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Tag Archives: catherine-shu

Online learning platform Unacademy gets $21M Series C from Sequoia India, SAIF and Nexus

Unacademy founders Roman Saini, Gaurav Munjal and Hemesh Singh Bangalore-based Unacademy will add more educators to its online learning platform, which claims to be India’s largest, after closing a $21 million Series C. The funding comes from Sequoia India, SAIF Partners and Nexus Venture Partners, with participation from Blume Ventures (all four firms are returning from Unacademy’s Series B last year ). Originally a YouTube channel created in 2010 by Gaurav Munjal, Unacademy was officially launched as a startup in 2015 by founders Munjal, Roman Saini and Hemesh Singh. It has now raised $38.6 million in total. While Unacademy offers a wide range of courses, its most popular offerings include preparation for important exams in India. Its platform includes two apps: one that lets educators create lessons and another that allows users to access them. Unacademy says it has 10,000 registered educators and three million users. Last month, the startup claims 3,000 educators were active on the platform and lessons were watched more than 40 million times. Many lessons are available for free, though last year Unacademy launched a paid service called Plus that gives users access to features like private discussion forums and live video classes for a per-course fee. Unacademy claims it has achieved six times growth in monthly revenue since launching Plus. The premium classes also help it differentiate from other online learning platforms like Mrunal , a popular site that provides free test preparation for Indian students. In addition to bringing on more teachers, Unacademy will use its new funding to expand key categories like pre-med, the Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering (GATE) and the Common Admission Test (CAT), which are required by many post-graduate programs. In a media statement, SAIF partner Alok Goel said “Unacademy has demonstrated tremendous progress towards their goal of delivering personalized learning by connecting great quality educators and students on their platform.

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Elon Musk tweets he’ll “bet ya a signed dollar” that Thai cave rescuer is a “pedo”

Elon Musk seems not only intent on burning all the goodwill he earned for trying to help last week’s Thai cave rescue, but rolling around in its ashes, too. In a series of extraordinarily offensive, now deleted tweets, the SpaceX and Tesla CEO called a British diver who participated in last week’s dangerous rescue mission a “pedo guy,” adding in another tweet “bet ya a signed dollar it’s true.” Musk’s tantrum was triggered by an interview the diver, Vern Unsworth, gave CNN International last Friday , in which he called the small submarine Musk had SpaceX engineers build a “PR stunt” and said Musk could stick it “where it hurts.” Though the submarine was intended to help the 12 boys stranded with their soccer coach navigate flooded cave passageways, Unsworth, who helped plan the rescue operation and recruited other cave diving experts, said it “had absolutely no chance of working.” Unworth added that Musk “had no conception of what the cave passage was like. The submarine, I believe, was about 5 foot 6 long, rigid, so it wouldn’t have gone round corners or round any obstacles. It wouldn’t hadn’t have made the first 50 meters into the cave from the dive start point.” When the reporter mentioned that Musk had gone into the cave on Tuesday, Unsworth said he was “asked to leave very quickly. And so he should have been.” The rescue mission, made even more challenging by monsoon season, claimed the life of a Thai Navy seal before all boys were saved last week. This is not the first time that Musk has clashed with a member of the cave rescue team. As confirmation came in that the last group of boys and their coach had been freed on July 10, the head of the rescue mission, Narongsak Osatanakorn, told reporters that “although Musk’s technology is good and sophisticated it’s not practical for this mission.” In response, Musk dismissed the credentials of Ostanakorn, who led the joint command center coordinating the operation and is former acting governor of Chiang Rai, the province where the cave is located. In a tweet he said Ostanakorn was “described inaccurately as ‘rescue chief'” and “is not the subject matter expert” ( the Columbus Dispatch reports  that Ostanakorn holds a Master’s degree from Ohio State University, where he studied geodetic engineering and surveying). Though Musk’s tweet about Ostanakorn was sharply criticized, many still gave him credit for his efforts. After all, engineering a submarine in a few days to save a group of children is an impressive and laudable feat. While Musk is known for going on strange Twitter rants , however, his attack on Unsworth is an entirely different stratosphere. In addition to defaming Unsworth in a particularly heinous way, the implication that a British diver would only go to Thailand, one of the world’s top diving destinations, for child sex tourism is problematic and arguably racist, as many have pointed out. Elon Musk implying that British expats who live in Thailand are all kiddie fiddlers? Erm… wow… isn't that kind of a little bit racist? — Robert Percy (@astweetedbyRP) July 15, 2018 Sure, Elon Musk calling a diver who help rescue 12 boys a ‘pedo’ just because he lives in Thailand is insulting, inflammatory and borderline libelous, but let’s not forget that it is also horrifically racist.

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Headout lands $10M Series A to help tourists book last-minute outings

Imagine being in a new city with a few hours to kill, but no idea what to do. Headout is a travel app that enables tourists to book outings at very short notice, in most cases on the same day. The startup announced today that it’s raised a $10 million Series A led by returning investors Nexus Venture Partners and Version One Ventures to support its ambitious growth targets. Over the next 18 months, co-founder and CEO Varun Khona says the startup wants to expand from 20 cities to 100 cities in North America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific. The app recently added French, German and Spanish in select markets and aims to have all of its inventory available in 12 languages by the end of next year. Its bookings includes sightseeing tours, museum tickets and shows. Headout’s Series A brings its total raised to $12 million. Its seed round was announced in 2015, when TechCrunch first profiled the company . The startup claims it has grown eight times over the past 12 months and is profitable. As it enters new markets, however, Headout will be up against a roster of competitors that also offer experience bookings for tourists. These include Klook, TripAdvisor-owned Viator, Get Your Guide and Airbnb’s Experiences feature.

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Tiger Global reportedly pours more than $1B into SoftBank, saying its shares are “undervalued”

Tiger Global has poured more than $1 billion into SoftBank Group, according to the Financial Times . The newspaper reports that the firm told investors SoftBank’s shares are “meaningfully undervalued.” In response to a request for comment, SoftBank sent the same statement to TechCrunch as other media outlets: “We continue to believe the market significantly undervalues our stock and we welcome the support from a sophisticated institutional investor like Tiger Global.” Tiger Global and SoftBank share several investments in common, including Alibaba, Flipkart and Uber. According to a quarterly investor letter obtained by the Financial Times, Tiger Global wrote that “the combination of a world-class set of assets trading at a record discount to net asset value strikes us as an odd anomaly that is unlikely to exist forever.” It also said that “in our view, the opportunity to buy the shares cheaply exists today because SoftBank’s stock has not appreciated in nearly five years, even though the value of its Alibaba stake has increased by over $90 billion, more than SoftBank’s entire market capitalization.” The Financial Times reports that Tiger Global believes SoftBank can create an additional $73 billion of value before tax if its $100 billion Vision Fund returns 2.5 times its original investment over the next seven years. Other growth prospects it cited include the upcoming initial public offering of SoftBank Mobile , its Japanese telecoms unit, and the potential merger of Sprint, which SoftBank holds a majority stake in, and T-Mobile, pending regulatory approval.

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The U.S. and ZTE reach a deal that will lift export ban

The United States government has made a deal with Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE that, once completed, will lift the ban preventing the company from working with American suppliers. The agreement eases tensions in the U.S.-China trade war because the seven-year denial order, which the Trump administration imposed in April after ZTE violated sanctions against North Korea and Iran, was a major point of contention between the two countries. Our statement on #ZTE and the escrow agreement: pic.twitter.com/w0Bbej1mAU — U.S. Commerce Dept. (@CommerceGov) July 11, 2018 According to a statement from the Commerce Department , once ZTE completes a $400 million escrow payment, the department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) will lift the ban. The Commerce Department says “the ZTE settlement represents the toughest penalty and strictest compliance regime the Department has ever imposed in such a case. It will deter future bad actors and ensure the Department is able to protect the United States from those that would do us harm.” Many U.S. lawmakers are still concerned about the security repercussions of the deal, however, and a bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation last week that could potentially restore some of the penalties imposed on ZTE. The denial order was imposed because the Commerce Department claimed that ZTE violated U.S. laws against selling equipment containing American technology to Iran and North Korea, and not only failed to follow the terms of a 2017 agreement with the Department of Justice, but also lied to the U.S. The ban cut off access to several of ZTE’s key suppliers, including Qualcomm, and was severe enough that it was described as a “death penalty” for the company, which reportedly expected to lose $3 billion as a result . But ZTE quickly became a pawn in the U.S-China trade wars and the Trump administration said in May that the company could continue buying from U.S.

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Twitter’s CFO clarifies that its second-quarter user metrics won’t be affected by fake account purge

After a Washington Post report last week that Twitter’s fake account purge might affect its second-quarter user numbers, Twitter’s chief financial officer said on Monday that the clean-up will not affect its metrics. In a tweet, Ned Segal explained that most of the suspended accounts were less than 30 days old or caught at sign up and therefore never counted. Some clarifications: most accounts we remove are not included in our reported metrics as they have not been active on the platform for 30 days or more, or we catch them at sign up and they are never counted. https://t.co/nRIGE9EMcf — Ned Segal (@nedsegal) July 9, 2018 He added “If we removed 70M accounts from our reported metrics, you would hear directly from us. This article reflects us getting better at improving the health of the service.” On Friday, the Washington Post reported that Twitter has been suspending more than 1 million accounts a day in recent months, good news for people who have been calling on the platform to get serious about fake accounts that can potentially be used to spread misinformation. According to data reviewed by the newspaper, more than 70 million accounts were suspended in May and June, with that pace continuing in July. But the Washington Post also cited an anonymous source who said the clean up might “result in a rare decline in the number of monthly users” in the quarter that ended on June 30. Twitter’s stock price fell more than 9% to a low of $42.46 on Monday, but has been climbing back up after Segal’s clarification. The company’s next earnings report is scheduled for July 27.

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California’s new online cancellation law benefits many disgruntled subscribers in other places, too

A new California law that went into effect on July 1 will make it much easier for people to cancel subscriptions online. Since the bill, sponsored by State Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys), includes all services that have paying customers in the state, it will also benefit dissatisfied customers in many places outside California. The legislation, California Senate Bill No. 313 , covers “any business that makes an automatic renewal or continuous service offer to a consumer in this state,” so that includes a very wide range of services, including newspapers and magazines, subscription boxes, streaming services and more. Not only that, but if you made the subscription online, the law stipulates that you are also allowed to cancel it online. In other words, you can no longer be forced to call a customer service phone number to stop the service, a task that is usually much more frustrating and time-consuming than signing up in the first place. The bill also requires more transparency in how companies present promotional offers. For example, if they lure in users with a free trial or gift, then they also need to include a “clear and conspicuous explanation” in the offer of how much customers will be charged after the trial ends or if the pricing will change. It also needs to tell you how to cancel (and actually allow you to do so) before you are charged. If you sign up for a subscription at a promotional or discounted price that is only valid for a certain amount of time, the company must get your consent again before charging your debit or credit card when the price returns to its normal rate. According to Nieman Lab, many news organizations in California are already making changes to their systems to comply with the new law.

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Planck Re scores $12M Series A to simplify insurance underwriting with artificial intelligence

Planck Re , a startup that wants to simplify insurance underwriting with artificial intelligence, announced today that it has raised a $12 million Series A. The funding was led by Arbor Ventures, with participation from Viola FinTech and Eight Roads. Co-founder and CEO Elad Tsur tells TechCrunch that the capital will be used to expand Planck Re’s product line into more segments, including retail, contractors, IT and manufacturing, and grow its research and development team in Israel and North American sales team. The Tel Aviv and New York-based startup plans to focus first on its business in the United States, where it has already launched pilot programs with several insurance carriers. Tsur says that Planck Re’s clients generally use it to help underwrite insurance for small to medium-sized businesses, including business owner policies, which cover property and liability risks, and workers’ compensation. Founded in 2016 by Tsur, Amir Cohen and David Schapiro, Planck Re poses its technology as a more efficient and accurate alternative to the lengthy risk assessment questionnaire insurers ask clients to fill out. Its platform crawls the internet for publicly available data, including images, text, videos, social media profiles and public records, to build profiles of SMBs seeking insurance coverage. Then it analyzes that data to help carriers figure out their potential risk. Before launching Planck Re, Tsur and Cohen founded Bluetail, a data mining startup that was acquired by Salesforce in 2012 , where it served as the base technology for Salesforce Einstein. Schapiro was previously CEO of financial analytics company Earnix. There are already a handful of startups, including SoftBank-backed Lemonade, Trōv, Cover, Hippo and Swyfft, that use algorithms to make picking and buying insurance policies easier for consumers, but AI-based underwriting is still a nascent category. One example is Flyreel, which focuses on underwriting property insurance and recently signed a deal with Microsoft to accelerate its go-to-market strategy. Tsur says Planck Re is developing more dedicated algorithms to meet the evolving needs of insurance providers

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Papa is “grandkids on-demand” for seniors who need some extra help

Seniors over 65 are one of the fastest growing age groups in the United States , but they are still an underserved market. Many don’t need assisted living or in-home care, but they do need help with transportation and errands. Most of all, however,  the elderly want companionship . Papa , a service that bills itself as “grandkids on-demand,” wants to fill the gap by connecting college students, called Papa Pals, with seniors. Named in honor of founder and chief executive officer Andrew Parker’s grandfather, the Miami-headquartered startup is currently participating in Y Combinator’s accelerator program. Seniors can use Papa’s app (or a customer service line for those who don’t own a mobile device) to book a Papa Pal. Papa Pals might take seniors to the grocery store or doctor’s appointments, help with chores or teach them how to set up a new smartphone or tablet. They also provide company for seniors, many of whose own adult children or grandchildren are busy working or live far away. Papa is currently available in Florida and will began expanding into other states next year. “What’s interesting is that people don’t always want to say they want companionship, even though their families say they do,” says Parker. “But when a visit ends up being six hours, that’s evident what it’s for.” Before launching Papa, Parker was vice president of health systems at telehealth company MDLIVE. He lived near his grandfather, who had early onset dementia, and would often go over to help him with errands. One day, however, Parker was unable to go on a grocery run.

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Meituan, the Tencent-backed ‘one-stop super app,’ files for IPO in Hong Kong

After months of speculation , Meituan , the largest service booking app in China, confirmed that it has filed for a public offering. The company’s IPO application was submitted to the Hong Kong stock exchange earlier today and is being sponsored by Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Bank of America Merrill Lynch. A spokesperson for Meituan said the company is currently not disclosing information about fundraising amount or valuation. Reuters reports that Meituan wants to raise more than $4 billion . Meituan was created after Meituan and Dianping, two competitors in the group deals space, merged in 2015 (it is still formally known was Meituan Dianping). Since then, the company has added more services to become China’s leader in O2O (online-to-offline), a catchphrase for goods and services that are purchased online, but bring people into brick and mortar businesses, like movie ticket bookings. One interesting aspect of the merger is that it brought together two archrivals, Alibaba and Tencent. Alibaba was one of Meituan’s investors, while Tencent backed Dianping. Since then, Alibaba has sold off most of its Meituan Dianping stake to focus on Koubei, its own O2O app, while Tencent has maintained an investment relationship with the company. For example, it led Meituan’s $4 billion Series C last October. Meituan initially focused on restaurant reservations and food delivery, before expanding into more local services to create what it describes as a “one-stop super app” that allows users to buy movie tickets, make spa and salon appointments, book transportation and hotel rooms, and even pay for bike-sharing program MoBike, which Meituan acquired for $2.7 billion in April .

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GameStop reportedly discussing buyout with private equity firms

Struggling retail chain GameStop is discussing a potential buyout with private equity firms, according to Reuters . The report says that one of the private equity firms is Sycamore Partners and that GameStop has hired a financial advisor to help with the talks, though there’s no guarantee that a deal will come to fruition. Founded in 1984 and once a mainstay for gamers, GameStop has struggled to cope with competition from online retailers like Amazon and digital distribution platforms including Steam, even after several attempts to diversify its business model. For example, last fall GameStop announced a used game subscription service, but that was shelved, reportedly because of issues with the chain’s point-of-sale system . Despite other efforts, including selling secondhand games and devices and the acquisition of novelty maker ThinkGeek in 2015 , the company’s stock has fallen steadily since November 2013, when it hit $56.53 a share, to $13.96 now. Reuter’s report comes about a month after investor Tiger Management sent a letter to GameStop , asking it to launch a strategic review of its business model. Around that time, CEO Michael Mauler also resigned after only three months in the position , citing personal reasons. Microsoft Xbox executive Shane Kim began serving as interim CEO at the beginning of June. Sycamore Partners said it has no comment. TechCrunch has also contacted GameStop.

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By automating code compliance, UpCodes AI is ‘the spellcheck for buildings’

For many architects, the hardest part of their job starts after they finish designing a building, when the onerous process of code compliance begins. Written to ensure the safety and accessibility of buildings, codes dictate everything from the height and depth of stairs and where railings end, to the amount of floor space in front of toilets and the height of windows. Regulations are constantly updated, which means that even the most diligent team of architects often miss violations, resulting in costly delays. Y Combinator alum  UpCodes wants to help them by using artificial intelligence, including natural language processing, to create what the San Francisco-based startup describes as “the spellcheck for buildings.” Called UpCodes AI , the program is a plug-in that scans 3D models created with building information modeling (BIM) data and alerts architects about potential issues. It draws on the same backend as UpCodes’ first product , an app that compiles regulations into a constantly updated, searchable database with collaboration tools. UpCodes AI, which launched to the public last week, currently supports recent versions of Autodesk Revit and will add ARCHICAD, Sketchup and IFC in the future. “This is like Grammarly for the construction industry. By highlighting code errors in real-time, the software acts as a code consultant working beside you at all times,” UpCodes co-founder and CEO Scott Reynolds tells TechCrunch. UpCodes’ co-founders Garrett and Scott Reynolds and UpCodes AI technical lead Mark Vulfson UpCodes was founded in 2016 after Reynolds became so frustrated by traditional code compliance while working as an architect that he switched career paths and launched the startup with his brother Garrett, a former software engineer at PlanGrid, to fix the process. Building codes change so often that they are sometimes referred to as “living documents.” UpCodes’ database draws directly on regulations put online by municipalities and is updated almost in real-time. This eases a major pain point because many architects who thought they had followed regulations find out too late that they missed an amendment. In worst case scenarios, completed work needs to be torn out and rebuilt, potentially costing tens of thousands of dollars. This is a frequent occurrence and Scott Reynolds points to studies by McKinsey and the National Association of Home Builders that cite the complexity of code compliance as a major reason for reduced productivity in the construction industry and rising home prices

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After report on “appalling” conditions, Foxconn will investigate plant that makes Amazon devices

Foxconn Technology Group says it is investigating a factory it operates that makes Amazon devices, including Kindles, after an in-depth report by advocacy group China Labor Watch criticized its “appalling working conditions,” including excessive hours and over-reliance on temporary workers. “We are carrying out a full investigation of the areas raised by the report, and if found to be true, immediate actions will be taken to bring the operations into compliance with our Code of Conduct,” Taiwan-based Foxconn, also known as Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., Ltd., told Reuters. New York-based China Labor Watch says its investigators were sent to the factory, which is located in south central China in Hunan Province’s Hengyang city and also makes Amazon’s Echo Dot Bluetooth speakers and tablets, from August 2017 to April 2018. During that time, the group says it found that dispatch, or temporary, workers made up more than 40% of the workforce, far exceeding the 10% limit set by Chinese law. Dispatch workers were also treated very differently than regular workers, receiving far less safety training and no overtime wages. Instead, dispatch workers were paid the same rate, or 14.5 RMB ($2.26) an hour for both normal and overtime hours. Though regular workers were better compensated in terms of wages and benefits, China Labor Watch says both groups were subjected to long hours and low wages, with workers putting in more than 100 overtime hours during peak season, even though the legal limit is 36 hours, and some working consecutively for 14 days. Workers on average earned wages between 2000 to 3000 RMB ($312.12 to $468.19), significantly less than Hengyang’s monthly average wage of 4,647 RMB ($725.22), but often had their overtime hours as punishment for taking leave or having unexcused absences. The report also claimed that the factory had poor fire safety in its dormitories, lack of sufficiently protective equipment, verbally abusive managers and the “absence of a functioning labor union.” “Amazon has the ability to not only ensure its supplier factories respects the rights of workers but also that there is equal pay for equal work,” said China Labor Watch on its site. “Amazon’s profits have come at the expense of workers who labor in appalling working conditions and have no choice but to work excessive overtime hours to sustain a livelihood.” In a press statement, Amazon said it audited the Hengyang factory most recently in March 2018 and asked them to address “issues of concern” related to dispatch workers and overtime. “Amazon takes reported violations of our Supplier Code of Conduct extremely seriously. Amazon regularly assesses suppliers, using independent auditors as appropriate, to monitor continued compliance and improvement. In the case of the Foxconn Hengyang factory, Amazon completed its most recent audit in March 2018 and identified two issues of concern. We immediately requested a corrective action plan from Foxconn Hengyang detailing their plan to remediate the issues identified, and we are conducting regular assessments to monitor for implementation and compliance with our Supplier Code of Conduct. We are committed to ensuring that these issues are resolved.” This is, of course, not the first time labor issues at Foxconn, one of the largest electronic OEMs in the world and the main supplier of Apple’s iPhones, have been scrutinized.

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“Social selling” startup Meesho lands $11.5M Series B led by Sequoia India

Y Combinator alum Meesho , one of several “social selling” startups gaining speed in India, will add more features to its e-commerce platform after closing a $11.5 million Series B led by Sequoia India. Existing investors SAIF Partners, Y Combinator and Venture Highway also returned for the round, which brings the Bangalore-based startup’s total funding so far to $15 million. Its last round of funding, a $3.4 million Series A, was announced last October . Like social selling competitors including GlowRoad and Zepo, Meesho’s model combines dropshipping from its wholesale partners with a comprehensive suite of e-commerce tools and services. This reduces overhead while making it easy for sellers, who Meesho says includes many housewives, students and retirees, to set up an online business through WhatsApp, Facebook and other social media. Meesho’s tools include an online platform that allows sellers to manage purchases and process payments, as well as a network of wholesale suppliers (its main categories are currently fashion and lifestyle items) and logistics providers. In other words, it offers almost everything its vendors need to start selling online. This leaves vendors responsible for customer acquisition, picking what items they want to include in their online shops and marketing them. This reselling model appeals to small stores, as well as individuals, who want to make more money but don’t want the expense of setting up an e-commerce business from scratch and carrying inventory. Meesho’s rivals include e-commerce startups like GlowRoad, Shopmatic and Zepo, which have also recently raised large funding rounds. All of these companies attract sellers by offering a significant amount of help with order management, payment processing, fulfillment and logistics. In order to differentiate, chief executive officer Vidit Aatrey, who co-founded Meesho in 2015 with Sanjeev Barnwal, its chief technology officer, tells TechCrunch it focuses on product quality, pricing and personalization to help resellers improve their sales and customer service. Meesho claims that more than 800,000 resellers have used its platform and that a “typical” reseller earns between 20,000 to 25,000 rupees per month (about $298 to $373)

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ASUS’ new ZenBook Pro features a 5.5-inch touchscreen instead of a touchpad

The ASUS event today at Computex in Taipei, Taiwan had three main hooks: health, ergonomics and, most importantly, second screens. The headliner was the premium ZenBook Pro 14 and 15 (pictured above), the latest versions of ASUS’ premium notebook that feature a touchscreen where the touchpad would usually be Meant to increase the laptops’ multitasking possibilities, the 5.5-inch ScreenPad functions as a second screen for things like messaging or apps including a calculator, a video and music player or calendar. It can also be used as a launchpad for apps on the ZenBook Pro’s main display or serve as a function command screen for Microsoft Office programs. During his presentation, ASUS global PC and phone marketing senior director Marcel Campos said the ZenBook Pro 15 was designed with three kinds of professionals in mind: video makers, photographers and 3D designers. It has a 15.6-inch 4K UHD NanoEdge display with Delta E

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