Samsung unveils Exynos 2200 with Xclipse GPU, based on AMD RDNA2 architecture

exynos 2200

Samsung  today unveiled the Exynos 2200, its latest flagship chipset that will power  Galaxy S22 smartphones in certain regions. The new platform is based on  4nm EUV process technology and comes with a custom GPU called Xclipse.

 It is based on the AMD RDNA2 architecture and as such is a “single hybrid graphics processor” that offers advanced features such as ray tracing and variable rate shading on mobile devices, the first smartphone chip to do so. Ray tracing is a technology that simulates how light behaves in real life, calculating the motion and color of objects as light rays bounce off surfaces.

 The hardware-accelerated feature offers realistic effects and immersive graphics, making playing games that support these features as great as it looks. Variable rate shading is another technology implemented in PC and console games. Developers apply lesser shading to areas where quality is not compromised, improving frame rate and smooth gameplay.

Exynos 2200 is also one of the first chips to integrate ARMv9 CPU cores. The octa-core processor features a single powerful CortexX2 core, three CortexA710 cores that balance performance and efficiency, and four small CortexA510  cores for power efficiency. 

Traditionally, Samsung does not disclose the frequency of its chips are cloaked at. The new GPU and upgraded CPU also have a more powerful NPU to keep them company. Compared to the Exynos 2100, the performance has been doubled and allows more calculations in parallel, improving the overall performance of the AI. 

The chipset is powered by the latest LPDDR5 RAM and UFS 3.1 storage. The 5G modem works on both sub-6GHz and mmWave frequencies, while the global navigation system is compatible with all major standards and satellites. Samsung said the Exynos 2200 is “currently in mass production”. We’ll see the Galaxy S22 lineup with the chip, but rumors point to February 8th as a possible launch date.

#mobile

Oppo’s next flagship leaks with OnePlus-esque Hasselblad branding

Oppo find x5
Image Credit: Onleaks


 Details about Oppo’s next flagship  are starting to gather. Multiple leaks suggest it will be called the Find X5 Pro, with a similar design to last year’s Find X3 Pro and specs broadly in line with the new OnePlus 10 Pro, now available in China. (OnePlus is now, of course,  treated as an Oppo sub-brand. 


The Find X3 Pro wasn’t sold in the US, but it made its way to Europe and was one of the best phones of 2021. Renderings recently released by OnLeaks show a device with a camera hump that flows into the rest of the rear much like the Find X3 Pro, although the camera setup has changed and doesn’t appear to include the previous phone’s unique ring light accoutrement, which features a ‘microscope’ camera.


Alleged real photos confirming the OnLeaks renders have also now surfaced online, showing a white Hasselblad branded model of the phone, just like recent OnePlus flagships. There’s also a photo of the device’s settings menu, stating that  it has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, like the OnePlus 10 Pro, as well as Oppo’s own new chip, the MariSilicon X. This is an NPU used for image processing . It was announced  alongside Oppo’s Air Glass AR device late last year. 

There are other specs  floating around on Chinese social media channels that can’t be verified but don’t sound very surprising, like the OnePlus 10 Pro. Both of Oppo’s previous  Find X flagships were announced in March, for which we should get official details pretty soon.

#mobile

Google Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro ready to fire on all cylinders as January OTA update brings dozens of vital fixes

Google pixel 6 6 pro
 Image Credit: Eric Zeman/ Android        Authority

The January OTA pack for  Google Pixel 6 (“oropiole”) and Google Pixel 6 Pro (“raven”) has started rolling out. The software update brings fixes from December and January that should help  Pixel 6 series smartphones run at full speed after numerous bugs and problems seemed to affect the functionality.


Google has revealed that the January software update for the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro is now available as factory images and full OTA images via the Google Play services website (12.0.0 (SQ1D.220105.007), Jan 2022 – specific device/images links can be found in “sources” below). Those who prefer to wait for the OTA package to arrive with a “check for update” notification may start receiving the update from Monday January 17 onwards according to a report from 9to5Google. The list of fixes for the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro in the December and January patches is extensive and an installation should help relieve some of the serious teething issues users have experienced.


We recently reported on Google’s flagship smartphones being criticized for their flaws, including a scathing comment from tech blogger Marques Brownlee who claimed he would return to his Galaxy S21 Ultra for now. However, it looks like it’s ready to give the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro another chance as it’s been busy downloading the software update (215MB of fixes in this particular case, presumably  from November) . Google took a lot of flak when the December update appeared to leave many Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro phones with critical issues like signal reception issues. Also, many users have complained about the battery drain issue in cellular network standby mode and the slow fingerprint sensor.


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Browsing through the list of fixes (see drop-down element “changelog” below for full list) one can find several for battery and charging and for network and telephony. One of these is “general improvements for network connection stability and performance”, which will hopefully alleviate two of the more serious issues mentioned above. There are fixes for biometrics too, with a “general improvements” update coming for the fingerprint sensor. While it’s unlikely every single problem with the Pixel 6 or Pixel 6 Pro can be fixed with this December/January OTA package, it does seem that Google is at least paying attention to the growing din of complaints about the new Pixel phones and doing something proactive about the situation.

Buy The Google Pixel 6 Pro On Amazon

Buy the Google Pixel 6 on Amazon


Source: NoteBook Check

#mobile

Samsung appears set to launch the Galaxy S22 on February 8

Image Credit:Letsgodigital

Samsung’s launch plans over the past two years have been unusual, but it looks like the company’s next flagship could be a return to normal. According to a new rumor, the Galaxy S22 launch date could be February 8.


Korean media outlet DDaily.co.kr reports that Samsung is planning a launch event for its Galaxy S22 series on February 8. The outlet claims that Samsung has “confirmed” the date with “Galaxy Unpacked 2022” to be held virtually online. 

Invitations would be sent out later this month, but it’s unclear whether there will be an in-person component for the launch, but MWC 2022 could open the door to in-person screenings later this month. 

To this day, MWC 2022 is still  to be held in person in Barcelona from February 28 to March 3. Apparently, pre-orders for the Galaxy S22, S22 +, and S22 Ultra will begin on February 9, with sales starting February 24. 

That’s about a month after the Galaxy S21 series debuted – that series arrived on January 29 for general sale. The Galaxy Tab S8 series is expected to arrive alongside the Galaxy S22, with three variants including a large Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra.

#mobile

OnePlus 10 Pro finally launches in China with full specs and details

Renders of the OnePlus 10 Pro phone in Emerald Forest and Volcanic Black colors. The phone was officially revealed on January 11, 2022.(Photo:-OnePlus)

After giving details on its new flagship phone  last week, OnePlus has finally unveiled the OnePlus 10 Pro in China.

Even now, there are still a few things in the mystery, like the introductory price when it goes on sale in China on January 13 or when it is available elsewhere (OnePlus has  said it will only be launched globally. ‘in 2022). But what we do know is that with powerful specs and sharp cameras, the OnePlus 10 Pro could be one of the best phones to release in 2022.

These details OnePlus dropped up until now confirmed that the OnePlus 10 Pro would pack the new Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chipset and run on the company’s OxygenOS 12 (based on Android 12), which folds in “feature-rich” parts of Oppo’s ColorOS for the first time. 


That’s still true and we now know the phone will pack the Snapdragon X65 modem, which supports more 5G networks, frequencies and bandwidths along with increasing the maximum download speeds to 10Gbps. While you probably won’t hit that cap with today’s carriers, the new X65 should provide faster and more consistent 5G speeds. The OnePlus 10 Pro also will have up to 12GB of LPDDR5 RAM and up to 256GB of UFS 3.1 storage, which are the same specs as last year’s OnePlus 9 Pro.


The 6.7-inch OLED display is the same size as its predecessor’s. It has a maximum 120Hz refresh rate that makes browsing the internet or gaming very smooth, though it adaptively cranks the rate down to even 1Hz (or one frame per second) during low-demand tasks to save battery life. The phone comes in two colors: a seafoam

OnePlus has confirmed that its new phone will inherit last year’s rear camera setup, too: a 48-megapixel main camera, an 8-megapixel telephoto camera and a 50-megapixel ultrawide camera with a maximum 150-degree field of view. The 10 Pro will get an improved 32-megapixel camera, which should take sharper photos than the 16-megapixel selfie camera on its predecessor.


As the second generation of OnePlus phones to have Hasselblad-tuned-cameras, the OnePlus 10 Pro’s photo capabilities have been refined in a handful of ways. First is an improved Pro Mode that takes photos in 12-bit RAW+, a new format that combines the rich data capture of RAW with on-device image processing to give shots more accurate colors.
When taking more casual photos, all three rear cameras have 10-bit color for over 1 billion possible hues.

Hasselblad’s influence is also visible in Master Mode, which features three filters refined by professional photographers and artists that make shooting fashion, wildlife and urban spaces  more stylized and unique. For videos, the new Movie mode lets you change settings like ISO, shutter speed, and white balance even while recording for precise control over focus and lighting.

The 10 Pro’s 5,000mAh battery is the largest of a OnePlus flagship phone, but it’s the 80-watt wired charging that will set it apart from the competition.


The company claims it will bring the phone from 1% up to full charge in a very  32 specific minutes. The phone also supports wireless charging up to 50 watts, which will charge a  nearly dead phone in 47 minutes, OnePlus estimates.

 
On paper, the OnePlus 10 Pro appears to be a serious contender for the best phones in 2022, although it will have to wait until we can test it at an undetermined later date at a price not yet announced.

 

#mobile

BlackBerry 5G smartphone with physical keyboard officially confirmed for launch again

BlackBerry, 5g
Image Credit: TCL

OnwardMobility, owner of the BlackBerry brand, has now reiterated its commitment to provide a BlackBerry 5G  smartphone with a physical keyboard. 

“Contrary to popular belief, we are not dead,” the company said.

OnwardMobility, early last year after acquiring the BlackBerry brand, announced that it is working on a new BlackBerry phone that offers both 5G and a physical keyboard. While no such phone was launched in 2021, the company is back with a reiteration of that promise.

The US-based company has proclaimed it is not dead and still has plans to release a BlackBerry 5G  device this year. The company attributes the lack of a launch in 2021 to the “various delays” it has exp

While there are already concept renderings of the phone, there is little  information on how exactly it looks. We expect it to primarily retain the KEY2 form factor, but with a modernized outlook. We will be sure to keep you updated.

 

#mobile

Why is Zynga worth a whopping $12.7 billion? (Hint: It’s not FarmVille)

The company that publishes <em>Grand Theft Auto</em> now owns all of these goofballs, too...

Enlarge / The company that publishes Grand Theft Auto now owns all of these goofballs, too… (credit: Zynga)

Major console game publisher Take-Two has acquired social and mobile gaming giant Zynga for a whopping $12.7 billion in cash and stock, marking the deal the largest acquisition of a single gaming company in history.

That might seem like a ludicrous price if your familiarity with Zynga is limited to FarmVille, CityVille, and other Zynga games that came to dominate the “social gaming” fad of the early 2010s (and led to the creation of some excellent books, if I do say so myself). But while the original FarmVille merely limped along until 2010, Zynga has successfully transitioned into a casual mobile gaming powerhouse by spending billions of dollars on acquisitions like Gram Games (1010) and Small Giant Games (Empire & Puzzles) in 2018, as well as Peak Games (Toon Blast) and Rollic (Go Knots 3D) in 2020. Last year, the company even dipped into PC games with the acquisition of Torchlight studio Echtra Games.

With those companies gathered under the Zynga umbrella, the company now attracts over 168 million monthly users and made $706 million in revenue in the latest reporting quarter.

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#gaming-culture, #mobile, #take-two, #zynga

Samsung teases Exynos 2200 with AMD’s RDNA 2 graphics coming January 11th

Samsung

Image Credit:Samsung

Samsung has commenced teasing its subsequent flagship cellphone SoC — predicted to be known as the Exynos 2200 — in advance of a January eleventh statement with a tantalizing tidbit of information: the brand new chipset will function a GPU powered through AMD’s RDNA 2 pics architecture, higher regarded for powering the subsequent-gen pics at the Xbox Series X, PlayStation 5, and AMD’s RX 6000-collection pics cards.

Of course, for the reason that the Exynos 2200 may be powering a cellphone, the brand new GPU won’t be magically allowing subsequent-gen pics on par with the maximum effective consoles and gaming PCs.

But it probable will allow a few upgrades in pics, along with something different improve Samsung has up its sleeve for its modern flagship chip.

A successor to the 2021 Exynos 2100, the Exynos 2200 is expected to power some of Samsung’s top performing phones in 2022, including the alleged Galaxy S22 and S22 Ultra. Limited to international models of their upcoming flagships, with the US variants presumably configured for the recently announced Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chipset from Qualcomm.

Fortunately, we don’t have to wait long for more details on the Exynos 2200 (or whatever Samsung calls it) as the company promises an official debut on January 11th.

#mobile

Firefox 94 for iOS and Android adds new features for bookmarks and tabs

Mozilla's current logo for Firefox.

Enlarge / Mozilla’s current logo for Firefox. (credit: Mozilla)

Today, Mozilla updated the mobile versions of its Firefox web browser on iOS and Android with an overhauled home page and a new tab management feature.

Mozilla wrote in a blog post today announcing the update that the mobile version of the browser is specifically designed for “on-the-go, short bursts of online interactions that are constantly interrupted by life.”

To that end, the new update seeks to make it easier to jump into previously abandoned or uninterrupted content. There’s a new “jump back in” feature that lets you go directly to your last opened tab.

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#android, #firefox, #firefox-94, #ios, #mobile, #mozilla, #pocket, #tech, #web-browser

OnePlus Co-Founder Might Release A New Android Phone In 2022

2022 could be an exciting year for Android fans, as a new rumor suggests OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei is creating a ‘Nothing‘ smartphone. Any longtime OnePlus followers will know the company has taken a few big shifts in recent years. While OnePlus started out as an enthusiast brand focused on big specs and low prices, it’s in a very different place today. Carl Pei left the company in October 2020, OnePlus is preparing to merge its OxygenOS platform with Oppo’s ColorOS, and its product lineup is now very reminiscent of any other major smartphone brand.

Shortly after departing OnePlus last year, Carl Pei announced his own tech company called ‘Nothing.’ Nothing’s first product ended up being a pair of true wireless earbuds — called the Nothing Ear (1). The earbuds didn’t receive perfect reviews, but they were mostly praised for delivering good audio, a stunning design, and a competitive price. Now, Nothing is getting ready to set its sights on something much bigger.

According to a new report from 91Mobiles, Nothing is preparing to launch its first Android-powered smartphone in early 2022. The report doesn’t go into great detail about the device, simply stating that the site has “exclusively learned from noted tipster Mukul Sharma that Nothing will launch its first phone.” It’s also teased that Nothing will release the Nothing Power (1) battery bank “in the next few weeks,” but all attention is obviously on the rumored smartphone.

Although this report doesn’t share any concrete details about the Nothing phone, it’s not hard to imagine what it could entail. If the Ear (1) earbuds are any indication of Nothing’s hardware ambitions, a phone from the company could be really beautiful. Nothing’s earbuds are lightweight, comfy to wear, and their transparent design with neatly packed internals is beyond impressive. If Nothing’s phone manages to offer that same mix of practicality with a unique aesthetic, it could have a strong design lead over much of the competition. It’s also safe to assume the Android experience of the Nothing phone would be reminiscent of the old OxygenOS — that’s to say, a stock-like interface, robust customization options, and select few feature add-ons to keep it lightweight.

It’s certainly fun to speculate about Carl Pei returning to the smartphone space, but how much weight does this rumor actually carry? There’s actually a bit to it. Don’t forget that Nothing acquired Essential back in February — a purchase that included all of the latter company’s trademarks, logos, and other branding material. While Essential was short-lived, the Essential PH1 was a pretty solid Android handset. The company also teased its Project GEM successor in late 2019, though it was ultimately scrapped following Essential’s quick demise. Nothing also announced earlier this week a $50 million partnership with Qualcomm. In a press release, Nothing says the funds will be used for “research and development in preparation for the brand’s entry into new product categories as part of its ecosystem.”

It’s entirely possible this report is inaccurate and a Nothing smartphone doesn’t exist. However, all signs are currently pointing to the opposite being true. If the rumored Nothing phone is real, 91Mobiles says to expect “teasers and reports” coming in the next few weeks.

Source: 91Mobiles, Nothing

#mobile

Researchers Find Android Phones Still Track You, Even When You Opt Out

fingerprint

PhotoLeon Neal (Getty Images)

 If you use an Android phone and are (rightfully!) worried about digital privacy, you’ve probably taken care of the basics already. You’ve deleted the snoopiest of the snoopy apps, opted out of tracking whenever possible, and taken all of the other precautions the popular how-to privacy guides have told you to. The bad news—and you might want to sit down for this—is that none of those steps are enough to be fully free of trackers.

Or at least, that’s the thrust of a new paper from researchers at Trinity College in Dublin who took a look at the data-sharing habits of some popular variants of Android’s OS, including those developed by Samsung, Xiaomi, and Huawei. According to the researchers, “with little configuration” right out of the box and when left sitting idle, these devices would incessantly ping back device data to the OS’s developers and a slew of selected third parties. And what’s worse is that there’s often no way to opt out of this data-pinging, even if users want to.

A lot of the blame here, as the researchers point out, fall on so-called “system apps.” These are apps that come pre-installed by the hardware manufacturer on a certain device in order to offer a certain kind of functionality: a camera or messages app are examples. Android generally packages these apps into what’s known as the device’s “read only memory” (ROM), which means you can’t delete or modify these apps without, well, rooting your device. And until you do, the researchers found they were constantly sending device data back to their parent company and more than a few third parties—even if you never opened the app at all.

Here’s an example: Let’s say you own a Samsung device that happens to be packaged with some Microsoft bloatware pre-installed, including (ugh) LinkedIn. Even though there’s a good chance you’ll never open LinkedIn for any reason, that hard-coded app is constantly pinging back to Microsoft’s servers with details about your device. In this case, it’s so-called “telemetry data,” which includes details like your device’s unique identifier, and the number of Microsoft apps you have installed on your phone. This data also gets shared with any third-party analytics providers these apps might have plugged in, which typically means Google, since Google Analytics is the reigning king of all the analytics tools out there.

Data Collecting chart

As for the hard-coded apps that you might actually open every once in a while, even more data gets sent with every interaction. The researchers caught Samsung Pass, for example, sharing details like timestamps detailing when you were using the app, and for how long, with Google Analytics. Ditto for Samsung’s Game Launcher, and every time you pull up Samsung’s virtual assistant, Bixby.

Samsung isn’t alone here, of course. The Google messaging app that comes pre-installed on phones from Samsung competitor Xiaomi was caught sharing timestamps from every user interaction with Google Analytics, along with logs of every time that user sent a text. Huawei devices were caught doing the same. And on devices where Microsoft’s SwiftKey came pre-installed, logs detailing every time the keyboard was used in another app or elsewhere on the device were shared with Microsoft, instead.

We’ve barely scratched the surface here when it comes to what each app is doing on every device these researchers looked into, which is why you should check out the paper or, better yet, check out our handy guide on spying on Android’s data-sharing practices yourself. But for the most part, you’re going to see data being shared that looks pretty, well, boring: event logs, details about your device’s hardware (like model and screen size), along with some sort of identifier, like a phone’s hardware serial number and mobile ad identifier, or “AdID.”

On their own, none of these data points can identify your phone as uniquely yours, but taken together, they form a unique “fingerprint” that can be used to track your device, even if you try to opt out. The researchers point out that while Android’s advertising ID is technically resettable, the fact that apps are usually getting it bundled with more permanent identifiers means that these apps—and whatever third parties they’re working with—will know who you are anyway. The researchers found this was the case with some of the other resettable IDs offered by Samsung, Xiaomi, Realme, and Huawei.

To its credit, Google does have a few developer rules meant to hinder particularly invasive apps. It tells devs that they can’t connect a device’s unique ad ID with something more persistent (like that device’s IMEI, for example) for any sort of ad-related purpose. And while analytics providers are allowed to do that linking, they can only do it with a user’s “explicit consent.”

“If reset, a new advertising identifier must not be connected to a previous advertising identifier or data derived from a previous advertising identifier without the explicit consent of the user,” Google explains on a separate page detailing these dev policies. “You must abide by a user’s ‘Opt out of Interest-based Advertising’ or ‘Opt out of Ads Personalization’ setting. If a user has enabled this setting, you may not use the advertising identifier for creating user profiles for advertising purposes or for targeting users with personalized advertising.”

It’s worth pointing out that Google puts no rules on whether developers can collect this information, just what they’re allowed to do with it after it’s collected. And because these are pre-installed apps that are often stuck on your phone, the researchers found that they were often allowed to side-step user’s privacy explicit opt-out settings by just… chugging along in the background, regardless of whether or not that user opened them. And with no easy way to delete them, that data collection’s going to keep on happening (and keep on happening) until that phone’s owner either gets creative with rooting or throws their device into the ocean.

Google, when asked about this un-opt-out-able data collection by the folks over at BleepingComputer, responded that this is simply “how modern smartphones work”:

As explained in our Google Play Services Help Center article, this data is essential for core device services such as push notifications and software updates across a diverse ecosystem of devices and software builds. For example, Google Play services uses data on certified Android devices to support core device features. Collection of limited basic information, such as a device’s IMEI, is necessary to deliver critical updates reliably across Android devices and apps.

Which sounds logical and reasonable, but the study itself proves that it’s not the whole story. As part of the study, the team looked into a device outfitted with /e/OS, a privacy-focused open-source operating system that’s been pitched as a “deGoogled” version of Android. This system swaps Android’s baked-in apps—including the Google Play store—with free and open source equivalents that users can access with no Google account required. And wouldn’t you know it, when these devices were left idle, they sent “no information to Google or other third parties,” and “essentially no information” to /e/’s devs themselves.

In other words, this aforementioned tracking hellscape is clearly only inevitable if you feel like Google’s presence on your phones is inevitable, too. Let’s be honest here—it kind of is for most Android users. So what’s a Samsung user to do, besides, y’know, get tracked?

Well, you can get lawmakers to care, for starters. The privacy laws we have on the books today—like GDPR in the EU, and the CCPA in the U.S.—are almost exclusively built to address the way tech companies handle identifiable forms of data, like your name and address. So-called “anonymous” data, like your device’s hardware specs or ad ID, typically falls through the cracks in these laws, even though they can typically be used to identify you regardless. And if we can’t successfully demand an overhaul of our country’s privacy laws, then maybe one of the many massive antitrust suits Google’s staring down right now will eventually get the company to put a cap in some of these invasive practices.

#9to5mac, #mobile

Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney calls out Apple for promoting its services in the iPhone Settings screen

Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney, whose high-profile antitrust lawsuit against Apple is now under appeal, is today calling out the iPhone maker for giving itself access to an advertising slot its competitors don’t have: the iPhone’s Settings screen. Some iOS 15 users noticed Apple is now advertising its own services at the top of their Settings, just below their Apple ID. The services being suggested are personalized to the device owner, based on which ones they already subscribe to, it appears.

For example, those without an Apple Music subscription may see an ad offering a free six-month trial. However, current Apple Music subscribers may instead see a prompt to add on a service they don’t yet have, like AppleCare coverage for their devices.

Sweeney suggests this sort of first-party advertising is an anticompetitive risk for Apple, as some of the services it’s pushing here are those that directly compete with third-party apps published on its App Store. But those third-party apps can’t gain access to the iPhone’s Settings screen, of course — they can only bid for ad slots within the App Store itself.

Writes Sweeney: “New from the guys who banned Fortnite: settings-screen ads for their own music service, which come before the actual settings, and which aren’t available to other advertisers like Spotify or Sound Cloud.”

Sweeney had been retweeting another post by Mobile Dev Memo analyst Eric Seufert, who himself was sharing an image credited to Glassfy co-founder Francesco Zucchetta.

Zucchetta tells TechCrunch he spotted the ad on an iPhone 8 he owned which was running iOS 15. But others have seen the ads on newer devices, as well. And some respondents noted they were receiving Apple’s promotions as push notifications, too.

The issue here is tricky because the promotion isn’t always a situation where Apple is disadvantaging a rival to its own benefit.

For example, on an iPhone 13 Pro Max we have which is running iOS 15.1, the prompt was used to inform us we still had a certain number of days left to add AppleCare+ coverage. (We already have most of Apple’s other subscriptions.). But in this case, there aren’t third-party apps offering a direct competitor to AppleCare, in the same way that Spotify directly competes with Apple Music. Instead, warranty companies like Asurion partner with mobile carriers like AT&T and Verizon to sell their iPhone insurance plans, instead of selling direct to consumers through the App Store.

Some might even argue that a reminder to add warranty coverage is a useful feature, not an unwanted intrusion.

While Sweeney’s tweet has raised awareness of the first-party promotions in Settings, they are not new.

Apple has often used the iPhone’s Settings screen to market its services to its customers in much of the same way as it’s doing now.

Last year, for example, it was spotted running promotions for Apple Arcade,

But regulators today are taking a closer look at platforms and how they’re using or abusing their market power. Google is currently appealing a record penalty in the EU for its requirement that device manufacturers preinstall Google’s suite of apps with the phones they sell. Samsung, meanwhile, said it would stop running ads in its first-party apps on Galaxy devices. (It had displayed ads for other companies and those that promoted its own products, at times.)

Epic Games didn’t have any further comments on Sweeney’s tweet, including whether or not the company would be using this latest bit of information in its upcoming appeal. Apple has been asked for comment but has not responded.

 

#mobile

Netflix brings its shuffle mode feature, ‘Play Something,’ to Android users worldwide

 

netflix


image credit:Netflix

Netflix is today officially launching a new feature for its Android users that will make it easier to find something to watch when you can’t make a decision. The feature, called “Play Something,” is a shuffle mode option that will play another movie or show Netflix believes you may like, based on your interests and your prior viewing behavior.

These selections may include a movie or show you’re already watching but haven’t completed, a movie or show on your watch list or a brand-new series or film that Netflix’s personalization algorithms suggest, among other things.

The feature had been in development for some time before its public release. Last year, for example, Netflix was testing it as “Shuffle Play.” And in its Q4 2020 earnings, Netflix said it would roll out its shuffle mode to users worldwide during the first half of 2021, describing it as a way to “instantly watch a title” that was chosen just for the user.

Dad stop embarrassing me-netflix


That rollout schedule was partially realized.

“Play Something,” as the feature was rebranded to, officially launched to worldwide users on Netflix’s TV app back in April. Here, the option can be found in several places, including on the profile selection screen underneath your profile name, on the navigation menu to the left of your screen and on the tenth row on your Netflix homepage — a location that’s meant to appear right at the point where you’re beginning to get frustrated with browsing and may have otherwise exited the app. In addition, Netflix users with screen-readers could also use Text-to-Speech (TTS) to use “Play Something.”

The company said at the time it would soon start testing the feature on mobile devices, starting with Android. It then began those tests in late May.

In other words, you may very well have had the feature on your own Android device long before this “official” debut — but not all Netflix users globally have been able to try it yet.

That’s now changing, as Netflix is officially bringing “Play Something” to all Android mobile devices worldwide, with the rollout that starts today. The company says it will test the feature on iOS in the “coming months.”

On mobile, the “Play Something” button hovers over the content at the bottom of the phone’s screen as you scroll and also has its own dedicated tab in the app.

Us english-netflix


User response to the addition, so far, has been positive, Netflix noted — even pointing to a few tweets where people praised the feature.

But for Netflix, the shuffle mode feature isn’t only about giving users another, easier way to watch — it’s a means of retaining users in the app before they jump to another entertainment option, whether that’s a rival streamer or even a social media app for video, like TikTok.

In fact, the threat from short-form video is serious enough that Netflix recently built its own TikTok-like feature for its mobile app called “Fast Laughs,” which shows a feed of comedy videos meant to drive users to its content. Putting harder numbers to this potential threat, TikTok, at an event last week, noted that 35% of its users were watching less TV due to TikTok, citing data from its own research.

“Play Something” joins other newer additions as well, including a smart downloads feature called “Downloads for You” and support for partial play downloads, as well as last year’s addition of the Top 10 list.

#mobile

PayPal launches its ‘super app’ combining payments, savings, bill pay, crypto, shopping and more

PayPal has been talking about its “super app” plans for some time, having recently told investors its upcoming digital wallet and payments app had been given a go for launch. Today, the first version of that app is officially being introduced, offering a combination of financial tools including direct deposit, bill pay, a digital wallet, peer-to-peer payments, shopping tools, crypto capabilities and more. The company is also announcing its partnership with Synchrony Bank for its new high-yield savings account, PayPal Savings.

These changes shift PayPal from being largely a payments utility that’s tacked on other offerings here and there, to being a more fully fleshed out finance app. Though PayPal itself doesn’t aim to be a “bank,” the new app offers a range of competitive features for those considering shifting their finances to neobanks, like Chime or Varo, as it will now also include support for paycheck Direct Deposits through PayPal’s bank partners, bill pay and more.

By enabling direct deposit, PayPal users can get paid up to two days earlier, which is one of the bigger draws among those considering digital banking apps over traditional banks.

In addition to shifting their paychecks to Payal, customers’ PayPal funds can then be used for things that are a part of daily life, like paying their bills, saving or shopping, for example.

The enhanced bill pay feature lets customers track, view and pay bills from thousands of companies, including utilities, TV and internet, insurance, credit cards, phone and more, PayPal says. When bill pay first arrived earlier this year, it offered access to (single-digit) thousands of billers. Now, it will support around 17,000 billers. Customers can also discover billers through an improved, intelligent search feature, set reminders to be notified of upcoming bills and schedule automatic payments for bills they have to pay on a regular basis. The bills don’t have to only be paid from funds currently in the PayPal account, but can be paid through any eligible funding source that’s already linked to their PayPal account.

Via a Synchrony Bank partnership, PayPal Savings will offer a high-yield savings account with a 0.40% Annual Percentage Yield (APY), which is more than six times the national average of 0.06%, the company says. However, that’s lower than top rivals in the digital banking market offer, like Chime (0.50%), Varo (starts at 0.20%, but users can qualify to get 3.00% APY), Marcus (0.50%), Ally (0.50%), ONE (1.00% or 3.00% on Auto-Save transactions), and others. However, the rate may appeal to those who are switching from a traditional bank, where rates tend to be lower.

PayPal believes its high-yield offering will be able to compete not based on the APY alone, but on the strength of its combined offerings.

Image Credits: PayPal

“We know that about half of customers in the United States don’t even have a savings account, much less one with a very competitive rate,” notes PayPal SVP of Consumer, Julian King. “So all in all, we think that by bringing together the full set of solutions on the platform, it’s a really competitive offering for an individual.”

The app has also been reorganized to accommodate the new features and those yet to come.

It now features a personalized dashboard offering an overview of the customer’s account. The wallet tab lets users manage Direct Deposits and connect funding sources like bank accounts and debit and credit cards alongside the ability to enroll in PayPal’s own debit, credit and cash cards. And a finance tab provides access to the high-yield savings and the previously available crypto capabilities, which allows users to buy, hold and sell Bitcoin, Ethereum, Bitcoin Cash and Litecoin.

The payments tab, meanwhile, will hold much of PayPal’s traditional feature set, including peer-to-peer payments, international remittances, charitable and nonprofit giving, plus now bill pay and a two-way messaging feature that allows users to request payments or say thank you after receiving a payment — whether that’s between friends and family or between merchants and customers. This addition could bring PayPal more in line with PayPal-owned Venmo, which already offers the ability to add notes to payments and make comments.

Messaging also ties into PayPal’s new Shopping hub, which is where the company is finally putting to good use its 2019 $4 billion Honey acquisition. Honey’s core features are now becoming a part of the PayPal mobile experience, including personalized deals and exclusive rewards.

Image Credits: PayPal

PayPal users will be able to browse the discounts and offers inside the app, then shop and transact through the in-app browser. The deals can be saved to the wallet for future use, so they can be applied if shopping later in the app or online. Customers will also be able to join a loyalty program, where they can earn cashback and PayPal shopping credit on their purchases. The company says these personalized deals will improve over time.

“We’ll use AI and [machine learning] capabilities to understand what kind of shopping deals are most interesting to customers and continue to develop that over time. They’ll just get smarter and smarter as the product gets more usage,” notes King. This will include using the data about the deals a customer likes, then bringing similar deals to them in the future.

Also new in the updated mobile app is the addition of PayPal’s crowdsourced fundraising platform, the Generosity Network, first launched late last year. The network is PayPal’s answer to GoFundMe or Facebook Fundraisers, by offering tools that allow individuals to raise money for themselves, others in need, or organizations like small businesses or charities. The network is also now expanding to international markets with Germany and the U.K. to start, with more countries to come.

As PayPal has said, the new app is laying the groundwork for other new products in the quarters to come. The biggest initiative on its roadmap is a plan to enter the investment space, to rival other mobile investing apps, like Robinhood. When this arrives, it will support the ability to buy stocks, fractional stocks and ETFs, PayPal says.

It will also later add support for paying with QR codes, like Venmo, and tools for using PayPal to save while in stores.

The updated app is rolling out starting today in the U.S. as a staggered release that will complete in the weeks ahead. However, PayPal Savings won’t be available immediately — it will arrive in the U.S. in the “coming months,” as will some of the shopping and rewards tools.

 

#apps, #finance, #mobile, #payments, #paypal, #tc

Netflix launches free plan in Kenya to boost growth

Netflix said on Monday it is launching a free mobile plan in Kenya as the global streaming giant looks to tap the East African nation that is home to over 20 million internet users.

The free plan, which will be rolled out to all users in Kenya in the coming weeks, won’t require them to provide any payment information during the sign-up, the company said. The new plan is available to any user aged 18 or above with an Android phone, the company said. It will also not include ads.

Netflix, available in over 190 countries, has experimented with a range of plans in recent years to lure customers in developing markets. For instance, it began testing a $3 mobile-only plan in India in 2018 — before expanding it to users in several other countries.

This is also not the first time Netflix is offering its service for free — or at little to no price. The company has previously supported free trials in many markets, offered a tiny portion of its original movies and shows to non-subscribers, and has run at least one campaign in India when the service was available at no charge over the course of a weekend.

But its latest offering in Kenya is still remarkable. The company told Reuters that it is making about one quarter of its movies and television shows catalog available to users in the free plan in the East African nation.

“If you’ve never watched Netflix before — and many people in Kenya haven’t — this is a great way to experience our service,” Cathy Conk, Director of Product Innovation at Netflix, wrote in a blog post.

“And if you like what you see, it’s easy to upgrade to one of our paid plans so you can enjoy our full catalog on your TV or laptop as well.”

The company didn’t disclose how long it plans to offer this free tier in Kenya — and whether it is considering expanding this offering to other markets.

On its past earnings calls, Netflix executives have insisted that they study each market and explore ways to make their service more compelling to all. The ability to sign up without a payment information lends credibility to such claims. Many individuals in developed countries don’t have a credit or debit card, which renders services requiring such payment instruments at the sign-up inaccessible to them.

The new push to win customers comes as the company, which is also planning to add mobile games to its offering, added only 1.5 million net paying subscribers in the quarter that ended in June this year, lower than what it had forecast. Netflix, which has amassed over 209 million subscribers, as well as Amazon Prime Video and other streaming services are increasingly trying to win customers outside of the U.S. to maintain faster growth rates.

Earlier this year, Amazon introduced a free and ad-supported video streaming service within its shopping app in India to tap more customers.

#africa, #amazon, #amazon-prime-video, #apps, #kenya, #media, #mobile, #netflix

iOS 15 adds all the little features that were missing

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image Credits: Apple

Focusing on you instead of your phone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image Credits: Apple

Update all apps

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image Credits: Apple

Tips and tricks

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

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

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

#apple, #apps, #gadgets, #ios, #ios-15, #mobile, #tc

iOS 15 is now available to download

Apple has just released the final version of iOS 15, the next major version of the operating system for the iPhone. It is a free download and it works with the iPhone 6s or later, both generations of iPhone SE and the most recent iPod touch model. iPad users will also be able to update to iPadOS 15 and watchOS 8 today.

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

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

The new version of iOS also scans your photos for text. Called Live Text, this feature lets you highlight, copy and paste text in photos. It could be a nice accessibility feature as well; iOS is going to leverage that info for Spotlight. You can search for text in your photos directly in Spotlight and it’ll pull out relevant photos. These features are handled on-device directly.

Paid iCloud users have been upgraded to iCloud+. In addition to more storage, iCloud+ subscribers get a handful of new features. iCloud Private Relay, which is available as a beta feature, lets you browse the web with increased privacy. Hide My Email lets you create randomly generated email addresses to create new accounts around the web. iCloud email users can also switch to a personal domain name.

The update is currently rolling out and is available both over-the-air in the Settings app, and by plugging your device to your computer for a wired update. But first, back up your device. Make sure your iCloud backup is up to date by opening the Settings app on your iPhone or iPad and tapping on your account information at the top and then on your device name. Additionally, you can also plug your iOS device to your computer to do a manual backup in Finder or iTunes for Windows (or do both, really).

Don’t forget to encrypt your backup in iTunes. It is much safer if somebody hacks your computer. And encrypted backups include saved passwords and health data. This way, you don’t have to reconnect to all your online accounts.

Once this is done, you should go to the Settings app, then ‘General’ and then ‘Software Update.’ You should see ‘Update Requested…’ It will then automatically start downloading once the download is available.

#apple, #apps, #gadgets, #ios, #ios-15, #mobile

Facetune maker Lightricks raises $130 million ahead of M&A plans

Facetune developer Lightricks, which operates over a dozen subscription-based photo and video editing apps across iOS and Android, now has $130 million in new funding to further grow its business. The company’s newly announced Series D round includes $100 million in primary and $30 million in secondary funding, and now values the company at $1.8 billion. To date, Lightricks has raised $335 million.

The new round was co-led by New York-based VC firm Insight Partners and Hanaco Venture Capital and includes new investors Migdal Insurance, Altshuler Shaham, and Shavit Capital. Existing investors Goldman Sachs Asset Management, Clal Tech, Harel Insurance and Finance, and Greycroft, also participated.

The company’s last round of funding was its pre-pandemic raise of $135 million, which minted the company as a unicorn.

Based in Jerusalem, Lightricks has been best known for its photo-editing app Facetune, which puts Photoshop-like retouching tools into the hands of consumers. The app quickly gained traction as online influencers tweaked their Instagram photos to look more polished, perfected, and blemish-free. This growth wasn’t without controversy, however, as some argued how image editing apps like Facetune took airbrushing too far, contributing to body image issues that now, Facebook’s internal research indicates, could have a negative effect on teenagers’ mental health.

But Facetune was only the beginning for what’s since become a mobile editing empire for Lightricks, at a time when everyone is trying to look their best online and create compelling content. Over the years, the company has rolled out the more powerful Facetune 2, along with other creativity and mobile photo apps that weren’t focused on selfies. It also expanded its product lineup beyond the creator crowd to bring a suite of tools to online marketers and small businesses. And last year, Lightricks more directly responded to the growth in online video as a form of self-expression with a new selfie retouching tool called Facetune Video — essentially the Facetune for the TikTok era.

Image Credits: Lightricks

The company benefitted from Covid-19 lockdowns, as well, as more people participated online and creators, as a group, became more well-established as a way for brands to reach consumers. During peak lockdowns, the company saw a 90% increase in usage across its apps in the U.S. Meanwhile, downloads for its popular Videoleap video editing apps jumped 70% since the start of the pandemic, as TikTok adoption also grew.

Across its suite of apps, the company now touts 29 million monthly active users, where over 5 million are paid subscribers. Its users average around 78 million monthly exports, indicating Lightricks’ sizable impact on the creator economy. In 2021, Lightricks is on track for over $200 million in revenue and plans to grow that figure by 40% in the year ahead.

To do so, the company’s strategy will change. Instead of just developing its own apps, it’s now on the hunt for potential acquisitions.

“Our plan is to grow into a one-stop-shop creator platform, supporting creators throughout their journey, from content creation to monetization,” says Zeev Farbman, CEO and Co-Founder of Lightricks. “To do so, we are broadening our acquisition activity, while developing other services in-house—our overall M&A objective is advancing our shift into the creator’s platform. To begin, we are planning between three to five acquisitions, each with a budget of tens of millions of dollars. However, we are also on the lookout for larger ticket size deals if there is enough conviction on both sides,” he notes.

Image Credits: Lightricks

The company will also enhance its own technology to develop tools and services that will help all creators with content production and monetization, and it will grow its team.

Currently, Lightricks has 460 employees and plans to add 60 more by the end of 2021. The longer-term goal is to grow the team to 1,000 employees by the end of 2023, across roles that include developers, designers, and marketing. While most of this growth to date has taken place in Jerusalem, over the next two years, the company plans to grow its teams locally in Haifa, as well as internationally in  London and Shenzhen. It may add on other locations through M&As, as well.

The U.K. office is now the largest outside of Lightricks’ headquarters, with 23 people. This number is expected to climb to 35 by year-end and be closer to 50 or 60 by the end of 2022, with growth focused on the production of the company’s new photography app plus Customer Experience and Marketing teams, which were previously only in Israel.

In the U.S., Lightricks is focused on content.

“Our U.S.-based activity will focus mostly on our content efforts that will provide a vast array of original, acquired, and co-produced content to inspire, educate and entertain creators across the entirety of their careers,” notes Farbman. “This includes written, video, audio, short and long-form, fun and informative content,” he says.

Investors say they see the potential for Lightricks to continue to grow as the creator economy booms.

“The creator economy has changed the way we, as a society, experience social networks,” said Pasha Romanovski, Co-Founding Partner of Hanaco Ventures, in a statement. “Audiences constantly consume information through the different content channels daily. Lightricks’ platform enables creators to have a broader, more professional, and higher-quality set of tools to optimize content. At a time when we are seeing content creators monetize content on social media at new levels, it is clear that Lightricks’ platform has the ability to create a one-stop shop that will be meaningful to its users,” he added.

 

#apps, #funding, #media, #mobile, #recent-funding, #startups

Roku debuts new Streaming Stick 4K bundles, software update with voice and mobile features

Weeks after Amazon introduced an updated Fire TV lineup that included, for the first time, its own TVs, Roku today is announcing its own competitive products in a race to capture consumers’ attention before the holiday shopping season. Its updates include a new Roku Streaming Stick 4K and Roku Streaming Stick 4K+ — the latter which ships with Roku’s newer hands-free voice remote. The company is also refreshing the Roku Ultra LT, a Walmart-exclusive version of its high-end player. And it announced the latest software update, Roku OS 10.5, which adds updated voice features, a new Live TV channel for home screens, and other minor changes.

The new Streaming Stick 4K builds on Roku’s four-year-old product, the Streaming Stick+, as it offers the same type of stick form factor designed to be hidden behind the TV set. This version, however, has a faster processor which allows the device to boot up to 30% faster and load channels more quickly, Roku claims. The Wi-Fi is also improved, offering faster speeds and smart algorithms that help make sure users get on the right band for the best performance in their homes where network congestion is an increasingly common problem  — especially with the pandemic-induced remote work lifestyle. The new Stick adds support for Dolby Vision and HDR 10+, giving it the “4K” moniker.

This version ships with Roku’s standard voice remote for the same price of $49.99. For comparison, Amazon’s new Fire TV Stick Max with a faster processor and speedier Wi-Fi is $54.99. However, Amazon is touting the addition of Wi-Fi 6 and support for its game streaming service, Luna, as reasons to upgrade.

Roku’s new Streaming Stick 4K+ adds the Roku Voice Remote Pro to the bundle instead. This is Roku’s new remote, launched in the spring, that offers rechargeability, a lost remote finder, and hands-free voice support via its mid-field microphone, so you can just say things like “hey Roku, turn on the TV,” or “launch Netflix,” instead of pressing buttons. Bought separately, this remote is $29.99. The bundle sells for $69.99, which translates to a $10 discount over buying the stick and remote by themselves.

Image Credits: Roku

Both versions of the Streaming Stick will be sold online and in stores starting in October.

The Roku Ultra LT ($79.99), built for Walmart exclusively, has also been refreshed with a faster processor, more storage, a new Wi-Fi radio with up to 50% longer range, support for Dolby Vision, Bluetooth audio streaming, and a built-in ethernet port.

Plus, Roku notes that TCL will become the first device partner to use the reference designs it introduced at CES for wireless soundbars, with its upcoming Roku TV wireless soundbar. This device connects over Wi-Fi to the TV and works with the Roku remote, and will arrive at major retailers in October where it will sell for $179.99.

The other big news is Roku’s OS 10.5 software release. The update isn’t making any dramatic changes this time around, but is instead focused largely on voice and mobile improvements.

The most noticeable consumer-facing change is the ability to add a new Live TV channel to your home screen which lets you more easily launch The Roku Channel’s 200+ free live TV channels, instead of having to first visit Roku’s free streaming hub directly, then navigate to the Live TV section. This could make the Roku feel more like traditional TV for cord-cutters abandoning their TV guide for the first time.

Other tweaks include expanded support for launching channels using voice commands, with most now supported; new voice search and podcast playback with a more visual “music and podcast” row and Spotify as a launch partner; the ability to control sound settings in the mobile app; an added Voice Help guide in settings; and additional sound configuration options for Roku speakers and soundbars (e.g. using the speaker pairs and soundbar in a left/center/right) or in full 5.1 surround sound system).

A handy feature for entering in email and passwords in set-up screens using voice commands is new, too. Roku says it sends the voice data off-device to its speech-to-text partner, and the audio is anonymized. Roku doesn’t get the password or store it, as it goes directly to the channel partner. While there are always privacy concerns with voice data, the addition is a big perk from an accessibility standpoint.

Image Credits: Roku

One of the more under-the-radar, but potentially useful changes coming in OS 10.5 is an advanced A/V sync feature that lets you use the smartphone camera to help Roku make further refinements to the audio delay when using wireless headphones to listen to the TV. This feature is offered through the mobile app.

The Roku mobile app in the U.S. is also gaining another feature with the OS 10.5 update with the addition of a new Home tab for browsing collections of movies and shows across genres, and a “Save List, which functions as a way to bookmark shows or movies you might hear about — like when chatting with friends — and want to remember to watch later when you’re back home in front of the TV.

The software update will roll out to Roku devices over the weeks ahead. It typically comes to Roku players first, then rolls out to TVs.

#amazon, #amazon-fire-tv, #apple-tv-app, #computing, #digital-media-players, #ethernet, #gadgets, #hardware, #internet-radio, #internet-television, #luna, #media, #mobile, #netflix, #now, #roku, #smartphone, #speaker, #spotify, #telecommunications, #united-states, #voice-search, #walmart, #wi-fi, #wireless-headphones, #wireless-soundbar

Pakistan edtech startup Maqsad gets $2.1M pre-seed to make education more accessible

Taha Ahmed and Rooshan Aziz left their jobs in strategy consulting and investment banking in London earlier this year in order to found a mobile-only education platform startup, Maqsad, in Pakistan, with a goal “to make education more accessible to 100 million Pakistani students.”

Having grown up in Karachi, childhood friends Ahmed and Aziz are aware of the challenges about the Pakistani education system, which is notably worse for those not living in large urban areas (the nation’s student-teacher ratio is 44:1). Pakistani children are less likely to go to school for each kilometer of distance between school and their home — with girls being four times affected, Maqsad co-founder Aziz said.

Maqsad announced today its $2.1 million pre-seed round to enhance its content platform growth and invest in R&D.

The pre-seed round, which was completed in just three weeks via virtual meetings, was led by Indus Valley Capital, with participation from Alter Global, Fatima Gobi Ventures and several angel investors from Pakistan, the Middle East and Europe.

Maqsad will use the proceeds for developing in-house content, such as production studio, academics and animators, as well as bolstering R&D and engineering, Aziz told TechCrunch. The company will focus on the K-12 education in Pakistan, including 11th and 12th grade math, with plans to expand into other STEM subjects for the next one-two years, Aziz said.

Maqsad’s platform, which provides a one-stop shop for after-school academic content in a mix of English and Urdu, will be supplemented by quizzes and other gamified features that will come together to offer a personalized education to individuals. Its platform features include adaptive testing that alter a question’s level of difficulty depending on users’ responses, Aziz explained.

The word “maqsad” means purpose in Urdu.

“We believe everyone has a purpose. Maqsad’s mission is to enable Pakistani students to realize this purpose; whether you are a student from an urban centre, such as Lahore, or from a remote village in Sindh: Maqsad believes in equal opportunity for all,” Aziz said.

“We are building a mobile-first platform, given that 95% of broadband users in Pakistan are via mobile. Most other platforms are not mobile optimized,” Aziz added.

“It’s about more than just getting students to pass their exams. We want to start a revolution in the way Pakistani students learn, moving beyond rote memorization to a place of real comprehension,” said co-founder Taha Ahmed, who was a former strategy consultant at LEK.

The company ran small pilots in April and May and started full-scale operations on 26 July, Aziz said, adding that Maqsad will launch its mobile app, currently under development, in the coming months in Q4 2021 and has a waitlist for early access.

“Struggles of students during the early days of the pandemic motivated us to run a pilot. With promising initial traction and user feedback, the size of the opportunity to digitize the education sector became very clear,” Aziz said.

The COVID-19 pandemic reshaped the education industry, heating up the global edtech startups that made online education more accessible for a wider population, for example in countries like India and Indonesia, Aziz mentioned.

The education market size in Pakistan is estimated at $12 billion and is projected to increase to $30 billion by 2030, according to Aziz.

It plans to build the company as a hybrid center offering online and offline courses like Byju’s and Aakash, and expand classes for adults such as MasterClass, the U.S.-based online classes for adults, as its long-term plans, Aziz said.

“Maqsad founders’ deep understanding of the problem, unique approach to solving it and passion for impact persuaded us quickly,” the founder and managing partner of Indus Valley Capital, Aatif Awan, said.

“Pakistan’s edtech opportunity is one of the largest in the world and we are excited to back Maqsad in delivering tech-powered education that levels access, quality and across Pakistan’s youth and creates lasting social change,” Ali Mukhtar, general partner of Fatima Gobi Ventures said.

#asia, #edtech, #education, #funding, #indus-valley-capital, #maqsad, #mobile, #pakistan, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc

Cameo launches Cameo Calls, a service for fans to video chat with celebs

If you really want to video chat tonight with William Hung of retro American Idol fame… got twenty bucks to spare? Yesterday, Cameo launched its Cameo Calls products, which lets fans video chat for up to 15 minutes one-on-one with their favorite influencers and celebrities. The talent sets the duration, time, and price of their call, which Cameo says averages around $31.

To book a call, users can go to Cameo’s website or app to see a schedule of upcoming Cameo Calls that they can buy. These also appear on individual talent’s Cameo pages. When you purchase a Cameo Call, you get a unique ticket code that you enter on the app to join your call.

In June 2020, Cameo enabled users to book Zoom calls with celebrities as lockdown became a global norm, but Cameo phased out that feature in April. Instead, Cameo Calls now offers a native experience in the app, rather than relying on third-party software. The downside for consumers, though, is that this makes it more difficult to invite your favorite reality star to your office’s Zoom happy hour. But on the bright side, the Cameo Calls includes a dedicated photo opp at the end of the call, so you can get your celebrity selfie without dealing with the awkwardness of asking to take a photo.

Experiences like Cameo Calls make sense in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, when celebrity meet-and-greets might not be safe in many places. But Cameo also thinks this product can stand in for a typical meet and greet even in “normal” times. Often, celebrity meet-and-greets require waiting in a long line to only have 5 or 10 seconds of time with the talent. Even though many Cameo Calls sessions are only a few minutes long, you might be able to get a more personal experience than if you were the 100th fan in a long line in person.

“We foresee Cameo Calls replacing meet and greets at music festivals and world tours, fan conventions, sporting events, and more,” said Cameo Co-founder & CEO Steven Galanis.

Cameo says it tested this product with over 3,000 calls — during testing, talent-hosted themed meet-and-greets, coffee chats, private concerts, and tarot card readings. Some performers who tested the feature include James and Oliver Phelps, who played the Weasley twins in the Harry Potter movies, and David Henrie, a former Disney Channel star.

#apps, #calls, #cameo, #celebs, #hollywood, #messaging, #mobile, #social, #social-media, #stars, #steven-galanis

Tile secures $40 million to take on Apple AirTag with new products

Tile, the maker of Bluetooth-powered lost item finder beacons and, more recently, a staunch Apple critic, announced today it has raised $40 million in non-dilutive debt financing from Capital IP. The funding will be put towards investment in Tile’s finding technologies, ahead of the company’s plan to unveil a new slate of products and features that the company believes will help it to better compete with Apple’s AirTags and further expand its market.

The company has been a longtime leader in the lost item finder space, offering consumers small devices they can attach to items — like handbags, luggage, bikes, wallets, keys, and more — which can then be tracked using the Tile smartphone app for iOS or Android. When items go missing, the Tile app leverages Bluetooth to find the items and can make them play a sound. If the items are further afield, Tile taps into its broader finding network consisting of everyone who has the app installed on their phone and other access points. Through this network, Tile is able to automatically and anonymously communicate the lost item’s location back to its owner through their own Tile app.

Image Credits: Tile

Tile has also formed partnerships focused on integrating its finding network into over 40 different third-party devices, including those across audio, travel, wearables, and PC categories. Notable brand partners include HP, Dell, Fitbit, Skullcandy, Away, Xfinity, Plantronics, Sennheiser, Bose, Intel, and others. Tile says it’s seen 200% year-over-year growth on activations of these devices with its service embedded.

To date, Tile has sold over 40 million devices and has over 425,000 paying customers — a metric it’s revealing for the first time. It doesn’t disclose its total number of users, both free and paid combined, however. During the first half of 2021, Tile says revenues increased by over 50%, but didn’t provide hard numbers.

While Tile admits that the Covid-19 pandemic had some impacts on international expansions, as some markets have been slower to rebound, it has still seen strong performance outside the U.S., and considers that a continued focus.

The pandemic, however, hasn’t been Tile’s only speed bump.

When Apple announced its plans to compete with the launch of AirTags, Tile went on record to call it unfair competition. Unlike Tile devices, Apple’s products could tap into the iPhone’s U1 chip to allow for more accurate finding through the use of ultra-wideband technologies available on newer iPhone models. Tile, meanwhile, has plans for its own ultra-wideband powered device, but hadn’t been provided the same access. In other words, Apple gave its own lost item finder early, exclusive access to a feature that would allow it to differentiate itself from the competition. (Apple has since announced it’s making ultra-wideband APIs available to third-party developers, but this access wasn’t available from day one of AirTag’s arrival.)

Image Credits: Tile internal concept art

Tile has been vocal on the matter of Apple’s anti-competitive behavior, having testified in multiple Congressional hearings alongside other Apple critics, like Spotify and Match. As a result of increased regulatory pressure, Apple later opened up its Find My network to third-party devices, in an effort to placate Tile and the other rivals its AirTags would disadvantage.

But Tile doesn’t want to route its customers to Apple’s first-party app — it intends to use its own app in order to compete based on its proprietary features and services. Among other things, this includes Tile’s subscriptions. A base plan is $29.99 per year, offering features like free battery replacement, smart alerts, and location history. A $99.99 per year plan also adds insurance of sorts — it pays up to $1,000 per year for items it can’t find. (AirTag doesn’t do that.)

Despite its many differentiators, Tile faces steep competition from the ultra-wideband capable AirTags, which have the advantage of tapping into Apple’s own finding network of potentially hundreds of millions of iPhone owners.

However, Tile CEO CJ Prober — who joined the company in 2018 — claims AirTag hasn’t impacted the company’s revenue or device sales.

“But that doesn’t take away from the fact that they’re making things harder for us,” he says of Apple. “We’re a growing business. We’re winning the hearts and minds of consumers… and they’re competing unfairly.”

“When you own the platform, you shouldn’t be able to identify a category that you want to enter, disadvantage the incumbents in that category, and then advantage yourself — like they did in our case,” he adds.

Tile is preparing to announce an upcoming product refresh that may allow it to better take on the AirTag. Presumably, this will include the pre-announced ultra-wideband version of Tile, but the company says full details will be shared next week. Tile may also expand its lineup in other ways that will allow it to better compete based on look and feel, size and shape, and functionality.

Tile’s last round of funding was $45 million in growth equity in 2019. Now it’s shifted to debt. In addition to new debt financing, Tile is also refinancing some of its existing debt with this fundraise, it says.

“My philosophy is it’s always good to have a mix of debt and equity. So some amount of debt on the balance sheet is good. And it doesn’t incur dilution to our shareholders,” Prober says. “We felt this was the right mix of capital choice for us.”

The company chose to work with Capital IP, a group it’s had a relationship with over the last three years, and who Tile had considered bringing on as an investor. The group has remained interested in Tile and excited about its trajectory, Prober notes.

“We are excited to partner with the Tile team as they continue to define and lead the finding category through hardware and software-based innovations,” said Capital IP’s Managing Partner Riyad Shahjahan, in a statement. “The impressive revenue growth and fast-climbing subscriber trends underline the value proposition that Tile delivers in a platform-agnostic manner, and were a critical driver in our decision to invest. The Tile team has an ambitious roadmap ahead and we look forward to supporting their entry into new markets and applications to further cement their market leadership,” he added.

#airtag, #airtags, #android, #apple, #apple-inc, #apps, #bluetooth, #ceo, #computing, #dell, #find-my, #fitbit, #funding, #gadgets, #hardware, #intel, #iphone, #mobile, #plantronics, #recent-funding, #sennheiser, #skullcandy, #smartphone, #startups, #tc, #technology, #tile, #u1-chip, #ultra-wideband, #united-states

News aggregator SmartNews raises $230 million, valuing its business at $2 billion

SmartNews, a Tokyo-headquartered news aggregation website and app that’s grown in popularity despite hefty competition from built-in aggregators like Apple News, today announced it has closed on $230 million in Series F funding. The round brings SmartNews’ total raise to date to over $400 million and values the business at $2 billion — or as the company touts in its press release, a “double unicorn.” (Ha!)

The funding included new U.S. investors Princeville Capital and Woodline Partners, as well as JIC Venture Growth Investments, Green Co-Invest Investment, and Yamauchi-No.10 Family Office in Japan. Existing investors participating in this round included ACA Investments and SMBC Venture Capital.

Founded in 2012 in Japan, the company launched to the U.S. in 2014 and expanded its local news footprint early last year. While the app’s content team includes former journalists, machine learning is used to pick which articles are shown to readers to personalize their experience. However, one of the app’s key differentiators is how it works to pop users’ “filter bubbles” through its “News From All Sides” feature, which allows its users to access news from across a range of political perspectives.

It has also developed new products, like its Covid-19 vaccine dashboard and U.S. election dashboard, that provide critical information at a glance. With the additional funds, the company says it plans to develop more features for its U.S. audience — one of its largest, in addition to Japan —  that will focus on consumer health and safety. These will roll out in the next few months and will include features for tracking wildfires and crime and safety reports. It also recently launched a hurricane tracker.

The aggregator’s business model is largely focused on advertising, as the company has said before that 85-80% of Americans aren’t paying to subscribe to news. But SmartNews’ belief is that these news consumers still have a right to access quality information.

In total, SmartNews has relationships with over 3,000 global publishing partners whose content is available through its service on the web and mobile devices.

To generate revenue, the company sells inline ads and video ads, where revenue is shared with publishers. Over 75% of its publishing partners also take advantage of its “SmartView” feature. This is the app’s quick-reading mode, and alternative to something like Google AMP. Here, users can quickly load an article to read, even if they’re offline. The company promises publishers that these mobile-friendly stories, which are marked with a lightning bolt icon in the app, deliver higher engagement — and its algorithm rewards that type of content, bringing them more readers. Among SmartView partners are well-known brands like USA Today, ABC, HuffPost, and others. Currently, over 70% of all SmartNews’ pageviews are coming from SmartView first.

SmartNews’ app has proven to be very sticky, in terms of attracting and keeping users’ attention. The company tells us, citing App Annie July 2021 data, that it sees an average time spent per user per month on U.S. mobile devices that’s higher than Google News or Apple News combined.

Image Credits: App Annie data provided by SmartNews

The company declined to share its monthly active users (MAUs), but had said in 2019 it had grown to 20 million in the U.S. and Japan. Today, it says its U.S. MAUs doubled over the last year.

According to data provided to us by Apptopia, the SmartNews app has seen around 85 million downloads since its October 2014 launch, and 14 million of those took place in the past 365 days. Japan is the largest market for installs, accounting for 59% of lifetime downloads, the firm noted.

“This latest round of funding further affirms the strength of our mission, and fuels our drive to expand our presence and launch features that specifically appeal to users and publishers in the United States,” said SmartNews co-founder and CEO Ken Zuzuki. “Our investors both in the U.S. and globally acknowledge the tremendous growth potential and value of SmartNews’s efforts to democratize access to information and create an ecosystem that benefits consumers, publishers, and advertisers,” he added.

The company says the new funds will be used to invest in further U.S. growth and expanding the company’s team. Since its last fundraise in 2019, where it became a unicorn, the company more than doubled its headcount to approximately 500 people globally. it now plans to double its headcount of 100 in the U.S., with additions across engineering, product, and leadership roles.

The Wall Street Journal reports SmartNews is exploring an IPO, but the company declined to comment on this.

The SmartNews app is available on iOS and Android across more than 150 countries worldwide.

#aca-investments, #aggregation, #ai, #android, #apple-news, #apps, #funding, #google, #google-news, #japan, #machine-learning, #media, #mobile, #mobile-applications, #mobile-devices, #mobile-software, #new-aggregator, #news, #news-aggregation, #news-reading, #recent-funding, #smartnews, #software, #startups, #tokyo, #united-states

Apple sheds value during iPhone event

The TechCrunch crew is hard at work writing up the latest from Apple’s iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch event. They have good notes on the megacorp’s hardware updates. But what are the markets saying about the same array of products?

For those of us more concerned with effective S&P dividend yields than screen nit levels, events like Apple’s confab are more interesting for what they might mean for the value of the hosting company than how many GPUs a particular smartphone model has. And, for once, Apple’s stock may have done something a little interesting during the event!

Observe the following chart:

This is a one-day chart, mind, so we’re looking at intraday changes. We’re zoomed in. And Apple kinda took a bit of a dive during its event that kicked off at 1 p.m. in the above chart.

Normally nothing of import happens to Apple’s shares during its presentations. Which feels weird, frankly, as Apple events detail the product mix that will generate hundreds of billions in revenue. You’d think that they would have more impact than their usual zero.

But today, we had real share price movement when the event wrapped around 2 p.m. ET. Perhaps investors were hoping for more pricey devices? Or were hoping Apple had more up its sleeve? How you rate that holiday Apple product lineup is a matter of personal preference, but investors appear to have weighed in slightly to the negative.

Worth around $2.5 trillion, each 1% that Apple’s stock moves is worth $10 billion. Apple’s loss of 1.5% today — more or less; trading continues as I write this — is worth more than Mailchimp. It’s a lot of money.

You can read the rest of our coverage from the Apple event here. Enjoy!

Read more about Apple's Fall 2021 Event on TechCrunch

#apple, #gadgets, #ipad, #iphone, #mobile, #stock-market, #tablet-computers

iPhone users will receive iOS 15 update on September 20

Shortly after today’s virtual conference, Apple announced that the next major version of iOS will be ready for prime time very soon. iPhone users will be able to update to iOS 15 on September 20. The company first unveiled iOS 15 earlier this year at its Worldwide Developer Conference.

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

There are many new features across the board, such as a new Weather app, updated maps in Apple Maps, an improved version of FaceTime and more. Safari also has a brand-new look. At first it was a bit controversial. Since then, Apple has listened to feedback and improved its new take on Safari.

The new version of iOS also scans your photos for text. Called Live Text, this feature lets you highlight, copy and paste text in photos. It could be a nice accessibility feature as well. iOS is going to leverage that info for Spotlight. You can search for text in your photos directly in Spotlight and it’ll pull out relevant photos. These features are handled on-device directly.

You’ll be able to update to iOS 15 if you have an iPhone 6s and later, any model of iPhone SE or the most recent iPod touch model. It’ll be available as a free download.

If you like your iPhone the way it is, Apple has also said that you don’t have to update to iOS 15. For the foreseeable future, the company will still update iOS 14 with security patches.

Read more about Apple's Fall 2021 Event on TechCrunch

#apple, #apple-fall-event-2021, #apps, #gadgets, #ios, #ios-15, #mobile

Apple’s iPhone 13 sports better battery and improved cameras, starting at $799

The rumors were right. The centerpiece of today’s big Apple event is the latest iPhone. The latest device lands less than a year after its predecessor, now that things have settled down somewhat on the supply chain side for Apple. Last year’s iPhone 12 was a massive seller, bucking the trend of stagnating smartphones sales, in part due to a bottleneck in sales from the unplanned delay, but also because it finally brought 5G connectivity to Apple’s mobile line.

Lucky number iPhone 13 (no skipping for superstition’s sake, mind) features a familiar design. The front notch has finally been shrunken down — now 20% smaller than its predecessor, while the rear-facing camera system has also gotten a redesign. The screen is now 28% brighter on both the iPhone 13 and 13 mini at 1200 nits.

The phone is powered by Apple’s new A15 Bionic chip, built with a 5nm processor. The CPU is 6-core that the company is calling “the fastest CPU on any smartphone.” The new 4-core GPU, meanwhile, brings advanced graphics to the handset.

The rear dual-camera system features a 12MP wide angle camera that’s capable of pulling in up to 47% more light. The new Cinematic Mode, meanwhile, brings rack focus-style shooting capable of adjusting the focus on subjects, using machine learning (you can also tap to adjust manual or switch between subjects).

Following last year’s introduction of 5G, the company has added more advanced antennae. Through the combination of a larger battery and energy saving software, the company says it’s been able to eke out an additional 2.5 hours of life on the 13 and 1.5 hours on the mini.

iPhone 13 mini starts at $699 and, while the 13 starts at $799.

 

Read more about Apple's Fall 2021 Event on TechCrunch

#apple, #apple-fall-event-2021, #hardware, #iphone, #iphone-13, #mobile

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#apps, #instagram, #mental-health, #mobile, #social, #social-media, #tiktok

South Korean antitrust regulator fines Google $177M for abusing market dominance

The Korea Fair Trade Commission (KFTC) said on Tuesday it fined Google $177 million for abusing its market dominance in the Android operating system (OS) market.

The U.S. tech company has restricted market competition by prohibiting local smartphone makers like Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics from customizing their Android OS, through Google’s anti-fragmentation agreements (AFA), according to the antitrust regulator statement.

Under the AFA, smartphone developers are not allowed to install or develop “Android forks”, modified versions of Android.

The KFTC banned Google LLC, Google Asia Pacific and Google Korea from imposing local smartphone developers to sign the AFA and make changes on details about the existing version. The new measure in South Korea will be applied to not only mobiles devices but also other Android-powered smart devices including watches and TVs.

Android has spurred innovation among Korean mobile operator owners and software developers and that has led to a better user experience for Korean consumers, Google said in its statement. “The KFTC’s decision released today ignores these benefits, and will undermine the advantages enjoyed by consumers. Google intends to appeal the KFTC’s decision,” a spokesperson at Google said.

The commission has been investigating Google over the anti-competition practice in OS market since July 2016, a spokesperson at KFTC said.

Google’s global mobile OS market share excluding China has been increased to 97.7% in 2019 from 38% in 2010, as per KFTC’s announcement.

Google’s AFA has also limited to launch tech companies’ new devices like smart watches and TVs using the operating system (OS) including Samsung’s smart watch in 2013, LG Electronics’ LTE smart speaker in 2018 as well as Amazon’s smart TV in 2018.

South Korea’s watchdog is probing into three other cases including the Play Store app market, billing system and the advertisement market.

Meanwhile, South Korea’s “anti-Google law”, takes effect on 14 September, based on Korea Communications Commission’s press release.

In late August, South Korea passed a bill to curb global tech companies including Google and Apple from imposing their own proprietary in-app payment service and commissions on app developers.

#antitrust, #apps, #asia, #gadgets, #google, #government, #hardware, #mobile, #south-korea, #tc

Epic Games appeals last week’s ruling in antitrust battle with Apple

Fortnite maker Epic Games is appealing last week’s ruling in its court battle with Apple, where a federal judge said Apple would no longer be allowed to block developers from adding links to alternative payment mechanisms, but stopped short of dubbing Apple a monopolist. The latter would have allowed Epic Games to argue for alternative means of serving its iOS user base, including perhaps, through third-party app stores or even sideloading capabilities built into Apple’s mobile operating system, similar to those on Google’s Android OS.

Apple immediately declared the court battle a victory, as the judge had agreed with its position that the company was “not in violation of antitrust law” and had also deemed Apple’s success in the app and gaming ecosystem as “not illegal.” Epic Games founder and CEO Tim Sweeney, meanwhile, said the ruling was not a win for either developers or consumers. On Twitter, he hinted that the company may appeal the decision when he said, “We will fight on.”

In a court filing published on Sunday (see below), Epic Games officially stated its attention to appeal U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers’ final judgment and “all orders leading to or producing that judgment.”

As part of the judge’s decision, Epic Games had been ordered to pay Apple the 30% of the $12 million it earned when it introduced its alternative payment system in Fortnite on iOS, which was then in breach of its legal contract with Apple.

The appellate court will revisit how Judge Gonzalez Rogers defined the market where Epic Games had argued Apple was acting as a monopolist. Contrary to both parties’ wishes, Gonzalez Rogers defined it as the market for “digital mobile gaming transactions” specifically. Though an appeal may or may not see the court shifting its opinion in Epic Games’ favor, a new ruling could potentially help to clarify the vague language used in the injunction to describe how Apple must now accommodate developers who want to point their customers to other payment mechanisms.

So far, the expectation floating around the developer community is that Apple will simply extend the “reader app” category exception to all non-reader apps (apps that provide access to purchased content). Apple recently settled with a Japanese regulator by agreeing to allow reader apps to point users to their own website where users could sign up and manage their accounts, which could include customers paying for subscriptions — like Netflix or Spotify subscriptions, for instance. Apple said this change would be global.

In briefings with reporters, Apple said the details of the injunction issued with the Epic Games ruling, however, would still need to be worked out. Given the recency of the decision, the company has not yet communicated with developers on how this change will impact them directly nor has it updated its App Store guidelines with new language.

Reached for comment, Epic Games said it does not have any further statements on its decision to appeal at this time.

#android, #app-store, #apple, #apple-inc, #apps, #ceo, #computing, #epic-games, #itunes, #judge, #mobile, #netflix, #operating-system, #software, #spotify, #technology, #tim-sweeney, #united-states

Spotify’s Clubhouse clone adds six new weekly shows, some that tie to Spotify playlists

This summer, Spotify launched its live audio app and Clubhouse rival, Spotify Greenroom, with the promises of more programming to come in the months ahead to augment its then primarily user-generated live content. Today, the company is making good on that earlier commitment, with the launch of six new shows on Spotify Greenroom focused on pop culture and music, in addition to what Spotify calls “playlist-inspired shows” — meaning those that are inspired by Spotify’s own playlists.

This includes a new show based on the popular playlist Lorem, which launched in 2019, showcasing an eclectic mix of music that has included indie pop, R&B, garage rock, hip-hop, and more, focused on a younger, Gen Z audience. That playlist today has over 884,000 “likes” on Spotify and has risen to become one of the places new artists are able to break through on the platform. Now, Lorem listeners will be connected to “Lorem Life,” a Spotify Greenroom show that will feature a mix of culture and discussions about music, the environment, sustainability, fashion, and space, Spotify says. The show is hosted by Gen Z influencers and TikTok stars, Dev Lemons and Max Motley, who will engage with other artists and influencers. It begins airing on Wednesday, September 15, at 9 PM ET.

Another new “playlist-inspired” show is “The Get Up LIVE.” If the name sounds familiar, it’s because “The Get Up” was introduced last fall as Spotify’s own take on a daily morning show by mixing music with talk radio-style content led by hosts who discuss the news, pop culture, entertainment, and other topics. To date, that content has not been provided as a live program, however. Instead, the show has been pre-recorded then made available as a playlist that gives listeners the feel of a daily FM radio show. Now, “The Get Up’s” co-hosts Kat Lazo and Xavier “X” Jernigan will record their show live on Greenroom, starting on Wednesday, Sept. 15 at 11 AM ET.

This odd time seems to contradict Spotify’s original intention of providing a show for those who commute to the office. But with the rise of remote work in the face of the unending pandemic, addressing the commuter audience may be of less interest, with the new program. However, Spotify tells us “The Get up LIVE” will be complementary to the daily show, which will still run as normal — that’s why it has a later airing.

Other new Greenroom shows include “A Gay in the Life,” hosted by the married couple, actor Garrett Clayton and writer and educator Blake Knight, who will discuss LGBTQIA+ news and issues (weekly, 8 PM ET, starting today); “Take a Seat,” hosted by Ben Mandelker and Ronnie Karam of the “Watch What Crappens” podcast, who will recap reality shows and dive into other pop culture fascinations (weekly, 10 PM ET, starting today); “The Movie Buff,” hosted by film buff and comedian Jon Gabrus, who will review and break down the latest hot movies (weekly, 11 PM ET, starting today); and “The Most Necessary: Live,” a complement to Spotify’s “Most Necessary” playlist, where host B.Dot will discuss up-and-comers in hip-hop (weekly, 9 PM ET, starting Tuesday).

In addition to the new programs, Deuxmoi’s show “Deux Me After Dark” will also air this evening (Sept. 13) at 9 PM ET to recap the red carpet looks and gossip from this year’s Met Gala alongside guest Hillary Kerr, co-founder of Who What Wear.

Image Credits: Spotify

Greenrom is now available to listeners in over 135 global markets and has been quietly expanding with live audio from sports site and podcast network “The Ringer” as well as from artists like Pop Smoke, the company says. Other programs added include Men In BlazersDeaux Me After DarkTrue Crime Rewind and Ask The Tarot.

The app had gotten off to a slower start this year, given its roots had been in sports talk live programming, which didn’t necessarily connect with Spotify’s music fans. Plus, it has faced growing competition from not only Clubhouse, which inspired its creation, but also other top social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Discord, and more. Without dedicated programs to garner user interest in yet another live audio app, the company had only seen 141,000 new downloads for Greenroom on iOS a little over a month after its launch, and fewer on Google Play. But Spotify’s long-term vision for the service was to more closely tie Greenroom to the music, artists, programs, and podcasts that were already available on its flagship music streaming app — and these new shows are an example of that plan in action.

#apps, #clubhouse, #internet-culture, #media, #mobile, #mobile-applications, #social-audio, #social-networks, #software, #spotify, #spotify-greenroom

MarginEdge, a restaurant management software company, raises $18M

MarginEdge announced Monday it raised $18 million in Series B funding to give restaurant operators a real-time view into their costs.

Co-founder and CEO Bo Davis founded the company with Roy Phillips and Brian Mills in 2015. Both Davis and Phillips are veterans of the restaurant industry: Davis was previously the founder of conveyor belt sushi restaurant chain Wasabi, while Phillips was an executive at Bloomin Brands.

What they recognized with independent restaurants was that they struggled with workflow like invoices and tracking food costs and were either building internal tools to help them stay on top of things or were still operating with pen and paper or spreadsheets.

“We focused on building something our friends would like,” Davis told TechCrunch. “We spent three years on the product and worked with 20 restaurants to use the software and focus on getting it right instead of rushing to market.”

MarginEdge’s tool is a restaurant management app that works with a business’ point of sale to streamline inventory, cost-tracking, ordering and recipes to eliminate the paperwork. It also captures all invoices, receipts or bills and converts them to line-item details within 24 hours. It is designed for independent restaurant owners that have under 50 units, Davis said.

Since launching its app in 2018, the Virginia-based company is seeing its platform used in over 2,500 restaurants. It raised a Series A in 2019, then an A2 in 2020 and with the latest round, led by IGC Hospitality, has raised $25 million in total.

IGC Hospitality, which operates restaurant properties, is not only an investor, but is also a customer, said Jeffrey Brosi, founder and managing partner. The company was using some different technology platforms to manage inventory and sales, but was looking for something to manage its whole inventory process.

“Bo came in and did a presentation, and it was amazing,” Brosi added. “The biggest thing for us is [being] user friendly. MarginEdge also has great customer service. We’ve invested in a few companies in the hospitality industry, and know the pain points and what we want to fix. If it makes sense financially, we will invest. This was one pain point that we didn’t have, and Bo filled that void.”

Like all restaurants over the past 18 months, Davis said the global pandemic caused MarginEdge to step back and evaluate. Despite many restaurants going out of business, he credits his business taking off again to restaurants rethinking their processes.

“We were lucky enough to be in a good position with capital that we could keep our team,” he added. “Revenue decreased for the first time, but we grew 45% even with COVID and as of Q1 was seeing 200% annual growth.”

MarginEdge has over 400 employees and its platform processes 45,000 invoices a week. Davis intends to invest the new funding in building out the leadership team, product development, building new features for the back office and on data science, an area he just received an advanced degree in, he said.

The company is using benchmark data around sales, food costs and labor costs and would like to provide more insights to its customers as it relates to inflation, which affects all of those aspects, and as a result, the menu prices.

“A lot of it is using data to understand menu pricing and what other people are doing so you are not pricing yourself out of the market or operating on margins where you can’t survive,” Davis added. “It will be all about predicting rather than reporting. The two things in the kitchen that are hardest are the startup prep list and the inventory late at night, and we make both easier.”

#apps, #bo-davis, #brian-mills, #enterprise, #funding, #igc-hospitality, #inventory, #jeffrey-brosi, #marginedge, #menu, #mobile, #point-of-sale, #recent-funding, #restaurant, #restaurant-management, #roy-phillips, #saas, #startups, #supply-chain-management, #tc, #wasabi

What we expect from next week’s Apple event

We’ve been scouring the latest rumors and leaks and playing all of The Mamas and The Papas songs forward and backward to get the best possible picture of what we’re in store for with next Tuesday’s “California Streaming’” event.

The invites, which went out a week in advance, don’t appear to give the game away here. There was some extremely cool AR trickery, accessible through Safari on mobile, which could point to some fancy camera upgrades, though augmented reality has become a bit of a staple on these invites.

The California Streaming title, meanwhile, seems likely to be more of a nod to the all-virtual nature of the event, rather than anyth