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Ikea’s Slow and Steady Plan to Save the Smart Home

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A year and a half ago, Ikea became a smart home company, introducing a line of connected light bulbs to complement its lingonberries. This spring, it adds its second product category to its Home Smart lineup: a set of smart blinds, called Fyrtur, that open and close with the tap of a wireless remote or a voice command. Blinds might seem an odd choice to build on Ikea’s IoT momentum. In fact, there’s no better sign that the company has a better grip on the smart home than just about anybody.

Stories about the smart home tend to focus on the negative, and for good enough reason; how many other household items can be hacked by pranksters threatening nuclear war? But the problems associated with many connected devices belie that they can, in many instances, be genuinely useful. Take Ikea’s Trådfri LEDs, which focus on affordability and ease of use over flash. Or likewise its smart blinds, which exist explicitly to solve more problems than they create.

For years, Ikea has made blinds without strings or cords. This is for safety reasons; cordless became the industry standard in 2018 to minimize the risk of children getting tangled in them.

Expect to see Ikea build out its smart home offerings selectively, and at a deliberate pace.

“But of course you have applications where you can’t reach the blinds, because it’s too far up to grab it with your hands,” says Björn Block, who leads Ikea’s Home Smart division. “So merging that with the wireless technology that we’d already developed not only served a purpose from the smart home perspective, but also really made sense for the blinds category in terms of taking the next step in having the most convenient solution for the window.”

The Fyrtur blinds will be available in the US on April 1. (Ikea hasn’t yet disclosed pricing, but they start at around $135 in a European listing.) While they’ll arrive 20 months or so after the Trådfri bulbs, they were already in the pipeline back in 2017. But rather than rush them out, Ikea took the time to apply lessons from its initial smart home outing. While the LED line has been a success—Block says sales have exceeded expectations, both in volume and variety of items customers have picked up—it wasn’t without early stumbles.

“You can never foresee what’s going to pop up in terms of bugs or hiccups or challenges along the way,” says Block. A prime example: Trådfri was supposed to launch with compatibility across Apple HomeKit, Alexa, and Google Assistant. All three work now, but that Google Assistant took longer than expected to implement.

That may sound like a small annoyance, but they key to making the smart home work is to eliminate all inconveniences, or at least make sure that the benefits so strongly outweigh them that no one minds. Precious few products manage it. By keeping it simple, and building slowly, Ikea can grab more and more territory in a smart home land grab that’s still fairly wide open. The blinds will work with all three voice assistants from day one.

“Most players, including IKEA, don’t seem to have reached critical mass in smart home products, because it is such a diffuse and complicated market,” says Frank Gillette. “But their specific product approach and gigantic distribution network give them a big platform.”

Some problems remain unsolved, like convincing Ikea customers why they’d want a light bulb they can shout at in the first place, and how to set it up correctly. It’s a different skill than handing them an Allen wrench and wishing them the best. “Obviously there are more questions on a product that is integrating with other products in the home, and that has a connection to Google Home and things like that,” says Block. “I would say that we are still on a learning curve. We really want to improve that experience in the Ikea store, and we’re working on that.”

Then again, even having a store at all gives Ikea a leg up on several smart home hopefuls. Rather than blindly buying off the internet, customers can get in-person help with “the process of deciding on which devices to buy, and how to install them maintain them, finance them, and have them work in concert with other devices,” says Adam Wright, a senior research analyst at IDC, who focuses on smart home. “This helps consumers overcome many of the barriers to smart home adoption, such as removing the complexity surrounding devices and addressing costs, among others.”

There’s also, though, the matter of what happens if and when things go awry long after the sale has been made. By selling products that integrate third-party voice assistants, Ikea inherits their problems. If a Fyrtur fails because of Alexa, that customer complaint likely gets lobbed at Sweden regardless. (The company moved its headquarters to Denmark in the early ’70s, but, you know.)

This process, too, needs fine-tuning. But Block notes that Ikea has of late worked closely with Sonos, another company that has to navigate the performance of outside partners when dealing with its customers. While most obvious result of that pairing will be Symfonisk, a line of affordable speakers that launch this August, the tie-up has offered behind the scenes benefits as well.

“We’ve learned a lot from Sonos, how they’re set up in terms of helping customers when they’re dealing with network issues, or products that are related to a Sonos speaker,” says Block. “We’re not there yet as Ikea. We have a lot to learn from a company such as Sonos, the way they really solve every problem that the company has, whether it’s caused by a Sonos speaker or another product,” like a voice assistant, a shoddy Wi-Fi connection, or a glitchy streaming service.

As for what’s next? Those Sonos speakers, for one. But expect to see Ikea build out its smart home offerings selectively, and at a deliberate pace. “We are more comfortable with evolution rather than revolution,” says Block. Just don’t mistake that for lack of imagination or ambition. “We are not limited by one or two or three product categories,” says Block. “A lot of the companies that are entering into the smart home, they’re experts in their specific products. But we have access to the full home.”

Eventually, Ikea may also use its weight to help the notoriously fragmented smart home industry coalesce around a single standard. Both its smart bulbs and smart blinds work with Zigbee, which is preferable for low-power devices. But just like Ikea’s embrace of Qi contributed to the end the wireless charging wars, Block says, its eventual backing of a smart home standard could help an entire universe of products make much more sense. (That may be overstated. “I don’t think anyone short of Google or Amazon has enough heft to solely drive standards, and even they are finding it very difficult.” says Gillette.)

Not everyone needs smart blinds, or smart bulbs for that matter. And lots of companies have plenty of innovative connected products that aim for wholesale reinvention in a way that Ikea does not. But for simplicity, cost, and thoughtfulness, Home Smart seems harder to beat than ever.


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Riot police squads intervene as pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian protesters clash in Montreal

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People wave flags atop cars in traffic during a demonstration to voice support for the people of Palestine, at Toronto City Hall in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, on 15 May 2021.


People wave flags atop cars in traffic during a demonstration to voice support for the people of Palestine, at Toronto City Hall in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, on 15 May 2021.

  • Violence
    between pro-Israel and pro-Palestine protesters in Montreal was condemned by
    Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
  • Montreal’s
    city police force intervened and declared the protests illegal after tensions
    heightened and clashes broke out.
  • Israeli
    strikes killed 42 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip on Sunday, the worst daily
    toll in almost a week of clashes.

Montreal
– Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Sunday condemned the violence and
“despicable rhetoric” that marked several weekend protests throughout
the country, after clashes between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian protesters in
Montreal.

The
worst violence in years, sparked by unrest in Jerusalem, is raging between the
Jewish state and Islamist militants.

Israeli
strikes killed 42 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip on Sunday, the worst daily
toll in almost a week of deadly clashes.

Speaking
after protests in Montreal, Trudeau condemned what he said was “despicable
rhetoric and violence we saw on display in some protests this weekend”.

While
insisting on the “right to assemble peacefully and express themselves
freely in Canada”, Trudeau stressed in a tweet that there was no tolerance
for “antisemitism, Islamophobia, or hate of any kind”.

Earlier
on Sunday, Montreal police used tear gas following clashes between pro-Israel
and pro-Palestinian protesters.

Several
hundred demonstrators, draped in Israeli flags, had gathered in a central
Montreal square to express solidarity with the Jewish state.

‘Protesting is a right’

Although
the protest started peacefully, tensions ratcheted up with the arrival of
pro-Palestinian demonstrators and clashes soon broke out.

The
SPVM, Montreal’s city police force, declared the protests illegal, and squads
of riot police intervened, using tear gas to separate and disperse the two
groups, according to an AFP journalist at the scene.

The
police spent much of the afternoon in pursuit of the pro-Palestinian
protesters, who spread out and regrouped in commercial streets in the city centre.

Following
the clashes, Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante said on Twitter that
“protesting is a right”, but that “intolerance, violence and
anti-Semitism have no place here”.

She said:

Montreal is a city of peace.

Several
thousand pro-Palestinian demonstrators had gathered on Saturday in central
Montreal to denounce what they said were Israeli repression and “war
crimes” in Gaza.

“Terrorist
Israel”, some protesters chanted, while others held up a banner that read,
“Stop the genocide of Palestinian children”.

Pro-Palestinian
protests happened the same day in multiple Canadian cities, including Toronto,
Ottawa and Vancouver.


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Peter Thiel Helps Fund an App That Tells You What to Do

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“How would you feel about being able to pay to control multiple aspects of another person’s life?” asks the BBC.

“A new app is offering you the chance to do just that.”

When writer Brandon Wong recently couldn’t decide what takeaway to order one evening, he asked his followers on social media app NewNew to choose for him. Those that wanted to get involved in the 24-year-old’s dinner dilemma paid $5 (£3.50) to vote in a poll, and the majority verdict was that he should go for Korean food, so that was what he bought…

NewNew is the brainchild of Los Angeles-based entrepreneur Courtne Smith. The app, which is still in its “beta” or pre-full release stage, describes itself as “a human stock market where you buy shares in the lives of real people, in order to control their decisions and watch the outcome”. For many of us that sounds a bit ominous, but the reality is actually far less alarming. It is aimed at what it calls “creators” — writers, painters, musicians, fashion designers, bloggers etc. It is designed as a way for them to connect far more closely with their fans or followers than on other social media services and, importantly, monetise that connection…

Whenever a vote is cast the creator gets the money minus NewNew’s undisclosed commission… In addition to voting, followers can also pay extra — from $20 — to ask a NewNew creator to do something of their choosing, such as naming a character in a book after them. But the creator can reject all of these “bids”, and if they do so then the follower doesn’t have to part with the money…

Co-founder and chief executive Ms Smith, a 33-year-old Canadian, has big plans for NewNew, and has some heavyweight backers. Investors include Peter Thiel, the billionaire co-founder of PayPal, and the first outside person to put money into Facebook. Others with a stake in the business include leading US tech investment fund Andreessen Horowitz, and Hollywood actor Will Smith (no relation to Courtne). Snapchat has also given technical support.

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Sandpapergate will haunt Australia cricket forever: ex-bowling coach

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Cameron Bancroft. (Photo by Brenton Geach - Gallo Images/Getty Images)


Cameron Bancroft. (Photo by Brenton Geach – Gallo Images/Getty Images)

The 2018 ball-tampering scandal will haunt Australian cricket forever, much like the infamous underarm delivery of 40 years ago, the team’s former bowling coach David Saker said on Monday.

Saker was responding to opening batsman Cameron Bancroft suggesting that Australia’s bowlers knew about the plan in Cape Town to alter the ball which earned him a nine-month ban and rocked the game.

Saker was Australia’s bowling coach when Bancroft was caught trying to rough up the ball with sandpaper during the third Test against South Africa.

While refusing to be drawn on who knew what, Saker said “the finger-pointing is going to go on and on and on”.

“It’s like the underarm, it’s never going to go away,” he told Fairfax Media, referring to a 1981 incident when Trevor Chappell bowled underarm to ensure New Zealand lost a one-day match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

The notorious delivery is still cited in New Zealand and in cricketing circles as a prime example of unsporting conduct.

However, the ball-tampering scandal – dubbed “sandpapergate” – had a greater impact on Australian cricket, with the then-captain Steve Smith and his deputy David Warner suspended for a year from all cricket and stripped of their leadership roles.

Darren Lehmann also quit as coach and all the top brass from Cricket Australia left after a scathing review blasted their “arrogant and controlling” win-at-all-costs culture.

No one else among the team or coaching staff was held to account but Bancroft’s remarks in an interview with The Guardian newspaper hinted that the team’s bowlers at least knew about the plan.

“Obviously what I did benefits bowlers and the awareness around that, probably, is self-explanatory,” he said.

Saker added: “There was a lot of people to blame. It could have been me to blame, it could have been someone else. It could have been stopped and it wasn’t, which is unfortunate.

“Cameron’s a very nice guy. He’s just doing it to get something off his chest … He’s not going to be the last.”

In response, Cricket Australia said that if anyone had new information, they would look into it.

Saker said he was not opposed to a fresh investigation but added “I just don’t know what they’re going to find out.”

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Mexico’s Andrea Meza crowned Miss Universe

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Miss Universe Andrea Meza


Miss Universe Andrea Meza

UPDATE:

MISS UNIVERSE 2020/2021 IS ANDREA MEZA FROM MEXICO:


UPDATE:

THE MISS UNIVERSE 2020/2021 TOP 5:

1. Mexico

2. India

3. Brazil

4. Dominican Republic

5. Peru


UPDATE:

HERE ARE THE MISS UNIVERSE 2020/2021 TOP 10 CONTESTANTS:

1. Jamaica 

2. Dominican Republic 

3. India

4. Peru 

5. Australia 

6. Puerto Rico

7. Thailand

8. Costa Rica

9. Mexico

10. Brazil


UPDATE:

MISS UNIVERSE TOP 21 IN SWIMWEAR:


UPDATE:

MISS UNIVERSE TOP 21: 

1. Columbia

2. Peru 

3. Australia 

4. France

5. Myanmar

6. Jamaica 

7. Mexico 

8. Dominican Republic 

9. USA

10. Indonesia 

11. Argentina 

12. India

13. Curaçao

14. Puerto Rico

15. Phillipines 

16. Brazil

17. Great Britain

18. Nicaragua

19. Thailand 

20. Costa Rica

21. Vietnam


 UPDATE:

MISS UNIVERSE SOUTH AFRICA NATASHA JOUBERT WALKS THE STAGE AT MISS UNIVERSE 2020/2021:


74 contestants will compete for the title of Miss Universe on 16 May in Hollywood, Florida. 

The Miss Universe pageant takes place on 16 May in the US (02:00 to 05:00 on 17 May SA time). The show will be broadcast live on 1 Magic (DStv Channel 103) with a repeat at 21:30. 

Reigning Miss Universe Zozibini Tunzi of South Africa will crown her successor at the end of the event.

Representing South Africa is Natasha Joubert, and South Africans are hoping for the “magic double” – back-to-back consecutive wins, which has only happened once before in the pageant’s history.

Natasha wowed crowds at the national costume competition last week and on Friday impressed during the preliminary round

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Miss Mexico crowned Miss Universe 2021

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By AFP Time of article published 16m ago

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Washington – Miss Mexico was crowned Miss Universe on Sunday in Florida, after fellow contestant Miss Myanmar used her stage time to draw attention to the bloody military coup in her country.

Sunday night marked the Miss Universe competition’s return to television, after the pageant was cancelled in 2020 for the first time due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Andrea Meza, 26, finished first ahead of the Brazilian and Peruvian finalists in a flashy televised event, hosted by American actor Mario Lopez and television personality Olivia Culpo.

Former Miss Universe contestants Cheslie Kryst, Paulina Vega and Demi-Leigh Tebow (who won the title in 2017) served as competition analysts and commentators, and a panel of eight women determined the winner.

Dressed in a sparkling red evening gown, Meza tearfully walked the catwalk as Miss Universe for the first time, before rushing back for a group hug with the other competitors.

Meza beat more than 70 contestants from around the globe in the 69th installment of Miss Universe, which was held at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida.

In the days leading up to the final competition, Miss Myanmar Thuzar Wint Lwin, who made the top 21, made waves when she used her time in the spotlight to bring attention to the coup in her country.

“Our people are dying and being shot by the military every day,” she said during her biographical video, which showed photos of her taking part in the anti-coup protests. “Therefore I would like to urge everyone to speak out about Myanmar.”

Natasha Joubert, Miss Universe South Africa 2020 competes on stage in Ema Savahl swimwear during the MISS UNIVERSE® Preliminary Competition.

She also won the award for best national costume: during that competition segment on Thursday, she wore an outfit beaded in traditional Burmese patterns and held up a sign that said, “Pray for Myanmar.”

Myanmar has been in uproar since February 1, when the army ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

At least 796 people have been killed by security forces since then, according to a local monitoring group, while nearly 4 000 people are behind bars.

Miss Singapore Bernadette Belle Ong – who did not make the top 21 – also used the national costume portion to make a political statement.

Dressed in a glittering red bodysuit and matching thigh-high boots, she turned around to reveal her cape – in the colours of the Singaporean flag – was painted with the words “Stop Asian Hate.”

“What is this platform for if I can’t use it to send a strong message of resistance against prejudice and violence?” she wrote on Instagram alongside pictures of her outfit.

The United States in particular has seen a surge in anti-Asian violence in the past year, which activists have blamed on former president Donald Trump’s rhetoric, especially his repeated description of Covid-19 as the “China virus.”

The pageant has also drawn criticism in the past for objectifying the contestants.

In recent years, the competition has shifted image, focusing more on female empowerment and activism.

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