Day: July 27, 2021

Simone Biles redefined GOAT. It’s a win for us all.

Simone Biles claps during the Olympics' women's team final at Ariake Gymnastics Centre on July 27, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan.

To be the greatest of all time is to wield power. And Simone Biles wielded hers wisely and with grace on Tuesday.

The gold medalist and record-breaker showed us all how the GOAT should act when she withdrew from the artistic gymnastics women’s team final to care for her mental health. Her teammates in turn gave the world a master class in how to support a struggling colleague, even when their ailment is invisible.

Biles cheered from the sidelines as Team USA continued on, winning silver. When she explained to her teammates that she was stepping aside, she says they freaked out, but she encouraged them to “kick some butt, just like we’ve done in training. And just lay it out on the floor,” she told Hoda Kotb of Today. Bars wizard Sunisa Lee responded with a rallying cry: “We can go out there and show the world what we came here to do.” Later, Lee, 18, said the competition was the most pressure she’d ever felt in her life.

Simone Biles cheers on her teammates at the Ariake Gymnastics Centre on July 27, 2021 at the Tokyo Olympics.

Simone Biles cheers on her teammates at the Ariake Gymnastics Centre on July 27, 2021 at the Tokyo Olympics.
Credit: Iris van den Broek / Getty Images

While Lee and the others, including Jordan Chiles, who filled in for Biles on short notice, conquered the challenge ahead, Biles hollered, clapped, and delivered chalk to coat her teammates’ hands for a better grip. Being the GOAT means delivering the gold, but also pumping up your team, even if you can’t compete.

Even before the Olympics began, Biles carried the heavy burden of expectation. She stunned at the Rio Olympics in 2016, and in the years since the 24-year-old has become an internet icon, publicly speaking out about being a survivor of sexual assault and supporting Black Lives Matter. She chose to defy those who put her on an untouchable pedestal for the good of her team. If she had carried on, she told reporters she was worried she’d hurt herself, and Team USA’s chances of medaling. Taking charge of her own self care was a selfless act.


“I have to put my pride aside. I have to do it for the team.”

“It’s like fighting all those demons and coming out here. I have to put my pride aside. I have to do it for the team,” Biles said after the competition, according to Reuters.

She added, “It just sucks when you are fighting with your own head. You want to do it for yourself but you’re just too worried about what everybody else is going to say, think, the internet,” said Biles, who’s battled online trolls for years.

Biles said in a press conference she was inspired by Naomi Osaka, the champion tennis player who dropped out of the French Open due to mental health concerns. Osaka would go on to light the Olympic torch last week and compete in the Games. Before that, though, Osaka made an important point in an essay in Time: Don’t shame people for taking a mental health break.

Biles’ teammates didn’t, even if some on social media still wrongly chastised her decision.

“You will forever be loved. We can’t thank you enough,” Chiles, 20, commented on an Instagram post from Biles exclaiming how proud and thankful she was of her team. Biles was an inspiration, Chiles said. Sharing kind comments on social media with someone taking a mental health break is exactly the right thing to do, as is trying to reframe negative reactions you may have by considering that you don’t know someone’s whole story, mental health professionals told Mashable after Osaka shared more of her experiences.

At a press conference, Biles said there were many factors that led to her decision.

“It’s been really stressful this Olympic Games. I think just as a whole, not having an audience, there are a lot of different variables going into it. It’s been a long week. It’s been a long Olympic process. It’s been a long year,” she said. “I think we’re just a little bit too stressed out, but we should be out here having fun and sometimes that’s not the case.”

The Tokyo Olympics were postponed last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, but went forward this month as the world continued to combat a fast-spreading, deadly virus. The majority of Japanese citizens didn’t want the Olympics to take place, but the government and Olympic officials carried on. As the country declared a state of emergency due to a COVID surge in early July, spectators were banned from the Olympic Games.

On top of the COVID cloud surrounding the Games, Biles was the only assault survivor of Larry Nassar who came out publicly to compete in Tokyo. A judge sentenced the former USA Gymnastics national team doctor in 2018 to 175 years in prison on criminal sexual conduct and federal child pornography charges. More than 150 women, including Biles and other gymnasts, have opened up about his abuse. Biles did so in a tweet shortly before Nassar was sentenced, affixing the hashtag #MeToo.

Biles has said she was depressed after talking about her trauma. Once a self-described “happy, giggly, energetic” girl, she felt broken. She went to therapy, and championed mental health treatment.

She made a point to say that when she went to Tokyo, she wouldn’t be representing USA Gymnastics as an organization. Instead, she told the New York Times, she’d be representing the country and women of color.

“I’m going to go out there and represent the U.S.A., represent World Champions Centre, and represent Black and brown girls over the world,” she told the newspaper. After withdrawing from the event, she told reporters she wanted to focus on her wellbeing and that “there’s more to life than just gymnastics.”

Biles made the decision to step aside for mental health reasons, not her coaches. She was using her power to do what was best for her team, for herself, and possibly for others who don’t yet feel strong enough to put their mental health first. Strength can be shown on the sidelines, as much as on the mat, the vault, or the bars. Osaka was her inspiration. Biles may be that for someone else, just as she’s inspired Black girls to participate in a historically white sport.

There are two more events that Biles is eligible to compete in — if she can — later this week. But whether she does or not, she’s already won.

And so has Team USA.

Cassie the bipedal robot runs a 5K

You may well recognize Cassie as the basis of Agility Robotics’ delivery bot, Digit. If you’ve been following the tech’s progression at all, however, you no doubt know that it started life as the ostrich-inspired Cassie. The robot is all legs and not much else.

In addition to fueling Agility’s commercial ambitions, the robot has proven a solid platform for exploring bipedal location. Announced by Oregon State University professor Jonathan Hunt in 2017, Cassie was created with the aim of a $1 million grant from the DoD — a pretty familiar story in the robotics world.

Today, a team from the Dynamics Robotics Laboratory in OSU’s College of Engineering highlighted the ways they’re continuing to push Cassie to its bipedal limits. The team says the robot was able to run a 5K untethered, on a single charge. Cassie’s not going to beat any human world records anytime soon, but the 53-minute (and three second) run was still an impressive exhibition for the tech.

The robot’s run time included around 6.5 minutes of troubleshooting, as the team dealt with an overheated computer and a botched turn that knocked it off its legs.

“Cassie is a very efficient robot because of how it has been designed and built, and we were really able to reach the limits of the hardware and show what it can do,” Ph.D. student Jeremy Dao said in a statement.

According to the team, Cassie essentially taught itself to run using a deep reinforcement learning algorithm, which allowed the system to figure out how to stay upright by shifting its balance while running.

“Deep reinforcement learning is a powerful method in AI that opens up skills like running, skipping and walking up and down stairs,” undergrad student Yesh Godse adds.

In May of this year, the OSU team also demonstrated how Cassie can walk up and down stairs without the aid of lidar or on-board cameras.

iPhone sales fuel Apple’s Wall Street-beating Q3

Another excellent quarter for Apple, as the company posted $81.4 billion in revenue. That’s a 36% year-over-year jump for the company, besting Wall Street estimates of $73.3 billion by a considerable margin.

“Our record June quarter operating performance included new revenue records in each of our geographic segments, double-digit growth in each of our product categories, and a new all-time high for our installed base of active devices,” CFO Luca Maestri said in a release. “We generated $21 billion of operating cash flow, returned nearly $29 billion to our shareholders during the quarter, and continued to make significant investments across our business to support our long-term growth plans.”

Some strong figures for the company all around here, but it was iPhone sales and subscription services that continued to lead the way — a familiar story for anyone who’s followed the company the last several quarters.

iPhone sales increased from $26 billion to $39.5 billion, on the continued strength of the company’s long-waited push into linewide 5G, while services rose from $13.1 billion to $17.5 billion for the quarter. Apple has continued to grow its services offerings, which now includes Music, TV+, iCloud, Arcade, News+ and Fitness+. The company clearly sees the subscription portfolio as the future of its revenue model.

Greater China proved a strong market for the company in the third fiscal quarter. The company posted $14.76 billion in sales for the region, a more than 50% increase over the same time last year. The Americas region, meanwhile, rose from $ 27 billion to $35.89.

In the earnings report, CEO Tim Cook made reference to pandemic-related issues, which highlighting broader societal focuses for the company.

“This quarter, our teams built on a period of unmatched innovation by sharing powerful new products with our users, at a time when using technology to connect people everywhere has never been more important,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “We’re continuing to press forward in our work to infuse everything we make with the values that define us — by inspiring a new generation of developers to learn to code, moving closer to our 2030 environment goal, and engaging in the urgent work of building a more equitable future.

The company once again declined to offer guidance, owing to uncertainties during the pandemic. On a followup call with investors, however, Maestri noted, “We expect revenue growth to be lower than our June Quarter.” The CFO cited various issues including foreign exchange rates with the U.S. dollar, a slow down in the growth rate of services and continued supply chain issues for its hardware offerings.

 

Activision Blizzard workers will stage a walkout after ‘abhorrent’ response to harassment suit

One of the world’s biggest video game companies is reeling after a state discrimination and sexual harassment suit kicked off a firestorm of controversy within the company. California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing sued Activision Blizzard last week, alleging that the company fostered a “breeding ground for harassment and discrimination against women.”

Following a combative response to the lawsuit from corporate leadership, a group of employees at Blizzard will stage a walkout, which is planned for Wednesday at 10 a.m. PDT. Most employees at Blizzard continue to work remotely, but walkout participants will gather tomorrow at the gates to the company’s Irvine campus.

“Given last week’s statements from Activision Blizzard, Inc. and their legal counsel regarding the DFEH lawsuit, as well as the subsequent internal statement from Frances Townsend, and the many stories shared by current and former employees of Activision Blizzard since, we believe that our values as employees are not being accurately reflected in the words and actions of our leadership,” the organizers wrote.

In the new statement, they called for supporters to donate to organizations including Black Girls Code, the anti-sexual-violence organization RAINN and Girls Who Code.

Activision Blizzard publishes some of the biggest titles in gaming, including the Call of Duty franchise, World of Warcraft, Starcraft and Overwatch. Blizzard came under Activision’s wing through a 2008 merger and the subsidiary operates out of its own Irvine, California headquarters.

In the suit, the state agency describes a “frat house” atmosphere in which women are not only not afforded the same opportunities as their male counterparts, but are routinely and openly harassed, sometimes by their superiors.

The company pushed back last week in a fiery statement, blaming “unaccountable state bureaucrats that are driving many of the state’s best businesses out of California” for pursuing the lawsuit. Activision Blizzard Executive Vice President Frances Townsend, former Homeland Security adviser to George W. Bush, echoed that aggressive messaging in an internal memo, slamming the lawsuit as a “distorted and untrue picture of our company.”

In an open letter published Monday, the walkout’s organizers condemned Blizzard’s response to the lawsuit’s allegations. “We believe these statements have damaged our ongoing quest for equality inside and outside of our industry,” they wrote. “ … These statements make it clear that our leadership is not putting our values first.”

More than 2,600 employees signed the letter, which demands an end to mandatory arbitration clauses that “protect abusers and limit the ability of victims to seek restitution,” improved representation and opportunities for women and nonbinary employees, salary transparency and a full audit of diversity, equity and inclusion at the company.

On Twitter, streamers, gamers, game devs and former employees expressed support for Wednesday’s walkout under the hashtag #ActiBlizzWalkout, with some calling for a blackout on Activision Blizzard games as a show of solidarity. Others called for streamers to use the walkout time slot to raise awareness about rampant sexual harassment and discrimination in gaming culture at large.

One Blizzard employee shared a photo of the company’s iconic statue depicting an axe-wielding orc, a central feature of its Irvine headquarters. Three plaques displaying corporate values that surround the statue had been covered with paper: “Lead responsibly,” “play nice, play fair,” and “every voice matters.”

Slack is appalling Olympics viewers with an excruciating ad on repeat

Now Slack is intruding into my Olympics leisure time, too?

Whether you’re watching on the NBC app or on cable, there are only so many commercials that play during the Olympics. Most of them feature athletes whose stories of overcoming adversity and achieving greatness get somehow loosely associated with, like, an airline. A consequence of being invested in the Olympics means you see these commercials over and over and over again. And then one more time.

It’s mostly fine, though. I’ll watch American swimmer/nice guy/hottie Ryan Murphy talk about his migraines all day. ALL. DAY. But there is one commercial of the Tokyo Olympics that I cannot abide. And it ends not with a bang, but a knock brush.

Tweet may have been deleted

Quite simply, how dare they.

I’m talking about Slack, and the company’s ad, titled “Work in Progress.” It’s a cheery, 30-second spot about the future of work that contains the extremely lucid line “the future is forward movement from the now” and proclaims that the pandemic has been pretty much Great for Work.

By my calculations, it plays approximately 37,000 times per broadcast segment and it’s been sending me screaming from the room to do literally anything else but hear the offensive ad yet again.

Why? It both begins and ends with Slack’s signature sound, the “knock brush.” This is the sound that Slack’s 12 million daily active users hear by default when we receive a message within the work productivity app from our colleagues or bosses or HR reps or whoever else we’d rather not hear from while enjoying sports on our own time.

The Slack CEO has described the sound as one that delivers a “pavlovian response.” He’s right: Notification sounds have the ability to jog our brains to a specific moment or mindset. So hearing the Slack notification immediately triggers that jolt that something at work needs your attention. Just what everyone wants during Olympics-viewing leisure hours!

I’m not the only knowledge worker who’s been affronted by the Slack sound in the ad. Many of us saw the use of the knock brush as exactly what it is: An attack.

Tweet may have been deleted

Tweet may have been deleted

Tweet may have been deleted

Subjecting Olympics viewers to the knock brush is reason enough to loathe this ad. But the inclusion of the sound is an ironic part of what makes the actual meat of it so annoying.

The Slack ad describes the future of work as “a future that works for all of us.” I suppose that means a remote working culture where you stay in touch via Slack. Some workers value that the pandemic has made flexible work arrangements more commonplace. The flipside is that work has reached its tentacles even further into the home, and is always just a knock-brush away from asking: Could you be working right now?

I think working from home is great. But I also think that participating in Slack is chaotic. The need to be performatively present in Slack saps my energy, like a memory-hogging application running in the background of my brain at all times. In other words, just because you like remote work does not mean you stan Slack.

I am *this* close to having Slack’s ad fully memorized, which is almost as intrusive as the space in my brain that Slack actually occupies. The only thing that makes the repetition of Olympics ads bearable is the ability to gaze upon the peak of human potential (shilling for a brand is fine; get paid Ryan!!!).

Slack said “nah” and decided to go with a quirky monologue reminding viewers that they live to work, and that’s a future to get excited about. Slack, it’s 9 p.m. on a Tuesday. Can I just watch some competitive table tennis, please?

Apple tweaks controversial iOS 15 Safari changes in latest beta

Apple is responding to user complaints and feedback about the controversial changes to the Safari mobile browser with today’s launch of iOS 15 and iPadOS 15 beta 4. The new Safari design first introduced at WWDC had moved the tab bar (URL bar) to the bottom of the screen — a fairly radical change for one of the iPhone’s most-used apps. It was meant to make the controls easier to reach, if using a phone with one hand. But critics said that the change made other often-used features — like the reload button or Reader Mode — harder to find and use, impacting the overall usability of the mobile browser itself.

To Apple’s credit, it’s clearly been listening to the feedback.

In the pre-iOS 15 design, the tab bar sits in its traditional spot at the top of the screen, with an easy-to-access Reader Mode button (the double A’s) on the left and the reload button on the right. At the bottom, you’d find the forward and back buttons, a share button, reading list and tabs buttons.

The iOS 15 design did away with all these useful access points to commonly used features, favoring the reachability of the tab bar over everything else. Instead, it used a three-dot “more” menu to hide everything else that you may want to do when browsing the web — like reload the website, share a link, view the page in Reader Mode, save an article to read later, and and so on. The list of actions that could be taken grew to over 20 items long, as a result.

On Apple pundit John Gruber’s The Talk Show podcast, he noted the new design wasn’t even popular inside Apple in the weeks leading up to the Safari announcement at WWDC. The internal sentiment among some was that the new design may look cool, but wasn’t all that usable, he claimed.

TechCrunch’s Editor-in-Chief Matthew Panzarino, who had joined as a guest on the July 21 episode, agreed that in theory, the idea of having less on the screen was a good idea. But in practice, it just didn’t work.

“When you actually use it, you realize that it actually clutters the screen more and makes it a little more confusing,” he said. “And it doesn’t give you much more screen real estate unless you take action — like scrolling — which makes it kind of weird.”

With the beta 4 update, Apple is trying to fix some of the issues that arose from this change in its new betas.

For starters, it has re-added a Share button to the tab bar, and put additional controls under that menu. Sharing links it probably one of the most-common tasks for web users, so it makes sense to put the button back in a place where it only takes one tap to use.

The Refresh button is now permanently showing in the iOS 15 Safari address bar #iOS15DevBeta4 pic.twitter.com/v8AoRB68QI

— Apple Software Updates (@AppleSWUpdates) July 27, 2021

There’s also once again a reload button in the tab bar next to the domain name, though it’s a bit smaller compared with prior versions.

Meanwhile, a Reader Mode button will appear in the tab bar when Reader is available, and it can be accessed with just one tap.

The tab bar will also now minimize when you’re interacting with buttons on websites. Before, it had gotten in the way, causing usability issues where website buttons remained unreachable.

Just another day being unable to order takeout because iOS 15 Safari’s bottom bar makes this checkout button untappable.

thanks Safari for not letting me have that bruschetta 😢pic.twitter.com/e23YTYzGM6

— Federico Viticci (@viticci) July 22, 2021

iPadOS 15 users will be able to choose between the separate tab bar design, which is the default, or the Compact tab bar, Apple noted.

Apple isn’t the first to try to rethink the mobile browser design in this way.

A former Google Chrome design manager, Chris Lee, recently wrote about his work on a similar redesign for the Chrome mobile browser with a bottom URL bar that Google ultimately decided never to launch. He said the changes had also received mixed reactions at the time. The new design had gained a cult following in the tech community but mainstream users found the changes “disorienting,” he explained.

There is something to be said for the muscle memory with using an app that’s launched as frequently as Safari is. Although you may like the placement of the bar (I initially did!), over time, you may find that the changes made it more difficult when you wanted to do more than simply visit a website or swipe between tabs. And there’s a learning curve when it comes to remembering not to reach for the top of the screen for the shortcuts to various actions, too.

The Safari update is one of several tweaks arriving with the new beta releases, which also include a way to share focus status with select contacts, a new XL widget size (which Apple Podcasts on iPad is using), and other, smaller updates.

The shine of Nintendo’s new Zelda remake for Switch is dulled by awkward controls

Even the exact same locations are better in

It’s very weird to review a remake. Most of what could be said about a remade game has already been said years ago, and the time that has passed since the original game’s release can have a massive impact on how the game is received in its second wind. For example: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD is a high definition remaster of a 2011 Wii game about which much has been said, debated, and lamented, but in the 10 years since its release the Zelda franchise produced one of the most successful console video games of all time.

Though it is unfair to compare The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild with its upgraded predecessor, there is enough connective tissue between both games to make the comparison automatic in a way that only enhances the weirdness of reviewing it at all. Should Skyward Sword HD‘s faulty stamina wheel, annoyingly breakable shields, and limited potion system be judged on their own merits? Or does the experience of playing Skyward Sword HD suffer as a whole because players know how much better things got in Breath of the Wild?

And then there’s the lurking question — does Skyward Sword HD even need the comparison to Breath of the Wild to be kind of a disappointment?

It's dangerous to go alone! Take — wait.

It’s dangerous to go alone! Take — wait.”
Credit: Nintendo

To start with the good news, Skyward Sword HD looks great. There’s a new clarity of image that makes the dreamy color scheme pop instead of fading into fogginess, and as a whole the game looks about as sharp as any contemporary with a similar cartoonish style is going to get. However, when it comes to updating a game as initially controversial as the original Skyward Sword, a visual upgrade alone was never going to cut it.


Does Skyward Sword HD even need the comparison to Breath of the Wild to be kind of a disappointment?

When Skyward Sword came out in 2011, Nintendo staked its baseline playability on the Wii’s motion controls. Those controls were unreliable, frustrating, and unavoidable, and any given player’s enjoyment of the title stemmed from whether or not they could find a way to look past using wobbly Wiimotes that required near-constant recentering. The Nintendo Switch’s Joy-Cons have more sophisticated hardware and are technologically superior to the Wiimotes… but they still suck to play Skyward Sword with.

Anyone who had high hopes that the hardware element of Skyward Sword HD on the Switch would fix any of the problems with the motion controls should abandon those hopes now, because the controls remain hopeless. Even though some of the combat moves are satisfyingly intuitive, what with the directional slashing and poking, much of the game requires a finesse that lies beyond the capabilities of the Joy-Cons. Whether it’s constantly holding your arm out and tapping Y to find out what the game interprets as the “center” of your screen or requiring you to sloooowly rotate a Joy-Con to find out exactly which angle will produce the pose for a Skyward Strike, the experience of using the motion controls is too finicky to be any fun.

It's very hard to hack this guy's feet off with motion controls. And you have to do it a lot.

It’s very hard to hack this guy’s feet off with motion controls. And you have to do it a lot.
Credit: Nintendo

Thankfully, Skyward Sword HD gives Switch and Switch Lite users the opportunity to play this adventure as it’s never been played before: on handheld like an actual video game. Handheld mode is more enjoyable by an order of magnitude and will likely be most new players’ method of choice, but it’s also not a perfect solution for a number of reasons.


Handheld mode will likely be most new players’ method of choice, but it’s also not a perfect solution.

While porting Skyward Sword to handheld is a net gain for the game’s playability, there’s a huge lack of coordination between playing in handheld mode and using the motion controls. For example, I played the first five hours with the motion controls before giving up on them, and from there did almost everything in handheld mode — almost being the operative word.

With the exception of a replayable basic combat tutorial, Skyward Sword HD doesn’t have a mechanic to re-teach players how to navigate when they switch methods of play. This resulted in me realizing I had no idea how to dive and roll on handheld, so in order to perform that move I had to remove my joy-cons, wiggle the left one around to roll, and reattach them to continue playing every time Link had to bowl his own body into a tree.

There are also experiences ranging from spinning underwater to entire boss fights that were clearly designed for motion controls and don’t work as well (or at all) in handheld. Crucial moves like tricking enemies with sword feints and whipping the arms off a giant mechanical homunculus while strafing require a range of wrist movement that’s difficult to replicate with thumbsticks. The overall result is a game that works about 60 percent fine as a motion control title and 85 percent fine as a handheld title, with bizarre and frustrating gaps between those experiences.

Um.

Um.
Credit: Nintendo

In those 60 or 85 percent of moments where the gameplay is going smoothly, Skyward Sword‘s clever puzzle design and wacky story absolutely shine. Sure, this is a Zelda game where flying around on terrifying Lisa Frank pelicans is a core gameplay mechanic and there are three entire boss fights where the point is to hack off a scaly potato kaiju’s ickle toes, but that humor and unpredictability is what makes the fun parts fun.

Skyward Sword‘s puzzles are just noodly enough to make players feel smart when they solve them, and some of their elements, including localized time travel, are so cool they really ought to reappear in a later Zelda title. The level designs are smart and repeatable, and half the joy of getting a new item comes from knowing you can use it to go back to a previous area and unlock something new. The characters are funny and charming, with the exception of one uncomfortably svelte villain whose menace trends way too close to horny. And the plot is…super weird, to be honest, but its thematic implications for the rest of the Zelda games is cool to think about.

The most frustrating thing about The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD remake is that it really does have its merits, just like the original version. It’s unfortunate that the remake didn’t go farther with its quality of life improvements and actually improve the experience of playing the game with motion controls or otherwise. And that is the weirdest thing about reviewing this particular remake. It’s almost impossible to see what’s actually changed.

Same-day delivery apps need more than speed to survive post-pandemic

Cary Breese
Contributor

Cary Breese is the CEO and co-founder of NowRx, a digital retail pharmacy.

We have entered a whole new era of e-commerce centered on speed and convenience. Business leaders are being forced to prioritize delivery capabilities and push for more accelerated delivery services.

“Fast/reliable delivery” was the most important online shopping attribute among the more than 8,500 consumers queried for PwC’s June 2021 Global Consumer Insights Pulse Survey, making it clear that delivery services will only become more crucial across the e-commerce landscape.

Now that consumers have grown accustomed to same-day (and same-hour) delivery service models, customer expectations for delivery options will only increase.

In fact, according to a recent report from the mobile app intelligence platform SensorTower, the top food delivery apps saw continued growth in January and February 2021, with installs up 14% year over year. And yet, despite climbing user growth, DoorDash, Uber Eats and GrubHub remain unprofitable. So how can business leaders design rapid delivery models that meet consumer expectations — and still make money?

If your delivery service results in a poor customer experience, you’ll be less likely to win customer loyalty just because you offer faster delivery.

The challenge: Delivery apps need more than speed to drive profitability

To remain competitive, delivery apps are rethinking their services and broadening their offerings.

“Amazon powers next-day delivery,” Raj Beri, Uber’s global head of grocery and new verticals, said in May. “We’re going to power next-hour commerce.”

But speeding up the delivery process won’t necessarily drive revenue. More importantly, if your delivery service results in a poor customer experience, you’ll be less likely to win customer loyalty just because you offer faster delivery.

The primary challenge faced by delivery apps, or any e-commerce company looking to add delivery services as part of its offerings, is building a foundation that enables not only speed and convenience for the customer, but one that takes into account all aspects of the customer experience. For example, when delivering food, the business responsible for the delivery must make sure the food is handled safely and remain free of any contaminants. The temperature — whether hot or cold — must be maintained throughout the delivery process and the order itself must be correct.

The solution: Same-day delivery relies on sophisticated technology platforms

The “Uberization” of everything, combined with dramatically elevated consumer expectations, will take much more than a delivery app and fleet of drivers for businesses to be profitable. To follow through on the promise of same-day delivery services, a number of things need to happen without any missteps between when an order is placed and when it shows up at the customer’s door. The more complex the product being delivered, the more difficult the delivery process becomes.

To enable same-day delivery services while also reaching profitability, a delivery app must take into account the technology needed to meet customer expectations. It involves much more than simply designing an app and growing user numbers. A truly successful same-day delivery model that provides an exceptional customer experience relies on a sophisticated software platform that can simultaneously manage various aspects of the customer journey, all while making it appear seamless from the customer’s point of view.

Profitable delivery services are built on automated systems powered by artificial intelligence systems and robotics. The technology must come first, before the app and before user growth. Any other delivery business model is putting the cart before the horse.

Domino’s Pizza is a brand that has perfected the delivery process and vastly improved the overall customer experience by making technology core to their business model. The key moment came when the brand defined itself as an e-commerce company that sells pizza. It committed to data applications and implemented a robotics technology platform that enabled electronic delivery systems that added speed and efficiency to the delivery process. In April, Domino’s began rolling out a robot car delivery service to select customers in Houston via Nuro.

GrubHub is also taking steps to integrate robotic capabilities into its delivery process. According to recent reports, the company announced it would be adding self-driving units that deploy drone-like robots to deliver food to college students. The program, which will roll out on a limited number of U.S. college campuses this fall, aims to reduce delivery times and, hopefully, costs.

This focus on technology is crucial in the world of delivery apps, or for any businesses forced to compete in the newly emerging category of next-hour commerce. The key to building a successful, profitable business model is to invest in technology platforms that can connect all components of the customer journey, from opening an app and clicking on a product to purchasing the product and scheduling the delivery, and beyond.

Same-day delivery: Where to go from here

In a world where everyone wants to open an app on their phone and have whatever it is they need to be delivered within an hour, it’s tempting for business leaders to focus on the delivery app itself, whether they are building their own or partnering with another company. But focusing on the app is a shortsighted view of same-day delivery models.

Instead, business leaders must use a wide-angle lens and consider every single aspect of their customer journey: How do customers engage with their business? How do customers search for and find the products they offer? What does it take to complete an order and what conditions must be met before the order can be delivered? Also, what happens after the order to ensure it went smoothly and to the customer’s satisfaction?

Some businesses are finding success partnering with delivery apps, but this comes with the risk of putting your brand’s reputation in the hands of another company that acts as a frontline employee with customers. Other companies are adding delivery service options to their current e-commerce model, relying on third-party software that can be plugged into an existing technology stack. Unfortunately, this comes with limitations and is not viable for regulated businesses that include multiple components.

The only way to ensure a seamless customer experience on top of same-day delivery services is to build a proprietary software platform that puts the technology at the heart of your business, which allows you to automate key processes, adding speed and convenience to your delivery model. It also makes it possible to integrate robotic systems that can expedite orders, include artificial intelligence protocols that can accelerate business growth, and scale your delivery model as your business expands.

Thriving in the new era of e-commerce

“Next-hour delivery” is a catchy tagline that is sure to gain traction among consumers, but whether it will help drive profitability remains to be seen. As the CEO of a firm that has built a profitable business model centered on same-day delivery services, I’m skeptical that the promise of next-hour delivery will drive more revenue if the technology powering the delivery systems lacks automation, artificial intelligence and robotics.

It’s true that businesses will be forced to compete on same-day delivery. But another truth that has emerged since the pandemic is that this new era of e-commerce comes with heightened customer expectations that won’t be met on speed alone. Consumer satisfaction hinges on more than the amount of time it takes to move an order from an app to the customer’s door.

To succeed in the delivery service market, business leaders must ask themselves a number of questions: Which parts of their business are needed to complete a same-day delivery order? Is the ordering process intuitive? Can the order and delivery be monitored by the customer? Is the order correct when it arrives? Does it meet the customer’s expectations?

And, most importantly, is their business built on a technology platform that can support the entire customer journey and delivery model, from product discovery and purchase to same-day delivery and beyond? The businesses that answer yes to these questions are the ones I expect to thrive in the post-pandemic world.

Need a laptop that won’t break the bank? Here are the best options for under $300.

A new laptop is always a big investment, one that you’ll likely need to make every few years to keep up with ever-changing technology. You might even put it off after an initial browse when you start to see how pricey a new laptop can get, and the sheer volume of how many options are out there.

But you don’t always need to break the bank to get a suitable laptop. You’ll still have a huge range of products to choose from if you’re only looking to spend a few hundred bucks. And if you just need another device to check email on, browse YouTube, or pull up recipes, maybe a budget laptop is all you need.

Cheaper laptops may not have all the features of top-of-the-line computers, but you can still get reliability and the basic features that you’ll be using every day.

Each individual will find different specs to be their priority. Depending on what kinds of tasks you’re hoping to accomplish with your new laptop, maybe a larger screen display is what you’re looking for. Perhaps if you’re the kind of worker who enjoys taking your laptop to the corner cafe, battery life is super important. Maybe you’re looking for a place to store all your photos and documents, in which case, more storage space is what you’ll have in mind. A commuter may value a lighter laptop over a heavier machine, for ease of transport. It’s all up to the individual, and just because you’re looking at a lower price point doesn’t mean you don’t have all of these options available.

What size laptop should you get?

This really comes down to two things: Personal preference and lifestyle. Personal preference is self-explanatory, really — do you like having a huge display, or do you prefer something more compact? Lifestyle is where practicality comes into play. If you’re traveling often and usually have your computer on your back in some way, you’re going to want to go with something more light and compact (thin, 11-inch models will most likely be the best). But, if you’re a huge movie buff who doesn’t normally take their laptop on the road with them, spring for a 15-inch (and higher) screen with a bulky construction so you can have sweet Netflix and chill sessions. If you’re getting a gaming laptop, you should probably “go big or go home,” as well.  

What am I losing by getting a cheap laptop?

Laptops in the $300-or-below price range are not going to be good for PC gaming. You won’t get a 4K resolution display or a refresh rate higher than 60Hz. RAM is going to max out around 8GB, which isn’t bad but also isn’t spectacular. You’re also unlikely to get more than 500GB of storage space.

In this price range, laptops are going to be best for web browsing, word processing, Zoom calls, and streaming. As long as you don’t expect more than that, you’ll be fine.

But are cheap laptops worth it?

You know the old saying: You get what you pay for. But thanks to the technology boom of the last few decades, a cheap laptop can actually take you pretty far and won’t break down immediately. It’s all about knowing which one to select.

Rather than just making a few purchase suggestions and sending you on your way, we’re going to equip you with some knowledge that’ll help you be a more informed laptop shopper. You know all that computer jargon of processor-this and gigahertz-that — we’ll explain it all in terms that anyone can understand.

Whether you’re looking for a machine for school, work, or fun, you can find a laptop that can handle the basics for less than $300. It may sound impossible in today’s world, and that’s why we’ve listed our favorites for you below. Here are our favorite models at that price point.

Shopify allows merchants to sell NFTs directly through their storefronts

Shopify has made it possible for eligible sellers to sell NFTs (non-fungible tokens) via its platform, which opens up a whole new world for e-commerce merchants.

On Monday, the NBA’s Chicago Bulls launched its first-ever NFTs –– including digital artwork of NBA championship rings –– by launching an online store on Shopify. Instead of having to go to an NFT marketplace, Bulls fans can now purchase the digital art directly with the team’s online store using a credit or debit card. In its first day of making them available, the NBA team sold out of the NFTs within just 90 seconds, according to Kaz Nejatian, Shopify’s VP of merchant services.

“You could buy NFTs on credit cards before, but honestly the NFT buying experience outside Shopify isn’t awesome for anyone right now,” he told TechCrunch “That’s why we decided to do this work. Merchants and buyers shouldn’t have to take a course in crypto to buy things they care about.”

It’s also about giving consumers more options to buy NFTs – especially those who are not well-versed in cryptocurrency.

By making it possible for merchants to sell NFTs directly through their Shopify storefronts, the company says it’s creating access for merchants who want to sell NFTs. They will eventually be able to choose which blockchain they’d like to sell on based on their products and customer base since Shopify supports multiple blockchains, Nejatian said.

“By contrast, if merchants want to sell on an NFT marketplace, they need to choose based on the blockchain supported by that marketplace,” he added.

The Chicago Bulls selected the Flow blockchain for their NFTs, for example. But overall, Shopify merchants can today choose from Flow and Ethereum, but soon “will have more choice with other blockchains on Shopify,” according to Nejatian.

The move was also driven by demand from merchants asking for the ability to sell NFTs and the desire to give creators and artists another forum to grow professionally.

“Many creators are already seeing the value of selling NFTs to their fans, but we’re removing some of the friction for themselves and their buyers, allowing them to better monetize their work and their connection to their audience,” he added. “We’re opening up a world where their fans feel meaningful connection to their brands, and where NFTs just increasingly become part of how we buy and sell online.”

Obsessed with yoga and pilates? Glo app brings it to your phone

There’s nothing quite like attending a yoga class at a studio or gym, but who really has the time and flexibility to attend class on a regular basis?

Don’t get me wrong — I’m a big fan of taking classes in person. It’s just that I find the Glo app to be so much more convenient. And the more convenient something is, the more likely I’m going to stick with it.

With Glo, I don’t have to arrive at class at a certain time. I don’t have to plan ahead to commute or get there early to get a good spot. I’m not limited by the style, focus, intensity, level, or time commitment of the class.

I can completely customize my yoga experience, yet feel as if I’m taking a class at a studio. All I need is my mat and my phone.

You can pick a class that’s as short as five minutes, or as long as an hour and a half. Whatever time you have, and whatever your focus may be, you’re almost guaranteed to find the perfect class for it on Glo.

Glo’s filtering options make it easy to find a class for exactly what I want

What I love most about Glo is just how easy it is to find the right class for me at any given time, thanks to all of its amazing filters. Just hit Search in the bottom menu and choose the class type at the top: Yoga, Pilates, Meditation, or Fitness.

Filtering by levels and time.

Filtering by levels and time.
Credit: ELISE MOREAU

More in depth filters are super helpful if you're not sure where to start.

More in depth filters are super helpful if you’re not sure where to start.
Credit: ELISE MOREAU

There are four primary filters below this, which let you sort by class, duration, level, intensity, and style. If you swipe right on those filters to scroll horizontally, you’ll be able to tap More Filters, which opens up all sorts of other ways for you to filter through classes.

I definitely have a few favorite teachers, so I love being able to filter classes led by Kathryn Budig or Jason Crandell. Sometimes I know that I want a super low-intensity class, so I’ll use tap Focus to filter by Calm or Stretch + Release. And when I’m looking to target a certain area of my body, I’ll use the Body Part filter to see what’s available under the Thighs, Glutes, or Lower Body tags.


I’ve been a loyal subscriber to Glo for almost five years now, with no plans of ending my subscription.

You can apply multiple filters at once so you can narrow down through classes even further, which is super helpful and a huge time saver. I find that using the filters is the single best way to find the perfect class for how I’m feeling or what I’m interested in doing at any given time.

Live classes with Glo

Besides offering thousands of classes led by world-class teachers that you can push play on any time you want, another feature that makes Glo stand out from other apps is its live classes. This feature was launched last summer, a few months into the pandemic, and I’ve noticed that Glo has been working hard to make it a main component of its class offering.

Live classes bring you as close to an in-person class experience as you can get from an app. Just tap Live Classes in the bottom menu to see the current schedule for live classes, and use the calendar menu at the top to browse through scheduled live classes every day over the coming week.

Live class options let you practice now or get a reminder when classes begin.

Live class options let you practice now or get a reminder when classes begin.
Credit: ELISE MOREAU

More live classes.

More live classes.
Credit: ELISE MOREAU

When you find a live class you want to attend, tap Count Me In to join, at no extra cost to you. If you have notifications enabled, you’ll receive a reminder right before the class starts.

The more you use Glo, the more you’ll probably find yourself favoring certain teachers and classes you’ll want to take over and over again. Be sure to navigate to your Library using the lower menu to see your saved classes, favorites (classes you tapped the heart on), your class history, programs and more.

If you ever find yourself without an internet connection, you can download your classes (non-live ones, of course) by tapping the three dots in the top right of any class so you can play it while offline. I find that the Add Note feature is really useful as well, which is located beneath every class. It lets you type out some details to save as a personal reminder the next time you decide to take the same class.

The price for premium yoga and fitness content

As you might’ve already guessed, Glo isn’t free. Like so many other streaming video services out there, you have to pay for a subscription to be able to use it.

You can get a monthly subscription for $18 a month, or you can sign up for an annual one for $162 (which works out to $13.50 a month). There’s also a 7-day free trial you can take advantage of if you want to try it out first before signing up for a subscription.

Honestly, even if you use Glo to take as few as two 30-minute classes a month, you’re pretty much getting your money’s worth. A live, in-person yoga class at a studio costs anywhere from $10 to $20 depending on location and length of the class, making Glo’s $18 monthly or $13.50 annual subscription well worth it and a total steal if you plan on taking a few classes every week.

I’ve been a loyal subscriber to Glo for almost five years now, with no plans of ending my subscription. If you want an in-person class experience right in your own home, Glo could be exactly what you need.

Apple News partners with NBCUniversal to share exclusive Olympics content

It’s hard to keep up with the Olympics any year, let alone when they’re taking place in a time zone that’s 13 hours ahead of you (if you’re on the U.S. East Coast). Apple News on Monday announced a collaboration with NBCUniversal (the U.S. broadcast rights holder for the Olympics) to develop exclusive daily recaps and audio briefings, event schedules and medal counts to help fans keep tabs on the games.

NBC Sports is the go-to app for streaming any Olympic event, but it’s a bit buggy. To their credit, streaming so many different feeds at once is hard to pull off, but the app can be tricky to navigate. Even though the app has an impressive catalog of every event, there’s no easy way to catch up with all the triumphs and defeats that took place while half the world was asleep, so this collaboration with Apple News fills a necessary void in NBC’s existing offerings.

Image Credits: Apple News (Screenshots by TechCrunch)

One of the most useful features is the News app’s user-friendly schedule of every single Olympic event by sport, which can set calendar reminders for the events you can’t miss. (Though you might need to set your alarm for certain events, like the women’s gymnastics all-around final, which starts at 6:50 a.m. ET on Thursday. But don’t worry, for these highly anticipated events, there’ll be prime-time coverage, too). NBC Sports sends push notification reminders for sports that you choose, but a pre-set calendar event might be more useful for planning your evening (or early morning) Olympics viewing.

Of course, this partnership allows Apple to promote Apple Podcasts, which has more competition than ever as Spotify continues to grow and Facebook adds support for podcasts. NBC is pushing its Olympics podcasts like “The Podium” and “On Her Turf” pretty hard — “The Podium” often appears as a banner ad during live coverage on the web. Even though these shows aren’t exclusive to Apple, the partnership with NBC can only help drive traffic to their podcast platform.

Nothing finally unveils its see-through, $99 Ear (1) wireless earbuds

Okay, these do look really cool.

The wait is officially over for Nothing’s rather elusive true wireless earbuds. Known as the Nothing Ear (1), the $99 buds are the first product to drop under the new startup, founded by OnePlus’ co-founder Carl Pai.

On the outside, it’s safe to say the Ear (1) buds have a unique aesthetic compared to what’s currently on the market. The transparent design (case included) allows you to see all of its internal components, including the magnets, circuit board, and microphones.

At 4.7 grams, the earbuds are lightweight.

At 4.7 grams, the earbuds are lightweight.
Credit: nothing

As for durability, the earbuds have an IPX4 certification making them sweat and water splash resistant. So, yes, you can designate these as your official workout buds if you want.

Weighing in at 4.7 grams per bud, the Ear (1)’s are super lightweight, too —they’re only slightly heavier than Apple’s AirPods 2, which weigh 4 grams. They also come equipped with pressure-relieving vents and three customizable silicone tips, so you can secure the right fit for your ears.

On the inside, the earbuds pack an 11.6mm driver. To fine tune the sound quality, Nothing partnered with Swedish electronics company Teenage Engineering (the ones behind the OP-1 synthesizer and Pocket Operator).

The Ear (1)'s come equipped with Active Noise Cancellation.

The Ear (1)’s come equipped with Active Noise Cancellation.
Credit: nothing

According to Nothing, “the audiophiles at Teenage Engineering painstakingly dialed in the software and hardware for balanced bass, mid, and treble performance.” Of course, we’ll have to test these buds out ourselves to believe it.

The Ear (1)’s also feature Active Noise Cancellation (ANC). Equipped with three high-definition microphones, you have the ability to switch between Light Mode (for moderate noise cancellation) and Maximum Mode (when you need to drown out a good deal of noise). There’s also transparency mode, for when you want to let some sound in from the outside world.

Nothing has thrown in some additional features too, including Find My Earbud, Fast Pairing (for Android devices), and Gesture Control Customization (which you can tweak using the connected app).

You'll get a total of 34 hours of battery life with these buds.

You’ll get a total of 34 hours of battery life with these buds.
Credit: nothing

As for battery life, the Ear (1)’s pack up to 5.7 hours on the earbuds themselves and 34 hours with the case (with ANC turned off). A quick 10-minute charge will also get you up to 8 hours of battery life. And since the case is Qi-certified, it’s compatible with any third-party wireless charger.

The Ear (1)’s aren’t available just yet, though. Nothing’s earbuds officially go on sale starting Aug. 17. But you can also attempt to get your hands on the limited supply, currently available on Nothing’s official site.

The RapidSOS EC-1

Three digits, so little time.

Numbers can take on profound cultural significance, but few numbers have quite the resonance as 911, the emergency number for the United States. Few want to dial it, but when they must, it works — every single time. One industry trade association estimates that 240 million 911 phone calls are made every year, ranging from the quotidian loud dog to the exceptional terrorist attack.

While it may be a singular number, 911 calls are directed to roughly 5,700 public safety answering points (PSAPs) across the country, all with independent operations, variegated equipment, disparate software, multifarious organizational structures, and vast inequalities of staffing and resources.

“Every 911 center is very different and they are as diverse and unique as the communities that they serve,” Karin Marquez, who we will meet later, put it. You have massive urban centers with dozens of staffers and the best equipment, and “you have agencies in rural America that have one person working 24/7 and they’re there to answer three calls a day.”

These organizations face a tough challenge: Transitioning their systems to incorporate information from billions of new consumer devices into the heart of 911 response. Location from mobile GPS, medical information from health profiles, video footage from cameras — all of this could be useful when police, firefighters and paramedics arrive on a scene. But how do you connect hundreds of tech companies to a myriad of 911 technology providers?

Over the last eight years, RapidSOS has become the go-to solution for addressing this problem. With more than $190 million raised, including an $85 million round this past February, RapidSOS now covers nearly 5,000 PSAPs and processes more than 150 million emergencies every year, and it’s technology is almost certainly integrated into the smartphone you’re carrying and many of the devices you have lying around (the company counts about 350 million connected devices with its software).

Yet, like many emergencies, the company’s story is one of reverses, misdirections and urgency as its founders worked to find a model to jump-start 911 response. RapidSOS may well be the only startup to pivot from a consumer app to a govtech/enterprise hybrid, and it has the most extensive directory of partnerships and integration relationships of any startup I have ever seen. Now, as it expands to Mexico, the United Kingdom and elsewhere, this startup with its roots in a rural farm in Indiana, is redefining emergency response globally for the 21st Century.

The lead writer of this EC-1 is Danny Crichton. In addition to being the EC-1 series editor, managing editor at TechCrunch, and regularly talking about himself in the third person, Danny has been writing about disaster tech and first covered RapidSOS back in 2015 prior to its public launch. The lead editor for this story was Ram Iyer, the copy editor was Richard Dal Porto, and illustrations were drawn by Nigel Sussman.

RapidSOS had no say in the content of this analysis and did not get advance access to it. Crichton has no financial ties to RapidSOS, and his ethics disclosure statement is available here.

The RapidSOS EC-1 comprises four articles numbering 12,400 words and a reading time of 50 minutes. Here are the topics we’ll be dialing into:

We’re always iterating on the EC-1 format. If you have questions, comments or ideas, please send an email to TechCrunch Managing Editor Danny Crichton at danny@techcrunch.com.

Hulu’s star-studded Steve Martin murder comedy gets its first trailer

Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Selena Gomez are on the case.

In Hulu’s Only Murders in the Building, the three stars team up to get to the bottom of some foul play in their posh New York City apartment building. Bound by a shared interest in true crime and seemingly nothing else, the trio investigates a colorful cast of neighbors that includes Nathan Lane and Sting (playing himself, apparently) as they record a podcast of their own.

Only Murders in the Building was created by Martin, Dan Fogelman, and John Hoffman.

The first three episodes premiere on Hulu on Aug. 31.

Joby Aviation, aiming to go to market in 2024, completes 154 mile test flight

Santa Cruz, California-based Joby Aviation has completed the longest test flight of an eVTOL to date, as its unnamed full-sized prototype aircraft concluded a trip of over 150 miles on a single charge, the company said Monday.

The test was completed at Joby’s Electric Flight Base in Big Sur, California earlier this month. It’s the latest in a succession of secretive tests the company’s been conducting, all part of its goal to achieve certification with the Federal Aviation Administration and start commercial operations.

The prototype spent more than an hour and 17 minutes in the air and covered 154.6 statute miles on a single battery charge, traveling along a predefined circuit. While the test flight was remotely piloted by Joby’s chief test pilot, Justin Paines, the company plans to have pilots in the aircraft when it opens its ridesharing service for customers.

Headed by JoeBen Bevirt, Joby Aviation has spent the past twelve years designing eVTOL – an electric vertical take-off and landing craft that ascends like a helicopter but flies like an airplane, and is magnitudes quieter than both.

Joby is one of a suite of startups looking to make electric air travel a reality for the average American. The company’s website features a handy graphic showing a proposed trip from Los Angeles airport to Newport Beach – over an hour and 44 miles by car, but only 15 minutes and 35 miles with Joby. Joby aims to make such trips a reality by 2024, and tests like these are a major sign to the public, investors and regulators that it is on-track to meet that timeline.

Significantly, the company uses commercially available lithium-ion batteries that its adapted for air travel, so this test flight is also proof that its battery tech is up for the challenge. It’s a tricky challenge: the battery must have enough energy density to fly around 150 miles while also having enough power to take-off and land vertically. But Joby says its nailed a specific combination of cathode and graphite anode to achieve these goals.

Besides being one of the oldest eVTOL developers, Joby is also the best-funded, raising nearly $800 million in funding to date. That includes a $75 million investment from Uber after Joby bought its air taxi arm, Elevate, and a $400 million investment from Toyota Motor Corp. Joby is going to go public via a merger with special purpose acquisition company Reinvent Technology Partners, a business combination that will inject the startup with an additional $1.6 billion in capital.

It’s a lot of money, but designing and commercializing a novel aircraft is an expensive business: according to some estimates, costing up to $1 billion all told.

“We’ve achieved something that many thought impossible with today’s battery technology,” Bevirt said in a statement. “By doing so we’ve taken the first step towards making convenient, emissions-free air travel between places like San Francisco and Lake Tahoe, Houston and Austin, or Los Angeles and San Diego an everyday reality.”

Watch a video on the test flight here:

Samsung’s new Odyssey monitor is a 49-inch, Mini LED beast

Samsung's Odyssey Neo G9. Yes, it's big.

Samsung’s Odyssey G9 monitor has more or less been the measuring stick for extra-large gaming displays since the company launched it early last year.

That device now has what seems to be a worthy successor: The Odyssey Neo G9.

Basic specs are the same: The new Odyssey Neo G9 is still a curved, 49-inch monitor with a 5,120 x 1,440 pixel resolution.

Design-wise, the Odyssey Neo G9's design is similar to its predecessor: Bold and futuristic.

Design-wise, the Odyssey Neo G9’s design is similar to its predecessor: Bold and futuristic.
Credit: SAMSUNG

However, the new monitor is the first Samsung screen of this size to feature Quantum Mini LED technology — the same one used in Samsung’s Neo QLED TVs. Thanks to this, the Odyssey Neo G9 has a 1,000,000:1 contrast radio, and a typical brightness of 420 cd/m2 with a peak brightness of 2,000 cd/m2. In real-life usage, this means deep, inky blacks with extremely bright HDR.

Other specs of note include a 240Hz refresh rate, a 1ms response rate, and a 178-degree vertical and horizontal viewing angle. And yes, it’s still very immersive, thanks to a 1000R curve — though this kind of extreme curvature will mostly appeal to gamers.

The Odyssey is probably the curviest monitor we've seen.

The Odyssey is probably the curviest monitor we’ve seen.
Credit: SAMSUNG

On the connectivity front, the monitor has a single Display Port 1.4, two HDMI 2.1 ports, two USB 3.0 connectors, and a headphone jack.

Unfortunately, this kind of power comes at a fairly high price: $2,499.99. For comparison, that’s $800 more than the original G9’s price at launch.

The Samsung Odyssey Neo G9 will be available for pre-order on July 29, and it will ship globally on August 9.

Lucasfilm hires YouTuber who deepfaked ‘The Mandalorian’

This is the way.

If you haven’t seen The Mandalorian Season 2 by now, there are spoilers ahead, but also, watch it!

Deepfakes are both fascinating and highly problematic, but nonetheless, one particularly good one landed its creator a slam dunk of a job.

Lucasfilm has hired the YouTube creator who created a deepfake of one of the biggest moments in The Mandalorian Season 2, in which the studio dropped a chunk of budget de-ageing Mark Hamill to appear as Luke Skywalker in the final episode.

Following this surprise appearance (and Grogu rescue) from the Jedi master in the finale, YouTube creator Shamook created a deepfake of Skywalker using the same scenes. It was incredibly convincing, in fact, arguably surpassed the CGI rolled out in the actual episode, although the audio is just slightly off. And now, after making YouTube videos since 2018, the UK-based creator is working for Industrial Light and Magic, the visual effects division of Lucasfilm.

Here’s the clip released in December 2020, which has earned 2.1 million views to date:

Lucasfilm confirmed to Indiewire it had hired Shamook, with a representative telling the publisher it was “always on the lookout” for artists to recruit: “Over the past several years ILM has been investing in both machine learning and A.I. as a means to produce compelling visual effects work and it’s been terrific to see momentum building in this space as the technology advances.”

Also spotted by the publisher, Shamook had commented on one of their other deepfake YouTube videos weeks ago, talking about being hired by ILM. The job title? Senior facial capture artist, they said. “As some of you may already know, I joined ILM/Lucasfilms a few months ago and haven’t had the time to work on any new YouTube content,” they wrote. “Now I’ve settled into my job, uploads should start increasing again. They’ll still be slow, but hopefully not months apart.”

So, while creating deepfakes is undeniably dicey territory, it’s apparently good stuff for a visual film effects resume.

Wiliot raises $200M as it preps a SaaS pivot, licensing its ultra-light, ambient-power chip technology to third parties

Wiliot — the IoT startup that has developed a new kind of processor that is ultra thin and light and runs on ambient power but possesses all the power of a “computer” — has picked up a huge round of growth funding on the back of strong interest in its technology, and a strategy aimed squarely at scale.

The company has raised $200 million, a Series C that it will use towards its next steps as a business: in the coming months, it will make a move into an SaaS model — which Wiliot likes to say refers not to “software as a service”, but “sensing as a service,” using its AI to read and translate different signals on the object attached to the chip — to run and sell its software. This will be combined with a shift to a licensing model for its chip hardware, so that they can be produced by multiple third parties. Wiliot says that it already has several agreements in place for the chip licensing part. The plan is for this, in turn, to lead to a new range of sizes and form factors for the chips down the line.

Softbank’s Vision Fund 2 led the financing, with previous backers — it’s a pretty illustrious list that speaks of the opportunities ahead — including 83North, Amazon Web Services, Inc. (AWS), Avery Dennison, Grove Ventures, M Ventures, the corporate VC of Merck KGaA, Maersk Growth, Norwest Venture Partners, NTT DOCOMO Ventures, Qualcomm Ventures LLC, Samsung Venture Investment Corp., Vintage Investment Partners, and Verizon Ventures.

Wiliot’s valuation is not being disclosed but Steve Statler, the startup’s SVP, described as “in line” with its pivot to SaaS. For some further context, when we last covered Wiliot funding, a $30 million Series B in 2019, sources told us it was valued at $120 million, although between then and now it also extended that Series B to $70 million, implying a pre-money valuation of closer to $200 million. With basic math, that implies a valuation of more like $400 million now, although the SaaS focus, and strong interest already in licensing the tech, means it could easily be more. (I’ll update as and when I learn more.)

Up to now, the company has been focusing on business development based on “version 1” of its chips, produced by Wiliot itself. (Version 2, which is likely to be announced officially in September, will be the chips that third parties will make.) Wiliot’s chips are, in the words of Statler, printable computers the size and thinness of postage stamps that contain RAM, ROM, sensors, Bluetooth, an ARM CPU, memory and secure communications capabilities, all running on ambient power (radiowaves) already in the air. Thin like RFID tags, these are significantly more powerful and useful.

Statler said Wiliot has 30 paying customers so far using “hundreds of thousands” of these chips. But the scale (and opportunity) of IoT is such that even in the hundreds of thousands bracket, none of these are full deployments but limited tests.

Statler told me that one such customer is a major pharmaceutical company (name not disclosed) that’s making vaccines: it’s attaching the chips to a proportion of its vaccine vials to monitor temperature, dosage amounts (since you get several doses out of one vial) and dilution, with the plan being to use the system across all of its vaccines in the future, something that has particular relevance right now, given how strongly vaccines are figuring in the fight against the Covid-19 health pandemic globally.

Other industries that have been talking with Wiliot include consumer packaged goods companies, furniture companies and the apparel industry (which has been a big adopter of RFID).

With version 2, the ambient power aspect will also expand. In version 1, the chips can harness energy from radio waves that are already in the air, as well as via inexpensive devices that provide a boost of power to spread the waves around more evenly. Right now the range of those boosters in 1-3 meters, Statler said, but version 2 will be a “major breakthrough” that will see that extended, making the booster a more interesting option. Wiliot also, notably, has been working with Sigfox, which is also developing some very innovative ways of harnessing and using ambient power, so maybe we should watch this space.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” CEO and co-founder Tal Tamir told me back in 2019 (he wasn’t available for an interview this time around, unfortunately). “We think many edge devices will come that will harvest radio frequency energy. But the problem is not what you harvest but how much you need. If you get nanowatts of energy and a phone consumes 3-5 watts when active, you can see where this has to go.”

For a company like SoftBank that is making multiple bets around services and hardware across its investment and ownership portfolios, there is a lot of opportunity here not just as a financial backer but strategic partner, too.

“By inventing the first hyper-scalable, self-powered computer that uses AI to sense the world, Wiliot is positioned to bring together the digital and physical” said Yanni Pipilis managing partner at SoftBank Investment Advisers, in a statement. “We have always believed that with IoT and AI, people will live better and healthier lives – where any food or medicine has the ability to understand if it’s safe to use and communicate seamlessly with people. We are pleased to play a part in helping Wiliot dramatically scale the ever-expanding application of IoT globally.”

 

10 of the best earbuds for every situation

They might be small, but earbuds shouldn’t be taken lightly. Finding a good pair of buds is pretty tricky, and you’ve likely gone through more earbuds over the years than you can count.

Picking up a £10 pair of earbuds in the checkout line is easy enough but you know deep down that you’ll be back there again next month (or even sooner) because they’ve fizzled out already. Spending that much will only get you so far.

Does that mean all earbuds are poor quality? Absolutely not. Thumping bass, immersive noise cancellation, and crisp sound is not exclusive to over-ear headphones. There are plenty of premium, feature-heavy earbuds out there.

Which is better, over-ear headphones or earbuds?

Ultimately there’s no definitive answer to this question. It’s down to personal preference. Some of you will prefer your headphones to be a little more inconspicuous and portable.

There are some general benefits to choosing earbuds over headphones. They’re obviously more compact, and generally better suited to fitness. Earbuds will likely suit anyone who prioritises portability — whether that’s for commuting, air travel, or taking to the gym — and anyone who gets uncomfortable from long, sweaty sessions under padded headphones.

What are the different types of earbuds?

Technically, earbuds fall into two categories — earbuds, which rest on the inner part of the ear; and in-ear headphones, which fit into the ear canal. To keep things simple, we’ve recommended a selection of each kind.

You can break down earbuds into a few categories:

Wired earbuds — these connect to your device by a cable (it’s an increasingly outdated approach — particularly with Apple removng the regular headphone jack from the iPhone — so there are none on this list)

Wireless earbuds — these are connected to each other via a cable but independent from the device

True wireless earbuds — these have no cables at all

We’re not going to tell you which option will work best for you. That’s up to you. What we will say is that it’s worth taking some time to properly consider your priorities and lifestyle, and find the earbuds type that best matches up.

What is true wireless?

When shopping around you may see the term true wireless, or “truly” wireless as it’s sometimes known. This relates to headphones that have no cord connected to your phone or device. True wireless headphones can use different types of wireless technology to transmit the sound into your ears. The most common form is Bluetooth.

Do headphones or earbuds sound better?

Headphones are generally considered the go-to option for serious audiophiles. It can come down to over-ear headphones having more powerful drivers — the components that convert electrical signals into sound — and an open-backed design. But there are still earbuds geared towards high-quality sound that can match up to over-ear headphones at the same price point.

Wireless sound quality can be affected by factors such as distance and obstructions between your headphones and device, but also the codec software that your headphones support. Codecs are algorithms that encode and decode digital audio signals. Look out for earbuds with low latency (this is the time it takes for the sound to hit your ears) and support for Qaulcomm’s aptX codecs.

These are generally reviewed as the best codecs — particularly for streaming video content on your phone and ensuring the picture and audio stay in sync.

What are the most important features for earbuds?

If you want a set of earbuds that deliver the latest in tech and features, check out options that have active noise cancellation (ANC) — tiny microphones create anti-noise sound waves to block out ambient noise — or connectivity to a dedicated app. Many top brands have an app that allows you to adjust EQ levels, customise ANC, or use other advanced features.

What are the best earbuds?

Since it’s always good to get a personal recommendation, we did some research and pulled out the best earbuds online. Whatever your preference and whatever your price range, you’re sure to find some that don’t suck.

These are the best earbuds in 2021.

iAngels raises $55 million, anchored by the European Investment Fund, for first institutional fund

iAngels, the private investment platform founded and helmed by Mor Assia and Shelly Hod Moyal, has today announced the close of its first institutional fund. The firm has raised $55.5 million, which was anchored by the European Investment Fund, which put in $25 million.

This brings iAngels’ total assets under management to $300 million.

Until now, iAngels has operated in a very unique way. The platform has allowed accredited investors all over Israel and beyond to participate in private funding rounds of some of the best startups in Israel. That said, iAngels does all of the diligence on the startups, handles legal requirements, and even writes the check before the deal is listed on the platform. In other words, the deal flow and investment process isn’t unlike an institutional fund, but rather the firm’s ability to share these deals with angel investors gives it extra fire power in these deals.

This framework also allows iAngels to negotiate on behalf of the angels on the platform, allowing room for follow-on investment, which can be difficult for angels when they bet on a big winner. Thus far, iAngels has invested in 22 startups who have exited profitably, including eight more recent exits, including Arbe, eToro, Applitools and Simplex.

With the institutional fund, not much changes by way of operation. iAngels will still source the deals, do the due diligence, and cut the check, but angels on its platform will be able to participate in these rounds.

Of the $55.5 million (555 is a number that represents good fortune in Israel), around two-thirds are being reserved for follow on. The rest is reserved for leading early stage rounds in Israeli tech companies.

iAngels is most interested in double bottom line companies, with a particular interest in startups working on climate tech, health tech, and food technologies.

The greatest challenge, and likewise the greatest opportunity, for iAngels, according to GP Mor Assia, is the sheer acceleration of the tech ecosystem spurred by the coronavirus pandemic.

“There are new and more funds,” said Assia. “There are tailwinds around certain sectors of innovation. Coronavirus has shown us that everything has been accelerated at a pace we couldn’t anticipate. Everything is being pushed very aggressively, including the KPIs and the growth of companies. To challenge companies going forward to create similar growth in the coming years is definitely going to be a challenge.”

Side note: Mor Assia will be joining us as a guest on tomorrow’s episode of Extra Crunch Live, where she’ll give live feedback to Startup Alley Companies who pitch their products live. Don’t miss it.

How to Stop Social Media Addiction

It seems like everyone is online nowadays. With social media growing on almost everyone’s cell phones and computers, it can be difficult for you to keep away from technology and avoid becoming addicted.

The Impact of Technology in our daily lives

Since technology has become a large part of society today, many believe that the more you use it, the more you need it. With over 3.6 billion people using social media today, social media addiction is something that you can’t easily get rid of.

In 2017, a study had estimated about 210 million people suffered from internet and social media addiction. This number, however, will increase year by year as new social media platforms keep arising.

So, if you’re a part of those individuals who got addicted to social media, you need to find a way to deal with it quickly.

Here are some tips for you to beat over social media addiction effectively.

1. Turn off notification
Phone notifications are one of the biggest distractions for human beings. When you hear the notification sound or see the notification bar, you unconsciously check on your mobile device right away.

This can be a major distraction when you have important tasks to do. You will get constantly distracted if you don’t turn off the notification. This can affect your productivity and lead you to procrastinate on your tasks.

2. Get a new hobby
When you’ve set a time limit in using social media, you’ll have more time for yourself. So, where was the last time you did your hobby?

You’ll be surprised that you can do what you want to do when you have more spare time. Since you always come up with social media, you can’t make time to draw, try a new recipe, and read a book.

Try getting a new hobby or revisiting your old hobby and make yourself occupied with it. When you’ve started doing what you love, you will more likely see yourself not checking your social media accounts anymore.

3. Remember the real world
People are all so immersed in technology that they forget to enjoy life with family and friends around them.

If you live alone, you may need to check in on your family. Ask them about their days and keep up with old friends and acquaintances. Getting back to your “old way” of social life will make your life much more meaningful as you can experience it intimately.

4. Put down the phone
When you actually set aside your phone, you can pay attention to people around you closely. Being too occupied with mobile devices by continuously surfing on the internet will make your and social media addiction worse.

Keeping your devices away will limit your interaction with social media whether you’re a social media manager producing creative content, like explainer videos, threads, infographics, etc., or a marketer trying to promote a brand on the social platform.

Although mobile phones are essential to get things done today, you need to take a rest for some time before getting back to your phone. This will help you keep the right balance in your daily life.

5. Get outside more often
While getting lost in a book is one thing, there are plenty of other hobbies out there that do not require any electronics. For example, you can shop in your local store instead of checking out from your favorite e-commerce sites.

Although it’s tempting to use mobile phones for many things, like ordering food online, you can cut off the interaction by doing offline activities. Going outside and taking walks will also get you more healthy than snuggling on your couch all day long.

6. Go to bed earlier
Another tip you can do to beat over your social media addiction is to go to sleep earlier. Many people lost their bedtime because they are still up at 3 a.m. scrolling through social media timelines just to watch meme compilations even how a chicken lays eggs for no reason.

When you’ve promised to go to bed early, you can get a more quality sleep that ensures you wake up fresh the next day. Also, do not forget to turn off your phone when you’re about to sleep. Most people are still occupied with their phones even when they are already in bed. That’s why they don’t get to sleep quickly.

7. Make yourself productive
One way to combat social media addiction is to make a promise to yourself and challenge yourself to do something useful. When you’ve set a challenge, don’t forget to make a reward if you succeed in completing the challenge.

This will motivate you to get over social media addiction and start making real stuff. For example, if you love writing, you can try making a novel on your laptop. Make sure that you will finish your project no matter what.

If your mind focuses on creating a new project, you won’t have time to check your phone for trivial things. That’s why keeping yourself busy with the real world can decrease your internet and social media addiction.

8. Make friends that aren’t on social media
With this tip, you can feed two birds with one scone: make friends in real life and get off social media at the same time. So, you don’t need to check anyone’s profile one by one and start following them as if you want to make friends.

The thing is that making online friends isn’t the same as getting new friends from a local barbershop. You can actually interact with them in real-time!

Moreover, it’s more satisfying when you get to know someone new with a coffee and cheesecake on the table. The two-way, direct interaction is what makes you feel more like a social being than the other way round.

Bottom Line

Social media addiction is something that most people can’t ignore. Since accessing the internet has become inevitable for many people, especially for those who work with it, many people can be addicted to social media without them realizing it.

If you feel like having a hard time not scrolling past your social media timeline and checking your content after posting it, you need a way to deal with the addiction quickly. Follow the tips above to beat over your social media addiction and free yourself from the online world. Good luck!

The post How to Stop Social Media Addiction appeared first on Dumb Little Man.

All the horror movie references in Netflix’s ‘Fear Street’ trilogy

Leigh Janiak’s Fear Street trilogy may be based on R.L. Stine’s beloved teen horror books, but it makes more than a few references to classic horror films — Netflix even opened its own totally ’90s pop-up video stores to promote the series.

The three-part Netflix film series, Part 1: 1994, Part 2: 1978, and Part 3: 1666, makes both overt and subtle nods to iconic horror films like Scream, Friday the 13th, The Shining, The Exorcist, Poltergeist, The Evil Dead, Night of the Living Dead, and Halloween, whether in the form of a passing name-drop in dialogue, a blatant shot re-creation, or a sneaky real estate sign in the background of a scene.

In the video above, Netflix points out these references, so you can spot anything you missed while avoiding your own peril in Shadyside. There’s a fair few Stephen King references in the films too.

If you haven’t watched them yet, beware spoilers in the video. Before you watch it, Fear Street Part 1: 1994, Fear Street Part 2: 1978, and Fear Street Part 3: 1666 are now streaming on Netflix.

Tencent’s WeChat suspends new user registration in China to comply with ‘relevant laws and regulations’

Tencent’s WeChat said on Tuesday it is temporarily suspending registration of new users in China as it works to comply with “relevant laws and regulations,” the latest Chinese firm to face regulatory scrutiny in the world’s largest internet market.

In a social media post, Tencent said it is “upgrading” its security technology to align with all relevant laws and regulations and while this process in underway “registration of new Weixin (WeChat’s Chinese app) personal and official accounts has been temporarily suspended.”

“Registration services will be restored after the upgrade is complete, which is expected in early August,” said WeChat, which has amassed over 1.2 billion monthly active users in China as of earlier this year.

It’s not immediately clear which law WeChat is citing in its announcement but the move comes amid a broad crackdown on tech firms by Chinese regulators. The crackdown has wiped billions of dollars in market cap for Chinese firms in recent weeks and many high-profile global investors including SoftBank are impacted by it.

This is the first time WeChat, which operates as a super-app in China, has had to take a step of this kind in more than a decade. In addition to offering a messaging service, Weixin also allows users to make online payments and access a range of financial services.

(In other markets, it’s a different story. Donald Trump had signed an order to ban transactions with TikTok and WeChat in the U.S. last year. President Joe Biden revoked and replaced those actions last month.)

Some analysts believe that the Chinese government is concerned about the growing influence of tech firms in the country and also the privacy of its citizens’ data.

Earlier this month, China’s cybersecurity regulator ordered ride-hailing giant app Didi to stop signing up new users. That move had come days after Didi’s $4.4 billion initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange. Didi’s app, which has been pulled from the app stores in China, illegally collected personal data of its customers, the regulator accused.

Samsung’s upcoming foldable phones revealed in new image and specs leak

Samsung's upcoming Z Fold 3 will be water resistant. Its predecessor, the Z Fold 2 (pictured), wasn't.

Samsung’s next event, where the company is slated to reveal its new foldable phones, the Z Fold 3 and Z Flip 3, is still weeks away. However, thanks to leaker Evan Blass, we’ve just gotten the first official (well, official-looking) image of the new devices, along with some key specs.

In a tweet Monday, Blass revealed that the Samsung Z Flip 3 will have a 6.7-inch internal, and a 1.9-inch external display, as well as a dual 12-megapixel camera on the back, and a 10-megapixel selfie camera on the front.

Tweet may have been deleted

As for the larger Z Fold 3, it’ll have a 7.6-inch internal, and a 6.2-inch external display. It’ll have a triple 12-megapixel rear camera, and two selfie cameras, a 10-megapixel one on the cover, and a 4-megapixel one inside. Customers will be able to purchase two optional S-Pens (a Pro and a Fold Edition) as well.

Both devices will be water resistant up to IPX8 specs.

As for the image Blass has shared, it certainly looks like an official Samsung press photo. The devices in the image are shown from the rear, with those large rear camera lenses clearly visible, and a water splash is there to assure you of that water resistance.

Notably, the Z Fold 2 and Z Flip 2 are similarly sized, and have similar specs to those outlined above, but they weren’t officially water resistant.

The news comes less than a day after Samsung officially confirmed that the new foldables will support Samsung’s S-Pen stylus, which sort of makes them an unofficial Galaxy Note replacement.

The new devices will be officially unveiled at a virtual Samsung event on August 11.

Rocketium raises $3.2M to help creative teams create massive marketing campaigns

In between A/B testing, customizing targeted ads and formatting for different digital platforms, some design teams are tasked with campaigns that include thousands of images, videos and other visual content. Based in Bangalore, Rocketium automates much of the process, allowing teams to scale-up campaigns while reducing their workload. The company announced it has raised $3.2 million led by Emergent Ventures to launch in the United States and expand in other markets.

Rocketium’s clients include Urban Company, CasaOne, BigBasket, cure.fit and Meesho. It says visuals made on its platform are seen by 100 million end users. Its latest funding brings Rocketium’s total raised so far to $4.2 million, including a $1 million seed round from Blume Ventures and 1Crowd.

Rocketium’s platform is currently invite-only and it plans to open self-service usage and purchases in 2022, along with more integrations with e-commerce and advertising platforms (its current integrations include Salesforce, Mailchimp, YouTube, Vimeo, Wistia and Hubspot).

To use Rocketium, design teams create a core set of templates in Photoshop or After Effects and import them to the platform. Then Rocketium customizes ads for different scenarios. For example, if a retailer is running a targeted campaign with free shipping in certain areas, they enter that information into a spreadsheet and Rocketium automatically updates the text in the templates. Then ads and videos are formatted for different platforms, like banners for web advertising or square format for Instagram.

Rocketium's size adaptation tool

Rocketium’s size adaptation tool

One of Rocketium’s clients, fitness app cure.fit, uses it to run about five to six campaigns each month for different membership plans. The platform enables cure.fit to reduce the production time for visual content and personalize campaigns based on users’ interests, demographics and locations.

Rocketium's AI-based copywriter

Rocketium’s AI-based copywriter

Rocketium also includes tools for A/B testing, ad targeting and data analytics.

Other companies that help marketing teams create visual advertising campaigns include Canva, InVideo and Lumen5. Co-founder and chief executive officer Satej Sirur told TechCrunch that Rocketium was designed specifically for clients that need to create hundreds or thousands of ads, video and other creative content a month, and can be used to create up to 10,000 visuals at a time.

While Canva, InVideo and Lumen5 provide templates, Rocketium is more focused on users who want to import their own designs from PhotoShop and After Effects.

In a statement, Emergent Ventures founder and partner Ankur Jain said, “From high-volume content production to data-driven campaign optimization, Rocketium is challenging traditional organizational silos to deliver a product that is truly loved and relied on by performance marketers and designers alike.”

South African payments startup Yoco raises $83M Series C led by Dragoneer

Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) contribute heavily to the economic success of many countries, particularly those in the developing world. They are the backbone of most economies: Globally, SMEs represent about 90% of existing businesses and create more than 50% of employment.

In South Africa, these businesses contribute around one-third of the country’s GDP. Last year, the coronavirus pandemic threatened the existence of some of these SMEs, and its effects linger as owners worry about revenue, sales and cash flow.

Since launching in 2013, South African fintech Yoco has positioned itself as the go-to platform to access offline payments among merchants in the country. Today, the company is announcing $83 million in Series C funding to scale offline and online offerings and expand to new markets.

Despite South Africa’s high card and mobile penetration rates of over 70%, the country’s SMEs still struggle to accept cards. Yoco’s portable card machines have proved masterful in solving this problem; when TechCrunch covered the company three years ago after its $16 million Series B raise, it had little over 30,000 merchants using its platform. Now, that number has quintupled.

As Yoco grew exponentially in providing offline payments, it built an online offering. After being in beta for a while, the rollout came right on time some days into South Africa’s lockdown in March last year. This way, South African merchants could continue accepting payments on the platform.

“We want to offer whatever payment methods our merchants need. And we did start in the in-person payment space, focusing on terminals, which was where the biggest demand was,” chief business officer Carl Wazen said. “But the pandemic, which had a devastating effect on so many businesses that relied on in-person trade, accelerated the need for businesses to accept payments online.”

During the height of the lockdowns in South Africa, sentiment across SMEs owners on a scale of -100 to 100 dropped to an all-time low of -12 in Q2 2020, according to Yoco’s small business pulse monitor. It has since improved following the easing of the lockdowns, allowing businesses to move more freely and continue in-person payments. As a result, Yoco’s online payments account for a minute part of the transactions made on the platform.

But that’s not to say people are transacting with cash. In fact, it’s the opposite, according to Wazen. Wazen says one post-pandemic behavior he noticed was that once the lockdown was lifted, people came back to make in-person payments in an accelerated way because they stopped using cash. “Recent consumer behavior shows a shift away from cash, and businesses have to rapidly adapt to this change. This presents a huge opportunity, and it is our mission to support that transition,” he added.

Earlier this year, chief executive Katlego Maphai said Yoco was looking to expand its services into other aspects of digital payments. He listed mobile money, QR payments and electronic funds transfer (ETF) as offerings in its pipeline. Wazen corroborated this, but didn’t provide an update about where the company is with these offerings. He did mention, however, that the company is still very much a card-focused payment provider.

Yoco’s strategy as the foremost card payments provider in South Africa lies in creating access and removing barriers to adopting digital financial services. The company does that by focusing on product capabilities that Wazen claims are the most comprehensive for small and medium businesses. He adds that in terms of market presence, Yoco is also the easiest for merchants to access services through different channels seamlessly.

“We’ve got a brand that is recognized now. That’s how we win and it’s about staying as focused as possible on that part of the market that, in our opinion, people like other competitors are not focused on enough.”

South Africa has over 6 million small businesses that still transact only in cash; this provides a huge opportunity for Yoco. According to the company, the number of small businesses that were fully cashless jumped 300% from March to July 2020. Yoco currently serves 150,000 of these businesses and adds over 500 merchants per day. The company claims to be processing more than $1 billion in card payments per year, and in its six years of existence, it has processed over $2 billion in card payments.

Yoco

Image Credits: Yoco

Yoco has raised a total of $107 million. The company’s Series C investment is the largest of its kind in South Africa and one of the largest for any African fintech (third only to Flutterwave and Chipper Cash). Wazen also claims it is the largest by any small business-focused payments platform in the Middle East and Africa.

Yoco is currently one of the most valuable startups on the continent, and as a fintech startup, it comes as no surprise. The sector continues to dominate startup venture capital funding in Africa while its heavy hitters bring first-time investors to the continent.

In Yoco’s case, it’s the lead investor in this round, Dragoneer Investment Group. The fund has famously backed fintech giants like Chime, Klarna, Nubank, Mercado Libre and Square.

Other investors that participated include new investors Breyer Capital, HOF Capital, The Raba Partnership, 4DX Ventures and TO Ventures; and existing investors Partech, Velocity Capital Fintech Ventures, Orange Ventures and Quona Capital. Current and former executives from global tech companies such as Coinbase, Revolut, Spotify and Gojek took part as well.

“We couldn’t be more excited to partner with the Yoco team,” Christian Jensen, co-head of private investments at Dragoneer, said in a statement. “At Dragoneer, we look for great teams that are building durable businesses with wonderful economic models, and that is exactly what we’ve found at Yoco. Yoco is already beloved by customers, and the product roadmap that the company is investing behind will drive even more value for merchants. While there is tremendous room for continued growth domestically, the opportunity for Yoco goes well beyond South Africa.”

There are three core enablers to Yoco’s thriving business, Wazen pointed out. First is its product capabilities, second is its platform and third is its market presence. This investment will be there to accelerate all three. Yoco is transitioning from a pure payment acceptance play into a full financial ecosystem on the product side. The platform play will see Yoco continue to integrate and take advantage of regulatory easing vertically, and Yoco is deepening its market presence in South Africa.

While Wazen believes Yoco has barely scratched the surface in South Africa, he’s looking forward to replicating its growth in other parts of Africa and the Middle East. With over 100 million SMEs transacting in cash across both regions, Yoco plans to reach at least a million within the next four years.

To accomplish this, Yoco is increasing its team by 200 people remotely and across its offices in Cape Town and Amsterdam within the next year. The company is also tapping into a current trend that has seen African soonicorns and unicorns hire former top employees from global companies to scale theirs to new heights. While it doesn’t mention names, some of Yoco’s new hires include a former VP of product at Monzo, a former product marketing director at Paypal and a former head of communications at Uber. The company has also brought on board a new chairman, Juan Fuentes, the former managing director of fintech unicorn Pagseguro.

ActiveFence comes out of the shadows with $100M in funding and tech that detects online harm, now valued at $500M+

Online abuse, disinformation, fraud and other malicious content is growing and getting more complex to track. Today, a startup called ActiveFence, which has quietly built a tech platform to suss out threats as they are being formed and planned, to make it easier for trust and safety teams to combat them on platforms, is coming out of the shadows to announce significant funding on the back of a surge of large organizations using its services.

The startup, co-headquartered in New York and Tel Aviv, has raised $100 million, funding that it will use to continue developing its tools and to continue expanding its customer base. To date, ActiveFence says that its customers include companies in social media, audio and video streaming, file sharing, gaming, marketplaces and other technologies — it has yet to disclose any specific names but says that its tools collectively cover “billions” of users. Governments and brands are two other categories that it is targeting as it continues to expand. It has been around since 2018 and is growing at around 100% annually.

The $100 million being announced today actually covers two rounds: its most recent Series B led by CRV and Highland Europe, as well as a Series A it never announced led by Grove Ventures and Norwest Venture Partners. Vintage Investment Partners, Resolute Ventures and other unnamed backers also participated. It’s not disclosing valuation but I understand it’s over $500 million.

“We are very honored to be ActiveFence partners from the very earliest days of the company, and to be part of this important journey to make the internet a safer place and see their unprecedented success with the world’s leading internet platforms,” said Lotan Levkowitz, general partner at Grove Ventures, in a statement.

The increased presence of social media and online chatter on other platforms has put a strong spotlight on how those forums are used by bad actors to spread malicious content. ActiveFence’s particular approach is a set of algorithms that tap into innovations in AI (natural language processing) and to map relationships between conversations. It crawls all of the obvious, and less obvious and harder-to-reach parts of the internet to pick up on chatter that is typically where a lot of the malicious content and campaigns are born — some 3 million sources in all — before they become higher-profile issues.  It’s built both on the concept of big data analytics as well as understanding that the long tail of content online has a value if it can be tapped effectively.

“We take a fundamentally different approach to trust, safety and content moderation,” Noam Schwartz, the co-founder and CEO, said in an interview. “We are proactively searching the darkest corners of the web and looking for bad actors in order to understand the sources of malicious content. Our customers then know what’s coming. They don’t need to wait for the damage, or for internal research teams to identify the next scam or disinformation campaign. We work with some of the most important companies in the world, but even tiny, super niche platforms have risks.”

The insights that ActiveFence gathers are then packaged up in an API that its customers can then feed into whatever other systems they use to track or mitigate traffic on their own platforms.

ActiveFence is not the only company building technology to help platform operators, governments and brands to have a better picture of what is going on in the wider online world. Factmata has built algorithms to better understand and track sentiments online; Primer (which also recently raised a big round) also uses NLP to help its customers track online information, with its customers including government organizations that used its technology to track misinformation during election campaigns; Bolster (formerly called RedMarlin) is another.

Some of the bigger platforms have also gotten more proactive in bringing tracking technology and talent in-house: Facebook acquired Bloomsbury AI several years ago for this purpose; Twitter has acquired Fabula (and is working on a bigger efforts like Birdwatch to build better tools), and earlier this year Discord picked up Sentropy, another online abuse tracker. In some cases, companies that more regularly compete against each other for eyeballs and dollars are even teaming up to collaborate on efforts.

Indeed, may well be that ultimately there will exist multiple efforts and multiple companies doing good work in this area, not unlike other corners of the world of security, which might need more than one hammer thrown at problems to crack them. In this particular case, the growth of the startup to date, and its effectiveness in identifying early warning signs, is one reason why investors have been interested in ActiveFence.

“We are pleased to support ActiveFence in this important mission” commented Izhar Armony, the lead investor from CRV, in a statement. “We believe they are ready for the next phase of growth and that they can maintain leadership in the dynamic and fast growing trust and safety market.”

“ActiveFence has emerged as a clear leader in the developing online trust and safety category. This round will help the company to accelerate the growth momentum we witnessed in the past few years,” said Dror Nahumi, general partner at Norwest Venture Partners, in a statement.

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Moovit integrates Lime electric scooters, bikes, mopeds into transit planning app

Shared electric micromobility company Lime announced a partnership to integrate its electric scooters, bikes and mopeds into the Moovit trip planning app. As of next week, Lime’s vehicles will be included as a travel option in tandem with public transit for either all or part of a multimodal journey on the Israeli app.

Nearby Lime vehicles will show up in Moovit in 117 cities across 20 countries, including the United States, South Africa, Australia and throughout Europe. Lime says this partnership is the largest micromobility integration within an app fully dedicated to mobility as a service (MaaS) to date based on the number of cities involved. It plans to add 40 other cities in the following months.

The partnership between Lime and Moovit, which is a subsidiary of Intel’s Mobileye, follows a trend in the transportation world that integrates public transit, ridesharing and micromobility into one optimized system. Uber, one of Lime’s lead investors, delivered a whitepaper this year laying out its plans to facilitate such a centralization of mobility modes. Some public transit agencies, like St. Louis Metro Transit, that have experienced a decline in ridership hope directing users to third-party apps that lay out different forms of mobility would eventually bring it back. Others might just see joining forces as a way to get commuters out of cars, giving them seamless options for traveling that last mile from home to the train station without contributing to carbon emissions.

“This partnership signifies that mobility companies recognize the need to collaborate together to offer riders more convenient modes of public and shared transportation as they return,” Nir Erez, Moovit co-founder and CEO, said in a statement. “Offering more alternative options that can easily get people to their destinations is a critical component of a MaaS platform, especially in some of the most congested cities in the world.”

Lime is touching on a moment with cities, no doubt in a way that will lead to more permit awards for the micromobility giant. The pandemic has caused many cities to embrace micromobility and draft recovery plans that highlight sustainable mobility.

“Moovit captures a market specifically focused on planning commutes and local travel, and helping users access micromobility as part of those journeys will hopefully reduce car travel and further encourage people to take public transit again,” Tiffani Gibson, senior manager of Lime’s corporate communications, told TechCrunch. “We want cities to view us as a sustainable partner that works in tandem with the broader transit ecosystem. We provide an additive service that eases and encourages connections to transit, especially in traditionally underserved areas. We want riders to return to transit in conjunction with our service and are looking to replace car trips, not transit trips.”

According to Moovit’s COVID-19 mobility report, public transit is back on the rise in big cities like New York, Paris and London, which is probably why Lime wants to tap into the market now. Last month, 41% of Lime’s scooter rides were taken during peak commuting hours, according to data from the company, which also says historical data has shown a significant amount of Lime rides connecting riders with public transit.

Lime is also integrated with Google Maps, one of the most downloaded MaaS apps in the world, but it wouldn’t say in how many cities Lime’s vehicles are integrated with the app. On Google Maps, users can choose to route their destination via car, public transit, walking or bike. Bikers are offered Lime’s vehicles as a transport option for the whole journey, whereas with Moovit, the point is to feature Lime vehicles for first- or last-mile solutions to mass transit.

With both Google Maps and Moovit, users can see in real-time where a Lime vehicle is nearby, how long it’ll take to walk there, an estimated trip cost and remaining battery percentage. To unlock the journey, users will be redirected to the Lime app after clicking on the logo.

Nium crosses $1B valuation with $200M Riverwood Capital-led round

Business-to-business payments platform Nium announced Monday that it raised more than $200 million in Series D funding and saw its valuation rise above $1 billion.

The company, now Singapore-based but shifting to the Bay Area, touted the investment as making it “the first B2B payments unicorn from Southeast Asia.”

Riverwood Capital led the round, in which Temasek, Visa, Vertex Ventures, Atinum Capital, Beacon Venture Capital and Rocket Capital Investment participated, along with a group of angel investors like DoorDash’s Gokul Rajaram, FIS’ Vicky Bindra and Tribe Capital’s Arjun Sethi. Including the new funding, Nium has raised $300 million to date, Prajit Nanu, co-founder and CEO, told TechCrunch.

The B2B payments sector is already hot, yet underpenetrated, according to some experts. To give an idea just how hot, Nium was seeking $150 million for its Series D round, received commitments of $300 million from eager investors and settled on $200 million, Nanu said.

“This is our fourth or fifth fundraise, but we have never had this kind of interest before — we even had our term sheets in five days,” he added. “I believe this interest is because we’ve successfully managed to create a global platform that is heavily regulated, which gives us access to a lot of networks. This is an environment where payment is visible, and our core is powering frictionless commerce and enabling anyone to use our platform.”

Nium’s new round adds fuel to a fire shared by a number of companies all going after a global B2B payments market valued at $120 trillion annually: last week, Paystand raised $50 million in Series C funding to make B2B payments cashless, while Dwolla raised $21 million for its API that allows companies to build and facilitate fast payments. In March, Higo brought in $3.3 million to do the same in Latin America, while Balance, developing a B2B payments platform that allows merchants to offer a variety of payment methods. raised $5.5 million in February.

Nium’s approach is to provide access to a global payment infrastructure, including card issuance, accounts receivable and payable, and banking-as-a-service through a single API. The company’s network enables customers to then send funds to more than 100 countries, pay out in more than 60 currencies, accept funds in seven currencies and issue cards in more than 40 countries, Nanu said. The company also boasts money transfer, card issuances and banking licenses in 11 jurisdictions.

Francisco Alvarez-Demalde, co-founding partner and managing partner at Riverwood, said in an email that the combination of software — plus regulatory licenses — and operating a fintech infrastructure platform on behalf of neobanks and corporates is a global trend experiencing hyper-growth.

Riverwood followed Nium for many years, and its future vision was what got the firm interested in being a part of this round. Alvarez-Demalde said that “Nium has the incredible combination of a great market opportunity, a talented founder and team, and we believe the company is poised for global growth based on underlying secular technology trends like increasing real-time payment capabilities and the proliferation of cross border commerce.

“As a central payment infrastructure in one API, Nium is a catalyst that unlocks cross-border payments, local accounts and card issuance with a network of local market licenses, partners and banking relationships to facilitate moving money across the world,” he added. “Enterprises of all types are embedding financial services as part of their consumer experience, and Nium is a key global enabler of this trend.”

Nanu said the new funding enables the company to move to the United States, which represents 3% of Nium’s revenue. He wants to increase that to 20% over the next 18 months, as well as expand in Latin America. The investment also gives the company a 12- to 18-month runway for further M&A activity.  In June, Nium acquired virtual card issuance company Ixaris, and in July acquired Wirecard Forex India to expose it to India’s market. He also plans to expand the company’s payments network infrastructure, invest in product development and add to Nium’s 700-person headcount.

Nium already counts hundreds of enterprise companies as clients and plans to onboard thousands more in the next year. The company processes $8 billion in payments annually and has issued more than 30 million virtual cards since 2015. Meanwhile, revenue grew by over 280% year over year.

All of this growth puts the company on a trajectory for an initial public offering, Nanu said. He has already spoken to people who will help the company formally kick off that journey in the first quarter of 2022.

“Unlike other companies that raise money for new products, we aim to expand in the existing sets of what we do,” Nanu said. “The U.S. is a new market, but we have a good brand and will use the new round to provide a better experience to the customer.”

 

Tesla delays Semi truck to 2022; Cybertruck back-burnered for Model Y

Tesla is pushing the launch of its electric Semi truck program to 2022 due to supply chain challenges and the limited availability of battery cells, the company said in its second-quarter earnings report Monday.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has warned about battery supply constraints before and the effect it might have on the Tesla Semi, which was first unveiled as a prototype in November 2017. Back in January, Musk said the engineering work on the Tesla Semi had been completed and deliveries were expected to begin this year. He did add the caveat, at the time, that the availability of battery cells could limit the company’s ability to produce the Semi.

That warning was apparently warranted. From the shareholders’ letter posted today after the market closed:

We believe we remain on track to build our first Model Y vehicles in Berlin and Austin in 2021. The pace of the respective production ramps will be influenced by the successful introduction of many new product and manufacturing technologies, ongoing supply-chain-related challenges and regional permitting.

To better focus on these factories, and due to the limited availability of battery cells and global supply chain challenges, we have shifted the launch of the Semi truck program to 2022. We are also making progress on the industrialization of Cybertruck, which is currently planned for Austin production subsequent to Model Y.

While not mentioned on the call or in its earnings report, the delay follows the departure of Jerome Guillen, a critical executive at Tesla who was working on the development and eventual production of the Tesla Semi. Guillen’s resignation in June came just three months after he was moved from the president of automotive position, which included oversight of the Tesla Semi, to a role with less responsibility as head of heavy-duty trucking. Guillen had led Tesla’s entire automotive business from September 2018 until March 2021.

Meanwhile, Tesla’s Cybertruck, which is supposed to go into production in late 2021, looks like it might be pushed into next year as well. Musk didn’t answer questions, but comments from Musk as well as Tesla VP of engineering Lars Moravy during the earnings call suggest that it could shift to 2022.

Cybertruck is currently in its alpha stages of prototyping, with the basic engineering and architecture of the vehicle completed. While the Model Y takes priority, the company is moving into a beta phase of the Cybertruck later this year, Moravy said.

“We’ll be looking to ramp that in production in Texas after Model Y is up and going,” he added.

Musk leaned in on how difficult the Cybertruck would be, perhaps as a way to cushion expectations for its arrival in 2021.

“Cybertruck ramp will be difficult because it is such a new architecture,” Musk said. “It’s going to be a great product; it might be our best product ever, but it does have a lot of fundamentally new design ideas.”

He went on to make the point that he has used as other vehicles have gone from prototype to volume production: Manufacturing is hard.

“At the risk of being repetitive, it’s actually easy to make prototypes or a handful of small-volume production, but anything produced at a high volume, which is really what’s relevant here, is it’s going to move as fast as the slowest of the rough order of magnitude of 10,000 unique parts and processes.”

Tesla’s solar and energy storage business rakes in $810M, finally exceeds cost of revenue

Tesla’s primary source of revenue comes from the sale of its electric vehicles, but its latest quarterly earnings report showed growth in its energy storage and solar business.

The demand picture will get even sunnier for the division if the company can access enough chips for its energy storage products, according to Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

Tesla on Monday reported $801 million in revenue from its energy generation and storage business — which includes three main products: solar, its Powerwall storage device for homes and businesses, and its utility storage unit Megapack — but that’s just a sliver of the nearly $12 billion in total revenue. Small as it is, the division is selling more energy storage and solar. Revenue from this division grew 62% from the previous quarter and more than 116% from the same quarter in 2020. Tesla doesn’t separate solar and energy storage revenue.

More importantly, the cost of revenue for its solar and energy storage business was $781 million, meaning that for the first time the total cost of producing and distributing these energy storage products was lower than the revenue it generated. That’s good news.

As one might expect, total deployments also rose. Tesla installed 1,274 megawatt-hours of energy storage in the second quarter of 2021, a 205% increase from the same period last year. Similarly, the amount of solar energy deployed in the second quarter of this year was 85 MWh, up 214% from Q2 2020. As a side note: Tesla’s total solar and energy storage deployments were essentially flat when comparing Q2 2019 and Q2 2020 numbers, likely due to the pandemic’s general halting of business.

The important nugget is revenue growth. In 2019, Tesla reported $369 million in revenue from solar and storage. Revenue was stagnant in Q2 2020, with $370 million from that business. This quarter was more than double what Tesla brought in during the same quarters of 2019 and 2020.

What changed? Besides COVID-19, Tesla points to several Megapack projects coming online and growing popularity in its combined solar and Powerwall product. (Tesla no longer allows customers to order Powerwall without a solar installation.) According to a configurator on Tesla’s website, one Megapack is about $1.2 million before taxes. In some states, Tesla says the earliest deliveries will be in 2023.

Tesla’s energy storage business is facing headwinds, however. Musk said demand for both the Megapack and the Powerwall both exceed supply, and a backlog is growing. The company is unable to meet that demand because of the global chip shortage, he said.

Tesla uses the same chips in its Powerwall as it does in its vehicles, and Musk said vehicles are the priority while supply is low.

“As that significant shortage is alleviated, then we can massively ramp up Powerwall production,” Musk said during an earnings call. “I think we have a chance of hitting an annualized rate of a million units of Powerwall next year — maybe, on the order of 20,000 a week. Again dependent on cell supply and semiconductors. … As the world transitions to a sustainable energy production, solar and wind are intermittent, and by their nature really need battery packs in order to provide a steady flow of electricity. And when you look at all the utilities in the world, this is a vast amount of backup batteries that are needed.”

Musk said in the long term, Tesla and other suppliers would need to produce a combined 1,000 to 2,000 gigawatt-hours per year in order to keep up with energy storage demands. Musk said the company has asked its cell suppliers to double their supply in 2022, a goal that Musk caveated would be dependent on supply chain issues. The company’s current strategy is to overshoot cell supply and route it outward to its energy storage products, but as in the case of chip shortages, vehicle production would be prioritized, according to Musk.

Battery cell plans

While much of the battery cell discussion focused on its 4680 cell that is in development, Musk also touched on Tesla’s intentions to power some of its products with cheaper lithium-iron-phosphate (LFP) batteries. Specifically, he said there’s a good chance that all stationary storage could move to iron-based batteries and away from nickel-manganese-cobalt (NMC) and nickel-cobalt-aluminum batteries.

“I think probably will see a shift, my guess is probably to two-thirds iron, one-third nickel,” Musk said of Tesla’s plans. “And this is actually good because there’s quite a bit of iron in the world, an insane amount of iron. But there’s much less nickel and there’s way less cobalt.”

The one-third of batteries that will remain nickel-based will be used for its longer-range electric vehicles. All of its other EVs would also move to LFP batteries, which is already the case in its vehicles assembled in China.

Elon Musk explains how non-Tesla cars will use Superchargers

Superchargers will soon accept any type of electric vehicle, not just Teslas.

At what may have been Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s final quarterly check-in, the electric vehicle evangelist delved into the details about eventually sharing Tesla’s Supercharger network.

Last week Musk tweeted about opening up the exclusive Supercharger network to other electric vehicles. Supercharging has only been available to Tesla owners. During Monday’s second quarter earnings call he spelled out what this change would look like in the near-future.

Tweet may have been deleted

It’ll be a matter of just downloading the Tesla app and heading to a Tesla charger and plugging in, even if you’re riding in a Nissan Leaf instead of a Tesla Model 3.

For cars that charge at a slower rate than Teslas (Tesla vehicles are all capable of fast charging, while some older non-Teslas can’t take in electricity at that quick of a rate), the longer charge time will cost drivers more.

“The biggest constraint is time,” Musk said.

Tesla will also introduce dynamic pricing, charging more for electricity at rush hour, for example. When a station is empty it’ll be cheaper than when it’s “jam-packed,” as Musk put it.

Tesla vehicles have a different connector in North America (which Musk hailed as “the best connector”) to the charging port, so non-Teslas will need to use an adapter. Tesla will provide those at the Supercharger stations unless there’s a theft problem, Musk said.

You'll need a Tesla adapter for non-Tesla Supercharging.

You’ll need a Tesla adapter for non-Tesla Supercharging.
Credit: Tesla

In the California car company’s latest earning report there were a reported 2,966 Supercharger stations worldwide, which is up 46 percent from a year before.

But that number needs to keep growing, especially as Tesla sold a record number of vehicles (mostly Model Y and 3 vehicles) in the most recent quarter, and plans to open up access to any and all vehicles with a plug-in battery.

“For the Superchargers to be useful to other cars, we need to grow the network faster than vehicle output,” he said in Monday’s call.

Since last week’s tweet there’s been a lot of groaning from Tesla owners, especially about longer wait times and crowded stations. But Musk summed up why this will be a good move for the greater EV movement.

“Our goal is to support the advent of sustainable energy,” he said. “It’s not to create a walled garden and bludgeon our competitors.”

Nokia revives the legendary 6310 phone with a larger, curvy display

Nokia 6310 is back! Well, sort of.

There was a point in history, at least in my mind, when Nokia 6310 was the best phone you could get. More advanced than the 3xxx series and yet not as bulky as the Communicator, the Nokia 6310 was the phone to get in the early aughts if money was no object, and getting things done was the priority.

Now, HMD Global, which owns the Nokia brand, has launched a remake of the Nokia 6310 under the same name. As is typical of Nokia’s remakes, it’s a cheap, little, basic phone that sort of looks like the original (more on that later) but has been updated to be more usable today.

In terms of specs, this means the Nokia 6310 has a 2.8-inch display with curvy edges, a numerical keypad, 8MB of RAM, 16MB of storage (expandable to 32GB via microSD cards), a rear 0.3-megapixel camera, and FM radio. Yes, it’s very, very basic.

One good thing about a phone as simple as this one is that its 1,150mAh battery can last for “weeks” between charges — just like the one on the original 6310.

Whip up this baby out of pocket, and literally no one will know that it's a remake of the old Nokia 6310.

Whip up this baby out of pocket, and literally no one will know that it’s a remake of the old Nokia 6310.
Credit: NOKIA

The design, unfortunately, has little to do with the original Nokia 6310. That phone had a three-tone look (it came in a couple of flavors; my favorite was the light grey/dark grey/gold combo) which, while obviously outdated, still seems to say “I’m a flagship device for serious businessmen,” or something like that.

The new 6310 bears almost no likeness to the old one — the shape of the device is different, the buttons are different, even the color schemes are different (the new phone comes in four colors: dark green, yellow, black, and (only in India) light blue).

The new Nokia 6310 and the old Nokia 6310 (pictured; technically, it's a 6310i but they're very similar) aren't exactly peas in a pod.

The new Nokia 6310 and the old Nokia 6310 (pictured; technically, it’s a 6310i but they’re very similar) aren’t exactly peas in a pod.
Credit: Shutterstock

The new Nokia has revived several of its old, famous phones like this. I liked the Nokia 3310, which was fairly similar to the original, but was underwhelmed with the Nokia 8110, also known as the Matrix phone. Those two devices, however, at least bore some resemblance to their forefathers; the new Nokia 6310 is similar to the old one only in name. OK, there is one other thing: The new phone also has Snake.

Alongside the new 6310, Nokia also launched a couple of new smartphones.

The Nokia C30 is an entry-level device running Android Go with a 6.82-inch display, a 13-megapixel camera on the back, a 5-megapixel selfie camera on the front, 2GB of RAM, and 32GB of storage (expandable up to 256GB via a microSD card). The phone’s highlight is its 6,000mAh battery, which should keep the phone running for “up to three days.”

Nokia C30 is a cheap smartphone with a massive battery.

Nokia C30 is a cheap smartphone with a massive battery.
Credit: NOKIA

The Nokia XR20 is a rugged smartphone made to MIL-STD-810H standard and with IP68 water and dust resistance, meaning it shouldn’t break when you drop it or submerge it underwater.

Nokia XR20 is the brand's most durable smartphone yet.

Nokia XR20 is the brand’s most durable smartphone yet.
Credit: NOKIA

It has a 6.67-inch display, a 48/13-megapixel camera, an 8-megapixel selfie camera, 4/6GB of RAM, 64/128GB of storage (expandable up to 512GB via a microSD card), and a 4,630mAh battery.

Availability dates for these devices haven’t been announced yet, but we know the prices in the UK and Europe. The Nokia 6310 will cost £49.99 ($69) in the UK and 40 EUR in Europe, the Nokia C30 will be available for £99 ($136) in the UK and 99 EUR in Europe. The Nokia XR20 will cost £399 ($549) in the UK for the 4/64GB version, and £449 ($618) for the 6/128GB version. The average price for this model will be 499 EUR in Europe, Nokia says.