Waze app with icon showing police
In this weekly series, CNBC takes a look at companies that made the inaugural Disruptor 50 list, 10 years later.
Nobody enjoys sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic jams, getting an arrival time delayed due to street construction and gaining more road rage by the minute as a result. Waze, the crowdsourcing navigation app, is continuing to find ways to make frustrating road bumps a little more bearable.
Waze users – also known as “Wazers” – provide information on things like stopped cars, road work, gas prices and police activity during their commutes. The app then collects this real-time data and updates its maps accordingly, giving users the most up-to-date information on travel times and other potential traffic burdens. What was once a small Israeli startup now has more than 140 million monthly users worldwide.
In 2013 – shortly after the app made the inaugural CNBC Disruptor 50 list – Alphabet‘s Google acquired Waze, reportedly for more than $1 billion. The addition of Waze to the Google portfolio was expected to help Google improve features on its own navigation app, Google Maps. Google Maps is still the most popular navigation app today and relies more heavily on historical data to map out the best path to one’s destination. On the other hand, Waze’s unique crowdsourcing technique allows it to determine the fastest route with the most recent information, and it’s only available for car and motorbike use.
The app’s innovation has had led to backlash in the past, for potentially distracting drivers, who must use their phones behind the wheel to make reports on Waze. In 2018, it faced threats of legal action by Los Angeles lawmakers for suggesting shortcuts that ended up causing more congestion on side roads not prepared to handle high amounts of traffic. Uri Levine, co-founder and former Waze president, said at the time that he disagreed with the complaints.
“All roads are the public domain and therefore the right of everyone to use,” Levine said. “In that sense, Waze redistributes traffic to create a better traffic situation for everyone.”
The company also struggled at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. With a decrease in individuals traveling, Waze reported in April 2020 that its users across the globe were driving 60% fewer miles compared to two months prior, with driving in Italy – one of the first countries to see the impacts of Covid-19 – dropping more than 90%. As a result, Waze laid off 5% of its global workforce in September 2020 and permanently closed offices in the Asia-Pacific and Latin America regions.
The company also shutdown Waze Carpool in September, a service connecting Wazers with similar commutes to carpool. The six-year-old service was intended to help Wazers cut down on gas costs while creating less traffic congestion during busiest travel times each day, but the pandemic caused too many changes in work driving patterns to be a priority, with errand trips and travel now the dominant uses for Waze.
Despite these challenges, innovations within the app have kept Waze users consistently coming back to the platform. It’s one of the top navigation choices among Uber and Lyft drivers. Drivers using Waze can be entertained as they’re directed to their desired location through voices from celebrities like DJ Khaled, Arnold Schwarzenegger and T-Pain. Partnerships with popular music streaming services such as Spotify, Pandora and iHeartRadio allow Waze users to stream music directly through the Waze app as they navigate to their destination.
Waze also flaunts its ability to do more for the greater good. The app was used by FEMA during Hurricane Sandy to provide information on available fuel locations in the midst of gas shortages; it helped provide accurate information on Covid-19 testing centers at the beginning of the pandemic.
Local governments are also able to partner with Waze through a program called Waze for Cities, which establishes two-way data sharing through the app and government partners that helps communities with city planning and Waze with more accurate traffic monitoring.
New top officials have joined the company relatively recently, with Neha Parikh taking on the role of CEO in June 2021 and CMO Harris Beber joining in April 2022. Beber previously served as CEO at Vimeo, while Parikh was the president of Expedia-owned Hotwire and currently sits on the board of Carvana.
“Why should anybody feel emotional about a navigation app? Yet people do, including me,” Parikh said at the Skift Global Forum in October. “It’s not just a one-way app that uses technology. It is a two-way ecosystem where people actually contribute to help each other.”
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eToro wants to bring its trading app to Apple Vision Pro and Meta Quest headsets
An Apple Vision Pro mixed reality (XR) headset is seen at Apple store in New York, United States on Feb. 3, 2024.
Fatih Aktas | Anadolu | Getty Images
Online brokerage firm eToro is exploring ways to bring its retail trading app to augmented and virtual reality headsets from Apple and Meta, the company’s CEO Yoni Assia told CNBC exclusively.
EToro, which operates a trading platform on which users can buy and sell a range of assets ranging from stocks and exchange-traded funds to cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, is looking at ways of launching on Apple Vision Pro and Meta Quest.
If eToro succeeds in getting onto the Vision Pro and other VR devices, it would mark a rare step from a financial services firm to open up what is effectively a storefront in a virtual reality environment.
Assia said that artificial intelligence is a big focus for the firm and it is looking to integrate features that focus on giving users the ability to interact with the app via voice.
However, AR and VR are also a priority for the firm.
“We are planning to look at how we think about eToro with natural language, with voice, but actually also in the realm of AR VR, during 2024,” Assia told CNBC last week.
He didn’t provide a timeline for when eToro expects to launch an AR experience, and added that it remains an experiment the company is still exploring for the moment.
However, he suggested it will be a serious focus for the firm in 2024.
Financial firms such as JPMorgan and Citi have talked a big game about the “metaverse.” But this has been more in relation to desktop environments like Decentraland. And even then, hype surrounding digital real estate platforms like that has dropped off a cliff in the past couple years.
It’s not yet fully fleshed out as a service.
But, on a simple level, eToro’s experience would allow users to pick stocks to buy and sell by touching digital screens within Apple’s Vision Pro and Meta’s Quest devices.
“You could actually now talk to the eToro app through the speaker [of your VR headset],” Assia said.
“I don’t think a lot of people are used to talking to their mobile phone asking questions, yet.” However, Assia expects this to become more mainstream.
Financial companies have refrained from taking big steps into virtual reality as the technology hasn’t proven its utility for something like banking or wealth management.
There are some technical limitations to consider.
While modern-day VR and AR headsets are getting better at tracking users’ eye movements, images can appear blurry if the display settings aren’t finetuned.
EToro said its augmented reality app would likely be a service that its more advanced traders will use, not necessarily casual retail traders or day traders.
“We’re starting to experiment with it,” Assia told CNBC in an exclusive interview. “Do I think it’s going to be hugely popular in 2024? Probably not probably, it’s still premature.”
“But I do think in the world of trading and investing, when we think of the vast amount of information, we’re trying to sort of constantly look at it to make smarter decisions,” he added.
The augmented reality experience would likely be enhanced with artificial intelligence, Assia noted, with a personal AI assistant helping users through the investing process.
“This is still in very initial discussions,” Assia noted, but added he thinks the firm could be ready to show off a prototype “in a couple of months.”
Smartphone makers are dreaming of a ‘supercycle’ driven by AI. Analysts disagree
Samsung Electronics’ flagship smartphones Galaxy S24 series are displayed during their unveiling ceremony in Seoul, South Korea, January 15, 2024.
Kim Hong-ji | Reuters
BARCELONA – Smartphone makers are talking a big game about artificial intelligence this year.
And they’re so confident about features they’re cramming into their phones that they think it’ll drive a new “supercycle” for the industry.
Samsung, Google, and Chinese firm Honor are among the names that are beefing up their latest handsets with AI-powered features for translating and summarizing conversations and taking and editing photos with the power of generative AI algorithms.
These are algorithms that are baked into the devices’ chips themselves, rather than accessed via the cloud.
Samsung has gone big on generative AI with its Galaxy S24 Ultra smartphone.
Google, too, has integrated AI directly into its latest Pixel phones.
Apple, meanwhile, is also reportedly exploring the addition of on-device AI features to the next iPhone, per the Financial Times.
This is all coming at a time when Mobile World Congress, the mobile technology industry’s biggest trade show of the year, is kicking off.
Major device makers like Samsung, Huawei, Honor, and Oppo, plus chip companies like Qualcomm and MediaTek, are expected to talk a big game about how much AI is transforming our personal devices.
Smartphone makers have been dreaming of a “supercycle” in their industry, driven by AI, after a bruising few years that saw device sales slow aggressively.
In 2023, smartphone sales fell to 1.16 billion units, the lowest point for unit shipments in a decade.
The last “supercycle” in smartphones happened between 2010 and 2015, where in five years the market grew fivefold from roughly 300 million units sold per year to 1.5 billion units, according to IDC data.
That came at a time when smartphones were just starting to become mainstream thanks to the emergence of widely used applications: Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Uber, Snapchat, Twitter, and Candy Crush Saga, to name a few.
“The growth happened not just because Apple launched the iPhone, or because Google launched Android,” Francisco Jeronimo, vice president of data and analytics at research firm IDC, told CNBC.
“What really made it successful, that supercycle, was the fact that people were able to get the internet in their pocket,” Jeronimo said, in a phone interview with CNBC.
Other things were happening at the time, including the ability to make video calls over the internet with 3G, and the transition to 4G which meant faster speeds.
“We saw very popular operating systems not just the browser, but a world of applications that brought so many services and so much content through the phone,” Jeronimo said.
Ben Wood, chief analyst of CCS Insight, pinpoints the unveiling of the iPhone as the last “seismic disruption” that took place in the industry.
“Everything since then has been less disruptive,” Wood told CNBC.
Major smartphone players are betting that a supercycle is about to happen thanks to AI.
Samsung, which launched the Galaxy S24 Ultra earlier this year, thinks that there’s a strong chance that AI will drive a new dawn that can breathe fresh life into the industry.
James Kitto, Samsung’s head of mobile experience division in the U.K., told CNBC the mobile industry is at the start of a new era of hypergrowth driven by AI.
“There’s every expectation that will be the case. We’re seeing some really, really high demand,” Kitto told CNBC from Samsung’s European headquarters in Chertsey, England.
The Galaxy S24 came with the ability to circle an object on your camera and pull up Google Search results for it, as well as live translation of phone calls to people speaking in foreign languages.
“We’re right now at the dawning of an entirely new era, an AI phone era,” Kitto said.
Brian Rakowski, vice president of product management for Google’s Pixel phone unit, said he expects AI to drive renewed interest around mobile technology.
Google has been working on integrating AI into its devices for years, most notably with the addition of Tensor line of smartphone processors.
“We already saw that AI was going to be the differentiator and the next wave of innovation across all technology but especially mobile,” Rakowski told CNBC. “It is so key to everything all our computing lives and computing platform.”
Google recently made it possible for its Tensor Processing Units, or TPUs, to run its Gemini nano AI system. This is a smaller version of its family of large language models which come under the umbrella name Gemini.
Google is expecting it will launch more advanced versions of Gemini on Android next year, according to Rakowski.
“We’ve placed a lot of bets and have really close collaboration with the research team at [AI lab] DeepMind to make sure Pixel is the best way to showcase and surface what’s coming down the pipe,” Rakowski said.
“No one knew that LLMs would be the thing. But we expected breakthroughs in the space,” he added.
Analysts say a supercycle is unlikely to occur within the next few years as there’s not enough going on in the market in terms of novel features and innovation that will convince people holding their aging smartphones to upgrade.
Sales are expected to see growth this year, according to IDC, with smartphone shipments expected to climb 2.4% this year to 1.19 billion units in 2024. But that’s coming off a low base, and overall represents lackluster growth for an industry.
Growth is expected to remain stagnant from there in the coming years, with IDC forecasting incremental year-over-year increases of between 2% and 3% from 2025 to 2028.
Consumers remain wary about the prospect of upgrading their smartphones today as the prices for upgrading are still elevated.
Plus, much of the latest models that are coming out are still only touting incremental improvements on what came before.
“Much as the potential of AI on smartphones is an exciting prospect, I don’t believe the technology will contribute to a new supercycle for smartphone sales,” Wood told CNBC via email.
“At best it will help sustain sales and add a little bit of extra interest in smartphones at a time when the hardware is becoming increasingly boring.”
Today, there’s not enough excitement about smartphones on a broader level to justify a sales boom of the kind many companies are dreaming up.
That will change in the coming years, according to Jeronimo — but only once artificial intelligence starts becoming useful for consumers.
“If there’s anything that could make [a supercycle] happen, it would be AI,” Jeronimo said. “But with AI, there’s this question mark of how much the phone will become intelligent.”
Smartphones today “are not intelligent,” he added.
“If you see a billboard of the latest Tarantino or ‘Mission Impossible’ movie, what do you do? You need to open an app, book tickets in that app, send texts to your wife, text where she needs to go, go into your calendar app, check when is the best day to go to the movie, and so on.”
Plenty of companies are working on tech that can do exactly this.
For example, Humane has its AI Pin, a compact, square-shaped device that users can speak with to ask it to do certain tasks like setting reminders. It uses OpenAI’s large language models to do so.
Another startup, Rabbit, has a similar device. Geely-owned firm Meizu, meanwhile, recently said it’s giving up on making Android smartphones in favor of creating an AI-focused hardware product.
Samsung unveils new memory chip with ‘highest-capacity to date’ for AI
Samsung logo displayed on a glass door at the company’s Seocho building in Seoul on July 7, 2022. Samsung Electronics has begun applications for tax breaks for 11 potential chip plants in Texas adding up to investments of about $192 billion, according to documents filed with Texas authorities.
Jung Yeon-je | Afp | Getty Images
Samsung Electronics on Tuesday said it has developed a new high-bandwidth memory chip that has the “highest-capacity to date” in the industry.
The South Korean chip giant claimed the HBM3E 12H “raises both performance and capacity by more than 50%.”
“The industry’s AI service providers are increasingly requiring HBM with higher capacity, and our new HBM3E 12H product has been designed to answer that need,” said Yongcheol Bae, executive vice president of memory product planning at Samsung Electronics.
“This new memory solution forms part of our drive toward developing core technologies for high-stack HBM and providing technological leadership for the high-capacity HBM market in the AI era,” said Bae.
Samsung Electronics is the world’s largest maker for dynamic random-access memory chips, which are used in consumer devices such as smartphones and computers.
Generative AI models such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT require large numbers of high-performance memory chips. Such chips enable generative AI models to remember details from past conversations and user preferences in order to generate humanlike responses.
The AI boom continues to fuel chipmakers. U.S. chip designer Nvidia posted a 265% jump in fourth fiscal quarter revenue thanks to skyrocketing demand for its graphics processing units, thousands of which are used to run and train ChatGPT.
During a call with analysts, Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang said the company may not be able to maintain this level of growth or sales for the whole year.
“As AI applications grow exponentially, the HBM3E 12H is expected to be an optimal solution for future systems that require more memory. Its higher performance and capacity will especially allow customers to manage their resources more flexibly and reduce total cost of ownership for datacenters,” said Samsung Electronics.
Samsung said it has started sampling the chip to customers and mass production of the HBM3E 12H is planned for the first half of 2024.
“I assume the news will be positive for Samsung’s share price,” SK Kim, executive director of Daiwa Securities, told CNBC.
“Samsung was behind SK Hynix in HBM3 for Nvidia last year. Also, Micron announced mass production of 24GB 8L HBM3E yesterday. I assume it will secure leadership in higher layer (12L) based higher density (36GB) HBM3E product for Nvidia,” said Kim.
In September, Samsung secured a deal to supply Nvidia with its high-bandwidth memory 3 chips, according to a Korea Economic Daily report, which cited anonymous industry sources.
The report also said that SK Hynix, South Korea’s second-biggest memory chipmaker, was leading the high-performance memory chip market. SK Hynix was previously known as the sole mass producer of HBM3 chips supplied to Nvidia, the report said.
Samsung said the HBM3E 12H has a 12-layer stack, but applies advanced thermal compression non-conductive film which allows the 12-layer products to have the same height specification as 8-layer ones to meet current HBM package requirements. The result is a chip that packs more processing power, without increasing its physical footprint.
“Samsung has continued to lower the thickness of its NCF material and achieved the industry’s smallest gap between chips at seven micrometers (µm), while also eliminating voids between layers,” said Samsung. “These efforts result in enhanced vertical density by over 20% compared to its HBM3 8H product.”
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