GrabTaxi, Asia-Based Uber Competitor, to Open Tech Centre in Seattle

GrabTaxi, Asia-Based Uber Competitor, to Open Tech Centre in SeattleGrabTaxi, the on-demand ride service and Uber competitor in Southeast Asia, is opening a technology centre in Seattle, marking the company’s first physical presence in the United States.

GrabTaxi said on Wednesday the new centre will work on cloud computing and data projects to support the smartphone app its customers use to hail rides in a car or motorbike.

GrabTaxi said it hired Raman Narayanan, a former Microsoft engineer, as technical adviser to the centre and to lead recruitment efforts. The company plans to hire a full team over the next year.

Seattle is home to e-commerce giant Amazon as well as a growing startup scene. Microsoft is located in nearby Redmond, Washington.

The Seattle centre will complement GrabTaxi’s engineering centres in Singapore and Beijing.

GrabTaxi is the leading ride-hailing app in Southeast Asia, serving Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand. Its services include private cars, taxis, carpooling and deliveries.

Created in 2012, GrabTaxi says it has 185,000 drivers and up to 1.5 million bookings a day.

While the Seattle centre is GrabTaxi’s first physical presence in the United States, the company has a budding relationship with San Francisco on-demand ride service Lyft.

The two are part of a ride-hailing coalition created last month that also includes China-based Didi Kuaidi and India-based Ola that will allow passengers to use all platforms to hail a ride as they travel between the United States and Asia.

Seattle lawmakers last month approved an ordinance that gives drivers for on-demand ride companies, well as taxi and for-hire drivers, the right to collectively negotiate on pay and working conditions.


Google Chrome to Get Native Cast Support

Google Chrome to Get Native Cast Support

Google is working on a way to build a casting service inside the Chrome browser. Until now users would have to download and install Google Cast Chrome extension to stream music, videos, and other webpages from the browser to their Chromecast-connected TV.

Francois Beaufort from the company’s Chrome division on Tuesday posted that the Chromium team is “currently experimenting in Beta Channel with casting tabs without the Google Cast extension installed thanks to the new Media Router.” This will let users simply right+click on any page in Chrome browser and then select Cast to stream it to a nearby Chromecast-connected TV without using the extension.

As per Beaufort, the new feature has not yet arrived in the general release of Chrome. However, beta users can try it by enabling the “Media Router” feature at chrome://flags/#media-router.

Google at CES 2016 announced a slew of companies it’s working with to expand the reach of Android TV and Google Cast. Google says that more Android TV-supported devices will be available from Arcelik, Vestel, RCA, Hisense, TCL, and Bang & Olufsen around the world sometime this year.

Chromecast Audio released last year, and promises to replace all your speakers around the house with “smart” speakers. Google Cast for Audio, which is the core underlying technology that also enables multi-speaker and soon multi-room setups, will soon get devices from B&O Play, Harman/Kardon, Onkyo, Philips, Pioneer, and Raumfeld.

Google with Chrome 47 for Android last month introduced download ‘snackbar’ at the bottom of the screen. The app version also brought the ability for developers to add splash screens to Web apps when a site is launched from the Android home screen. Chrome 47 for Android also featured support for theme-colour attribute without merging tabs and apps.

With Chrome 47 for Windows, Mac, and Linux, Google removed the desktop notification centre. Google in October announced its plans to remove the Chrome desktop notification centre because not many users utilised it, and some had even disabled it. It was introduced in 2013. The feature however, is still present in Chrome OS for now. On iOS, Chrome 47 adds support for more hardware keyboard shortcuts along with support for 3D Touch for iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus models.


Netflix Says Will Block Proxy Access to Content Not Available Locally

Netflix Says Will Block Proxy Access to Content Not Available Locally

Netflix doesn’t mind its users sharing their account with friends and family but the popular on-demand streaming service disapproves of the usage of unblockers and proxies. The company has announced that it will be blocking such tools in the coming weeks. As a result, you are unlikely to be able to stream shows and movies that are not available in your region.

The video streaming giant has long expressed its concerns over the usage of tools that allow users to fake their location to access content that isn’t available in their home country. But so far, Netflix has maintained a relaxed approach towards it, turning a blind eye to the fact that many of its users are indulging in such practices. That has changed.

[…] in coming weeks, those using proxies and unblockers will only be able to access the service in the country where they currently are,” David Fullagar, Netflix’s vice president of content delivery architecture, wrote in a blog post. “We are confident this change won’t impact members not using proxies.”

Netflix ‘s catalogue houses more than 34,000 movies, documentaries, and TV shows titles. However, not all content is available in every region. For instance, Kevin Spacey-starrer House of Cards is not available in India. This sort of unavailability of content, as you can imagine, has led many users to use apps and services such as Smartflix that circumvent the geo-location barriers and provide users access to a wider catalogue.

To understand Netflix’s move, you have to realise that the company has a partnership with content owners, and it has to respect the licensing deals in every region. Moving forward, however, Netflix intends to sort out its licensing deals so that all of its content is available everywhere. But that is likely going to take years. To recall, Netflix launched its service in India and 129 other countries earlier this month.

“If all of our content were globally available, there wouldn’t be a reason for members to use proxies or ‘unblockers’ to fool our systems into thinking they’re in a different country than they’re actually in. We are making progress in licensing content across the world and, as of last week, now offer the Netflix service in 190 countries, but we have a ways to go before we can offer people the same films and TV series everywhere,” Fullagar added.


Funding Lifts Uber China Unit’s Valuation to $8 Billion, but Profits Absent

Funding Lifts Uber China Unit's Valuation to $8 Billion, but Profits Absent

Uber Technologies Inc’s China unit boosted its valuation to $8 billion (roughly Rs. 53,908 crores) after it raised more than $1 billion (roughly Rs. 6,738 crores) in its latest funding round, although the US ride-hailing app is not yet profitable in the mainland due to intense competition.

Uber and its larger China rival, Didi Kuaidi, have spent heavily to subsidize rides to gain market share, betting on China’s Internet-linked transport market becoming the world’s biggest.

Travis Kalanick, CEO of Uber Technologies, told reporters in the Chinese capital on Friday he recognizes that spending on subsidies is “how you win” in China and that the company aims to beat Didi Kuaidi by spending subsidies more efficiently.

“I worry about it every day,” he said, regarding the heavy spending on subsidies. Uber currently operates in 22 cities in China but Kalanick said it does not turn a profit in any city.

Didi Kuaidi, backed by Chinese Internet heavyweights Alibaba Group Holding Ltd and Tencent Holdings Ltd, has the country’s biggest market share of car-hailing apps.

Uber China’s recently-closed Series B fundraising brought in “well over $1 billion”, Kalanick said. A spokeswoman for Uber said the series had raised over $1.2 billion but declined to give an exact figure.

“I thought we did remarkably well especially given some of the macro trends that were going on,” Kalanick said.

In September, Kalanick had said the unit had already raised $1.2 billion. The CEO did not comment on Friday on precisely how much had been raised in the four months since then. Before the latest fundraising, Uber’s China unit was valued at $7 billion (roughly Rs. 47,169 crores).

Kalanick warned that the market for fundraising would calm down at some point and the current high spending on subsidies cannot continue forever.

Uber’s profits in other markets can be invested in Uber China and that income will eventually become a more important source of investment than fundraising, he said.