit, Brain, said some of its cuts involved stock compensation and that overall employee costs fell around 40% to US$731 million. The company had about 1,500 employees as of the end of 2022. The filing also suggests that DeepMind’s 2022 computing and server costs rose 40% to nearly US$500 million. The company turned an operating profit of US$123 million, largely thanks to Google payments for some of its services. Since the Brain-DeepMind merger, the unit has been hard at work developing Gemini, a set of large language models aiming to compete with OpenAI’s GPT-4. That has likely driven up server costs substantially, though it isn’t clear how the company’s accountants will display those costs in its financial statements. The combined unit of about 2,000 employees lost US$600 million in the June quarter, Google has said. https://tinyurl.com/y68mavs6

Microsoft contests IRS’ claim it owes US$29 billion in unpaid taxes.

Microsoft is contesting an IRS audit that found that the company owes US$28.9 billion in unpaid taxes dating back to 2004. The IRS says that Microsoft misreported its revenue in different tax jurisdictions from 2004 and 2013, but the company disagreed with the audit in a regulatory finding Wednesday and said it would appeal the decision. Microsoft argues that its corporate structure and federal tax laws have changed since the years that the audit covered, making the audit irrelevant. Microsoft shares fell 1% in after-hours trading Wednesday evening. Microsoft and the IRS have sparred in recent years, dating back to an IRS probe beginning in 2012 into Microsoft’s practice at the time of reporting some profits in Puerto Rico, where its tax rate was lower. Microsoft has responded by fighting the IRS’s recent audits in court while lobbying for changes in federal tax law, ProPublica and Fortune reported in 2020. https://tinyurl.com/bddu3kr8

Unity CEO John Riccitiello is retiring from gaming software company after controversial pricing change.

In September, Unity announced a pricing change that upset numerous developers who rely on the company’s technology to create video games. A consortium of game developers protested the change, saying in a public letter that it “jeopardizes small and large game developers alike” and was “made without any industry consultation.” Unity eventually modified its update to appeal to developers after acknowledging the discontent and apologizing “for the confusion and angst the runtime fee policy” caused. Unity went public in 2020 and was valued at US$17 billion after its first day of trading. The company now has a market cap of just over US$11 billion, after its stock dropped alongside a broader tech decline in 2022. https://tinyurl.com/2rjcs9hz

Nelson Peltz boosts Disney stake, seeks Board seats.

Nelson Peltz is planning a fresh push for board seats at Disney following a relentless slide in the entertainment giant’s shares. The activist investor’s Trian Fund Management, now one of Disney’s largest investors with a stake valued at upward of US$2.5 billion, is expected to request multiple seats—including one for Peltz, according to people familiar with the matter. If the company says no, Trian could nominate directors that would be voted on at Disney’s annual meeting next spring. The window for shareholder nominations runs from Dec. 5 through Jan. 4, according to Disney’s proxy materials. Shares of Disney, which has a market value of more than US$150 billion, rose less than 1% Monday morning. Peltz launched a run for a seat on Disney’s board earlier this year after the company privately rebuffed his request to become a director. It was a short-lived battle, however, with Peltz withdrawing his nomination in February after Disney unveiled a broad reorganization and cost-cutting plan that sent the stock up briefly. Since then, Disney shares have tumbled from higher than US$113 to around US$80, brushing up against their lowest level in a decade. In early 2021, after Disney notched several quarters of meteoric growth in sign-ups to its flagship Disney+ streaming service, its shares traded at around US$200. https://tinyurl.com/mpmuusy3

Comcast, Disney hire investment banks to value Hulu as sale process makes progress.

Comcast and Disney have hired investment banks to value Hulu, the next step in what’s been a nearly five-year process to put the streaming service under one owner. Comcast, which owns one-third of Hulu, has hired Morgan Stanley, and Disney, which owns the other two-thirds, has hired JPMorgan Chase. Each bank is tasked with providing a fair value for Hulu — a condition of an agreement set up in 2019 that allows either Disney or Comcast to trigger an option forcing Disney to buy Comcast’s 33% stake. Nearly five years ago, Comcast and Disney set up an unusual agreement after Disney acquired the majority of Fox’s assets in a $71 billion deal, including Fox’s minority stake in Hulu. That deal gave Disney majority control over Hulu, because Disney already owned one-third of the streaming service. Comcast didn’t want to sell its stake in Hulu to Disney right away because it believed the value of streaming video would increase between 2019 and 2024. Still, Comcast executives also understood the company would no longer have operational control over the future of the company. Consequently, Disney and Comcast worked out a deal where Comcast could participate in the assumed appreciation of the business while also setting a time where Disney could eventually unify ownership and integrate Hulu into its long-term streaming strategy. Initially, the companies set an option strike date of January 2024. Last month, the two companies agreed to move up the deadline at which Hulu will be valued from January 2024 to Sept. 30. That deadline represents the final date at which Hulu’s valuation will be assessed by both Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan Chase. https://tinyurl.com/mrybakww

Atlassian to acquire former unicorn Loom for $975 million.

Atlassian it is acquiring video messaging service Loom for US$975 million, the same company that had a US$1.53 billion valuation in May 2021 when it announced a US$130 million Series C. That was when companies were still thinking about all work being cloud-based and the future looked oh so bright. As times have changed, so has the value of the company, but Atlassian still sees Loom and its 25 million customers, and more than 5 million video conversations per month, as a valuable asset. The company believes that it can be a useful collaboration tool for its platform, especially Jira and Confluence. The company launched in 2015 and raised over US$200 million along the way. Its US$30 million Series B in 2019 included industry luminaries like Figma CEO Dylan Field, Front CEO Mathilde Collin and Instagram co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, along with VC firms Sequoia and Kleiner Perkins. The company’s customer list on its website reads like a who’s who of corporations across a variety of verticals, including companies like Ford, Tesla, Disney, Walmart, Goldman Sachs and Amazon, to name but a few. Atlassian says it plans to pay for the acquisition with cash on hand, and that the transaction is expected to close some time in the third quarter next year subject to typical conditions and regulatory approval. https://tinyurl.com/45bz8f7r

Microsoft’s GitHub AI coding assistant exceeds US$100 million in recurring revenue.

Microsoft’s GitHub Copilot, the automatic code-writing tool powered by OpenAI’s artificial intelligence, has exceeded US$100 million in annual recurring revenue, vice president of product Mario Rodriguez said on Tuesday at an event in San Francisco. That metric, which typically is used by startups, implies the product is currently generating more than US$8.3 million in monthly revenue. GitHub charges individuals US$10 per month to use Copilot and US$20 per seat per month for an enterprise version. Perhaps more important, Rodriguez said that GitHub Copilot is a profitable business, a quasi-rebuttal of a report by the Wall Street Journal on Monday that said the Copilot service was losing US$20 per user per month as of the first three months of this year. Rodriguez didn’t specify what they meant by the term and whether it included all costs, but in recent months Microsoft has been trying to bring down the costs of running AI products, The Information reported. Broadly launched in 2022, GitHub Copilot is one of the first OpenAI-powered products offered by Microsoft, which has committed more than US$10 billion to OpenAI in exchange for the rights to use the startup’s AI in its products. Microsoft doesn’t share revenue with OpenAI for the GitHub Copilot product. https://tinyurl.com/3tszv92d

PC shipments decline slows in Q3 2023, but Apple plunges over 23%.

It hasn’t been a great time in recent quarters for PC companies, but with IDC, Gartner and Canalys all reporting data for Q3 2023, it shows an improving landscape. While shipments still declined between 7% and 9%, depending on whose data you look at, the decline was slowing. But perhaps the biggest surprise in these numbers was the fact Apple was the biggest loser this quarter, with numbers declining between 23% and 29%. Apple experienced by far the biggest decline, with IDC reporting -23.1%, Gartner reporting -24.2% and Canalys -29.1%. The only other company with double-digit reductions was Asus, with -10.7%, -11.5% and -10.7%, respectively. If you’re looking for the only company in positive territory, that would be HP, with IDC and Gartner reporting an increase of 6.4% and Canalys only slightly different at 6.5%. https://tinyurl.com/3avc763n

Medium expects to be profitable in 2024 as it climbs towards 1 million subscribers.

Online publishing platform Medium has led a bit of a tumultuous life. Seeking to thread the needle as it tried to be both a publisher and a writing platform, the company tried several different business models (allowing individual publications on its platform to offer paywalls, building its own publications, and more), seeing varying levels of success in the process. Since 2017, though, the company has employed a subscription tier, which seems to have worked reasonably well. When Medium becomes profitable, it will finally be able to fund its own efforts. For a company that has been around for 11 years and raised nine-figures of capital, that’s a big moment. And for an online writing platform, that’s downright impressive. Media is a tough game, and wringing value out of words on the Internet is a never-ending battle. Here’s an excerpt from my conversation with Stubblebine about how Medium got itself back on the right path. https://tinyurl.com/57326k58

Emerging Technologies

Meta’s plans to beat Apple’s Vision Pro include cheaper headsets and no controllers.

Meta is looking down the road at a follow-up to the Quest 3, and plans to take cues from Apple’s Vision Pro while it races to mainstream its VR tech. That’s according to Mark Gurman, who writes that the company’s Quest headset marketing plans have changed in response to Apple’s Vision Pro announcement earlier this year. Part of the plan is to release a VR headset without controllers to get the cost down next year. Gurman says a person within Meta told him the company is “in the ‘afraid of Apple’ stage,” comparing it to the mobile phone industry just before the iPhone’s launch. He writes that the company’s shift away from a heavy focus on the metaverse and more to pushing the practical uses of the headset — gaming and productivity — is a direct response to Apple’s pitch for the Vision Pro. You could argue that Apple’s headset is more down-to-Earth than immersive virtual worlds, even if its price is very much not. Meta’s roadmap has involved making its next headset, codenamed Ventura, even cheaper — The Quest 3 is already less than 15 percent the cost of a Vision Pro — and more comfortable without sacrificing screen resolution. And apparently, according to Gurman, Meta is also looking at doing away with controller bundling to help with that, letting customers either just use hand gestures or buy controllers separately. https://tinyurl.com/yrh2umxn

Apple is already designing a lighter Vision Pro to fix “neck strain”.

When it jumps into a new market for the first time, Apple has a long history of releasing intriguing first-generation devices, followed by second- or third-generation revisions that realize the full potential of the original idea. Examples of this phenomenon include the second-generation iPod, which expanded compatibility beyond the Mac; the iPhone 3G refresh that increased cellular data speeds and ushered in the App Store; the 2010 MacBook Air refresh that switched to all-SSD storage and defined the template for the modern laptop; and the long-lived iPad 2, which did most of the same things as the first iPad but in a much faster and lighter package. Apple is already working on a next-generation version of its Vision Pro headset to address early complaints about the as-yet-unreleased first-generation model, according to Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman. The headset’s roughly 1-pound weight has apparently “caused neck strain” among some testers, and Apple allegedly sees the not-yet-finalized optional top strap as an imperfect solution to the problem. Apple also wants to reduce the device’s size along with its weight. Apple is also considering changing the way that prescription lenses are built into the headset. The initial version will use interchangeable Zeiss lenses that attach to the headset magnetically, but next-gen versions could have prescription lenses built-in during manufacturing. https://tinyurl.com/yc5kcusf

Starlink to be available on most aircraft soon, says Elon Musk.

Some operators provide an internet connection during airplane flights. However, if you try to use it, you will most likely encounter a problem. The problem with most in-flight internet offerings is speed and connectivity. Airplanes connected to the antenna receive signals from communications towers on the ground as they fly overhead. This limits the availability of internet: it becomes unstable, difficult to connect to, and the actual speed reaches no more than about 10 Mbps. That is why satellite internet can offer a number of benefits, and SpaceX’s Starlink will soon do just that. Currently, Starlink has a constellation of about 5,000 satellites in low Earth orbit and plans to increase this to 42,000 in the future. This is significantly more than all other companies combined. For example, Viasat, which provides in-flight internet service to JetBlue, United Airlines, and American Airlines, operates a fleet of four satellites, according to The Street. SpaceX launched Starlink Aviation in the fall of 2022. This service has been specifically designed for use on aircraft. Currently, Starlink Aviation is available on two Gulfstream models. According to SpaceX, other popular aircraft, including the Airbus A320 and A330, as well as several Boeing aircraft, will not be compatible with Starlink Aviation until “2024 and beyond.” https://tinyurl.com/2xkbzapt

Waymo-Zeekr robotaxi poised for US testing by end of 2023.

Nearly two years after Waymo and Geely struck a deal to develop robotaxis for the U.S. market, we are seeing concrete progress in the collaboration. According to a job post on LinkedIn, Zeekr, the young electric car brand started by Chinese auto giant Geely, is hiring a logistics manager in the U.S. A spokesperson for Zeekr confirmed to TechCrunch that the candidate will work on “the Waymo project and among other things.” Not long ago, Zeekr was also hiring a manager to oversee service operations and repair planning in the U.S. The robotaxi project is “proceeding as scheduled,” said the spokesperson, adding that Zeekr will be “sharing with Waymo the first vehicles for testing” in the U.S. by the end of this year. In December 2021, Alphabet’s autonomous driving arm Waymo announced plans to build an all-electric robotaxi with Zeekr. Last November, the pair teased a prototype of the model featuring Waymo’s self-driving system and Zeekr-built hardware. There’s no specific timeline for when Waymo-Zeekr robotaxis will start commercial operations, though the recruitment move provides some reassurance that the project is moving forward amid a challenging time. Escalating U.S.-China tensions have disrupted other high-profile partnerships between companies from the two superpowers, including Ford’s US$3.5 billion plan to build a factory with Chinese battery giant CATL in Michigan. https://tinyurl.com/34dhfrh7

Media, Streaming, Gaming & Sports Betting

‘Netflix House,’ the streamer’s first permanent fan experience locations, to open in 2025.

Netflix is planning to open new immersive locations created around its original TV shows where fans can shop, eat, and play some games. The two new locations will be Netflix’s first permanent fan experience locations its Chief Executive Officer Ted Sarandos announced on Thursday during the Bloomberg Screentime conference. “Don’t think of it like Disneyland,” said Sarandos, saying Netflix House is “something you might go to a couple times a month, not just once every couple years.” Netflix has dabbled in the fan experience region before with a Bridgerton Ball and Stranger Things pop-ups, but Netflix House represents the company’s largest investment to date in the physical fan experience. The streaming giant views Netflix House more as a way to promote their content, than as a meaningful source of revenue, according to Bloomberg. The fan experience locations will have rotating installations, ranging from ticketed shows to restaurants to retail shops. https://tinyurl.com/y2sb4a66

Adtech, Privacy & Regulatory

23andMe resets user passwords after genetic data posted online.

Days after user personal surfaced online, the genetic testing company 23andMe said it’s requiring all users to reset their passwords “out of caution.” On Friday, 23andMe confirmed that hackers had obtained some users’ data, but stopped short of calling the incident a data breach. The company said that the hackers had accessed “certain accounts” of 23andMe users who used passwords that were not unique to the service — a common technique where hackers try to break into victim’s accounts using passwords that have already been made public in previous data breaches. 23andMe’s announcement came two days after hackers advertised an alleged sample of 23andMe user data on the hacking forum BreachForums, offering to sell individual profiles for between $1 to $10. The sample, which TechCrunch has seen, contained the alleged user data of one million users of Jewish Ashkenazi descent. Another user on BreachForums claimed to have the 23andMe data of 100,000 Chinese users. According to 23andMe, the data was “compiled” from users that had opted in to the DNA Relatives feature, which allows users who choose to switch on the feature to automatically share their data to others. In theory, this would allow a hacker to get more than one victim’s data just by breaking into the account of someone who opted into the feature. https://tinyurl.com/3tc22dez

European Commission opens probe into X over content moderation.

The European Commission is opening an investigation into X over the company’s handling of illegal content, disinformation and violent content, the commission announced on Thursday. The commission is investigating X’s compliance with Europe’s Digital Services Act, “including with regard to its policies and practices regarding notices on illegal content, complaint handling, risk assessment and measures to mitigate the risks identified,” according to the announcement. The commission is also asking for information on X’s crisis response protocol. An X spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Failure to comply with the Digital Services Act could result in fines of up to 6% of X’s global revenue. The investigation comes as X has slashed its capabilities for responding to misinformation in recent weeks and months. Last month, X cut half of the threat disruption team responsible for handling organized manipulation campaigns, and it has also shut down a software tool used to identify misinformation, The Information has previously reported. https://tinyurl.com/3cfvwwz6

Fintech, Blockchain & Cryptocurrency

J.P. Morgan facilitates its first blockchain-based settlement trade.

J.P. Morgan facilitated the first blockchain-based collateral settlement for clients on its Onyx blockchain in a trade between investment giant BlackRock and Barclays, the bank said on Wednesday. BlackRock used J.P. Morgan’s Tokenized Collateral Network, which lets investors use assets as collateral in the form of tokens, to transform shares in a money market fund into tokens that were transferred to Barclays as collateral for an over-the-counter derivatives trade. Blockchain technology has the potential to speed up complex trades, but its commercial adoption by big banks has been limited so far. The move is notable for J.P. Morgan, whose CEO Jamie Dimon has called crypto “a complete sideshow.“ https://tinyurl.com/5n6wnpdf


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