Google is buying Fossil’s smartwatch tech for $40 million

Rumors about a Pixel Watch have abounded for years. Such a device would certainly make sense as Google attempts to prove the viability of its struggling wearable operating system, Wear OS. Seems the company is finally getting serious about the prospect. Today Fossil announced plans to sell its smartwatch IP to the software giant for $40 million.

Sounds like Google will be getting a nice head start here as well. The deal pertains to “a smartwatch technology currently under development” and involves the transfer of a number of Fossil employees to team Google.

“Wearables, built for wellness, simplicity, personalization and helpfulness, have the opportunity to improve lives by bringing users the information and insights they need quickly, at a glance,” Wear OS VP Stacey Burr said in a statement. “The addition of Fossil Group’s technology and team to Google demonstrates our commitment to the wearables industry by enabling a diverse portfolio of smartwatches and supporting the ever-evolving needs of the vitality-seeking, on-the-go consumer.”

Like the Pixel before it, a Google -created smartwatch could ultimately serve as a proving group for the company’s open operating system. Wearables in general have struggled recently, and Wear OS is certainly not an exception. A rebrand and redesign haven’t done much to shake loose the cobwebs. In fact, Fossil has remained a rare constant, developing reasonably priced, fitness-focused products sporting the software.

The smartwatch category continues to be dominated by Apple’s offerings, and top competitors Fitbit and Samsung have opted to go different routes, supporting the Pebble-based Fitbit OS and Tizen, respectively. All of this has left Google struggling to differentiate itself and its partners’ offerings. Fossil’s team certainly has the know how to build solid watch hardware, so this could prove a solid match.

Fossil is quick to note, of course, that it’s still got a team of 200 working on R&D, and while the company is no doubt losing some quality employees, it’s still committed to wearable tech.

“Fossil Group has experienced significant success in its wearables business by focusing on product design and development informed by our strong understanding of consumers’ needs and style preferences,” Fossil EVP Greg McKelvey said in a statement. “We’ve built and advanced a technology that has the potential to improve upon our existing platform of smartwatches. Together with Google, our innovation partner, we’ll continue to unlock growth in wearables.”

From the outside, at least, this looks to be a similar (albeit much smaller scale) deal to the one Google struck with HTC to help bolster its smartphone offerings.

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Infor lands $1.5 billion investment ahead of possible IPO

Infor, a NYC-based enterprise software company, announced a massive $1.5 billion investment today that could be the precursor to an IPO in the next 12-24 months. One analyst is estimating that the valuation could be at least $60 billion.

The investment is being led by Koch Industries’ investment arm, Koch Equity Development, and Golden Gate Capital. Today’s investment comes on top of a $2 billion+ cash infusion from Koch in 2017, bringing the total raised to at least more than $3.5 billion along with a hefty $6.1 billion in debt. That’s a lot of cash.

In fact, the company plans to use a large portion of today’s investment to pay down part of that debt, including $500 million in senior secured notes due in 2020, which it plans to pay off next month, and $750 million in HoldCo senior contingent cash pay notes due in 2021, which it plans to pay off in May. The thinking is that the company wants to reduce its debt load ahead of its IPO.

“We expect this paydown, in combination with cash flows and estimated IPO proceeds, will provide Infor with leverage levels consistent with other successful IPOs over the past few years,” Infor CFO Kevin Samuelson explained during an investor call today.

The company wouldn’t rule out additional investments before going public, but it was looking firmly toward an IPO. “We’ve spoken for some time about the many advantages that we believe Infor will receive if the company goes public, including improved brand recognition, a broader employee equity program, additional currency for M&A and more financial clarity for our customers and prospects,” Samuelson said.

Infor may be the largest company you never heard of, with more than 17,000 employees and 68,000 customers in more than 100 countries worldwide. All of those customers generated $3 billion in revenue in 2018. That’s a significant presence.

Ray Wang, founder and principal analyst at Constellation Research, told TechCrunch that based on that revenue, he believes the valuation could be in the neighborhood of $60 billion. He based that on $3 billion in revenue, while using Oracle and SAP as similar industry comparisons. These companies have a 20X price/earnings ratio. He adds, that would make it the largest tech IPO ever for a NYC tech company if that comes to pass. Infor would not confirm this number with a spokesperson telling TechCrunch, “We cannot comment on value at this time.”

What does this company do to achieve this size and scope? It’s not unlike many other large enterprise companies, says Wang. It produces cloud software solutions around typical enterprise needs such as CRM, ERP and supply chain asset management.

Daniel Newman, principal analyst at Futurum Research, says that Infor has grown rapidly through a series of acquisitions and an unusual approach to enterprise software. “What makes its approach to enterprise software unique is that rather than building software and then attempting to customize it for the unique [customer] needs, Infor takes an industry-based approach that incorporates both subtle and material capabilities to address specific industry needs that more generic ERP tools aren’t capable of out of the box,” Newman told TechCrunch.

He adds that this difference is attractive to many companies seeking ERP and enterprise asset management tools that are built with their business in mind, rather than completely customizing a software designed for any business in any industry.

As it turns out, Koch isn’t just an investor, it’s an Infor customer. “Koch was a customer of Infor before we became an investor in the company, and Koch Industries’ companies continue to move their most mission critical applications to Infor CloudSuites,” Jim Hannan, executive vice president and CEO for Enterprises at Koch Industries said in a statement.

The company, which was founded way back in 2002, has been shifting to the cloud over the last five years. It reports that more than 70 percent of its revenue is now derived from cloud products, fueled in part by an aggressive acquisition strategy.

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AWS launches Neo-AI, an open-source tool for tuning ML models

AWS isn’t exactly known as an open-source powerhouse, but maybe change is in the air. Amazon’s cloud computing unit today announced the launch of Neo-AI, a new open-source project under the Apache Software License. The new tool takes some of the technologies that the company developed and used for its SageMaker Neo machine learning service and brings them (back) to the open-source ecosystem.

The main goal here is to make it easier to optimize models for deployments on multiple platforms — and in the AWS context, that’s mostly machines that will run these models at the edge.

“Ordinarily, optimizing a machine learning model for multiple hardware platforms is difficult because developers need to tune models manually for each platform’s hardware and software configuration,” AWS’s Sukwon Kim and Vin Sharma write in today’s announcement. “This is especially challenging for edge devices, which tend to be constrained in compute power and storage.”

Neo-AI can take TensorFlow, MXNet, PyTorch, ONNX and XGBoost models and optimize them. AWS says Neo-AI can often speed up these models to twice their original speed, all without the loss of accuracy. As for hardware, the tools supports Intel, Nvidia and ARM chips, with support for Xilinx, Cadence and Qualcomm coming soon. All of these companies will also contribute to the project.

“To derive value from AI, we must ensure that deep learning models can be deployed just as easily in the data center and in the cloud as on devices at the edge,” said Naveen Rao, general manager of the Artificial Intelligence Products Group at Intel. “Intel is pleased to expand the initiative that it started with nGraph by contributing those efforts to Neo-AI. Using Neo, device makers and system vendors can get better performance for models developed in almost any framework on platforms based on all Intel compute platforms.”

In addition to optimizing the models, the tool also converts them into a new format to prevent compatibility issues and a local runtime on the devices where the model then runs the execution.

AWS notes that some of the work on the Neo-AI compiler started at the University of Washington (specifically the TVM and Treelite projects). “Today’s release of AWS code back to open source through the Neo-AI project allows any developer to innovate on the production-grade Neo compiler and runtime.” AWS has somewhat of a reputation of taking open-source projects and using them in its cloud services. It’s good to see the company starting to contribute back a bit more now.

In the context of Amazon’s open-source efforts, it’s also worth noting that the company’s Firecracker hypervisor now supports the OpenStack Foundation’s Kata Containers project. Firecracker itself is open source, too, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Firecracker ended up as the first open-source project that AWS brings under the umbrella of the OpenStack Foundation.

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Tesla is entering the Model 3 into Pwn2Own, one of the world’s toughest hacking contests

Tesla is handing over its new Model 3 sedan to Pwn2Own this year, the first time a car has been included in the annual high-profile hacking contest.

The prize for the winning security researcher: a Model 3.

Pwn2Own, which is in its 12th year and run by Trend Micro’s Zero Day Initiative, is known as one of the industry’s toughest hacking contests. ZDI has awarded more than $4 million over the lifetime of the program.

Pwn2Own’s spring vulnerability research competition, Pwn2Own Vancouver, will be held March 20 to 22 and will feature five categories, including web browsers, virtualization software, enterprise applications, server-side software and the new automotive category. The targets, chosen by ZDI, include software products from Apple, Google, Microsoft, Mozilla, Oracle and VMware. And, of course, Tesla. Pwn2Own is run in conjunction with the CanSec West conference.

Tesla has had a public relationship with the hacker community since 2014 when the company launched its first bug bounty program. And it’s grown and evolved ever since.

Last year, the company increased the maximum reward payment from $10,000 to $15,000 and added its energy products as well. Today, Tesla’s vehicles and all directly hosted servers, services and applications are now in scope in its bounty program.

The company also made an important overhaul last year to its bug bounty program to support “safe harbor” by allowing car owners to hack their own cars as long as they stick to the rules. Tesla’s product security policy now says that if, through “good-faith security research,” you brick your car, the company will reflash the software over-the-air or at a service center. The company says it won’t void the warranty on their car if they hack its software either.

There’s a reason why Tesla (and now other automakers) have launched bug bounty programs. Tesla vehicles are software-centric and in many ways changed the industry by enabling over the air software updates that can fix glitches and security problems as well as improve performance and add other new features. It’s what has allowed Tesla to win over consumers with the idea that their vehicle will get better over time.

But with that comes possible security issues. Since 2014, the program has led Tesla to release a number of security improvements, including cryptographic validation of its software, more robust cryptography for its key fobs and the launch of PIN-to-Drive, which aims to prevent against relay attacks on key-fob cloning.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that hackers at Pwn2Own Vancouver will find any vulnerabilities. TechCrunch was told by a Trend Micro spokesperson that the percentage of successful attempts varies, but it’s usually around 50 percent of available targets.

It’s also unclear if researchers will enter the automotive category since it’s new this year, the spokesperson said, adding that she hopes people enter “as we would love to see what the state of the art in automotive research really is.”

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Our fight to protect the future of software development

Today we asked the Supreme Court of the United States to review our long-running copyright dispute with Oracle over the use of software interfaces. The outcome will have a far-reaching impact on innovation across the computer industry.

Standardized software interfaces have driven innovation in software development. They let computer programs interact with each other and let developers easily build technologies for different platforms. Unless the Supreme Court steps in here, the industry will be hamstrung by court decisions finding that the use of software interfaces in creating new programs is not allowed under copyright law.

With smartphone apps now common, we sometimes forget how hard it once was for developers to build apps across a wide range of different platforms. Our 2008 release of the open-source Android platform changed the game. It helped developers overcome the challenges of smaller processors, limited memory, and short battery life, while providing innovative features and functionality for smartphone development. The result was a win for everyone: Developers could build new apps, manufacturers could build great new devices, and the resulting competition gave consumers both lower prices and an extraordinary range of choice.

We built Android following the computer industry’s long-accepted practice of re-using software interfaces, which provide sets of commands that make it easy to implement common functionality—in the same way that computer keyboard short-cuts like pressing “control” and “p” make it easy to print. Android created a transformative new platform, while letting millions of Java programmers use their existing skills to create new applications. And the creators of Java backed the release of Android, saying that it had “strapped another set of rockets to the [Java] community’s momentum.”

But after it acquired Java in 2010, Oracle sued us for using these software interfaces, trying to profit by changing the rules of software development after the fact. Oracle’s lawsuit claims the right to control software interfaces—the building blocks of software development—and as a result, the ability to lock in a community of developers who have invested in learning the free and open Java language.

A court initially ruled that the software interfaces in this case are not copyrightable, but that decision was overruled. A unanimous jury then held that our use of the interfaces was a legal fair use, but that decision was likewise overruled. Unless the Supreme Court corrects these twin reversals, this case will end developers’ traditional ability to freely use existing software interfaces to build new generations of computer programs for consumers. Just like we all learn to use computer keyboard shortcuts, developers have learned to use the many standard interfaces associated with different programming languages. Letting these reversals stand would effectively lock developers into the platform of a single copyright holder—akin to saying that keyboard shortcuts can work with only one type of computer.

The U.S. Constitution authorized copyrights to “promote the progress of science and useful arts,” not to impede creativity or promote lock-in of software platforms. Leading voices from business, technology, academia, and the nonprofit sector agree and have spoken out about the potentially devastating impacts of this case.

We support software developers’ ability to develop the applications we all have come to use every day, and we hope that the Supreme Court will give this case the serious and careful consideration it deserves.  

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How to Grab a Quick $40 if You Bought a Lenovo Laptop in 2014 or 2015

Remember the Lenovo Yoga2? It may have been stealing your personal data.
Photo: Lenovo

It’s time for everybody’s favorite legal news, folks—class-action settlement time! If you purchased a new non-ThinkPad Lenovo laptop between September 1, 2014 and February 28, 2015, there’s a good chance you are eligible to claim at least $40 as a make-good for the company installing adware on its computers, hampering their performance in order to steal your personal information.

This possibly-unexpected boon is the result of a lawsuit filed by consumers against Lenovo and software developer Superfish Software in 2014, alleging that an app that came installed on new Lenovo laptops called VisualDiscovery accessed private information without permission, including social security numbers, financial records, and healthcare information. The app also reportedly impacted laptops’ technical performance. According to Bloomberg, the companies agreed to an $8.3 million settlement last November.

While the lawsuit specifies a time range when claimants would have purchased applicable devices, the suit technically applies to a specific set of laptops that came with the software. Here’s a full list of all the models that qualify for a settlement.

  • G-Series: G410, G510, G710, G40-70, G50-70, G40-30, G50-30, G50-45

  • U-Series: U430P, U430Touch, U530Touch

  • Y-Series: Y40-70, Y50-70

  • Z-Series: Z50-75, Z40-70, Z50-70

  • Flex Series: Flex2 14D, Flex2 15D, Flex2 14, Flex2 15, Flex2 15(BTM), Flex 10

  • Miix Series: Miix2-10, Miix2-11

  • Yoga Series: Yoga2Pro-13, Yoga2-13, Yoga2-11BTM, Yoga2-11HSW

To see if your computer fits the bill, you can check the sticker with the model number and bar code on the bottom of the laptop, or check the model information by going to the “System Information” application in Windows 8 or 10.

Once you know you’re eligible, it’s time to make a claim. You have until March 25, 2019 to file one of two types of claims. A short-term claim, which will get you the aforementioned $40, just requires you to say that you owned one of the affected laptops. A long-term claim can earn you much more—up to $750 according to the claim form—but requires documentation that shows how the software directly caused you to lose money, such as identity theft caused by a security issue. You can only make one claim—short- or long-term—per device, so make sure you’re positive about what you want to do.

Either way, you can file your claim through this online form. If you received an email about the settlement, you can use the Notice ID and confirmation code found on that message, which I’m sure speeds up the process. If you never received an email or deleted it, that’s ok too, you just need to fill out the online form.

Though the forms are due in March, it’s tough to say when exactly claimants will get their settlement money. As Doctor of Credit points out, there will be a hearing to confirm the settlement on April 18, 2019. There may also be appeals on the decision, whether or not it is approved. So don’t expect to get that settlement money in your pocket ASAP, but rather, set your self up for a nice surprise to compensate for what was, I imagine, an awful shock when you first heard about what was happening with your laptop and personal information.

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