Meet TezLab, the Fitbit for Tesla vehicles

Some of the best real-time insights into Tesla and its global fleet of electric vehicles — outside the confines of its Silicon Valley headquarters — might be through the lens of TezLab, a tiny upstart in Brooklyn.

Now, a little more than two years after its founding, TezLab is on the verge of hitting what its founders believe is a tipping point of users, a milestone that could finally trigger a path to monetization. And it’s adding lots of new features to help accelerate that plan.

For the non-Tesla owner, the name TezLab is likely a foreign one. In certain circles though, namely Tesla owners obsessed with understanding how their electric vehicle performs, TezLab is a familiar friend.

Tezlab is a free app that’s like a Fitbit for a Tesla vehicle. Tesla owners who download the app can track their efficiency, total trip miles and use it to control certain functions of the vehicle, such as locking and unlocking the doors and heating and air conditioning. There’s even a gamification piece that lets users earn badges for hitting milestones or completing tasks.

The company has started to add new features as part of a longer term plan aimed at monetization.

One of these features, which crowdsources data like Waze to give insights and ratings on Tesla Supercharger stations, is rolling out now. The video below shows how this supercharger feature will function.

The Waze for supercharger feature is considered “phase one” of the company’s plans to broaden its crowdsourcing and social community.

Origin story

The six-person team behind TezLab was born out of HappyFunCorp, a software engineering shop that builds apps for mobile, web, wearables and Internet of Things devices for clients that include Amazon, Facebook and Twitter, as well as an array of startups.

HFC’s engineers, including co-founders Ben Read the rest

Amazon Spark, the retailer’s two-year-old Instagram competitor, has shut down

Amazon’s two-year-old Instagram competitor, Amazon Spark, is no more.

Hoping to capitalize on the social shopping trend and tap into the power of online influencers, Amazon in 2017 launched its own take on Instagram with a shoppable feed of stories and photos aimed at Prime members. The experiment known as Amazon Spark has now come to an end. However, the learnings from Spark and Amazon’s discovery tool Interesting Finds are being blended into a new social-inspired product, #FoundItOnAmazon.

Amazon Spark had been a fairly bland service, if truth be told. Unlike on Instagram, where people follow their friend, interests, brands like they like, and people they find engaging or inspiring, Spark was focused on the shopping and the sale. While it tried to mock the Instagram aesthetic at times with fashion inspiration images or highly posed travel photos, it lacked Instagram’s broader appeal. Your friends weren’t there and there weren’t any Instagram Stories, for example. Everything felt too transactional.

Amazon declined to comment on the apparent shutdown of Spark, but the service is gone from the website and app.

The URL amazon.com/spark, meanwhile, redirects to the new #FoundItOnAmazon site — a site which also greatly resembles another Amazon product discovery tool, Interesting Finds.

Interesting Finds has been around since 2016, offering consumers a way to browse an almost Pinterest-like board of products across a number of categories. It features curated “shops” focused on niche themes, like a “Daily Carry” shop for toteable items, a “Mid Century” shop filled with furniture and décor, a shop for “Star Wars” fans, one for someone who loves the color pink, and so on. Interesting Finds later added a layer of personalization with the introduction of a My Mix shop filled with recommendations tailored to your interactions and likes.

The Interesting Finds site … Read the rest

You won the H-1B lottery: Don’t lose your ticket when changing jobs

Getting an H-1B skilled-worker visa is like winning the lottery — literally: With the number of new visas issued each year capped at 85,000, most of this year’s over 200,000 applicants face disappointment. But if you’re already working in the United States, then you’ve already won the H-1B lottery, and that makes you a hot commodity.

With H-1Bs in short supply, successful companies frequently poach skilled workers. Everyone knows the tech sector thrives on this free exchange of people and ideas, so if another employer needs your skills, why not start working for them?

Well, not so fast. H-1B holders can work only for the company that originally sponsored their visa application. So if you want to change employers, you’ll need to “transfer” your H-1B.

That process used to be relatively straightforward but not in the Trump era. (Boundless recently underwent this process with an employee, so we understand the pain.) The denial rate for initial H-1B applications spiked over five-fold to 32 percent just in the first quarter of fiscal 2019, up from 6 percent in 2015. Crucially, the Trump administration is targeting “continuing” H-1B applications used by existing employees to either renew their H-1B or switch it to a new employer. Even tech giants like Amazon are now seeing double-digit rejection rates.

The bottom line: The days of getting an H-1B transfer quickly rubber-stamped are long gone, and that makes it vital to do … Read the rest

Alexa’s voice apps for kids can now offer purchases that parents approve

Amazon will now allow developers to offer premium content for purchase in Alexa skills aimed at children. The company on Friday introduced new tools for building skills with in-app purchases that requires the Amazon account holder — typically mom or dad — to approve or decline the requested purchase via a text or email.

In-skill purchasing was first introduced to all U.S. Alexa developers last year, and more recently became available to international developers. But like any app aimed at children, Alexa skills needed to offer a purchase approval workflow for those in its kids’ category, or it would risk unapproved purchases initiated by younger users.

That’s where these new developer tools come in.

Now, developers can create premium kid skills using either the Alexa Skills Kit Command-Line Interface (ASK CLI) or the Alexa Developer Console. Other tools allow the skills to route purchase requests to the account holder over SMS or email. The account holder then has 24 hours to act on the request, or the request is automatically canceled.

The premium content can come in the form of either one-time purchases or subscriptions, says Amazon.

A group of developers had early access to the tools and already added premium content to their own kid skills. This includes the grand prize winner from one of Amazon’s developer contests, Kids Court; plus You Choose Superman Adventures; Travel Quest; Animal Sounds; and Master Swords.

Parents who don’t want their kids asking to buy anything have two options to opt out of all this.

They can disable the feature in the Alexa app under Settings -> Alexa Account -> Voice Purchasing -> Kid Skills Purchasing. Meanwhile, FreeTime on Alexa customers, which comes with the Echo Dot Kids Edition, won’t receive offers to purchase premium content. … Read the rest

Demo your early-stage startup at the TechCrunch Summer Party

Nothing says summer in Silicon Valley better than the TechCrunch Summer Party. In its 14th year, we’re celebrating the startup spirit and culture at the Park Chalet, San Francisco’s coastal beer garden, on July 25. Who doesn’t love ocean views?

And nothing says relaxed networking in Silicon Valley more than showcasing your early-stage startup at our summer soiree. It’s a great opportunity to demo your business and place your face in front of influential people in a convivial atmosphere. Each demo table includes four summer party tickets — bring your whole crew. There’s a limited number of tables available, so book your startup demo package now.

Experience world-class networking and still have time to enjoy the venue, drink craft beer, sip a signature a cocktail or two and nosh on yummy appetizers. Maybe it’s the relaxed setting, the shared camaraderie or maybe it’s the libations — who can say for sure — but TechCrunch parties tend to be the place where start-uppers meet the people who go on to change their lives — future investors, co-founders or buyers.

Plus there’ll be several VC firms in attendance who are partnering with us for the event.

  • August Capital
  • Battery Ventures
  • Data Collective
  • Uncork Capital

Summer Party details you need to know:

  • When: July 25 from 5:30 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
  • Where: Park Chalet in San Francisco
  • Attendee ticket: $95
  • Startup demo package: $2,000 — includes four attendee tickets, one cocktail table, tabletop sign, power and internet access

There will be plenty of games and prizes. Yes, we love giving away prizes, like TechCrunch swag, Amazon Echos and tickets to Disrupt San Francisco 2019.

Come to the TechCrunch Summer Party at the Park Chalet and showcase your early-stage genius to a passel of influential start-uppers in a fun, relaxed setting. … Read the rest