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Amazon puts its own devices on sale early for Prime Day

Amazon is kicking off today’s Prime Day a bit early. Although its annual sale technically begins at 12 PM PT / 3 PM ET this afternoon, it put its own devices on sale 12 hours early. The company is marking down its Alexa-enabled products like Echo, Fire TV, and Fire tablets, as well as its home security products like the Cloud Cam and more recently acquired Ring Video Doorbell.

The retailer has also released a list of Prime Day deals, which encompasses other Amazon product discounts, as well as those from other manufacturers.

This year’s Prime Day promises to be the largest yet, both in terms of the number of deals and the length of the sale itself, which has been stretched to 36 hours. Prime members will be able to shop over 1 million deals worldwide in an expanded number of international markets outside the U.S. That’s up from over 100,000 deals just two years ago, the retailer noted.

The Amazon devices on sale now include the following:

Save $20 on Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote, only $19.99 Save $110 on Toshiba 50-inch 4K Ultra HD Fire TV Edition, only $289.99 Save $30 on Echo Spot, only $99.99 Save $30 on Echo (Second Generation), only $69.99 Save $20 on Echo Dot Kids Edition, only $59.99 Save $100 on Echo Look, only $99.99 Save $60 on Amazon Cloud Cam, only $59.99 Save $75 on Ring Video Doorbell Pro, only $174 Save $30 on Fire HD8 tablet with Alexa, only $49.99 Save $30 on Fire HD 8 tablet and new Show Mode Charging Dock bundle, only $79.99 Eligible Prime members get 10% back on select Amazon devices, including Echo, Fire TV, and Kindle, when they shop on Prime Day using the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Card or Amazon Prime Store Card Prime members new to Amazon Music Unlimited can six months free of the premium music streaming service with purchase of select Amazon Echo devices during Prime Day

Amazon heavily discounts its own devices on Prime Day, so you can be sure these are pretty good deals. For example, the lowest price on the Fire TV Stick before today was $24.99 – now it’s $19.99. The Fire TV (Pendant) is also $10 less than it was during its biggest price drop. And even the brand-new Fire TV Cube has been marked down from $119.99 to $89.99. If you bundle it with a Cloud Cam, you can save $90 off both.

Though oddly not in Amazo

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Living with the new 15-inch MacBook Pro

When reviewing hardware, it’s important to integrate it into your life as much as possible. If you can, swap it in for your existing devices for a few days or a week, to really get an idea of what it’s like to use it day to day.

There are certain nuances you can only discover through this approach. Of course, that’s easier said than done in most cases. Switching between phones and computers every week isn’t nearly as glamorous as it sounds, especially when juggling multiple operating systems.

As a MacBook Pro owner, however, this one was a fair bit easier. In fact, there’s very little changed here from an aesthetic standpoint, and beyond the quieter keyboard and Siri integration, there’s not a lot that’s immediately apparent in the 2018 MacBook Pro refresh for me. That’s because I’m not the target demographic for the update. I write words for a living. There are large portions of my job that I could tackle pretty easily on an Apple IIe (please no one tell the IT department).

This upgrade is for a different class of user entirely: the creative professional. These are the people long assumed to be the core user base for the Mac ecosystem. Sure, they only account for around 15 percent of Mac users, according to the company’s estimates, but they’re the people who use the machines to make art. And as such, it’s precisely the group of influencers the company needs to court.

In recent years, however, some vocal critics have accused the company of taking that key demo for granted. Apple has seemed more focused on a populist approach to its technology. The simplification of pro software like Final Cut X and the seeming abandonment of the Mac Pro have been regarded as exhibits A and B.

For the first time in recent memory, the company has serious competition for the hearts and minds of creative pros, including Microsoft, which has made the category a focus with its high-end Surface line.

But the last two years have seen Apple fighting back. The company was uncharacteristically open about the status of the Mac Pro line, which has been undergoing a fundamental rethink. In the meantime, it released the iMac Pro and added a bunch of new features to macOS aimed firmly at that category.

The new MacBook Pro continues that trend; the form

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Wave Uber’s new Spotlight or send canned chats to find your driver

Uber is aiming to perfect the art of the pick-up with three features it says minimize cancellations. Guaranteed pickup windows boost confidence that you’ll make your flight, and give you a credit of $10 if your scheduled ride is late. Pre-written messages let drivers and riders let each other know they’ll “Be right there” or “I’ve arrived” with a single tap.

And most flashily, three years after I suggested Uber let you hold up a colored screen so your driver could find you amidst a crowd of hailers, it’s introducing Spotlight. Each driver gets assigned a semi-unique color gradient to look for. Hit the Spotlight button, that color takes over your screen, and you can wave it to help your driver locate you. 

These optimizations show the depths Uber is willing to go to shave seconds off of pickups. That can reduce unpaid waiting time for drivers while boosting the number of rides they complete per hour for the startup. And the peace of mind that they’ll be able to hop in right when they’re ready could lure riders away from competitors as Uber dukes it out across the globe. The updates are rolling out on iOS and Android in the US and Canada today.

“Human-to-human interaction is hard. Driver initiated cancellations after the driver has arrived at the pickup point are particularly stressful” Uber sr. product manager for rider experience Ryan Yu tells me. But in tests of the new quick messages features, “We found cancellations on both sides reduced significantly, especially for drivers after they’ve arrived.”   

We can only hope this level of attention to detail will be applied to optimizing its internal company culture — a hope shaken by this month’s resignation of Uber’s head of HR Liane Hornsey after a probe into how she handled racial discrimination at the company, and the NYT’s report of insensitivity complaints about COO Barney Harford.

Uber has been steadily adding little improvements to the pickup process over the years. Here’s a quick, abridged list:

Incentivizing drivers to wait instead of cancelling by starting th

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Roku unveils 200 wireless speakers made for Roku TV

Roku is getting into the speaker business with today’s announcement of Roku TV Wireless Speakers.

Mark Ely, the company’s vice president of product management, said Roku is trying to address a growing consumer problem — the fact that as TVs get thinner, you end up buying “this beautiful TV, but it sounds bad.” To address this, you may end up purchasing a soundbar or creating a more elaborate home theater setup, but Ely argued that many consumers find this process confusing and intimidating.

So as the name suggests, Roku has created wireless speakers specifically for Roku TVs, the company’s lineup of partner-built smart TVs. Ely described them as speakers that deliver “really premium sound in a really compact package,” and at an affordable price. (They’re about seven inches tall and weigh four pounds each, he said.)

Roku says it should be easy to pair these speakers wirelessly with a Roku TV using Roku Connect, and since the company controls both the video and audio experience, it can ensure that they’re sync’d up perfectly, without lag. To minimize those moments when you’re frantically reaching for the remote to adjust the volume, the speakers also come with Automatic Volume Leveling to lower the sound in particularly loud scenes and boost the sounds when it gets too quiet.

Couple on Couch

Ely said the product takes advantage of Roku’s acquisition last year of Danish audio startup Dynastrom: “The goal has been to have audio be a real center of excellence for the company.”

“Our fundamental belief here is that by delivering a better sound experience, you get a better entertainment streaming experience,” he added.

The speakers will also come with a new remote called the Roku Touch, which is designed to emphasize voice controls without fully giving up the benefits of a regular remote — you can press-and-hold to deliver voice commands, but it still has buttons for playback control and others that you can preset.

Smart speakers from big tech companies like Apple and Amazon are seen as one main ways to get into the voice-powered home assistant market. Roku has its own voice assistant (which it’s making available to manufacturing partners), but Ely and VP of Consumer PR Se

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PayPal leads 50M round for PPRO a profitable cross-border payment specialist

As payments companies continue to look to the long tail of global markets to expand their businesses, a startup that helps them do business in disparate economies is getting a strategic investment from one of payment world leaders.

PayPal is leading a $50 million investment into PPRO, a London-based business that is focused on cross-border payments for merchants, specifically by offering the merchants a seamless way of accepting payments from customers using whatever the most popular payment form happens to be in a particular country. To date, the PPRO platform covers some 140 payment methods, and the plan will be to add more countries, and more payments, into the mix.

The deal comes at the tail end of a wave of acquisitions from PayPal as it looks for new ways of expanding its business as growth tails off in its more established markets and established business lines. Between mid-May and now, it has acquired iZettle for $2.2 billion to expand its mobile point-of-sale opportunities; AI-based CRM specialist Jetlore; AI-based fraud and risk management firm Simility for $120 million; and gig economy payment facilitator Hyperwallet for $400 million.

This PPRO investment also includes participation from new investor Citi Ventures and previous backer HPE Growth Capital. PPRO is not disclosing its valuation but Simon Black, its CEO, said in an interview that it’s definitely up on its previous funding and described it as a “minority investment” in the company.

Interestingly, PPRO has raised only around $10.6 million since its founding in 2006; it is already profitable; it has around 200 employees; and it competes with the likes of Adyen, which recently went public at a valuation of over $8 billion — to give you an idea of the opportunity and value of the company.

The challenge PPRO — pronounced “pea-pro” — is addressing is an interesting and complicated one. While the growth in e-commerce has been a global phenomenon, like a plant, it has grown differently and adapted to each market depending on local conditions. In the case of payments, that has meant a disparate range of payment methods that are standard in some countries, but not others.

While credit cards or debit cards, for example, are very standard in the US and UK, in Japan, a lot of people pay for items purchased online by cash on delivery, or at convenience stores. In the Netherlands, there is

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