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News

Microsoft Is in Exclusive Talks to Acquire Discord


Microsoft Corp. is in advanced talks to acquire messaging platform Discord Inc. for $10 billion or more, according to people familiar with the matter, as the software giant seeks to deepen its consumer offerings.

Microsoft and Discord are in exclusive talks and could complete a deal next month, assuming the negotiations don’t fall apart, the people said.

Originally favored by gamers, San Francisco-based Discord offers voice, text and video chatting. The platform’s popularity has surged since the pandemic took hold as people stay home and connect online—as has that of other chat services, like Facebook Inc.’s WhatsApp and Signal Messenger LLC. Discord has been considering an IPO.

Microsoft, which has a market value of more than $1.7 trillion, has been on the hunt for an acquisition that would help it reach more consumers. Last summer, it held talks to buy the popular video-sharing app TikTok amid a high-profile geopolitical standoff prompted by the Trump administration, before abandoning the effort.

VentureBeat reported this week that Discord was exploring a sale and had entered exclusive discussions with an unnamed suitor.



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Future

Opinion: How to invest in the future — here’s an idea for a ‘Spacebook’ fund


Two years ago I was so bullish on Tesla that I basically wanted to become “the Tesla Fund.” Tesla was trading around $50 a share. It closed at $563 on March 8.

That was two years ago. I thought the setup was perfect for Tesla
TSLA,
-5.84%

and the pending electric-vehicle onslaught. Fast forward to today and Tesla is up more than 10-fold since we bought it, even after dropping more than 30% from its $900 high. The EV revolution is here and most of the stocks of the companies in that revolution have risen to bubblicious levels.

I am scouring the globe and even the universe to find the next revolutionary industries to get in front of, and I keep coming back to what I call The Space Revolution and The Virtual Reality Revolution.

So here’s what I’ve come up with as the best risk/reward for my hedge fund and perhaps for individual investors as well. I’m calling it “Spacebook,” which means being overweighted in space stocks and Facebook
FB,
-3.39%
.

Big bargain

Let’s start with Facebook. Holy cow, Facebook’s valuation is cheap. The shares trade for 22 times the consensus earnings estimate for the next 12 months among analysts polled by FactSet. This is for a company whose sales are expected to increase 25% in 2021 and 20% in 2022, following 22% in 2020. (You can see the consensus sales estimates for Facebook and other big tech stocks here.)

That valuation is only slightly ahead of a forward price-to-earnings estimate of 21.7 for the S&P 500 Index
SPX,
-0.54%
.
For the index, sale per share are expected to increase 9% in 2021 and 7% in 2022, after a 3.5% decline in 2020.

Facebook’s consistently high double-digit revenue growth is a lot for a company that did $86 billion in revenue last year. What’s most exciting about the growth numbers is that they don’t include any of the upside that Facebook is about to achieve in the burgeoning virtual reality market provided by the Oculus platform. As I wrote in January, the VR market is coming, and it’s coming soon. Facebook is going to be one of the biggest winners in that market, if not the biggest.

As I type this about Facebook, I can’t help but think back to two years ago (and 1,000% ago) as I wrote to you about Tesla. I’m getting the same exact feelings about valuations and revolutions.

To be clear, it’s not this current generation of Facebook’s Oculus virtual reality headset that is going to go mainstream, but it’s the next, lighter, even more advanced one and the versions thereafter. Facebook has a critical mass of developers as well as apps and games being created for its platform already. The first version of Oculus was like a late-version iPod.

Space revolution

Now, how many times do I need to talk about the Space Revolution? The technology has gotten advanced and cheap enough that the whole thing is literally taking off. This is a private company’s dream come true. We are starting to see private space companies come public just as I was saying they would be two years ago.

Over the next 20 to 30 years, there are so many applications that can come to fruition. Space factories, space tourism, space hotels, asteroid mining, supersonic transportation, new colonies — the list goes on. If your time horizon is the next two to three years, I don’t know what to tell you. It might not happen in that period.

But if you are like me and thinking about the next 10,000 days, then we have to get in front of this revolution. I started two years ago when I bought Elon Musk’s SpaceX in the private market for my hedge fund and followed up a year and a half ago when we got into Virgin Galactic Holdings
SPCE,
-2.78%
.

A lot of public technology companies are bubbled up right now, space players included. We are probably paying two to three times what these companies are really worth right now as they come public.

VC-like investments

However, we are making venture-capital-like investments in these with the potential to see 50 to 100 times our investment over the next 10 to 20 years. I’m OK paying up a little for that kind of opportunity. If we compare this sector to the bubbled-up electric-vehicle revolution that is already here, I like the risk/reward of the coming Space Revolution much more. The EV market has already had its huge run.

So how do we continue to invest in the Space Revolution? SpaceX is clearly the best company right now. If you’re wealthy enough, with a little work, you can find a way to make a private investment in the company. I’ve done that in my hedge fund.

But if you don’t have hundreds of thousands (if not millions) to throw at SpaceX, I think Rocket Lab
VACQ,
-4.00%

is the best way to invest in the space revolution right now. You can read more about Rocket Lab and Vector Acquisition Corp., the special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, that is expected to take it public, here.

I have begun to take a position in both the hedge fund and my personal account. It has come down some (like most space stocks and high growth tech over the last week) since my initial report and I have continued to add to the position. Virgin Galactic remains another favorite public space company to invest in. We first got into that name in November 2019 at around $8 per share.

Virgin Galactic, just like the other space companies, is probably a little overvalued at the moment. Especially with no revenue and not being able to get its test flights successfully into orbit. But again, we are looking up to 30 years down the road and this is currently my third-favorite way to invest in the space revolution.

I’m researching four or five other space companies that have recently come public. I’ve also made Facebook one of my largest positions again for the first time in a while.

As always when making an investment, I suggest that you give yourself room to add to the position if it falls. Over the next six months to two years, I think we’ll have the opportunity to buy most small-cap tech stocks at lower prices. On the flipside, I can’t guarantee that those positions will drop, which is why I have begun to build my positions in the space and virtual reality revolutions, and why I will continue to add to them if given the chance at lower prices.

That’s why I am basically becoming “the Spacebook Fund.”

Cody Willard is a columnist for MarketWatch and editor of the Revolution Investing newsletter. Willard or his investment firm may own, or plan to own, securities mentioned in this column.



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Reviews

Galaxy Buds Pro review: Samsung’s AirPods Pro-beating earbuds | Technology


Samsung’s latest Galaxy Buds Pro earbuds add noise-cancelling, virtual surround and improved sound, making them a challenger to Apple’s AirPods Pro.

At £219, they are the new top-of-the-range earbuds from Samsung, sitting above the £179 Galaxy Buds Live and £159 Galaxy Buds+.

The Buds Pro have silicone ear tips and a general shape similar to the Buds+ but look more like the Buds Live. They are stored in an excellent, compact, square charging case that easily fits into the money pocket of a pair of jeans.



The design of the Buds Pro is an amalgam of the company’s previous efforts. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The new earbuds are bigger and heavier than the Buds+ and do not twist to fit in the concha of your ear in quite the same way, protruding slightly further, but are still small compared with rivals. They do a good job of avoiding putting pressure on the delicate parts of the ear, held in place by the oval ear tips – of which there are three sizes in the box.

They were comfortable and stayed securely in my ears but you can twist a small lip of the earbud under the cartilage of your ear to lock them in place if needed. The earbuds are water resistant to IPX7 standards, which means they can be submerged in up to one metre of water for up to 30 minutes, making them some of the most water-resistant earbuds available.

Specifications

  • Water resistance: IPX7 (one metre up to 30 minutes)

  • Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0, SBC, AAC, SSC

  • Battery life: five hours ANC on (up to 18 hours with case; 28 hours with ANC off)

  • Earbud dimensions: 19.5 x 20.5 x 20.8 mm

  • Earbud weight: 6.3g each

  • Driver size: 11mm woofer + 6.5mm tweeter

  • Charging case dimensions: 50 x 50.2 x 27.8 mm

  • Charging case weight: 44.9g

  • Case charging: USB-C, Qi wireless charging

Connectivity and controls

Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro



The Galaxy Wearable app on Android handles pairing, controls, updates and noise-cancelling settings. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The Buds Pro support Bluetooth 5 with both the universal SBC and AAC audio standards used by most devices. But they also support Samsung’s own “scalable audio codec”, which can provide higher-quality audio but only works with Samsung devices. They are compatible with all standard Bluetooth devices and support automatic pairing with Samsung and other Android devices via the Galaxy Wearable app plus Swift Pairing with Windows 10 PCs. Unlike their predecessors, the Buds Pro are not supported by the Galaxy Buds app on an iPhone, so iOS users can use the earbuds but will not be able to change settings or update them.

The earbuds only connect to one device at a time but support seamless switching (so you don’t have to manually disconnect) and a new auto-switch system that can be used with Samsung devices running OneUI 3.1 or higher such as the new Galaxy S21 series. Either earbud can be used on its own.

Connectivity to a Galaxy Z Fold 2, iPhone 12, MacBook Air M1 and other devices was excellent.

The exterior of the earbud is touch sensitive. Tap once for pause/play, twice and thrice for track skip. A tap-and-hold gesture can be set to control the volume (left for down, right for up), control noise-cancelling settings, activate the voice assistant or trigger Spotify on compatible phones. Take both earbuds out and the music pauses; take only one out and ambient sound mode activates on the other. The controls work well with good audible feedback.

Battery life

Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro



The compact case charges via USB-C or wireless charging. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The earbuds last for up to five hours with noise-cancelling active and can be charged 2.6 times in the case for a total of 18 hours. Turn off noise-cancelling and the earbuds last up to eight hours and up to 28 hours with the case. Five minutes charging will add up to one hour of playback.

The case is charged via a Qi wireless charging coil in its base or the USB-C socket in the back. A cable is included in the box but not a power adaptor.

Sustainability

Samsung does not provide an estimate of the number of full-charge cycles the batteries in the case or earbuds should last. Batteries in similar devices can typically last for 500 cycles while maintaining at least 80% of their original capacity.

Samsung does not sell individual replacement buds or cases. The Buds Pro are repairable but unlike previous Samsung earbuds the battery cannot be replaced, ultimately making them disposable.

The earbuds and case are made from 20% post-consumer recycled materials. Samsung operates recycling and trade-in schemes for smartphones but not for its earbuds. The company publishes annual sustainability reports but not impact assessments for individual products.

Excellent sound

Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro



The oval silicone ear tips create a good seal aiding in bass and sound quality. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The Buds Pro take the easy-listening, everyday sound of the Buds+ and improve the audio quality in all dimensions. They produce rich and well-controlled bass, warm mids and precise high notes that make them some of the best-sounding true wireless earbuds available.

They handle many music genres well, with a wider soundscape than most earbuds. Acoustic, guitar-based tracks such as the live version of the Eagles’ Hotel California sound warm, inviting and full of detail. There’s plenty of punch and raw energy in grunge or rock tracks, while high-tempo electronica sounds suitably energised. The earbuds do an admiral job of rendering really deep bass, while even orchestral scores such as Holst’s Planet suite sound grand and full of nuance.

Occasionally, you can get hit with a little too much treble, such as overly prominent trumpets at higher volumes, but overall they sound really great, matching top rivals such as the Jabra Elite 85t. There’s a limited equaliser that can switch between preset modes such as “dynamic” or “bass boost” in the companion app.

Active noise cancelling

Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro



Mics on the outside, including inside a wind-noise reducing chamber, detect unwanted noise that is then cancelled out. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The Buds Pro have several active noise-cancelling and ambient sound modes. There are two levels of noise-cancelling available. On high, the noise-cancelling is effective at reducing low rumbles and some mid-frequency sounds but falls slightly short of the effectiveness of the Elite 85t and AirPods Pro. The Buds Pro were also affected to a greater extent by the fit of the earbuds – twisting and locking them in place against the inside of my ear significantly improved the amount of noise they blocked out.

The ambient sound mode, which pipes the noise of the outside world into your ears, has four levels and can be automatically triggered when the earbuds detect you speaking. It works pretty well for quick conversations or hearing announcements but doesn’t sound as natural as the best available.

The earbuds also have Dolby technology that tracks the movements of your head in relation to a phone or tablet to create a virtual surround sound Samsung calls 360 Audio. It only works with devices running Samsung’s latest software OneUI 3.1 but, unlike rival systems from Apple and others, it is able to create the virtual surround effect for any video, not only those with Dolby soundtracks, anchoring the sound to the screen. The effect is surprisingly good.

Observations

Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro



The case is easily pocketable, which helps keep the buds safe and charged. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
  • You can set Samsung’s Bixby voice assistant to listen for the wakeword “Hey Bixby”.

  • Game Mode reduces latency for audio that is in sync with the action on screen for games with Samsung devices.

  • Call quality was reasonable: my voice was clear and background noise was minimised but I sounded a little distant and not as crisp as the best rivals.

  • Sneezing, blowing my nose and coughing triggered the auto-ambient sound mode when active.

Price

The Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro cost £219 and are available in black, silver or purple, shipping on 28 January.

For comparison, the Galaxy Buds Live have an RRP of £179, the Galaxy Buds+ cost £129, the Jabra Elite 85t cost £219.99, the Bose QC Earbuds cost £249.95, the Sony WF-1000XM3 cost £149 and the Apple AirPods Pro cost £249.

Verdict

The Galaxy Buds Pro are Samsung’s best true wireless earbuds yet.

They pack excellent sound with solid noise-cancelling into small and comfortable earbuds without stalks, which have good battery life and a great, compact case – a combination that’s still hard to find. They are also water-resistant to a high standard, which can’t be said for most competitors, and are made with recycled materials.

They are not cheap, costing £219, which puts them in the top end of the market, beating Apple’s AirPods Pro on sound but falling short of the Jabra Elite 85t on noise-cancelling. If other Samsung earbuds are any indication, you should be able to find them with a reasonable discount if you shop around in the near future.

Unlike previous Samsung earbuds, the batteries in the Buds Pro cannot be replaced, which is a disappointing step back and ultimately makes them disposable, similar to most other true wireless earbuds, losing them a star. Samsung does not recycle the earbuds either. They can be used with an iPhone but are not supported by the Galaxy Buds app, so you can’t change the settings or keep them up to date.

The Galaxy Buds Pro are Samsung’s true AirPods Pro-beaters for Android – an excellent set of premium everyday true wireless earbuds.

Pros: great sound, solid noise-cancelling, seamless switching, good controls, comfortable fit, excellent case, solid battery, no stalks, IPX7 water resistance, made of recycled materials.

Cons: expensive, battery cannot be replaced, some features restricted to Samsung devices, can only connect to one device at a time.

Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro



The earbuds clip into the case via magnets and the lid shuts with a satisfying snap. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

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News

As Apple releases its new line of Macs, the biggest beneficiary may be Microsoft


Apple is set to launch its next generation of MacBooks this week. For the first time since the surprise 2005 announcement by Steve Jobs that Apple was moving from PowerPC to Intel (x86), the company is set to take on chip-making responsibility for the Mac.

With Apple
AAPL,
-0.37%

coming off strong earnings that included better-than-expected growth for its Mac line, which grew 7.3%, more than double the PC market’s 3.6%, it would seem like the perfect moment for its new launch of improved MacBooks.

However, I believe the launch could test Apple, as it is essentially deriving the silicon for its new Macs from the iPhone. In time this may pan out well, but there is a good chance this show could get off to a rocky start.

Apple has made many claims about its new MacBooks, and while we will have to wait until Tuesday’s event to get the full picture, there have been plenty of leaks on what to expect from the company.

It’s the same old-new normal for Apple, which CEO Tim Cook alluded to at this year’s WWDC event, including promises of a whole new level of performance, with the lowest power consumption, maximizing battery life to be better than ever before. Also, a new level of graphic performance and even more market innovation.

In the WWDC transcript, Cook’s exact words were: “The Mac will take another huge leap forward.”

All of this will remain TBD until broad benchmarking and compatibility testing for software and peripherals is available.

Challenging transition

My biggest concern, though, isn’t the promises, but rather the potential vulnerabilities for Apple. The transition from Intel
INTC,
+1.87%

to its new Arm-based silicon is almost certain to be a challenging transition that will impact both consumers and developers.

The company’s entire software ecosystem will have to be rewritten to work on this new architecture, and this takes time. Microsoft
MSFT,
-1.02%
,
for instance, has been working for a decade on building its software ecosystem to run smoothly on Arm-based variants, both of its Surface Pro X but also other Arm-based notebooks from the likes of Samsung and Lenovo. The improvement has been material, but it has been markedly difficult to meet all the developer and consumer needs.

More specifically, the transition from Intel to Apple’s new silicon will likely break applications, and create compatibility issues with peripherals. While I expect Apple to have a set of “hero apps” that will work flawlessly, this certainly won’t be the case across all the apps, tools and games used by Mac consumers.

Reaction of consumers, developers

This will leave consumers frustrated with their new Macs, perhaps more so than Mac’s constant quality issues with its keyboards in recent generations. Furthermore, this creates more work for developers, who will now be required to support disparate apps for the Intel version and the Arm version — this is anything but straightforward.

Perhaps Apple’s biggest mistake is its claims that this transition will be seamless. Sure, that is good marketing, but the more realistic approach should be: “Bear with us while we make the Mac experience even better.”

Another big question mark for Apple will be around support of its current generation of Intel-based Macs. The company was heavily scrutinized for its short period of support for PowerPC after shifting to Mac. The support period lasted only three years, and that left some Apple customers dissatisfied. Many Mac users stay with a device for five to eight years, and certainly won’t want to be forced to buy another $2,000-plus device prematurely if Apple decides to stop supporting its Intel-based Macs after three years. This will be something to watch closely.  

If Apple does stumble for a period while it seeks to perfect its new silicon, the next question is where do consumers seeking an alternative to Mac turn?

Microsoft stands to gain

I believe Microsoft could be the big winner during this transition for the Mac. The Microsoft Surface has seen its growth rates up 37% in its most recent quarter, tracking over $6 billion in its trailing four quarters. This number is still much smaller than Mac, which saw its Mac revenue at $9 billion in its most recent quarter, reflecting its best quarter ever, growing 28% year over year. Still, I believe there may have been some padding with buyers seeking to upgrade before Apple moves away from the Intel-based silicon.

Maybe more than just Microsoft and Surface’s growth momentum is the brand strength and ultra-premium branding that comes with Surface. I have long believed Microsoft’s endeavor into Surface had much less to do with competing with its large software OEM’s like Dell
DELL,
+0.55%
,
HP
HPQ,
+3.40%

and Lenovo, and much more to do with building a true competitor to the Mac.

This has been visible in the entire approach to Surface, including acute attention to details such as the packaging, the branding on the notebooks, the construction materials and the premium pricing. Microsoft has also been wise in its development of the Surface to include Intel, AMD
AMD,
-1.64%
,
and Arm-based variants, giving customers a choice while taking advantage of its ability to support all three chipsets’ software compatibility nuances.

Tuesday’s launch has a lot at stake for Apple. Apple’s move away from Intel has long been touted as a big problem for Intel, but it could be equally, if not more problematic, for Apple. With Microsoft Surface continuing to gain momentum for its ultra-high-quality notebooks, Mac faces more competition and will be under pressure to get this right— sooner than later.

Daniel Newman is the principal analyst at Futurum Research, which
provides or has provided research, analysis, advising and/or consulting to
Qualcomm, Nvidia, Intel, Microsoft, Samsung, ARM, and dozens of companies in
the tech and digital industries. Neither he nor his firm holds any equity
positions in any companies cited. Follow him on Twitter 
@danielnewmanUV.





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