Amazon now sells flight tickets in India

Indians can already use Amazon to pay for their mobile bills and borrow money to purchase items, but now there’s more. This week, the ecommerce giant quietly introduced an additional feature to its shopping site: flight tickets.

Amazon has partnered with local travel service Cleartrip to add flight booking option to its payment service — Amazon Pay — in India, according to an FAQ posted on its website. The feature, first spotted by news outlet Skift, is available on its Indian website and app.

The addition of plane ticketing underscores Amazon’s growing interest in expanding its payment service in India, which is both one of its fastest-growing markets and a country it uses to test new ideas.

Since launching Amazon Pay in India in late 2016, the company has added a myriad of features to the service. Amazon Pay today allows Indians to top up their phones, cable TV subscriptions, and pay for electricity and water bills. Last month, Amazon announced support for peer-to-peer (P2P) money transfers for users of its Android app. Amazon also plans to soon let users order food from its website, local media reported last month.

The company has also inked deals with other top firms such as movie ticketing site BookMyShow, food delivery startup Swiggy, and bus ticketing startup Redbus to embed Amazon Pay into many popular Indian services. To spur its adoption, the company has offered cashback incentives to those who checkout using Amazon Pay.

The flight ticketing option is not much different. The company is promising a one-time cashback of up to Rs 2,000 ($28.20) for each first booking.

The push comes as many local companies in India and those that operate in the nation begin to mold their apps into so-called super apps. Top mobile wallet service Paytm has expanded to add a number of financial services, including as of this week a credit card, in recent years. India’s ride-hailing service Ola also entered the credit card business this week

Truecaller, an app that lets users screen for spam calls, has added messaging and payment features in India. The bundling often seems big names work together. For example, Paytm recently partnered with Zomato to test food ordering option on the mobile wallet app, a source with knowledge of the partner told TechCrunch.

Amazon’s interest in flight ticketing option in India should also help its partner ClearTrip gain a larger foothold in the nation. The company competes with giant MakeMyTrip, Booking.com, and Paytm . Google also offers flights in India, though, at the moment, that is limited to search. When it comes to transactions, users are directed to ticketing websites to complete their purchase.

Google Pixel 4 Leaks Suggest Punch-Hole Selfie Camera and Total Lack of Physical Buttons

Google may have only just announced its Pixel 3a and 3a XL smartphones, but rumors about this year’s forthcoming Pixel 4 are already appearing, and the latest alleged leak suggests the search giant’s redesigned handset will lack physical buttons.

MacRumors render of Pixel 4 based on leaks


This information has been shared by Jon Prosser’s Front Page Tech YouTube channel, which last year was the source of several accurate details about the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL over a month before they launched, and also confirmed the Pixel 3a devices’ existence before they were formally announced.

According to Prosser’s source, the Pixel 4 will use capacitive touch areas on the sides of the aluminum handset in lieu of clickable physical power and volume buttons. Prosser suggests these touch-sensitive areas may use an extended version of Google’s existing Active Edge technology currently found in the Pixel 2 and Pixel 3 that lets users squeeze their phone to launch Google Assistant or silence incoming calls and notifications.

In addition, Prosser’s source corroborates other recent rumors, including the presence of punch-hole front cameras embedded in the display – akin to those seen in Samsung’s Galaxy 10 Plus and other smartphones this year – and either an optical or ultrasonic in-display fingerprint sensor.

The rear of the device is expected to feature a new dual-lens camera setup including either a telephoto zoom or super-wide-angle sensor, and they may be aligned horizontally in the upper left corner of the handset rather than the more typical vertical orientation seen on other dual-lens smartphones.

The Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL are expected to be 4G LTE devices and will likely be announced during the second week of October – or just a few weeks after Apple is expected to launch its flagship successors to the iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, and iPhone XR.

(Via PhoneArena.com)

This article, "Google Pixel 4 Leaks Suggest Punch-Hole Selfie Camera and Total Lack of Physical Buttons" first appeared on MacRumors.com

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Baidu, China’s answer to Google, reports first quarterly loss since 2005

Baidu, widely seen as the Google of China, felt the heat from its spending on artificial intelligence and other next-gen technologies that have yet to reach the mass market as it unveiled troubled first-quarter financials on Thursday.

The company logged a net loss attributable to shareholders of $49 million in the quarter ended March 31, marking the first quarterly loss since it went public in 2005. That compares to net income of 6.69 billion yuan a year before.

Baidu is the biggest search service in China and has reaped huge rewards from search ads in the PC era. But as consumers allocate their attention to new forms of mobile services — notably recommendation-based apps to discover content — Baidu is losing its appeal.

Xiang Hailong, senior vice president of Baidu’s search business, resigned after serving the company since 2005, announced the earnings report. The search giant has renamed its search business to a new ‘mobile business’.

Baidu’s revenue for the quarter rose slightly to 24.1 billion yuan ($3.5 billion), up 15 percent year-over-year.

This is a developing story. Check back for analysis.

Apple & Google celebrate Global Accessibility Awareness Day with featured apps, new shortcuts

With last fall’s release of iOS 12, Apple introduced Siri Shortcuts — a new app that allows iPhone users to create their own voice commands to take actions on their phone and in apps. Today, Apple is celebrating Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) by rolling out a practical, accessibility-focused collection of new Siri Shortcuts, alongside accessibility-focused App Store features and collections.

Google is doing something similar for Android users on Google Play.

For starters, Apple’s new Siri shortcuts are available today in a featured collection at the top of the Shortcuts app. The collection includes a variety of shortcuts aimed at helping users more quickly perform everyday tasks.

For example, there’s a new “Help Message” shortcut that will send your location to an emergency contact, a “Meeting Someone New” shortcut designed to speed up non-verbal introductions and communication, a mood journal for recording thoughts and feelings, a pain report that helps to communicate to others the location and intensity of your pain, and several others.

Some are designed to make communication more efficient — like one that puts a favorite contact on the user’s home screen, so they can quickly call, text or FaceTime the contact with just a tap.

Others are designed to be used with QR codes. For example, “QR Your Shortcuts” lets you create a QR code for any shortcut you regularly use, then print it out and place it where it’s needed for quick access — like the “Speak Brush Teeth Routine” shortcut that speaks step-by-step instructions for teeth brushing, which would be placed in the bathroom.

In addition to the launch of the new shortcuts, Apple added a collection of accessibility-focused apps to the App Store which highlights a ton of accessibility-focused apps including Microsoft’s new talking camera for the blind called Seeing AI, plus other utilities like text-to-speech readers, audio games, sign language apps, AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) solutions, eye-controlled browsers, smart home apps, fine motor skill trainers, and much more.

The App Store is also today featuring several interviews with developers, athletes, musicians, and a comedian who talk about how they use accessible technology.

Apple is not the only company rolling out special GAAD-themed collections today. Google also unveiled its own editorial collection of accessible apps and games on Google Play. In addition to several utilities, the collection features Live Transcribe, Google’s brand-new accessibility service for the deaf and hard of hearing that debuted earlier this month at its annual Google I/O developer conference.

Though the app’s status is “Unreleased,” users can install the early version which listens to conversations around you, then instantly transcribes them.

Other selections include home screen replacement Nova Launcher, blind assistant app Be My Eyes, head control for the device Open Sesame, communication aid Card Talk, and more.

How startups can use Amazon’s SEO best practices to dominate new shopping verticals

Amazon dominates the top ranking positions of Google for tens of thousands of ecommerce queries, but there are plenty of products in newer shopping categories where Amazon has not yet achieved SEO supremacy. Retailers in nascent verticals have an opportunity to follow Amazon’s SEO playbook and become the default ranking ecommerce website.

Achieving this success can be done purely by focusing on on-page SEO without the need to build a brand and a backlink portfolio that rivals Amazon.

For those unfamiliar with mechanisms of SEO, there are essentially two streams of SEO tactics

  1. On-page SEO – This is anything to do with optimizing an actual page or website for maximum SEO visibility. Within this bucket will fall efforts such as the content of a page, metadata, internal links, URL/folder names,  and even things like images.
  2. Off-page SEO – A key component of Google’s algorithm is the quality and sometimes quantity of the links from external sites that point to a page or website. At a high level the better backlinks a page or website has the more authority the page has to rank in search.

On-page SEO teardown

Delving into just their on-page SEO, their tactics can be divided into four distinct areas which we will go through in detail.

  1. Content
  2. SEO site architecture
  3. Cross-linking
  4. Page layout

If you are following along with this process, make sure to log out of your Amazon account or open up an incognito window. Google only views the logged out version of the site, so all of Amazon’s SEO efforts are focused there.

Rivals in gaming, Microsoft and Sony team up on cloud services

For the last two decades, Sony and Microsoft’s gaming divisions have been locked in all-out war against one another: on price, on hardware, on franchises, on exclusives… you name it. But it seems they’ve set their enmity aside temporarily that they might better prevent that filthy casual, Google, from joining the fray.

The official team-up, documented in a memorandum of understanding, was announced today, though details are few. But this is clear enough:

The two companies will explore joint development of future cloud solutions in Microsoft Azure to support their respective game and content-streaming services. In addition, the two companies will explore the use of current Microsoft Azure datacenter-based solutions for Sony’s game and content-streaming services.

Of course there is no doubt that Sony could have gone with a number of other cloud services for its gaming on demand services. It already runs one, Playstation Now, but the market is expected to expand over the next few years much like cord cutters have driven traditional TV and movie watchers to Netflix and other streaming services. Expansion would surely prove expensive and complicated.

The most salient challenger is likely Google and its new Stadia game straming service, which of course has a huge advantage in its global presence, brand recognition, and unique entry points: search and YouTube. The possibility of searching for a game and being able to play it literally five seconds later is an amazing one, and really only something Google can pull off right now.

That makes Google a threat. And Microsoft and Sony have enough threats already, what with the two of them making every exclusive and chip partnership count, the resurgence of Nintendo with the immensely popular Switch, and the complex new PC-and-mobile-focused gaming market making consoles look outdated. Apple Arcade exists, too, but I don’t know that anyone is worried about it, exactly.

Perhaps there was a call made on the special direct line each has to the other, where they just said “truce… until we reduce Google Stadia to rubble and salt the earth. Also Nvidia maybe.”

We don’t actually have to imagine, though. As Sony President and CEO Kenichiro Yoshida noted in the announcement: “For many years, Microsoft has been a key business partner for us, though of course the two companies have also been competing in some areas. I believe that our joint development of future cloud solutions will contribute greatly to the advancement of interactive content.”

Sony doesn’t lack technical chops, or the software necessary to pull off a streaming service — but it may simply make more sense to deploy via Microsoft’s Azure than bring its own distribution systems up to par. No doubt Microsoft is happy to welcome a customer as large as Sony to its stable, and any awkwardness from the two competing elsewhere is secondary to that. Google is a more existential competitor in many ways, so it makes sense that Microsoft would favor partnering with a partial rival against it.

Sony has long been in this boat itself. Its image sensors and camera technology can be found in phones and DSLRs that compete with its own products — but the revenue and feedback it has built up as a result have let it maintain its dominance.

Speaking of which, the two companies also plan to collaborate on imaging, combining Sony’s sensor tech with Microsoft’s AI work. This is bound to find its way to applications in robotics and autonomous vehicles, though competition is fierce there and neither company has a real branded presence. Perhaps they aim to change that… together.

Google’s new plan to push Google Pay in India: cashback incentives in Android apps

Google is gunning for India’s payment companies. The U.S. search giant entered India’s payment space in 2017, and now it is hatching an initiative that could boost usage of its Google Pay service by tying it tightly into Android apps in the country.

The company has built an in-app engagement rewards platform that promises to help developers and businesses retain users and drive engagement on their apps, two sources familiar with the matter said. It plans to formally launch the project through partners using an SDK later this year, TechCrunch understands.

Sitting at the core of this new play is Google Pay, which will be used for transactions between businesses and users, thereby expanding the reach of Google’s payment service.

Internally dubbed as Project Cruiser, the initiative has been in works since last year and it is led by Google’s Next Billion Users team, sources said. Executives from the company have reached out to several businesses in India in recent months to coax them into coming on board, they added.

The platform, if incorporated by developers into their apps, will allow app developers to incentivize users to perform certain actions in their app in a “scalable” fashion. For example, placing their first order, invite friends or adding a payment method, will all result in users earning a small sum of money. In a pitch, Google executives have described these actions as “north star” metrics — something that the company believes its current products do not currently offer.

A Google spokesperson declined to comment on the specifics of Project Cruiser, but said, “We’re always looking at ways to serve the next billion users better, but we have nothing to share at this point.”

Part of the rationale behind the project is to help businesses retain customers. A growing number of users are deleting new apps not long after installing them, the company executives said to have told prospective partners in pitches.

This cash-laden approach of using incentives to fuel engagement is a departure from how Google has typically urged developers to drive engagement on their apps: by building a high-quality experience that uses triggers like notifications in a responsible manner.

Pushing Google Pay

The company has an additional incentive at play. It has told developers that all rewards on the app will be bandied through Google Pay. That said, one source told TechCrunch that there is a plan to support other payment options from third parties at a later stage, a move that is likely to appease claims of platform abuse. The company has, interestingly, also committed to not take a cut of Google Pay revenue generated from developers through the initiative.

Google has been aggressively pushing the adoption of Google Pay in India, a market where digital payment services have grown exponentially in recent years. The app, initially launched in India as Google Tez in 2017, is the first service from Google to offer users actual money — in the form of cashback — to spur engagement. Late last year, Google ran a promotional campaign that offered Duo video chat users in India up to Rs 1,000 ($14) for inviting friends to the app.

India has emerged as a crucial growth market for Google, which is increasingly looking at developing nations to search for new users and revenue. The U.S. firm clocked $1.4 billion in revenue in India in the fiscal year ending in March 2018, filings show, and the wider Asian region recently became its fastest-growing geography for sales.

In its quest to hold a core position in India, Google has launched a number of services to better serve the needs of users in India and other emerging markets, including data-friendly YouTube Go and Android Go apps. It also funds free Wi-Fi connectivity at 400 railway stations in India, a project that graduated to become Google Stations for several other markets.

Beyond infrastructure level plays, it has conjured up bespoke products in India. Those include tools to help small and medium businesses in India establish an online presence, as well as a neighborhood app, a literacy app and a concierge service. It also acquired popular app ‘Where Is My Train’ as part of a wider transportation data play.

“We’ve learnt that when we solve for a place like India, we solve for everyone around the world,” Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, said at an event in New Delhi in 2017.

Google’s user-engagement initiative is potentially a tough development for independent mobile wallets such as Paytm and Mobikwik. Although there’s the potential to add their support later, Project Cruiser promises to give Google Pay a massive boost by tapping into India’s digital cashback culture.

That’s sure to make it an additional concern to those who are increasingly wary of Google’s influence in digital India. Just last month, the Competition Commission of India (CCI) opened an investigation into the alleged abuse of Android’s domination market position.

XPRIZE names two grand prize winners in $15 million Global Learning Challenge

XPRIZE, the non-profit organization developing and managing competitions to find solutions to social challenges, has named two grand prize winners in the Elon Musk-backed Global Learning XPRIZE .

The companies, KitKit School out of South Korea and the U.S., and onebillion, operating in Kenya and the U.K., were announced at an awards ceremony hosted at the Google Spruce Goose Hangar in Playa Vista, Calif.

XPRIZE set each of the competing teams the task of developing scalable services that could enable children to teach themselves basic reading, writing, and arithmetic skills within 15 months.

Musk himself was on hand to award $5 million checks to each of the winning teams.

Five finalists including: New York-based CCI, which developed lesson plans and a development language so non-coders could create lessons; Chimple, a Bangalore-based, learning platform enabling children to learn reading, writing and math on a tablet; RobotTutor, a Pittsburgh-based company which used Carnegie Mellon research to develop an app for Android tablets that would teach lessons in reading and writing with speech recognition, machine learning, and human computer interactions, and the two grand prize winners all received $1 million to continue developing their projects.

The tests required each product to be field tested in Swahili, reaching nearly 3,000 children in 170 villages across Tanzania.

All of the final solutions from each of the five teams that made it to the final round of competition have been open-sourced so anyone can improve on and develop local solutions using the toolkits developed by each team in competition.

Kitkit School, with a team from Berkeley, Calif. and Seoul, developed a program with a game-based core and flexible learning architecture to help kids learn independently, while onebillion, merged numeracy content with literacy material to provide directed learning and activities alongside monitoring to personalize responses to children’s needs.

Both teams are going home with $5 million to continue their work.

The problem of access to basic education affects more than 250 million children around the world, who can’t read or write and one-in-five children around the world aren’t in school, according to data from UNESCO.

The problem of access is compounded by a shortage of teachers at the primary ad secondary school level. Some research, cited by XPRIZE, indicates that the world needs to recruit another 68.8 million teachers to provide every child with a primary and secondary education by 2040.

Before the Global Learning XPRIZE field test, 74% of the children who participated were reported as never having attended school; 80% were never read to at home; and 90% couldn’t read a single word of Swahili.

After the 15 month program working on donated Google Pixel C tablets and pre-loaded with software, the number was cut in half.

“Education is a fundamental human right, and we are so proud of all the teams and their dedication and hard work to ensure every single child has the opportunity to take learning into their own hands,” said Anousheh Ansari, CEO of XPRIZE, in a statement. “Learning how to read, write and demonstrate basic math are essential building blocks for those who want to live free from poverty and its limitations, and we believe that this competition clearly demonstrated the accelerated learning made possible through the educational applications developed by our teams, and ultimately hope that this movement spurs a revolution in education, worldwide.”

After the grand prize announcement, XPRIZE said it will work to secure and load the software onto tablets; localize the software; and deliver preloaded hardware and charging stations to remote locations so all finalist teams can scale their learning software across the world.