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To stay competitive, Walmart and Target turn to startups for help

Their host is none other than Target, which built an 8,000-square-foot space at its headquarters in the city for the inaugural accelerator it launched earlier this summer. Never mind that Target employs some 341,000 people and does more than $73 billion in sales a year -- it also wants to try and bottle some innovation from scrappy startup entrepreneurs as it attempts to chart a path forward.

That's as good a starting point as any in understanding a high-stakes shift in priorities underway at big legacy retailers like Target and Walmart. Indeed, they're increasingly caught up in a Silicon Valley-style scramble for top talent like coders and engineers. They're also launching and staffing up skunkworks labs and working with startups -- all in an effort to slingshot themselves into the future.

Some of the ideas Target is pursuing include the accelerator it founded in partnership with Techstars, as well as its "Food + Future coLab" focused on food innovation.That effort was launched in collaboration with the MIT Media Lab and Ideo. The idea behind the lab is to bring together teams from each of those founding organizations to come up with big ideas related to food.

Target in recent weeks began testing a concept at one of its Boston stores that came out of the lab. Essentially, it allows people to scan fruits and vegetables to identify their nutritional value -- and to pay for the item based on its freshness.

Walmart, in its own way, is racing toward the same goal.

Earlier this month, the retail giant said it would pay about $3 billion to buy e-commerce startup (and Amazon competitor) Jet.com. In recent weeks, the company also rolled out its Walmart Pay payment system to all of its US stores.

And while it's not readily apparent from visiting any of its nearly 5,300 US locations, Walmart also has a San Francisco Bay Area outpost called WalmartLabs -- a kind of skunkworks unit focused on the retailer's digital products and services like Walmart Pay.

"We've got several new things in the works I can't announce," Walmart Chief Technology Officer Jeremy King told Engadget. "But let's just say you'll see us make it even more compelling to use your phone in the store."

What it all amounts to is two of the biggest, most traditional retailers in the US looking West for inspiration. And their experimentation is certainly worth watching. It might fall flat, but there's also a chance they could successfully infuse enough Silicon Valley-style innovation into their playbooks to reinvent themselves -- and the retail experience -- in the process.

In a way, they don't have much choice. While the retail industry is eking out barely 1 percent growth, e-commerce is zipping along at 15 percent, according to the latest Deloitte Retail Volatility Index, published by the consulting firm Deloitte.

Target, which said earlier this year that it plans to spend more than $2 billion starting in 2017 on tech and supply-chain improvements, has been busy on several fronts to try and capture some fresh digital mojo.

The company is hiring staffers for a tech project codenamed "Goldfish" that will be housed out of Target's Sunnyvale, California, office, which opened in 2014 to focus on things like online and mobile data analytics. A job posting for engineers is short on details but says, "We're a brand new team, intent on changing the way people shop." West Stringfellow, whom Target hired last year as its first entrepreneur-in-residence after stints at Amazon and PayPal, is behind the mystery project, though he's staying put in Minneapolis.

Among the teams participating in Target's accelerator is L.A.-based MakersKit, which provides DIY craft kits and instructional videos for all ages. Others include MakerBloks, a Montreal-based startup that creates interactive games and craft materials to help children learn about electronics, technology and STEM ideas; and ItsByU, a startup that provides kits for users to create their own wedding-flower arrangements.

The teams are going through 14 weeks of programming and mentorship from executives like Target's chairman and CEO himself, Brian Cornell. According to the company, 50 percent of the startup teams have female cofounders, and two are international -- one from Canada and one from Hong Kong. There are also a couple of family-run outfits, with a husband-and-wife team as well as a team of sisters.

"We're looking first and foremost to help these startups," said Stringfellow, who is now Target's vice president of internal innovation and operations. "If there's a symbiotic opportunity, great. If not, that's OK, too. We'll be learning from their discipline, focus, excitement and passion, and a second-order effect will be us taking some of that and applying it to our products and teams and practices."

The approach to digital and innovation efforts at WalmartLabs is a little different.

The company's division focusing on new technologies and digital products is keeping its roadmap mostly hidden. But it generally focuses on innovation that can be built into features across Walmart's operation.

WalmartLabs' Bay Area presence is split between Sunnyvale and San Bruno, where it shares a parking lot with Twitter. King says being there lets the division compete with big tech companies for engineering and coding talent. And according to King, at least, it wins that hiring race more often than not.

At the inaugural TAP Conference last year, WalmartLabs director of innovation Ojonimi Bako spelled out its basic M.O. -- the unit has a degree of freedom to experiment, separate from the rest of the company. The best of these ideas could eventually be scaled across the company. The lab is also free to pursue its own acquisitions of other companies, of which there have been 15, King says.

Together, Walmart and Target's respective approaches show how legacy retailers can compete in the digital age. And they're not alone. Over in Europe, retailer John Lewis -- which operates 46 shops across the UK as well as a web presence -- has an accelerator program of its own, called the JLAB.

The five retail tech startups John Lewis selected for the latest round of the program are built around everything from programmable robots to advanced computer-visioning. They get access to mentors and capital. John Lewis, in turn, gets to learn from them in a way that could potentially help the 152-year-old retailer stay relevant in the 21st century.

There are plenty of other examples. Consumer-goods giant Unilever has a corporate accelerator called the Unilever Foundry. Disney and BMW also host their own startup incubators.

Efforts like these from the retailers might end up successfully connecting them with smaller, faster-moving companies. And those companies might have different skill sets and insights the bigger brands can tap to improve their own operations.

Or maybe not.

Walmart CTO King, for his part, says traditional retailers too often are content to just build what he calls "toy shops," where "10 to 20 people form a group to maybe build an app or play with beacons."

Indeed, after a few years of operation, upscale department store Nordstrom recently dismantled the tech-focused "innovation lab" it had set up six years before. Nordstrom spokesman Dan Evans told Engadget innovation is now required across the whole company, not just for one unit.

"We no longer have a specific innovation lab, as we folded the responsibility of innovation across our technology teams so that each group has a stake in how we innovate for the customer," he said.

It's an admission of how tough it is to get the balance right: to maintain the core of what you as a retailer do, while at the same time trying to figure out why the world is changing around you, and what you can do about it.

Kasey Lobaugh, chief retail innovation officer for Deloitte Consulting, says he's seeing a growing number of retailers deciding to pursue one or both of these paths, launching so-called innovation labs, many of them in Silicon Valley, and setting up incubators or accelerators.

Those innovation labs, though, have "been of marginal success so far," Lobaugh says. "Largely what those centers have done is focus on technologies to apply to the current business. Like, not changing the business model, just doing something like adding beacons so we can communicate with an app and maybe send the customer interesting marketing material while they're shopping.

"The second thing retailers have started to do," he continued, "is say, 'Maybe we need to be more like a startup, maybe figure out ways to be around startups.' And so they launch an incubator to figure out what they're doing and maybe learn from them. I'd say the jury is still out on how successful that will be."

To Walmart's King's point about "toy shops," Lobaugh notes how Uber did a lot more "than just develop a mobile app and tack it onto a taxicab company." And therein is the cautionary note for retailers who think innovation centers are some sort of magic bullet.

"The analogy I would use for what retailers are doing with their innovation centers -- and this is painting with a broad brush -- but they're thinking about, 'How can I tack a mobile app onto my taxicab company?" he said. "Instead of thinking about, 'How can I use technology to recast my business to be able to compete in a very different environment?'"

Meanwhile, at Target, Walmart and many of their competitors, that's exactly the work that's happening now. Expect it to continue. The retailers are more open now to looking for new ideas in unexpected places. Even if that place is a small, tech-savvy startup that couldn't be more removed from the world of big-box retail.

Images: Target (Innovation lab teams); Walmart (@WalmartLabs); Mike Blake / Reuters (storefront)

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2016/08/25/to-stay-competitive-walmart-and-target-turn-to-startups-for-hel/

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Apple patenting a way to collect iPhone thieves’ fingerprints

The system is pretty simple. The Touch ID sensor, front camera and microphone are already there, they simply need to be switched on without alerting the bad guy. In one scheme, the system could capture biometric data after a single failed passcode attempt; in another, it would only store it after a pre-determined number of failed attempts. On top of storing video, audio and fingerprint data, it could save and transmit "forensic" info like a GPS location. (The patent doesn't specifically mention the iPhone or iPad, but those are Apple's only devices with fingerprint sensors.)

Such a feature might be on shaky legal ground, however. Apple, maybe more than any company, understands the downsides of storing data without notifying users. And while it's fun to speculate about patents, the tech rarely makes it into actual products, and this one has yet to be approved by the USPTO. Still, Apple can already track thieves, and such a scheme would let you nab them without having to traipse around the world.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2016/08/25/apple-patent-iphone-thief-fingerprints/

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Wirecutter’s best deals: Save $25 on Jaybird X2 wireless headphones

Seagate Backup Plus Slim 2TB External Hard Drive

Street price: $90; MSRP: $110; Deal price: $70 with code ESCEMGJ28

Make sure to use the code ESCEMGJ28 to get this price. While we've seen a lot of $80 deals recently, to the point where we expect that'll soon be the street price, we haven't seen a $70 deal since February.

The Seagate Backup Plus Slim 2TB is our pick for the best portable hard drive. Kimber Streams said, "The 2TB Seagate Backup Plus Slim is the best portable hard drive for most people because it's reliable, light, compact, and not too expensive per terabyte."

In terms of portability, "The Seagate Backup Plus Slim is the thinnest and lightest portable hard drive we tested, and it consumes minimal bag space without adding much heft. The Slim is less than half an inch thick—0.48 inch, to be exact."

Jackery Bolt 6,000 mAh USB Battery Pack

Street price: $26; MSRP: $40; Deal price: $21 with code JKRYBOLT

By using the code JKRYBOLT you can save $5 on our new pick. This brings the Bolt from the recently lowered street price of $26 down to $21, matching the lowest price we've seen on this battery pack.

The Jackery Bolt 6,000 mAh USB battery pack is our new top pick in the best USB battery packs guide. We'll be updating the guide soon with our latest results. Mark Smirniotis wrote, "After considering a total of 252 battery packs and bringing in 20 for our latest round of testing, we've decided that our new pick for everyday use will be the Jackery Bolt. About the size of a bar of soap, the Bolt has integrated Micro-USB and Lightning cables to charge almost any device, and plenty of power for around two phone charges."

Osprey Farpoint 55 M/L Travel Backpack

Street price: $180; MSRP: $180; Deal price: $135

This is a big sale on our travel backpack pick, matching the lowest sales price that we've seen. It's available in the colors blue, red, and black, and available in both the small/medium size and the medium/large size. The only difference in the sizes is height, with the small/medium being 2 inches shorter than the M/L pick.

The Osprey Farpoint 55 Travel Backpack is our pick in the best travel backpack guide. Geoff Morrison wrote, "The Osprey Farpoint 55 M/L is a lightweight, easy-to-carry, full-featured travel backpack that you can live out of for as long as you want. It is not perfect—no pack is—but it is the best all-around travel backpack."

On the bag's construction and features, "The Farpoint is made from thick, sturdy-feeling 210-denier mini hex diamond ripstop nylon. Its big zippers are lockable. Its shoulder straps and hip belt are wide, but not as padded as those of some competitors. A cover, which stores in the bottom of the pack, zips up to cover the straps so you can check it as luggage. Thick padded handles on the top and side let you carry it as hand luggage in a pinch."

Jaybird X2 Wireless Bluetooth Headphones

Street price: $100; MSRP: $150; Deal price: $75

These are part of Best Buy's 50th anniversary sale, and a nice discount off of the street price. While they were briefly $70 for the first day of the 50th anniversary sale, they bounced up to $75. That still makes this a good amount below the street price on these headphones.

The Jaybird X2s are the runner-up pick in our guide on the best wireless exercise headphones. Lauren Dragan said, "They are light, they stay put, they sound fantastic, they have a lifetime warranty against sweat damage (which, if you sweat through one pair of headphones a year, can really add up!), they charge pretty quickly (around 2 hours), they have a nice case, and you can wear them several different ways, depending on what works for you."

Deals change all the time, and some of these may have expired. To see an updated list of current deals, please go to The Wirecutter.com.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2016/08/25/wirecutters-best-deals-save-25-on-jaybird-x2-headphones/

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Judge orders the release of additional Clinton emails

These emails are separate from the 55,000-plus pages of documentation Clinton campaign previously, and voluntarily, turned over to investigators earlier this year. The FBI and Department of Justice discovered this new batch while scouring Mrs. Clinton's personal email server and turned them over to the State department which, by order of Judge James E. Boasberg of the Federal District Court, is required to set a timetable for their release. These were originally not expected to be published until at least mid-October.

"We are not sure what additional materials the Justice Department may have located," Clinton campaign spokesman, Brian Fallon, told the New York Times earlier this week. "But if the State Department determines any of them to be work-related, then obviously we support those documents being released publicly as well."

This story is developing, check back regularly for updates

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2016/08/25/judge-orders-the-release-of-additional-clinton-emails/

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The co-creator of ‘Rick and Morty’ just founded a VR studio

Roiland is new to the world of gaming, but he's not exactly a novice. He's already helped Adult Swim make one Rick and Morty game, and has been working on another with Owlchemy Labs -- a VR Rick and Morty simulator called Virtual Rick-ality. His role seems to be more focused on design than programming and production, but that's where Watson comes in. At Epic Games, she helped make three Gears of War titles, Fortnite and Bulletstorm. Not bad at all.

The new company hasn't yet announced any games in production, but Roiland certainly has ideas. In 2005, the creator told PCGamer that he'd filled three notebooks with VR game idea, said he's trying to figure out how to allow players to talk to virtual reality NPCs in a way that feels natural and unrestrictive. For now, though, Squanchtendo Games is mostly just looking for staff to help them build their first title. The company's website (and hilarious hand-drawn press release) focuses almost exclusively on finding artists, designers, producers and programmers to help them build great VR experiences.

Not a game designer? Check it out anyway -- the entire website is saturated in Roiland's brand of oddball humor, and likely serves as a good preview for the kind of games we can expect from Squanchtendo in the future.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2016/08/25/the-co-creator-of-rick-and-morty-just-founded-a-vr-studio/

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Universal Music Group is reportedly done with streaming exclusives

This report comes after Ocean released his visual album Endless with Def Jam as an Apple Music exclusive the day before the full-length Blond debuted. That visual album isn't for sale, but Blond is and it was released independently of Def Jam/Universal on Frank Ocean's own Boys Don't Cry imprint. Billboard says it's unclear if the release of Ocean's latest record directly influenced the change in policy or if it was simply one of many factors for the revised strategy.

What's more, Billboard reports that Ocean paid a $2 million advance back to the label that essentially bought the 17-song album back and allowed him to fulfill his contractual obligations to Universal with what is basically an extended music video. We reached out to Universal Music Group for a comment on the matter and we'll update this article when/if we hear back.

The 24-hour turnaround is certainly cause for question, but Billboard's sources indicate that Universal Music Group isn't currently seeking any legal action against Ocean or members of his team. Of course, by releasing the album independently through Apple, he stands to get a bigger piece of the revenues from it. A figure Billboard says increased from 17 to 40 percent when he decided to make the move. Def Jam is also home to Jay Z, Kanye West and Rihanna, the latter two having released exclusive albums on Tidal that hit the top spot on the Billboard 200 chart. Drake's Views from the 6 was a timed exclusive on Apple Music for Universal through the Cash Money/Young Money label and it too hit number 1 on Billboard's album chart.

Perhaps what's more interesting than a major record label potentially refusing to offer new releases as timed exclusives is how Apple Music is essentially functioning as a record label. Two of Apple's latest high-profile exclusives, Chance the Rapper's Coloring Book and Ocean's Blond, were both released independent of a regular record label. Don't forget: Apple's Jimmy Iovine came over in the Beats deal and he was the co-founder of Interscope Records. Thanks to some tweaks to Billboard's charts that count a certain number of streams as an album sale, Coloring Book was the first streaming-only album to make the Billboard 200 chart. It will be interesting to see if other artists take a similar route or if labels are indeed fed up with the notion of exclusive releases all together.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2016/08/25/universal-music-group-streaming-exclusives-report/

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Google’s Fiber rollout isn’t going as planned

The Information's report cites low subscriber numbers, as well as some disputes between Page and Fiber CEO Craig Barratt as the main reasons for the shift in focus. Page, who is known for setting hard targets, reportedly instructed Barratt to cut the cost of home internet by a tenth and slash his 500-person staff in half. According to an earlier report from Recode, it costs at least $1 billion for Google Fiber to enter a new market.

That said, the switch from fiber to wireless has been coming for some time: In June, after Alphabet Chairman Eric Schmidt discussed the possibility of using gigabit WiFi to cover the last mile, Google Fiber (which falls under the Google Access umbrella) snatched up Webpass -- a company that was already using a combination of fiber and high-speed wireless connections to do just that. Earlier this month, Google also started seeking permission to test wireless broadband in 24 other US locations, although those tests will likely be limited to Google employees to start.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2016/08/25/googles-fiber-rollout-isnt-going-as-planned/

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Snapchat brings live score filters to high school football

The high school filters work more or less exaclty like the live score filters for NBA and professional sports that Snapchat debuted earlier this year, although Mashable points out that they'll only be available for games at participating schools. Snapchat hasn't released a list of those schools yet, but ScoreStream has a searchable database of available teams they work with as well as their own standalone app.

While the data comes from ScoreStream, the actual art will come from Snapchat itself and features ad space similar to how sponsored filters work. At launch, the scoreboard filters will be feature some prominent Gatorade branding.

"Dynamic Geofilters are a visual and timely way for sports fans to express the here and now of the game in their Snaps," Snapchat's Ben Schwerin said in a statement. "ScoreStream's crowd-sourced content is far more local and personal than any other sports content currently available, and will fuel the high school spirit of our Snapchatters like never before."

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2016/08/25/snapchat-brings-live-score-filters-to-high-school-football/

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DJI’s new Osmo+ camera adds a zoom lens

The Osmo+ camera (known as the Zenmuse X3) is outfitted with a 3.5x zoom lens and pairs that with a lossless 2x digital zoom for an effective focal length range of 22mm to 77mm. That digital zoom is only loseless when you're shooting at 1080p resolution, however -- because the camera is capable of shooting 4K footage, it can crop it down to 1080p to magnify the action. So you'll need to choose between super high resolution footage and the ability to zoom as much as you want, depending on your needs.

Overall, the Osmo+ camera is capable of shooting 4K at 30FPS; you can also shoot 1080p at 100FPS for slow motion video. (Strangely, that's 20FPS slower than the original Osmo, which recorded slo-mo at 120FPs.) You can also grab 12-megapixel still images from your footage, as well. DJI also says it has improved the stabilization in the camera itself, but we'll have to wait to try the Osmo+ out to see if it makes any noticeable difference.

There's also a new "motion timelapse" mode that lets you pick a start and endpoint that the camera will slowly move between. It'll record throughout the move and automatically create a moving timelapse between those two points. There's a quick video on DJI's site that shows the results, and they definitely look cool.

It looks like the new device uses the same excellent gimbal that the original Osmo uses, and it still syncs with the DJI Go app for iOS and Android phones. For those who want to move beyond the hand-held gimbal, you can pick up a tripod, bike mount or an extension rod (basically a giant selfie stick if we're being honest).

And since action cams, by definition, are often subjected to harsh environments, DJI is offering a new extended warranty called Osmo Shield. It doubles the standard warranty to two years and adds one instance of accidental hardware damage coverage. Extended warranties can be a bit of a crapshoot, but if you're the type who damages gear more easily, this might be worth thinking about. The Osmo+ is on sale now -- and if you don't need zoom, the original Osmo is now priced at $569, a good $150 cheaper than it was when it launched.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2016/08/25/dji-osmo-plus-zoom-lens-action-cam/

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The Department of Defense needs help designing a biohazard suit

The Chembio Suit Challenge is being held by the Chemical and Biological Defense division within the US military, and there's a $250,000 prize hanging in the balance for ideas on how to create a better chembio suit.

The current suit, according to the contest, has hindrances in the form of weight and bulkiness that greatly restrict soldiers' range of motion, agility and maneuverability. Those judging the contest will look for specifics like improvements in expedience, mobility and other areas. Basically, making the suit a more svelte and less totally cumbersome piece of equipment is key here.

In addition to figuring out the problem with bulkiness and frustration soldiers face in putting the current suits on, the Department of Defense is also looking for designs to help keep anyone wearing the suits cool. If you submit an idea for this you could win awards ranging from $5,000 to $150,000.

"The ultimate goal is to relieve any burdens and hazards to the warfighter and improve operational capabilities in combating chemical and biological wartime threats," reads the official Chembio Challenge site.

Interested in taking on the challenge? Go give it a shot.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2016/08/25/the-department-of-defense-needs-help-designing-a-biohazard-suit/

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