The new Google TV brings streaming apps, live TV and search into a single interface

Not to be confused with the smart TV platform of the same name (2010-2014, RIP) or the Android TV platform it’s built on top of, Google has just taken the wraps off the new Google TV. The name refers to the interface for the new, aptly titled Chromecast with Google TV, combining streaming services, live TV (via YouTube TV) and various other Google offerings into a single, streamlined UI.

In that sense, the new Google TV is similar to offerings from Apple and Amazon, serving as a kind of one-stop-shop to replace cable TV outright. It works with most of the top streaming offerings, including Disney+,, HBO Max, Netflix, Rakuten Viki and, of course, YouTube, with NBC’s Peacock coming soon.

Live TV is accessible for those who have a YouTube TV membership in the States. The (admittedly pricey at $65 a month) service brings access to 85 live stations, including the networks, CNN, ESPN and Nickelodeon, available via a Live tab. The company will also be adding additional live TV provider integration down the road.

The real secret sauce here, however, seems to be the underlying search smarts that serve as the foundation for so much of what Google does. Here’s the company discussing the new feature in a blog post:

To build this, we studied the different ways people discover media—from searching for a specific title to browsing by genre—and created an experience that helps you and what to watch. We also made improvements to Google’s Knowledge Graph, which is part of how we better understand and organize your media into topics and genres, from movies about space travel to reality shows about cooking. You’ll also see titles that are trending on Google Search, so you can always and something timely and relevant.

Image Credits: Google

Users can search for specific recommendations via voice. They can also use Assistant to get the weather, sports scores and view their security cams via compatible products like Nest straight from the TV set. The fact that the system is built on top of Android TV means that Google TV is compatible with some 6,500 apps at launch, with support for the company’s own streaming gaming offering, Stadia, coming in the first half of next year. When not in use, Ambient mode will display a slideshow of Google Photos.

Google TV is available for  Chromecast with Google TV, which launches today at $50. Users can also access it as part of the new Google TV app — an update to Google Play Movies & TV for Android, which also arrives today.

Europe eyeing limits on how big tech can use data and bundle apps — reports

European lawmakers are considering new rules for Internet giants that could include forcing them to share data with smaller rivals and/or put narrow limits on how they can use data in a bid to level the digital playing field.

Other ideas in the mix are a ban on dominant platforms favoring their own services or forcing users to sign up to a bundle of services, according to draft regulatory proposals leaked to the press.

The FT and Reuters both report seeing drafts of the forthcoming Digital Services Act (DSA) — which EU lawmakers are expected to introduce before the end of the year.

Their reports suggest there could be major restrictions on key digital infrastructure such as Apple’s iOS App Store and the Android Google Play store, as well as potentially limits on how ecommerce behemoth Amazon could use the data of merchants selling on its platform — something the Commission is already investigating.

A Commission spokesperson declined to confirm or deny anything in the two reports, saying it does not comment on leaks or comments by others.

“We remain committed to presenting the DSA still this year,” he added.

Per the Financial Times, the leaked draft states: “Gatekeepers shall not use data received from business users for advertising services for any other purpose other than advertising service.”

Its report suggests tech giants will be shocked by the scale of regulations coming down the pipe — noting 30 paragraphs of prohibitions or obligations — with the caveat that the proposal remains at an early stage, meaning big tech lobbyists still have everything to play for.

On bundling, lawmakers are eyeing rules that would mean dominant platforms must let users uninstall any pre-loaded apps — as well as looking at barring them from harming rivals by giving preferential treatment to their own services, according to the reports.

“Gatekeepers shall not pre-install exclusively their own applications nor require from any third party operating system developers or hardware manufacturers to pre-install exclusively gatekeepers’ own application,” per Reuters, quoting the draft it’s seen.

The Commission’s experience of antitrust complaints against Google seems likely to be a factor informing these elements — given a string of EU enforcements against the likes of Google Shopping and Android in recent years have generated headlines but failed to move the competitive needle nor satisfy complainants, even as fresh complaints about Google keep coming.

Per Reuters the draft rules would also subject gatekeeper platforms to annual audits of their advertising metrics and reporting practices.

Platforms’ self-serving transparency remains a much complained about facet of how these giants currently operate — making efforts to hold them accountable over things like content take-down performance doomed to fuzzy failure.

The Commission’s public consultation on the DSA was launched in June — and closed on September 8.

In a lengthy response earlier this month, Google lobbied against ex ante rules for platform giants, urging regulators to instead modernise existing frameworks where any gaps are found rather than imposing tougher requirements on tech giants.

Should there be ex ante rules the adtech giant pushed lawmakers not to single out any particular business models — while also urging against an “overly simplistic” definition of ‘gatekeeper’ platforms.

Facebook has also been ploughing effort into lobbying commissioners ahead of the DSA proposal — seeking to frame the discussion in key risk areas for its business model, such as around privacy and data portability.

In May, CEO Mark Zuckerberg made time for a livestreamed debate run by a big tech-backed policy ‘think tank’ CERRE — appearing alongside Thierry Breton, the Commission VP for the internal market. The Facebook CEO warned about ‘Cambridge Analytica-style’ privacy risks if too much data portability is enforced, while the commissioner warned Facebook to pay its taxes or expect to be regulated.

More recently, Facebook’s head of global policy has sought to link European SMEs’ post-COVID-19 economic recovery prospects to Facebook’s continued exploitation of people’s data via its ad platform — tacitly warning EU lawmakers against closing down its privacy-hostile business model.

Such lobbying may be falling on deaf ears, though. Earlier this month Breton, told the FT the feeling among Brussels’ lawmakers is that platforms have got ‘too big to care’ — hence the conviction that new rules are needed to enforce higher standards.

Breton said then that lawmakers are considering a rating system to allow the public and stakeholders to assess companies’ behaviour in areas such as tax compliance and how quickly they take down illegal content.

He suggested a blacklist of activities could be applied to dominant platforms with a sliding scale of penalties for non-compliance — up to and including the separation of some operations, according to the FT’s report.

He also committed to not removing the current limited liability platforms have around content published on their platforms, saying: “The safe harbour of the liability exemption will stay. That’s something that’s accepted by everyone.”

In another signal of looming intent earlier this month, the Commission said it’s time to move beyond self-regulatory approaches to tackling problem content like disinformation — though it’s yet to flesh out its policy plan in that area. In June it also suggested it’s eyeing binding transparency requirements related to online hate speech, saying platforms’ own reporting is still too patchy.

Tesla says its battery innovations will deliver its goal of a $25,000 mass market electric car

Tesla held its Battery Day event on Tuesday to discuss a variety of innovations it has developed and is pursuing in battery technology for its vehicles.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk and SVP of Powertrain and Energy Engineering Drew Baglino detailed a new anode and cathode technology the company is working on, as well as materials science, in-house mining operations and manufacturing improvements it’s developing to make more affordable, sustainable batteries. They said that taken together, these should allow the company to make an electric vehicle available to consumers at the $25,000 price point.

“We’re confident we can make a very, very compelling $25,000 electric vehicle that’s also fully autonomous,” Musk said. “And when you think about the $25,000 price point you have to consider how much less expensive it is to own an electric vehicle. So actually, it becomes even more affordable at that $25,000 price point.”

This isn’t the first time that Musk has talked about the $25,000 price point for a Tesla car: Two years ago, in August 2018, he said that he believed the company would be able to reach that target price point in roughly three years. Two years on, it seems like the goal posts have been pushed out again — fairly standard for an Elon-generated timeline — since Musk and Baglino acknowledged that it would be another two or three years before the company could realize the technologies it presented in sufficient quantities to be produced effectively at scale.

Tesla detailed a new, tabless battery cell design that would help it achieve its goal of reaching 10 to 20 terawatts of global battery production capacity per year. The design offers five times the energy density of the existing cells it uses, as well as six times the power and an overall 16% improvement in range for vehicles in which it’s used.

Future Teslas will have batteries that double as structure, making them extra stiff while improving efficiency, safety and cost

Tesla has fundamentally redesigned the way that its battery packs integrate into their vehicles, turning them into structural elements of the car, rather than just fuel sources on their own. At Tesla’s Battery Day event on Tuesday, Elon Musk compared this to how commercial aircraft used to load fuel into tanks that were contained within the wings, but that were essentially bolted onto internal structure — later on, they realized much greater efficiencies in how much fuel could be carried, as well as weight and parts usage, by making the wing bodies actual fuel tanks themselves.

“All modern airplanes, the fuel tank, your wing is just a fuel tank and wing shaped,” he said. “This is absolutely the way to do it. And then the fuel tank serves as dual structure, and it’s no longer cargo. It’s fundamental to the structure of the aircraft — this was a major breakthrough. We’re doing the same for cars.”

By turning the battery cell into a structural component of the vehicle, Musk pointed out that they can actually save more mass overall in the car than you would assume on paper if you just took out the structural supports in the battery cells as they currently exist. That’s because the battery itself is doing a lot of that support work — which, he points out, actually makes the overall vehicle safer, which might seem counterintuitive.

Tesla will achieve this by creating a filler that is also a structural adhesive, and that also acts as a flame retardant. It “effectively glues the cells to the top and bottom sheet, and this allows you to do shear transfer between upper and lower sheets,” Musk said.

“This gives you incredible stiffness, and it’s really the way that any super-fast thing works is you create basically a honeycomb sandwich with two phase sheets,” he said. “This is actually even better than what aircraft do because they can’t do this because fuel is liquid.”

The end result of this will be that a structure that enables Tesla’s cars to be much stiffer than any regular cars. That stiffer design is better for safety overall, and also means that the batteries will be more efficient, while also avoiding any “arbitrary point loads” of strain or stress on the battery cell itself.

It also allows us to use to move the cells closer to the center of the car, because we don’t have […] sort of all the supports and stuff,” he said. “So, the volumetric efficiency of the structural pack is much better than a non-structural pack. And we actually bring cells closer to the center.”

This reduces the potential of side impacts from collisions actually reaching the cells, which means they should be less susceptible to sustaining the kind of damage that can result in battery-related fires. It will also “improve the polar moment of inertia,” Musk said, which basically translates to better overall maneuvering of the vehicle and driving and handling feel.

Finally, there are 370 fewer parts in the structural battery design versus the current Tesla battery cell design, which greatly reduces cost as well as potential failure points. That’s going to add up to a lot of manufacturing savings, per Musk, and will stack with the other battery innovations he unveiled.

Mark Cuban, Marc Benioff, Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow and Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi are investing in toilet paper

A slew of big name entrepreneurs and celebrities are really circling the drain with their latest investment.

Led by Greycroft, a who’s who of celebrity investors, including Mark Cuban, Marc Benioff, Iron Man and Pepper Potts (er… Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow), Uber’s chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, Ashton Kutcher and Guy Oseary, and founder Hadi Partovi are investing $3 million into the new toilet paper brand Cloud Paper. (Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Ciara, serial-entrepreneur Grant Ries, Muse Capital, and Ashley and Marc Merrill are also backing the company.)

Why? Because they’re hoping to save the environment.

Founded by Ryan Fritsch and Austin Watkins, two former employees of Khosrowshahi’s at Uber who went on to take roles at the logistics startup Convoy, Cloud Paper is one of several companies trying to get consumers to make the switch to bamboo-based toilet paper. But it may be the only one to get such high-profile investors to flush it with wads of cash.

A year-and-a-half in the making, Cloud Paper began when the two colleagues started talking about launching their own business, but one that could have an immediate impact on the climate crisis they saw as the most pressing societal issue.

Image Credit: Cloud Paper

They settled on toilet paper because of its massive contribution to deforestation, a key contributing factor to climate change. According to statistics provided by the company, 15% of deforestation is due to toilet paper production alone, and roughly 40,000 trees per day are cut down for U.S. consumers to wipe up (with toilet paper and paper towels. The company estimates that an average household could save more than 250 trees by switching to bamboo based toilet paper (ideally theirs).

“We wanted Cloud Paper to be a force for good in the world,” said Watkins. “We wanted to find something similar to taxis and trucking in terms of the size of the market and something that could have a really big impact on the community and the environment from day one.”

To ensure that impact, the company is offsetting twice the amount of carbon emissions that are generated from its business operations and has done so since day one, the founders said.

Currently, the company sells directly to businesses, which were its initial market, and has recently launched a direct to consumer service where its sells its bamboo toilet paper at a cost of $28 for 24 rolls. A price point roughly in line with the industry’s going rate for rolls.

“We have been investing in several companies over the last five to 10 years that have been in this vein,” said Greycroft venture partner Alison Lange Engel. What compelled the firm to back Fritsch and Watkins was the background in logistics and consumer products and the business-to-business focus that the two entrepreneurs initially went to market with, Engel said.

And the selection of bamboo as the source product was no accident. “Bamboo sequester more carbon and releases more oxygen,” said Fritsch. “It’s a magical plant to keep growing and harvesting… especially when the alternative is an old-growth forest.”