Backflip offers an easier way to turn used electronics into cold, hard cash

Mike Barile spent two years and racked up nearly $20,000 in credit card debt to bring his first startup, Backflip, to life.

The former management consultant had spent years toiling in the startup grind, first at Uber, then, after taking a coding academy bootcamp through AppAcademy (where Barile met his co-founder, Adam Foosaner), at Google and at a failed cryptocurrency startup.

Burned by the crypto experience, Barile was casting about for his next thing, and trying to find a way to scrape up some rent money, when he hit on the idea for Backflip. The experience of selling electronics online was still shady and Barile and Foosaner thought there had to be a better way.

That way became Backflip. It offers customers cash on delivery for their used electronics — anything from Androids to Xboxes and Apple devices to Gameboys.

When I first started working on backflip back in March 2019, I met this kid named Chris and he wanted to buy some of my old iPhones. He had been a student at USF and as a side hustle he started buying used devices and would refurbish them and then either sell them himself or sell them to an official reseller,” said Barile. “Chris started making so much money he dropped out of school. That was a holy shit moment. He can make a lot of money doing this and he’s doing a really good thing.”

The problem, said Barile, was safety. “He’s got all these devices he’s acquiring paying cash for and he’s driving all around town… Everyone who works in the [refurbish and resell] industry has at least one story about getting robbed at gunpoint.”

Backflip solved that problem by being the intermediary between buyers and sellers and taking a small commission for managing the transaction.

The company raised its first money at the end of 2019, but before that, Foosaner and Barile lived off of credit and used electronics.

So far, Backflip has facilitated the exchange of roughly 3,000 devices. The company handles everything from wiping a device and ensuring its quality to finding a buyer for the electronics. The company pays out roughly $150 per device and has deposited a little over $500,000 with users of the service, according to data provided by the company.

“We did all sorts of stuff to get our first few users,” said Barile. We posted ads on Facebook Marketplace and Craiglist. We started experimenting at the end of the summer with the most bare bones mobile app kind of thing. At that point it was just Adam and I,” Barile said.

Starting now, Backflip is working with UPS stores to provide in-person drop-off and packaging centers for the used electronics. Over time, Barile sees those services expanding to offer cash on delivery. “The experience will be similar to an Amazon return,” he said. “Except we’ll be paying you.”

Currently about half of the company’s inventory is used handsets and mobile devices, but Barile said that could drop to a third of inventory as word spreads about the hundred-odd pieces of electronics that Backflip is willing to

“Unlike other resale options, Backflip prioritizes the user’s time and convenience,” said Foosaner in a statement. “Forget the back-and-forth of negotiating over price and scheduling a meetup. We’re here to do all the work for the seller and make sure they get paid fairly and quickly. Backflip users can know that they’re getting the most for their devices without having to do anything other than bring them to The UPS Store or box them up at home.”

The connection to the refurbishing community started early for Barile, whose mother had a side business called “Stone Cottage Workshop” where she was flipping refurbished furniture on eBay and at local thrift stores near Barile’s bucolic New Jersey hometown.

“We want to build the Amazon of making things disappear from your apartment,” Barile said. 

#amazon, #apple-inc, #e-waste, #ebay, #electronics, #google, #mobile-devices, #tc, #uber

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Startups have about $1 trillion worth of reasons to love the Biden infrastructure plan

The sweeping infrastructure package put forward today by President Joe Biden comes with a price tag of roughly $2 trillion (and hefty tax hikes) but gives startups and the broader tech industry about $1 trillion worth of reasons to support it.

Tech companies have spent the past decade or more developing innovations that can be applied to old-world industries like agriculture, construction, energy, education, manufacturing and transportation and logistics. These are industries where structural impediments to technology adoption have only recently been broken down by the advent of incredibly powerful mobile devices.

Now, these industries are at the heart of the President’s plan to build back better, and the hundreds of billions of dollars that are earmarked to make America great again will, either directly or indirectly, be a huge boost to a number of startups and large tech companies whose hardware and software services will enable much of the work the Biden administration wants done.

“The climate-oriented investment in Biden’s new plan would be roughly ten times what came through ARRA,” wrote Shayle Kann, a partner with the investment firm, Energy Impact Partners. “It would present a huge opportunity for a variety of climate tech sectors, ranging from clean electricity to carbon management to vehicle electrification.”

Much of this will look and feel like a Green New Deal, but sold under a package of infrastructure modernization and service upgrades that the country desperately needs.  Indeed, it’s hard to invest in infrastructure without supporting the kind of energy efficiency and renewable development plans that are at the core of the Green New Deal, since efficiency upgrades are just a part of the new way of building and making things.

Over $700 billion of the proposed budget will go to improving resiliency against natural disasters; upgrading critical water, power, and internet infrastructure; and rehabilitating and improving public housing, federal buildings, and aging commercial and residential real estate.

Additionally there’s another roughly $400 billion in spending earmarked for boosting domestic manufacturing of critical components like semiconductors; protecting against future pandemics; and creating regional innovation hubs to promote venture capital investment and startup development intended to “support the growth of entrepreneurship in communities of color and underserved communities.”

Climate resiliency 

Given the steady drumbeat of climate disasters that hit the U.S. over the course of 2020 (and their combined estimated price tag of nearly $100 billion), it’s not surprising that the Biden plan begins with a focus on resiliency.

The first big outlay of cash outlined in the Biden plan would call for $50 billion in financing to improve, protect and invest in underserved communities most at risk from climate disasters through programs from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Department of Housing and Urban Development, and new initiatives from the Department of Transportation. Most relevant to startups is the push to fund initiatives and technologies that can help prevent or protect against extreme wildfires; rising sea levels and hurricanes; new agriculture resource management; and “climate-smart” technologies.

As with most of Biden’s big infrastructure initiatives, there are startups tackling these issues. Companies like Cornea, Emergency Reporting, Zonehaven are trying to solve different facets of the fire problem; while flood prediction and weather monitoring startups are floating up their services too. Big data analytics, monitoring and sensing tools, and robotics are also becoming fixtures on the farm. For the President’s water efficiency and recycling programs, companies like Epic CleanTec, which has developed wastewater recycling technologies for residential and commercial buildings.

Fables of the reconstruction

Energy efficiency and building upgrades represent by far the biggest chunk of the Biden infrastructure package — totaling a whopping $400 billion of the spending package and all devoted to upgrading homes, offices, schools, veteran’s hospitals and federal buildings.

It gives extra credence to the thesis behind new climate-focused funds from Greensoil Proptech Ventures and Fifth Wall Ventures, which is raising a $200 million investment vehicle to focus on energy efficiency and climate tech solutions.

As Fifth Wall’s newest partner Greg Smithies noted last year, there’s a massive opportunity in building retrofits and startup technologies to improve efficiency.

“What excites me about this space is that there’s so much low-hanging fruit. And there’s $260 trillion worth of buildings,” Smithies said last year. “The vast majority of those are nowhere up to modern codes. We’re going to have a much bigger opportunity by focusing on some not-so-sexy stuff.”

Decarbonizing real estate can also make a huge difference in the fight against global climate change in addition to the its ability to improve quality of life and happiness for residents. “Real estate consumes 40% of all energy. The global economy happens indoors,” said Fifth Wall co-founder Brendan Wallace, in a statement. “Real estate will be the biggest spender on climate tech for no other reason than its contribution to the carbon problem.”

The Biden plan calls on Congress to enact new grant programs that award flexible funding to jurisdictions that take concrete steps to eliminate barriers to produce affordable housing. Part of that will include $40 billion to improve the infrastructure of the public housing in America.

It’s a project that startups like BlocPower are already deeply involved in supporting.

“Get the superhero masks and capes out. The Biden Harris Climate announcement is literally a plan to save the American economy and save the planet. This is Avengers Endgame in real life. We can’t undo the last five years… but we can make smart, massive investments in the climate infrastructure of the future,” wrote Donnel Baird, the chief executive and founder of BlocPower. “Committing to electrify 2 million American buildings, moving them entirely off of fossil fuels is exactly that — an investment in America leading theway towards creating a new industry creating American jobs that cannot be outsourced, and beginning to reduce the 30% of greenhouse gas emissiosn that come from buildings.”

As part of the package that directly impacts startups, there’s a proposal for a $27 billion Clean Energy and Sustainability Accelerator to mobilize private investment, according to the White House. The focus will be on distributed energy resources, retrofits of residential, commercial and municipal buildings; and clean transportation. A focus there will be on disadvantaged communities that haven’t had access to clean energy investments.

Financing the future startup nation

“From the invention of the semiconductor to the creation of the Internet, new engines of economic growth have emerged due to public investments that support research, commercialization, and strong supply chains,” the White House wrote. “President Biden is calling on Congress to make smart investments in research and development, manufacturing and regional economic development, and in workforce development to give our workers and companies the tools and training they need to compete on the global stage.”

To enable that, Biden is proposing another $480 billion in spending to boost research and development — including $50 billion for the National Science Foundation to focus on semiconductors and advanced communications technologies, energ technologies and biotechnology. Another $30 billion is designed to be targeted toward rural development; and finally the $40 billion in upgrading research infrastructure.

There’s also an initiative to create ARPA-C, a climate focused Advanced Research Projects Agency modeled on the DARPA program that gave birth to the Internet. There’s $20 billion heading toward funding climate-focused research and demonstration projects for energy storage, carbon capture and storage, hydrogen, advanced nuclear and rare earth  element separations, floating off shore wind, biofuel/bioproducts, quantum computing and electric vehicles.

The bulk of Biden’s efforts to pour money into manufacturing represents another $300 billion in potential government funding. That’s $30 billion tickets for biopreparedness and pandemic preparedness; another $50 billion in semiconductor manufacturing and research; $46 billion for federal buying power for new advanced nuclear reactors and fuel, cars, ports, pumps and clean materials.

Included in all of this is an emphasis on developing economies fairly and equally across the country — that means $20 billion in regional innovation hubs and a Community Revitalization Fund, which is designed to support innovative, community-led redevelopment efforts and $52 billion in investing in domestic manufacturers — promoting rural manufacturing and clean energy.

Finally for startups there’s a $31 billion available for programs that give small businesses access to credit, venture capital, and R&D dollars. Specifically, the proposal calls for funding for community-based small business incubators and innovation hubs to support growth in communities of color and underserved communites.

Water and power infrastructure 

America’s C- grade infrastructure has problems extending across the length and breadth of the country. It encompasses everything from crumbling roads and bridges to a lack of clean drinking water, failing sewage systems, inadequate recycling facilities, and increasing demands on power generation, transmission and distribution assets that the nation’s electricity grid is unable to meet.

“Across the country, pipes and treatment plants are aging and polluted drinking water is endangering public health. An estimated six to ten million homes still receive drinking water through lead pipes and service lines,” the White House wrote in a statement.

To address this issue, Biden’s calling for an infusion of $45 billion into the Environmental Protection Agency’s Drinking Water State Revolving Fund and Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act grants. While that kind of rip and replace project may not directly impact startups, another $66 billion earmarked for upgrades to drinking water, wastewater and stormwater systems and monitoring and managing the presence of contaminants in water will be a huge boon for the vast array of water sensing and filtration startups that have flooded the market in the past decade or more (there’s even an entire incubator dedicated to just water technologies).

The sad fact is that water infrastructure in America has largely failed to keep up in large swaths of the country, necessitating this kind of massive capital infusion.

And what’s true for water is also true increasingly true for power. Outages cost the U.S. economy upwards of $70 billion per year, according to the White House. So when analysts compare those economic losses to a potential $100 billion outlay, the math should be clear. For startups that math equals dollar signs.

Calls to build a more resilient transmission system should be music to the ears of companies like Veir, which is developing a novel technology for improving capacity on transmission lines (a project that the Biden administration explicitly calls out in its plan).

The Biden plan also includes more than money, calling for the creation of a new Grid Deployment Authority within the Department of Energy to better leverage rights-of-way along roads and railways and will support financing tools to develop new high-voltage transmission lines, the White House said.

The administration doesn’t stop there. Energy storage and renewable technologies are going to get a boost through a clutch of tax credits designed to accelerate their deployment. That includes a ten-year extension and phase down of direct-pay investment tax credits and production tax credits. The plan aslo calls for clean energy block grants and calls for the government to purchase nothing but renewable energy all day for federal buildings.

Complimenting this push for clean power and storage will be a surge in funding for waste remediation and cleanup, which is getting a $21 billion boost under Biden.

Companies like Renewell Energy, or various non-profits that are trying to plug abandoned oil wells, can play a role here. There’s also the potential to recover other mineral deposits or reuse the wastewater that comes from these wells. And here, too, investors can find early stage businesses looking for an angle. Part of the money frm the Biden plan will aim to redevelop brownfields and turn them into more sustainable businesses.

That’s where some of the indoor agriculture companies, like Plenty, Bowery Farms, AppHarvest could find additional pots of money to turn unused factory and warehouse space into working farms. Idled factories could also be transformed into hubs for energy storage and community based power generation and distribution facilities, given their position on the grid.

“President Biden’s plan also will spur targeted sustainable, economic development efforts through the Appalachian Regional Commission’s POWER grant program, Department of Energy retooling grants for idled factories (through the Section 132 program), and dedicated funding to support community-driven environmental justice efforts – such as capacity and project grants to address legacy pollution and the cumulative impacts experienced by frontline and fenceline communities,” the White House wrote.

Key to these redevelopment efforts will be the establishment of pioneer facilities that demonstrate carbon capture retrofits for large steel, cement, and chemical production facilities. But if the Biden Administration wanted to, its departments could go a step further to support lower emission manufacturing technologies like the kind companies including Heliogen, which is using solar power to generate energy for a massive mining operation, or Boston Metal, which is partnering with BMW on developing a lower emission manufacturing process for steel production.

Critical to ensuring that this money gets spent is a $25 billion commitment to finance pre-development activities, that could help smaller project developers, as Rob Day writes in Forbes.

“As I’ve written about elsewhere, local project developers are key to getting sustainability projects built where they will actually do the most good — in the communities hit hardest by both local pollution and climate change impacts. These smaller project developers have lots of expenses they must pay just to get to the point where private-sector infrastructure construction investments can come in,” Day wrote. “Everyone in sustainability policy talks about supporting entrepreneurs, but in reality much of the support is aimed at technology innovators and not these smaller project developers who would be the ones to actually roll out those technology innovations. Infrastructure investors are typically much more reticent to provide capital before projects are construction-ready.”

Building a better Internet

“Broadband internet is the new electricity. It is necessary for Americans to do their jobs, to participate equally in school learning, health care, and to stay connected,” the White House wrote. “Yet, by one definition, more than 30 million Americans live in areas where there is no broadband infrastructure that provides minimally acceptable speeds. Americans in rural areas and on tribal lands particularly lack adequate access. And, in part because the United States has some of the highest broadband prices among OECD countries, millions of Americans can’t use broadband internet even if the infrastructure exists where they live.”

The $100 billion that the Biden Administration is earmarking for broadband infrastructure includes goals to meet 100 percent high-speed broadband coverage and prioritizes support for networks owned, operated, or faffiliated with local governments, non-profits and cooperatives.

Attendant with the new cash is a shift in regulatory policy that would open up opportunities for municipally-owned or affiliated providers and rural electric co-ops from competing with prive providers and requiring internet providers to be more transparent about their pricing. This increased competition is good for hardware vendors and ultimately could create new businesses for entrepreneurs who want to become ISPs of their own.

Wander is one-such service providing high speed wireless internet in Los Angeles.

“Americans pay too much for the internet – much more than people in many other countries – and the President is committed to working with Congress to find a solution to reduce internet prices for all Americans, increase adoption in both rural and urban areas, hold providers accountable, and save taxpayer money,” the White House wrote.

 

#agriculture, #america, #articles, #biden-administration, #biotechnology, #blocpower, #brendan-wallace, #broadband, #co-founder, #congress, #construction, #cornea, #department-of-transportation, #education, #electricity, #energy, #energy-impact-partners, #fifth-wall-ventures, #forbes, #greg-smithies, #infrastructure, #joe-biden, #kamala-harris, #los-angeles, #manufacturing, #mobile-devices, #national-science-foundation, #oecd, #plenty, #president, #quantum-computing, #real-estate, #semiconductor, #semiconductors, #steel, #supply-chains, #tc, #united-states, #venture-capital, #venture-capital-investment, #white-house

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Socure raises $100M at $1.3B valuation, proving identity verification is hotter than ever

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated digital adoption in a way that no one could have ever anticipated, and as more people conduct more services online and via mobile devices, businesses have had to work even harder to validate users and security. One company working to serve that need, Socure – which uses AI and machine learning to verify identities – announced Tuesday that it has raised $100 million in a Series D funding round at a $1.3 billion valuation.

Given how much of our lives have shifted online, it’s no surprise that the U.S. digital identity market is projected to increase to over $30 billion by 2023 from just under $15 billion in 2019, according to One World IdentityThis has led to skyrocketing demand for the services provided by identity verification companies. 

Historically, Socure has been focused on the financial services industry, but it plans to use its new capital to further expand into “every consumer-facing vertical” including online gaming, healthcare, telco, e-commerce, and on-demand services.

The startup’s predictive analytics platform applies artificial intelligence and machine-learning techniques with online/offline data intelligence (from email, phone, address, IP, device, velocity, and the broader internet) to verify that people are, in fact, who they say they are when applying for various accounts.

Today, Socure has more than 350 customers including three top five banks, six top 10 card issuers, a “top” credit bureau and over 75 fintechs such as Varo Money, Public, Chime, and Stash.

Accel led Socure’s latest financing, which included participation from existing backers Commerce Ventures, Scale Venture Partners, Flint Capital, Citi Ventures, Wells Fargo Strategic Capital, Synchrony, Sorenson, Two Sigma Ventures, and others. 

The round comes less than six months after the company raised $35 million in a round led by Sorenson Ventures, and brings the New York-based company’s total raised to $196 million since its 2012 inception.

Socure founder and CEO Johnny Ayers says his company’s identity management products can help B2C enterprises achieve know-your-customer (KYC) auto-approval rates of up to 97%. This means that financial institutions can more easily capture fraud, for example, via Socure’s single API. The company also claims that by more easily verifying thin-file (those without much credit history) and young consumers, it can help reduce the underbanked population.     

The company plans to use its new capital to also enhance its product offering as it continues to develop patents. 

Accel partner Amit Jhawar will join Socure’s board as part of the funding round.

In a blog post, Jhawar described Socure as “a purpose-built solution designed to handle the wave of new online users because its machine learning models have learned from every identity it has already seen.”

As former COO at Braintree and general  manager at Venmo, Jhawar knows a thing or two about the importance of identity verification, especially in the financial services space.

He wrote: “I knew immediately that the Socure solution would be a game-changer because the solution can be used in every step of the customer lifecycle, from account creation to login to transaction.”

Socure also has hinted that it has an IPO in its future.

In a written statement, Ayers said: “We are incredibly grateful for the chance to innovate and partner to solve this problem with some of the greatest companies in the world and are energized for the opportunities that lay ahead for Socure, especially as we make our march to a potential IPO.”

TechCrunch has reached out to Socure and will update this story with more details.

#api, #articles, #artificial-intelligence, #b2c, #ceo, #citi-ventures, #commerce-ventures, #coo, #digital-identity, #finance, #financial-technology, #funding, #fundings-exits, #healthcare, #identity-management, #know-your-customer, #machine-learning, #mobile-devices, #money, #new-york, #online-gaming, #recent-funding, #scale-venture-partners, #socure, #startups, #two-sigma-ventures, #united-states, #venmo

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Google launches the first developer preview of Android 12

Almost exactly a year after Google announced the first developer preview of Android 11, the company today released the first developer preview of Android 12. Google delayed the roll-out of Android 11 a bit as the teams and the company’s partners adjusted to working during a pandemic, but it looks like that didn’t stop it from keeping Android 12 on schedule. As you would expect from an early developer preview, most of the changes here are under the hood and there’s no over-the-air update yet for intrepid non-developers who want to give it a spin.

Image Credits: Google

Among the highlights of the release so far — and it’s important to note that Google tends to add more user-facing changes and UI updates throughout the preview cycle — are the ability to transcode media into higher quality formates like the AV1 image format, faster and more responsive notifications and a new feature for developers that now makes individual changes in the platform togglable so they can more easily test the compatibility of their apps. Google also promises that just like with Android 11, it’ll add a Platform Stability milestone to Android 12 to give developers advance notice when final app-facing changes will occur in the development cycle of the operating system. Last year, the team hit that milestone in July when it launched its second beta release.

“With each version, we’re working to make the OS smarter, easier to use, and better performing, with privacy and security at the core,” writes Google VP of Engineering Dave Burke. “In Android 12 we’re also working to give you new tools for building great experiences for users. Starting with things like compatible media transcoding, which helps your app to work with the latest video formats if you don’t already support them, and easier copy/paste of rich content into your apps, like images and videos. We’re also adding privacy protections, refreshing the UI, and optimizing performance to keep your apps responsive.”

Image comparison from AVIF has landed by Jake Archibald

Obviously, there are dozens of developer-facing updates in Android 12. Let’s look at some in detail.

For the WebView in Android 12, Google will now implement the same SameSite cookie behavior as in Chrome, for example. Last year, the company slowed down the roll-out of this change, which makes it harder for advertisers to track your activity across sites,  in Chrome, simply because it was breaking too many sites. Now, with this feature fully implemented in Chrome, the Android team clearly feels like it, too, can implement the same privacy tools in WebView, which other apps use to display web content, too.

As for the encoding capabilities, Burke notes that, “with the prevalence of HEVC hardware encoders on mobile devices, camera apps are increasingly capturing in HEVC format, which offers significant improvements in quality and compression over older codecs.” He notes that most apps should support HEVC, but for those that can’t, Android 12 now offers a service for transcoding a file into AVC.

Image Credits: Google

In addition, Android 12 now also supports the AV1 Image File Format as a container for images and GIF-like image sequences. “Like other modern image formats, AVIF takes advantage of the intra-frame encoded content from video compression,” explains Burke. “This dramatically improves image quality for the same file size when compared to older image formats, such as JPEG.”

Image Credits: Google

As with every Android release, Google also continues to tinker with the notification system. This time, the team promises a refreshed design to “make them more modern, easier to use, and more functional.” Burke calls out optimized transitions and animations and the ability for apps to decorate notifications with custom content. Google now also asks that developers implement a system that immediately takes users from a notification to the app, without an intermediary broadcast receiver or service, something it recommended before.

Image Credits: Google

Android 12 will now also offer better support for multi-channel audio with up to 24 channels (a boon for music and other audio apps, no doubt), spatial audio, MPEG-H support, and haptic-coupled audio effects with the strength of the vibration and frequency based on the audio (a boon for games, no doubt). There’s also improved gesture navigation and plenty of other optimizations and minor changes across the operating system.

Google also continues to drive its Project Mainline forward, which allows for an increasing number of the core Android OS features to be updated through the Google Play system — and hence bypasses the slow update cycles of most hardware manufacturers. With Android 12, it is bringing the Android Runtime module into Mainline, which will then let Google push updates to the core runtime and libraries to devices. “We can improve runtime performance and correctness, manage memory more efficiently, and make Kotlin operations faster – all without requiring a full system update,” Burke says. “We’ve also expanded the functionality of existing modules – for example, we’re delivering our seamless transcoding feature inside an updatable module.”

You can find a more detailed list of all of the changes in Android 12 here.

Image Credits: Google

Developers who want to get started with bringing their apps to Android 12 can do so today by flashing a device image to a Pixel device. For now, Android 12 supports the Pixel 3/3 XL, Pixel 3a/3a XL, Pixel 4/4 XL, Pixel 4a/4a 5G and Pixel 5. You can also use the system image in the Android Emulator in Google’s Android Studio.

#android, #chrome-os, #computing, #dave-burke, #developer, #gif, #google, #google-pixel, #jpeg, #mobile-devices, #operating-systems, #pixel, #smartphones, #tc, #technology

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The Tula Mic is a powerful portable recorder that doubles as a great USB-C microphone

Tula is a new company founded with the specific purpose of developing user-friendly hardware and software for sound capture, and its debut product, the Tula Mic, is now shipping after a successful crowdfunding campaign last year. Tula Mic is both a USB-C microphone input for computers and mobile devices, and also a dedicated recorder that has built-in storage and its own battery that can provide up to 14 hours of continuous use. It’s a strong intro offering that fits a lot of user needs at an attractive price point.

Basics

The Tula Mic is small – it’s definitely best described as ‘hand-held,’ taking up roughly the size and surface area of a deck of cards. The physical design includes microphone capsules up top, with control buttons running along either side, and a USB-C charging port in the middle of the back of the hardware. The top left side also features a standard 3.5mm port, which can be used not only for headphones for monitoring and playback, but also for input for lavalier microphones, effectively turning the Tula into a body pack.

Just below the grill that contains the recording capsule, there are two lights on the face of the Tula Mic. These including a gain/peaking indicator and a recording indicator, providing you with simple but effective visual feedback. There’s 8GB of built-in memory on board, and that built-in rechargeable battery that offers up to 14 hours of continuous recording. Inside, there are not just one, but two recording capsules, including one with a cardioid recording pattern for capturing audio from one user speaking towards the mic, and one with an omni pickup pattern for recording room sound, best for events or interviews.

The Tula Mic comes with a stand attached, which fold up and attaches magnetically to its midsection for easy transport. This is also removable, and can be swapped out for a standard microphone-mount threaded attachment point. It’s a simple and elegant design that proves very handy in active use, but the proprietary mounting method here means that if you ever lose one or the other of these accessories, you can’t just pick up a generic one like you could if they’d used a standard tripod thread instead, for instance.

Design and performance

Image Credits: Darrell Etherington

The Tula Mic’s design definitely conveys retro aesthetics, and its flat-sided oval shape is immediately eye-catching and recognizable. The unique look also provides great hand-holdability, and when used in stand mode, it’s immediately clear how a user should address the mic in use. The flip-down stand is elegant and keeps the mic firmly in place, thanks to its weighted metal construction.

The controls located down either side of the Tula Mic are each labelled, but I found that I definitely had to repeatedly reference the included user guide before I could consistently remember what each of them did. The icons are helpful, but not necessarily immediately intuitive. It’s nice to have physical controls, however, rather than touch sensitive surfaces or a screen for input.

The most important thing to note about the Tula Mic’s performance is that it sounds great, in both wired USB-C and standalone recorder mode. Having the ability to switch between omni and cardioid pickup patterns is also immensely useful in terms of the mic’s versatility as a one-size-fits-most solution, since you can use it for podcasting, for recording a class or lecture, and for recording a two-person interview all with equal ease and very high-quality results.

Lastly, Tula includes a built-in local noise cancellation algorithm, which allows you to capture a brief recording of room tone in order to automatically remove it from your subsequent recording. It’s a very handy and surprisingly effective feature, and one that should provide big benefits in terms of later using recordings from the mic with transcription services like Otter.ai.

Bottom line

At $199, the Tula Mic is already priced to match many of the leading USB microphones on the market today. The fact that it’s also a full-featured standalone digital recorder, many of which are also priced at or near that mark, really makes it an obvious choice for anyone looking for portable recording flexibility in a compact package.

#gadgets, #hardware, #metal, #microphone, #microphones, #mobile-devices, #recording, #reviews, #tc, #usb-c

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This Week in Apps: TikTok viral hit breaks Spotify records, inauguration boosts news app installs, judge rules against Parler

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

The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 218 billion downloads and $143 billion in global consumer spend in 2020.

Consumers last year also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone. And in the U.S., app usage surged ahead of the time spent watching live TV. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day, but now spends four hours per day on their mobile devices.

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

This week, we’re looking into how President Biden’s inauguration impacted news apps, the latest in the Parler lawsuit, and how TikTok’s app continues to shape culture, among other things.

Top Stories

Judge says Amazon doesn’t have to host Parler on AWS

logos for AWS (Amazon Web Services) and Parler

Logos for AWS (Amazon Web Services) and Parler. Image Credits: TechCrunch

U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein in Seattle this week ruled that Amazon won’t be required to restore access to web services to Parler. As you may recall, Parler sued Amazon for booting it from AWS’ infrastructure, effectively forcing it offline. Like Apple and Google before it, Amazon had decided that the calls for violence that were being spread on Parler violated its terms of service. It also said that Parler showed an “unwillingness and inability” to remove dangerous posts that called for the rape, torture and assassination of politicians, tech executives and many others, the AP reported.

Amazon’s decision shouldn’t have been a surprise for Parler. Amazon had reported 98 examples of Parler posts that incited violence over the past several weeks before its decision. It told Parler these were clear violations of the terms of service.

Parler’s lawsuit against Amazon, however, went on to claim breach of contract and even made antitrust allegations.

The judge shot down Parler’s claims that Amazon and Twitter were colluding over the decision to kick the app off AWS. Parler’s claims over breach of contract were denied, too, as the contract had never said Amazon had to give Parler 30 days to fix things. (Not to mention the fact that Parler breached the contract on its side, too.) It also said Parler had fallen short in demonstrating the need for an injunction to restore access to Amazon’s web services.

The ruling only blocks Parler from forcing Amazon to again host it as the lawsuit proceeds, but is not the final ruling in the overall case, which is continuing.

TikTok drives another pop song to No. 1 on Billboard charts, breaks Spotify’s record

@livbedumb♬ drivers license – Olivia Rodrigo

We already knew TikTok was playing a large role in influencing music charts and listening behavior. For example, Billboard last year noted how TikTok drove hits from Sony artists like Doja Cat (“Say So”) and 24kGoldn (“Mood”), and helped Sony discover new talent. Columbia also signed viral TikTok artists like Lil Nas X, Powfu, StaySolidRocky, Jawsh 685, Arizona Zervas and 24kGoldn. Meanwhile, Nielsen has said that no other app had helped break more songs in 2020 than TikTok.

This month, we’ve witnessed yet another example of this phenomenon. Olivia Rodrigo, the 17-year-old star of Disney+’s “High School Musical: The Musical: the Series” released her latest song, “Drivers License” on January 8. The pop ballad and breakup anthem is believed to be referencing the actress’ relationship with co-star Joshua Bassett, which gave the song even more appeal to fans.

Upon its release the song was heavily streamed by TikTok users, which helped make it an overnight sensation of sorts. According to a report by The WSJ, Billboard counted 76.1 million streams and 38,000 downloads in the U.S. during the week of its release. It also made a historic debut at No. 1 on the Hot 100, becoming the first smash hit of 2021.

On January 11, “Drivers License” broke Spotify’s record for most streams per day (for a non-holiday song) with 15.17 million global streams. On TikTok, meanwhile, the number of videos featuring the song and the views they received doubled every day, The WSJ said.

Charli D’Amelio’s dance to it on the app has now generated 5 million “Likes” across nearly 33 million views, as of the time of writing.

@charlidamelio♬ drivers license – Olivia Rodrigo

Of course, other TikTok hits have broken out in the past, too — even reaching No. 1 like “Blinding Lights” (The Weeknd) and “Mood” (24kGoldn). But the success of “Drivers License” may be in part due to the way it focuses on a subject that’s more relevant to TikTok’s young, teenage user base. It talks about first loves and being dumped for the other girl. And its title and opening refer to a time many adults have forgotten: the momentous day when you get your driver’s license. It’s highly relatable to the TikTok crowd who fully embraced it and made it a hit.

Weekly News

Platforms: Apple

  • Apple stops signing iOS 12.5, making iOS 12.5.1 the only versions of iOS available to older devices.
  • A report claims Apple’s iOS 15 update will cut support for devices with an A9 chip, like the iPhone 6, iPhone 6s Plus and the original iPhone SE.
  • New analysis estimates Apple’s upcoming iOS privacy changes will cause a roughly 7% revenue hit for Facebook in Q2. The revenue hit will continue in following quarters and will be “material.”

Platforms: Google

  • Google adds “trending” icons to the Play Store. New arrow icons appeared in the Top Charts tab, which indicate whether an app’s downloads are trending up or down, in terms of popularity. This could provide an early signal about those that may still be rising in the charts or beginning to fall out of favor, despite their current high position.
  • Google appears to be working on a Restricted Networking mode for Android 12. The mode, discovered by XDA Developers digging in the Android Open Source Project, would disable network access for all third-party apps.

Gaming

  • Goama (or Go Games) introduced a way for developers to integrate social games into their apps, which was showcased at CES. The company focuses on Asia and Latin America and has more than 15 partners, including GCash and Rappi, for digital payments and communications.
  • Fortnite maker Epic Games is getting into movies. The animated feature film Gilgamesh will use Epic’s Unreal Engine technology to tell the story of the king-turned-deity. The movie is not an in-house project, but rather is financed through Epic’s $100M MegaGrants fund.

Augmented Reality

  • Patents around Apple’s AR and VR efforts describe how a system could be identified in a way that’s similar to FaceID, then either permitted or denied the ability to change their appearance in the game.
  • Pinterest launches AR try-on for eyeshadow in its mobile app using Lens technology and ModiFace data. The app already offered AR try-on for lipsticks.

Entertainment

  • The CW app became the No. 1 app on the App Store this week, topping TikTok, Instagram and YouTube, thanks to CW’s season premieres of Batwoman, All American, Riverdale and Nancy Drew.
  • Users of podcasting app Anchor, owned by Spotify, say the app isn’t bringing them any sponsorship opportunities, as promised, beyond those from Spotify and Anchor itself.
  • YouTube launches hashtag landing pages on the web and in its mobile app. The pages are accessible when you click hashtags on YouTube, not via search, and weirdly rank the “best” videos through some inscrutable algorithm.
  • Apple’s Podcasts app adds a new editorial feature, Apple Podcasts Spotlight, meant to increase podcast listening by showcasing the best podcasts as selected by Apple editors.

E-commerce

  • WeChat facilitated 1.6 trillion yuan (close to $250 billion) in annual transactions through its “mini programs” in 2020. The figure is more than double that of 2019.

Fintech

  • Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, launched an e-wallet, Douyin Pay. The wallet will supplement the existing payment options, Alipay and WeChat Pay, and will help to support the Douyin app’s growing e-commerce business.
  • Neobank Monzo founder Tom Blomfield left the startup, saying he struggled during the pandemic. “I think [for] a lot of people in the world…going through a pandemic, going through lockdown and the isolation involved in that has an impact on people’s mental health,” he told TechCrunch.
  • New estimates indicate about 50% of the iPhone user base (or 507 million users) now use Apple Pay. 
  • Samsung’s newest phones drop support for MST, which emulates a mag stripe at terminals that don’t support NFC.

Social

  • Indian messaging app, StickerChat, owned by Hike, is shutting down. Founder Kavin Bharti Mittal said India will never have a homegrown messenger unless it bars Western companies from its market. Hike pivoted this month to virtual social apps, Vibe and Rush, which it believes have more potential.
  • Instagram head Adam Mosseri, in a Verge podcast, said he’s not happy with Reels so far, and how he feels most people probably don’t understand the difference between Instagram video and IGTV. He says the social network needs to simplify and consolidate ideas.
  • Facebook and Instagram improve their accessibility features. The apps’ AI-generated image captions now offer far more details about who or what is in the photos, thanks to improvements in image recognition systems.
  • TikTok launches a Q&A feature that lets creators respond to fan questions using text or videos. The feature, rolled out to select creators with more than 10,000 followers, makes it easier to see all the questions in one place.

Health & Fitness

  • Health and fitness app spending jumped 70% last year in Europe to record $544 million, a Sensor Tower report says. The year-over-year increase is far larger than 2019, when growth was just 37.2%. COVID-19 played a large role in this shift as people turned to fitness apps instead of gyms to stay in shape.

Government & Policy

  • Biden’s inauguration boosted installs of U.S. news apps up to 170%, Sensor Tower reported. CNN was the biggest mover, climbing 530 positions to reach No. 41 on the App Store, and up 170% in terms of downloads. News Break was the second highest, climbing 13 positions to No. 65. Right-wing outlet Newsmax climbed 43 spots to reach No. 108. In 2020, the top news apps were: News Break (23.7 million installs); SmartNews (9 million); CNN (5 million); and Fox News (4 million). This month, however, News Break saw 1.2 million installs, followed by Newsmax with about 863,000 installs, the report said.
  • Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC) sent a draft decision to fellow EU Data Protection Authorities over the WhatsApp-Facebook data sharing policy. This means a decision on the matter is coming closer to a resolution in terms of what standards of transparency is required by WhatsApp.
  • German app developer Florian Mueller of FOSS Patents filed a complaint with the EU, U.S. DOJ and other antitrust watchdogs around the world over Apple and Google’s rejection of his COVID-related mobile game. Both stores had policies to only approve official COVID-19 apps from health authorities. Mueller renamed the game Viral Days and removed references to the novel coronavirus to get the app approved. However, he still feels the stores’ rules are holding back innovation.

Productivity

  • Basecamp’s Hey, which famously fought back against Apple’s App Store rules over IAP last year, has launched a business-focused platform, Hey for Work, expected to be public in Q1. The app has more App Store ratings than rival Superhuman, a report found. Currently, Hey has a 4.7-star rating across 3.3K reviews; Superhuman has 3.9 rating across only 274 reviews.

Trends

  • Baby boomers are increasingly using apps. Baby boomers/Gen Xers in the U.S. spent 30% more time year-over-year in their most used apps, App Annie reports. That’s a larger increase than either Millennials or Gen Z, at 18% and 16%, respectively.

Funding and M&A

  • Curtsy, a clothing resale app for Gen Z women, raised an $11 million Series A led by Index Ventures. The app tackles some of the problems with online resale by sending shipping supplies and labels to sellers, and by making the marketplace accessible to new and casual sellers.
  • Storytelling platform Wattpad acquired by South Korea’s Naver for $600 million. The reading apps whose stories have turned into book and Netflix hits will be incorporated into Naver’s publishing platform Webtoon.
  • On-demand delivery app Glovo partnered with Swiss-based real estate firm, Stoneweg, which is investing €100 million in building and refurbishing real estate in key markets to build out Glovo’s network of “dark stores.”
  • Pocket Casts app is up for sale. The podcast app was acquired nearly three years ago by a public radio consortium of top podcast producers (NPR, WNYC Studios, WBEZ Chicago and This American Life). The owners have now agreed to sell the app, which posted a net loss in 2020. (NPR’s share of the loss was over $800,000.)
  • Travel app Maps.me raised $50 million in a round led by Alameda Research. The funding will go toward the launch of a multi-currency wallet. Cryptocurrency lender Genesis Capital and institutional cryptocurrency firm CMS Holdings also participated in the round, Coindesk reported.
  • Bangalore-based hyperlocal delivery app Dunzo raised $40 million in a round that included investment from Google, Lightbox, Evolvence, Hana Financial Investment, LGT Lightstone Aspada and Alteria.
  • London-based food delivery app Deliveroo raised $180 million in new funding from existing investors, led by Durable Capital Partners and Fidelity Management, valuing the business at more than $7 billion.
  • Dating Group acquired Swiss startup Once, a dating app that sends one match per day, for $18 million.

Downloads

Bodyguard

Image Credits: Bodyguard

A French content moderation app called Bodyguard, detailed here by TechCrunch, has brought its service to the English-speaking market. The app allows you to choose the level of content moderation you want to see on top social networks, like Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Twitch. You can choose to hide toxic content across a range of categories, like insults, body shaming, moral harassment, sexual harassment, racism and homophobia and indicate whether the content is a low or high priority to block.

Beeper

Image Credits: Beeper

Pebble’s founder and current YC Partner Eric Migicovsky has launched a new app, Beeper, that aims to centralize in one interface 15 different chat apps, including iMessage. The app relies on an open-source federated, encrypted messaging protocol called Matrix that uses “bridges” to connect to the various networks to move the messages. However, iMessage support is more wonky, as the company actually ships you an old iPhone to make the connection to the network. But this system allows you to access Beeper on non-Apple devices, the company says. The app is slowly onboarding new users due to initial demand. The app works across MacOS, Windows, Linux‍, iOS and Android and charges $10/mo for the service.

 

#actress, #adam-mosseri, #alipay, #alteria, #amazon, #amazon-web-services, #android, #app-developer, #app-store, #apple, #apps, #arkansas, #asia, #bangalore, #biden, #bodyguard, #columbia, #computing, #data-protection-commission, #dating-group, #disney, #doj, #driver, #durable-capital-partners, #e-commerce, #epic-games, #eric-migicovsky, #europe, #european-union, #fidelity-management, #food, #fox-news, #glovo, #google, #hana-financial-investment, #india, #instagram, #iphone, #ireland, #itunes, #judge, #latin-america, #linux, #london, #macos, #microsoft-windows, #mobile, #mobile-app, #mobile-applications, #mobile-devices, #netflix, #operating-systems, #parler, #pinterest, #play-store, #president, #real-estate, #seattle, #sensor-tower, #social-network, #social-networks, #software, #sony, #south-korea, #spotify, #stoneweg, #superhuman, #this-american-life, #tiktok, #tom-blomfield, #twitch, #twitter, #united-states, #wattpad, #web-services, #wnyc

0

App stores saw record 218 billion downloads in 2020, consumer spend of $143 billion

Mobile adoption continued to grow in 2020, in part due to the market forces of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to App Annie’s annual “State of Mobile” industry report, mobile app downloads grew by 7% year-over-year to a record 218 billion in 2020. Meanwhile, consumer spending grew by 20% to also hit a new milestone of $143 billion, led by markets that included China, the United States, Japan, South Korea and the United Kingdom.

Consumers also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone, the report found.

In another shift, app usage in the U.S. surged ahead of the time spent watching live TV. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day, but now spends four hours on their mobile device.

The increase in time spent is a trend that’s not unique to the U.S., but can be seen across several other countries, including both developing mobile markets like Indonesia, Brazil and India, as well as places like China, Japan, South Korea, the U.K., Germany, France and others.

The trend isn’t isolated to any one demographic, either, but is seen across age groups. In the U.S., for example, Gen Z, millennials and Gen X/Baby Boomers spent 16%, 18% and 30% more time in their most-used apps year-over-year, respectively. However, what those favorite apps looked like was very different.

For Gen Z in the U.S., top apps on Android phones included Snapchat, Twitch, TikTok, Roblox and Spotify.

Millennials favored Discord, LinkedIn, PayPal, Pandora and Amazon Music.

And Gen X/Baby Boomers used Ring, Nextdoor, The Weather Channel, Kindle and ColorNote Notepad Notes.

The pandemic didn’t necessarily change how consumers were using apps in 2020, but rather accelerated mobile adoption by two to three years’ time, the report found.

Investors were also eager to fuel mobile businesses as a result, pouring $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year-over-year. According to Crunchbase data, 26% of total global funding dollars in 2020 went to businesses that included a mobile solution.

From 2016 to 2020, global funding to mobile technology companies more than doubled compared with the previous five years, and was led by financial services, transportation, commerce and shopping.

Mobile gaming adoption also continued to grow in 2020. Casual games dominated the market in terms of downloads (78%), but Core games accounted for 66% of games’ consumer spend and 55% of the time spent.

With many stuck inside due to COVID-19 lockdowns and quarantines, mobile games that offered social interaction boomed. Among Us, for example, became a breakout game in several markets in 2020, including the U.S.

Other app categories saw sizable increases over the past year, as well.

Time spent in Finance apps in 2020 was up 45% worldwide, outside of China, and participation in the stock market grew 55% on mobile, thanks to apps like Robinhood in the U.S. and others worldwide, that democratized investing and trading.

TikTok had a big year, too.

The app saw incredible 325% year-over-year growth, despite a ban in India, and ranked in the top five apps by time spent. The average monthly time spent per user also grew faster than nearly every other app analyzed, including 65% in the U.S. and 80% in the U.K., surpassing Facebook. TikTok is now on track to hit 1.2 billion active users in 2021, App Annie forecasts.

Other video services boomed in 2020, thanks to a combination of new market entrants and a lot of time spent at home. Consumers spent 40% more hours streaming on mobile devices, with time spent in streaming apps peaking in the second quarter in the west as the pandemic forced people inside.

YouTube benefitted from this trend, as it became the No. 1 streaming app by time spent among all markets analyzed except China. The time spent in YouTube is up to 6x that of the next closet app at 38 hours per month.

Of course, another big story for 2020 was the rise of e-commerce amid the pandemic. This made the past year the biggest ever for mobile shopping, with an over 30% increase in time spent in Shopping apps, as measured on Android phones outside of China.

Mobile commerce, however, looked less traditional in 2020.

Social shopping was a big trend, with global downloads of Pinterest and Instagram growing 50% and 20% year-over-year, respectively.

Livestreaming shopping grew, too, led by China. Downloads of live shopping TaoBao Live in China, Grip in South Korea and NTWRK in the U.S. grew 100%, 245% and 85%, respectively. NTWRK doubled in size last year, and now others are entering the space as well — including TikTok, to some extent.

The pandemic also prompted increased usage of mobile ordering apps. In the U.S., Argentina, the U.K., Indonesia and Russia, the app grew by 60%, 65%, 70%, 80% and 105%, respectively, in Q4.

Business apps, like Zoom and Google Meet among others, grew 275% in Q4, for example, as remote work and sometimes school, continued.

The analysis additionally included lists of the top apps by downloads, spending and monthly active users (MAUs).

Although TikTok had been topping year-end charts, Facebook continued to beat it in terms of MAUs. Facebook-owned apps controlled the top charts by MAUs, with Facebook at No. 1 followed by WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram.

TikTok, however, had more downloads than Facebook and ranked No. 2 by consumer spending, behind Tinder.

The full report is available only as an online interactive experience this year, not a download. The report largely uses data from both the iOS App Store and Google Play, except where otherwise noted.

#amazon, #android, #app-annie, #apps, #argentina, #brazil, #china, #computing, #e-commerce, #facebook, #financial-services, #france, #freeware, #germany, #google, #india, #indonesia, #instagram, #japan, #kindle, #linkedin, #messenger, #mobile-app, #mobile-applications, #mobile-commerce, #mobile-device, #mobile-devices, #mobile-technology, #operating-systems, #pandora, #paypal, #pinterest, #roblox, #russia, #snapchat, #social-media, #software, #south-korea, #spotify, #the-weather-channel, #tiktok, #twitch, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #video-services

0

Teledyne to acquire FLIR in $8 billion cash and stock deal

Industrial sensor giant Teledyne is set to acquire sensing company FLIR in a deal valued at around $8 billion in a mix of stock and cash, pending approvals with an expected closing date sometime in the middle of this year. While both companies make sensors, aimed primarily at industrial and commercial customers, they actually focus on different specialties that Teledyne said in a press release makes FLIR’s business complimentary to, rather than competitive with, its existing offerings.

FLIR’s technology has appeared in the consumer market via add-on thermal cameras designed for mobile devices, including the iPhone. These are useful for things like identifying the source of drafts and potential plumbing leaks, but the company’s main business, which includes not only thermal imaging, but also visible light imaging, video analysts and threat detection technology, serves deep-pocketed customers including the aerospace and defense industries.

Teledyne also serves aerospace and defense customers, including NASA, as well as healthcare, marine and climate monitoring agencies. The company’s suite of offerings include seismic sensors, oscilloscopes and other instrumentation, as well as digital imaging, but FLIR’s products cover some areas not currently addressed by Teledyne, and in more depth.

#aerospace, #california, #companies, #digital-imaging, #flir, #healthcare, #imaging, #iphone, #mobile-devices, #surveillance, #tc, #thermal-imaging

0

“Evil mobile emulator farms” used to steal millions from US and EU banks

“Evil mobile emulator farms” used to steal millions from US and EU banks

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images)

Researchers from IBM Trusteer say they’ve uncovered a massive fraud operation that used a network of mobile device emulators to drain millions of dollars from online bank accounts in a matter of days.

The scale of the operation was unlike anything the researchers have seen before. In one case, crooks used about 20 emulators to mimic more than 16,000 phones belonging to customers whose mobile bank accounts had been compromised. In a separate case, a single emulator was able to spoof more than 8,100 devices, as shown in the following image:

(credit: IBM Trusteer)

The thieves then entered usernames and passwords into banking apps running on the emulators and initiated fraudulent money orders that siphoned funds out of the compromised accounts. Emulators are used by legitimate developers and researchers to test how apps run on a variety of different mobile devices.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#bank-fraud, #biz-it, #emulators, #mobile-devices, #tech

0

EdTech boom continues as IntellectoKids raises $3M from Allrise Capital and others

The rush to capitalize on the shift to online learning, post-pandemic, continues. IntellectoKids, a developer of educational apps for children aged 3 to 7 years, has raised $3 million in a Series A financing led by US-based Allrise Capital and other investors, including Genesis Investments.

The platform offers parents of preschool children ‘gamified’ educational content and structured lessons available on mobile devices.

The startup will now launch a Classroom feature with learning tracks in five core Kindergarten and Grade 1 courses, including Math, Phonics, Science, Arts, and Logic.

In addition to the current B2C model, the founders expect in 2021 to offer primary schools and kindergartens IntellectoKids’ platform as an online supplement to support their offline educational process.

IntellectoKids was founded by Mike Kotlov and Andrey Kondratyuk in 2017, who each have three young children.

Kotlov said: “On the education scene, preschool education is becoming a highly vibrant market. The pandemic showed that preschool kids can effectively consume educational content online and autonomously. Clearly, there is a growing need for this type of product among parents and businesses now; however, once the pandemic is over the online education is here to stay for sure as it has already become intertwined with offline and benefited the overall educational process.”

IntellectoKids says it has more than 2 million installs across North America and Central & Northern Europe.

#articles, #early-childhood-education, #education, #genesis-investments, #learning, #mobile-devices, #north-america, #online-education, #online-learning, #preschool, #tc

0

Google launches Android Enterprise Essentials, a mobile device management service for small businesses

Google today introduced a new mobile management and security solution, Android Enterprise Essentials, which, despite its name, is actually aimed at small to medium-sized businesses. The company explains this solution leverages Google’s experience in building Android Enterprise device management and security tools for larger organizations in order to come up with a simpler solution for those businesses with smaller budgets.

The new service includes the basics in mobile device management, with features that allow smaller businesses to require their employees to use a lock screen and encryption to protect company data. It also prevents users from installing apps outside the Google Play Store via the Google Play Protect service, and allows businesses to remotely wipe all the company data from phones that are lost or stolen.

As Google explains, smaller companies often handle customer data on mobile devices, but many of today’s remote device management solutions are too complex for small business owners, and are often complicated to get up-and-running.

Android Enterprise Essentials attempts to make the overall setup process easier by eliminating the need to manually activate each device. And because the security policies are applied remotely, there’s nothing the employees themselves have to configure on their own phones. Instead, businesses that want to use the new solution will just buy Android devices from a reseller to hand out or ship to employees with policies already in place.

Though primarily aimed at smaller companies, Google notes the solution may work for select larger organizations that want to extend some basic protections to devices that don’t require more advanced management solutions. The new service can also help companies get started with securing their mobile device inventory, before they move up to more sophisticated solutions over time, including those from third-party vendors.

The company has been working to better position Android devices for use in workplace over the past several years, with programs like Android for Work, Android Enterprise Recommended, partnerships focused on ridding the Play Store of malware, advanced device protections for high-risk users, endpoint management solutions, and more.

Google says it will roll out Android Enterprise Essentials initially with distributors Synnex in the U.S. and Tech Data in the U.K. In the future, it will make the service available through additional resellers as it takes the solution global in early 2021. Google will also host an online launch event and demo in January for interested customers.

#android, #android-enterprise, #device-management, #encryption, #enterprise, #google, #google-play, #google-play-store, #mobile, #mobile-device-management, #mobile-devices, #play-store, #security-tools, #smartphones, #united-states

0

Walmart’s new test stores will experiment with AR, mobile, revamped checkout and more

Walmart over the years has been working to turn its physical retail stores into online fulfillment centers, and now, with its latest set of test stores announced today, the retailer will try out ideas to make that transition more seamless. Walmart says it will deploy personnel to four test stores across the U.S., where they’ll prototype and iterate on new technology and tools that will serve the needs of Walmart’s in-store shoppers and online shoppers alike, including changes involving augmented reality, handheld mobile devices, new apps, in-store signage, omni-assortment, and revamped checkout stations.

The idea is to turn these four test locations into rapid prototyping environments, where teams can test solutions in real-time, make changes, scale what works and scrap what doesn’t. Some of the changes being put into place will be visible to the customer, while others will be more behind-the-scenes.

At launch, Walmart has identified four areas where it’s looking to test new ideas across assortment, inventory, picking and checkout process.

In one store, it will test moving the majority of the in-store apparel assortment online — meaning the same exact items can be found both in the store and online. This isn’t always the case today, as not everything stocked in the stores are also on the Walmart website, and vice versa. This test will focus on determining what has to take place to make all the eligible items in a store “omni-available,” Walmart says, a reference to its desire to be a true “omni-channel” retailer.

Image Credits: Walmart

A second test will involve a new app that aims to speed up the time it takes to get items from the back room to the sales floor, using augmented reality (AR). In this test, instead of scanning the barcode on boxes that are ready to go, the app will use AR technology to highlight those boxes. The hope is that this will help to move the product to shelves, and in front of customers, faster than before.

Image Credits:

Another experiment uses a combination of handheld devices and in-store signage to help associates better navigate to the right locations when picking items for online orders. In early tests, Walmart says the percentage of time it takes associates to find the items has already gone up by 20% in some of the categories that tend to be more difficult to find.

The fourth test will expand and build on an experimental checkout experience Walmart previously announced in June. In this store, Walmart does away with individual checkout lanes, and transitions cashiers into the role of “hosts” in a new area of the store that resembles a self-checkout destination. Here, customers can opt to check out themselves or have a “host” offer full-service checkout. In either case, store staff are around to help with any issues that arise.

Image Credits: Walmart

The expectation is that checkout lanes will move more quickly than the old style of individual checkout lanes. With the latter layout, a surge of new customers coming to the registers could cause bottlenecks if there weren’t enough lanes staffed. In the long run, the new layout could free up cashiers to help with other tasks in store as a checkout station may not need as many “hosts” on hand to run things.

The four stores may test other technology and digital solutions in the future, as well, but Walmart didn’t expand on its roadmap plans. Two of the stores in Northwest Arkansas, including a Bentonville location, are up and running. Two more are planned to be up and running soon.

Each store will have four new employees staffed to aid with the prototypes — a product manager, a technologist, a business owner, and a designer.

“We’re moving quickly to use our physical retail stores to not only serve in-store shoppers, but to flex to meet the needs of online shoppers, too, in ways that only Walmart can,” said John Crecelius, Walmart U.S. SVP of Associate Product and Next Generation Stores, in a statement. “That’s where our new test stores come in. Their purpose is to find solutions that continue to help our stores operate as both physical shopping destinations and online fulfillment centers in a way that has yet to be seen across the retail industry,” he added. 

#e-commerce, #ecommerce, #fulfillment, #mobile-devices, #omnichannel, #online-shopping, #point-of-sale, #retail, #retailers, #shopping, #walmart

0

Mobile by Peak Design is a new, complete mobile mounting solution for everyday convenience

After a steady stream of successful product launches and Kickstarter campaigns, Peak Design is back with a new one – Mobile by Peak Design. The startup that created a rich ecosystem of photography and packing gear is tackling mobile devices next, and has devices a clever interconnect system that seems to have anticipated Apple’s new MagSafe magnetic phone accessory scheme – but that’s designed for all smartphones and mobile devices.

Similar to Peak Design’s Capture, Anchor and mounting plate system, Mobile by Peak Design offers a way to connect smartphones to all kinds of accessories, including tripods, car mounts, charging stands, bike handlebars and much more. The system is entered around what Peak calls its “SlimLink” connector, which is a clever combo magnetic and physical mounting receiver that you can attach to your phone either with dedicated cases, or a universal sticky-backed accessory. SlimLink then works with both soft-lock and hard-lock accessories, which use either magnets alone (soft) or magnets combined with physical catchments (hard) for varying degrees of stable connection with a line of mounts.

Peak Design is launching on Kickstarter with a crowdfunding campaign, but the product is already designed and produced to a high level of quality. It sent out media samples of a range of products in the Mobile lineup, including a SlimLink universal phone mount, a handlebar mount, the folding tripod, two magnetic/stick-backed universal mounting pads, and an in-car dashboard mount.

I’ve been using these for the past couple of weeks and have found them to be incredibly versatile and convenient. Peak also supplied an iPhone 11 Pro case, but since I’m using an iPhone 11 Pro Max, I just affixed the 3M-backed universal plate directly to my phone using the included sizing and alignment guide. The attachment is incredibly secure, and doesn’t add very much thickness to your phone at all (it basically provides just enough clearance that the iPhone 11 Pro’s camera bump barely clears table surfaces).

The magnetic connection between it and the ‘soft-lock’ mounts is strong enough that I’m never worried about them coming loose – I’ve used the general purpose magnetic mounts on my fridge often, and the phone hasn’t moved. The bike mount, with its additional physical prongs, is rock solid while actually biking around, and the arm on the mount puts the phone is a great position for acting as a navigation device while biking around, in both portrait and landscape orientations.

Peak has really outdone itself with the design of this system, but that is maybe most true when it comes to the tripod. The clever, three-legged folding design is tiny – smaller overall footprint than a credit card, though a bit thicker – and it’s amazing to be able to carry this everywhere in a pocket and have a stable platform for taking time-lapse photos. You can adjust its stability using the included Allen key, too.

The car mount has an adhesive backing for sticking to your dashboard, and fits in the recessed SlimLink slot on the phone mount/case without physically catching. It’s stable and secure in testing, and best of all, Peak has made the adjustable ball that lets you orient your phone just the right amount of stiff that you can move it but it doesn’t require any additional tightening. My one complaint thus far with the universal mount has been that it isn’t compatible with my Nomad Base Station Pro charger, though Peak says it’s testing the accessory with wireless chargers and will advise as to compatibility in future. The Peak Everyday phone case, meanwhile, is compatible with many Qi chargers.

Peak says these designs are subject to change, and of course, MagSafe was a surprise to the company just as it was to the rest of the world. Peak still plans to create iPhone 12 cases for the range, and says that all of its soft-locking accessories will also work with both Apple MagSafe phones, as well as MagSafe cases. Apple MagSafe accessories, like the wallet, will also likewise attach to MagSafe phones.

This could’ve been one of those moments where Apple announces something that renders a competing product obsolete before it even gets to market, but Peak’s Mobile system design actually makes them complimentary – and provides very similar benefits to phones and devices that otherwise would’ve have been able to take advantage of what MagSafe offers.

The Kickstarter campaign launches today, and Peak believes it will be able to ship the Mobile system cases and accessories starting in Spring 2021.

#apple, #gadgets, #hardware, #ios, #iphone, #iphone-6, #ipod, #kickstarter, #magsafe, #mobile-devices, #mobile-phones, #reviews, #smartphone, #smartphones, #tc, #wireless-chargers

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Shure’s Aonic 50 wireless noise cancelling headphones offer best-in-class audio quality

The noise-cancelling over-ear headphone category is an increasingly competitive one, and consumers have never been more spoiled for choice. Shure entered the market this year with the Aonic 50, a premium-priced headset ($399) that offers active noise cancelling, Bluetooth connectivity and USB-C charging. Shure’s reputation for delivering top-quality sound is definitely part of the package, and there’s a lot more to recommend the Aonic 50 as well.

Basics

Shure offers the Aonic 50 in either black or brown finishes, and they have physical controls on the right ear cup for volume, turning noise cancellation on and off, power, activating voice assistances and skipping tracks. There’s a USB-C port for charging, and a 2.5mm stereo connector on the left ear cup for using the included cable to connect via wire, which allows you to use them even while the internal battery is depleted or the headset is powered down (albeit without active noise cancelling obviously).

The Aonic 50 also comes with a round, flat carrying case – the ear cups swivel to fit in the zippered storage compartment. This takes up more of a footprint than the typical folding design of these kind of ANC headphones, but it’s less bulky, too, so it depends on how you’re packing them whether this is good or bad.

Shure offers a mobile app for iOS and Android called ShurePlus Play that can provide EQ controls, as well as more specific tuning of both the active noise cancelling, and the environmental mode that pipes in outside sound. This allows for a lot of customization, but with one major caveat – EQ settings only apply when playing music via the app itself, which is an unusual and disappointing choice.

Design and performance

Shure’s Aonic 50 excel in a couple of areas where the company has a proven track record: Sound quality and comfort/wearability. The ample faux leather-wrapped padding on both the headband and the ear cups make them very comfortable to wear, even for longer sessions, which is great for work for home practicality. I often forgot I had them on while moving around the house, which gives you an idea of how well they fit.

As for sound, Shure has aimed for a relatively neutral, flat tone that provides an accurate recreation of what the original producer intended for any track, and the results are great. Music detail is clear, and they’re neither too heavy on bass or overemphatic on treble. This is a sound profile that audiophiles will appreciate, though it might not be the best for anyone who’s looking for a bass-heavy soundstage. That said, bass-favoring headphones are easy to find in this category, so Shure’s offering, with its clear highs, stands apart from the field in the ANC arena. To be clear, the bass is excellent, but overall the market has moved towards muddy, artificially enhanced bass vs. true rendering, which the Aonic 50 delivers.

The button controls on the Aonic 50 are well-placed and cover the spectrum in terms of what you’d want to be able to control right from the headset. USB-C charging is much-appreciated in an era where that’s far and away the standard for most of the mobile devices in your life, as well as many computers. The included stereo cable is a great addition for when the battery runs out – but Shure’s advertised 20-hour or so battery life estimate is accurate, so it’ll be quite a while before you have to resort to that as long as you remember to charge once in a while.

If there’s one place where Shure’s performance falls a bit short, it’s in noise cancellation. The ANC does a decent job of blocking out unwanted environmental sound, but it’s not quite up to the standard of the like of Bose or Sony’s top-end ANC headphones. It still gets the job done most of the time, and the trade-off is better sound.

Bottom line

As I said above, people looking for active noise cancelling headphones are spoiled for choice these days. But the Shure Aonic 50 offers something that discerning audio pros won’t be able to find from alternatives including those from Bose or Sony, and that’s an excellent soundstage and sound quality that just can’t be beat. Wearability is also tops, which makes these a great options for audiophiles who want a wire-free, sound-blocking solution for a home office.

#android, #audio-engineering, #audiophile, #bluetooth, #gadgets, #hardware, #headphones, #headset, #mobile-devices, #noise-cancelling, #noise-cancelling-headphones, #noise-reduction, #reviews, #shure, #sony, #sound, #tc, #work-from-home-gear

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Edge computing startup Edgify secures $6.5M Seed from Octopus, Mangrove and semiconductor

Edgify, which builds AI for edge computing, has secured a $6.5m seed funding round backed by Octopus Ventures, Mangrove Capital Partners and an unnamed semiconductor giant. The name was not released but TechCrunch understands it nay be Intel Corp. or Qualcomm Inc.

Edgify’s technology allows ‘edge devices’ (devices at the edge of the internet) to interpret vast amounts of data, train an AI model locally, and then share that learning across its network of similar devices. This then trains all the other devices in anything from computer vision, NLP, voice recognition, or any other form of AI. 

The technology can be applied to anything from MRI machines, connected cars, checkout lanes, mobile devices and anything that has a CPU, GPU or NPU. Edgify’s technology is already being used in supermarkets, for instance.

Ofri Ben-Porat, CEO and co-founder of Edgify, commented in a statement: “Edgify allows companies, from any industry, to train complete deep learning and machine learning models, directly on their own edge devices. This mitigates the need for any data transfer to the Cloud and also grants them close to perfect accuracy every time, and without the need to retrain centrally.” 

Mangrove partner Hans-Jürgen Schmitz who will join Edgify’s Board comments: “We expect a surge in AI adoption across multiple industries with significant long-term potential for Edgify in medical and manufacturing, just to name a few.” 

Simon King, Partner and Deep Tech Investor at Octopus Ventures added: “As the interconnected world we live in produces more and more data, AI at the edge is becoming increasingly important to process large volumes of information.”

So-called ‘edge computing’ is seen as being one of the forefronts of deeptech right now.

#articles, #artificial-intelligence, #cloud-computing, #computing, #cybernetics, #deep-learning, #edge-computing, #emerging-technologies, #europe, #internet-of-things, #machine-learning, #mangrove-capital-partners, #manufacturing, #mobile-devices, #mri, #octopus-ventures, #science-and-technology, #semiconductor, #tc, #voice-recognition

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Microsoft updates its Endpoint Manager with improved macOS support and more

At its Ignite conference today, Microsoft announced a number of new features for the Microsoft Endpoint Manager, the company’s unified platform for managing and securing devices in an enterprise environment. The service, which combines the features of the Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager with the cloud-based tools of Intune, launched just under a year ago. Today’s updates build on the foundation the team created at the time and add improved macOS and iPad support, as well as new tools for connecting mobile devices to on-premises apps and additional productivity tools based on the date the company gathers from the service. The company is also making it easier for corporate IT departments to provision devices for employees remotely.

If anything, the pandemic has only accelerated both the growth of this business for Microsoft and the need for companies to manage their remote devices.

“It really is about bringing this cloud and all the intelligence that we had in Intune together with Config Manager and making it act as one,” Brad Anderson, Microsoft corporate VP for the Commercial Management Experiences team, told me. “And it’s been so fascinated to see how the pandemic accelerated people wanting and needing to use that. When the pandemic first hit – and as I go back to March 8th or 10th, in the US, the calls that I was having almost every day with CIOs centered around, ‘my VPN is overwhelmed. How am I going to patch on keep all my systems updated?’”

Today’s announcements build on the work Microsoft has done on this service over the course of the last year. After launching support for scripting on macOS earlier this year, for example, the company today announced a new “first-class management experience on macOS” that brings deploy scripts, but also improved enrollment experiences and app lifecycle management feature to the platform.

Endpoint Manager now also supports Apple’s Shared iPad for Business functionality and will help businesses deploy iPads to their users and allow them to log in with Azure Active Directory accounts. This gives users two separate portions on the device: one for work and one for everything else.

Another new feature is Microsoft Tunnel. This gives businesses a VPN that can cover the entire device or single apps to ensure that their employees’ devices are secure and compliant with their internal policy to access their networks.

“The key thing [with Microsoft Tunnel] is that this is all integrated into our conditional access,” Anderson explained. “And so when that VPN comes up, before access is granted to the data or to the apps, the conditional access engine that we’ve built inside of Microsoft 365 has that point of view on the trust of the identity and the trust of the device. That really is the key differentiator on that. I’ll tell you, between you and I, that one feature is probably the single feature that customers who are running another MDM and then the Microsoft Endpoint Manager — that’s the one they’re waiting for.”

Endpoint Manager now also supports the Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) environment. That’s been a massive growth area for the company — one that has only been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. As Anderson told me, the company saw 10x growth for WVD through the pandemic. “Now, Windows Virtual Desktop is that first-class citizen inside Microsoft Endpoint Manager. So you can manage your virtual endpoints just like you manage your physical endpoints. All your policies are applicable, all your apps are clickable. And it just makes it easier to be able to use that as one of the tools you have to empower your users,” he said.

Another area of Endpoint Manager, which may only seem tangentially related at first, is Microsoft’s Productivity Score. There are two aspects to this service, though: employee experience and technology experience. Productivity Score is meant to help businesses better understand how their employees are working — and identify areas where companies can improve. On the technology side, that also means understanding which apps crash, for example, or why laptops slow down.

“Here’s one of the key scenarios,” said Anderson. “We’ll get a call every once in a while that says, like, ‘hey, my users are all having a great experience with Office 365 but I’ve got a handful of users for whom it’s slow.’ More often than not, that’s a networking issue. And so every time a user, for example, opens a file or saves a file, opens an attachment, we get telemetry back that helps us understand the operations of that. We probably know when an ISP in the south of France sneezes, because Office 365 is so ubiquitous now.”

The other new feature here is what Microsoft calls Endpoint Analytics. With this, Microsoft can now provide businesses with details information about when apps on their employees’ devices crash – no matter whether that’s an internal app, a third-party service — or a Microsoft app.

In addition to these technology scores, Productivity Score is also getting new categories like meetings, so managers can see how many meetings their employees have, as well as a new teamwork category.

#chrome-os, #computing, #enterprise, #ipad, #microsoft, #microsoft-365, #microsoft-ignite-2020, #mobile-devices, #network-management, #software, #system-administration, #tc

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Google, Nokia, Qualcomm are investors in $230M Series A2 for Finnish phone maker, HMD Global

Mobile device maker HMD Global has announced a $230M Series A2 — its first tranche of external funding since a $100M round back in 2018 when it tipped over into a unicorn valuation. Since late 2016 the startup has exclusively licensed Nokia’s brand for mobile devices, going on to ship some 240M devices to date.

Its latest cash injection is notable both for its size (HMD claims it as the third largest funding round in Europe this year); and the profile of the strategic investors ploughing in capital — namely: Google, Nokia and Qualcomm.

Though whether a tech giant (Google) whose OS dominates the world’s smartphone market (Android) becoming a strategic investor in Europe’s last significant mobile OEM (HMD) catches the attention of regional competition enforcers remains to be seen. Er, vertical integration anyone? (To wit: It’s a little over two years since Google was slapped with a $5BN penalty by EU regulators for antitrust violations related to how it operates Android — and the Commission has said it continues to monitor the market ‘remedies’.)

In a further quirk, when we spoke to HMD Global CEO, Florian Seiche, ahead of today’s announcement, he didn’t expect the names of the investors to be disclosed — but we’d already been sent press release material listing them so he duly confirmed the trio are investors in the round. (But wouldn’t be drawn on how much equity Google is grabbing.)

HMD’s smartphones run on Google’s Android platform, which gives the tech giant a firm business reason for supporting the mobile maker in growing the availability of Google-packed hardware in key growth markets around the world.

And while HMD likens its consistent (and consistently updated) flavor of Android to the premium ‘pure’ Android experience you get from Google’s own-brand Pixel smartphones, the difference is the Finnish company offers devices across the range of price points, and targets hardware at mobile users in developing markets.

The upshot is relatively little overlap with Google’s Pixel hardware, and still plenty of business upside for Google should HMD grow the pipeline of Google services users (as it makes money by targeting ads).

Connoisseurs of mobile history may see more than a little irony in Google investing into Nokia branded smartphones (via HMD), given Android’s role in fatally disrupting Nokia’s lucrative smartphone business — knocking the Finnish giant off its perch as the world’s number one mobile maker and ushering in an era of Android-fuelled Asian mobile giants. But wait long enough in tech and what goes around oftentimes comes back around.

“We’re extremely excited,” said Seiche, when we mention Google’s pivotal role in Nokia’s historical downfall in smartphones. “How we are going to write that next chapter on smartphones is a critical strategic pillar for the company and our opportunity to team up so closely with Google around this has been a very, very great partnership from the beginning. And then this investment definitely confirms that — also for the future.”

“It’s a critical time for the industry therefore having a clear strategy — having a clear differentiation and a different point of view to offer, we believe, is a fantastic asset that we have developed for ourselves. And now is a great moment for us to double down on this,” he added.

We also asked Seiche whether HMD has any interest in taking advantage of the European Commission’s Android antitrust enforcement decision — i.e. to fork Android and remove the usual Google services, perhaps swapping them out for some European alternatives, which is at least a possibility for OEMs selling in the region — but Seiche told us: “We have looked at it but we strongly believe that consumers or enterprise customers actually love [Google] services and therefore they choose those services for themselves.” (Millions of dollars of direct investment from Google also, presumably, helps make the Google services business case stack up.)

Nokia, meanwhile, has always had a close relationship with HMD — which was established by former Nokia execs for the sole purpose of licensing its iconic mobile brand. (The backstory there is a clause in the sale terms of Nokia’s mobile device division to Microsoft expired in 2016, paving the way for Nokia’s brand to be returned to the smartphone market without the prior Windows Mobile baggage.)

Its investment into HMD now looks like a vote of confidence in how the company has been executing in the fiercely competitive mobile space to date (HMD doesn’t break out a lot of detail about device sales but Seiche told us it sold in excess of 70M mobiles last year; that’s a combined figure for smartphones and feature phones) — as well as an upbeat assessment of the scope of the growth opportunity ahead of it.

On the latter front US-led geopolitical tensions between the West and China do look poised to generate a tail-wind for HMD’s business.

Mobile chipmaker Qualcomm, for example, is facing a loss of business, as US government restrictions threaten its ability to continue selling chips to Huawei; a major Chinese device maker that’s become a key target for US president Trump. Its interest in supporting HMD’s growth, therefore, looks like a way for Qualcomm to hedge against US government disruption aimed at Chinese firms in its mobile device maker portfolio.

While with Trump’s recent threats against the TikTok app it seems safe to assume that no tech company with a Chinese owner is safe.

As a European company, HMD is able to position itself as a safe haven — and Seiche’s sales pitch talks up a focus on security detail and overall quality of experience as key differentiating factors vs the Android hoards.

“We have been very clear and very consistent right from the beginning to pick these core principles that are close to our heart and very closely linked with the Nokia brand itself — and definitely security, quality and trust are key elements,” he told TechCrunch. “This is resonating with our carrier and retail customers around the world and it is definitely also a core fundamental differentiator that those partners that are taking a longer term view clearly see that same opportunity that we see for us going forward.”

HMD does use manufacturing facilities in China, as well as in a number of other locations around the world — including Brazil, India, Indonesia and Vietnam.

But asked whether it sees any supply chain risks related to continued use of Chinese manufacturers to build ‘secure’ mobile hardware, Seiche responded by claiming: “The most important [factor] is we do control the software experience fully.” He pointed specifically to HMD’s acquisition of Valona Labs earlier this year. The Finnish security startup carries out all its software audits. “They basically control our software to make sure we can live up to that trusted standard,” Seiche added. 

Landing a major tranche of new funding now — and with geopolitical tension between the West and the Far East shining a spotlight on its value as alternative, European mobile maker — HMD is eyeing expansion in growth markets such as Africa, Brail and India. (Currently, HMD said it’s active in 91 markets across eight regions, with its devices ranged in 250,000 retail outlets around the world.)

It’s also looking to bring 5G to devices at a greater range of price-points, beyond the current flagship Nokia 8.3. Seiche also said it wants to do more on the mobile services side. HMD’s first 5G device, the flagship Nokia 8.3, is due to land in the US and Europe in a matter of weeks. And Seiche suggested a timeframe of the middle of next year for launching a 5G device at a mid tier price point.

“The 5G journey again has started, in terms of market adoption, in China. But now Europe, US are the key next opportunity — not just in the premium tier but also in the mid segment. And to get to that as fast as possible is one of our goals,” he said, noting joint-working with Qualcomm on that.

“We also see great opportunity with Nokia in that 5G transition — because they are also working on a lot of private LTE deployments which is also an interesting area since… we are also very strongly present in that large enterprise segment,” he added.

On mobile services, Seiche highlighted the launch of HMD Connect: A data SIM aimed at travellers — suggesting it could expand into additional connectivity offers in future, forging more partnerships with carriers. 

“We have already launched several services that are close to the hardware business — like insurance for your smartphones — but we are also now looking at connectivity as a great area for us,” he said. “The first pilot of that has been our global roaming but we believe there is a play in the future for consumers or enterprise customers to get their connectivity directly with their device. And we’re partnering also with operators to make that happen.”

“You can see us more as a complement [to carriers],” he added, arguing that business “dynamics” for carriers have also changed substantially — and customer acquisition hasn’t been a linear game for some time.

“In a similar way when we talk about Google Pixel vs us — we have a different footprint. And again if you look at carriers where they get their subscribers from today is already today a mix between their own direct channels and their partner channels. And actually why wouldn’t a smartphone player be a natural good partner of choice also for them? So I think you’ll see that as a trend, potentially, evolving in the next couple of years.”

#africa, #android, #antitrust, #brazil, #china, #europe, #european-commission, #european-union, #fundings-exits, #google, #hmd-global, #huawei, #india, #indonesia, #microsoft, #mobile, #mobile-device, #mobile-devices, #nokia, #qualcomm, #smartphone, #smartphones, #trump, #united-states, #us-government, #vietnam, #windows-mobile

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