First details leak on Project Iris, Google’s next AR headset

Promotional image of AR glasses.

Enlarge / Product photography of the Google Glass wearable. Project Iris won’t look like this; it is said to more closely resemble ski goggles than casual glasses. (credit: Google)

Google engineers are developing a new augmented reality (AR) headset, according to a report by The Verge citing two people familiar with the project.

Google hopes to ship the product—codenamed “Project Iris”—sometime in 2024, but that date is likely not set in stone.

Like Apple’s rumored mixed reality glasses, Project Iris would be wireless and use external cameras to send an augmented image of the real world to you. And like one of the devices Apple has reportedly worked on, the glasses would leave the heavy-duty graphics processing to an external computer. In Google’s case, the device will rely on cloud computing instead of nearby hardware.

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#ar, #augmented-reality, #clay-bavor, #google, #google-glass, #mixed-reality, #project-iris, #project-starline, #tech, #the-verge, #virtual-reality, #vr, #xr

Report: Apple’s first AR/VR headset faces delays

The "Sword of Damocles" head-mounted display, the original augmented reality headset, circa 1968.

Enlarge / The “Sword of Damocles” head-mounted display, the original augmented reality headset, circa 1968. (credit: Ivan Sutherland)

Apple may delay the launch of its first mixed reality headset, according to Bloomberg.

Multiple sources had previously claimed that the device was likely to launch in 2022, and Apple seemed poised to introduce its new mixed reality platform to developers at the company’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) this June.

But according to “people familiar with the situation” with whom Bloomberg reporters Mark Gurman, Takashi Mochizuki, and Debby Wu spoke, the announcement of the new headset could fall to “the end of 2022 or later, with the product hitting shelves by 2023.”

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#apple, #apple-vision, #ar, #augmented-reality, #bloomberg, #mark-gurman, #mixed-reality, #tech, #virtual-reality, #vr, #xr

What to expect from Apple in 2022: ARM desktops, portless iPhones, and more

Close-up photograph of the ports on the side of a notebook computer.

Enlarge / The 2021 MacBook Pro with MagSafe isn’t the last Apple Silicon transition we’ll see. The Mac Pro and 27-inch iMac will probably be updated in 2022. (credit: Samuel Axon)

2021 might have been the calm before the storm.

Except for the introduction of a few new Apple Silicon Macs, 2021 has been a quiet year for Apple. The new iPhones offered improved cameras and battery life but were otherwise nearly identical to 2020’s models. And apart from a slight bump in screen size, the new Apple Watch is barely distinguishable from its predecessors.

As 2021 draws to a close and we look ahead to 2022, it’s a safe bet that next year is going to be a lot more interesting. So we have some predictions to share.

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#apple, #ar, #augmented-reality, #imac-pro, #iphone-14, #m1-max, #m1-pro, #m2, #mac-pro, #mixed-reality, #tech, #virtual-reality, #vr, #xr

Google is building a new augmented reality device and operating system

Google Glass for Enterprise. Google's job listings suggest that the new device and platform would be more mass-market than the one picture here.

Enlarge / Google Glass for Enterprise. Google’s job listings suggest that the new device and platform would be more mass-market than the one picture here. (credit: Google)

Google was one of the early leaders in the first wave of modern augmented reality (AR) research and devices, but the company has appeared to cool to AR in recent years even as Apple and Facebook have invested heavily in it. But it looks like that trend will soon be reversed.

On LinkedIn, operating system engineering director Mark Lucovsky announced that he has joined Google. He previously headed up mixed reality operating system work for Meta, and before that he was one of the key architects of Windows NT at Microsoft. “My role is to lead the Operating System team for Augmented Reality at Google,” he wrote.

He also posted a link to some job listings at Google that give the impression Google is getting just as serious about AR as Apple or Meta.

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#ar, #augmented-reality, #google, #mixed-reality, #tech, #xr

With Mesh for Teams, Microsoft plans to bring 3D workspaces to remote workers in 2022

An interface and virtual workspace for Mesh for Teams.

Enlarge / An interface and virtual workspace for Mesh for Teams. (credit: Microsoft)

Microsoft has announced its intention to create an immersive 3D platform called “Mesh for Teams” for virtual meetings. As the name suggests, Mesh for Teams builds on the company’s existing Teams collaboration platform and implements the mixed reality features of Microsoft Mesh.

Announced earlier this year, Mesh is a platform for virtual meetings and other collaborative gatherings in mixed reality (a catch-all term for virtual reality, augmented reality, or any combination of the two) using a variety of devices like the company’s own HoloLens products and Windows Mixed Reality headsets, among others. Users would have persistent avatars that accurately reflect their body language and facial expressions and would be able to wander around a virtual workplace.

Workplaces would use Mesh for Teams to invite employees to log in to 3D or 2D collaborative workspaces. Sitting around a virtual conference table, workers would be able to do some things that aren’t possible in the real world. For example, a presenter could see her notes in 3D space near a virtual white board while those watching the presentation only see what she writes on the board.

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#ar, #augmented-reality, #meetings, #metaverse, #microsoft, #microsoft-mesh, #microsoft-mesh-for-teams, #microsoft-teams, #mixed-reality, #tech, #virtual-reality, #virtual-workplace, #vr, #xr

Apple’s first headset will focused on “high-quality” games, reporter claims

An augmented reality demo by Apple.

Enlarge / An augmented reality demo by Apple. (credit: Apple)

In the past few days, two new reports have shed light on the specifications and strategy behind Apple’s upcoming mixed reality headset. Both claim that Apple is on a path to launching its first augmented reality/virtual reality headset as soon as next year and that the product will feature ultrahigh-end specifications and technologies.

Writing in his weekly Bloomberg newsletter, reporter Mark Gurman says the new headset will feature “advanced” chips, displays, and sensors and that it will have “avatar-based features.” That latter point indicates that Apple has a similar vision for how the headset could be used to that of Meta, whose CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been declaring a vision of social interconnectedness through AR and VR experiences.

Gurman also writes that Apple’s first headset will be a mixed reality one, supporting both VR and AR applications. The long-rumored consumer AR glasses will come much later, “years down the road.” While investment has been pouring into research on AR technology, there remain numerous major technological roadblocks to mass-market consumer AR glasses, and it is unclear when all that investment might translate into a viable, mainstream product.

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#apple, #ar, #augmented-reality, #bloomberg, #mark-gurman, #ming-chi-kuo, #mixed-reality, #tech, #virtual-reality, #vr, #xr

Can Pikmin Bloom recapture the magic of Pokémon Go?

...and you'll neeeeeveeeeerrrr waaaaaaalk allooooooooooone.

Enlarge / …and you’ll neeeeeveeeeerrrr waaaaaaalk allooooooooooone.

The first and last time Nintendo collaborated with location-based AR company Niantic, the result was the worldwide mega-phenomenon Pokémon Go. Five years later, the companies are working together once again to see if they can recapture the magic with a new augmented reality game based on the much more niche Pikmin franchise.

After testing an early version of the Pikmin Bloom app over the last week, I can say that the game serves as an effective, super-cute pedometer, providing some nice, gentle motivation for reluctant walkers to get up and get their daily steps in. But while this gamified Fitbit requires less fuss and direct hassle than Pokémon Go, the game’s basic “watch the numbers go up” loops also don’t have the same compulsive collect-them-all appeal as Niantic’s previous hit.

Watching numbers go up

For the uninitiated, Pikmin are tiny, colorful, slightly humanoid creatures with blooming flowers on their heads. In the original console games, your character grows and manages an expanding team of Pikmin with varying abilities to help a marooned spaceman escape a planet. In Bloom, the Pikmin who follow you on your daily walks are more concerned with planting petals and growing normal flowers, which show up permanently on the game’s map.

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#ar, #augmented-reality, #gaming-culture, #niantic, #nintendo, #pikmin, #pokemon

VR, AR, wearables, and smart home tech are now mainstream, research says

It wasn’t long ago that virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) headsets, smartwatches, and voice-controlled homes were the fantasies of books and movies. Today, VR, AR, wearables, and smart home tech have passed the early-adoption phase and are all firmly part of the “mass market,” according to research that the International Data Corporation (IDC) shared today. The global research firm predicted that the combined market will hit $369.6 billion by the end of 2021 and grow to $524.9 billion in 2025. 

IDC expects AR and VR combined to show the most growth out of the three categories, thanks to both businesses and individual consumers. The latter is particularly interested in “robust gaming solutions,” IDC said. Businesses represent the bulk of AR spending today, but IDC thinks the market for AR headsets targeting the general public will grow. It predicted a 67.9 percent compound annual growth rate from 2020 to 2025 for AR and VR combined, which is more than 10 times the next competitor, smart home tech (10.1 percent growth rate).

Smart home tech will represent the most valuable market, however, with a predicted 2025 value of over $400.3 billion. The biggest sellers will reportedly be smart TVs, streaming players, and other “networked entertainment devices,” which are expected to represent $229 billion in 2025. 

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#ar, #augmented-reality, #idc, #smart-home, #tech, #uncategorized, #virtual-reality, #vr, #wearables

Nreal Air sunglasses let you watch TV in AR

Ever wish you could watch YouTube videos through your sunglasses? That’s pretty much what augmented reality (AR) glasses company Nreal is going for with the Nreal Air announced today. With a light, 2.72 ounce (77 g) weight and micro-OLED display, the Nreal Air is just what you need to finally watch Parks and Recreation in an actual park.

Since Nreal released the Nreal Light in 2019, AR tech has evolved so hardware offerings can be smaller. The Nreal Air is 27 percent lighter than the Nreal Light (3.74 ounces/106 g), although it also comes with less functionality. There’s no handtracking or spatial awareness, so you can’t interact with what you see. Instead, you’ll have to rely on an app on your smartphone, which must be tethered to the Nreal Air for it to work (as is the case with the Nreal Light).

This is because the Nreal Air isn’t about dragging and dropping furniture around your virtual home or trying on outfits via a virtual avatar before buying, or other, more interactive AR applications. Instead, Nreal is targeting the Nreal Air primarily at watching videos on YouTube and other streaming apps.

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#ar-glasses, #augmented-reality, #tech

Xiaomi launches its own smart glasses, of course

Xiaomi is challenging Facebook in the wearables arena by launching its own smart glasses. The device won’t only be capable of taking photos, but also of displaying messages and notifications, making calls, providing navigation and translating text right in real time in front of your eyes. Like Facebook, Xiaomi is also putting emphasis on the device’s lightness despite its features. At 51 grams, though, it’s a bit heavier than the social network’s Ray-Ban Stories. In addition, the glasses also has an indicator light that shows when the 5-megapixel camera is in use.

Xiaomi’s Smart Glasses are powered by a quad-core ARM processor and run on Android. They also use MicroLED imaging technology, which is known for having a higher brightness and longer lifespan than OLED. The company says the technology has a simpler structure that enabled it to create a compact display with individual pixels sized at 4μm. You won’t be able to view the images you take in color, though — Xiaomi says it opted to use a monochrome display solution “to allow sufficient light to pass through complicated optical structures.”

The company explains:

“The grating structure etched onto the inner surface of the lens allows light to be refracted in a unique way, directing it safely into the human eye. The refraction process involves bouncing light beams countless times, allowing the human eye to see a complete image, and greatly increasing usability while wearing. All this is done inside a single lens, instead of using complicated multiples lens systems, mirrors, or half mirrors as some other products do.”

Its smart glasses won’t be just a second screen for your phone, according to Xiaomi. It’s independently capable of many things, such as selecting the most important notifications to show you, including smart home alarms and messages from important contacts. The device’s navigation capability can display maps and directions in front of your eyes. It can also show you the number of whoever’s currently calling your phone, and you can take the call using the smart glasses’ built in mic and speakers.

That mic will be able to pick up speech, as well, which Xiaomi’s proprietary translating algorithm can translate in real time. The glasses’ translation feature also works’ on written text and text on photos captures through its camera. Unfortunately, the company has yet to announce a price or a launch date for the glasses, but we’ll keep you updated when it does.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on Engadget.

#ar, #augmented-reality, #column, #gadgets, #hardware, #smart-glasses, #tc, #tceng, #xiaomi

Ray-Ban Stories: These are Facebook’s first mass-market smart glasses

As previously rumored, Facebook has partnered with EssilorLuxottica to produce Ray-Ban Stories, one of the first potentially viable attempts at mass-market smart glasses. They are similar in some ways to early iterations of Snapchat Spectacles but with a more stylish aesthetic that looks right in line with other Ray-Ban glasses.

The glasses have two front-facing cameras, each at 5 megapixels. Users can take a photo either with a touch gesture or with a “Hey Facebook” voice command. So people in the room can tell that pictures or video are being taken, a white LED on the front of the frames will light up. Videos can be as long as 30 seconds.

Photos and videos taken with the glasses are sent to a new smartphone app called Facebook View, which offers essential editing and sharing capabilities. In addition to photo and video capture, the glasses allow you to take calls or listen to music and podcasts or with built-in speakers and microphones.

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#ar, #augmented-reality, #facebook, #ray-ban, #smart-glasses, #tech, #wearables

Facebook’s first smart glasses make the case for face-worn wearables

Facebook’s first pair of smart glasses doesn’t feel like much of a Facebook product.

You won’t find the Facebook logo emblazoned on them or even its name in small print by the serial code. They aren’t Facebook Stories or Ray-Ban’s Facebook Stories or even Ray-Ban Stories in collaboration with Facebook. Unlike other Facebook-designed hardware like the Quest 2 or Portal, the Ray-Ban Stories feel more self-aware and restrained as though the company knew exactly what use cases they needed to hit, and stopped themselves from trying to do much more than that.

The glasses made in partnership with eyewear giant EssilorLuxottica are certainly the most basic device Facebook has shipped. They only do a few things, you can take photos and videos, you can take phone calls and you can listen to music. That’s it. But bringing audio into the mix via near-ear speakers embedded in the arms of the frames makes these a much more realized device than Snap’s Spectacles which shipped five years ago.


Ray-Ban’s classic dumb Wayfarers (left) next to the smart Ray-Ban Stories Wayfarers (right)

Let’s dig a bit into what this device does and how it feels to use it in daily life.

One thing to note about the $299 Ray-Ban Stories is that they can be worn pretty inconspicuously. People are probably more likely to notice the cameras than their slightly inflated dimensions. That’s already a revolutionary advance, which pushes these past the level of “toy” which Spectacles never really seemed to eclipse. The Ray-Ban partnership was particularly savvy given the thicker-than-average frames on their standard Wayfarer design.

What onlookers are more likely to notice is you tapping the frame of your glasses to control them. Pressing the  button on the right arm will take a 30-second video, a long-press will snap a photo. You can also use the voice command, “Hey Facebook, take a video” and do the same for photos — for the record, I’m not sure whether this is a sentence I’d feel great about hearing a stranger nearby me in public say. A small LED light sparks up when the camera is capturing footage though it’s a pretty low-key indicator.

The photo and video quality of the glasses is pretty middling, but plenty of forgiveness can be levied given the size of the device. The twin 5 MP cameras can shoot 2592 x 1944 pixel photos and 1184 x 1184 pixel square format videos. The quality seems to be about on-par with where smartphone cameras were about ten years ago, so it’s clear there’s plenty of room for improvement. Post-processing on the phone during upload enhances the photos and hides some of their struggles with low-lighting while making the photos pop a bit more with saturation.

The twin camera setup is used to add 3D effects to your photos, but at the moment the filters aren’t great and there’s honestly not much there. Hopefully, Facebook invests a bit more in the software over time but with fairly low quality photos, I don’t completely see the reasoning in having two cameras to begin with.

Also worth noting, is that using the glasses requires linking them to a new Facebook app called View, which is basically a simple media viewer app which gets around limitations in how media from external devices can be uploaded to your phone. This is where you can also make quick edits to your photos and videos before dumping them to your photo roll or sharing them to Facebook or Instagram.

Audio is probably the most interesting bit of these glasses. The near-ear speakers will surprise you with their quality in a quiet spaces and leave you dissatisfied once you find yourself in a noisier environment. Unfortunately for Facebook, most outdoor spaces are a bit louder and sunglasses are mostly being used outdoors. The audio will work in a pinch outdoors for listening to tunes, but I honestly can’t see them replacing my AirPods anytime soon. The audio is much better suited for low-fidelity activities like phone calls, but I also had some issues with the three-microphone array picking up too much background noise while I was walking outdoors.

Battery life is surprisingly solid, but they also have the benefit of a charging battery case which is incidentally the best place to store them. The case is a little bulky but they also include a microfiber pouch to protect the lenses. Facebook says you can get 6 hours of straight audio and “all-day” usage otherwise.

One of their weirder quirks is their lack of water-proofing or even splash-proofing, something that doesn’t seem like a great quality for a pair of sunglasses. It’s just one more thing indicating that while the thicker frame aesthetic of sunglasses makes more sense for a smart glasses design, this product really thrives more indoors.


This isn’t first rodeo when it comes to hardware and you can see the company’s maturation.

They aren’t an AR/VR device, but you can also see generations of Oculus products in the Ray-Ban Stories‘ design. On-ear audio born from the Oculus Go, a touchpad interface reminiscent of the Gear VR, simple and restrained audio controls first launched on the Quest. The hardware is a distillation of features and lessons learned from selling VR to a generally indifferent public that has seemed to warm up to it a bit over the years.

Meanwhile, you can also see years of Facebook screwing up its messaging and torching its brand name in the process, making itself the boogeyman of both political parties, courting enemies in the press and earning an outsized amount of distrust from the average internet user, something that probably led to these carrying so little Facebook branding. The Ray-Ban Stories will certainly have their detractors, but Facebook choosing to be conservative in their functionality and not toss in too many future-flung passive sensors will likely do them a favor. The Facebook View app is bare bones and Facebook details that photos and videos captured using the Stories won’t be used to serve ads. All that said, while we’ve certainly come a long way since the Google Glass debut in 2013, face-mounted cameras still feel icky when it comes to privacy in public and this device will undoubtedly reignite that conversation in a major way.

Baggage aside, my broadest takeaway is that the Ray-Ban Stories feel like a very important product — one that actually sells the idea of face-worn wearables.

The glasses are smartly designed and can be worn discreetly. That said, it’s clear Facebook made plenty of sacrifices to achieve such an aggressive form factor; the glasses honestly don’t do anything particularly well — photo and video quality is pretty lackluster, the in-frame speakers perform poorly outdoors and calls aren’t the most pleasant experience. All that said, I think Facebook mostly made the right compromises for a product that they’ve repeatedly indicated is meant to be a stepping stone on the road towards augmented reality glasses.

Facebook’s smart Ray-Ban Stories alongside my pair of classic Ray-Ban 2140 Wayfarers

#augmented-reality, #computing, #display-technology, #eyewear, #facebook, #glasses, #google, #hardware, #mixed-reality, #oculus, #smartphone, #sunglasses, #tc, #technology, #wearable-devices

Facebook debuts its Ray-Ban Stories smart sunglasses

Facebook announced their long-awaited foray into the smart glasses space Thursday morning, launching the Ray-Ban Stories smart glasses in partnership with eyewear giant EssilorLuxottica.

The svelte frames are some of the most low-profile yet available to consumers and will allow users to snap photos and videos with the two onboard 5 MP cameras, listen to music with in-frame speakers and take phone calls. The glasses need to be connected to an iOS or Android device for full functionality, though users can take and store hundreds of photos or dozens of videos on the glasses before transferring media to their phones via Facebook’s new View app. The twin cameras will allow users to add 3D effects to their photos and videos once they upload them to the app.

The lightweight glasses weigh less than 50 grams and come with a leather hardshell charging case. The battery lift is advertised as “all-day” which TechCrunch found to be accurate during our review of the frames.

Users will be able to control the glasses with a couple physical buttons including a “capture” button to record media and an on-off switch. A touch pad on the right arm of the glasses will allow users to perform functions like swiping to adjust the volume or answering a phone call. An onboard white LED will glow to indicate to the people around the wearer that a video is being recorded.

The glasses, notably, are neither waterproof nor splash-proof.

Facebook’s smart Ray-Ban Stories alongside my pair of classic Ray-Ban 2140 Wayfarers

The smart sunglasses sport come in three classic Ray-Ban styles, with a number of color and lens combinations. The Ray-Ban Stories are fully compatible with prescription lenses. The glasses will start at $299, with polarized and transition lens options coming in at a higher price point.

The glasses notably do not have in-lens displays that will allow users to see digital augmented reality content like competitor Snap’s latest Spectacles prototype.

This is a major launch for Facebook, which announced early details about the Ray-Ban partnership and product at its AR/VR focused developer conference last September. The company has indicated that the device is a stepping stone for its AR ambitions and an effort to get users acquainted with the idea of high-tech glasses.

“Ray-Ban Stories are an important step towards a future when phones are no longer a central part of our lives and you won’t have to choose between interacting with a device or interacting with the world around you,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg says in a launch video for the product.

#augmented-reality, #tc

Meet retail’s new sustainability strategy: Personalization

We have been raised to believe in recycling, but it has mostly been a sham — only 9% of all plastic waste produced in 2018 was recycled. The beauty industry produces over 120 billion units of packaging every year, little of which is recycled. Globally, an estimated 92 million tons of textile waste ends up in landfills.

Reducing waste is key to meeting environmental milestones, and some retail firms have narrowed in on a unique approach to minimize what their customers throw away: personalization. Accurate personalization can guide consumers to the right products, reducing waste while increasing conversion and loyalty.

Reducing waste is key to meeting environmental milestones, and some retail firms have narrowed in on a unique approach to minimize what their customers throw away: personalization.

For big brands and retailers, personalization is expected to be the top category for tech investment this year. Moreover, personalization holds high appeal, with 80% of survey respondents indicating they are more likely to do business with a company if it offers personalized experiences and 90% indicating that they find personalization appealing, according to a survey by Epsilon.

Startups that deliver sustainable personalization solutions that also improve business for retailers and brands fall into three categories:

  • AR virtual try-on with shade matching.
  • Advanced virtual fitting rooms with VR/AR for fashion.
  • Smart packaging with IoT and distributed ledger technology.

AR virtual try-on with shade matching

Faces are easy to map, since it’s not difficult to virtually place a lipstick color on a face, but using AR and AI to recommend skin-tone-matching makeup products has been challenging for many AR virtual try-on companies. “I’ve been searching for an intuitive foundation-shade-finder tool since launching Cult Beauty in 2008, and nothing has lived up to the experience of having a professional match you in daylight until I discovered MIME,” says Alexia Inge, founder of Cult Beauty. “There are so many variables like light, skin tones, prevalent undertones, device, screen, OS, formula density, formula oxidation, as well as preferences for coverage levels, finish, brand and skin type,” she says.

MIME founder and CEO Christopher Merkle said, “Virtual try-on has exploded in the past few years, but for color cosmetics, the technology doesn’t help solve the primary customer pain point: shade matching. From day one, I decided to focus our company’s R&D efforts exclusively on color accuracy. I want to make sure that when the consumer receives their foundation or concealer in the mail, it’s the perfect shade once applied to their skin.”

MIME’s Shade Finder AI allows consumers to take a photo of themselves, answer a few questions, then get matched with a makeup color that pairs with their skin tone. MIME helps retailers and brands increase their online and in-store purchase conversion by up to five times. More than 22% of beauty returns are due to poor customer color purchases, but Merkle says MIME can get returns as low as 0.1%.

#amazon, #apple-inc, #arkit, #artificial-intelligence, #augmented-reality, #body-labs, #column, #cosmetics, #ec-column, #ec-consumer-applications, #ec-ecommerce-and-d2c, #ec-food-climate-and-sustainability, #ecommerce, #marketing, #new-york, #online-shopping, #personalization, #startups, #tc, #true-ventures, #virtual-reality, #walmart

Korean 3D spatial data tool startup Urbanbase closes $11.1M Series B+ round

Urbanbase, a Seoul-based company that develops a 3D spatial data platform for interior planning and design, announced today it has raised $11.1 million (13 billion won) in a Series B+ round as it scales up.

This round of funding was led by Hanwha Hotel & Resort, which is a subsidiary of South Korean conglomerate Hanwha Corporation.

Urbanbase, founded in 2013 by chief executive officer and a former architect Jinu Ha, has now raised $20 million (approximately 23 billion won) in total.

Existing investors did not join this round. The company had raised Series A funding of $1.8 million and an additional $1.2 million in 2017 and its first Series B round in April 2020, from backers that included South Korea-based Shinsegae Information & Communication, Woomi Construction, SL Investment, KDB Capital, Shinhan Capital, Enlight Ventures, CKD Venture Capital, and Breeze Investment, Ha said.

The latest funding will be used for enhancing its B2B SaaS, investing in R&D for advanced virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and 3D tools, which are considered core technologies of metaverse that is its new business Urbanbase plans to enter, according to Ha. Global metaverse market size is projected to increase $280 billion by 2025 from $30.7 billion in 2021, based on Strategy Analytics’ report.

Companies that focus on opportunities in the so-called “metaverse” have been growing as part of a next-generation approach to building viable business models in areas like virtual and augmented reality, and all the hardware and software and new tech that are being built for them. Big tech corporations, ranging from Facebook, Intel to Microsoft, are targeting to move in the area. Apple also waded into the area of virtual reality, working on developing a high-end VR headset.

Urbanbase also plans to upgrade its home interior software platform, Urbanbase Studio, that has functions to transform 2D indoor space images into 3D displays via Urbanbase’s patented algorithm, visualize interior products in augmented reality and analyze spatial images based on the AI technology.

Urbanbase claims 50,000 monthly active users with 70,000 registered B2C users. The company has about 50 B2B customers.

“Most of our B2B clients are large conglomerates in South Korea and Japan, for example, LG Electronics, Japan-based Mitsubishi Real Estate Service, Nitori Holdings, Dentsu Group and SoftBank, but we would like to extend our B2B clients base to small, midsized companies and bring more B2C users after closing the Series B+ funding,” Ha mentioned.

Urbanbase is seeking an acquisition target in prop-tech and construction technology sectors, Ha told TechCrunch. Urbanbase currently focuses on developing the interior tools for apartment buildings because about 70-80 percent of total households in South Korea and Japan live in apartments, Ha said, adding that it will diversify its portfolio by acquiring a startup that covers different types of residence.

It currently operates the platform in Korean and Japanese, but it will add English language service prior to entering in Singapore in the end of 2021, Ha said.

#artifical-intelligence, #artificial-intelligence, #asia, #augmented-reality, #funding, #japan, #metaverse, #saas, #singapore, #south-korea, #startups, #tc, #virtual-reality

After community backlash, Pokémon Go reinstates a COVID safety and accessibility feature

Pokémon Go announced yesterday that it will permanently keep an in-game feature that made the game easier to play while social distancing. Introduced at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the feature doubled the interaction radius around key augmented reality landmarks that are essential to gameplay. Though Niantic — parent company to Pokémon Go — removed the feature earlier this month, it chose to permanently reinstate it after weeks of community- and creator-led backlash.

Pre-pandemic, Pokémon Go players needed to be within 40 meters of a PokéStop or Gym to interact with it, but with the now-permanent change, the radius is expanded to 80 meters. Incidentally, disabled players found that this feature made the game more accessible to people with limited mobility. As one of the first mainstream AR mobile games, Pokémon Go is virtually unplayable if you’re unable to travel to real-world landmarks like PokéStops and Gyms — so allowing users to interact with these landmarks from further away (for example, if a wheelchair-user can’t journey off of a paved sidewalk) opened the game up to new players.

Since Pokémon Go has long positioned itself as a game that encourages real-world exploration, worldwide lockdowns posed a unique challenge for Niantic. But by making some small changes — like expanding the interaction radius by just 40 meters, increasing Pokémon spawns, and making it easier to obtain more PokéBalls– the game became easier to play from home.

These changes didn’t break the game or contradict its adventurous spirit, which made the rollback of a well-loved upgrade confusing for players, especially in light of the spreading Delta variant. From a financial standpoint, the app thrived during the pandemic. In 2020, Pokémon Go had its best-earning year since its launch in 2016, earning over $1 billion. According to app analytics firm SensorTower, this upward trend continued for Pokémon Go in the first half of 2021 with $642 million. This marked a 34% increase in consumer spending compared to the first half of 2020, when it made $479 million.

After Niantic reduced the interaction radius, Pokémon Go content creators and community members worked together to write an open letter to Niantic, which caused the hashtag #HearUsNiantic to trend on Twitter. The letter expressed that the increased radius made the game safer, more accessible, and less intrusive.

Some players organized a boycott of the game on August 5th, which was referred to as “Pokémon No Day.” That same day, Niantic issued a response letter addressed to the Pokémon Go community.

“Encouraging people to explore, exercise and safely play together in person remains Niantic’s mission. The health and wellbeing of players is our top priority,” Niantic’s statement read. The company formed an “inter cross-functional team” to address these concerns and invited prominent Pokémon Go content creators to share community feedback. While expanding the interaction radius is the first result of the task force, Pokémon Go tweeted that it will share more findings on September 1.

TechCrunch asked Niantic why it initially chose to rebuke these gameplay updates despite positive community feedback, increased revenue, and an ongoing pandemic, but Niantic declined to comment.

Despite players’ visible negative response on social media, SensorTower told TechCrunch that it didn’t see any change in consumer spending or active users for Pokemon Go around the time of the in-game strike. However, there was a significant uptick in negative App Store reviews.

Though the wider interaction radius is now reinstated, some players remain frustrated, since community leaders had previously provided this feedback in June after Niantic announced its plans to roll back these changes.

“Why did it have to take this giant community movement for any of our feedback to be heard?” said creator ZoëTwoDots in a YouTube video.

#apps, #augmented-reality, #gaming, #mobile-gaming, #niantic, #pokemon, #pokemon-go

TikTok is building its own AR development platform, TikTok Effect Studio

Both Facebook and Snap offer tools that allow developers to build out augmented reality (AR) experiences and features for their own respective family of apps. Now, TikTok is looking to do the same. The company recently launched a new creative toolset called TikTok Effect Studio, currently in private beta testing, which will allow its own developer community to build AR effects for TikTok’s short-form video app.

On a new website titled “Effect House,” TikTok asks interested developers to sign up for early access to Effect Studio.

On the form provided, developers fill out their name, email, TikTok account info, company, and level of experience with building for AR, as well as examples of their work. The website also asks if they’re using a Mac or PC (presumably to gauge which desktop platform to prioritize), and whether they would test Effect House for work or for personal use.

The project was first spotted by social media consultant Matt Navarra, via a tip from Sam Schmir.

TikTok confirmed to TechCrunch the website launched earlier in August, but the project itself is still in the early stages of testing in only a few select markets, one of which is the U.S.

The company couldn’t offer a timeframe as to when these tools would become more broadly available. Instead, TikTok characterized Effect Studio as an early “experiment,” adding that some of its experiments don’t always make it to launch. Plus, other experiments may undergo significant changes between their early beta phases and what later becomes a public product.

That said, the launch of an AR toolset would make TikTok more competitive with industry rivals, who today rely on creative communities to expand their apps’ features sets with new features and experiences. Snap, for example, launched a $3.5 million fund last year directed toward Snapchat AR Lens creation. Meanwhile, at Facebook’s F8 developer conference in June, the company announced it had grown its Spark AR platform to over 600,000 creators across 190 countries, making it the largest mobile AR platform worldwide.

Image Credits: screenshot of TikTok website

TikTok, too, has been increasing its investment in developer tools over the past couple of years. However, its focus as of late has been on toolkits aimed at third-party developers who want to integrate more closely with TikTok in their own apps. Today, TikTok’s developer website provides access to tools that allow app makers to add TikTok features to their apps like user authentication flows, sound sharing, and others that allow users to publish videos from a third-party editing app out to TikTok.

The new TikTok Effect Studio isn’t meant to be used with third-party apps, however.

Instead, it’s about building AR experiences (and possibly, other creative effects), that would be provided to TikTok users directly in the consumer-facing video app.

Though willing to confirm its broader goals for TikTok Effect Studio, the company declined to share specific details about the exact tools may be included, citing the project’s early days.

“We’re always thinking about new ways to bring value to our community and enrich the TikTok experience,” a TikTok spokesperson told TechCrunch. “Currently, we’re experimenting with ways to give creators additional tools to bring their creative ideas to life for the TikTok community,” they added.

#apps, #ar, #augmented-reality, #creative, #creators, #developers, #facebook, #mobile-applications, #snap, #snapchat, #social-media, #software, #spark-ar, #tiktok, #united-states, #video-hosting

Pokémon GO influencers threaten a boycott after Niantic removes COVID safety measures

The creators of Pokémon GO, Niantic developed one of the first mainstream augmented reality games, boasting 166 million users and over a billion dollars in revenue last year. Taking inspiration from the main series Pokémon games, Pokémon GO uses in-game incentives to encourage users to explore their surroundings, team up with other users to fight legendary beasts, and travel to places they’ve never been before.

Before the pandemic, this posed an accessibility issue — when certain tasks could only be completed by walking a certain distance, for example, it alienated users with physical conditions and disabilities that prevent them from easily taking a walk around the neighborhood. Plus, for players in wheelchairs, it might be impossible to access certain PokéStops and Gyms. It’s necessary to interact with these real-world landmarks to play the game to its fullest.

When much of the world entered lockdown March 2020, Pokémon Go doubled the size of the radius that players can be within to interact with a PokéStop or Gym, widening the radius from 40 meters to 80 meters. So, you could now be further away from a landmark but still reap its rewards. This made it easier for users to play from home, or play outside while social distancing — but it also made the game much more accessible. Plus, for a game that still gets a bad rep for causing traffic accidents, the increased radius helped pedestrian players access landmarks without brazenly jay-walking across the street (to be fair, it’s on users to make smart decisions while gaming in augmented reality — but, Niantic has responsibility here too). And for businesses that happened to be located in a prime location for raid battles, which require players to gather in-person within a Gym’s radius to defeat rare monsters, this meant that Pokémon players could maintain a respectful distance from store fronts while playing the game (later in the pandemic, it became possible to join raid battles remotely — this feature will remain in the game, probably because it proved profitable).

These pandemic incentives were always framed as temporary bonuses, but players embraced the changes — in 2020, Pokémon GO had its highest-earning year yet. Now, the increased landmark radius has been removed “as a test” in the U.S. and New Zealand.

“As we return to the outside world again, these changes are aimed at restoring the focus of Pokémon GO on movement and exploration in the real world,” the company wrote in a blog post. “These changes will be introduced slowly and carefully to make it more exciting to explore the world around you.”

One new incentive gives users 10x XP for visiting a new PokéStop for the first time (or, in real-world terms, visiting a new place). But as the Delta variant spreads in the U.S., players find these changes to be frustrating and misguided. Why roll back features that made the game more accessible while also netting the company more money?

The Pokémon Go YouTuber, Reversal, who has created sponsored content for Niantic, wrote that he will quit the game if changes aren’t being made ASAP. Other players launched a petition with over 130,000 signatures to keep increased PokéStop and Gym interaction distance. Prominent Pokémon Go content creators like ZoëTwoDots and The Trainer Club have referenced a potential boycott of the game in videos they uploaded today, citing Niantic’s refusal to listen to community concerns after they announced the impending end of pandemic bonuses in June.

“I’m more than down to boycott the game with everyone if we’re vibing that,” ZoëTwoDots, who has also partnered with Niantic, told her 212,000 subscribers. “I know for myself personally, I’m just straight up not spending money in the game going forward until they address it publicly.”

As the game celebrates its five year anniversary, the conflict it now faces isn’t about players wishing for the game to be easier. Rather, this represents a failure by Niantic to listen to its user base, prioritize accessibility, and incentivize users to stay home as COVID-19 cases rise again in the U.S.

#apps, #augmented-reality, #games, #ingress, #new-zealand, #niantic, #pokemon, #pokemon-go, #united-states, #video-games, #xp

Facebook’s next hardware product will be “smart” Ray-Ban glasses

A fashion influencer smiles while wearing a pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses.

Enlarge / Don’t get too excited about how well these Ray-Bans go with Gitta Banko’s outfit—we don’t know what Facebook’s new smart glasses will look like, only that they’re made in partnership with the brand and its parent company. (credit: Streetstyleshooters via Getty Images)

In an earnings conference call on Wednesday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told investors that the company’s next hardware launch will be “smart glasses” made in partnership with classic sunglasses vendor Ray-Ban.

Zuckerberg segued into the Ray-Ban announcement following a lengthy discussion of Facebook’s plans for Oculus Quest, its all-in-one virtual reality (VR) platform. Zuckerberg says that social media is the real “killer app” for VR, backing that up with data from Oculus Quest: “The most popular apps on Quest are social, which fits our original thesis [that] virtual reality will be a social platform.”

Zuckerberg intends the as yet unnamed smart glasses to be a stepping stone, not an end goal. He remained cagey about their actual purpose, saying only that the glasses “have their iconic form factor, and [let] you do some pretty neat things,” with no concrete details about what those “neat things” might be.

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#augmented-reality, #facebook, #ray-ban, #smart-glasses, #tech

Zuckerberg is turning trillion-dollar Facebook into a ‘metaverse’ company, he tells investors

#andrew-bosworth, #augmented-reality, #ceo, #cfo, #computing, #facebook, #gaming, #horizon, #instagram, #mark-zuckerberg, #metaverse, #oculus, #roblox, #software, #tc, #virtual-reality, #vp, #vr, #wearable-devices

Snap had its best quarter in four years

If you’ve started using Snapchat more regularly this year, you’re not alone. At yesterday’s Q2 earnings call, Snap CEO Evan Spiegel announced that the platform grew both revenue and daily active users at the highest rates it has achieved in the last four years. Snapchat now has 293 million daily active users, growing 23% since last year.

Snap went public in 2017 with a $24 billion valuation, but not long before then, the ephemeral photo sharing app experienced a massive hiccup: Instagram cloned their then-unique Stories feature. After Instagram Stories launched, Snapchat’s growth slowed by 82%. Then, when Snapchat redesigned its app’s interface, Kylie Jenner tweeted that she didn’t use the app anymore, causing the company’s valuation to drop by $1.2 billion.

But Snapchat held on and made a comeback. Its revenue reached an all-time high of $911 million in Q4 of 2020, then went down to $770 million the following quarter. Now, Snapchat’s revenue in Q2 of 2021 surpasses its previous high to reach $982 million.

The app’s Q2 growth could be attributed to the return of advertisers who scaled back their spending during the height of the pandemic, as well as the retention of users that flocked to the app while in lockdown. Like many social media platforms, Snapchat grew its revenue and user base during the pandemic, but this isn’t just a matter of re-engaging users with an app that they grew out of. As TikTok exploded on the scene and the creator economy boomed, Snapchat kept up by creating Spotlight, a TikTok clone, and investing in the applications of augmented reality.

“We made significant progress with our augmented reality platform this quarter,” Spiegel said. “More than 200 million Snapchatters engage with AR every day on average, and over 200,000 creators use Lens Studio to build AR Lenses for our community.”

Last month, Snapchat went viral for its Cartoon 3D Style Lens, which makes you look like a character in a Pixar movie. Spiegel specifically mentioned this lens as a feature that “highlighted the power of Lenses to go viral both inside and outside of Snapchat.” But beyond fun face filters, Snapchat has been using AR to woo ecommerce partners. The app has developed AR experiences for Walt Disney World, Smile Direct Club, Zenni Optical, e.l.f. Cosmetics, Ralph Lauren, and more. This includes try-on capabilities for watches, jewelry, eyewear, handbags, makeup, and even clothing. At its Partner Summit in May, Snapchat revealed an update that lets users scan friends’ outfits to find shopping recommendations for similar styles.

“We have a lot more work ahead to build out our technology and increase AR adoption, but we are thrilled with the results that our partners are seeing as we invest in our long-term camera opportunity,” said Jeremi Gorman, Snap’s Chief Business Officer. “We are confident in our long-term opportunity, and are excited to double down on shopping and commerce via augmented reality.”

In March, Snap acquired Fit Analytics, a Berlin-based startup that helps shoppers find the right-sized apparel and footwear when shopping online. Combined with Snap’s investment in AR, could we eventually use AR to see which size of clothing to order? The application of that sort of technology would need to be handled sensitively, especially as the rates of eating disorders in teens are on the rise.

Beyond ecommerce, Snapchat has sought out strategic partnerships with entertainment companies like HBO Max and Universal Music Group and doubled down on its Spectacles, glasses that create AR experiences. Of course, Facebook is working on AR glasses too. But for both companies, Snap’s recent successes show the rising adoption and value of AR experiences.

#apps, #arkansas, #augmented-reality, #berlin, #ceo, #computing, #cosmetics, #e-commerce, #evan-spiegel, #facebook, #fit-analytics, #hbo-max, #instagram, #instant-messaging, #kylie-jenner, #lens-studio, #mobile-applications, #smile-direct-club, #snap, #snap-inc, #snapchat, #social-media-platforms, #software, #spectacles, #technology, #universal-music-group, #vertical-video, #walt-disney-world

Can advertising scale in VR?

One of VR’s prospective revenue streams is ad placement. The thought is that its levels of immersion can engender high engagement with various flavors of display ads. Think billboards in a virtual streetscape or sporting venue. Art imitates life, and all that.

This topic reemerged recently in the wake of Facebook’s experimental ads in Blaston VR. As TechCrunch’s Lucas Matney observed, it didn’t go too well. The move triggered a resounding backlash, followed by the game publisher, Resolution Games, backing out of the trial.

This chain of events underscored Facebook’s headwinds in VR ad monetization, which stem from its broader ad issues. In fairness, this was an experimental move to test the VR advertising waters … which Facebook accomplished, though it didn’t get the result it wanted.

VR advertising is a bit of a double-edged sword. It could take several years for VR usage to reach requisite levels for meaningful ad monetization.

Regardless, we’ve taken this opportunity to revisit our ongoing analysis and market sizing of VR advertising in general. The short version: There are pros and cons on both qualitative and quantitative levels.

The pros of VR advertising

VR advertising’s opportunity goes back to factors noted above: potentially high ad engagement given inherent levels of immersion. On that measure, VR exceeds all other media, which can mean higher-quality impressions, brand recall and other common display-ad metrics.

Historical evidence also suggests that VR could follow a path toward ad monetization. VR shows similar patterns to media that were increasingly ad supported as they matured. These include video, social media, mobile apps and games (just ask Unity).

To put some numbers behind that, 75% of apps in the Apple App Store’s first year were paid apps — similar to VR today. That figure declined to 15% in 2014 and hovers around 10% today. Over time, developers learned they could reach scale through free downloads.

Prevalent revenue models today include in-app purchases — especially in mobile gaming — and advertising. The question is whether VR will follow a similar path as developers learn that they can reach scale faster through free apps that employ “back-end monetization” like ad support.

This trend also follows audience dynamics: Early adopters are more likely to pay for content and experiences. But as a given technology or media matures, its transition to mainstream audiences requires different business models with less upfront commitment and friction.

“Today, there are only about 18% of applications in VR stores such as Steam and Oculus that are free,” Admix CEO Samuel Huber said. “This is fine for now because we are still very early in the market and most of these users are early adopters. They are willing to pay for content, just like they were willing to pay for prototype unproven hardware and generally, they have higher purchasing power than the average person.”

Drawbacks of VR advertising

Considering the above advantages, VR advertising is a bit of a double-edged sword (or beat saber). Those advantages are counterbalanced by a few practical disadvantages in the medium’s early stage. Much of this comes down to the requirement for scale.

#advertising-tech, #augmented-reality, #column, #digital-marketing, #ec-column, #ec-gaming, #ec-marketing-tech, #gaming, #marketing, #online-advertising, #virtual-reality

Lego should snap up this rapid-fire brick-finding iOS app

Lego has worked extremely closely with Apple over the years, experimenting with unreleased iOS tech and demoing it onstage at launch events like WWDC; this has included some pretty heavy tinkering on the augmented reality ARKit platform that they’ve integrated several of their play sets with, adding digital experiences to the physical toys.

But one of the most impressive integrations between iOS tech and physical Lego bricks just popped up on the App Store, and it’s built by a team of fans. The new app Brickit is aiming to one-up what even the Lego Group has created with an app that uses computer-vision tech to quickly make sense of a mountain of bricks.

All users need to do is haphazardly dump Legos into a single layer on the floor. From there the app is able to quickly analyze and identify bricks in the collection and serve up some fun little projects that users have all or most of the bricks they need to build. The most impressive element of the app is its speed — the app is able to make sense of hundreds of bricks in a pile within seconds.

While I unfortunately don’t have access to a pile of Legos at the moment, a TechCrunch colleague demoed the app on iOS and had similarly smooth results to the demo above, with some added loading time in between discovery and when users are able to scroll through suggested projects. While navigating instructions, users are even pointed to the area in the brick pile that a particular needed piece is in.

What the Brickit team has done highlights the power of object recognition in the latest versions of iOS in a way that’s surprisingly useful for this very, very niche use case.

As is, the app is a bit limited by the fact that it’s a third-party design. The App Store’s disclaimer page is quick to specify that this is not an app built by the Lego Group and that its developers are just fans of the product, not employees of the company. Hopefully that’s enough to prevent Lego from overzealously siccing its lawyers on them, but given the app’s impressive use of Apple hardware, it really seems like the company would be better off acquiring the app.

There’s a lot more that Brickit could do with first-party access, mainly in terms of access to integrations with existing libraries of Lego instructions. With Lego’s 2019 acquisition of BrickLink, it’s clear the company has been aiming to capture more of the community fandom around aftermarket creations. Allowing the company to build up a database of the actual bricks that a user has in their possession, thus gaining some insights into the collections of sets that they own, would undoubtedly be valuable data to Lego.

For now the Brickit app is limited to iOS, but the company’s website indicates the team has aims to launch an Android app by the fall.

#android, #app-store, #apple-inc, #augmented-reality, #brands, #imessage, #lego, #lego-group, #software, #tc, #toys

How to cut through the promotional haze and select a digital building platform

Everyone from investors to casual LinkedIn observers has more reasons than ever to look at buildings and wonder what’s going on inside. The property industry is known for moving slowly when it comes to adopting new technologies, but novel concepts and products are now entering this market at a dizzying pace.

However, this ever-growing array of smart-building products has made it confusing for professionals who seek to implement digital building platform (DBP) technologies in their spaces, let alone across their entire enterprise. The waters get even murkier when it comes to cloud platforms and their impact on ROI with regard to energy usage and day-to-day operations.

Breaking down technology decisions into bite-sized pieces, starting with fundamental functions, is the most straightforward way to cut through the promotional haze.

Facility managers, energy professionals and building operators are increasingly hit with daily requests to review the latest platform for managing and operating their buildings. Here are a few tips to help decision-makers clear through the marketing fluff and put DBP platforms to the test.

The why, how and what

Breaking down technology decisions into bite-sized pieces, starting with fundamental functions, is the most straightforward way to cut through the promotional haze. Ask two simple questions: Who on your team will use this technology and what problem will it solve for them? Answers to these questions will help you maintain your key objectives, making it easier to narrow down the hundreds of options to a handful.

Another way to prioritize problems and solutions when sourcing smart-building technology is to identify your use cases. If you don’t know why you need a technology platform for your smart building, you’ll find it difficult to tell which option is better. Further, once you have chosen one, you’ll be hard put to determine if it has been successful. We find use cases draw the most direct line from why to how and what.

For example, let’s examine the why, how and what questions for a real estate developer planning to construct or modernize a commercial office building:

  • Why will people come? — Our building will be full of amenities and technological touches that will make discerning tenants feel comfortable, safe and part of a warm community of like-minded individuals.
  • How will we do it? — Implement the latest tenant-facing technology offering services and capabilities that are not readily available at home. We will create indoor and outdoor environments that make people feel comfortable and happy.
  • What tools, products and technology will we use?

This last question is often the hardest to answer and is usually left until the last possible moment. For building systems integrators, this is where the real work begins.

Focus on desired outcomes

When various stakeholder groups begin their investigations of the technology, it is crucial to define the outcomes everyone hopes to achieve for each use case. When evaluating specific products, it helps to categorize them at high levels.

Several high-level outcomes, such as digital twin enablement, data normalization and data storage are expected across multiple categories of systems. However, only an enterprise building management system includes the most expected outcomes. Integration platform as a service, bespoke reports and dashboarding, analytics as a service and energy-optimization platforms have various enabled and optional outcomes.

The following table breaks down a list of high-level outcomes and aligns them to a category of smart-building platforms available in the market. Expanded definitions of each item are included at the end of this article.

#augmented-reality, #building-management-systems, #business-process-management, #column, #digital-building-platform, #digital-transformation, #ec-column, #ec-how-to, #ec-real-estate-and-proptech, #enterprise, #real-estate

Apple and Snap partner JigSpace, the ‘Canva for 3D,’ raises a $4.7M Series A

When former Art Director Zac Duff started teaching a game development course online in 2015, he faced the same challenges that teachers around the globe have become all too familiar with after a pandemic-induced lockdown. So, he used his experience in 3D design to build a virtual reality classroom to make remote learning more engaging for his students. Instead of entering yet another Zoom lecture, the school gave students VR headsets to transport themselves to the Ancient Greek-inspired classroom that Duff built.

Still, Duff knew that this learning model couldn’t be easily scaled — most schools don’t have VR headsets to send out, and most teachers don’t have over a decade of game design experience to whip up a classroom with green fields and butterflies (yes, Duff made that). But he saw that there was potential for a user-friendly program that lets anyone create 3D presentations and share information in AR.

“Right at the center of it is knowledge transfer. It’s about one person giving knowledge to another person in a really effective way,” Duff told TechCrunch. He referenced products like Microsoft Powerpoint and Canva, which make it easy for the average user to create presentations and graphics that communicate their ideas. “We have those systems in 2D, but in 3D, we just didn’t have it, and it was a really complex, expensive technical process that you had to go through to build anything, and that stuck with me.”

Image Credits: JigSpace

Soon after, Duff took a Friday off from work to outline the company that would become JigSpace, which is poised to set the standard for knowledge-sharing in 3D. After launching in 2017, the JigSpace platform now has over 4 million users with a 4.8 average rating on the App Store. When you download the JigSpace app, you can interact in AR with 3D models that show how to fix a leaky sink, repair a dry wall, or even build a Lego Star Wars spacecraft. There are also educational models, or Jigs, that show how a piano works, the anatomy of the human eye, and even how the coronavirus spreads. The potential use cases for JigSpace are expansive — Duff says he hopes to work with manufacturing companies to have them make Jigs of their products. That way, let’s say you want to replace your AC filter, you can look at a 3D model in AR, rather than a black and white 2D drawing in an instruction booklet.

Today, JigSpace announced that it raised $4.7 million in Series A funding led by Rampersand, with Investible and new investors including Vulpes, and Roger Allen AM, also participating. The JigSpace app is free to use, and anyone can combine presets and templates of 3D modeled objects to create their own Jigs — the more tech savvy among us can upload up to 30 MB of files to make more customized Jigs on the free version. But the money-maker for Jigspace is its Jig Pro platform, which is designed for commercial businesses and manufacturers. Jig Pro‘s subscription for individuals is $49 per month, while the price of the enterprise offering isn’t listed online.

Image Credits: JigSpace

“The best area for us has been in durable manufacturing, because almost all manufacturing products have CAD files, so the 3D already exists,” said Duff. “Then, we’re able to work with those companies to give them the tools to create knowledge material around their products.”

Right after JigSpace launched its Pro version, it was featured in Apple’s iPhone 12 Keynote, demonstrating how the iPhone 12’s LiDAR scanner and 5G capabilities could be used to save time and money in manufacturing. JigSpace also partnered with Snapchat to create a Lens that allows you to scan kitchen items to reveal 3D Jigs that show how stuff works, from your microwave to your coffee maker.

Jig Pro’s customer base has grown 40% month-on-month since it launched in mid-2020, with the average user logging into the app at least once per day. Companies like Verizon, Volkswagen, Medtronic, and Thermo Fisher Scientific use JigSpace to develop 3D models to present to stakeholders, customers, and remote colleagues. Especially as products like Apple’s Capture emerge, it will become even easier for people to import their own 3D models into JigSpace.

Despite its commercial potential, it’s important to Duff that JigSpace always retains a free version that makes learning through AR easy.

“We want to make sure that all of the people with information they want to share, those are the people we serve, not just the technical people at the top,” Duff says. “From the beginning, my co-founder Numa Bertron and I always wanted to have a free version. Knowledge should be accessible to people in the best way possible, and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be.”

#3d-imaging, #3d-modeling, #app-store, #apple-inc, #apps, #arkansas, #augmented-reality, #cad, #canva, #co-founder, #coffee-maker, #computing, #director, #funding, #iphone, #itunes, #jig, #manufacturing, #medtronic, #microwave, #smartphones, #snapchat, #technology, #thermo-fisher-scientific, #tools, #verizon, #virtual-reality, #volkswagen

Discord acquires augmented reality startup Ubiquity6

After raising tens of millions from investors and executing a pretty substantial pivot earlier this year, augmented reality startup Ubiquity6 and its team have been acquired by gaming chat app giant Discord.

The ambitious AR startup had raised $37.5 million from a series of top investors including Benchmark, First Round, Kleiner Perkins and Google’s Gradient Ventures who were betting on its vision of building a consumer-facing platform for hosting augmented reality content. Its most recent publicly disclosed financing was a $27 million Series B in October of 2018.

Terms of the Discord acquisition weren’t disclosed, though in recent months the startup seemed to abandon most of the products it had spent its first several years building, suggesting that Ubiquity6 had been having some issues finding wide audiences for its products.

Launching back in 2017, Ubiquity6 hoped to build an app that would be the central way mobile phone users would browse augmented reality content. In late 2019, the startup launched a product called Displayland, which aimed to gamify the process of 3D scanning physical environments with a smartphone’s camera.

The company’s efforts to find mass adoption were hampered by a mobile AR market which has largely failed to gain any momentum in recent years despite hefty investment from tech giants including Apple and Google.

In early 2020, CEO Anjney Midha told TechCrunch that the startup had some 65 employees.

In recent months, Ubiquity6 had executed a pretty drastic pivot, leaving augmented reality completely behind in favor of building out a desktop platform that allowed users to play simple online party games together remotely. The beta platform, called Backyard, was designed for pandemic era habits that seem to be on the decline as the US springs back into action. Backyard was discontinued this week as part of the acquisition announcement.

In a Medium post announcing the acquisition, Midha seems to downplay any expectations that Ubiquity6’s augmented reality technology will be living on inside Discord.

“Our mission at Ubiquity6 has always been to unlock new ways for people to connect through shared experiences,” Midha wrote. “Joining Discord today allows us to accelerate that mission — Ubiquity6’s team, Backyard product and multiplayer technology will be integrated into Discord.”

#anjney-midha, #apple, #augment, #augmented-reality, #augmented-reality-technology, #ceo, #discord, #freeware, #google, #kleiner-perkins, #mobile-applications, #smartphone, #software, #tc, #ubiquity6, #united-states

Psychedelic VR meditation startup Tripp raises $11 million Series A

As an increasing number of startups sell investors on mobile apps that help consumers prioritize well-being and mindfulness, other startups are looking for a more immersive take that allow users to fully disconnect from the world around them.

Tripp has been building immersive relaxation exercises that seek to blend some of the experiences users may find in guided meditation apps with more free-form experiences that allow users to unplug from their day and explore their thoughts inside a virtual reality headset while watching fractal shapes, glowing trees and planets whir past them.

As the name implies, there have been some efforts by the startup to create visuals and audio experiences that mimic the feelings people may have during a psychedelic trip — though doing so sans hallucinogens.

“Many people that will never feel comfortable taking a psychedelic, this is a low friction alternative that can deliver some of that experience in a more benign way,” CEO Nanea Reeves tells TechCrunch. “The idea is to take mindfulness structures and video game mechanics together to see if we can actually hack the way that you feel.”

The startup tells TechCrunch they’ve closed a $11 Million in funding led by Vine Ventures and Mayfield with participation from Integrated, among others. Tripp has raised some $15 million in total funding to date.

Image via Tripp

VR startups have largely struggled to earn investor fervor in recent years as major tech platforms have sunsetted their virtual reality efforts one-by-one leaving Facebook and Sony as the sole benefactors of a space that they are still struggling to monetize at times. While plenty of VR startups are continuing to see engagement, many investors which backed companies in the space five years ago have turned their attention to gaming and computer vision startups with more broad applications.

Reeves says that the pandemic has helped consumers dial into the importance of mindfulness and mental health awareness, something that has also pushed investors to get bolder in what projects in the space that they’re backing.

Tripp has apps on both the Oculus and PlayStation VR stores and subscription experiences that can be accessed for a $4.99 per month subscription.

The company provides a variety of guided experiences, but users can also use the company’s “Tripp composer” to build their own visual flows. Beyond customization, one of Tripp’s major sells is giving consumers deeper, quicker meditative experiences, claiming that users can get alleviate stress with sessions as short as 8 minutes inside their headset. The startup is also exploring the platform’s use in enterprise in-office wellness solutions. Tripp is currently in the midst of clinical trials to study the software platform’s effectiveness as a therapeutic device.

The company says that users have gone through over 2 million sessions inside the app so far.

#articles, #augmented-reality, #ceo, #components, #composer, #display-technology, #facebook, #major, #mayfield, #mixed-reality, #oculus, #playstation-vr, #software-platform, #sony, #startup-company, #tc, #techcrunch, #technology, #virtual-reality, #virtual-reality-headset

Apple‘s Tim Cook: Sideloading is “not in the best interests of the user”

Apple CEO Tim Cook being interviewed remotely by Brut.

Enlarge / Apple CEO Tim Cook being interviewed remotely by Brut. (credit: Brut.)

Apple has been under a mountain of scrutiny lately from legislators, developers, judges, and users. Amidst all that, CEO Tim Cook sat with publication Brut. to discuss Apple’s strategy and policies. The short but wide-ranging interview offered some insight into where Apple plans to go in the future.

As is so common when Tim Cook speaks publicly, privacy was a major focus. His response to a question about its importance was the same one we’ve heard from him many times: “we see it as a basic human right, a fundamental human right.” Noting Apple has been focused on privacy for a long time.

He explained:

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#app-store, #apple, #apple-app-store, #apple-watch, #apps, #ar, #augmented-reality, #ios, #iphone, #privacy, #sideloading, #tech, #tim-cook

Everyone you know is a Disney princess, which means AR is queen

This weekend, all of your friends morphed one by one into animated, Pixar-inspired characters. This isn’t a fever dream, and you’re not alone.

On Thursday, Snapchat released a Cartoon 3D Style Lens, which uses AR to make you look like a background character from “Frozen.” Naturally, even though TikTok’s own AR cartoon effects aren’t quite as convincing as Snapchat’s, people are turning to TikTok to share videos of themselves as Disney princesses, because of course they are.

This isn’t the first time that a Disney-esque AR trend has gone viral. In August 2020, Snapchat had 28.5 million new installs, which was its biggest month since May 2019, when it got 41.2 million new installs. It might not be a coincidence that in early August 2020, Snapchat released the Cartoon Face lens, which users realized could be used to “Disneyfy” their pets – the tag #disneydog got 40.9 million views across platforms on TikTok. Then, Snapchat struck viral gold again in December, when they released the Cartoon lens, which rendered more realistic results for human faces than the previous iteration.

According to Sensor Tower, Snapchat’s global installs continued to climb month-over-month throughout the rest of 2020, though installs slightly declined in December. Still, Snapchat got 36 million downloads that month. Now, after the newest Cartoon Style 3D lens went viral again, Snapchat hit number 6 on the App Store’s free apps charts, compared to TikTok’s number 2 slot. Still, Snapchat downloads in May were 32 million, down from 34 million in April, while TikTok saw 80.3 million installs in May, up from 59.3 million in April.

Image Credits: Snapchat, screenshots by TechCrunch

But there’s a new app in the number 1 slot that also made an impact on this weekend’s cartoon explosion. Released in March, Voilà AI Artist is yet another platform that turns us into cartoon versions of ourselves. Unlike the AR-powered effects on Snapchat or TikTok, Voilà is a photo editor. Users upload a selfie, and after watching an ad (the ad-free version costs $3 per week), it reveals what you would look like as a cartoon.

Voilà AI Artist was only downloaded 400 times globally in March 2021. By May, the app surpassed 1 million downloads, and during the first two weeks of this month alone, the app has been downloaded over 10.5 million times.

Again, like the repetitive iterations on the “Disneyfy” trend, apps like Voilà aren’t new. FaceApp went viral in 2019, showing people what they’ll look like when they’re old, graying, and wrinkled. The app became the center of a privacy controversy, since it uploaded users’ photos to the cloud to edit their selfies with AI. FaceApp made a statement that it “might store updated photos in the cloud” for “performance and traffic reasons,” but that “most images” are deleted “within 48 hours.” Still, this ambiguous language set off the warning bells, urging us to think about the potentially nefarious implications of seeing what we’ll look like in sixty years. Two years earlier, FaceApp put out a “hotness” filter, which made users’ skin lighter – FaceApp apologized for its racist AI. Voilà, which is owned by Wemagine.AI LLP in Canada, has also been criticized for its AI’s eurocentrism. As these apps grow in popularity, they can also uphold some of our culture’s most harmful biases.

Image Credits: Voilà

Like FaceApp, Voilà requires an internet connection to use the app. Additionally, its terms outline that users grant the company “a non-exclusive, worldwide, royalty-free, sublicensable, and transferable license to host, store, use in any way, display, reproduce, modify, adapt, edit, publish, and distribute Uploaded and Generated content.” Basically, that means that if you upload an image to the platform, Voilà has the right to use it, but they don’t own it. This isn’t abnormal for these apps – when we upload photos to Instagram, for example, we also grant the platform the right to use our images.

Still, it’s a good thing that apps like Voilà force us to consider what we give up in exchange for the knowledge that we’d make a good Disney princess. Earlier this month, TikTok updated its U.S. privacy policy to dictate that the app “may collect biometric identifiers and biometric information” from users’ content. This includes “faceprints and voiceprints,” terms that TikTok left undefined. When TechCrunch reached Tiktok for comment, they couldn’t confirm why the terms now changed to allow for the automatic collection of biometric data, which refers to any features, measurements, or characteristics of our body that distinguish us, even fingerprints.

It’s no wonder that as Voilà climbed to the number one slot on the App Store, Snapchat re-upped their Pixar-inspired AR lens. Facebook’s own Spark AR platform is rolling out new features, and last week at WWDC, Apple announced a major update to RealityKit, its AR software. But these trends reveal more about our growing comfort with face-altering AR than they do about our nostalgia for Disney.

#app-store, #apple, #apps, #ar, #augmented-reality, #canada, #computing, #disney, #instagram, #internet-culture, #mobile-applications, #photo-editor, #realitykit, #snapchat, #software, #technology, #tiktok, #united-states

This Week in Apps: WWDC 21 highlights, Instagram Creator Week recap, Android 12 beta 2 arrives

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, our series will take a dive into the key announcements impacting app developers from WWDC 21.

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WWDC 21 Wrap-Up

Image Credits: Apple

Apple’s WWDC went virtual again this year, but it didn’t slow down the pace of announcements. This week, Apple introduced a slate of new developer tools and frameworks, changes to iOS that will impact how consumers use their devices and new rules for publishing on its App Store, among other things. We don’t have the bandwidth to dig into every dev update — and truly, there are better places to learn about, say, the new concurrency capabilities of Swift 5.5 or what’s new with SwiftUI.

But after a few days of processing everything new, here’s what’s jumping out as the bigger takeaways and updates.

Xcode Cloud

Apple’s development IDE, Xcode 13, now includes Xcode Cloud, a built-in continuous integration and delivery service hosted on Apple’s cloud infrastructure. Apple says the service, birthed out of its 2018 Buddybuild acquisition, will help to speed up the pace of development by combining cloud-based tools for building apps along with tools to run automated tests in parallel, deliver apps to testers via TestFlight and view tester feedback through the web-based App Store Connect dashboard. Beyond the immediate improvements to the development process (which developers are incredibly excited about based on #WWDC21 tweets) Xcode Cloud represents a big step by Apple further into the cloud services space, where Amazon (AWS), Google and Microsoft have dominated. While Xcode Cloud may not replace solutions designed for larger teams with more diverse needs, it’s poised to make app development easier — and deliver a new revenue stream to Apple. If only Apple had announced the pricing! 

Swift Playgrounds 4

Image Credits: Apple

Swift Playgrounds got a notable update in iPadOS 15, as it will now allow developers to build iPhone and iPad apps right on their iPad and submit them to the App Store. In Swift Playgrounds 4, coming later this year, Apple says developers will be able to create the visual design of an app using SwiftUI, see the live preview of their app’s code while building and can run their apps full-screen to test them out. App projects can also be opened and edited with either Swift Playgrounds or Xcode.

While it’s not the Xcode on iPad system some developers have been requesting, it will make app building more accessible because of iPad’s lower price point compared with Mac. It could also encourage more people to try app development, as Swift Playgrounds helps student coders learn the basics then move up to more challenging lessons over time. Now, they can actually build real apps and hit the publish button, too.

App Store

Antitrust pressure swirling around Apple has contributed to a growing sentiment among some developers that Apple doesn’t do enough to help them grow their businesses — and therefore, is undeserving of a 15%-30% cut of the revenues the developers themselves worked to gain. The new App Store updates may start to chip away at that perception.

Soon, developers will be able to create up to 35 custom product pages targeted toward different users, each with their unique URL for sharing and analytics for measuring performance. The pages can include different preview videos, screenshots and text.

Image Credits: Apple

Apple will also allow developers to split traffic between three treatments of the app’s default page to measure which ones convert best, then choose the percentage of the App Store audience that will see one of the three treatments.

Meanwhile, the App Store will begin to show to customers in-app events taking place inside developers’ apps — like game competitions, fitness challenges, film premieres and more — effectively driving traffic to apps and re-engaging users. Combined, Apple is making the case that its App Store can drive discovery beyond just offering an app listing page.

Beyond the App Store product itself, Apple overhauled its App Store policies to address the growing problem of scam apps. The changes give Apple permission to crack down on scammers by removing offenders from its Developer Program. The new guidelines also allow developers to report spam directly to Apple, instead of, you know, relying on tweets and press.

Apple has historically downplayed the scam problem. It noted how the App Store stopped over $1.5 billion in fraudulent transactions in 2020, for example. Even if it’s a small percentage of the App Store, scam apps with fake ratings not only can cheat users out of millions of dollars, they reduce consumer trust in the App Store and Apple itself, which has longer-term consequences for the ecosystem health. What’s unclear, however, is why Apple is seemingly trying to solve the App Review issues using forms — to report fraud (and now, to appeal rulings, too) when it’s becoming apparent that Apple needs a more systematic way of keeping tabs on the app ecosystem beyond the initial review process.

Notifications overhaul

The App Store discovery updates mentioned above also matter more because developers may need to reduce their reliance on notifications to send users back into their apps. Indeed, iOS 15 users will be able to choose which apps they don’t need to hear from right away — these will be rounded up into a new Notification Summary that arrives on a schedule they configure, where Siri intelligence helps determine which apps get a top spot. If an app was already struggling to re-engage users through push notifications, getting relegated to the end of a summary is not going to help matters.

And users can “Send to Summary” right from the Lock Screen notification itself in addition to the existing options to “Deliver Quietly” or be turned off. That  means any ill-timed push could be an app developer’s last.

Image Credits: Apple

Meanwhile, the clever new “Focus” modes let iOS users configure different quiet modes for work, play, sleeping and more, each with their own set of rules and even their own home screens. But making this work across the app ecosystem will require developer adoption of four “interruption levels,” ranging from passive to critical. A new episode of a fav show should be a “passive” notification, for example. “Active” is the default setting — which doesn’t get to break into Focus. “Time sensitive” notifications should be reserved for alerting to more urgent matters, like a delivery that’s arrived on your doorstep or an account security update. These may be able to break through Focus, if allowed.

Image Credits: Apple

“Critical” notifications would be reserved for emergencies, like severe weather alerts or local safety updates. While there is a chance developers may abuse the new system to get their alert through, they risk users silencing their notifications entirely or deleting the app. Focus mode users will be power users and more technically savvy, so they’ll understand that an errant notification here was a choice and not a mistake on the developer’s part.

Image Credits: Apple

Augmented Reality

Apple has been steadily pushing out more tools for building augmented reality apps, but this WWDC it just introduced a huge update that will make it easier for developers getting started with AR. With the launch of RealityKit 2, Apple’s new Object Capture API will allow developers to create 3D models in minutes using only an iPhone or iPad (or a DSLR or drone if they choose).

Explains Apple this will address one of the most difficult parts of making great AR apps, which was the process of creating 3D models. Before, this could take hours and cost thousands of dollars — now, developers with just an iPhone and Mac can participate. The impacts of this update will be seen in the months and years ahead, as developers adopt the new tools for things like AR shopping, games and other AR experiences — including ones we may not have seen yet, but are enabled by more accessible AR technology tools and frameworks.

SharePlay

This update is unexpected and interesting, despite missing what would have been an ideal launch window: mid-pandemic back in 2020. With SharePlay, developers can bring their apps into what Apple is calling “Group Activities” — or shared experiences that take place right inside FaceTime.

If you were co-watching Hulu with friends during the pandemic, you get the idea. But Apple isn’t tacking on some co-viewing system here. Instead, it’s introducing new APIs that let users listen to music, stream video or screen share with friends, in a way that feels organic to FaceTime. There was a hint of serving the locked-down COVID-19 pandemic crowd with this update, as Apple talks about making people feel as if they’re “in the same room” — a nod to those many months where that was not possible. And that may have inspired the changes, to be sure. Similarly, FaceTime’s support for Android and scheduled calls — a clear case of Zoom envy — feels like a case of playing catch-up on Apple’s part.

Image Credits: Apple

The immediate demand for these sorts of experiences may be dulled by a population that’s starting to recover from the pandemic — people are now going out and seeing others in person again thanks to vaccines. But the ability to use apps while FaceTime’ing has a lifespan that extends beyond the COVID era, particularly among iPhone’s youngest users. The demographic growing up with smartphones at ever-younger ages don’t place phone calls — they text and FaceTime. Some argue Gen Z even prefers the latter.

Image Credits: Apple

With its immediate support for Apple services like Apple Music and Apple TV+, SharePlay will hit the ground running — but it will only fully realize its vision with developer adoption. But such a system seems possibly only because of Apple’s tight control over its platform. It also gives a default iOS app a big advantage over third-parties.

More

There were, of course, hundreds of updates announced this week, like Spatial audio, Focus modes, AirPods updates, iPadOS improvements (widgets! multi-tasking), Health updates, iCloud+ with Private Relay, watchOS improvements, Spotlight’s upgrade, macOS 12 Monterey (with Continuity with Universal Control), HomePod updates, StoreKit 2, Screen Time APIs, ShazamKit, App Clips improvements, Photos improvements and others.

Many, however, were iterative updates — like a better version Apple Maps, for example, or Siri support for third-party devices. Others are Apple’s attempt to catch up with competitors, like the Google Lens-like “Live Text” update for taking action on things snapped in your photos. The more significant changes, however, aren’t yet here — like the plan to add Driver’s Licenses to Wallet and the plan to shift to passwordless authentication systems. These will change how we use devices for years to come.

Weekly News

Platforms: Google

✨ Not to be outdone by WWDC (ha), Google this week launched Android 12, beta 2. This release brings more of the new features and design changes to users that weren’t yet available in the first beta which debuted at Google I/O. This includes the new privacy dashboard; the addition of the mic and camera indicators that show when an app is using those features; an indication when an app is reading from the clipboard; and a new panel that makes it easier to switch between internet providers or Wi-Fi networks.

Google also this week released its next Pixel feature drop which brought new camera and photo features, privacy features, Google Assistant improvements and more. Highlights included a way to create stargazing videos, a car crash detection feature and a way to answer or reject calls hands-free.

E-commerce

Pinterest wants to get more users clicking “buy.” The company this week added a new Shopping List feature which automatically organizes your saved Product Pins for easier access.

Augmented Reality

Google discontinued its AR-based app Measure, which had allowed users to measure things in the real world using the phone’s camera. The app had seen some stability and accuracy issues in the past.

Fintech

Facebook’s Messenger app added Venmo-like QR codes for person-to-person payments inside its app in the U.S. Users can scan the codes to send or request a payment, even if they’re not Facebook friends with the other party. Payments are sent over Facebook Pay, which is backed by a users’ credit card, debit card or a PayPal account.

Downloads of fintech apps are up 132% globally YoY according to an AppsFlyer marketing report.

Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey said Square is thinking about adding a bitcoin hardware wallet to its product lineup. The exec detailed some of the thinking behind the plan in a Twitter thread.

✨ Social: Creator Week recap

Instagram head Adam Mosseri said Facebook will help creators get around Apple’s 30% cut. While any transactions that take place in iOS will follow Apple’s rules, Mosseri said Facebook will look for other ways to help creators make a living where they don’t have to give up a portion of their revenue — like by connecting brands and creators offline or affiliate deals.

Related to this, Instagram announced during its Creator Week event it will start testing a native affiliate tool that will allow creators to recommend products and then earn commissions on those sales. Creators can also now link their merch shops to personal profiles instead of just business profiles, and by year-end, will be able to partner on merch and drops with companies like Bravado/UMG, Fanjoy, Represent and Spring.

Image Credits: Instagram

Instagram also rolled out a new “badge” for live videos which lets viewers tip creators, similar to Facebook’s Stars. Facebook also said paid online events, fan subscriptions, badges and its upcoming news products will remain free through 2023. And it rolled out new features and challenges to help creators earn additional payouts for hitting certain milestones.

Finally, Instagram in a blog post explained how its algorithm works. The post details how the app decides what to show users first, why some posts get more views than others, how Explore works and other topics.

Messaging

Giphy’s Clips (GIFs with sound) are now available in the Giphy iMessage app, instead of only on the web and in its iOS app. That means you can send the…uh, videos (??)…right from your keyboard.

Dating

Image Credits: Tinder

Match-owned dating app Tinder added a way for users to block contacts. The feature requires users grant the app permission to access the phone’s contacts database, which is a bit privacy-invasive. But then users can go through their contacts and check those they want to block on Tinder. The benefit is this would allow people to block exes and abusers. But on the downside, it permits cheating as users can block partners and those who might see them and report back.

Streaming & Entertainment

YouTube will allow creators to repurpose audio from existing YouTube videos as its “Shorts” product — basically, its TikTok competitor — rolls out to more global markets.

Gaming

Google’s cross-platform cloud gaming service Google Stadia is coming to Chromecast with Google TV and Android TV starting on June 23.

Roblox is generating estimated revenue of $3.01 million daily on iPhone, according to data from Finbold. Clash of Clans, Candy Crush Saga, Pokémon GO and others follow. Good thing if they have to pay up over that music usage lawsuit.

Image Credits: Finbold

Utilities

Apple-owned weather app Dark Sky, whose technology just powered a big iOS 15 revamp of Apple’s stock weather app, is not shutting down just yet. The company announced its iOS app, web app and API will remain online through the end of 2022, instead of 2021 as planned.

Productivity

Microsoft’s Outlook email app for iOS now lets you use your voice to write emails and schedule meetings. The feature leverages Cortana, and follows the launch of a Play My Emails feature inside Outlook Mobile.

Government & Policy

President Biden revoked and replaced Trump’s actions which had targeted Chinese apps, like TikTok and WeChat. The president signed a new executive order that requires the Commerce Dept. to review apps with ties to “foreign adversaries” that may pose national security risks. Trump had previously tried to ban the apps outright, but his order was blocked by federal courts.

Google has agreed to show more mobile search apps for users to choose from on new Android phones following feedback from the European Commission. The company had been showing a choice screen where app providers bid against each other for the slot, and pay only if users download apps. DuckDuckGo and others complained the solution has not been working.

Security & Privacy

Security flaws were found in Samsung’s stock mobile apps impacting some Galaxy devices. One could have allowed for data theft through the Secure Folder app. Samsung Knox security software could have been used to install malicious apps. And a bug in Samsung Dex could have scraped data from notifications. There are no indications users were impacted and the flaws were fixed.

An App Store analysis published by The Washington Post claims nearly 2% of the top grossing apps on one day were scam apps, which cost people $48 million. They included several VPN apps that told users their iPhones were infected with viruses, a QR code reader that tricked customers into a subscription for functionality that comes with an iPhone, and apps that pretend to be from big-name brands, like Amazon and Samsung.

Multiple apps were removed from the Chinese app store for violating data collection rules, Reuters reported. The apps hailed from Sogou, iFlytek and others, and included virtual keyboards.

Funding and M&A

💰Mexican payments app Clip raised $250 million from SoftBank’s Latin American Fund and Viking Global Investors, valuing the business at $2 billion. The app offers a Square-like credit card reader device and others, and has begun to offer cash advances to clients.

🤝 Shopify acqui-hires the team from the augmented reality home design app Primer. The app, which will be shut down, had allowed users to visualize what tile, wallpaper or paint will look like on surfaces inside their home.

💰 Singapore-based corporate services “super app” Osome raised $16 million in Series A funding. The app offers online accounting and other business services for SMBs. Investors include Target Global, AltaIR Capital, Phystech Ventures, S16VC and VC Peng T. Ong.

📈  Chinese grocery delivery app Dingdong Maicai, backed by Sequoia and Tiger Global, has filed for a U.S. IPO. To date, the company has raised $1 billion.

💰San Francisco-based MaintainX raised $39 million in Series B funding led by Bessemer Venture Partners for its mobile-first platform for industrial and frontline workers to help track maintenance, safety and operations.

💰Berlin’s Ada Health raised $90 million in Series B funding in a round led by Leaps by Bayer, the impact investment arm of Bayer AG. The app lets users monitor their symptoms and track their health and clinical data.

💰Photo app Dispo confirmed its previously leaked Series A funding, which earlier reports had pegged as being around $20 million. The app had been rebranded from David’s Disposable and dropped its association with YouTuber David Dobrik, following sexual assault allegations regarding a member of the Vlog Squad. Spark Capital severed ties with Dispo as a result. Seven Seven Six and Unshackled Ventures remained listed as investors, per Dispo’s press release, but the company didn’t confirm the size of the round.

💰Brazilian fintech Nubank raised a $750 million extension to its Series G (which was $400 million last year) led by Berkshire Hathaway. The company offers a digital bank account accessible from an app, debit card, payments, loans, insurance and more. The funding brings the company to a $1.15 billion valuation.

💰Seattle-based tutoring app Kadama raised $1.7 million in seed funding led by Grishin Robotics. The app, which offering an online tutoring marketplace aimed at Gen Z, rode the remote learning wave to No. 2 in the Education category on the App Store.

📈  Mark Cuban-based banking app Dave, which helps Americans build financial stability, is planning to go public via a SPAC launched by Chicago-based Victory Park Capital called VPC Impact Acquisition Holdings III. It also includes a $210 million private investment from Tiger Global Management.

🤝  Mobile game publisher Voodoo acquired Tel Aviv-based marketing automation platform Bidshake for an undisclosed sum. Launched in January 2020, Bidshake combines data aggregation and analytics with campaign and creative management. It will continue to operate independently.

Downloads

Turntable — tt.fm

Image Credits: tt.fm on iPhone/Brian Heater

Newly launched music social network tt.fm is a Turntable.fm rival that lets you virtually hang out with friends while listening to music. To be clear, the app is not the same as Turntable.fm, which shut down in 2013 but then returned during the pandemic as people looked to connect online. While that Turntable was rebirthed by its founder Billy Chasen, Turntable – tt.fm hails from early Turntable.fm employee, now tt.fm CEO Joseph Perla. But as live events are coming back, the question now may be not which Turntable app to choose, but whether the Turnable.fm experience has missed the correct launch window…again.

SketchAR

SketchAR

SketchAR

The art app SketchAR previously offered artists tools to draw with AR, turn photos into AR, create AR masks for Snapchat, play games and more. With its latest update, artists can now turn their work into NFTs directly inside the app and sell it. The app, now used by nearly 500,000 users, will select a “Creator of the Week” to NFT on OpenSea. Others can create and auction their art as NFTs on-demand.

Tweets

#android, #android-apps, #app-stores, #apple, #apps, #ar, #augmented-reality, #creators, #developers, #facebook, #google, #instagram, #ios, #ios-apps, #ipad, #ipados, #mobile, #swift, #tc, #this-week-in-apps, #wwdc, #wwdc-2021, #xcode