Twitter Makes a Big VR Hire; Line Sets IPO Price; Alphabet Wants to Remake Cities

Here's a look at noteworthy tech stories for Wednesday:

Twitter hires a VR/AR chief and gives businesses tools for managing their accounts

Not wanting to get left out as tech giants step over each other to unveil their virtual reality and augmented reality roadmaps, Twitter  (TWTR) has hired Alessandro Sabatelli, once an Apple user interface designer and later the CEO of VR/AR startup IXOMOXI, to be its director of VR and AR.

Sabatelli's LinkedIn profile says he's now working on the modest goal of "empowering us all in the spatial computing revolution."

The hiring shouldn't be taken as a sign Twitter plans to join Microsoft (MSFT) , Sony (SNE) , HTC and Facebook's (FB) Oculus unit in what's becoming a very crowded VR/AR headset market.

A more plausible explanation: Twitter wants to create quality VR and AR experiences for video and other content. Both Twitter's core service and its Periscope livestreaming platform appear to be natural fits for AR headsets such as Microsoft's HoloLens, which superimpose digital content onto real-world views.

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Separately, Twitter has unveiled a dashboard to help businesses manage their accounts, monitor what users are saying about them, and engage with current and potential customers. The move follows the launch of Twitter's Engage app for celebrities. Both solutions have much in common with products Facebook has released.

While it still faces some big problems with regards to user growth, ad sales execution, and talent loss, Twitter is clearly getting more proactive under Jack Dorsey's leadership about addressing user needs and complaints.

Line sets its IPO price range, aims for a relatively high valuation

Two weeks after filing for listings in New York and Tokyo, Asian mobile messaging firm Line has set a price range of 2,700 to 3,200 yen ($26.30 to $31.17). That spells a valuation of up to $6.57 billion, and IPO proceeds of up to $1.26 billion.

The Wall Street Journal previously suggested Line's offering could be valued above $5 billion. Twilio's (TWLO)  blistering debut last week might also be giving Line confidence to seek a higher valuation.

At $6.57 billion, Line would trade at 6.1x 2015 revenue of $1.07 billion -- a high multiple, but not a mind-boggling one.

There have been concerns that slowing user growth will depress Line's valuation; monthly active users rose by only 6% annually in the first quarter to 218 million, as Tencent's WeChat and Facebook's WhatsApp and Messenger remained dominant outside of Line's core markets of Japan, Thailand, Indonesia and Taiwan.

Working in Line's favor as it courts investors: Sales growth is outpacing user growth, as the company aggressively monetizes its apps via ads, stickers, games and e-commerce services. Revenue rose 19% annually on a yen basis in the first quarter to $298 million.

Line's financial success could act as a blueprint for Facebook as it begins monetizing Messenger.

Alphabet's Sidewalk Labs unit reportedly wants to offer services to "fix" U.S. public transit

Compared with Google Fiber, the self-driving car team, and other Alphabet  (GOOGL) units working on "moonshot" projects, Sidewalk Labs doesn't get much attention. But its goal -- to use digital technologies to reimagine how modern cities function -- is arguably just as ambitious as that of any other project getting funding from the Google parent.

Citing e-mails and documents obtained via public records laws, The Guardian reports Sidewalk has floated proposals to "radically overhaul public parking and transportation in American cities" to city officials.

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One of the proposals involves using Sidewalk's Flow transport coordination software to -- with the help of Street View and crowdsourced driver data -- direct users to open parking spots. Another involves allowing retailers and office buildings to temporarily provide access to parking spots for a fee.

There's also one that calls for integrating "information and payment for almost every form of transport into Google Maps," and then having Flow estimate the travel price and duration for using anything from buses to bike-shares to Uber rides.

The Guardian's report follows one from The Information stating Sidewalk wants to "create an area in the U.S. that serves as a testbed for new technologies from superfast Internet to autonomous cars."

These projects, of course, require extensive support from both city governments and various local service providers, not to mention the residents they'll affect. But no one accused Alphabet of thinking small when it comes to its moonshots.

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