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iOS 15 adds all the little features that were missing

The release of iOS 15 should be a major event for mobile operating systems. And yet, this year, there’s no breakthrough feature or overarching theme that makes this release stand out. Apple has focused on quality-of-life updates as well as new features for its own apps.

The result is a solid update that is not going to be controversial. Some people are going to take advantage of the new Focus feature. They’ll spend a lot of time customizing their phone to make it as personal as possible. Other people are just going to miss or dismiss the new features.

This year’s update is also a bit different because you don’t have to update to iOS 15. If you’re fine with iOS 14, Apple won’t force you to make the jump to iOS 15. You’ll still receive security patches. Some people will simply dismiss iOS 15 altogether.

It seems like a small change but it actually says a lot about the current state of iOS. Apple considers iOS as a mature platform. Just like you don’t have to update your Mac to the latest version of macOS if you don’t want to, you can now update at your own pace.

iOS should also be considered as a mature platform for app developers. iOS 15 adoption will be slower than usual as people won’t necessarily update to iOS 15 right away. Apps should potentially work on older iOS versions for longer.

Of course, users will ‘update’ to a new version of iOS when they buy a new iPhone and replace their old iPhone. But Apple has And people who pre-ordered the iPhone 13 will get iOS 15.

Image Credits: Apple

Focusing on you instead of your phone

One of the biggest change in iOS 15 is the ability to change your Focus from Control Center. It’s a surprisingly powerful feature with a lot of options and tweaks. I would say it doesn’t feel like an Apple feature.

But it’s definitely one of the most interesting features of iOS 15. Chances are you spend a lot of time with your phone and your device requires a lot of attention from you. With this new feature, it reverses the balance and puts you back in charge.

‘Do Not Disturb’ users are already quite familiar with the idea that you can silence notifications when you don’t want them. If you want to keep using ‘moon mode’ with iOS 15, you don’t have to change anything.

But you can now create additional Focuses. By default, Apple suggests a few Focuses — Work, Sleep, Driving, Fitness, Gaming, Mindfulness, Personal and Reading. Each Focus is customizable to your needs and you can create new Focuses from scratch.

When you turn on a specific Focus, it basically blocks notifications by default. You can then add people and apps so that notifications from those people and apps still go through. App developers can also mark a notification as time sensitive so that it always goes through. I hope they won’t abuse that feature.

There are three more settings that you can activate. First, you can optionally share that your notifications are currently silenced in Messages and compatible third-party apps. Second, you can hide home screen pages altogether. Third, you can hide notifications from the lock screen and hide badges from the home screen.

Focus gets particularly interesting when you realize that you can couple specific Focuses with automation features. For instance, you can automatically turn on ‘Sleep’ at night or you can automatically turn on ‘Work’ when you arrive at work.

Power users will also have a lot of fun setting up a Focus and pairing it with a Shortcut. For instance, you could use Shortcuts to open the Clock app when you turn on Sleep mode. You get it, this new feature has a lot of depth and beta users have just started scratching the surface.

Image Credits: Apple

Update all apps

With iOS 15, Apple has improved nearly all the default apps. Some additions are definitely nice improvements. Others have been a bit more controversial.

Let’s start with the controversial one, Safari’s design has been updated. But what you saw at WWDC in June doesn’t look at all like what’s shipping today. Essentially, Apple has listened to feedback and changed the user interface of its web browser during the summer.

By default, the address bar is now at the bottom of the screen, right above the row of buttons that let you open bookmarks, share the current page or go to the previous page. I think it works better. But if you really don’t want the address bar at the bottom, you can move it back to the top of the screen.

Other than that, Safari changes are all good improvements. For instance, the browser now supports traditional web extensions. It’s going to be interesting to see if popular Google Chrome extensions eventually come to Safari. Another nice new feature is the ability to create tab groups and find your tab groups from your other devices.

FaceTime has become a versatile video-conferencing service. You can now create links, share them with friends and add them to calendar invites. For the first time, people who don’t own an Apple device will be able to join FaceTime calls from a web browser. There’s also a new Zoom view… I mean, grid view.

Unfortunately, the big new FaceTime feature is not ready for prime time just yet. SharePlay, the feature that lets you sync audio and video playback with your friends, is going to be released later this Fall.

The Weather app has also been redesigned. It is now packed with a lot more information, such as precipitation maps, next-hour precipitation notifications and a new UV index. It has become a solid alternative to third-party weather apps. I still use Snowflake but differences are smaller and smaller.

Messages is now better integrated with other Apple apps. Whenever someone sends you an article, a photo album, a podcast or a song, you’ll see those recommendations in Apple’s other apps — Apple News, Photos, Apple Podcasts, Apple Music, etc. Once again, this is a nice addition in my testings but it’s not going to change the way you use your phone.

Apple Maps is getting better and better, especially if you live in San Francisco. If you haven’t used it in a few years, I encourage you to try it again. It’s now a solid alternative to Google Maps.

Some cities, such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and London, are receiving new detailed maps with 3D buildings, bus lanes, sidewalks and more. It feels like navigating a video game given how detailed it is. The app has also been redesigned with new place cards, a new driving user interface and settings in the app.

Photos is also receiving a bunch of improvements. Every year, the company is refining Memories. I’m not sure a ton of people are using this feature, but it’s better than before. There are now more information if you swipe on a photo as well, such as the shutter speed and lens that were used.

But the biggest change to your photo library is that you can now search for text in your photo. iOS is scanning your photos to find text and save it for Spotlight searches.

Similarly, you can now point your camera at text and select text from there. It is incredibly convenient if you’re looking for the restaurant address on the menu and want to share it with a friend or if you’re traveling and you want to translate some text.

Image Credits: Apple

Tips and tricks

There are a ton of small changes that make iOS 15 better than iOS 14. Let me list some of them:

  • If you have a compatible home key, hotel key, office key or ID card, you can now add all of those to the Wallet app.
  • You can share some health data with someone else. It can be useful if you’re living far away from your loved ones or if you want to update your healthcare team.
  • If you pay for iCloud, you’re now an iCloud+ users. In addition to storage, you get additional features. iCloud Private Relay, which is available as a beta feature, lets you browse the web with increased privacy. Hide My Email lets you create randomly generated email addresses to create new accounts around the web.
  • Similarly, if your family is using iCloud for their email addresses, you can now set up a personal domain name and set it up in iCloud.
  • iOS uses on-device speech recognition, which means that you can dictate text much faster.
  • But that’s not all, iOS processes some Siri requests on your device directly, which means that you can start a timer, set an alarm or change the music instantly. It has changed the way I use Siri.
  • You can add an account recovery contact in case you get locked out of your iCloud account. This is important to convince more people to use two-factor authentication.
  • Talking about two-factor authentication, Apple’s built-in password manager called ‘Passwords’ can now save 2FA details and auto-fill 2FA fields. It works pretty much like 2FA in 1Password.
  • You can set up a legacy person for your Apple ID. I encourage you to look at that feature carefully. I’ve talked with several persons who couldn’t get their loved one’s photos after they passed away because Apple couldn’t just hand out the photos.
  • Apple has added tags to Reminders and Notes. You can also @-mention people in Notes.

As you can see, the list of changes in iOS 15 is quite long. But it’s up to you to decide whether you want to update to iOS 15. When Apple added cut, copy and paste with iPhone OS 3, it was an obvious decision. I personally like the new features and it was worth updating. And I hope this review can help you decide whether to update or not.

TikTok expands mental health resources, as negative reports of Instagram’s effect on teens leak

TikTok announced this morning that it is implementing new tactics to educate its users about the negative mental health impacts of social media. As part of these changes, TikTok is rolling out a “well-being guide” in its Safety Center, a brief primer on eating disorders, expanded search interventions, and opt-in viewing screens on potentially triggering searches.

Developed in collaboration with International Association for Suicide PreventionCrisis Text LineLive For TomorrowSamaritans of Singapore, and Samaritans (UK), the new well-being guide offers more targeted advice toward people using TikTok, encouraging users to consider how it might impact them to share their mental health stories on a platform where any post has the potential to go viral. TikTok wants users to think about why they’re sharing their experience, if they’re ready for a wider audience to hear their story if sharing could be harmful to them, and if they’re prepared to hear others’ stories in response.

The platform also added a brief, albeit generic memo about the impact of eating disorders under the “topics” section of the Safety Center, which was developed with the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). NEDA has a long track record of collaborating with social media platforms, most recently working with Pinterest to prohibit ads promoting weight loss.

Already, TikTok directs users to local resources when they search for words or phrases like #suicide,* but now, the platform will also share content from creators with the intent of helping someone in need. The platform told TechCrunch that it chose this content following consultation with independent experts. Additionally, if someone enters a search phrase that might be alarming (TikTok offered “scary makeup” as an example), the content will be blurred out, asking users to opt-in to see the search results.

As TikTok unveils these changes, its competitor Instagram is facing scrutiny after The Wall Street Journal leaked documents that reveal its parent company Facebook’s own research on the harm Instagram poses for teen girls. Similar to the Gen Z-dominated TikTok, more than 40% of Instagram users are 22 or younger, and 22 million teens log into Instagram in the U.S. each day. In one anecdote, a 19-year-old interviewed by The Wall Street Journal said that after searching Instagram for workout ideas, her explore page has been flooded with photos about how to lose weight (Instagram has previously fessed up to errors with its search function, which recommended that users search topics like “fasting” and “appetite suppressants”). Angela Guarda, director for the eating-disorders program at Johns Hopkins Hospital, told The Wall Street Journal that her patients often say they learned about dangerous weight loss tactics via social media.

“The question on many people’s minds is if social media is good or bad for people. The research on this is mixed; it can be both,” Instagram wrote in a blog post today.

As TikTok nods to with its advice on sharing mental health stories, social media can often be a positive resource, allowing people who are dealing with certain challenges to learn from others who have gone through similar experiences. So, despite these platforms’ outsized influence, it’s also on real people to think twice about what they post and how it might influence others. Even when Facebook experimented with hiding the number of “likes” on Instagram, employees said that it didn’t improve overall user well-being. These revelations about the negative impact of social media on mental health and body image aren’t ground-breaking, but they generate a renewed pressure for these powerful platforms to think about how to support their users (or, at the very least, add some new memos to their security center). 

*If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or has had thoughts of harming themselves or taking their own life, The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) provides 24/7, free, confidential support for people in distress, as well as best practices for professionals and resources to aid in prevention and crisis situations.

Watch Apple unveil the new iPhone live right here

Apple is set to announce new iPhone models today. The company is holding a (virtual) keynote at 10 AM PT (1 PM in New York, 6 PM in London, 7 PM in Paris). And you’ll be able to watch the event right here as the company is streaming it live.

Rumor has it that there will be a new generation of iPhone models. Reports suggest that the company is going to call it the iPhone 13 and that there will be four different models just like last year. Today, you can expect to learn more about the iPhone 13, iPhone 13 Mini, iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max.

When it comes to new features, it’s safe to say that there will be big camera upgrades. This year, the company seems to be focused on video improvements in particular. The iPhone 13 should also come with a better display and a faster chip.

But that’s not all. Apple is likely to use this opportunity to announce a new Apple Watch model. There will be bigger design changes with the Apple Watch Series 7 with sharp edges.

There could be more product announcements as Apple has been working on the AirPods 3. They will replace or complement the entry-level AirPods 2 in the audio lineup. The AirPods Pro and AirPods Max will remain unchanged for now.

Finally, there’s a small chance that we get to hear more about new Macs with custom designed Apple chips as well as new iPad models…

You can watch the live stream directly on this page, as Apple is streaming its conference on YouTube.

If you have an Apple TV, you can open the TV app and look for the ‘Apple Special Event’ section. It lets you stream today’s event and rewatch old ones.

And if you don’t have an Apple TV and don’t want to use YouTube, the company also lets you live stream the event from the Apple Events section on its website. This video feed now works in all major browsers — Safari, Mozilla Firefox, Microsoft Edge and Google Chrome.

We’ll be covering the event and you can follow our liveblog for live commentary.

Read more about Apple's Fall 2021 Event on TechCrunch

Epic Games to shut down Houseparty in October, including the video chat ‘Fortnite Mode’ feature

Houseparty, the social video chat app acquired by Fortnite maker Epic Games for a reported $35 million back in 2019, is shutting down. The company says Houseparty will be discontinued in October when the app will stop functioning for its existing users; it will be pulled from the app stores today, however. Related to this move, Epic Games’ “Fortnite Mode” feature, which leveraged Houseparty to bring video chat to Fortnite gamers, will also be discontinued.

Founded in 2015, Houseparty offered a way for users to participate in group video chats with friends and even play games, like Uno, trivia, Heads Up and others. Last year, Epic Games integrated Houseparty with Fortnite, initially to allow gamers to see live feeds from friends while gaming, then later adding support to livestream gameplay directly into Houseparty. At the time, these integrations appeared to be the end goal that explained why Epic Games had bought the social startup in the first place.

Now, just over two years after the acquisition was announced, and less than half a year since support for livestreaming was added to the app, Houseparty is shutting down.

The company didn’t offer any solid insight into what, at first glance, feels like an admission of failure to capitalize on its acquisition. But the reality is that Epic Games may have something larger in store beyond just video chat. That said, all Epic Games would say today is that the Houseparty team could no longer give the app the attention it required — a statement that indicates an executive decision to shift the team’s focus to other matters.

While none of the Houseparty team members are being let go as a result of this move, we’re told, they will be joining other teams where they will work on new ways to allow for “social interactions” across the Epic Games family of products. The company’s announcement hinted that those social features would be designed and built at the “metaverse scale.”

The “metaverse” is an increasingly used buzzword that references a shared virtual environment, like those provided by large-scale online gaming platforms such as Fortnite, Roblox and others. Facebook, too, claims the metaverse is the next big gambit for social networking, with CEO Mark Zuckerberg having described it as an “embodied internet that you’re inside of rather than just looking at.”

To some extent, Fortnite has begun to embrace the metaverse by offering non-gaming experiences like online concerts you attend as your avatar, and other live events. Ahead of its shutdown, Houseparty also toyed with live events that users would co-watch and participate in alongside their friends.

An Epic Games spokesperson tells TechCrunch the Houseparty team has worked on (and continues to work on) a number of other projects that focus on social. But some of the “multiple, larger projects” Epic Games has in the works remain undisclosed, we’re told.

In terms of social products, Houseparty’s technology now underpins all of Fortnite voice chat and the features they built are widely available for free to developers through Epic Games Services. They also worked on building out new social experiences, which have ranged from the social RSVP functions for Fortnite’s global events, like the recent Ariana Grande concert, to the upcoming “Operation: Sky Fire” event for collaborating quests and other game mechanics. More social functionality and new experiences are also being built into Fortnite’s user-generated content platform, Create Mode.

While it may seem odd to close an app that only last year experienced a boost in usage due to the pandemic, it appears the COVID bump didn’t have staying power.

At the height of lockdowns, Houseparty had reported it had gained 50 million new sign-ups in a month’s time as users looked to video apps to connect with family and friends while the world was shut down. But as the pandemic wore on, other video chat experiences gained more ground. Zoom, which had established itself as an essential tool for remote work, became a tool for hanging out with friends after-hours, as well. Facebook also started to eat Houseparty’s lunch with its debut of drop-in video chat “Rooms” last year, which offered a similar group video experience. And bored users shifted to audio-based social networking on apps like Clubhouse or Twitter Spaces.

Image Credits: Apptopia

According to data from Apptopia, Houseparty has been continually declining since the pandemic bump. To date, its app has seen a total of 111 million downloads across iOS and Android, with the majority (63 million) on iOS. The U.S. was Houseparty’s largest market, accounting for 43.4% of downloads, followed by the U.K. (9.8%), then Germany (5.6%).

Epic Games, meanwhile, said the app served “tens of millions” of users worldwide. It insists the closure wasn’t decided lightly, nor was the decision to shutter “Fortnite Mode” made due to lack of adoption.

Houseparty will alert users to the shutdown via in-app notifications ahead of its final closure in October. At that point, Fortnite Mode will also no longer be available.

PayPal acquires Japan’s Paidy for $2.7B to crack the buy-now, pay-later market in Asia  

PayPal Holdings, the U.S. fintech company, announced an acquisition of Paidy, a Japanese buy now, pay later (BNPL) service platform, for approximately $2.7 billion (300 billion yen), mostly in cash, to enhance its business in Japan.

The transaction completion including the regulatory approval is expected in the fourth quarter of 2021.

After the acquisition, the Japan-based company will continue to operate its existing business and maintain the brand while the leaders, Paidy’s president and CEO Riku Sugie and founder and executive chairman of Paidy Russel Cummer, keep their positions.

Japan is the third largest e-commerce market in the world, and so this is a significant move by PayPal to gain more market share both in the country and the region, specifically in the area of providing deferred payment services as an alternative to credit cards.

PayPal has long played nice with payment cards – users can upload details of their cards to PayPal and use it as a kind of digital wallet to manage how they pay for things online through it – but it got its start actually as a payment platform in itself, where people could pay into and out of PayPal accounts. Paidy is, in that sense, a strengthening of PayPal’s first-party rails, providing a way to ‘own’ that flow of money on its own infrastructure, not involving the card networks.

Paidy is basically a two-sided payments service, acting as a middleman between consumers and merchants in Japan. Using machine learning it determines the creditworthiness of a consumer related to a particular purchase, and then it underwrites those transactions in seconds, guaranteeing payments to merchants. Consumers then make deferred payment to Paidy for those goods.

Paidy’s platform, which offers a monthly payment installment service branded ‘3-Pay’, enables shoppers to make purchases online and then pay for them each month in a consolidated bill at a convenience store or via bank transfer.

“Paidy pioneered buy now, pay later solutions tailored to the Japanese market and quickly grew to become the leading service, developing a sizable two-sided platform of consumers and merchants,” said Peter Kenevan, vice president, head of Japan at Paypal.

Paidy has more than 6 million registered users, and the plan is to integrate PayPal and other digital and QR wallets with Paidy Link to connect further online and offline merchants.

In April 2021, the Japan-based company launched Paidy Link, allowing users to link digital wallets with their Payidy account. PayPal was the first digital wallet partner to integrate with Paidy Link.

“PayPal was a founding partner for Paidy Link and we look forward to looking together to create even more value,” Sugie said in a statement.

“Japan has been a vibrant environment for our growth to date and we’re honored to have our team’s hard work and potential recognized by a global leader. Together with Paypal, we will be able to further achieve our mission of taking the hassle out of shopping,” Cummer said.

Report: India may be next in line to mandate changes to Apple’s in-app payment rules

Summer is still technically in session, but a snowball is slowly developing in the world of apps, and specifically the world of in-app payments. A report in Reuters today says that the Competition Commission of India, the country’s monopoly regulator, will soon be looking at an antitrust suit filed against Apple over how it mandates that app developers use Apple’s own in-app payment system — thereby giving Apple a cut of those payments — when publishers charge users for subscriptions and other items in their apps.

The suit, filed by an Indian non-profit called “Together We Fight Society”, said in a statement to Reuters that it was representing consumer and startup interests in its complaint.

The move would be the latest in what has become a string of challenges from national regulators against app store operators — specifically Apple but also others like Google and WeChat — over how they wield their positions to enforce market practices that critics have argued are anti-competitive. Other countries that have in recent weeks reached settlements, passed laws, or are about to introduce laws include Japan, South Korea, Australia, the U.S. and the European Union.

And in India specifically, the regulator is currently working through a similar investigation as it relates to in-app payments in Android apps, which Google mandates use its proprietary payment system. Google and Android dominate the Indian smartphone market, with the operating system active on 98% of the 520 million devices in use in the country as of the end of 2020.

It will be interesting to watch whether more countries wade in as a result of these developments. Ultimately, it could force app store operators, to avoid further and deeper regulatory scrutiny, to adopt new and more flexible universal policies.

In the meantime, we are seeing changes happen on a country-by-country basis.

Just yesterday, Apple reached a settlement in Japan that will let publishers of “reader” apps (those for using or consuming media like books and news, music, files in the cloud and more) to redirect users to external sites to provide alternatives to Apple’s proprietary in-app payment provision. Although it’s not as seamless as paying within the app, redirecting previously was typically not allowed, and in doing so the publishers can avoid Apple’s cut.

South Korean legislators earlier this week approved a measure that will make it illegal for Apple and Google to make a commission by forcing developers to use their proprietary payment systems.

And last week, Apple also made some movements in the U.S. around allowing alternative forms of payments, but relatively speaking the concessions were somewhat indirect: app publishers can refer to alternative, direct payment options in apps now, but not actually offer them. (Not yet at least.)

Some developers and consumers have been arguing for years that Apple’s strict policies should open up more. Apple however has long said in its defense that it mandates certain developer policies to build better overall user experiences, and for reasons of security. But, as app technology has evolved, and consumer habits have changed, critics believe that this position needs to be reconsidered.

One factor in Apple’s defense in India specifically might be the company’s position in the market. Android absolutely dominates India when it comes to smartphones and mobile services, with Apple actually a very small part of the ecosystem.

As of the end of 2020, it accounted for just 2% of the 520 million smartphones in use in the country, according to figures from Counterpoint Research quoted by Reuters. That figure had doubled in the last five years, but it’s a long way from a majority, or even significant minority.

The antitrust filing in India has yet to be filed formally, but Reuters notes that the wording leans on the fact that anti-competitive practices in payments systems make it less viable for many publishers to exist at all, since the economics simply do not add up:

“The existence of the 30% commission means that some app developers will never make it to the market,” Reuters noted from the filing. “This could also result in consumer harm.”

Reuters notes that the CCI will be reviewing the case in the coming weeks before deciding whether it should run a deeper investigation or dismiss it. It typically does not publish filings during this period.

Popcorn’s new app brings short-form video to the workplace

A new startup called Popcorn wants to make work communication more fun and personal by offering a way for users to record short video messages, or “pops,” that can be used for any number of purposes in place of longer emails, texts, Slack messages, or Zoom calls. While there are plenty of other places to record short-form video these days, most of these exist in the social media space which isn’t appropriate for a work environment. Nor does it make sense to send a video you’ve recorded on your phone as an email attachment, when you really just want to check in with a colleague or say hello.

Popcorn, on the other hand, lets you create the short video and then send a URL to that video anywhere you would want add a personal touch to your message.

For example, you could use Popcorn in business networking scenario, where you’re trying to connect with someone in your industry for the first time — aka “cold outreach.” Instead of just blasting them a message on LinkedIn, you could also paste in the Popcorn URL to introduce yourself in a more natural, friendly fashion. You could also use Popcorn with your team at work for things like daily check-ins, sharing progress on an ongoing project, or to greet new hires, among other things.

Videos themselves can be up to 60 seconds in length — a time limit designed to keep Popcorn users from rambling. Users can also opt to record audio only if they don’t want to appear on video. And you can increase the playback speed if you’re in a hurry. Users who want to receive “pops” could also advertise their “popcode” (e.g. try mine at U8696).

The idea to bring short-form video to the workplace comes from Popcorn co-founder and CEO Justin Spraggins, whose background is in building consumer apps. One of his first apps to gain traction back in 2014 was a Tinder-meets-Instagram experience called Looksee that allowed users to connect around shared photos. A couple years later, he co-founded a social calling app called Unmute, a Clubhouse precursor of sorts. He then went on to co-found 9 Count, a consumer app development shop which launched more social apps like BFF (previously Wink) and Juju.

9 Count’s lead engineer, Ben Hochberg, is now also a co-founder on Popcorn (or rather, Snack Break, Inc. as the legal entity is called). They began their work on Popcorn in 2020, just after the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. But the rapid shift to remote work that’s come in the days that followed could now help Popcorn gain traction among distributed teams. Today’s remote workers may never again return to in-person meetings at the office, but they’re also are growing tired of long days stuck in Zoom meetings.

With Popcorn, the goal is to make work communication fun, personal and bite-sized, Spraggins says. “[We want to] bring all the stuff we’re really passionate about in consumer social into work, which I think is really important for us now,” he explains.

“You work with these people, but how do you — without scheduling a Zoom — how do you bring the ‘human’ to it?,” Spraggins says. “I’m really excited about making work products feel more social, more like Snapchat than utility tools.”

There is a lot Popcorn would still need to figure out to truly make a business-oriented social app work, including adding enhanced security, limiting spam, offering some sort of reporting flow for bad actors, and more. It will also eventually need to land on a successful revenue model.

Currently, Popcorn is a free download on iPhone, iPad and Mac, and offers a Slack integration so you can send video messages to co-workers directly in the communication software you already use to catch up and stay in touch. The app today is fairly simple but the company plans to enhance its short videos over time using AR frames that let users showcase their personalities.

The startup raised a $400,000 pre-seed round from General Catalyst (Nico Bonatsos) and Dream Machine (Alexia Bonatsos, previously editor-in-chief at TechCrunch.) Spraggins says the company will be looking to raise a seed round in the fall to help with hires, including in the AR space.

Jolla hits profitability ahead of turning ten, eyes growth beyond mobile

A milestone for Jolla, the Finnish startup behind the Sailfish OS — which formed, almost a decade ago, when a band of Nokia staffers left to keep the torch burning for a mobile linux-based alternative to Google’s Android — today it’s announcing hitting profitability.

The mobile OS licensing startup describes 2020 as a “turning point” for the business — reporting revenues that grew 53% YoY, and EBITDA (which provides a snapshot of operational efficiency) standing at 34%.

It has a new iron in the fire too now — having recently started offering a new licensing product (called AppSupport for Linux Platforms) which, as the name suggests, can provide linux platforms with standalone compatibility with general Android applications — without a customer needing to licence the full Sailfish OS (the latter has of course baked in Android app compatibility since 2013).

Jolla says AppSupport has had some “strong” early interest from automotive companies looking for solutions to develop their in-case infotainment systems — as it offers a way for embedded Linux-compatible platform the capability to run Android apps without needing to opt for Google’s automotive offerings. And while plenty of car makers have opted for Android, there are still players Jolla could net for its ‘Google-free’ alternative.

Embedded linux systems also run in plenty of other places, too, so it’s hopeful of wider demand. The software could be used to enable an IoT device to run a particularly popular app, for example, as a value add for customers.

“Jolla is doing fine,” says CEO and co-founder Sami Pienimäki. “I’m happy to see the company turning profitable last year officially.

“In general it’s the overall maturity of the asset and the company that we start to have customers here and there — and it’s been honestly a while that we’ve been pushing this,” he goes, fleshing out the reasons behind the positive numbers with trademark understatement. “The company is turning ten years in October so it’s been a long journey. And because of that we’ve been steadily improving our efficiency and our revenue.

“Our revenue grew over 50% since 2019 to 2020 and we made €5.4M revenue. At the same time the cost base of the operation has stablized quite well so the sum of those resulted to nice profitability.”

While the consumer mobile OS market has — for years — been almost entirely sewn up by Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS, Jolla licenses its open source Sailfish OS to governments and business as an alternative platform they can shape to their needs — without requiring any involvement of Google.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Russia was one of the early markets that tapped in.

The case for digital sovereignty in general — and an independent (non-US-based) mobile OS platform provider, specifically — has been strengthened in recent years as geopolitical tensions have played out via the medium of tech platforms; leading to, in some cases, infamous bans on foreign companies being able to access US-based technologies.

In a related development this summer, China’s Huawei launched its own Android alternative for smartphones, which it’s called HarmonyOS.

Pienimäki is welcoming of that specific development — couching it as a validation of the market in which Sailfish plays.

“I wouldn’t necessarily see Huawei coming out with the HarmonyOS value proposition and the technology as a competitor to us — I think it’s more proving the point that there is appetite in the market for something else than Android itself,” he says when we ask whether HarmonyOS risks eating Sailfish’s lunch.

“They are tapping into that market and we are tapping into that market. And I think both of our strategies and messages support each other very firmly.”

Jolla has been working on selling Sailfish into the Chinese market for several years — and that sought for business remains a work in progress at this stage. But, again, Pienimäki says Jolla doesn’t see Huawei’s move as any kind of blocker to its ambitions of licensing its Android alternative in the Far East.

“The way we see the Chinese market in general is that it’s been always open to healthy competition and there is always competing solutions — actually heavily competing solutions — in the Chinese market. And Huawei’s offering one and we are happy to offer Sailfish OS for this very big, challenging market as well.”

“We do have good relationships there and we are building a case together with our local partners also to access the China market,” he adds. “I think in general it’s also very good that big corporations like Huawei really recognize this opportunity in general — and this shapes the overall industry so that you don’t need to, by default, opt into Android always. There are other alternatives around.”

On AppSupport, Jolla says the automative sector is “actively looking for such solutions”, noting that the “digital cockpit is a key differentiator for car markers — and arguing that makes it a strategically important piece for them to own and control.

“There’s been a lot of, let’s say, positive vibes in that sector in the past few years — new comers on the block like Tesla have really shaken the industry so that the traditional vendors need to think differently about how and what kind of user experience they provide in the cockpit,” he suggests.

“That’s been heavily invested and rapidly developing in the past years but I’m going to emphasize that at the same time, with our limited resources, we’re just learning where the opportunities for this technology are. Automative seems to have a lot of appetite but then [we also see potential in] other sectors — IoT… heavy industry as well… we are openly exploring opportunities… but as we know automotive is very hot at the moment.”

“There is plenty of general linux OS base in the world for which we are offering a good additional piece of technology so that those operating solutions can actually also tap into — for example — selected applications. You can think of like running the likes of Spotify or Netflix or some communications solutions specific for a certain sector,” he goes on.

“Most of those applications are naturally available both for iOS and Android platforms. And those applications as they simply exist the capability to run those applications independently on top of a linux platform — that creates a lot of interest.”

In another development, Jolla is in the process of raising a new growth financing round — it’s targeting €20M — to support its push to market AppSupport and also to put towards further growing its Sailfish licensing business.

It sees growth potential for Sailfish in Europe, which remains the biggest market for licensing the mobile OS. Pienimäki also says it’s seeing “good development” in certain parts of Africa. Nor has it given up on its ambitions to crack into China.

The growth round was opened to investors in the summer and hasn’t yet closed — but Jolla is confident of nailing the raise.

“We are really turning a next chapter in the Jolla story so exploring to new emerging opportunities — that requires capital and that’s what are looking for. There’s plenty of money available these days, in the investor front, and we are seeing good traction there together with the investment bank with whom we are working,” says Pienimäki.

“There’s definitely an appetite for this and that will definitely put us in a better position to invest further — both to Sailfish OS and the AppSupport technology. And in particular to the go-to market operation — to make this technology available for more people out there in the market.”

 

Samsung’s Galaxy Z Flip 3 is the foldable to beat

I took a long walk on Saturday. It’s become a routine during the pandemic, a chance to unwind after too many hours indoors, while seeing parts of the city that would otherwise be lost to subway rides in normal years. Saturday was more purpose-driven, heading to a newly opened Trader Joe’s before Henri unleashed itself on the Eastern Seaboard.

Taking respite from the early rain, I found a food court in Long Island City, ordered a shawarma and pulled the Galaxy Z Flip from my pocket. I unfolded the phone, popped the new Galaxy Buds in my ears and watched a baseball game on the MLB.TV app. The Flip really made sense in that moment, open in landscape mode at a 135-degree angle to keep the 6.7-inch screen upright. When the game ended (spoiler, it didn’t end well), I snapped the phone shut, stuck it in my pocket and went on my way.

It doesn’t always come with a piece of new technology, but sometimes you get lucky and have an experience where it just clicks. There were plenty of jokes about the long-ago death of the clamshell when the first Flip arrived. Those won’t be going away anytime soon, of course, but the phone also offered the first sense for many that maybe Samsung was heading in the right direction with its foldable ambitions.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Setting aside the early flaws with the first Galaxy Fold (we’ve covered them ad nauseum elsewhere), the device is also unwieldy. While it’s true the foldable screen affords you the ability to carry around a screen that might otherwise be impossible, it’s a large device when folded, and the opportunities to unfold don’t readily present themselves. The Flip splits the difference nicely between screen size and portability. In terms of display size, it’s effectively a Galaxy Note that snaps in two and fits nicely in your pocket.

Most of the talk of Samsung mainstreaming foldables has centered on the Galaxy Z Fold — mostly from the company itself. Samsung has made a big to-do about positioning the Fold as its latest flagship — augmenting or, perhaps replacing, the Note in its lineup. The Fold 3 certainly blurs the lines with the addition of S Pen functionality, but the Flip is the much clearer bridge between Samsung’s existing flagships and the foldable future it envisions.

Mainstreaming foldables was always going to be a tricky proposition. Right out of the gate, they were hit with negative coverage over production issues and prices; $2,000 is a lot to pay for a product you essentially have to handle with kid gloves. You shouldn’t have to worry about accidentally damaging your daily driver through normal use. The Flip benefits from the mistakes of earlier fold generations, getting a more robust design and water resistance as a result.

Perhaps even more importantly, however, is pricing. The Galaxy Z Flip is Samsung’s first foldable under $1,000. Now, granted, it’s literally one penny under that threshold — a price point that puts it in line with expensive premium phones from the likes of Samsung and Apple. But in the world of foldables, that’s a really big win. The first couple of generations could — to some degree — survive on novelty alone.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

As more of these devices make their way into the world, utility supersedes novelty. But growing popularity also means scale — and, as a result, price drops. For the first time, buying a Samsung foldable is not the financial equivalent of buying two phones. That’s a much more significant threshold than the Galaxy Fold dropping $200 over its previous generation.

The company noted this week, that “in just 10 days since announcement pre-orders for the Galaxy Z Fold3 and Galaxy Z Flip3 have already surpassed total global Samsung foldables sales in all of 2021, also making it the strongest pre-order for Samsung foldables ever.” There are a lot of factors here, including a lower price, more robust design, the absence of a new Note and an aggressive push to get consumers to preorder. But it’s safe to say the line is, at the very least, trending the right way.

Expectedly, the company’s numbers don’t break down sales in terms of Fold versus Flip. Admittedly, the Fold is more fully featured, and 7.6 inches of screen is better than 6.7 inches of screen, when it comes, to, say, watching a full movie. But for most people in most instances, the Galaxy Flip is a better choice. I can say with no hesitation: The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip is the most mainstream foldable on the market.

If you’re not sold on the importance of foldables, such a statement understandably doesn’t mean much. But for a vast majority of people looking to make the leap to what is increasingly looking like a key part of the mobile future, the Flip is an obvious choice. And while it’s easy to make fun of the clamshell design as a relic of a bygone era, there’s a reason phones went that way in the first place. One assumes a big part of the reason they largely went away is that — until now — smartphones weren’t foldable.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Samsung gets the design language right here. The Flip 3 is easily the company’s best-looking foldable to date. The dual-color shell is striking. The company sent along a cream color, which I’m not particularly fond of, but the green, lavender and even plain black or white are quite striking. It pairs well with the strip of black that houses the exterior display, which has been bumped from 1.1 to 1.9 inches. It doesn’t sound like a lot, sure, but that’s a healthy increase on a screen this size.

Of course, you’re losing the full exterior screen functionality you get on the Fold. The Flip’s display is effectively a quick-glance secondary screen for notifications. Pull it out, and it shows you the time, date and how much battery you’ve got left. Swipe right and you’ll see your notifications.

Swipe left and you get an alarm or timer, with the option of adding more widgets to the screen, including weather, media playback (effectively audio play/pause) and Samsung Health Metrics. It’s a small list, but one that will no doubt increase if more people pick up the Flip. Swipe down for some quick settings and Swipe up for Samsung Pause.

In a time when many of us are trying to make a concerted effort to minimize our phone use, I appreciate the dichotomy between the two screens. It’s a much clearer line in the sand than the one separating the Fold’s 6.2- and 7.6-inch screens. Phone closed = checking my notifications. Phone open = engagement. When the time comes to open the phone, the Flip is a much easier proposition than the phones. I haven’t quite mastered the art of the one-handed open just yet, but it’s much easier to execute on the fly than the Fold, which is effectively like opening a book. The biggest downside to the form factor in terms of speed is there’s no quick way to fire off a photo.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Taking photos is far more deliberate, requiring one to open the phone to see the internal view finder. You can, however, snap off some selfies by double-pressing the power button, with the small front-facing screen doubling as a small viewfinder. Swiping to the left toggles between still, while swiping up and down changes the level of zoom. It’s a bit awkward and clunky, but the pair of 12-megapixel cameras (wide and ultra-wide) will get you a much better selfie than most pinhole cameras (including the Flip’s 10 megapixel lens).

Like the Fold, the rear cameras (which are also the front-facing cameras, depending on how you look at it) are largely unchanged since the Flip 2. A dual-camera system can feel almost antiquated in 2021, but for most intents and purposes, they do the trick, coupled with Samsung’s many years of camera software experience. The 22:9 aspect ratio means more than a quarter of the screen is occupied by the controls out of necessity.

The aspect ratio in general merits comment. It’s, like, really, really tall when open. It’s a nice amount of real estate to have when, say, scrolling through Gmail or Twitter. But when watching video, you’ll often encounter pillarboxing — letterboxing on the sides of the screen. The video world simply isn’t ready for 22:9, and quite frankly, it probably won’t ever be.

And then, of course, there’s the seam. It’s right there in the center of the lovely 2640 x 1080, 425 ppi screen. And barring some unforeseen breakthrough in foldable tech, I frankly don’t see it disappearing any time soon. I understand why that might be a deal breaker, though I’ve largely gotten used to it after spending time with these devices.

Like the Fold, the Flip runs on the Snapdragon 888 processor. Predictably, the lower cost comes with less in the way of RAM and storage, at 8 and 128GB on the Flip, to the Fold’s 12 and 256GB. Another $150 will upgrade the storage 256GB here. While Samsung mostly hasn’t skimped much on the internals, the 3,300 mAh battery does fall short.

Battery life is an issue with the Fold and an even bigger problem on the Flip — in fact, it’s the biggest complaint here. Moderate to heavy use is going to require getting near a charging cable before the day is over. Maybe not a huge deal in these pandemic days, but something to consider as we re-enter the world. Certainly long, unplugged plane rides are out of the question.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Again, I can totally sympathize with that being a deal breaker. You pay $1,000 for a phone, you want a battery that’s going to get you through a day of use, worry-free. And certainly it’s something for Samsung to focus on in gen four.

As it stands, the Galaxy Z Flip 3 has the benefit of previous generations, with a stronger aluminum frame, improved screen protector and IPX8 water resistance (no dust resistance rating, for reasons outlined in the Fold review). It’s not a perfect phone, but it’s a strong sign of how far Samsung’s foldables have come in three generations, coupled with a sub-$1,000 price point.

The device is likely to be second fiddle as the company continues to push the Fold as its flagship foldable. But for most people looking to enter the world of foldable phones, the Flip is the easy choice.

SiriusXM launches ‘TikTok Radio,’ a music channel featuring viral hits hosted by TikTok stars

If viral TikTok songs like Dr. Dog’s “Where’d All the Time Go?” or Bo Burnham’s “Bezos I” weren’t already stuck in your head on loop, now they could be. Today SiriusXM launched a TikTok Radio channel, which features TikTok creators as channel hosts. The station is designed to sound like a “radio version of the platform’s ‘For You’ feed,” Sirius XM said.

SiriusXM, parent company to Pandora, announced this music channel in May, teasing the launch with curated Pandora playlists from influencers like Bella Poarch, whose lipsync video of Millie B’s “Soph Aspin Send [M to the B]” is the most liked video on TikTok.

With its TikTok partnership, SiriusXM is looking to capture a younger audience — on the TikTok app itself, DJ Habibeats (@djhabibeats) and DJ CONST (@erinconstantineofficial) will each go live on TikTok each week while DJing on TikTok Radio. Other creator hosts on TikTok Radio — like Billy (@8illy), Cat Haley (@itscathaley), HINDZ (@hindzsight), Lamar Dawson (@dirrtykingofpop) and Taylor Cassidy (@taylorcassidyj) — will deliver “The TikTok Radio Trending Ten,” a weekly countdown of songs trending on TikTok. To promote the station during its first week, artists like Ed Sheeran, Lil Nas X and Normani will appear on air.

Music has such a strong footing in TikTok culture that it regularly influences the Billboard charts — Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours,” originally released in 1978, appeared in the top 10 Billboard albums again in 2020 after it was featured in a viral TikTok. Even a Fortnite-themed parody of Estelle’s “American Boy” — originally uploaded in 2018 to YouTube — had a beautiful moment on TikTok. 

“We’re so excited to launch TikTok Radio on SiriusXM, which opens up artists and creators like this amazing group of hosts to new audiences,” said Ole Obermann, TikTok’s global head of Music, in a statement. “Now SiriusXM subscribers will have a new road to discover the latest trends in music and get a first listen to tomorrow’s musical superstars. The channel captures song-breaking music culture that creates so much joy and entertainment on TikTok through video in an all-audio format.”

Though SiriusXM’s subscriber base continues to expand — it saw a 34% year-over-year growth from last year to now — it still dwarfs in comparison to streaming giants like Spotify, which has 165 million paid users. SiriusXM reported a total of 34.5 million subscribers as of Q2 this year, the most it’s ever had, but even Apple Music and Amazon Music have reported nearly double the subscribers. Pandora has 6.5 million paid subscribers. Over the last few years, SiriusXM and Pandora have struck deals with companies like SoundCloud, Simplecast and Stitcher to become more competitive in both music and podcast streaming. 

Still, other streaming companies have also shown interest in the market of Gen Z-ers on TikTok who want to listen to full versions of the catchy songs they hear in short videos. Apple Music and Spotify both host curated “viral hits” playlists. But a full-time satellite music channel is taking the trend a step further.

 

Google’s Pixel 5a with 5G adds water resistance, a bigger battery and a headphone jack

It’s no secret that Google is in the midst of a pretty massive overhaul of its Pixel division. The Pixel 6 offers the next major Hail Mary for the company’s hardware division, complete with its own custom chip, Tensor.

This is not that. The new flagship won’t be available until the fall. Meantime, here’s the 5a, the latest addition to the “budget flagship” line that’s proven a nice overall sales boost for a struggling department.

Image Credits: Google

Google confirmed the phone’s existence back in April, mostly as a way of curbing rumors prematurely predicting the unannounced handset’s death. “Pixel 5a 5G is not canceled,” the company told TechCrunch at the time. “It will be available later this year in the U.S. and Japan and announced in line with when last year’s a-series phone was introduced.”

And, indeed, here it is. The handset officially goes on sale August 26 for $449. The Pixel 5a with 5G is, in a word, “safe” — a fact highlighted by the recent announcement of the Pixel 6. This is very much not a phone from a company looking to shake things up, but rather, the remnants of a division that was content to play right down the middle in the smartphone wars. Safe isn’t a bad word — particularly not at this price point. It’s sturdy (now with IP67 water resistance!) and it’ll get the job done.

As the name very clearly implies, the price includes 5G connectivity. That’s coupled with a dual-camera — with the same 12- and 16-megapixel setup as the Pixel 5. Those perform a slew of software-enabled modes, including Night Sight, Live HDR+ and Portrait Light. The phone is powered by the same mid-tier Snapdragon 765G process, while the RAM has been reduced down to 6GB.

Image Credits: Google

Storage is the same at 128GB and, interestingly, the battery has actually been bumped up from 4080 mAh to 4680. The screen, too, has been expanded from 6.0 to 6.34 inches, with the same resolution. It drops the Pixel 5’s wireless charging, but hey, there’s a headphone jack.

The Pixel 5a with 5G is up for preorder starting today.

Reddit is quietly rolling out a TikTok-like video feed button on iOS

From Instagram’s Reels to Snapchat’s Spotlight, most social media platforms are looking toward the TikTok boom for inspiration. Now, even Reddit, a discussion-based forum, is making short-form video more pronounced on its iOS app.

According to Reddit, most iOS users should have a button on their app directly to the right of the search bar — when tapped, it will show a stream of videos in a TikTok-like configuration. When presented with a video, (which shows the poster who uploaded it and the subreddit it’s from), users can upvote or downvote, comment, gift an award or share it. Like TikTok, users can swipe up to see another video, feeding content from subreddits the user is subscribed to, as well as related ones. For instance, if you’re subscribed to r/printmaking, you might see content from r/pottery or r/bookbinding.

The user interface of the videos isn’t new — Reddit has been experimenting with this format over the last year. But before, this manner of watching Reddit videos was only accessible by tapping on a video while scrolling through your feed — rather than promoting discovery of other communities, the first several videos recommended would be from the same subreddit.

Images of new Reddit features

Image Credits: Reddit, screenshots by TechCrunch

“Reddit’s mission is to bring community and belonging to everyone in the world, and subsequently, Reddit’s video team’s mission is to bring community through video,” a Reddit spokesperson told TechCrunch, about the new addition. “Over the course of the last year, our goal was to build a unified video player, and re-envision the player interface to match what users (new and old) expect when it comes to an in-app video player — especially commenting, viewing, engaging and discovering new content and communities through video,” they noted.

Reddit doesn’t yet have a timeline for when the feature will roll out to everyone, but confirmed that this icon first appeared for some users in late July and has continued to roll out to almost all iOS users. But by placing a broader, yet still personalized video feed on the home screen, Reddit is signaling a growing curiosity in short form video. In December 2020, Reddit acquired Dubsmash, a Brooklyn-via-Berlin-based TikTok competitor. The terms of the deals were undisclosed, but Facebook and Snap also reportedly showed interest in the platform, which hit 1 billion monthly views in January 2020.

Reddit declined to comment on whether or not its new video player is using an algorithm to promote discovery of new subreddits based on user activity. However, a Reddit spokesperson confirmed that the company will use Dubsmash’s technology to develop other features down the road, though not for this particular product, they said.

Reddit first launched its native video platform in 2017, which allows users to upload MP4 and MOV files to the site. Then, in August 2019, it launched RPAN (Reddit Public Access Network), which lets people livestream to selected subreddits — the most popular livestreams are promoted across the platform. Reddit currently attracts 50 million daily active visitors and hosts 100,000 active subreddits.

Medal.tv, a video clipping service for gamers, enters the livestreaming market with Rawa.tv acquisition

Medal.tv, a short-form video clipping service and social network for gamers, is entering the live streaming market with the acquisition of Rawa.tv, a Twitch rival based in Dubai, which had raised around $1 million to date. The seven-figure, all cash deal will see two of Rawa’s founders, Raya Dadah and Phil Jammal, now joining Medal and further integrations between the two platforms going forward.

The Middle East and North African region (MENA) is one of the fastest-growing markets in gaming and still one that’s mostly un-catered to, explained Medal.tv CEO Pim de Witte, as to his company’s interest in Rawa.

“Most companies that target that market don’t really understand the nuances and try to replicate existing Western or Far-Eastern models that are doomed to fail,” he said. “Absorbing a local team will increase Medal’s chances of success here. Overall, we believe that MENA is an underserved market without a clear leader in the livestreaming space, and Rawa brings to Medal the local market expertise that we need to capitalize on this opportunity,” de Witte added.

Medal.tv’s community had been asking for the ability to do livestreaming for some time, the exec also noted, but the technology would have been too expensive for the startup to build using off-the-shelf services at its scale, de Witte said.

“People increasingly connect around live and real-time experiences, and this is something our platform has lacked to date,” he noted.

But Rawa, as the first livestreaming platform dedicated to Arab gaming, had built out its own proprietary live and network streaming technology that’s now used in all its products. That technology is now coming to Medal.tv.

Image Credits: Medal.tv

The two companies were already connected before today, as Rawa users have been able to upload their gaming clips to Medal.tv, and some Rawa partners had joined Medal’s skilled player program. Going forward, Rawa will continue to operate as a separate platform, but it will become more tightly integrated with Medal, the company says. Currently, Rawa sees around 100,000 active users on its service.

The remaining Rawa team will continue to operate the livestreaming platform under co-founder Jammal’s leadership following the deal’s close, and the Rawa HQ will remain based in Dubai. However, Rawa’s employees have been working remotely since the start of the pandemic, and it’s unclear if that will change in the future, given the uncertainty of Covid-19’s spread.

Medal.tv detailed its further plans for Rawa on its site, where the company explained it doesn’t aim to build a “general-purpose” livestreaming platform where the majority of viewers don’t pay — a call-out that clearly seems aimed at Twitch. Instead, it says it will focus on matching content with viewers who would be interested in subscribing to the creators. This addresses on of the challenges that has faced larger platforms like Twitch in the past, where it’s been difficult for smaller streamers to get off the ground.

The company also said it will remain narrowly focused on serving the gaming community as opposed to venturing into non-gaming content, as others have done. Again, this differentiates itself from Twitch which, over the years, expanded into vlogs and even streaming old TV shows. And it’s much different from YouTube or Facebook Watch, where gaming is only a subcategory of a broader video network.

The acquisition follows Medal.tv’s $9 million Series A led by Horizons Ventures in 2019, after the startup had grown to 5 million registered users and “hundreds of thousands” of daily active users. Today, the company says over 200,000 people create content every day on Medal, and 3 million users are actively viewing that content every month.

This Week in Apps: In-app events hit the App Store, TikTok tries Stories, Apple reveals new child safety plan

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.

The app industry continues to grow, with a record 218 billion downloads and $143 billion in global consumer spend in 2020. Consumers last year also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone. And in the U.S., app usage surged ahead of the time spent watching live TV. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day, but now spends four hours per day on their mobile devices.

Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re also a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus. In 2020, investors poured $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year-over-year.

This Week in Apps offers a way to keep up with this fast-moving industry in one place, with the latest from the world of apps, including news, updates, startup fundings, mergers and acquisitions, and suggestions about new apps and games to try, too.

Do you want This Week in Apps in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here: techcrunch.com/newsletters

Top Stories

Apple to scan for CSAM imagery

Apple announced a major initiative to scan devices for CSAM imagery. The company on Thursday announced a new set of features, arriving later this year, that will detect child sexual abuse material (CSAM) in its cloud and report it to law enforcement. Companies like Dropbox, Google and Microsoft already scan for CSAM in their cloud services, but Apple had allowed users to encrypt their data before it reached iCloud. Now, Apple’s new technology, NeuralHash, will run on users’ devices, tatformso detect when a users upload known CSAM imagery — without having to first decrypt the images. It even can detect the imagery if it’s been cropped or edited in an attempt to avoid detection.

Meanwhile, on iPhone and iPad, the company will roll out protections to Messages app users that will filter images and alert children and parents if sexually explicit photos are sent to or from a child’s account. Children will not be shown the images but will instead see a grayed-out image instead. If they try to view the image anyway through the link, they’ll be shown interruptive screens that explain why the material may be harmful and are warned that their parents will be notified.

Some privacy advocates pushed back at the idea of such a system, believing it could expand to end-to-end encrypted photos, lead to false positives, or set the stage for more on-device government surveillance in the future. But many cryptology experts believe the system Apple developed provides a good balance between privacy and utility, and have offered their endorsement of the technology. In addition, Apple said reports are manually reviewed before being sent to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).

The changes may also benefit iOS developers who deal in user photos and uploads, as predators will no longer store CSAM imagery on iOS devices in the first place, given the new risk of detection.

In-App Events appear on the App Store

Image Credits: Apple

Though not yet publicly available to all users, those testing the new iOS 15 mobile operating system got their first glimpse of a new App Store discovery feature this week: “in-app events.” First announced at this year’s WWDC, the feature will allow developers and Apple editors alike to showcase directly on the App Store upcoming events taking place inside apps.

The events can appear on the App Store homepage, on the app’s product pages or can be discovered through personalized recommendations and search. In some cases, editors will curate events to feature on the App Store. But developers will also be provided tools to submit their own in-app events. TikTok’s “Summer Camp” for creators was one of the first in-app events to be featured, where it received a top spot on the iPadOS 15 App Store.

Weekly News

Platforms: Apple

Apple expands support for student IDs on iPhone and Apple Watch ahead of the fall semester. Tens of thousands more U.S. and Canadian colleges will now support mobile student IDs in the Apple Wallet app, including Auburn University, Northern Arizona University, University of Maine, New Mexico State University and others.

Apple was accused of promoting scam apps in the App Store’s featured section. The company’s failure to properly police its store is one thing, but to curate an editorial list that actually includes the scams is quite another. One of the games rounded up under “Slime Relaxations,” an already iffy category to say the least, was a subscription-based slime simulator that locked users into a $13 AUD per week subscription for its slime simulator. One of the apps on the curated list didn’t even function, implying that Apple’s editors hadn’t even tested the apps they recommend.

This is infuriating. How is Apple *featuring* these scams?

Let’s take a look at one of these apps!

“Jelly: Slime simulator, ASMR”

1/https://t.co/lDTn8eEVfz pic.twitter.com/VyYKUSLdJE

— Simeon (@twolivesleft) August 5, 2021

Tax changes hit the App Store. Apple announced tax and price changes for apps and IAPs in South Africa, the U.K. and all territories using the Euro currency, all of which will see decreases. Increases will occur in Georgia and Tajikistan, due to new tax changes. Proceeds on the App Store in Italy will be increased to reflect a change to the Digital Services Tax effective rate.

Game Center changes, too. Apple said that on August 4, a new certificate for server-based Game Center verification will be available via the publicKeyUrl.

Fintech

Robinhood stock jumped more than 24% to $46.80 on Tuesday after initially falling 8% on its first day of trading last week, after which it had continued to trade below its opening price of $38.

Square’s Cash app nearly doubled its gross profit to $546 million in Q2, but also reported a $45 million impairment loss on its bitcoin holdings.

Coinbase’s app now lets you buy your cryptocurrency using Apple Pay. The company previously made its Coinbase Card compatible with Apple Pay in June.

Social

An anonymous app called Sendit, which relies on Snap Kit to function, is climbing the charts of the U.S. App Store after Snap suspended similar apps, YOLO and LMK. Snap was sued by the parent of child who was bullied through those apps, which led to his suicide. Sendit also allows for anonymity, and reviews compare it to YOLO. But some reviews also complained about bullying. This isn’t the first time Snap has been involved in a lawsuit related to a young person’s death related to its app. The company was also sued for its irresponsible “speed filter” that critics said encouraged unsafe driving. Three young men died using the filter, which captured them doing 123 mph.

TikTok is testing Stories. As Twitter’s own Stories integrations, Fleets, shuts down, TikTok confirmed it’s testing its own Stories product. The TikTok Stories appear in a left-hand sidebar and allow users to post ephemeral images or video that disappear in 24 hours. Users can also comment on Stories, which are public to their mutual friends and the creator. Stories on TikTok may make more sense than they did on Twitter, as TikTok is already known as a creative platform and it gives the app a more familiar place to integrate its effects toolset and, eventually, advertisements.

Facebook has again re-arranged its privacy settings. The company continually moves around where its privacy features are located, ostensibly to make them easier to find. But users then have to re-learn where to go to find the tools they need, after they had finally memorized the location. This time, the settings have been grouped into six top-level categories, but “privacy” settings have been unbundled from one location to be scattered among the other categories.

A VICE report details ban-as-a-service operations that allow anyone to harass or censor online creators on Instagram. Assuming you can find it, one operation charged $60 per ban, the listing says.

TikTok merged personal accounts with creator accounts. The change means now all non-business accounts on TikTok will have access to the creator tools under Settings, including Analytics, Creator Portal, Promote and Q&A. TikTok shared the news directly with subscribers of its TikTok Creators newsletter in August, and all users will get a push notification alerting them to the change, the company told us.

Discord now lets users customize their profile on its apps. The company added new features to its iOS and Android apps that let you add a description, links and emojis and select a profile color. Paid subscribers can also choose an image or GIF as their banner.

Twitter Spaces added a co-hosting option that allows up to two co-hosts to be added to the live audio chat rooms. Now Spaces can have one main host, two co-hosts and up to 10 speakers. Co-hosts have all the moderation abilities as hosts, but can’t add or remove others as co-hosts.

making it easier to manage your Space…introducing co-hosting!

– hosts have two co-host invites they can send
– the table just got bigger: 1 host, 2 co-hosts, and 10 speakers
– co-hosts can help invite speakers, manage requests, remove participants, pin Tweets and more! pic.twitter.com/s76JFbhTL2

— Spaces (@TwitterSpaces) August 5, 2021

Messaging

Tencent reopened new user sign-ups for its WeChat messaging app, after having suspended registrations last week for unspecified “technical upgrades.” The company, like many other Chinese tech giants, had to address new regulations from Beijing impacting the tech industry. New rules address how companies handle user data collection and storage, antitrust behavior and other checks on capitalist “excess.” The gaming industry is now worried it’s next to be impacted, with regulations that would restrict gaming for minors to fight addiction.

WhatsApp is adding a new feature that will allow users to send photos and videos that disappear after a single viewing. The Snapchat-inspired feature, however, doesn’t alert you if the other person takes a screenshot — as Snap’s app does. So it may not be ideal for sharing your most sensitive content.

Telegram’s update expands group video calls to support up to 1,000 viewers. It also announced video messages can be recorded in higher quality and can be expanded, regular videos can be watched at 0.5 or 2x speed, screen sharing with sound is available for all video calls, including 1-on-1 calls, and more.

Streaming & Entertainment

American Airlines added free access to TikTok aboard its Viasat-equipped aircraft. Passengers will be able to watch the app’s videos for up to 30 minutes for free and can even download the app if it’s not already installed. After the free time, they can opt to pay for Wi-Fi to keep watching. Considering how easy it is to fall into multi-hour TikTok viewing sessions without knowing it, the addition of the addictive app could make long plane rides feel shorter. Or at least less painful.

Chinese TikTok rival Kuaishou saw stocks fall by more than 15% in Hong Kong, the most since its February IPO. The company is another victim of an ongoing market selloff triggered by increasing investor uncertainty related to China’s recent crackdown on tech companies. Beijing’s campaign to rein in tech has also impacted Tencent, Alibaba, Jack Ma’s Ant Group, food delivery company Meituan and ride-hailing company Didi. Also related, Kuaishou shut down its controversial app Zynn, which had been paying users to watch its short-form videos, including those stolen from other apps.

Twitch overtook YouTube in consumer spending per user in April 2021, and now sees $6.20 per download as of June compared with YouTube’s $5.60, Sensor Tower found.

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

Spotify confirmed tests of a new ad-supported tier called Spotify Plus, which is only $0.99 per month and offers unlimited skips (like free users get on the desktop) and the ability to play the songs you want, instead of only being forced to use shuffle mode.

The company also noted in a forum posting that it’s no longer working on AirPlay2 support, due to “audio driver compatibility” issues.

Mark Cuban-backed audio app Fireside asked its users to invest in the company via an email sent to creators which didn’t share deal terms. The app has yet to launch.

YouTube kicks off its $100 million Shorts Fund aimed at taking on TikTok by providing creators with cash incentives for top videos. Creators will get bonuses of $100 to $10,000 based on their videos’ performance.

Dating

Match Group announced during its Q2 earnings it plans to add to several of the company’s brands over the next 12 to 24 months audio and video chat, including group live video, and other livestreaming technologies. The developments will be powered by innovations from Hyperconnect, the social networking company that this year became Match’s biggest acquisition to date when it bought the Korean app maker for a sizable $1.73 billion. Since then, Match was spotted testing group live video on Tinder, but says that particular product is not launching in the near-term. At least two brands will see Hyperconnect-powered integrations in 2021.

Photos

The Photo & Video category on U.S. app stores saw strong growth in the first half of the year, a Sensor Tower report found. Consumer spend among the top 100 apps grew 34% YoY to $457 million in Q2 2021, with the majority of the revenue (83%) taking place on iOS.

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

Gaming

Epic Games revealed the host of its in-app Rift Tour event is Ariana Grande, in the event that runs August 6-8.

Pokémon GO influencers threatened to boycott the game after Niantic removed the COVID safety measures that had allowed people to more easily play while social distancing. Niantic’s move seemed ill-timed, given the Delta variant is causing a new wave of COVID cases globally.

Health & Fitness

Apple kicked out an app called Unjected from the App Store. The new social app billed itself as a community for the unvaccinated, allowing like-minded users to connect for dating and friendships. Apple said the app violated its policies for COVID-19 content.

Google Pay expanded support for vaccine cards. In Australia, Google’s payments app now allows users to add their COVID-19 digital certification to their device for easy access. The option is available through Google’s newly updated Passes API which lets government agencies distribute digital versions of vaccine cards.

COVID Tech Connect, a U.S. nonprofit initially dedicated to collecting devices like phones and tablets for COVID ICU patients, has now launched its own app. The app, TeleHome, is a device-agnostic, HIPAA-compliant way for patients to place a video call for free at a time when the Delta variant is again filling ICU wards, this time with the unvaccinated — a condition that sometimes overlaps with being low-income. Some among the working poor have been hesitant to get the shot because they can’t miss a day of work, and are worried about side effects. Which is why the Biden administration offered a tax credit to SMBs who offered paid time off to staff to get vaccinated and recover.

Popular journaling app Day One, which was recently acquired by WordPress.com owner Automattic, rolled out a new “Concealed Journals” feature that lets users hide content from others’ viewing. By tapping the eye icon, the content can be easily concealed on a journal by journal basis, which can be useful for those who write to their journal in public, like coffee shops or public transportation.

Edtech

Recently IPO’d language learning app Duolingo is developing a math app for kids. The company says it’s still “very early” in the development process, but will announce more details at its annual conference, Duocon, later this month.

Educational publisher Pearson launched an app that offers U.S. students access to its 1,500 titles for a monthly subscription of $14.99. the Pearson+ mobile app (ack, another +), also offers the option of paying $9.99 per month for access to a single textbook for a minimum of four months.

News & Reading

Quora jumps into the subscription economy. Still not profitable from ads alone, Quora announced two new products that allow its expert creators to monetize their content on its service. With Quora+ ($5/mo or $50/yr), subscribers can pay for any content that a creator paywalls. Creators can choose to enable a adaptive paywall that will use an algorithm to determine when to show the paywall. Another product, Spaces, lets creators write paywalled publications on Quora, similar to Substack. But only a 5% cut goes to Quora, instead of 10% on Substack.

Utilities

Google Maps on iOS added a new live location-sharing feature for iMessage users, allowing them to more easily show your ETA with friends and even how much battery life you have left. The feature competes with iMessage’s built-in location-sharing feature, and offers location sharing of 1 hour up to 3 days. The app also gained a dark mode.

Security & Privacy

Controversial crime app Citizen launched a $20 per month “Protect” service that includes live agent support (who can refer calls to 911 if need be). The agents can gather your precise location, alert your designated emergency contacts, help you navigate to a safe location and monitor the situation until you feel safe. The system of live agent support is similar to in-car or in-home security and safety systems, like those from ADT or OnStar, but works with users out in the real world. The controversial part, however, is the company behind the product: Citizen has been making headlines for launching private security fleets outside law enforcement, and recently offered a reward in a manhunt for an innocent person based on unsubstantiated tips.

Funding and M&A

🤝 Square announced its acquisition of the “buy now, pay later” giant AfterPay in a $29 billion deal that values the Australian firm at more than 30% higher than the stock’s last closing price of AUS$96.66. AfterPay has served over 16 million customers and nearly 100,000 merchants globally, to date, and comes at a time when the BNPL space is heating up. Apple has also gotten into the market recently with an Affirm partnership in Canada.

🤝 Gaming giant Zynga acquired Chinese game developer StarLark, the team behind the mobile golf game Golf Rival, from Betta Games for $525 million in both cash and stock. Golf Rival is the second-largest mobile golf game behind Playdemic’s Golf Clash, and EA is in the process of buying that studio for $1.4 billion.

💰  U.K.-based Humanity raised an additional $2.5 million for its app that claims to help slow down aging, bringing the total raise to date to $5 million. Backers include Calm’s co-founders, MyFitness Pal’s co-founder and others in the health space. The app works by benchmarking health advice against real-world data, to help users put better health practices into action.

💰 YELA, a Cameo-like app for the Middle East and South Asia, raised $2 million led by U.S. investors that include Tinder co-founder Justin Mateen and Sean Rad, general partner of RAD Fund. The app is focusing on signing celebrities in the regions it serves, where smartphone penetration is high and over 6% of the population is under 35.

💰 London-based health and wellness app maker Palta raised a $100 million Series B led by VNV Global. The company’s products include Flo.Health, Simple Fasting, Zing Fitness Coach and others, which reach a combined 2.4 million active, paid subscribers. The funds will be used to create more mobile subscription products.

🤝 Emoji database and Wikipedia-like site Emojipedia was acquired by Zedge, the makers of a phone personalization app offering wallpapers, ringtones and more to 35 million MAUs. Deal terms weren’t disclosed. Emojipedia says the deal provides it with more stability and the opportunity for future growth. For Zedge, the deal provides🤨….um, a popular web resource it thinks it can better monetize, we suspect.

💰 Mental health app Revery raised $2 million led by Sequoia Capital India’s Surge program for its app that combines cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia with mobile gaming concepts. The company will focus on other mental health issues in the future.

💰 London-based Nigerian-operating fintech startup Kuda raised a $55 million Series B, valuing its mobile-first challenger bank at $500 million. The inside round was co-led by Valar Ventures and Target Global.

💰 Vietnamese payments provider VNLife raised $250 million in a round led by U.S.-based General Atlantic and Dragoneer Investment Group. PayPal Ventures and others also participated. The round values the business at over $1 billion.

Downloads

Mastodon for iPhone

Fans of decentralized social media efforts now have a new app. The nonprofit behind the open source decentralized social network Mastodon released an official iPhone app, aimed at making the network more accessible to newcomers. The app allows you to find and follow people and topics; post text, images, GIFs, polls, and videos; and get notified of new replies and reblogs, much like Twitter.

Xingtu

@_666eveITS SO COOL FRFR do u guys want a tutorial? #fypシ #醒图 #醒图app♬ original sound – Ian Asher

TikTok users are teaching each other how to switch over to the Chinese App Store in order to get ahold of the Xingtu app for iOS. (An Android version is also available.) The app offers advanced editing tools that let users edit their face and body, like FaceTune, apply makeup, add filters and more. While image-editing apps can be controversial for how they can impact body acceptance, Xingtu offers a variety of artistic filters which is what’s primarily driving the demand. It’s interesting to see the lengths people will go to just to get a few new filters for their photos — perhaps making a case for Instagram to finally update its Post filters instead of pretending no one cares about their static photos anymore.

Tweets

Facebook still dominating top charts, but not the No. 1 spot:  

The most downloaded app worldwide for July 2021 was @tiktok_us with more than 63M installs. @Facebook, @instagram, @messenger, and @WhatsApp rounded out the top 5: https://t.co/H9RMR5Pg9P #tiktok #topapps #mobileapps #mobilegrowth pic.twitter.com/srlDI07FeD

— Sensor Tower (@SensorTower) August 5, 2021

Not cool, Apple: 

Apple promoting these slime apps again.

A few of them have $10+ weekly subscriptions.

One of them doesn’t even do anything.https://t.co/d0dKLCkiVF

— Beau Nouvelle (@BeauNouvelle) August 4, 2021

This user acquisition strategy: 

Great feedback, wanna use/test @FlightyApp? Looks like you fly some based on your profile, and good feedback is my lifeblood.

— Ryan Jones (@rjonesy) August 4, 2021

Maybe Stories don’t work everywhere: 

if you see a Fleet no you didn’t https://t.co/4rKI7f45PL

— Twitter (@Twitter) August 3, 2021

The Future of Phone Communication

In the early days of telephones, the ability to have real conversations with someone a long distance away was a treasured moment.

Let’s Take a Look at The Future of Phone Communication

Today, the typical phone call is just a run of the mill conversation – one that is often even worse – a spam caller. 54% of all phone calls received in recent times are uninvited spam.

Whether they are a bunch of schemes to steal an unsuspecting person’s Social Security number, a new wireless plan, or lies about your car’s warranty about to expire, spam calls can seem to come in at all times.

What is a Spam Call?

Spam calls are unwanted, unrelated phone calls done to a large number of people who have not expressed an interest in receiving them. Spam calls are obnoxious, aggravating, and annoying. They are, however, harmful. It’s quite risky. Spam callers are attempting to defraud you. The number assigned to you by the Social Security Administration or your credit card information or your entire life savings may be stolen from you through a spam call.

The United States has a high rate of caller spam – America is the 8th most spammed place in the world. Its citizens receive over 175 million robocalls each day – that comes out to a whopping 2,034 calls every second! The problem goes beyond being a mere annoyance; in 2020, phone scams cost Americans $10 billion. It is no wonder that 90% of people don’t pick up unknown numbers any longer since they know what is likely to come next.
Unfortunately, the impact of spam can crush the operations of reputable businesses, as getting through to current and prospective customers is essential for their survival. Scammers often spoof real numbers to make their lies seem more convincing.

Unwanted communications include, but are not limited to, unsolicited calls or messages, Caller ID spoofing, robocalls, and other forms of spam.

What is Caller Id Spoofing?

The method of altering the Caller ID to any number other than the actual caller number is known as Caller ID spoofing. When a caller willfully falsifies information transmitted to hide the number they’re phoning from, this is known as caller ID spoofing.

A common version of this is referred to as neighbor spoofing. The process is extremely cheap, difficult to trace, and nearly impossible to police them.

Neighbor spoofing is a type of spoofing in which robocallers display a number that looks close to yours on your caller ID in order to get you to pick up the phone.

To protect users, many phone carriers established spam algorithms. Despite the intent of these algorithms and efforts, many legitimate business phone numbers have been caught in the “scam likely” net.

Thousands of business calls are incorrectly flagged as spam every single day. Be it high volumes of calls, occasionally false complaints submitted by customers, or lead blocking, several things the spam algorithm looks for unfortunately gets applied to regular business phone numbers.

What comes next when past efforts have not been enough?

Enter the STIR/SHAKEN revolution, a new set of laws that are hoping to restore trust in phone communications. It is a revolution that is over a year in the making: in March 2020, the TRACED Act became law, requiring voice providers to do more to mitigate robocalls. 15 months later in June 2021, STIR/SHAKEN has been set out to implement caller ID authentication to combat spoofing and robocalls. Every single service provider is expected to follow the new standards laid out for them.

How does STIR/SHAKEN work?

How is the new system different from the current algorithm? There are a few extra attestation measures meant to improve trust in the calls that deserve it. Whenever a business places an outbound call, phone carriers send their number out to receive authentication.

The authentication system can choose between 3 possible ratings.

  • A full rating (which would be an A rating) is the highest possible attestation. It means both that a customer and their phone number are verified.
  • One tier below the A rating is a B rating, which would be a partial verification. This rating goes to calls in which the customer is verified, but their phone number is not. The lowest rating, then, is the C rating.
  • These C rated calls are gateway calls whose origin could not be authenticated. Once a rating has been assigned, the caller ID on the receiver’s end can show if the call is verified or likely spam.

The new system has a benefit for almost everyone. Spoofing is more traceable now than it ever was. Legitimate businesses are able to carry on as normal with their verified ratings. Most importantly, customers know which calls they are able to trust.

For businesses who are still concerned about false flags as spam, there are additional steps a company may take. Accreditation of one’s FFC business profile could help, as could having one’s number validated by a professional company. Always monitor the numbers in use for red flags, rotate numbers to low call volumes, and switch between hot and cold leads to maximize the chance of responses.

A cloud based sales acceleration platform and power dialer, is in full support of compliance with STIR/SHAKEN. They can help their clients obtain A-level attestation quickly and easily.

This establishment of trust increases answer rates and leads to higher quality conversations. More than regulation compliance, it can also boost calling efficiency without placing customer experience on the chopping block. They don’t allow room for dropped calls or awkward pauses at the start of each call. Additionally, it blends phone, email, and SMS communication to turbocharge productivity. Without complicated setups, upfront fees, or ongoing contracts, getting started is unimaginably easy.

It’s time to call and pick up the phone with confidence once again. The magic of having real conversations isn’t gone forever. With new regulations in place and smarter business practices coming into play, the greatness of phone communication is coming back.

The new STIR/SHAKEN legislation is promising – but will it make a difference? Some critics of the laws being put in place will tell you that it is not just about the laws on the books but the actual enforcement of the laws that will make a difference. Only time will tell when it comes to seeing the practical enforcement of how STIR/SHAKEN will play out, as this is still very new legislation.

Learn more about the future of phone calls and how STIR/SHAKEN will change the game in the visual deep dive below:

STIR/SHAKEN Is Changing The Future Of Phone Calls

The post The Future of Phone Communication appeared first on Dumb Little Man.

Match Group to add audio and video chat, including group live video, to its dating app portfolio

Dating app maker and Tinder parent, Match Group, said during its Q2 earnings it will bring audio and video chat, including group live video, and other livestreaming technologies to several of the company’s brands over the next 12 to 24 months. The developments will be powered by innovations from Hyperconnect, the social networking company that this year became Match’s biggest acquisition to date, when it bought the Korean app maker for a sizable $1.73 billion. 

Since then, Match Group has been relatively quiet about its specific plans for Hyperconnect’s tech or its longer-term strategy with the operation, although Tinder was briefly spotted testing a group video chat feature called Tinder Mixer earlier this summer. The move had seemed to signal some exploration of social discovery features in the wake of the Hyperconnect deal. However, Tinder told us at the time the company had no plans to bring that specific product to market in the year ahead.

On Tuesday’s earnings, Match Group offered a little more insight into the future of Hyperconnect, following the acquisition’s official close in mid-June.

According to Match Group CEO Shar Dubey, who stepped into the top job last January, the company is excited about the potential to integrate technologies Hyperconnect has developed into existing Match-owned dating apps.

This includes, she said, “AR features, self-expression tools, conversational A.I., and a number of what we would consider metaverse elements, which have the element to transform the online meeting and getting-to-know-each-other process,” Dubey explained, without offering further specific details about how the products would work or which apps would receive these enhancements.

Many of these technologies emerged from Hyperconnect’s lab, Hyper X — the same in-house incubator whose first product is now one of the company’s flagship apps, Azar, which joined Match Group with the acquisition.

Dubey also noted that the work to begin these tech integrations was already underway at the company.

By year-end, Match Group said it expects to have at least two of its brands integrated with technologies from Hyperconnect. A number of other brands will implement Hyperconnect capabilities by year-end 2022.

In doing so, Match aims to transform what people think of when it comes to online dating.

To date, online dating been a fairly static experience across the industry, where apps focus largely on profiles and photos, and then offer some sort of matching technique — whether swipes or quizzes or something else. Tinder, in more recent years, began to break out of that mold as it innovated with an array of different experiences, like its choose-your-own-adventure in-app video series, “Swipe Night,” video profiles, instant chat features (via Tinder’s product, Hot Takes), and others. But it still lacked some the real-time elements that people have when meeting one another in the real world.

This is an area where Match believes Hyperconnect can help to improve the online dating experience.

“One of the holy grails for us in online dating has always been to bridge the disconnect that happens between people chatting online and then meeting someone in person,” Dubey said. “These technologies will eventually allow us to build experiences that will help people determine if they have that much elusive chemistry or not… Our ultimate vision here is for people to never have to go on a bad first date again,” she added.

Of course, Match Group’s positioning of the Hyperconnect deal as being more interesting because the innovation it brings — and not just the standalone apps it operates — also comes at a time when those apps have not met the company’s expectations on revenue.

In the second half the of 2021, Match Group said it expects Hyperconnect to contribute to $125 to $135 million in revenue — a financial outlook that the company admits reflects some pullback. It attributed this largely to Covid impacts, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region where Hyperconnect’s apps operate. Other impacts to Hyperconnect’s growth included a more crowded marketplace and Apple’s changes to IDFA (Identifier for Advertisers), which has impacted a number of apps — including other social networking apps, like Facebook.

While Match still believes Hyperconnect will post “solid revenue growth” in 2021, it said that these new technology integrations into the Match Group portfolio are now “a higher priority” for the company.

Match Group posted mixed earnings in Q1 with revenue of $707.8 million, above analyst estimates, but earnings per share of 46 cents, below projections of 49 cents a share. Paying customers grew 15% to 15 million, up from 13 million in the year-ago quarter. Shares declined by 7% on Wednesday morning, following the earnings announcement.

Revery gets $2M to improve mental health with mobile gaming techniques

In “Macbeth,” Shakespeare described sleep as the “chief nourisher in life’s feast.” But like his titular character, many adults aren’t sleeping well. Revery wants to help with an app that combines cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for insomnia with mobile gaming concepts.

Founded in March 2021, Revery is currently in beta stealth mode and plans to launch its app in the United States later this year. The company announced today it has raised $2 million led by Sequoia Capital India’s Surge program. Participants included GGV Capital, Pascal Capital, zVentures (Razer’s corporate venture arm) and angel investors like MyFitnessPal co-founder Albert Lee; gaming entrepreneur Juha Paananen; CRED founder Kunal Shah; Mobile Premier League founder Sai Srinivas; Carolin Krenzer; and Josh Lee.

Lee, a mutual friend, first introduced Revery’s founders, Tammie Siew and Khoa Tran, to one another. Before launching the startup, Siew worked at Sequoia Capital India, Boston Consulting Group and CRED, while Tran was a former product manager at Google.

Revery plans to focus on other mental health issues in the future, but it’s starting with sleep because “it has such a strong correlation with mental health and we’re leveraging protocols, cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, that’s robust and have been tried and tested for 30 years,” Siew told TechCrunch. “That is the first indication, but the goal is to build multiple games for other wellness indications as well.”

A study by research firm Infinium found that about 30% to 45% of adults in the world experience insomnia, a problem exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Chronic lack of sleep is linked to a host of health issues, including high blood pressure, strokes, depression and lowered immunity.

For Revery’s team, which also includes former Zynga and King lead game designer Kriti Sawa and software engineer Stephanie Wong, their focus on sleep is personal.

A Zoom screenshot of startup Revery's team

Revery’s team on a Zoom call

“Everyone on our team has a deeply personal connection to the mission, because everyone on our team has experienced, or had a family member or friends go through challenges in mental health,” said Siew. “They’ve seen how late intervention creates consequences that could have been avoided if they had gotten help earlier.”

When Tran was 15, he was diagnosed with hypertension and several other health conditions that needed medication. It wasn’t until he was 26 that Tran found out that sleep apnea was at the root of his medical issues. After getting surgery, Tran’s blood pressure became normal and many of his other conditions also improved.

“When I finally got treatment for my sleep disorder, only then did I realize the impact of sleep on mental health,” Tran said. “For me, I was really lucky that a doctor caught my sleep disorder and super lucky to have the time and resources to get treatment. For many people, it’s incredibly inaccessible.”

Revery’s medical advisory team includes the doctor who performed Tran’s surgery, Stanford Sleep Surgery Fellowship director Dr. Stanley Liu; Stanford professor and behavioral sleep medicine expert Dr. Fiona Barwick; and Dr. Ryan Kelly, a clinical psychologist who researches how video games can be used in therapy.

When people think of sleeping apps, ones that focus on meditation (Calm and Headspace, for example) or soothing noises usually come to mind. The Revery team isn’t sharing a lot of details about its app before launch, but says it draws from casual mobile games, which are designed to get people to return for short play sessions over a long period of time. The goal is to use gamification to make CBT practices interactive and fun, so it becomes part of users’ daily routines.

“That’s the same kind of gameplay that Zynga and King have used, which is why Kriti’s experience is super helpful,” said Siew. Casual games revolve around rewarding people for small actions, and for Revery app, that means positive reinforcement for habits that contribute to better sleep. For example, it will reward people for putting down their phones.

“I think a lot of people have the misconception that solving sleep is only at the time you fall asleep. They don’t realize that sleep is impacted by what you do throughout the day,” Siew said. “A big part is also what are your thoughts, behavior and the other things that you do, so in order to effectively and sustainably improve sleep, we also have to change your thoughts and behaviors outside of the time you’re trying to fall asleep.”

In a statement, GGV Capital managing director Jenny Lee said, “We are excited about the growing mental wellness market, and believe that Revery’s unique mobile game-based approach has the opportunity to create immense impact. We are happy to back such a mission-driven team in this space.”

How To Track A Restricted Phone Number

When you see “Restricted” appear on your caller ID, you receive a phone call from a restricted or blocked number.

An individual can block the origination of the phone call by dialling *67 before he or she dials your number. This is used when an individual does not want the person he or she is calling to trace the call back to him or her.

While finding a restricted phone number can be difficult, it is possible to know what to do.

What is a restricted phone number?

When a phone call is received, there may be no caller information displayed. The term “restricted” will appear on the screen instead of the usual name or phone number, indicating that the call is restricted.

They’re also known as “private numbers.” When people get calls from private/restricted numbers, all they see on their phone screen is an unknown phone number format like ‘0230′ or ‘98760′ or the phrases ‘Restricted’ or ‘Private.’ Other statements that display when there is no number format on the screen are ‘Blocked,’ ‘Unknown,’ and ‘No Caller ID.’

Who are making these restricted calls?

They’re also known as “private numbers.” When people get calls from private/restricted numbers, all they see on their phone screen is an unknown phone number format like ‘0230′ or ‘98760′ or the phrases ‘Restricted’ or ‘Private.’ Other statements that display when there is no number format on the screen are ‘Blocked,’ ‘Unknown,’ and ‘No Caller ID.’

Increased privacy is another example of legitimate use for restricted numbers. Whether they’re part of a firm or an individual, anyone can limit their number. People use this to protect themselves from malicious people. If your phone number enters into the hands of unscrupulous individuals, you may be repeatedly harassed.

How to make your Phone number restricted?

You probably didn’t make many phone calls on your smartphone before the pandemic’s attack. Providers are reporting an increase in calls as people seek greater personal relationships while adhering to social distancing standards.

1. Hide your phone number by using *67.

Hide your phone number by using *67

On a per-call basis, *67 is the best way to hide your phone number. This method works on both mobile phones and landlines. Dial * – 6 – 7 on your phone’s keypad, then the number you’re attempting to reach.

When viewing caller ID on the other end, your number will appear as “Private” or “Blocked.” If you want your phone number to be blocked, dial *67 each time.

2. Block your mobile number by default on iOS and Android.

If you have an iPhone or Android smartphone, you can block your phone number automatically by changing one setting. For each call you make, your phone number will appear to be private.

To block a phone number on an iPhone, follow these steps:

  1. Go to Settings and click Phone.
  2. Select Show My Caller ID from the drop-down menu.
  3. Toggle the switch to show or hide your phone number

To block your phone number on Android, follow these steps:

  1. Launch the Phone app and select the Menu option.
  2. Go to Settings and then to Call Settings.
  3. Select Caller ID from the drop-down menu under Additional settings.
  4. Select “Hide number” to hide your phone number.

Suppose your call is temporarily denied; dial *82 to unblock your number. Because some providers and users automatically block private numbers, employing this code will allow you to get around this restriction.

3. Ask your carrier to block your number

Blocking your phone number isn’t the same on every device, and it’s a headache to do on a per-call basis. That’s where your cellular provider can assist you.

If you have a different phone (or want your account’s lines to be private), ask your carrier to restrict all outgoing calls.

Call 611 to get in touch with your carrier. Tell the recording you’d like to speak with “customer support” or “technical support.” Some carriers’ lines immediately route you to the bill-pay department.

If you get a private number from your carrier, you can still dial *82 if you get call denial. This step unblocks your phone number on a call-by-call basis.

4. Use a burner app instead of dialling from your own phone number.

If you don’t want to mess with your phone’s or carrier’s settings, a burner app can be the answer. These apps make calls using your internet data, thus giving your phone a second phone number. There are hundreds of burner apps you can download for iOS or Android.

5. Take control of your landline as well.

Many handy codes can help you regulate your privacy, whether you’re on a mobile or landline phone. Here’s a list of some of the most common “star codes” for your touch-tone keypad:

*57 – Trace Call: Traces the number of the last incoming call received. Useful when the call warrants legal action.

*60 – Call Block: Prevents calls from select phone numbers and gives callers a recording that says you’re not accepting calls.

*67 – Caller ID Block: Hides your phone number on Caller ID systems.

*69 – Call Return: Redials the last number that called you.

*70 – Call Waiting: Places your call on hold so you can answer another.

*72 – Call Forwarding: Forward your call to another phone number.

*77 – Anonymous Call Rejection: Blocks calls from private callers.

*80 – Disable Call Block (*60)

*82 – Disable Caller ID Block (*67)

*87 – Disable Anonymous Call Rejection (*77)

How To Find A Restricted Phone Number

You know how irritating it is to get a restricted cell phone call if you’ve ever received one. You’ll frequently pick up the phone only to be met by a robot voice or, even worse, a hang-up call.

Restricted calls happen when the caller does not want you to know his phone number; the caller could be anyone, from a jilted lover to a creditor. With some technology, you can figure out who is making these calls to your phone.

Step 1: Check your phone records

At the end of the month, take a look at your phone records. Some home and cell phone providers list numbers on the bill that initially came through as restricted. Note the time and date of the restricted call as it happens, and check your end-of-month statement to find that same time and date. You may find the full phone number listed.

Step 2: Block restricted numbers

You may also put a block on your phone that lets callers know that you are not accepting calls from blocked or restricted numbers. By doing this, you force the individual calling you to unblock his or her phone number and try to call you again. While this may be a small headache for someone who truly wants to reach you, it can be an effective way of weeding out those unwanted spam callers or pestering telemarketers.

Step 3: Ask the caller.

If you answer a restricted call, you can ask the person calling for his or her phone number. While this does not always happen, you stand of chance of catching the caller off-guard in a moment of weakness, and he or she may give you the information you’re looking for.

Step 4: Ask family members.

You may also consider contacting friends and family members to see if they are getting restricted calls around the same time. Someone else may have already obtained the restricted caller’s number, and he or she may be better able to guide you.

Step 5: Have the police track the number.

If you find that the calls are becoming harassing and you find that restricted calls come at all hours of the day, you may want to have the police track the number. They have the technology that can track the number and determine its origin and owner.

Step 6: Install a toll-free number.

You may also consider installing a toll-free number on your own phone to give instead of your actual phone number. This method will allow you to automatically receive the phone numbers of callers because you will be paying for each call that comes to your phone.

To know more about unmasking blocked or restricted calls, watch the video below:

The post How To Track A Restricted Phone Number appeared first on Dumb Little Man.

Google is building its own chip for the Pixel 6

Google just dumped a whole bunch of news about its upcoming Pixel 6 smartphone. Maybe the company was looking to get out in front of August 11’s big Samsung event — or perhaps it’s just hoping to keep people interested in the months leading up to a big fall announcement (and beat additional leaks to the punch).

In either case, we got the first look at the upcoming Android smartphone, including a fairly massive redesign of the camera system on the rear. The company has traded its square configuration for a big, black bar that appears to indicate an even larger push into upgraded hardware after a couple of generations spent insisting that software/AI are the grounds on which it has chosen to fight.

More interesting, however, is the arrival of Tensor, a new custom SoC (system on a chip) that will debut on the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro. It’s an important step from the company, as it looks to differentiate itself in a crowded smartphone field — something the company has admittedly struggled with in the past.

That means moving away from Qualcomm chips on these higher-end systems, following in Apple’s path of creating custom silicon. That said, the chips will be based on the same ARM architecture that Qualcomm uses to create its otherwise ubiquitous Snapdragon chips, and Google will still rely on the San Diego company to supply components for its budget-minded A Series.

Image Credits: Google

The Tensor name is a clear homage to Google’s TensorFlow ML, which has driven a number of its projects. And unsurprisingly, the company sites AI/ML as foundational to the chip’s place in the forthcoming phones. The Pixel team has long pushed software-based solutions, such as computational photography, as a differentiator.

“The team that designed our silicon wanted to make Pixel even more capable. For example, with Tensor we thought about every piece of the chip and customized it to run Google’s computational photography models,” Google writes. “For users, this means entirely new features, plus improvements to existing ones.”

Beyond the upgraded camera system, Tensor will be central to improving things such as speech recognition and language learning. Details are understandably still thin (the full reveal is happening in the fall, mind), but today’s announcement seems geared toward laying out what the future looks like for a revamped Pixel team — and certainly these sorts of focuses play into precisely what Google ought to be doing in the smartphone space: focusing on its smarts in AI and software.

In May of last year, key members of the Pixel team left Google, pointing to what looked to be a transition for the team. Hardware head Rick Osterloh was reported to have had harsh words at the time.

“AI is the future of our innovation work, but the problem is we’ve run into computing limitations that prevented us from fully pursuing our mission,” Osterloh wrote in today’s post. “So we set about building a technology platform built for mobile that enabled us to bring our most innovative AI and machine learning (ML) to our Pixel users.”

This Week in Apps: Instagram restricts teens’ accounts, Elon Musk criticizes App Store fees, Google Play’s new policies

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.

The app industry continues to grow, with a record 218 billion downloads and $143 billion in global consumer spend in 2020. Consumers last year also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone. And in the U.S., app usage surged ahead of the time spent watching live TV. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day, but now spends four hours per day on their mobile devices.

Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re also a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus. In 2020, investors poured $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year over year.

This Week in Apps will finally be a newsletter! It will launch on August 7. Sign up now! 

Top Stories

Google Play updates its policies

Did you hear the one about Google Play banning sugar daddy dating apps? Google this week updated its terms to clarify that apps where users offer sex acts in exchange for money, or “sugar dating,” as the new terms state, are no longer allowed as of September 1, 2021.

More interesting, perhaps, to the larger group of legitimate Android developers is this week’s unveiling of the UI for the upcoming Google Play safety section and the accompanying app labels. The labels will function as the Android counterpart to the app “nutrition labels” the Apple App Store recently introduced. Google is giving developers plenty of time to get used to the idea of increased transparency and disclosure, by offering a detailed timeline of when it expects developers to have their privacy label submissions ready. By April 2022, all developers will need to declare specific info and have a privacy policy.

Developers will have to disclose to users whether their app uses security practices like data encryption, whether it follows Google Play’s Families policy for apps aimed at kids, whether users have a choice in data sharing, whether the app’s safety section had been verified by a third party, and if the app allowed users to request data deletion at the time of uninstalling, among other things.

Apps that don’t disclose won’t be able to list or update until the problems are fixed.

The safety section wasn’t the only Google Play policy news to be announced this week.

Google also reminded developers that it was making a technical change to how advertising IDs work. Now, when users opt out of interest-based advertising or ads personalization, their advertising ID is removed and replaced with a string of zeros. The change, however, is a phased rollout, affecting apps running on Android 12 devices starting late 2021 and expanding to all apps running on devices that support Google Play in early 2022.

Google also said it will test a new feature that notifies developers and ad/analytics service providers of user opt-out preferences and is prohibiting linking persistent device identifiers to personal and sensitive user data or resettable device identifiers. Kids apps will also not be able to transmit an ad ID.

Another policy update includes a plan to close dormant accounts. Google says if the account is inactive or abandoned after a year, it will be closed. This will include accounts where the developer has never uploaded an app or accessed Google Play Console in a year.

Tools to build accessible experiences will also be locked down, as Google is adding new requirements on how AccessibilityService API and IsAccessibilityTool can be used.

Apple tries to fix the Safari mess

In response to feedback and complaints, Apple is clearly trying to fix some of the issues that arose from this change. It re-added a Share button to the tab bar and put additional controls under that menu. There’s also once again a reload button in the tab bar next to the domain name, though it’s a bit smaller, and a Reader Mode button will appear in the tab bar when Reader is available

On iPad, Safari also reverted back to the traditional separate row of tabs, instead of the new compact experience.

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

Elon Musk sides with Epic Games

Elon Musk sided with Fortnite maker Epic Games in the Apple App Store antitrust lawsuit, as the Tesla CEO tweeted on Friday that Apple’s App Store fees were “a de facto global tax on the Internet.” The lawsuit alleges Apple is abusing its platform power with how it commissions apps and in-app purchases on its App Store platform — fees that add up to big numbers for a game like Fortnite, which arguably doesn’t need an App Store for discovery, marketing, payments and distribution. But there’s no other way to sell to iOS users today. On Android, apps can at least be sideloaded. It’s not currently clear why Musk has decided to take a stand on the issue, as none of his companies’ apps are dramatically impacted by Apple’s fees at present.

Weekly News

Other Platform News (Apple & Google)

Apple announced plans to end support for a number of SiriKit intents and commands, including those that could impact major apps — like ride-sharing app Uber. In total, there are over 20 SiriKit intent domains that will be deprecated and no longer supported in new and existing OS releases, Apple says.

Apple tweaked the controversial iOS 15 Safari changes in the latest betas (iOS 15 and iPadOS 15, beta 4). The new Safari design 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 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 browser itself.

Google this week launched version 1.0 of Jetpack Compose, Android’s new, native UI toolkit aimed at helping developers build better apps faster. The tool had been in beta since March. The new production release is built to integrate with the Jetpack libraries developers already use, and offers an implementation of Material Design components and theming. New features include Compose Preview and Deploy Preview, which require Android Studio Arctic Fox, which is also out now in a stable release.

Google also announced the availability of the CarHardwareManager API via the Android for Cars App Library as part of Jetpack.

E-commerce

Twitter launched a U.S. e-commerce pilot test that will help determine the current appetite for online shopping on its platform. The test allows brands and businesses to feature a “Shop Module” with various products for sale at the top of their Professional Profile, a business-friendly version of a profile page with support for things like an address, hours, phone number and more. Users can click on the Shop Module to go to a retail website and transact. Early testers include Game Stop and Arden Cove. The feature itself is somewhat bare bones for now, as it’s really just an image that launches an in-app browser. That’s not enough to really compete with something like Instagram Shop or Shopify’s Shop and the integrated, native checkout experience those types of app offers.

Fintech

Fintech giant Robinhood raised $2.1 billion in its IPO this week. The IPO valued the trading app at $31.8 billion, making it larger that traditional rivals like Charles Schwab, even though the offering priced at the bottom of its range. The stock dropped 8% during its first day’s trading, however. Robinhood now has 21.3 million MAUs.

PayPal during its second-quarter earnings call announced its new “super app” is now code-complete and ready to roll out. The app will feature early direct deposit, check cashing, high yield savings, budgeting tools, improved bill pay, crypto support, subscription management, buy now, pay later functionality, mobile commerce, and person-to-person messaging features. The latter hadn’t yet been announced and would allow users to chat outside of the payments process.

Code found in Apple’s Wallet app indicates that iOS 15 will require users to verify their identities by taking a selfie when they add their driver’s license or other state identification card to the iPhone.

Social

Instagram announced a series of significant changes to how it handles the accounts of younger teens. The company says it will now default users to private accounts at sign-up if they’re under the age of 16  — or under 18 in certain locales, including in the EU. It will also push existing users under 16 to switch their account to private if they have not already done so. In addition, Instagram is rolling out new technology aimed at reducing unwanted contact from adults — like those who have already been blocked or reported by other teens — and it will change how advertisers can reach its teenage audience. The changes give the company a way to argue to regulators that it’s capable of self-policing as it attempts to roll out a version of Instagram to younger users under the age of 13.

Twitter rolls out an update to its live audio platform, Twitter Spaces, that will make it easier to share the audio room with others. Users will be able to compose a tweet right from the Space that links to the room and includes any accompanying hashtags. iOS users also received new guest management controls for hosts.

Snapchat resolved an outage that was stopping people from logging in on Thursday. Unlike other app blips, which fix themselves often without users’ awareness, Snap told users to manually update their app if the issues continued.

Snapchat also this week added a “My Places” feature to Snap Map, which allows users to log their favorite spots, share them with friends and find recommendations. The feature supports over 30 million businesses and allows Snap to differentiate its map from a utility like Google Maps or Apple Maps, because it’s about personal recommendations from people you know and trust: your friends.

Instagram added support for 60-second videos to its TikTok clone, Reels. Previously, only Reels of up to 30 seconds were supported. Sixty seconds is in line with other platforms like YouTube Shorts and Snapchat’s Spotlight. But TikTok is now inching into YouTube territory, as it recently expanded to support three-minute videos.

TikTok expanded its LIVE platform with a huge lineup of new features including the ability to go live with others, host Q&As, use moderators and improved keyword filters, and more. For viewers, TikTok is adding new discovery and viewing tools, including picture-in-picture mode and ways to jump to LIVE streams from the For You and Following feeds. Some markets, including the U.S. already had access to LIVE Events, but the feature is now expanding. Meanwhile, the co-host feature currently supports going live with one other creator, but TikTok says it’s now testing multiple hosts.

Discord launched a new feature, Threads, which will make it easier to read through longer conversations on busy servers. Now, any server with “Community” features enabled will be able to transform their messages into threaded conversations across mobile and desktop. The threads will be designated by their own subject name and can be created by selecting a new hashtag symbol that appears in the menu when hovering over messages or by pressing the + sign in the chat bar.

Pinterest shares dropped by more than 12% after the company reported its second-quarter earnings on Thursday. Despite beating on estimates with revenue of $613.2 million and earnings per share of 25 cents, investors were disappointed by the miss on user growth. The company reported monthly active user growth of just 9% to reach 454 million, when analysts were expecting 482 million. Pinterest blamed COVID impacts for the slowdown. The news follows Pinterest’s launch of new tools for creators to monetize their content, with Ideas Pins — the recently launched video-first format that lets creators show off their work. Now, creators can make their pins “shoppable” and take commissions on those purchases.

Messaging

WhatsApp is testing support for higher image upload quality on iOS devices. The feature was discovered on WhatsApp’s TestFlight version for iOS but is not yet public and offers three options: auto, best quality or data saver.

Streaming & Entertainment

Spotify’s Clubhouse clone, Greenroom, is off to a slow start. The app has only been downloaded 140,000+ times on iOS and 100,000+ on Android, including installs from its earlier life as Locker Room, an app that Spotify acquired to move into live audio. Meanwhile, Spotify has 365 million monthly active users on its flagship streaming app.

Spotify also reported its Q2 earnings this week, where it posted a $23.6 million loss and failed to reach its forecast for total MAUs, despite growing MAUs 22% YOY to 365 million. It now has 165 million paying subscribers, which is up 20% YOY.

In a change to its app, Spotify added an attention-grabbing “What’s New” feed that offers personalized updates about new releases and new podcast episodes. The feature is available through a notification bell icon and uses a blue dot to indicate when there’s something new to see. Dots like this are a psychological hacks popularized by social apps like Facebook and Instagram to addict users, which could impact user engagement time on Spotify’s app.

Apple’s GarageBand app for iOS and iPadOS now lets you remix tracks from top artists and producers like Dua Lipa and Lady Gaga. There are also new Producer Packs with beats, loops and instruments created for GarageBand by top producers, including Boys Noize, Mark Lettieri, Oak Felder, Soulection, Take A Daytrip, Tom Misch and TRAKGIRL.

Google TV’s mobile app was updated with new services and personalized recommendations, following last fall’s launch of the Google TV user experience for Chromecast devices. The app now sports 16:9 widescreen movie and show posters, and added new providers Discovery+, Viki, Cartoon Network, PBS Kids, Boomerang, plus on-demand content from live TV services, including YouTube TV, Philo and fuboTV.

Gaming

Epic Games announced that Fortnite will host another in-game event it’s calling the “Rift Tour,” which kicks off Friday, August 6 and runs through Sunday, August 8. What it hasn’t yet said is what the Rift Tour is, beyond a “musical journey into magical new realities” that will feature a “record-breaking superstar.”

Health & Fitness

Facebook’s Oculus division is exploring an integration of Oculus Workouts with Apple’s Health app, according to the app’s code. An integration would allow users to store their workout data in Health.

Productivity

Usage of mobile video conferencing apps like Zoom grew by 150% in the first half of 2021, according to a report from Sensor Tower. Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Meet saw a surge in usage, collectively climbing to nearly 21x higher than in H1 2019, the firm found.

Google Voice’s app was updated with a few refinements, including a way to see the reason for a missed call or dropped call, and an easy way to redial. iOS users can now show their Google Voice number as their caller ID when they get a calling through a forwarding number. Another change will allow users to delete multiple SMS messages at once.

Edtech

Language learning app Duolingo raised $521 million in its U.S. IPO, priced above the marketed range. The company priced 5.1 million shared at $102, after first marketing them at $95 to $100.

Utilities

Amazon this week rolled out an update to its Alexa iOS app that allows users to add an Alexa widget to their iOS homescreen. The widget lets you tap on a button to speak to the virtual assistant and issue commands. Watch out Siri! (Ha, just kidding.)

Google Maps also updated its iOS app this week to add support for a homescreen widget. There are two different widgets sizes to choose from — one that gives info like weather and traffic, while another is more of a shortcut to nearby places like gas stations, restaurants, work and home.

Google is working on a”Switch to Android” app for iOS users that will copy over data and apps from an iPhone to bring them to a new Android device. Apple already offers a similar app, called “Move to iOS” for Android users.

Transportation

Parking app usage has popped to pre-pandemic levels, Apptopia reported. Apps in this space help users find availability in lots and garages nearby and facilitate payments. Browsing time in apps was up 57% YOY in July, and overall parking app usage is now 6.2% above Jan. 2020 pre-pandemic levels.

Moovit integrated Lime’s electric scooters, bikes and mopeds into its transit-planning app that’s live in 117 cities across 20 countries and continents, including the United States, South America, Australia and Europe.

Government & Policy

Tencent’s WeChat suspended new user registrations in China to comply with “relevant laws and regulations.” The move comes amid a broad crackdown on tech companies by Chinese regulators, related to data collection and other harmful practices.

Recently, China ordered Tencent and 13 other developers to fix problems related to pop-ups inside their apps, as part of the tech crackdown. The regulator also said it would tighten controls on misleading and explicit content used for marketing, and issued fines for offensive content to Tencent, Kuaishou and Alibaba.

Security & Privacy

Apple released patches for iOS, iPadOS and macOS to address a zero-day vulnerability that had been exploited in the wild. Apple said the exploit could exploit the vulnerability known as CVE-2021-30807 to execute arbitrary code with kernel privileges on a vulnerable and unpatched device.

Google Play Protect failed an Android security test, according to a report from Bleeping Computer. The mobile threat protection solution ranked last out of 15 Android security apps tested over a span of six months, between January to June 2021.

Funding and M&A

💰 Product insights and analytics startup Pendo raised $150 million at a $2.6 billion valuation, ahead of its expected IPO. The round was led by B Capital, the firm from Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin, and included new investor Silver Lake Waterman, alongside existing backers. Pendo’s platform helps companies gather data on how customers use their apps, including clients like Okta, Toast and others.

🤝 Twitter “acqui-hired” the team from subscription news app, Brief, who will now join Twitter’s Experience.org group, which works on Twitter Spaces and Explore. Brief had offered a non-biased news app that allowed you to get both sides of a story and all the necessary facts. Deal terms weren’t disclosed.

💰 Delivery app Gopuff confirmed its $1 billion fundraise at a $15 billion valuation, aimed at expanding its instant delivery service. TechCrunch previously reported the news when the Series H was still being closed.

💰 Indian travel app Ixigo raised $53 million (Rs 395 crore), prepping the business for a valuation of $750 million-$800 million for its upcoming IPO. The round was led by Singapore sovereign wealth fund GIC.

💰Mobile-first digital wallet Valora native to the Celo network raised $20 million in Series A funding led by Andreessen Horowitz (a16z), a Celo backer, to become a global gateway to crypto.

💰 Crypto wallet company Eco, backed by a16z, raised $60 million in new funding led by Activant Capital and L Catterton. Eco offers a digital wallet with rewards and no fees, and has average deposits of around $6,000.

💰 Search API startup Algolia, which lets developers integrate real-time search in apps or websites, raised $150 million in Series D funding, valuing the business at $2.25 billion, post-money. The round was led by Lone Pine Capital. Algolia now has over 10,000 customers, including Slack, Stripe, Medium, Zendesk and Lacoste.

💰 Brain Technologies raised $50+ million for Natural, a natural language search engine and super app for iOS, which wants users to stop switching between apps to order food, groceries or go shopping. Backers include Laurene Powell Jobs’ Emerson Collective, Goodwater Capital, Scott Cook and WTT Investment.

💰 Messaging app Element, built on the decentralized Matrix protocol, raised $30 million in a Series B round of funding. Investors include open-source R&D lab Protocol Labs and Metaplanet. a fund from Skype co-founder Jaan Tallinn, as well as past investors Automattic and Notion.

💰 Indonesia-based grocery app HappyFresh raised $65 million in Series D funding in a round led by Naver Financial Corporation and Gafina B.V. The app offers an Instacart-like grocery delivery service for parts of Asia, which today operates in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.

💰 Indian D2C beauty brand MyGlamm, which sells products through an app and website, raised $71.3 million in Series C financing, from Amazon, Ascent Capital and Wipro.

Downloads

Nanogram

Image Credits: Nanogram

Developer Kosta Eleftheriou may have taken on Apple in legal battles and on Twitter, as he points out the numerous app scams on the App Store, but that hasn’t stopped him from building new apps.

This week, Eleftheriou introduced Nanogram, a Telegram client app that works on the Apple Watch without needing an iPhone connection. Eleftheriou said he was inspired to build Nanogram because he wanted a Telegram app for his LTE Apple Watch and didn’t like the official version that didn’t provide “basic and reliable messaging functionality.” So he built his own app from scratch using the Telegram SDK, which allows you to send, receive and view all your messages and notifications right from your wrist — even if you don’t have your phone nearby. The app also supports Eleftheriou’s FlickType Swipe Keyboard for faster replies while on the go.

Eleftheriou notes the app doesn’t collect any personal information and requires an Apple Watch Series 3 or later, running watchOS 7 or later.

Lightricks’ Videoleap for Android

Image Credits: Lightricks

After seeing a 70% yearly increase for its iOS version, Lightricks brought its Videoleap app to the Google Play Store. The app has grown popular with online creators for offering professional quality editing tools on mobile, including those that let you apply artistic effects, mix videos with images, add text and layer transformations and more. The company says Videoleap users are now creating 35 million pieces of content per month, and 47% of users are exporting their creations to TikTok in pursuit of monetizing their content further. The app, like others from Lightricks (which also makes FaceTune and others), monetizes by way of in-app subscriptions.

Tweets

Apple app store fees are a de facto global tax on the Internet. Epic is right.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 30, 2021

There’s a total of *six* different touch targets in the iOS 15 beta 4 tab bar in Safari.

These exclude the ability to long-press the tab bar, swipe across it to change tabs, and swipe it up to open the Tabs view.

I’m…starting to think a single, small toolbar just won’t do. 😬pic.twitter.com/EiD2mekVRL

— Federico Viticci (@viticci) July 27, 2021

Shortcuts has a new “Return to Home Screen” action in iOS 15 developer beta 4 – this has been long requested from the community and is great to see! pic.twitter.com/8E3ZB7FIYX

— Matthew Cassinelli (@mattcassinelli) July 27, 2021

I’ve been fascinated to watch the reaction to Safari in iOS 15 because in 2016-2017, I worked on a similar redesign for mobile Chrome that we never launched. Finally decided to tell a bit of that story here: https://t.co/gF4hepQM5V

— Chris Lee (@cleerview) July 25, 2021

something fun & playful our team has been working on. what are *creative* ways we can utilize voice for more engaging convos on Spaces? how would you use these tools?

let’s have fun & learn together🧏🏽‍♂️@RichardPlom @reedm @audgeyaudgey @callmeparri @niw pic.twitter.com/4ZBahxwkDN

— Danny Singh (@Mr_DannySingh) July 22, 2021

PayPal’s new ‘super app’ is ready to launch, will also include messaging

PayPal’s plan to morph itself into a “super app” have been given a go for launch. According to PayPal CEO Dan Schulman, speaking to investors during this week’s second-quarter earnings, the initial version of PayPal’s new consumer digital wallet app is now “code complete” and the company is preparing to slowly ramp up. Over the next several months, PayPal expects to be fully ramped in the U.S., with new payment services, financial services, commerce and shopping tools arriving every quarter.

The company has spoken for some time about its “super app” ambitions — a shift in product direction that would make PayPal a U.S.-based version of something like China’s WeChat or Alipay or India’s Paytm. Similar to these apps, PayPal aims to offer a host of consumer services under one roof, beyond just mobile payments.

In previous quarters, PayPal said these new features may include things like enhanced direct deposit, check cashing, budgeting tools, bill pay, crypto support, subscription management, and buy now/pay later functionality. It also said it would integrate commerce, thanks to the mobile shopping tools acquired by way of its $4 billion Honey acquisition from 2019.

So far, PayPal has continued to run Honey as a standalone application, website and browser extension, but the super app could incorporate more of its deal-finding functions, price tracking features, and other benefits.

On Wednesday’s earnings call, Schulman revealed the super app would include a few other features as well, including high-yield savings, early access to direct deposit funds, and messaging functionality outside of peer-to-peer payments — meaning you could chat with family and friends directly through the app’s user interface.

PayPal hadn’t yet announced its plans to include a messaging component until now, but the feature makes sense in terms of how people often combine chat and peer-to-peer payments today. For example, someone may want to make a personal request for the funds instead of just sending an automated request through an app. Or, after receiving payment, a user may want to respond with a “thank you,” or other acknowledgement. Currently, these conversations take place outside of the payment app itself on platforms like iMessage. Now, that could change.

“We think that’s going to drive a lot of engagement on the platform,” said Schulman. “You don’t have to leave the platform to message back and forth.”

With the increased user engagement, the company expects to see a related bump in average revenue per active account.

Schulman also hinted at “additional crypto capabilities,” which were not detailed. However, PayPal earlier this month increased the crypto purchase limit from $20,000 to $100,000 for eligible PayPal customers in the U.S., with no annual purchase limit. The company also this year made it possible for consumers to check out at millions of online businesses using their cryptocurrencies, by first converting the crypto to cash then settling with the merchant in U.S. dollars.

Though the app’s code is now complete, Schulman said the plan is to continue to iterate on the product experience, noting that the initial version will not be “the be-all and end-all.” Instead, the app will see steady releases and new functionality on a quarterly basis.

However, he did say that early on, the new features would include the high-yield savings, improved bill pay with a better user experience and more billers and aggregators, as well as early access to direct deposit, budgeting tools, and the new two-way messaging feature.

To integrate all the new features into the super app, PayPal will undergo a major overhaul of its user interface.

“Obviously, the [user experience] is being redesigned,” Schulman noted. “We’ve got rewards and shopping. We’ve got a whole giving hub around crowdsourcing, giving to charities. And then, obviously, Buy Now, Pay Later will be fully integrated into it…The last time I counted, it was like 25 new capabilities that we’re going to put into the super app,” he said.

The digital wallet app will also be personalized to the end user, so no two apps are the same. This will be done using both A.I. and machine learning capabilities to  “enhance each customer’s experiences and opportunities,” said Schulman.

PayPal delivered an earnings beat in the second quarter with $6.24 billion in revenue, versus the $6.27 billion Wall St. expected, and earnings per share of $1.15 versus the $1.12 expected. Total payment volume from merchant customers also jumped 40% to $311 billion, while analysts had projected $295.2 billion. But the company’s stock slipped due to a lowered outlook for Q3, impacted by eBay’s transition to its own managed payments service.

In addition, PayPal gained 11.4 million net new active accounts in the quarter, to reach 403 million total active accounts.

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.

No new Galaxy Note this year as Samsung’s foldables gain S Pen functionality

Samsung sent out invites for its August 11 Unpacked event last week. While it’s clear this is going to be packed (somewhat ironically) even by the company’s standards, the event may well be as notable for what it doesn’t include. Namely, a slew of rumors have pointed to Samsung skipping its annual Galaxy Note update.

In a blog post today, the company’s president and head of Mobile Communications Business, TM Roh, writes, “Instead of unveiling a new Galaxy Note this time around, we will further broaden beloved Note features to more Samsung Galaxy devices.” The language isn’t entirely clear what that means for the future of Samsung’s beloved – if occasional erratic – phablet. No Note this event? This year? This … ever?

Samsung offered TechCrunch the following clarification, “We will not be launching new Galaxy Note devices in 2021. Instead, Samsung plans to continue to expand the Note experience and bring many of its popular productivity and creativity features, including the S Pen, across our Galaxy ecosystem. We will share more details on our future portfolio once we are ready to announce.”

Early rumors chalked the lack of a new Note up to supply chain problems that have persisted throughout much of 2020 and 2021. But further speculation has left many wondering whether the company may finally be sunsetting the Galaxy Note series on the eve of its 10th anniversary. Is it possible that the pioneering phablet has run its course, especially as other Samsung flagships get larger and siphon off its biggest features?

What’s clear is that some of the devices announced on the 11th will follow in the footsteps of the Galaxy S21 and bring Note-like features including S-Pen functionality. Likely this means at least the Galaxy Z Fold, confirming earlier rumors that the foldable would be the latest Galaxy device to blur the line between it and the Note. Presumably this also means a further reinforced display for the product. Recent leaks point to a carrying case with a pen holster, rather than baking the slot directly into the Fold’s already complicated design.

“I hope you’ll join us as we debut our next Galaxy Z family and share some foldable surprises — including the first-ever S Pen designed specifically for foldable phones,” Roh writes. The executive also promises “even more refined style, armed with more durable, stronger material” on the new Galaxy Z Flip, while also confirming the arrival of a new Z Fold.

Rounding out the news is a reference to the One UI Watch that appears to confirm that the latest Galaxy Watch will also make a cameo at the upcoming Unpacked.

VOCHI raises additional $2.4 million for its computer vision-powered video editing app

VOCHI, a Belarus-based startup behind a clever computer vision-based video editing app used by online creators, has raised an additional $2.4 million in a “late-seed” round that follows the company’s initial $1.5 million round led by Ukraine-based Genesis Investments last year. The new funds follow a period of significant growth for the mobile tool, which is now used by over 500,000 people per month and has achieved a $4 million-plus annual run rate in a year’s time.

Investors in the most recent round include TA Ventures, Angelsdeck, A.Partners, Startup Wise Guys, Kolos VC, and angels from other Belarus-based companies like Verv and Bolt. Along with the fundraise, VOCHI is elevating the company’s first employee, Anna Bulgakova, who began as head of marketing, to the position of co-founder and Chief Product Officer.

According to VOCHI co-founder and CEO lya Lesun, the company’s idea was to provide an easy way for people to create professional edits that could help them produce unique and trendy content for social media that could help them stand out and become more popular. To do so, VOCHI leverages a proprietary computer-vision-based video segmentation algorithm that applies various effects to specific moving objects in a video or to images in static photos.

“To get this result, there are two trained [convolutional neural networks] to perform semi-supervised Video Object Segmentation and Instance Segmentation,” explains Lesun, of VOCHI’s technology. “Our team also developed a custom rendering engine for video effects that enables instant application in 4K on mobile devices. And it works perfectly without quality loss,” he adds. It works pretty fast, too — effects are applied in just seconds.

The company used the initial seed funding to invest in marketing and product development, growing its catalog to over 80 unique effects and more than 30 filters.

Image Credits: VOCHI

Today, the app offers a number of tools that let you give a video a particular aesthetic (like a dreamy vibe, artistic feel, or 8-bit look, for example). It can also highlight the moving content with glowing lines, add blurs or motion, apply different filters, insert 3D objects into the video, add glitter or sparkles, and much more.

In addition to editing their content directly, users can swipe through a vertical home feed in the app where they can view the video edits others have applied to their own content for inspiration. When they see something they like, they can then tap a button to use the same effect on their own video. The finished results can then be shared out to other platforms, like Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok.

Though based in Belarus, most of VOCHI’s users are young adults from the U.S. Others hail from Russia, Saudi Arabia, Brazil and parts of Europe, Lesun says.

Unlike some of its video editor rivals, VOCHI offers a robust free experience where around 60% of the effects and filters are available without having to pay, along with other basic editing tools and content. More advanced features, like effect settings, unique presents and various special effects require a subscription. This subscription, however, isn’t cheap — it’s either $7.99 per week or $39.99 for 12 weeks. This seemingly aims the subscription more at professional content creators rather than a casual user just looking to have fun with their videos from time to time. (A one-time purchase of $150 is also available, if you prefer.)

To date, around 20,000 of VOCHI’s 500,000 monthly active users have committed to a paid subscription, and that number is growing at a rate of 20% month-over-month, the company says.

Image Credits: VOCHI

The numbers VOCHI has delivered, however, aren’t as important as what the startup has been through to get there.

The company has been growing its business at a time when a dictatorial regime has been cracking down on opposition, leading to arrests and violence in the country. Last year, employees from U.S.-headquartered enterprise startup PandaDoc were arrested in Minsk by the Belarus police, in an act of state-led retaliation for their protests against President Alexander Lukashenko. In April, Imaguru, the country’s main startup hub, event and co-working space in Minsk — and birthplace of a number of startups, including MSQRD, which was acquired by Facebook — was also shut down by the Lukashenko regime.

Meanwhile, VOCHI was being featured as App of the Day in the App Store across 126 countries worldwide, and growing revenues to around $300,000 per month.

“Personal videos take an increasingly important place in our lives and for many has become a method of self-expression. VOCHI helps to follow the path of inspiration, education and provides tools for creativity through video,” said Andrei Avsievich, General Partner at Bulba Ventures, where VOCHI was incubated. “I am happy that users and investors love VOCHI, which is reflected both in the revenue and the oversubscribed round.”

The additional funds will put VOCHI on the path to a Series A as it continues to work to attract more creators, improve user engagement, and add more tools to the app, says Lesun.

Samsung will announce new foldables on August 11

Samsung just sent out invites for its next Unpacked event. There are those companies that like to sneak hints into their invites — and then there’s Samsung. The note leads with the big, bold words “Get ready to unfold” and features a pair of flat-colored objects that can reasonably be said to resemble the form factors of the Galaxy Z Fold and Flip, respectively.

In keeping with…the general state of the world over the past year-and-a-half, the event will be held virtually on Wednesday, August 11. Interestingly, the company is also opening up preorders on its “next flagship,” sights and specs unseen. Perks for early preorders include “12 free months of Samsung Care+, up to an extra $200 trade-in credit and a special pre-order offer.”

But honestly, it’s generally best to wait until you actually see the thing and maybe even read a review or two.

There’s a lot to unpack (so to speak) ahead of the event. First, I’m probably not alone in expecting that the company would focus its next big event on the upcoming Galaxy Watch. The big event at MWC was a bit of a dud (not unlike MWC itself), offering up more information on the upcoming wearable partnership with Google, in lieu of announcing any hardware.

As the company noted at the time, “The upcoming One UI Watch will debut at an upcoming Unpacked event later this summer, sporting the new UI, as well as the forthcoming joint Samsung/Google platform.”

It seems reasonably likely that this will be the event where that will occur, even if the new watch doesn’t get top billing. For one thing we’re running out of summer. For another, rumors have the new Galaxy Watch set for a late-August (the 27th) release.

pic.twitter.com/cLlE0ot4fO

— Evan Blass (@evleaks) July 10, 2021

All told, this could well be a pretty huge summer event for the company, bucking last year’s trend of meting out devices one by one at virtual invents. Word on the street is we could be seeing a Galaxy Watch 4, Galaxy Z Fold 3, Galaxy Z Flip 3, Galaxy S21 FE (“Fan Edition” — basically the latest version of the company’s budget flagship) and even the Galaxy Buds Pro, which will more directly take on the AirPods Pro (which are getting a bit long in the tooth).

What’s missing in all of this? No points if you said the Note. Samsung’s well-loved phablet is reportedly not coming this year, as chip shortages continue to plague the industry. That would be a big hit to Samsung’s six-month cycle, though we’ll see how that all plays out soon enough.

The August 11th event kicks off at 10AM ET / 7AM PT.

Xiaomi global shipments push past Apple for No. 2 spot

A banner quarter for Xiaomi helped the Chinese mobile company snag the No. 2 spot in global smartphone shipments, according to newly posted Q2 numbers from research firm Canalys. It’s pretty stunning growth for the company, up 83% year-over-year for the quarter and capturing 17% of the global market.

The surge puts Xiaomi at No. 2, globally, behind only Samsung’s 19% by a relatively small margin. Apple is at third with 14% (after its own solid growth has slowed), while fellow Chinese manufacturers Oppo and Vivo round out the top five at 10% a piece.

Huawei, of course, is nowhere to be seen among the top companies. It’s a pretty massive drop, due in no small part to blacklisting that has both barred the company from certain markets (namely, the U.S.) and cut off access to U.S. mobile products, including Google’s Android and various apps.

Image Credits: Canalys

Canalys cites aggressive pricing as a big factor in Xiaomi’s success — particularly contrasted with premium priced offerings from Samsung and Apple.

“It is now transforming its business model from challenger to incumbent, with initiatives such as channel partner consolidation and more careful management of older stock in the open market,” the analyst firm’s Research Manager Ben Stanton said in a release. “It is still largely skewed toward the mass market, however, and compared with Samsung and Apple, its average selling price is around 40% and 75% cheaper respectively. So a major priority for Xiaomi this year is to grow sales of its high-end devices, such as the Mi 11 Ultra.”

The company certainly isn’t a household name in the States (the company has dealt with its own issues here), but of late it has found particular success in Latin America, Africa and Western Europe. It seems that there are still plenty of markets available to continue its expansion as it looks to take on Samsung, even as Oppo and Vivo hope to continue their own respective rapid global growth.

Nigeria leads mobile app market growth in Africa as use of gaming apps surge 44% from Q1 2020

The pandemic’s effect on the global app market has not been hard to miss. In the first quarter and first half of this year, consumer spending in mobile apps hit new records at $32 billion and $64.9 billion, respectively.

In Africa, it can be tough to call out exact numbers on consumer spending because the continent gets hardly a mention in global app market reports. Yet, other metrics are worth looking at, and a new report from AppsFlyer in collaboration with Google has some important insights into how the African app market has fared since the pandemic broke out last year.

The report tracked mobile app activities across three of Africa’s largest app markets (Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa) between Q1 2020 and Q1 2021.

From the first half of 2020 to the first half of 2021, the African mobile app industry (which is predominantly Android) increased by 41% in overall installs. This was analyzed from 6,000 apps and 2 billion installs in the three markets. Nigeria registered the highest growth, with a 43% rise; South Africa’s market increased by 37% and Kenya increased 29%.

Lockdown numbers

On March 22, 2020, Rwanda imposed Africa’s first lockdown. Subsequently, other countries followed; (those in the report) Kenya (March 25), South Africa (March 27), and Nigeria (March 30).

As more people spent time at home from Q2 2020, app installs increased by 20% across the three countries. South Africans were the quickest to take to their phones as the lockdowns hit with installs increasing by 17% from the previous quarter.

On the other hand, Nigerians and Kenyans recorded a 2% and 9% increase, respectively. The report attributes the disparity to the varying levels of restrictions each country faced; South Africa experienced the strictest and most frequent.

Per the report, gaming apps showed strong performance between Q1 and Q2 2020. The segment experienced a 50% growth compared to an 8% increase in nongaming apps pulled. It followed a global trend where gaming apps surged to a record high in Q2 2020, at 14 billion downloads globally.

In-app purchasing revenue and almost year-on-year growth

According to AppsFlyer, the biggest trend it noticed was in in-app purchasing revenue. In Q3 2020, in-app purchasing revenue numbers grew with a staggering 136% increase compared to Q2 2020, and accounted for 33% of 2020’s total revenue, “highlighting just how much African consumers were spending within apps, from retail purchases to gaming upgrades.”

In-app purchasing revenue among South African consumers increased by 213%, while Nigeria and Kenyan consumers recorded 141% and 74% increases, respectively.

On the advertising front and on an almost year-on-year basis, in-app advertising revenue also increased significantly as Africans were glued to their smartphones more than ever. Per the report, in-app advertising revenue increased 167% between Q2 2020 to Q1 2021.

For gaming and non-gaming apps, which was highlighted between the first two quarters, they both increased by 44% and 40% respectively in Q1 2021 compared to Q2 2020.

Fintech and super apps

In the last five years, fintech has dominated VC investments in African startups. It’s a no brainer why there is so much affinity for the sector. Fintechs create so much value for Africa’s mobile-first population, with large sections of unbanked, underbanked and banked people. This value is why all but one of the continent’s billion-dollar startups are fintech.

African fintechs have grown by 89.4% between 2017 and 2021, according to a Disrupt Africa report. Now, there are more than 570 startups on the continent. Many fintechs are mobile-based, therefore reflecting the number of fintech apps Africans use each day. Consumers in South Africa and Nigeria saw year-on-year growth in finance app installs by 116% and 60%, respectively.

AppsFlyer says that like fintech apps, super apps are on the rise as well. These “all-in-one” apps offer users a range of functions such as banking, messaging, shopping and ride-hailing. The report says their rise, partly due to device limitations on the continent, owes much to the same conditions that have led to a surge in fintech apps: systemic underbanking.

“Super apps remove some of the barriers that these users face, as well as providing a level of customer insight and experience that traditional banks cannot,” the report said.

Daniel Junowicz, RVP EMEA & Strategic Projects for AppsFlyer, commenting on the trends highlighted in the report said, “…The mobile app space in Africa is thriving despite the turmoil of last year. Installs are growing, and consumers are spending more money than ever before, highlighting just how important mobile can be for businesses when it comes to driving revenue.”

Apple just released the first iOS 15 beta to everyone

This is your opportunity to get a glimpse of the future of iOS, iPadOS and watchOS. Apple just released the first public beta of iOS 15, iPadOS 15 and watchOS 8. Those releases are the next major versions of the operating systems for the iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch. Unlike developer betas, everyone can download these betas — you don’t need a $99 developer account. But don’t forget, it’s a beta.

The company still plans to release the final version of iOS 15, iPadOS 15 and watchOS 8 this fall. But Apple is going to release betas every few weeks over the summer. It’s a good way to fix as many bugs as possible and gather data from a large group of users.

As always, Apple’s public betas closely follow the release cycle of developer betas. And Apple also released the second developer beta of iOS and iPadOS 15 today. So it sounds like the first public beta is more or less the same build as the second developer build.

But remember, you shouldn’t install a beta on your primary iPhone or iPad. The issue is not just bugs — some apps and features won’t work at all. In some rare cases, beta software can also brick your device and make it unusable. You may even lose data on iCloud. Proceed with extreme caution.

But if you have an iPad, iPhone or Apple Watch you don’t need, here’s how to download it. Head over to Apple’s beta website from the device you want to use for the beta and download the configuration profile — do that from your iPhone for the watchOS beta. It’s a tiny file that tells your device to update to public betas like it’s a normal software update.

Once it’s installed, reboot your device, then head over to the Settings (or Watch) app. You should see an update. In September, your device should automatically update to the final version of iOS 15, iPadOS 15 or watchOS 8 and you’ll be able to delete the configuration profile.

The biggest change of iOS 15 is a new Focus mode. In addition to ‘Do not disturb’, you can configure various modes — you can choose apps and people you want notifications from and change your focus depending on what you’re doing. For instance, you can create a Work mode, a Sleep mode, a Workout mode, etc.

There are many new features across the board, such as a new Weather app, updated maps in Apple Maps, an improved version of FaceTime with SharePlay and more. Safari also has a brand new look.

MWC 2021 day two: Is this thing on?

Listen, it’s probably not the best sign when a show feels like it’s running out of steam on its first day. Mobile World Congress’ opening salvo was headlined by Samsung in an event that touched on some partnerships and spent equal time teasing an upcoming event where it will actually launch some hardware. It’s hard to get too down on the GSMA, and I really ought to preface all of these by reiterating that – even in a normal year – running an event is hard as hell. Canceling its flagship show last year had to be gut-wrenching, and deciding to go forward with this one must have also been – albeit for dramatically different reasons?

It’s not like the show didn’t come with some wins. What’s that? Elon Musk videoed in? That’s a pretty massive get by any measure, with all of the standard “whatever you think about the guy” preambles. Love him or hate, you’ve heard about him and probably have extremely strong feelings about the dude, one way or another.

The High Priest of Dogeking beamed in to talk SpaceX StarLink. “To be totally frank, we are losing money on that terminal right now,” Musk said in the interview. “That terminal costs us more than $1,000, so obviously I’m subsidizing the cost of the terminal.” Good thing he’s got deep pockets.

He promised a new version of the company’s satellite next year, “which will be significantly more capable.”

Huawei thus far has focused much more on networking than consumer – it’s important to caveat this by adding that MWC is as much, if not more, a networking show, in spite of all of the press that tends to focus on consumer device launches. The company launched a bunch of 5G networking hardware, including several MIMO products.

Speaking of networks, I totally forgot to include this bit from TechCrunch parent co (you know, for now). Verizon trotted out a bunch of robots with 5G branding. The company was making a point about the importance of cellular for future robotics communication.

Here’s CSO Rima Qureshi, quoted by Reuters, “5G will make it possible for robots to connect with other robots and devices of all kinds in a way that simply wasn’t possible before.”

Image Credits: Huawei

Let’s be honest, though, mostly robots make for cool stage fodder. From what I can tell, the Boston Dynamics-esque quadruped was this bot from Ghost Robotics, which Verizon also trotted out (well, it trotted itself out, I suppose) at CES in January:

Given the choice, would I have put on an in-person event in Barcelona in the summer of 2021? No. Nuh-uh. No way. Did the GSMA feel like they had a choice financially or otherwise? That’s a much more difficult question to answer. When you’re a company that runs on events and partnerships, even canceling a single big show is a shock to the system.

I’m going back and forth on whether I’ll be doing any more of these roundups as the show progresses through Thursday. Definitely if some more interesting stuff shows up, or if there’s like video of Elon hoverboarding through the sparsely populated convention center halls or something. But I’m not holding my breath.

Read more about Mobile World Congress 2021 on TechCrunch

 

Instagram’s TikTok rival, Reels, rolls out ads worldwide

Instagram Reels are getting ads. The company announced today it’s launching ads in its short-form video platform and TikTok rival, Reels, to businesses and advertisers worldwide. The ads will be up to 30 seconds in length, like Reels themselves, and vertical in format, similar to ads found in Instagram Stories. Also like Reels, the new ads will loop, and people will be able to like, comment, and save them, the same as other Reels videos.

The company had previously tested Reels ads in select markets earlier this year, including India, Brazil, Germany, and Australia, then expanded those tests to Canada, France, the U.K. and the U.S. more recently. Early adopters of the new format have included brands like BMW, Nestlé (Nespresso), Louis Vuitton, Netflix, Uber, and others.

Instagram tells us the ads will appear in most places users view Reels content, including on the Reels tab, Reels in Stories, Reels in Explore, and Reels in your Instagram Feed, and will appear in between individual Reels posted by users. However, in order to be served a Reels ad, the user first needs to be in the immersive, full-screen Reels viewer.

Image Credits: Instagram

The company couldn’t say how often a user might see a Reels ad, noting that the number of ads a viewer may encounter will vary based on how they use Instagram. But the company is monitoring user sentiment around ads themselves, and the overall commercially of Reels, it says.

Like Instagram’s other advertising products, Reels ads will launch with an auction-based model. But so far, Instagram is declining to share any sort of performance metrics around how those ads are doing, based on tests. Nor is it yet offering advertisers any creator tools or templates that could help them get started with Reels ads. Instead, Instagram likey assumes advertisers already have creative assets on hand or know how to make them, because of Reels ads’ similarities to other vertical video ads found elsewhere, including on Instagram’s competitors.

While vertical video has already shown the potential for driving consumers to e-commerce shopping sites, Instagram hasn’t yet taken advantage of Reels ads to drive users to its built-in Instagram Shops, though that seems like a natural next step as it attempts to tie the different parts of its app together.

But perhaps ahead of that step, Instagram needs to make Reels a more compelling destination — something other TikTok rivals, which now include both Snap and YouTube — have done by funding creator content directly. Instagram, meanwhile, had made offers to select TikTok stars directly.

The launch of Instagram Reels ads follows news of TikTok’s climbing ad prices. Bloomberg reported this month that TikTok is now asking for more than $1.4 million for a home page takeover ad in the U.S., as of the third quarter, which will jump to $1.8 million by Q4 and more than $2 million on a holiday. Though the company is still building its ads team and advertisers haven’t yet allocated large portions of their video budget to the app, that tends to follow user growth — and TikTok now has over 100 million monthly active users in the U.S.

Both apps, Instagram and TikTok, now have over a billion monthly active users on a global basis, though Reels is only a part of the larger Instagram platform. For comparison, Instagram Stories is used by some 500 million users, which demonstrates Instagram’s ability to drive traffic to different areas of its app. Instagram declined to share how many users Reels has as of today.

Uberall raises $115M, acquires MomentFeed to scale up its location marketing services

Location-based services may have had their day as a salient category for hot apps or innovative tech leveraging the arrival of smartphones, but that’s largely because they are now part of the unspoken fabric of how we interact with digital services every day: we rely on location specific information when we are on search engines, when we are using maps, or weather apps, or taking and posting photos and more.

Still, there remain a lot of gaps in how location information links up with accurate information, and so today a company that’s made it its business to address that is announcing some funding as it scales up its service.

Uberall, which works with retailers and other brick-and-mortar operators to help them update and provide more accurate information about themselves across the plethora of apps and other services that consumers use to discover them, is announcing $115 million in funding. Alongside that, the Berlin startup is making an acquisition: it’s buying MomentFeed, a location marketing company based out of Los Angeles, CA, to continue scaling its business.

The funding is being led by London-based investor Bregal Milestone, with Level Equity, United Internet and Uberall management also participating. From what we understand from sources, the funding values Uberall at around $500 million, and the deal for MomentFeed was made for between $50 million and $60 million.

The business combination is building way more scale into the platform: Uberall said that together they will manage the online presence for 1.35 million business locations, making the company the biggest in the field, with customers including the gas station operator BP, KFC, clothes and food chain Marks and Spencer, McDonald’s and Pizza Hut.

Florian Hübner, the CEO and co-founder of Uberall, noted in an interview that the companies have quite a lot of overlap, and in fact prior to the deal being made the companies worked together closely in the U.S. market, but all the same, MomentFeed has built some specific technology that will enrich the wider platform, such as a particularly strong tool for measuring sentiment analysis.

“Managing the online presence” is not a company’s website, nor is it its apps, but may nevertheless be its most common digital touchpoints when it comes to actually engaging with consumers online. It includes how those companies appear on local listings services like Yelp or TripAdvisor, or mapping apps like Google’s — which provide not just listings information like addresses and opening hours but also customer reviews — or social apps or location-based advertising. Altogether, when you are considering a company with multiple locations and the multiple touchpoints a consumer might use, it ends up being a complicated mess of places that need to be managed and kept up to date.

“We are the catalyst for this huge ecosystem where we enable the brands to use everything that the other tech platforms are offering in the best possible way,” Hübner told me. The tech platforms, meanwhile, are willing to work with middle-ware companies like Uberall to make the information on their services more accurate and complete by connecting with businesses when they have not manage to do so directly on their own. (And if you’ve ever been caught out by the wrong opening times on a Google Maps entry, or any other entry or piece of information elsewhere, you know this is an issue.)

And of course expecting any company with potentially hundreds of locations to provide the right details without a tool is also a non-starter. “Casually updating 100,000 profiles is super hard,” Hübner said.

It also provides services to update information about vaccine and Covid-19 testing clinics, as well as other essential services that also have to contend with the same variations in location, opening hours and customer feedback as any other business on a site like Google Maps.

Altogether, Uberall has built out a platform that essentially connects up all of those end points, so that an Uberall customer can use a dashboard to provide updates that populate automatically everywhere, and also to read and respond to reviews.

Conversely, Uberall also can look out for instances where a company is being unofficially represented, or mis-represented and locks those down. Alongside those, it has built a location-based marketing service that also serves ads for its customers. It is somewhat akin to social media management tools, which let you manage social media accounts and social media marketing campaigns, except that it’s covering a much more fragmented and disparate set of places where a company might appear online.

The bigger picture here is that just as location-based marketing is a fragmented business, so is the business of providing services to manage it. This move reduces down that field a little more and improves the efficiency of scaling such services.

“As we saw the market trending towards consolidation, we considered several potential companies to merge with. Uberall was by far our most preferred,” said MomentFeed CEO Nick Hedges in a statement. “This combination makes enormous strategic sense for our customers, who represent the who’s-who of leading U.S. omni channel brands. It helps accelerate our already rapid pace of innovation, giving customers an even greater edge in the hyper-competitive world of ’Near Me’ Marketing.” After the deal closes, Hedges will become Uberall’s chief strategy officer and EVP for North America.

“We are thrilled to partner with the Uberall team for this next phase of growth. Our strategic investment will significantly accelerate Uberall’s ambition to become the leading ‘Near Me’ Customer Experience platform worldwide. Uberall’s differentiated full-suite solution is unsurpassed by competition in terms of integration and functionality, providing customers with a real edge to reach, interact with, and convert online customers. We look forward to supporting Florian, Nick and their talented team to deliver on their exciting innovation and expansion roadmap.” said Cyrus Shey, managing partner of Bregal Milestone, in a statement.

Spotlight gets more powerful in iOS 15, even lets you install apps

With the upcoming release of iOS 15 for Apple mobile devices, Apple’s built-in search feature known as Spotlight will become a lot more functional. In what may be one of its bigger updates since it introduced Siri Suggestions, the new version of Spotlight is becoming an alternative to Google for several key queries, including web images and information about actors, musicians, TV shows and movies. It will also now be able to search across your photo library, deliver richer results for contacts, and connect you more directly with apps and the information they contain. It even allows you to install apps from the App Store without leaving Spotlight itself.

Spotlight is also more accessible than ever before.

Years ago, Spotlight moved from its location to the left of the Home screen to become available with a swipe down in the middle of any screen in iOS 7, which helped grow user adoption. Now, it’s available with the same swipe down gesture on the iPhone’s Lock Screen, too.

You can access spotlight from the lock screen #iOS15 (locked or unlocked) pic.twitter.com/rVC1DqvBkA

— Alex Fife (@alextfife) June 9, 2021

Apple showed off a few of Spotlight’s improvements during its keynote address at its Worldwide Developer Conference, including the search feature’s new cards for looking up information on actors, movies and shows, as well as musicians. This change alone could redirect a good portion of web searches away from Google or dedicated apps like IMDb.

For years, Google has been offering quick access to common searches through its Knowledge Graph, a knowledge base that allows it to gather information from across sources and then use that to add informational panels above and the side of its standard search results. Panels on actors, musicians, shows and movies are available as part of that effort.

But now, iPhone users can just pull up this info on their home screen.

The new cards include more than the typical Wikipedia bio and background information you may expect — they also showcase links to where you can listen or watch content from the artist or actor or movie or show in question. They include news articles, social media links, official websites, and even direct you to where the searched person or topic may be found inside your own apps. (E.g. a search for “Billie Eilish” may direct you to her tour tickets inside SeatGeek, or a podcast where she’s a guest).

Image Credits: Apple

For web image searches, Spotlight also now allows you to search for people, places, animals, and more from the web — eating into another search vertical Google today provides.

Image Credits: iOS 15 screenshot

Your personal searches have been upgraded with richer results, too, in iOS 15.

When you search for a contact, you’ll be taken to a card that does more than show their name and how to reach them. You’ll also see their current status (thanks to another iOS 15 feature), as well as their location from FindMy, your recent conversations on Messages, your shared photos, calendar appointments, emails, notes, and files. It’s almost like a personal CRM system.

Image Credits: Apple

Personal photo searches have also been improved. Spotlight now uses Siri intelligence to allow you to search your photos by the people, scenes, elements in your photos, as well as by location. And it’s able to leverage the new Live Text feature in iOS 15 to find the text in your photos to return relevant results.

This could make it easier to pull up photos where you’ve screenshot a recipe, a store receipt, or even a handwritten note, Apple said.

Image Credits: Apple

A couple of features related to Spotlight’s integration with apps weren’t mentioned during the keynote.

Spotlight will now display action buttons on the Maps results for businesses that will prompt users to engage with that business’s app. In this case, the feature is leveraging App Clips, which are small parts of a developer’s app that let you quickly perform a task even without downloading or installing the app in question. For example, from Spotlight you may be prompted to pull up a restaurant’s menu, buy tickets, make an appointment, order takeout, join a waitlist, see showtimes, pay for parking, check prices and more.

The feature will require the business to support App Clips in order to work.

Image Credits: iOS 15 screenshot

Another under-the-radar change — but a significant one — is the new ability to install apps from the App Store directly from Spotlight.

This could prompt more app installs, as it reduces the steps from a search to a download, and makes querying the App Store more broadly available across the operating system.

Developers can additionally choose to insert a few lines of code to their app to make data from the app discoverable within Spotlight and customize how it’s presented to users. This means Spotlight can work as a tool for searching content from inside apps — another way Apple is redirecting users away from traditional web searches in favor of apps.

However, unlike Google’s search engine, which relies on crawlers that browse the web to index the data it contains, Spotlight’s in-app search requires developer adoption.

Still, it’s clear Apple sees Spotlight as a potential rival to web search engines, including Google’s.

“Spotlight is the universal place to start all your searches,” said Apple SVP of Software Engineering Craig Federighi during the keynote event.

Spotlight, of course, can’t handle “all” your searches just yet, but it appears to be steadily working towards that goal.

read more about Apple's WWDC 2021 on TechCrunch

Sinch snaps up MessageMedia for $1.3B to compete with Twilio in business SMS services

Sinch — the Swedish company that provides a suite of services for companies to build communications and specifically “customer engagement” into their services by way of APIs — has made yet another acquisition in its global march to scale up its business and compete more squarely with Twilio. The company today announced that it has acquired MessageMedia, a provider of SMS and other messaging services for businesses to manage customer relations, user authentication, alerts and more.

The acquisition is being made for $1.3 billion — comprised of $1.1 billion in cash and the rest in shares (or in Sweden’s currency, SEK10,745 in total based on Sinch’s share price and yesterdays exchange rate). The deal is expected to close in the second half of this year.

The deal is notable not just for giving Sinch a major inroad into the world of business SMS, but also because of the timing. Less than a month ago, Sinch’s big rival Twilio announced that it would acquire ZipWhip, another big player in the same area of business SMS, for $850 million.

MessageMedia, based out of Melbourne, Australia, is currently operational also in New Zealand, the U.S. and Europe, and it focuses on providing services primarily to the SMB market with a self-service platform where customers can build and operate services, with the option of using a web portal provided by MessageMedia to handle the traffic.

It has some 60,000 customers and handles 5 billion+ messages annually, Sinch said. Growth is particularly strong in the U.S. market, where MessageMedia is adding 1,500 new customers each month. Alongside SMS, it also provides tech for companies to build MMS experiences and mobile landing pages, and it also provides them with tools to integrate other features as well as an API gateway.

Sinch itself says it handles some 150 billion mobile customer engagements for its customers annually, and it has 8 of the 10 biggest tech companies as customers.

Sinch is publicly traded in Sweden and currently has a market cap of $13.6 billion, and the deal comes just weeks after the company announced that it would be raising $1.1 billion for more acquisitions, with a big chunk of the money coming from Softbank, one of its major backers.

Given the size of this deal announced today, now we know which deal Sinch had in mind. It would be interesting to know whether Sinch’s move to buy MessageMedia predated Twilio’s for ZipWhip, which definitely do not feel like a coincidence.

“Sinch powers mobile customer engagement for some of the largest brands and technology platforms in the world. With the acquisition of MessageMedia, Sinch will now be able to bring the benefits of enhanced mobile customer engagement to every small business on the planet,” CEO Oscar Werner said to TechCrunch. “No longer will you need the deep pockets of an enterprise or the technical skills of an engineer to deliver first-class customer experiences.”

Sinch has been on a fast pace of buying up companies in recent times to scale up its existing business, tapping not just into the huge surge of people using phones and the internet to communicate in these pandemic-stricken times, but also to bulk up and have more economies of scale in the communications industry, essentially a business built on aggregating incremental revenues.

That fact has led to a lot of consolidation, with Twilio also buying up strategic, smaller businesses in quick order.

In this regard, MessageMedia is a strong buy for Sinch because it’s generating strong cash. MessageMedia is expected to make $151 million in profits for the year ending June 30, with gross profits of $94 million and Ebitda of $51 million, Sinch said. Sinch itself is also profitable.

Sinch’s other deals have included Inteliquent for $1.14 billion, ACL in India for $70 million and SAP’s digital interconnect business for $250 million.

For its part, MessageMedia very much plays into and is a product of the same API economy that has lifted the likes of Twilio, Stripe and many others built on the premise of knitting together very complex services, which customers can then use by way of simple lines of code that they integrate into their own digital operations, be it websites, apps, or internal systems.

Communications, and specifically messaging API-based systems are estimated to be a $9-13 billion market, Sinch said, with the U.S. accounting for 30% of that, and the global market projected to grow between 25-30% until 2024. SMBs, who might lack the resources to build such tools from the ground up, are a big part of that activity.

“Mobile messaging delivers tremendous ROI but smaller businesses often lack tools that cater to their specific needs,” said Paul Perrett, MessageMedia CEO, in a statement. “Serving these customers presents a tremendous opportunity, and with Sinch we can build a global leader in our field.”

Apple releases torrent of updates, and Wall Street yawns

Today’s WWDC keynote from Apple covered a huge range of updates. From a new macOS to a refreshed watchOS to a new iOS, better privacy controls, FaceTime updates, and even iCloud+, there was something for everyone in the laundry list of new code.

Apple’s keynote was essentially what happens when the big tech companies get huge; they have so many projects that they can’t just detail a few items. They have to run down their entire parade of platforms, dropping packets of news concerning each.

But despite the obvious indication that Apple has been hard at work on the critical software side of its business, especially its services-side (more here), Wall Street gave a firm, emphatic shrug.

This is standard but always slightly confusing.

Investors care about future cash flows, at least in theory. Those future cash flows come from anticipated revenues, which are born from product updates, driving growth in sales of services, software, and hardware. Which, apart from the hardware portion of the equation, is precisely what Apple detailed today.

And lo, Wall Street looked upon the drivers of its future earnings estimates, and did sayeth “lol, who really cares.”

Shares of Apple were down a fraction for most of the day, picking up as time passed not thanks to the company’s news dump, but because the Nasdaq largely rose as trading raced to a close.

Here’s the Apple chart, via YCharts:

And here’s the Nasdaq:

Presuming that you are not a ChartMaster™, those might not mean much to you. Don’t worry. The charts say very little all-around so you are missing little. Apple was down a bit, and the Nasdaq up a bit. Then the Nasdaq went up more, and Apple’s stock generally followed. Which is good to be clear, but somewhat immaterial.

So after yet another major Apple event that will help determine the health and popularity of every Apple platform — key drivers of lucrative hardware sales! — the markets are betting that all their prior work estimating the True and Correct value of Apple was dead-on and that there is no need for any sort of up-or-down change.

That, or Apple is so big now that investors are simply betting it will grow in keeping with GDP. Which would be a funny diss. Regardless, more from the Apple event here in case you are behind.

 

Global smartphone market continues rebound with 26% Q1 bump

More signs of the global market righting the ship after a disastrous 2020. New figures from Gartner point to 26% increase in global sales year over year for the first quarter of 2021. The overall increase is an impressive one, though it comes after a couple of years of market slow down, followed by a step drop amid the pandemic.

Manufacturers got hit from all sides last year. 2020 kicked things off with a manufacturing slowdown, as China and greater Asia were the first to be impacted by the effects of Covid-19. In the following months, global demand slowed, as shutdowns were instated and job loss and economic issues massively hampered sales.

Image Credits: Gartner

The new Gartner numbers maintain the same global top three manufacturers as this time last year. Samsung’s overall market share grew from 18.4- to 20.3%, courtesy of budget devices, returning to the number one spot.

Apple had managed to push its way to number one in Q4, on the strength of its belated 5G push. The company dropped down to number two for the first quarter – the same position it held this time last year. Overall, its market share is up around 2% y-o-y to 15.5, according to the figures. The top five are rounded out by three Chinese manufacturers — Xiaomi, Vivo and Oppo – as Huawei’s struggles continue.

Thus far, global chip shortages appear to have had little impact on shipments.

YC-backed Ziina raises $7.5M seed led by Avenir Growth Capital and Class 5 Global

Cash is the predominant method of sending and receiving payments in the Middle East. If you owe someone a cup of coffee or a trip over a long period, repaying via cash is your best bet. This is one problem out of many financial issues that haven’t been addressed in the region.

The good news is that startups are springing up to provide solutions. Last month Telda, a now two-month-old startup in Egypt, raised an impressive sum as pre-seed to offer digital banking services. Today, Ziina, another startup based in Dubai, has closed $7.5 million in seed funding to scale its peer-to-peer (P2P) payment service across the Middle East and North Africa.

Ziina has managed to enlist top global investors and fintech founders in the round. Avenir Growth and Class 5 Global led this latest tranche of financing. Wamda Capital, FJ Labs, Graph Ventures, Goodwater Capital, Jabbar Internet Group, Oman Technology Fund’s Jasoor Ventures, and ANIM also participated.

The founders who took part include Checkout CEO Guillaume Pousaz via his investment fund Zinal Growth; Krishnan Menon, BukuKas CEO, as well as executives from Paypal and Venmo. This adds to a roster of executives and early employees from Revolut, Stripe, Brex, Notion, and Deel that joined Ziina’s round.

According to the company, it has raised over $8.6 million since launching last year. This includes the $850,000 pre-seed raised in May 2020 and $125,000 secured after going through Y Combinator’s Winter batch early this year.

Ziina was founded by Faisal Toukan, Sarah Toukan, and Andrew Gold. It’s the latest addition to the Middle East’s bubbling fintech ecosystem and is capitalising on the region’s rapid adoption of fintech friendly regulation.

The company allows users to send and receive payments with just a phone number —no IBAN or swift code required as is the de facto method in the UAE and some parts of the Middle East. It also claims to be the country’s first licensed social peer-to-peer application “on a mission to simplify finance for everyone.”

After meeting during a hackathon in the U.S., Faisal and Gold began exchanging ideas on how to build wallets, wanting to mirror the successes platforms like WePay, Paytm have had. At the time, VCs seemed to be interested in how the wallets ecosystem intersected with banking.

“The lines between wallets and banking have become really blurred. Every wallet has a banking partner, and people who use wallets use them for their day-to-day needs,” CEO Faisal Toukan said to TechCrunch.

On the other hand, Sarah, who is Faisal’s sister, was on her personal fintech journey in London. There, she attended several meetups headlined by the founders of Monzo and Revolut. With her knowledge and the experience of the other two, the founders decided that solving P2P payments issues was their own way of driving massive impact in the Middle East.

So how far have they gone? “We launched a beta for the market but it’s restricted for regulatory reasons and basically to keep ourselves in check with the ecosystem,” Toukan remarked. “Since then, we’ve gotten regulated. We’ve got a banking partner, one of the three largest banks in the UAE, and we’ve set a new wallet a month from now. That’s also what we were working throughout our period in YC. So it’s been quite an eventful year.”

The fintech sector in MENA is growing fast; in terms of numbers, at a CAGR of 30%. Also, in the UAE, it is estimated that over 450 fintech companies will raise about $2 billion in 2022 compared to the $80 million raised in 2017. Fintechs in the region are focused on solving payments, transfers, and remittances. Alongside its P2P offering, these are the areas Ziina wants to play in, including investment and cryptocurrency services.

According to Toukan, there’s no ease of making online investments, and remittances are done in exchange houses, a manual process where people need to visit an office physically. “So what we’re looking to do is to bring all these products to life in the UAE and expand beyond that. But the first pain point we’re solving for is for people to send and receive money with two clicks,” the CEO affirmed.

Starting with P2P has its own advantages. First, peer-to-peer services is a repeat behavioural mechanism that allows companies to establish trust with customers. Also, it’s a cheaper customer acquisition model. Toukan says that as Zinna expands geographically — Saudi Arabia and Jordan in 2022; and Egypt and Tunisia some years from now — as he wants the company’s wallet to become seamless across borders. “We want a situation where if you move into Saudi or Dubai, you’re able to use the same wallet versus using different banking applications,” he added

To be on the right side of regulation is key to any fintech expansion, and Toukan says Ziina has been in continuous dialogue with regulators to operate efficiently. But some challenges have stemmed from finding the right banking partners. “You need to make a case to the banks that this is basically a mutually beneficial partnership. And the way we’ve done that is by basically highlighting different cases globally like CashApp that worked with Southern Bank,” he said.

Now that the company has moved past that challenge, it’s in full swing to launch. Presently, Ziina has thousands of users who transacted more than $120,000 on the platform this past month. In addition, there are over 20,000 users on its waiting list to be onboarded post-launch.

Ziina has already built a team with experience across tech companies like Apple, Uber, Stanford, Coinbase, Careem, Oracle, and Yandex. It plans to double down on hiring with this new investment and customer acquisition and establishing commercial partnerships.

Watch Apple’s WWDC keynote live right here

Today, Apple is holding a (virtual) keynote on the first day of its developer conference, and the company is expected to talk about a ton of software updates. At 10 AM PT (1 PM in New York, 6 PM in London, 7 PM in Paris), you’ll be able to watch the event right here as the company is streaming it live.

As usual with Apple’s developer conferences, you can expect to learn more about the next major updates of the company’s operating systems. Get ready for iOS 15, iPadOS 15, a new version of macOS and some updates for watchOS and tvOS as well.

But Apple could also use this opportunity to unveil some new products that are particularly popular with developers. Apple has already shipped several laptops and desktop computers with its own ARM-based M1 chip.

High-end models haven’t been updated yet. Rumor has it that Apple could use today’s opportunity to unveil a new iMac Pro, updated MacBook Pro models or even a new external display.

You can watch the live stream directly on this page, as Apple is streaming its conference on YouTube.

If you have an Apple TV, you don’t need to download a new app. You can open the Apple TV app and find the Apple Events section. It lets you stream today’s event and rewatch old ones.

And if you don’t have an Apple TV and don’t want to use YouTube, the company also lets you live stream the event from the Apple Events section on its website. This video feed now works in all major browsers — Safari, Firefox, Microsoft Edge and Google Chrome.

read more about Apple's WWDC 2021 on TechCrunch

Lightyear is a new stock trading app from early Wise employees

Meet Lightyear, a new London-based startup coming out of stealth today. The company is building a stock trading app with a focus on creating a truly commission-free app. In addition to waving account fees and trading fees, Lightyear doesn’t charge foreign exchange fees either — up to a certain point.

The two founders met when they were working at Wise — then known as TransferWise. That’s why it makes sense that Lightyear wants to stand out from the crowd with lower foreign exchange fees.

Martin Sokk, co-founder and CEO of Lightyear, worked at Wise between 2012 and 2017. He has held various roles, such as head of product, head of people and head of operations. Mihkel Aamer, Lightyear’s other co-founder and CTO, was an engineering lead at Wise between 2013 and 2019.

“Having spent my career in financial services, I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly. I believe retail investing in Europe is still very much ‘the ugly’ — we’re talking about sneaky fees, less access and complicated products remaining as the status quo,” Martin Sokk said in a statement. “We’re building something that will change that by opening up investing up to everyone, whichever global market they want to invest in and however much they want to invest.”

As a user, you can expect a mobile app that lets you buy and sell shares and ETFs. There will be 1,500 stocks and ETFs from multiple markets at launch. Customers won’t pay any account fees, trading fees and foreign exchange fees. But there will be a limit on foreign exchange fees. After £3,000 per month, users will pay 0.35% in FX fees.

The app isn’t quite ready just yet as Lightyear is opening up a waitlist today. The product should roll out at some point during the third quarter of this year.

Image Credits: Lightyear

Lightyear has raised a $1.5 million pre-seed funding round co-led by the new unnamed fund formed by Wise co-founder Taavet Hinrikus and Teleport co-founder Sten Tamkivi Teleport. This is their first investment through this new venture. Skype co-founder Jaan Tallinn is also co-leading the found through Metaplanet. There are also several business angels participating in today’s funding round, including Checkout.com CTO Ott Kaukver, former President of Robinhood UK Wander Rutgers, and Veriff founder Kaarel Kotkas.

It’s a nice list of investors but the company will face tough competition from other startups — you’ll likely end up paying more fees if you use one of these competitors, but they’re already well established. For instance, Berlin-based stock trading app Trade Republic has recently raised $900 million. In the U.K., Freetrade has also managed to attract 600,000 users.

And yet, more importantly, Lightyear also competes with legacy brokers. Unlike in the U.S., the vast majority of retail investors still rely on traditional banks and web platforms for stock trading. There will be room for more than one company in this space. So let’s see how Lightyear executes in the coming months.

Poparazzi hypes itself to the top of the App Store

If Instagram’s photo tagging feature was spun out into its own app, you’d have the viral sensation Poparazzi, now the No. 1 app on the App Store. The new social networking app, from the same folks behind TTYL and others, lets you create a social profile that only your friends can post photos to — in other words, making your friends your own ‘paparazzi.’ To its credit, the new app has perfectly executed on a series of choices designed to fuel day one growth — from its pre-launch TikTok hype cycle to drive App Store pre-orders to its post-launch social buzz, including favorable tweets by its backers. But the app has also traded user privacy in some cases to amplify network effects in its bid for the Top Charts, which is a risky move in terms of its long-term staying power.

The company positions Poparazzi as a sort of anti-Instagram, rebelling against today’s social feeds filled with edited photos, too many selfies, and “seemingly effortless perfection.” People’s real lives are made up of many unperfect moments that are worthy of being captured and shared, too, a company blog post explains.

This manifesto hits the right notes at the right time. User demand for less performative social media has been steadily growing for years — particularly as younger, Gen Z users wake up to the manipulations by tech giants. We’ve already seen a number of startups try to siphon users away from Instagram using similar rallying cries, including MinutiaeVeroDayflashOggl, and more recently, the once-buzzy Dispo and the under-the-radar Herd.

Even Facebook has woken up to consumer demand on this front, with its plan to roll out new features that allow Facebook and Instagram users to remove the Like counts from their posts and their feeds.

Poparazzi hasn’t necessarily innovated in terms of its core idea — after all, tagging users in photos has existed for years. In fact, it was one of the first viral effects introduced by Facebook in its earlier days.

Instead, Poparazzi hit the top of the charts by carefully executing on growth strategies that ensured a rocket ship-style launch.

@poparazziappcomment it! ##greenscreen ##poparazziapp ##positivity ##foryoupage♬ Milkshake – BBY Kodie

The company began gathering pre-launch buzz by driving demand via TikTok — a platform that’s already helped mint App Store hits like the mobile game High Heels. TikTok’s powers are still often underestimated, even though its potential for to send apps up the Top Charts have successfully boosted downloads for a number of mobile businesses, including TikTok sister app CapCut and e-commerce app Shein, for example.

And Poparazzi didn’t just build demand on TikTok — it actually captured it by pointing users to its App Store pre-orders page via the link in its bio. By the time launch day rolled around, it had a gaggle of Gen Z users ready and willing to give Poparazzi a try.

The app launches with a clever onboarding screen that uses haptics to buzz and vibrate your phone while the intro video plays. This is unusual enough that users will talk and post about how cool it was — another potential means of generating organic growth through word-of-mouth.

@poparazzidotcom ‘s app & website (https://t.co/EGU0K6AVS3) experience is amazing 🤯🤯🤯🤯#poparazzi pic.twitter.com/NqJWD5T5Sg

— 𝔗𝔞𝔫𝔦𝔰𝔥 𝔄𝔯𝔬𝔯𝔞 (@tanishar0ra) May 25, 2021

After getting you riled up with excitement, Poparazzi eases you into its bigger data grab.

First, it signs up and authenticates users through a phone number. Despite Apple’s App Store policy, which requires it, there is no privacy-focused option to use “Sign In with Apple,” which allows users to protect their identity. That would have limited Poparazzi’s growth potential versus its phone number and address book access approach.

It then presents you with a screen where it asks for permission to access to your Camera (an obvious necessity), Contacts (wait, all of them?), and permission to send you Notifications. This is where things start to get more dicey. The app, like Clubhouse once did, demands a full address book upload. This is unnecessary in terms of an app’s usability, as there are plenty of other ways to add friends on social media — like by scanning each other’s QR code, typing in a username directly, or performing a search.

But gaining access someone’s full Contacts database lets Poparazzi skip having to build out features for the privacy-minded. It can simply match your stored phone numbers with those it has on file from user signups and create an instant friend graph.

As you complete each permission, Poparazzi rewards you with green checkmarks. In fact, even if you deny the permission being asked, the green check appears. This may confuse users as to whether whether they’ve accidently given the app access.

They had a killer and engaging intro video complete with gravity falling emoji and well-tuned haptics that built hype and informed proper use

(I feel like a lot of people these days actually download without knowing this stuff now, making onboarding even more important) pic.twitter.com/duUelcDm0H

— Chase Stubblefield 🛴 (@chasestubb) May 25, 2021

While you can “deny” the Address Book upload — a request met with a tsk tsk of a pop-up message — Poparazzi literally only works with friends, it warns you — you can’t avoid being found by other Poparazzi users who have your phone number stored in their phone.

When users sign up, the app matches their address book to the phone number it has on file and then — boom! — new users are instantly following the existing users. And if any other friends have signed up before you, they’ll be following you as soon as you log in the first time.

AND WHAT IF I DON’T HAVE ANY FRIENDS POPARAZZI pic.twitter.com/EeeWcFIEZn

— Corey Robison (@thefomosapien) May 25, 2021

In other words, there’s no manual curation of a “friend graph” here. The expectation is that your address book is your friend graph, and Poparazzi is just duplicating it.

Of course, this isn’t always an accurate presentation of reality.

Many younger people, and particularly women, have the phone numbers of abusers, stalkers and exes stored in their phone’s Contacts. By doing so, they can leverage the phone’s built-in tools to block the unwanted calls and texts from that person. But because Poparazzi automatically matches people by phone number, abusers could gain immediate access to the user profiles of the people they’re trying to harass or hurt.

Sure, this is an edge case. But it’s a non-trivial one.

It’s a well-documented problem, too — and one that had plagued Clubhouse, which similarly required full address book uploads during its early growth phase. It’s a terrible strategy to become the norm, and one that does not appear to have created a lasting near-term lock-in for Clubhouse. It’s also not a new tactic. Mobile social network Path tried address book uploads nearly a decade ago and almost everyone at the time agreed this was not a good idea.

As carefully designed as Poparazzi is — (it’s even a blue icon — a color that denotes trustworthiness!) — it’s likely the company intentionally chose the trade off. It’s forgoing some aspects of user privacy and safety in favor of the network effects that come from having an instant friend graph.

More on @poparazzidotcom: they force you to upload your contacts to use it, as well as phone number—and also have this aggressive strategy to pull users from Snapchat. pic.twitter.com/SFx0TdCkaR

— Chase Stubblefield 🛴 (@chasestubb) May 25, 2021

The rest of the app then pushes you to grow that friend graph further and engage with other users. Your profile will remain bare unless you can convince someone to upload photos of you. A SnapKit integration lets you beg for photo tags over on Snapchat. And if you can’t get enough of your friends to tag you in photos, then you may find yourself drawn to the setting “Allow Pops from Everyone,” instead of just “People You Approve.”

There’s no world in which letting “everyone” upload photos to a social media profile doesn’t invite abuse at some point, but Poparazzi is clearly hedging its bets here. It likely knows it won’t have to deal with the fallout of these choices until further down the road — after it’s filled out its network with millions of disgruntled Instagram users, that is.

Dozens of other growth hacks are spread throughout the app, too, from multiple pushes to invite friends scattered throughout the app to a very Snapchatt-y “Top Poparazzi” section that will incentivize best friends to keep up their posting streaks.

Looking at someone else’s profile.

The “Top Poparazzi” section is genius. Really incentivizes posting for your friends (which is the biggest friction point). pic.twitter.com/7WjH0S2hQd

— Connor V. (@ConnorVO) May 25, 2021

It’s a clever bag of tricks. And though the app does not offer comments or followers counts, it isn’t being much of an “anti-Instagram” when it comes to chasing clout. The posts — which can turn into looping GIFs if you snap a few in a row — may be more “authentic” and unedited than those on Instagram; but Poparazzi uses react to posts with a range of emojis and how many reactions a post receives is shown publicly.

For beta testers featured on the explore page, reactions can be in the hundreds or thousands — effectively establishing a bar for Pop influence.

Finally, users you follow have permission to post photos, but if you unfollow them — a sure sign that you no longer want them to be in your poparazzi squad — they can still post to your profile. As it turns out, your squad is managed under a separate setting under “Allow Pops From.” That could lead to trouble. At the very least, it would be nice to see the app asking users if they also want to remove the unfollowed account’s permission to post to your profile at the time of the unfollow.

Overall, the app can be fun — especially if you’re in the young, carefree demographic it caters to. Its friend-centric and ironically anti-glam stance is promising as well. But additional privacy controls and the ability to join the service in a way that offers far more granular control of your friend graph in order to boost anti-abuse protections would be welcome additions. 

TechCrunch tried to reach Poparazzi’s team to gain their perspective on the app’s design and growth strategy, but did not hear back. (We understand they’re heads down for the time being.) We understand, per SignalFire’s Josh Constine and our own confirmation, that Floodgate has invested in the startup, as has former TechCrunch co-editor Alexia Bonatsos’ Dream Machine and Weekend Fund.

Instagram launches a new section for shopping product drops

Instagram today announced it’s adding a new feature to help connect online shoppers to product drops through its app. Drops, which are a newer e-commerce trend, help sellers create buzz for forthcoming products in the days and weeks leading up to their availability. The products themselves are often only available in limited supplies or for a short period of time, increasing demand.

On Instagram, drops will now have their own destination inside the app at the top of the Shop tab, where consumers can discover, browse and shop all the latest product launches as well as view upcoming launches. Shoppers can also sign up to receive reminders about products they’re interested in from here, and look through products and collections from other drops that recently took place on Instagram.

Image Credits: screenshot of Drops on Instagram

Like other online shopping offered through Instagram, consumers can make their Drops purchases directly in the Instagram app itself via Checkout on Instagram, not by visiting third-party websites. This model will eventually allow Instagram to collect fees on purchases — something that’s become a more important part of Facebook and Instagram’s overall business model in the wake of Apple’s privacy crackdown on iOS apps that impacts Facebook’s ad revenues.

However, Instagram has temporarily waived its selling fees to both help businesses who are recovering from the last year of Covid. The move will also help it to gain ground in online shopping against new competitors, including TikTok.

Brands on Instagram had already been running drops before today, following Instagram’s release of a product reminders feature back in 2019 that allowed consumers to get notified when an item they were interested in became available for purchase. To date, brands across fashion, beauty, streetwear and others have leveraged the feature, the company says, including Hill House Home, Dragun Beauty, adidas, and others.

The new Drops location simply organizes the product launches in one place to make it easier to browse and shop. Instagram tells us it’s curating the featured drops in this section. To be considered, brands need to use the product launch feature which is available to businesses on Checkout with Instagram.

At launch, some of the drops available include today’s Drake x NOCTA ‘Cardinal Stock’ collection and upcoming drops like Wren + Glory hand-painted summer collection and Charlotte Tilbury Exclusive Pillow Talk Lips & Dreams Lashes Kit. This week, there are five total drops available. This number will vary from week to week as Instagram continues to test the new feature, the company tells us.

Image Credits: screenshot of Drops on Instagram

On an individual brand’s page inside Drops, consumers can view info like when the product became available, pricing, and other item details. They can also bookmark the item to add it to a wishlist or share the drop with a friend through Instagram’s direct messaging feature. From the top of the Drops page, users can return to their Cart or Wishlist at any time to complete the checkout — assuming they aren’t too late, of course.

In addition, the brand’s Live shopping can be scheduled to align with their product drop. When the brand goes live for a drop, there’s an on-screen countdown and confetti animation when the product becomes available.

The new feature is currently only available in the Instagram app in the U.S., and only on mobile devices (iOS and Android), not the web.

Struum launches its ‘ClassPass for streaming’ service to the public

Struum, the new streaming service from former Disney and Discovery execs, is today officially launching to the public. Unlike traditional on-demand streamers, such as Netflix, the Struum model is more akin to a “ClassPass for streaming,” as its plan is to aggregate content from smaller video services then provide access under its own subscription.

Today, the streaming landscape is dominated by larger subscription services, including Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV+, HBO Max, Disney+, and YouTube, who together have a 75% share of the market, according to Nielsen. But Struum believes there’s a potential for another service powered by the long tail of  the over 250 niche and speciality streamers.

Many of these smaller services offer their own subscriptions, but will never achieve Netflix-size scale because of their more limited catalog and scope. Struum offers them an alternative path to revenue. Each month, Struum customers will pay a $4.99 subscription fee to access the Struum app where they’re then provided with 100 “credits” they can use to sample and consume content — just as ClassPass did with gym classes.

Over time, if the customer continues to use their subscription to routinely access content from one service, they can then opt to become a subscriber to that service from within the Struum app. This part of the business isn’t all that different from Amazon Prime Video Channels or others like it. But the difference is that Struum’s sampling model is what helped the customer discover the niche streamer in the first place.

Struum, meanwhile, generates its own revenue from customers’ subscriptions, which it shares with its content partners. It won’t say what sort of cut it takes, however.

Image Credits: Struum

At launch, there are more than 25 partners available through the Struum app, including Tastemade, Tribeca, Cheddar News, Kocowa, Dekkoo, Magellan TV, History Hit, Gusto, Young Hollywood, Indieflix, Filmbox, Echoboom Sports, Social Club TV, Cinedigm, Magnolia Pictures, Little Dot Studios, Group 9, Stingray and SPI/Filmhub.

Later this summer, the lineup will grow to more than 50 partners, with additions that include BBC SELECT, REVOLT, France Channels, InsightTV, Docubay, FuelTV, The Great Courses Signature Collection, Shout Factory TV, OUTtv, SVTV, CGOOD TV and Alchimie.

In total, Struum’s partners will provide customers with access to tens of movies and TV shows across a range of categories and genres, like classic films, indies, foreign content, cult hits, lifestyle programming, reality, true crime, and more.

Image Credits: Struum

Struum’s app guides users to their interests through a simple interface where it curates content into editorial groupings organized much like the rows of recommendations you’d find in Netflix. This includes the company’s own picks (“Struum Selects”), as well as groupings by genre — like Comedy, Action Thrillers, LGBTQ + Documentaries, Class Movies, Incredible Science, and others. You can also browse by type from categories across the top, to filter by only Movies, TV shows or Shorts.

When you find something you want to watch, you can click a button to stream the content for a certain amount of credits. You can then view that content at any time for the next 30 days and even download it for offline access.

At launch, Struum’s service is available on iOS and web, and supports AirPlay and Chromecast. This summer, it will expand to more platforms, including Android, Apple TV, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Roku.

Image Credits: Struum

The idea for the company comes from founders Lauren DeVillier, the former head of Product for Discovery Ventures; Eugene Liew, former vice president of Product and Technology at Disney+; Paul Pastor, former executive vice president of Strategy, Revenue and Operations at Discovery Networks; and Thomas Wadsworth, the former lead of Advanced Product Development for Walt Disney Imagineering.

The team came together in 2020, just before the Covid-19 pandemic broke out across the U.S., which drove increased demand for streaming content. And though that demand may be here to stay, it remains to be seen whether Struum’s ClassPass-like model makes the best sense for streaming’s long tail.

Despite its unique streaming business model, the service will effectively compete with AVOD (ad-supported video on demand) players in terms of aggregating both older and niche content. AVOD services — like Tubi, Pluto TV, The Roku Channel, IMDb TV, and others — also help users who can’t find anything they want to watch on their preferred paid subscription apps. And they often aid consumers who are in search of a particular movie or show but don’t want to pay for a rental. Struum believes by aggregating content it can encourage these users to pay for yet another subscription.

In other words, Struum will have to convince users to change their existing TV habits in order to find success, and that’s a risky bet.

But Struum believes the fragmentation of the streaming market may actually work in its favor. As consumers get fed up so many different services and content that jumps around as rights owners forge new licensing agreements, Struum could step in as someone’s fourth subscription.

We view ourselves as the ultimate complementary service and a perfect fit for TV and film lovers who are increasingly frustrated by the costs, complexity and effort required to discover and watch what they want,” noted Struum CEO Lauren DeViller.

Struum is backed by a multi-million-dollar investment from former Disney CEO Michael Eisner through his firm, Tornante Company. Other investors include Firstlight Media, whose technology powers the video service, and Gaingels, which focuses on backing LGBTQ+ founders and allies.

SiriusXM partners with TikTok on a new music channel, Pandora Playlists, and more

SiriusXM is leaning into TikTok. The satellite radio company and Pandora parent today announced a partnership with the social video platform to power several new initiatives, including a TikTok channel on SiriusXM, hosted TikTok playlists on Pandora, and re-airings of Pandora LIVE events on TikTok.

The hosted playlists on Pandora are the first of the new initiatives to launch.

Starting today, popular TikTok creators will curate, host and promote their own Pandora playlists to their fans on TikTok, starting with Bella Poarch. The TikTok influencer, who now has 69.6 million followers, is best-known for her viral lip-sync video to “M to the B,” which blew up to become the most-liked video on TikTok. She also makes videos featuring singing, dancing, and gaming content, among other things, and this month released her first single, “Build a B*tch,” which has broken into Spotify’s U.S. and Global Top 50 charts.

As of the time of writing, Poarch’s TikTok announcing her playlists, launched 4 hours ago, has 187.6K likes and 1 million views.

Image Credits: SiriusXM

Other “TikTok Tastemakers,” as SiriusXM has dubbed them, will release their own playlists in the months to come, including Christian Shelton and Nick Tangorra.

In addition, Pandora users will be able to tune into the TikTok Hits Playlist at any time, which features popular and trending songs from TikTok.

Pandora is not the first music streamer to tap into TikTok’s influence for its own ends. Today, TikTok’s trends are driving songs up the Billboard charts and delivering Spotify streams as younger users look for their favorite TikTok songs on their preferred streaming music app. Spotify is now curating TikTok hits across editorial playlists like Viral Hits, big on the internet, Teen Beats, and others. Apple Music also got in on the TikTok action when it introduced 10 new playlists last year aimed at younger, Gen Z users. This included its own Viral Hits playlist, which pulls in top tracks from TikTok and other social media channels.

Among the other SiriusXM initiatives is the soon-to-launch TikTok Radio, a full-time music channel featuring tracks trending on TikTok which will be presented by TikTok creators, influencers and D.J.s. The channel will debut later this summer, and will stream across SiriusXM, including in vehicles as well as in the SiriusXM app for desktop, mobile and connected devices.

TikTok fans will also later be able to watch selected re-airings of Pandora’s original events series, Pandora LIVE — a continuation of Pandora’s live events that went virtual during the pandemic. Pandora LIVE events feature artists from across genres, including country, rock, pop, R&B and more, and have typically been re-aired, in part, the day after on SiriusXM.

Recently, Pandora LIVE celebrated Women’s History Month with a virtual event that included performances by Gwen Stefani and Jazmine Sullivan, which was re-aired on TikTok.

More Pandora LIVE events will soon do the same. SiriusXM says it will announce which events will re-air on TikTok throughout the year.

“We are excited to collaborate with TikTok to create new content that brings the vibrancy of the leading social networking service to life on live radio and our streaming platforms,” said Scott Greenstein, SiriusXM President and Chief Content Officer, in a statement. “The effect TikTok has on music, and pop culture in general, is undeniable. Our platforms will provide a unique opportunity for TikTok creators to engage with our listeners with content experiences that have never been done before in audio,” he added.

@bellapoarch✨ Excited to help launch ##TikTokTastemakers on @pandora ✨ Listen exclusively on ##PandoraMusic

♬ Build a B*tch – Bella Poarch

SiriusXM’s move to partner more closely with TikTok could help it to attract a younger set of listeners and subscribers, who may follow their favorite fans over to Pandora to tune into their playlist content. However, it’s unable to benefit from the full impact that working with TikTok could bring as the integrations are split across its two services, instead of being focused on just one.

Plus, SiriusXM, like others, still faces the looming threat of Resso, TikTok owner ByteDance’s own music streaming app that could one day make its way to the U.S., as part of its global expansion efforts. It has the potential to more closely tie TikTok’s music discovery features with streaming, impacting demand for rival services.

For the time being, however, TikTok sees the potential in partnering with a U.S. music streamer.

“We are excited to work with SiriusXM on TikTok Radio and to bring TikTok creators to Pandora to make the trends, music, and creative influences that are playing such a defining role in modern culture even more accessible,” said TikTok’s Global Head of Music, Ole Obermann, in a statement. “We’re really excited to see this come to life and thank the SiriusXM team for being such an innovative and visionary collaborator,” he said.

Daily Crunch: Apple Arcade expands with classic games

Apple adds classic titles to Apple Arcade, Microsoft experiences an outage and Coinbase is going public. This is your Daily Crunch for April 2, 2021.

The big story: Apple Arcade expands with classic games

Until now, Apple’s game subscription service was limited to exclusive new titles, but today it’s introducing two new categories: App Store Greats (popular iPhone games like Monument Valley+, Fruit Ninja Classic+, Cut the Rope Remastered and Badland+) and Timeless Classics (board games and puzzle games, such as Backgammon+ and Chess Play and Learn+).

This is a major expansion to the Apple Arcade back catalog, but it’s not simply a matter of putting previously free games behind a paywall. The Arcade versions of these titles will be ad-free and without in-app purchases — you’re never paying anything beyond the $4.99 monthly subscription fee. Also, some of these games had become unavailable in their original forms due to iOS and hardware updates.

The tech giants

Microsoft outage knocks sites and services offline — Microsoft stumbled back online Thursday after an hours-long outage in the middle of the U.S. west coast working afternoon.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Coinbase to direct list on April 14th, provide financial update on April 6th — The company will trade under the ticker symbol “COIN.”

Uruguayan payments startup dLocal quadruples valuation to $5B with $150M raise — This means that the five-year-old Uruguayan company has effectively quadrupled its valuation in a matter of months.

Backflip offers an easier way to turn used electronics into cold, hard cash — The company offers customers cash on delivery for their used electronics, which could be anything from iPhones to Game Boys.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

How is edtech spending its extra capital? — Edtech M&A activity has continued to swell.

Tech in Mexico: A confluence of Latin America, the US and Asia — LatAm entrepreneurs seem to be looking to Asian tech giants for product inspiration and growth strategies.

RPA market surges as investors, vendors capitalize on pandemic-driven tech shift — Robotic process automation came to the fore during the pandemic as companies took steps to digitally transform.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

OnePlus recruits Hasselblad for three-year smartphone imaging deal

Imaging has long been the primary battlefield on which the smartphone battles are waged. It makes sense. The thing about smartphones in 2021 is that they’re mostly very good. Sure, there are differentiators, but if you spend a decent amount on a device from any major manufacturer, you’re probably going to get a pretty good device.

But there’s still plenty of opportunity to continually bridge the gap between smartphone imaging and devoted camera systems. And today OnePlus takes a potentially key step in that direction by announcing a partnership with Hasselblad. The DJI-owned Swedish camera maker has signed onto a three-year partnership with OnePlus.

According to a release tied to the news, the pair plan to spend $150 million over the course of the deal, in an attempt to vault OnePlus to the front of the pack. Hasselblad has dipped its toes in the mobile market, including a Moto Z attachment, and has created cameras for DJI drones, but this represents a pretty big move for the 180-year-old camera company.

The first fruits of the partnership will arrive on the OnePlus 9, a new handset set to launch on March 23. The companies promise a “revamped camera system.” The phone will feature a Sony IMX789 sensor, coupled with HDR video and the ability capture 4K at 120FPS and 8K at 30FPS.

Per the release:

The partnership will continuously develop over the next three years, starting with software improvements including color tuning and sensor calibration, and extending to more dimensions in the future. The two parties will jointly define the technology standards of the mobile camera experience and develop innovative imaging technologies, continuing to improve the Hasselblad Camera for Mobile. Both companies are committed to delivering immediate benefit for OnePlus users, while continuously collaborating to further improve the user experience and quality for the long-term.

The deal includes the development of four global labs, including U.S. and Japan locations and:

Pioneering new areas of smartphone imaging technology for future OnePlus camera systems, such as a panoramic camera with a 140-degree field of view, T-lens technology for lightning-fast focus in the front-facing camera, and a freeform lens – to be first introduced on the OnePlus 9 Series – that practically eliminates edge distortion in ultrawide photos.

It will be interesting to see how a company like Hasselblad will take to mobile imaging, though such a deal could be a secret weapon as OnePlus looks to keep on the flagship end of the mobile spectrum against the likes of Apple and Samsung.

Daily Crunch: Uber loses UK legal challenge

Uber loses a legal battle over driver classification, we survey mobility investors and new data suggests a COVID-19 vaccine should be easier to transport. This is your Daily Crunch for February 19, 2021.

The big story: Uber loses UK legal challenge

The United Kingdom’s Supreme Court has reaffirmed earlier rulings that the Uber drivers who brought the case — which dates back to 2016 — are workers, not independent contractors.

“Drivers are in a position of subordination and dependency in relation to Uber such that they have little or no ability to improve their economic position through professional or entrepreneurial skill,” the court said in a statement. “In practice the only way in which they can increase their earnings is by working longer hours while constantly meeting Uber’s measures of performance.”

Uber, while acknowledging the decision, emphasized that it applies to the specific group of drivers who brought the case, many of whom are no longer driving through the app.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Ex-General Catalyst and General Atlantic VC announces $68M debut fund — New York-based Avid Ventures is launching its $68 million debut venture capital fund.

With $20M A round, Promise brings financial flexibility to outdated government and utility payment systems — Promise integrates with official payment systems to offer more forgiving terms for fees and debts that people can’t handle all at once.

Acast acquires podcasting startup RadioPublic — RadioPublic spun out of public radio marketplace PRX in 2016.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Ten investors predict MaaS, on-demand delivery and EVs will dominate mobility’s post-pandemic future — The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t just upend the transportation industry, it laid bare its weaknesses and uncovered potential opportunities.

A fraction of Robinhood’s users are driving its runaway growth — A closer look at payment for order flow, a controversial practice in which Robinhood is paid by market makers for executing customer trades.

Three strategies for elevating brand authority in 2021 — Advice from Fractl marketing director Amanda Milligan.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine just got a lot easier to transport and distribute — There’s new stability data collected by Pfizer and BioNTech, which has been submitted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Dizzying view of Perseverance mid-descent makes its ‘seven minutes of terror’ feel very real — NASA has just shared a hair-raising image of the rover as it dangled from its jetpack above the Martian landscape.

Will the Texas winter disaster deter further tech migration? — It’s too early to tell the exact toll the storm has taken in loss of life, property damage and economic activity.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

Apple’s App Tracking Transparency feature will be enabled by default and arrive in ‘early spring’ on iOS

Apple has shared a few more details about its much-discussed privacy changes in iOS 14. The company first announced at WWDC in June that app developers would have to ask users for permission in order to track and share their IDFA identifier for cross-property ad targeting purposes. While iOS 14 launched in the fall, Apple delayed the tracking restrictions until 2021, saying it wanted to give developers more time to make the necessary changes.

Now we’ve got a slightly-more-specific timeline. The plan is to launch these changes in early spring, with a version of the feature coming in the next iOS 14 beta release.

This is how Apple describes the new system: “Under Settings, users will be able to see which apps have requested permission to track, and make changes as they see fit. This requirement will roll out broadly in early spring with an upcoming release of iOS 14, iPadOS 14, and tvOS 14, and has already garnered support from privacy advocates around the world.”

And here are the basics of what you need to know:

  • The App Tracking Transparency feature moves from the old method where you had to opt-out of sharing your Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA) to an opt-in model. This means that every app will have to ask you up front whether it is ok for them to share your IDFA with third parties including networks or data brokers.
  • The feature’s most prominent evidence is a notification on launch of a new app that will explain what the tracker will be used for and ask you to opt-in to it.
  • You can now toggle IDFA sharing on a by-app basis at any time, where previously it was a single toggle. If you turn off the “Allow apps to request to track” setting altogether no apps can even ask you to use tracking.
  • Apple will enforce this for all third-party data sources including data sharing agreements, but of course platforms can still use first party data for advertising as per their terms of service.
  • Apple expects developers to understand whether APIs or SDKs that they use in their apps are serving user data up to brokers or other networks and to enable the notification if so.
  • Apple will abide by the rules for its own apps as well and will present the dialog and follow the ‘allow apps to request’ toggle if its apps use tracking (most do not at this point).
  • One important note here is that the Personalized Ads toggle is a separate setting that specifically allows or does not allow Apple itself to use its own first party data to serve you ads. So that is an additional layer of opt-out that affects Apple data only.

Apple is also increasing the capabilities of its Ad attribution API, allowing for better click measurement, measurement of video conversions and also — and this is a big one for some cases, app-to-web conversions.

This news comes on Data Privacy Day, with CEO Tim Cook speaking on the issue this morning at the Computers, Privacy and Data Protection conference in Brussels. The company is also sharing a new report showing that the average app has six third-party trackers.

While this seems like a welcome change from a privacy perspective, it’s drawn some criticism from the ad industry, with Facebook launching a PR campaign emphasizing the impact on small businesses, while also pointing to the change as “one of the more significant advertising headwinds” that it could face this year. Apple’s stance is that this provides a user-centric data privacy approach, rather than an advertiser-centric one.

 

PUBG Mobile plots return to India following ban

PUBG Mobile, the sleeper hit title that was banned in India two months ago over cybersecurity concerns, is plotting to make a return in the world’s second largest internet market, two sources familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

The South Korean firm has engaged with global cloud service providers in recent weeks to store Indian users’ data within the country to allay New Delhi’s concerns about user data residency and security, one of the sources said.

The gaming giant has privately informed some high-profile streamers in the country that it expects to resume the service in India before the end of this year, the other source said. Both the sources requested anonymity as they are not authorized to speak to the press. PUBG Corporation did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.

The company could make an announcement about its future plans for India as soon as this week. It also plans to run a marketing campaign in the country during the festival of Diwali next week, one of the sources said.

In recent weeks, PUBG has also engaged with a number of local firms including SoftBank-backed Paytm and telecom giant Airtel to explore whether they would be interested in publishing the popular mobile game in the country, an industry executive said. A Paytm spokesperson declined to comment.

Chinese giant Tencent initially published PUBG Mobile apps in India. After New Delhi banned PUBG Mobile, the gaming firm cut publishing ties with Tencent in the country. Prior to the ban, PUBG Mobile’s content was hosted on Tencent Cloud.

Late last month, two months after the ban order, PUBG Mobile terminated its service for Indian users. “Protecting user data has always been a top priority and we have always complied with applicable data protection laws and regulations in India. All users’ gameplay information is processed in a transparent manner as disclosed in our privacy policy,” it said at the time.

With more than 50 million monthly active users in India, PUBG Mobile was by far the most popular mobile game in the country before it was banned. It helped establish an entire ecosystem of  esports organisations to teams and even a cottage industry of streamers that made the most of its spectator sport-friendly gameplay, said Rishi Alwani, a long-time analyst of Indian gaming market and publisher of news outlet The Mako Reactor.

PUBG Mobile’s return, however, could complicate matters for several industry players, including some that are currently building similar games to cash in on its absence and their conversations with venture capital firms over ongoing financing rounds.

It would also suggest that more than 200 other Chinese apps that India has banned in recent months could hope to allay New Delhi’s concerns by making some changes to where they store their users data. (That was also the understanding between TikTok and Reliance when they engaged in investment opportunities earlier this year.)

Google Search Engine Ranking Factors To Change Search In 2021: Core Web Vitals, E-A-T, or AMP?

By now, everyone must be aware that the most popular search engine available is Google. Even though there are different search engines such as Yahoo or Bing, Google stands on top. Moreover, not to forget, it is already stated that there exists over 200 Google ranking factors. But you see, every ranking factor is different.

That’s why you cannot use the same Search Engine Optimization methods or focus on only particular ranking factors. Since the Google algorithm is never static, so is the top ranking factors. One popular way to enhance the search result or enhance search engine optimization is through premium quality guest posting services.

An added benefit of guest post services is that you can do optimization as per the newest Google algorithms. You can also expand and improve your digital marketing services by getting more exposure, growth in networking, high opt-in rate, and building relationships.

Whatever or however the search optimization is, it’s a fact that those 200 ranking factors are not vague. They are used by Google to influence the rankings of organic search pages. Out of loads of ranking factors, the few important ones considered are related to Backlinks, Content, Speed, Keywords, Domain factors, Core Web Vitals, Website structure, and many more. But here, we will specifically talk about Core Web Vitals, E-A-T, and AMP.

Core Web Vitals

core web vitals
Via akshayranganath.github.io

To understand Core Web Vitals, first, you have to know about Web Vitals. In general, Web Vitals help guide quality signals on the web to provide the users with a great experience (Page Experience signals). Thus, Core Web Vitals are the subset of the Web Vitals.

Other general Web Vitals evaluate page experience through signals like safe browsing, HTTPS, mobile-friendliness, and intrusive interstitials. These are the traditional ranking signals. But the Core Web Vitals are evolving and now have three specific metrics for user interaction: loading, interactivity, and visual stability.

  • LCP/Largest Contentful Paint: It measures the loading performance of the webpage. LCP occurring within 2.5 seconds is considered as a good user experience.
  • FID/First Input Delay: It measures the interactivity of the webpage. Pages having an FID of not more than 100 milliseconds is considered a good user experience.
  • CLS/Cumulative Layout Shift: It measures the visual stability of the webpage. A page that has a CLS of not more than 0.1 is considered a good user experience.

Google has also set some specific guidelines of these metrics into Good, Needs Improvement, and Poor. Core Web Vitals are now going to be one of the top official ranking requirements. So, your webpage has to now reach the minimum threshold limit set by Core Web Vitals, since search engine rankings are one of the priorities for digital marketers.

E-A-T

google eat
Via blog.animonlive.com

E-A-T is the shorthand form of “Expertise-Authoritativeness-Trustworthiness.” It is a set of quality standards set by Google to evaluate websites and review an individual. The evaluation is done offline, or to say, reviewed manually. E-A-T, each of them has a set of different criteria for evaluation.

  • Expertise: If you are to evaluate a guest post, here, the expertise will be to check the content-level related to the subject matter. And in the case of a website, it needs to have suitable credentials like recognition from an external party. To evaluate an individual, you can assess their relevant experience or degree in that field of work.
  • Authoritativeness: If you are to evaluate a website’s authority on a particular content, you can check the ratings and reviews given by the external sources and the rater. And in the case of an individual, you can assess the author’s number of citations, the content’s quality, and where they appear.
  • Trustworthiness: If you are in doubt and want to validate a website’s trustworthiness, you can simply have a look at the “About Us” page, the customer service information, or the site having a secure connection or not. And in the case of an individual, their authoritativeness will show their worthiness too.

It is safe to say that E-A-T is really effective in evaluating content related to Your Money or Your Life pages, which will be helpful for guest posting services. If you consider E-A-T as a ranking factor and wish to appear on top, then your attention should be specific toward the website’s content and its presentation.

According to Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines, websites that prioritize E-A-T should maintain a few guidelines like content quality, topical focus, brand strength, author’s name, and trust-building. E-A-T score can be improved by building more backlinks. In short, it might be crucial for guest posting services.

AMP

google accelerated mobile pages
Via digitalvidya.com

AMP is short for “Accelerated Mobile Pages.” Google described AMP as an open-source project designed to help the web publishers create optimized content that loads instantaneously on phones or any other device. It allows the user to access any page or website instantly on any device that is being used.

Google’s AMP product manager has stated that the duration of loading an AMP-coded content is just 0.7 seconds, and for a non-AMP page is 22 seconds. AMP HTML has also helped the site owners create light-weight web pages because AMP’s core is caching.

Nowadays, AMP has become a crucial part while forming a balanced marketing strategy because Google has been prioritizing AMPs in search results. In today’s competitive world, AMP is indirectly supporting the mobile users by enhancing the loading speed of the webpages in their search results.

But to be clear, it is not a search engine ranking factor. It is not designed to control the user’s data. Due to the fast load time of the page, the page views will also rise. There will be more ads too, which will result in a CTR increase.

The key advantage of AMP in the online marketing world or for digital marketing services is the speedier load time of the webpages. Thus, there may be a possible increase in the number of readers which may lead to higher rankings. Since Google has made AMP an open-source, developers get the opportunity to do additional developments too.

The post Google Search Engine Ranking Factors To Change Search In 2021: Core Web Vitals, E-A-T, or AMP? appeared first on Dumb Little Man.

Understanding How To Use Mobile Communication For Business

Mobile devices are a lifeline for most people right now, but even under normal circumstances people rely on their mobile devices for all kinds of information. Last year, 69% of people looked up information about products and services while they were inside of stores rather than asking a store associate. Using mobile devices to get information has become commonplace, and businesses that don’t communicate with customers the way they want are likely to be left in the dust.

Consumers Use Mobile Devices For Just About Everything

mobile communications in businesses

From managing finances to accessing government services, consumers are really fond of their electronic devices. But, increasingly, those smartphone owners are wanting to communicate via text messaging. In fact, 85% of smartphone owners prefer text messages to calls or emails. More than half of smartphone owners ignore emails completely because their inboxes are overloaded. What’s more, almost a third never listen to voicemail messages.

Text Messages Are What Customers Use And Want

SMS messages are just simpler for a lot of people. 90% of people say they open text messages within three minutes, making this an optimal way for a business to communicate with consumers. SMS text messages have a 98% open rate, as opposed to a 20% rate for email. Response rates are five times higher for text messages than they are for emails, 45% and 6%, respectively.

The response time is even more staggering for SMS messages. The typical response rate for a text message is 90 seconds, whereas the typical response rate for an email is 90 minutes. Response rates for text messages are 60 times higher than that of emails.

In 2019, 68% of businesses used some kind of messaging to keep connected with customers, and now they are relying on this type of communication more than ever.

How Businesses Are Using Mobile Messaging

mobile communications in restaurant takeout business

In retail, mobile messaging is used for a variety of purposes, including sending coupons and sale notifications to customers. Mobile messaging is a crucial part of curbside pickup, which has grown significantly in popularity. Mobile messages are used to confirm an order was received, tell a customer when an order is ready, and for a customer to tell the store they have arrived to pick up their order.

Mobile messaging is used in medical offices to remind patients of appointments, check in for appointments, and remind patients of upcoming tests and more. Some offices are also using mobile messaging for prescription refills and physician questions between visits, which has shown to increase patient satisfaction with their medical providers.

For restaurants, mobile messaging is crucial for a growing takeout business, allowing business and customers to communicate quickly and efficiently. Small order changes and communication about order status can be easily communicated through a quick message rather than taking up the time and resources for cumbersome phone calls.

Consumers Want Mobile Messaging

One in three consumers have sent a mobile message to a business and not received a response, and most of the time it was because the business simply hasn’t activated two-way messaging capabilities.

The fact of the matter is that customers feel better about a business that uses mobile messaging. 65% of consumers say they feel more positive toward a business after a mobile messaging exchange because of a number of factors.

Mobile messaging shows consumers that a company values their time – there’s nothing worse than waiting around for the phone to ring or sitting on hold waiting for someone to help you. The ability to communicate with a business via SMS messages makes customers more likely to choose that business, and it increases the chances of recommending that business to their friends and family.

Communication Is Key

In order for businesses to be successful, communication should take place wherever a customer wants it to, and, increasingly, customers are feeling comfortable messaging instead of making phone calls or talking to people in person. Mobile communication also gives businesses the power to reach customers who aren’t physically showing up in stores with specials to lure them back in or to get them to use curbside pickup services.

Businesses that don’t use mobile communication are going to be left behind. Learn more about the power of mobile communication in business from the infographic below.

The Power of Mobile Messaging
Source: SopranoDesign.com

The post Understanding How To Use Mobile Communication For Business appeared first on Dumb Little Man.

Postmates cuts losses in Q2 as it heads towards tie-up with Uber

Popular food delivery service Postmates is in the process of merging with Uber in a blockbuster $2.65 billion deal that would see it join forces with its food delivery competitor, Uber Eats. The deal remains under antitrust scrutiny, and has not yet been approved for closing. The deal is expected to close in the first half of 2021.

However, a new SEC filing posted after hours this Friday gives us a glimpse into how Postmates is faring in the new world of global pandemics and sit-in dining closures across the United States.

Postmates posted a loss of just $32.2 million in Q2, compared to a loss of $73 million in Q1, nearly cutting its cash burning in half. That compares to Uber Eats’ results, which showed a loss of $286 million in the first quarter of 2020 and a loss of $232 million in the second quarter — an improvement of roughly 20%, according to Uber’s most recent financial reports.

Altogether, Postmates lost $105.2 million in the first half of 2020, compared to a loss of $239 million in the same period of 2019.

Uber through its filing today also disclosed the cap table for Postmates in full detail for the first time. On a fully diluted basis, the largest shareholder in Postmates is Tiger Global, which owns 27.2% of the company. Following up is Founders Fund with 11.4%, Spark Capital with 6.9% and GPI Capital with 5.3%. At Uber’s $2.65 billion all-stock deal, that nets Tiger Global roughly $720 million and Founders Fund roughly $302 million, not including some stock preferences and dividends that certain owners of the company hold.

While Postmates and Uber continue to go through the antitrust review process at the federal level, the companies also face legal pressure in their own backyards. Uber noted in its filing today that it and Postmates face headwinds due to California’s AB 5 bill, which is designed to give additional employment protections to freelance workers. However, the company notes that such litigation “may not, in and of itself, give rise to a right of either party to terminate the transaction.”