iOS 15 review: Forget quantity, Focus on quality

Screenshot of smartphone interface.

Enlarge / A few apps that received significant updates in iOS 15. (credit: Samuel Axon)

Every year, Apple releases a major update to its operating systems for the iPhone and iPad that sets the stage for a year of changes to come.  This year, iOS 15 brings new FaceTime and Messages features, tweaks to existing apps and notifications, and most notably, a new way of managing apps and notifications called Focus.

Frankly, this is a relatively modest update compared to what we saw last year. That’s amplified by the fact that some key features that Apple initially announced in June haven’t made it into the initial release of iOS 15. But today we’ll be exploring whether a modest update means a bad one. Should you bother to upgrade to the new version of iOS when it’s mostly a tune-up and a fresh coat of paint?

As always, let’s start with a look at which devices are still supported.

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#apple, #features, #gadgetology, #ios, #ios-15, #ipad, #iphone, #operating-system, #tech

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Virtual meeting platform Vowel raises $13.5M, aims to cure meeting fatigue

Meetings are an inevitable part of the work day, but as workplaces became more distributed over the past 18 months, Vowel CEO Andy Berman says we are steadily moving toward “death by meeting.”

His virtual meeting platform is the latest to receive venture capital funding — $13.5 million — with the goal of making meetings more useful before, during and after.

Vowel is launching a meeting operating system with tools like real-time transcription; integrated agendas, notes and action items; meeting analytics; and searchable, on-demand recordings of meetings. The company has a freemium business model and will also be rolling out a business plan this fall for $16 per user per month. Extra features will include advanced integrations, security and admin controls.

The Series A was led by David Hornik of Lobby Capital, who was joined by existing investors Amity Ventures and Box Group and a group of individual investors, including Calendly CEO Tope Awotona, Intercom co-founder Des Traynor, Slack VP Ethan Eismann, former Yammer executive Viviana Faga, former InVision president David Fraga and Okta co-founder Frederic Kerrest.

Prior to starting Vowel, Berman was one of the founders of baby monitor company Nanit. The company had teams spread out around the world, and communication was tough as a result. In 2018, the company went looking for a tool that would work for synchronous and asynchronous meetings, but there were still a lot of time zones to manage, he said.

Taking a cue from Nanit’s own baby monitors that were streaming video over 17 hours a day, the idea for Vowel was born, and the company began to focus on the hypothesis that distributed work would be prevalent.

“People initially thought we were crazy, but then the pandemic hit, and everyone was learning how to work remotely,” Berman told TechCrunch. “As we now go back to hybrid work, we see this as an opportunity.”

In 2017, Harvard Business Review reported that executives spent 23 hours in meetings each week. Berman now estimates that the average worker spends half of their time each week in meetings.

Vowel is out to bring Slack, Figma and GitHub components to meetings by recording audio and video that can be paused at any time. Users can add notes and see where those notes fall within a real-time transcription that enables people who arrive late or could not make the meeting to catch up easily. After meetings are over, they can be shared, and Vowel has a search function so that users can go back and see where a particular person or topic was discussed.

The new funding will enable the company to grow its team in product, design and engineering. Vowel plans to hire up to 30 new people over the next year. The company recently closed its beta test and has amassed a 10,000-person waitlist. The public launch will happen in the fall, Berman said.

Workplace productivity and office communication tools are not new concepts, but as Berman explained, became increasingly important when homes became offices over the past 18 months.

Competitors took different approaches to solving these problems: focusing on video conferencing or audio or meeting management with plugins. Berman says an area where many have not succeeded yet is integrating meetings into the typical workflow. That’s where Vowel comes in with its “meeting OS,” he added.

“Our goal is to make meetings more inclusive and worthwhile, which includes the prep, the meeting and the follow-up,” Berman said. “We see the future will be about knowledge management, so the difference between what we are doing is ensuring you can catch up quickly and keep that knowledge base. A Garner report said that 75% of workplace meetings will be recorded by 2025, and that is a trend we are reinventing from the ground up.”

David Hornick, founding partner at Lobby Capital, said he became acquainted with Vowel from its existing investor Amity Ventures. Hornick, who sits on the GitLab board, said GitLab was one of the largest distributed companies in the tech space, prior to the pandemic, and saw first-hand the challenge of making distributed teams functionable.

When Hornick heard about Vowell, he said he “jumped quickly” on the opportunity. His firm typically invests in platform businesses that have the capacity to transform business spaces. Many are pure software, like Splunk or GitLab, while others are akin to Bill.com, which transformed how small businesses manage financial operations, he added.

All of those combine into a company, like Vowel, especially given the company’s vision for a meeting OS to transform a meeting space that hadn’t moved forward in decades, he said.

“This was quickly obvious to me because my day is meetings — an eight-Zoom day is a normal day — I just wish I could remember everything,” Hornick said. “Speaking with early customers using the product, when I asked them what they would do if this ever went away, the first thing they said was ‘cry,’ and, because there was no alternative, would return to Zoom or other tools, but it would be a big setback.”

#amity-ventures, #andy-berman, #artificial-intelligence, #box-group, #cloud, #david-hornik, #enterprise, #funding, #knowledge-management, #lobby-capital, #meetings, #operating-system, #recent-funding, #saas, #software, #startups, #streaming-video, #tc, #video-conferencing, #vowel, #web-conferencing, #zoom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#android, #app-store, #apple, #apple-inc, #asia, #australia, #competition-commission-of-india, #computing, #european-union, #google, #government, #india, #itunes, #japan, #mobile, #operating-system, #policy, #smartphone, #smartphones, #software, #south-korea, #technology, #united-states, #wechat

Facebook finally made a good virtual reality app

Facebook’s journey toward making virtual reality a thing has been long and circuitous, but despite mixed success in finding a wide audience for VR, they have managed to build some very nice hardware along the way. What’s fairly ironic is that while Facebook has managed to succeed in finessing the hardware and operating system of its Oculus devices — things it had never done before — over the years it has struggled most with actually making a good app for VR.

The company has released a number of social VR apps over the years, and while each of them managed to do something right, none of them did anything quite well enough to stave off a shutdown. Setting aside the fact that most VR users don’t have a ton of other friends that also own VR headsets, the broadest issue plaguing these social apps was that they never really gave users a great reason to use them. While watching 360-videos or playing board games with friends were interesting gimmicks, it’s taken the company an awful lot of time to understand that a dedicated ”social” app doesn’t make much sense in VR and that users haven’t been looking for a standalone social app, so much as they’ve been looking for engaging experiences that were improved by social dynamics.

This all brings me to what Facebook showed me a demo of this week — a workplace app called Horizon Workrooms which is launching in open beta for Quest 2 users starting today.

The app seems to be geared towards providing work-from-home employees a virtual reality sphere to collaborate inside. Users can link their Mac or PC to Workrooms and livestream their desktop to the app while the Quest 2’s passthrough cameras allow users to type on their physical keyboard. Users can chat with one another as avatars and share photos and files or draw on a virtual whiteboard. It’s an app that would have made a more significant splash for the Quest 2 platform had it launched earlier in the pandemic, though it’s tackling an issue that still looms large among tech savvy offices — finding tech solutions to aid meaningful collaboration in a remote environment.

Horizon Workrooms isn’t a social app per se but the way it approaches social communication in VR is more thoughtful than any other first-party social VR app that Facebook has shipped. The spatial elements are less overt and gimmicky than most VR apps and simply add to an already great functional experience that, at times, felt more productive and engaging than a normal video call.

It all plays into CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s recent proclamation that Facebook is transitioning into becoming a “metaverse company.”

Now, what’s the metaverse? In Zuckerberg’s own words, “It’s a virtual environment where you can be present with people in digital spaces. You can kind of think of this as an embodied internet that you’re inside of rather than just looking at.” This certainly sounds like a fairly significant recalibration for Facebook, which has generally approached AR/VR as a wholly separate entity from its suite of mobile apps. Desktop users and VR users have been effectively siloed from each other over the years.

Generally, Facebook has been scaling Oculus like they’re building the next smartphone, building its headsets with a native app paradigm at their core. Meanwhile, Zuckerberg’s future-minded “metaverse” sounds much more like what Roblox has been building towards than anything Facebook has actually shipped. Horizon Workrooms is living under the Horizon brand which seems to be where Facebook’s future metaverse play is rooted. The VR social platform is interestingly still in closed beta after being announced nearly two years ago. If Facebook can ever see Horizon’s vision to fruition, it could grow to become a Roblox-like hub of user-created games, activities and groups that replaces the native app mobile dynamics with a more fluid social experience.

The polish of Workrooms is certainly a promising sign of where Facebook could be moving.

#ceo, #computing, #facebook, #mark-zuckerberg, #metaverse, #oculus, #operating-system, #roblox, #smartphone, #software, #tc, #virtual-reality, #wearable-devices

Google launches Android 12 beta 4, hitting the platform stability milestone

Google has now taken another step towards the public release of the latest version of the Android operating system, Android 12. The company today released the fourth beta of Android 12, whose most notable new feature is that it has achieved the Platform Stability milestone — meaning the changes impacting Android app developers are now finalized, allowing them to test their apps without worrying about breaking changes in subsequent releases.

While the updated version of Android brings a number of new capabilities for developers to tap into, Google urges its developers to first focus on releasing an Android 12-compatible update. If users find their app doesn’t work properly when they upgrade to the new version of Android, they may stop using the app entirely or even uninstall it, the company warns.

Among the flagship consumer-facing features in Android 12 is the new and more adaptive design system called “Material You,” which lets users apply themes that span across the OS to personalize their Android experience. It also brings new privacy tools, like microphone and camera indicators that show if an app is using those features, as well as a clipboard read notification, similar to iOS, which alerts to apps that read the user’s clipboard history. In addition, Android 12 lets users play games as soon as they download them, through a Google Play Instant feature. Other key Android features and tools, like Quick Settings, Google Pay, Home Controls, and Android widgets, among others, have been improved, too.

Google has continued to roll out smaller consumer-facing updates in previous Android 12 beta releases, but beta 4 is focused on developers getting their apps ready for the public release of Android, which is expected in the fall.

Image Credits: Google

The company suggested developers look out for changes that include the new Privacy Dashboard in Settings, which lets users see which app are accessing what type of data and when, and other privacy features like the indicator lights for the mic and camera, clipboard read tools, and new toggles that lets users turn off mic and camera access across all apps.

There’s also a new “stretch” overscroll effect that replace the older “glow” overscroll effect systemwide, new splash screen animations for apps and keygen changes to be aware of. And there are a number of SDKs and libraries that developers use that will need to be tested for compatibility, including those from Google and third-parties.

The new Android 12 beta 4 release is available on supported Pixel devices, and on devices from select partners including ASUS, OnePlus, Oppo, Realme, Sharp, and ZTE. Android TV developers can access beta 4 as well, via the ADT-3 developer kit.

#android, #apps, #chrome-os, #computing, #google, #google-play, #mobile, #operating-system, #operating-systems, #software

WhatsApp gains the ability to transfer chat history between mobile operating systems

WhatsApp users will finally be able to move their entire chat history between mobile operating systems — something that’s been one of users’ biggest requests to date. The company today introduced a feature that will soon become available to users of both iOS and Android devices, allowing them to move their WhatsApp voice notes, photos, and conversations securely between devices when they switch between mobile operating systems.

The company had been rumored to be working on such functionality for some time, but the details of which devices would be initially supported or when it would be released weren’t yet known.

In product leaks, WhatsApp had appeared to be working on an integration into Android’s built-in transfer app, the Google Data Transfer Tool, which lets users move their files from one Android device to another, or switch from iOS to Android.

The feature WhatsApp introduced today, however, works with Samsung devices and Samsung’s own transfer tool, known as Smart Switch. Today, Smart Switch helps users transfer contacts, photos, music, messages, notes, calendars, and more to Samsung Galaxy devices. Now, it will transfer WhatsApp chat history, too.

WhatsApp showed off the new tool at Samsung’s Galaxy Unpacked event, and announced Samsung’s newest Galaxy foldable devices would get the feature first in the weeks to come. The feature will later roll out to Android more broadly. WhatsApp didn’t say when iOS users would gain access.

To use the feature, WhatsApp users will connect their old and new device together via a USB-C to Lightning cable, and launch Smart Switch. The new phone will then prompt you to scan a QR code using your old phone and export your WhatsApp history. To complete the transfer, you’ll sign into WhatsApp on the new device and import the messages.

Building such a feature was non-trivial, the company also explained, as messages across its service are end-to-end encrypted by default and stored on users’ devices. That meant the creation of a tool to move chat history between operating systems required additional work from both WhatsApp as well as operating system and device manufacturers in order to build it in a secure way, the company said.

“Your WhatsApp messages belong to you. That’s why they are stored on your phone by default, and not accessible in the cloud like many other messaging services,” noted Sandeep Paruchuri, product manager at WhatsApp, in a statement about the launch. “We’re excited for the first time to make it easy for people to securely transfer their WhatsApp history from one operating system to another. This has been one of our most requested features from users for years and we worked together with operating systems and device manufacturers to solve it,” he added.

 

#android, #apps, #chat, #computing, #galaxy, #google, #messaging, #mobile, #mobile-applications, #operating-system, #operating-systems, #privacy, #product-manager, #samsung, #samsung-electronics, #samsung-unpacked, #security, #social, #social-media, #software, #whatsapp

Interview: Apple’s Head of Privacy details child abuse detection and Messages safety features

Last week, Apple announced a series of new features targeted at child safety on its devices. Though not live yet, the features will arrive later this year for users. Though the goals of these features are universally accepted to be good ones — the protection of minors and the limit of the spread of Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM), there have been some questions about the methods Apple is using.

I spoke to Erik Neuenschwander, Head of Privacy at Apple, about the new features launching for its devices. He shared detailed answers to many of the concerns that people have about the features and talked at length to some of the tactical and strategic issues that could come up once this system rolls out. 

I also asked about the rollout of the features, which come closely intertwined but are really completely separate systems that have similar goals. To be specific, Apple is announcing three different things here, some of which are being confused with one another in coverage and in the minds of the public. 

CSAM detection in iCloud Photos – A detection system called NeuralHash creates identifiers it can compare with IDs from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and other entities to detect known CSAM content in iCloud Photo libraries. Most cloud providers already scan user libraries for this information — Apple’s system is different in that it does the matching on device rather than in the cloud.

Communication Safety in Messages – A feature that a parent opts to turn on for a minor on their iCloud Family account. It will alert children when an image they are going to view has been detected to be explicit and it tells them that it will also alert the parent.

Interventions in Siri and search – A feature that will intervene when a user tries to search for CSAM-related terms through Siri and search and will inform the user of the intervention and offer resources.

For more on all of these features you can read our articles linked above or Apple’s new FAQ that it posted this weekend.

From personal experience, I know that there are people who don’t understand the difference between those first two systems, or assume that there will be some possibility that they may come under scrutiny for innocent pictures of their own children that may trigger some filter. It’s led to confusion in what is already a complex rollout of announcements. These two systems are completely separate, of course, with CSAM detection looking for precise matches with content that is already known to organizations to be abuse imagery. Communication Safety in Messages takes place entirely on the device and reports nothing externally — it’s just there to flag to a child that they are or could be about to be viewing explicit images. This feature is opt-in by the parent and transparent to both parent and child that it is enabled.

Apple’s Communication Safety in Messages feature. Image Credits: Apple

There have also been questions about the on-device hashing of photos to create identifiers that can be compared with the database. Though NeuralHash is a technology that can be used for other kinds of features like faster search in photos, it’s not currently used for anything else on iPhone aside from CSAM detection. When iCloud Photos is disabled, the feature stops working completely. This offers an opt-out for people but at an admittedly steep cost given the convenience and integration of iCloud Photos with Apple’s operating systems.

Though this interview won’t answer every possible question related to these new features, this is the most extensive on-the-record discussion by Apple’s senior privacy member. It seems clear from Apple’s willingness to provide access and its ongoing FAQ’s and press briefings (there have been at least 3 so far and likely many more to come) that it feels that it has a good solution here. 

Despite the concerns and resistance, it seems as if it is willing to take as much time as is necessary to convince everyone of that. 

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

TC: Most other cloud providers have been scanning for CSAM for some time now. Apple has not. Obviously there are no current regulations that say that you must seek it out on your servers, but there is some roiling regulation in the EU and other countries. Is that the impetus for this? Basically, why now?

Erik Neuenschwander: Why now comes down to the fact that we’ve now got the technology that can balance strong child safety and user privacy. This is an area we’ve been looking at for some time, including current state of the art techniques which mostly involves scanning through entire contents of users libraries on cloud services that — as you point out — isn’t something that we’ve ever done; to look through user’s iCloud Photos. This system doesn’t change that either, it neither looks through data on the device, nor does it look through all photos in iCloud Photos. Instead what it does is gives us a new ability to identify accounts which are starting collections of known CSAM.

So the development of this new CSAM detection technology is the watershed that makes now the time to launch this. And Apple feels that it can do it in a way that it feels comfortable with and that is ‘good’ for your users?

That’s exactly right. We have two co-equal goals here. One is to improve child safety on the platform and the second is to preserve user privacy, And what we’ve been able to do across all three of the features, is bring together technologies that let us deliver on both of those goals.

Announcing the Communications safety in Messages features and the CSAM detection in iCloud Photos system at the same time seems to have created confusion about their capabilities and goals. Was it a good idea to announce them concurrently? And why were they announced concurrently, if they are separate systems?

Well, while they are [two] systems they are also of a piece along with our increased interventions that will be coming in Siri and search. As important as it is to identify collections of known CSAM where they are stored in Apple’s iCloud Photos service, It’s also important to try to get upstream of that already horrible situation. So CSAM detection means that there’s already known CSAM that has been through the reporting process, and is being shared widely re-victimizing children on top of the abuse that had to happen to create that material in the first place. for the creator of that material in the first place. And so to do that, I think is an important step, but it is also important to do things to intervene earlier on when people are beginning to enter into this problematic and harmful area, or if there are already abusers trying to groom or to bring children into situations where abuse can take place, and Communication Safety in Messages and our interventions in Siri and search actually strike at those parts of the process. So we’re really trying to disrupt the cycles that lead to CSAM that then ultimately might get detected by our system.

The process of Apple’s CSAM detection in iCloud Photos system. Image Credits: Apple

Governments and agencies worldwide are constantly pressuring all large organizations that have any sort of end-to-end or even partial encryption enabled for their users. They often lean on CSAM and possible terrorism activities as rationale to argue for backdoors or encryption defeat measures. Is launching the feature and this capability with on-device hash matching an effort to stave off those requests and say, look, we can provide you with the information that you require to track down and prevent CSAM activity — but without compromising a user’s privacy?

So, first, you talked about the device matching so I just want to underscore that the system as designed doesn’t reveal — in the way that people might traditionally think of a match — the result of the match to the device or, even if you consider the vouchers that the device creates, to Apple. Apple is unable to process individual vouchers; instead, all the properties of our system mean that it’s only once an account has accumulated a collection of vouchers associated with illegal, known CSAM images that we are able to learn anything about the user’s account. 

Now, why to do it is because, as you said, this is something that will provide that detection capability while preserving user privacy. We’re motivated by the need to do more for child safety across the digital ecosystem, and all three of our features, I think, take very positive steps in that direction. At the same time we’re going to leave privacy undisturbed for everyone not engaged in the illegal activity.

Does this, creating a framework to allow scanning and matching of on-device content, create a framework for outside law enforcement to counter with, ‘we can give you a list, we don’t want to look at all of the user’s data but we can give you a list of content that we’d like you to match’. And if you can match it with this content you can match it with other content we want to search for. How does it not undermine Apple’s current position of ‘hey, we can’t decrypt the user’s device, it’s encrypted, we don’t hold the key?’

It doesn’t change that one iota. The device is still encrypted, we still don’t hold the key, and the system is designed to function on on-device data. What we’ve designed has a device side component — and it has the device side component by the way, for privacy improvements. The alternative of just processing by going through and trying to evaluate users data on a server is actually more amenable to changes [without user knowledge], and less protective of user privacy.

Our system involves both an on-device component where the voucher is created, but nothing is learned, and a server-side component, which is where that voucher is sent along with data coming to Apple service and processed across the account to learn if there are collections of illegal CSAM. That means that it is a service feature. I understand that it’s a complex attribute that a feature of the service has a portion where the voucher is generated on the device, but again, nothing’s learned about the content on the device. The voucher generation is actually exactly what enables us not to have to begin processing all users’ content on our servers which we’ve never done for iCloud Photos. It’s those sorts of systems that I think are more troubling when it comes to the privacy properties — or how they could be changed without any user insight or knowledge to do things other than what they were designed to do.

One of the bigger queries about this system is that Apple has said that it will just refuse action if it is asked by a government or other agency to compromise by adding things that are not CSAM to the database to check for them on-device. There are some examples where Apple has had to comply with local law at the highest levels if it wants to operate there, China being an example. So how do we trust that Apple is going to hew to this rejection of interference If pressured or asked by a government to compromise the system?

Well first, that is launching only for US, iCloud accounts, and so the hypotheticals seem to bring up generic countries or other countries that aren’t the US when they speak in that way, and the therefore it seems to be the case that people agree US law doesn’t offer these kinds of capabilities to our government. 

But even in the case where we’re talking about some attempt to change the system, it has a number of protections built in that make it not very useful for trying to identify individuals holding specifically objectionable images. The hash list is built into the operating system, we have one global operating system and don’t have the ability to target updates to individual users and so hash lists will be shared by all users when the system is enabled. And secondly, the system requires the threshold of images to be exceeded so trying to seek out even a single image from a person’s device or set of people’s devices won’t work because the system simply does not provide any knowledge to Apple for single photos stored in our service. And then, thirdly, the system has built into it a stage of manual review where, if an account is flagged with a collection of illegal CSAM material, an Apple team will review that to make sure that it is a correct match of illegal CSAM material prior to making any referral to any external entity. And so the hypothetical requires jumping over a lot of hoops, including having Apple change its internal process to refer material that is not illegal, like known CSAM and that we don’t believe that there’s a basis on which people will be able to make that request in the US. And the last point that I would just add is that it does still preserve user choice, if a user does not like this kind of functionality, they can choose not to use iCloud Photos and if iCloud Photos is not enabled no part of the system is functional.

So if iCloud Photos is disabled, the system does not work, which is the public language in the FAQ. I just wanted to ask specifically, when you disable iCloud Photos, does this system continue to create hashes of your photos on device, or is it completely inactive at that point?

If users are not using iCloud Photos, NeuralHash will not run and will not generate any vouchers. CSAM detection is a neural hash being compared against a database of the known CSAM hashes that are part of the operating system image. None of that piece, nor any of the additional parts including the creation of the safety vouchers or the uploading of vouchers to iCloud Photos is functioning if you’re not using iCloud Photos. 

In recent years, Apple has often leaned into the fact that on-device processing preserves user privacy. And in nearly every previous case and I can think of that’s true. Scanning photos to identify their content and allow me to search them, for instance. I’d rather that be done locally and never sent to a server. However, in this case, it seems like there may actually be a sort of anti-effect in that you’re scanning locally, but for external use cases, rather than scanning for personal use — creating a ‘less trust’ scenario in the minds of some users. Add to this that every other cloud provider scans it on their servers and the question becomes why should this implementation being different from most others engender more trust in the user rather than less?

I think we’re raising the bar, compared to the industry standard way to do this. Any sort of server side algorithm that’s processing all users photos is putting that data at more risk of disclosure and is, by definition, less transparent in terms of what it’s doing on top of the user’s library. So, by building this into our operating system, we gain the same properties that the integrity of the operating system provides already across so many other features, the one global operating system that’s the same for all users who download it and install it, and so it in one property is much more challenging, even how it would be targeted to an individual user. On the server side that’s actually quite easy — trivial. To be able to have some of the properties and building it into the device and ensuring it’s the same for all users with the features enable give a strong privacy property. 

Secondly, you point out how use of on device technology is privacy preserving, and in this case, that’s a representation that I would make to you, again. That it’s really the alternative to where users’ libraries have to be processed on a server that is less private.

The things that we can say with this system is that it leaves privacy completely undisturbed for every other user who’s not into this illegal behavior, Apple gain no additional knowledge about any users cloud library. No user’s iCloud Library has to be processed as a result of this feature. Instead what we’re able to do is to create these cryptographic safety vouchers. They have mathematical properties that say, Apple will only be able to decrypt the contents or learn anything about the images and users specifically that collect photos that match illegal, known CSAM hashes, and that’s just not something anyone can say about a cloud processing scanning service, where every single image has to be processed in a clear decrypted form and run by routine to determine who knows what? At that point it’s very easy to determine anything you want [about a user’s images] versus our system only what is determined to be those images that match a set of known CSAM hashes that came directly from NCMEC and and other child safety organizations. 

Can this CSAM detection feature stay holistic when the device is physically compromised? Sometimes cryptography gets bypassed locally, somebody has the device in hand — are there any additional layers there?

I think it’s important to underscore how very challenging and expensive and rare this is. It’s not a practical concern for most users though it’s one we take very seriously, because the protection of data on the device is paramount for us. And so if we engage in the hypothetical where we say that there has been an attack on someone’s device: that is such a powerful attack that there are many things that that attacker could attempt to do to that user. There’s a lot of a user’s data that they could potentially get access to. And the idea that the most valuable thing that an attacker — who’s undergone such an extremely difficult action as breaching someone’s device — was that they would want to trigger a manual review of an account doesn’t make much sense. 

Because, let’s remember, even if the threshold is met, and we have some vouchers that are decrypted by Apple. The next stage is a manual review to determine if that account should be referred to NCMEC or not, and that is something that we want to only occur in cases where it’s a legitimate high value report. We’ve designed the system in that way, but if we consider the attack scenario you brought up, I think that’s not a very compelling outcome to an attacker.

Why is there a threshold of images for reporting, isn’t one piece of CSAM content too many?

We want to ensure that the reports that we make to NCMEC are high value and actionable, and one of the notions of all systems is that there’s some uncertainty built in to whether or not that image matched, And so the threshold allows us to reach that point where we expect a false reporting rate for review of one in 1 trillion accounts per year. So, working against the idea that we do not have any interest in looking through users’ photo libraries outside those that are holding collections of known CSAM the threshold allows us to have high confidence that those accounts that we review are ones that when we refer to NCMEC, law enforcement will be able to take up and effectively investigate, prosecute and convict.

#apple, #apple-inc, #apple-photos, #china, #cloud-applications, #cloud-computing, #cloud-services, #computing, #cryptography, #encryption, #european-union, #head, #icloud, #ios, #iphone, #law-enforcement, #operating-system, #operating-systems, #privacy, #private, #siri, #software, #united-states, #webmail

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top Stories

Apple to scan for CSAM imagery

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

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

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

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

In-App Events appear on the App Store

Image Credits: Apple

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

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

Weekly News

Platforms: Apple

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

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

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

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

Fintech

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

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

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

Social

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Messaging

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

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

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

Streaming & Entertainment

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

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

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

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

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

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

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

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

Dating

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

Photos

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

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

Gaming

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

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

Health & Fitness

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

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

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

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

Edtech

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

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

News & Reading

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

Utilities

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

Security & Privacy

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

Funding and M&A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Downloads

Mastodon for iPhone

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

Xingtu

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

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

Tweets

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

Not cool, Apple: 

This user acquisition strategy: 

Maybe Stories don’t work everywhere: 

#adt, #afterpay, #alibaba, #android, #ant-group, #api, #app-maker, #app-store, #apple, #apps, #australia, #automattic, #beijing, #biden-administration, #canada, #china, #cloud-services, #coinbase, #coinbase-card, #computing, #day-one, #dragoneer-investment-group, #driver, #dropbox, #duolingo, #emojipedia, #eta, #facebook, #fintech-startup, #food-delivery, #game-center, #game-developer, #general-atlantic, #general-partner, #georgia, #gif, #google, #hyperconnect, #instagram, #ios, #ios-devices, #ipad, #iphone, #italy, #itunes, #jam-fund, #justin-mateen, #kuaishou, #kuda, #law-enforcement, #london, #ma, #maine, #meituan, #microsoft, #middle-east, #mobile, #mobile-app, #mobile-applications, #mobile-devices, #online-creators, #onstar, #operating-system, #palta, #playdemic, #quora, #sean-rad, #sensor-tower, #sequoia-capital, #smartphone, #snap, #snapchat, #social-network, #social-networking, #software, #south-africa, #south-asia, #spotify, #stories, #target-global, #tc, #this-week-in-apps, #tiktok, #twitch, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #valar-ventures, #viasat, #vnv-global, #wi-fi, #wordpress-com, #zedge, #zynga

Brokrete wants to be the “Shopify of construction”, raises $3M Seed led by Xploration Capital

With the pandemic affecting every aspect of life and industry, it’s no surprise that digitization is coming to construction fast. Construction suppliers are increasingly under the same pressure as other sectors to perform at a higher level. We’ve seen the rise of companies like Dozer, Reno Run, and Toolbox try to address this, but often the model is closer to a vertical integration one rather than something more open. Even with that, it’s still the case that to order concrete or bricks, construction companies have to negotiate each time, while simultaneously record keeping.

This is the argument of Brokrete, which bills itself as the “Shopify of construction.”

The startup has now raised a $3M seed financing round led by Xploration Capital, which was joined by unnamed new strategic investors and existing investors. The startup graduated from Y Combinator’s winter cohort last year. Other strategic investors include Ronald Richardson, Avlok Kohli (CEO of AngeLlist Ventures) and the MaRS Investment Accelerator Fund (IAF). The funding will be used to expand in North American and European markets. Brokrete also launched an e-commerce platform for suppliers in the construction industry it calls Storefront.

Jordan Latourelle, the company’s founder and CEO said: “Construction today is a largely offline, $1.2 trillion market where legacy commerce is the norm. Brokrete’s Storefront product equips suppliers with the tools required to enhance their operations by orders of magnitude. I founded Brokrete after seeing an industry left behind by e-commerce giants. Now we are becoming the operating system for e-commerce in the construction industry, while staying easy and affordable at the same time.”

Brokrete says its platform is code-free, white-labeled, multi-channel, and industry-specific to sell and manage orders online. Suppliers get an iOS and Android app for e-commerce to receive offline orders from more ‘traditional’ customers. It then provides order management, payouts, dispatching, logistics, and real-time delivery. There are also financial and operational ERP integrations. Brokrete claims to works with 1000+ contractors and to have a 250+ supplier network. 

Latourelle told me: “We’re giving the construction industry an opportunity to use it on a Shopify way, and create their own store. It’s like a branded storefront for suppliers.”

Eugene Timko, Managing Partner at Xploration Capital said: “Construction is one of the few remaining large industries with mostly undigitized supply chains. Historically the key problem was the lack of real-time access to actual stocks which prevented producers and distributors from going online. Now with Brokrete’s end-to-end solution, these businesses can not only sell through Brokrete’s marketplace but can also enable their own direct online channels. Similar to Shopify, this has allowed many thousands of previously offline businesses to start accepting orders online.”

#android, #angellist, #avlok-kohli, #ceo, #e-commerce, #europe, #managing-partner, #operating-system, #retailers, #shopify, #storefront, #tc, #toolbox, #y-combinator

LeagueApps raises $15M to be the ‘operating system’ for youth sports organizations

Youth sports are an integral part of our communities, bringing families together and helping kids all over gain confidence and skills.

Most of us don’t think about all the work that goes into setting up, growing and maintaining these leagues. It’s a lot. Today, LeagueApps, which aims to be the operating system for youth sports organizations, announced it has raised $15 million in a Series B round of funding.

Existing investor Contour Venture Partners led the financing, which brings to $35 million the company’s total funding since its 2010 inception. Major League Baseball and Elysian Park Ventures, the private investment arm of the ownership group of the Los Angeles Dodgers, also participated in the round. 

A slew of new and existing backers also put money in the round, including Olympic gold medalists Julie Foudy and Swin Cash; NFL veteran Derrick Dockery; Peter J. Holt, chairman of Spurs Sports & Entertainment; Laura Dixon, founder and president of PRO Sports Assembly; and investment management firm Hamilton Lane. 

The New York-based company is working to help youth sports organizations, well, be better organized. It has developed registration and management software so that leaders of these sports organizations can better manage the process of running the leagues, communicate more effectively and collect payment more efficiently.

“We’ve built all the tools they need to power their programs,” said Brian Litvack, LeagueApps CEO and co-founder. Those tools include giving these leaders the means to do things like build a website, accept registrations, send messages to coaches and parents and help them share information with governing bodies or associations.

“Local sports organizers have an important role in the community to make sure that sports happens,” Litvack said.

Image Credits: LeagueApps

Rather than charging for its software, it charges a small fee upfront and then takes a percentage of any transactions that are conducted via its platform. So if its users don’t get paid, it doesn’t get paid.

That means the company, like many others, took a bit of a hit when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020. But it’s since rebounded, and then some.

In the spring of 2021, the platform crossed the $2 billion in transactions-processed mark, doubling the $1 billion mark it reached in the summer of 2019. From 2016 to 2019, LeagueApps saw 275% revenue growth. Today, more than 3,000 sports organizations use LeagueApps as their operating system. 

The company projects that it will process more than 4 million sports registrations in 2021.

In addition to its flagship software, the company’s NextUp platform is designed to provide organizers with opportunities for leadership development and networking. It also runs FundPlay, a philanthropic program focused on sports-based youth development programs in underserved communities.

As a parent with children playing sports, Contour Ventures’ Matt Gorin said he was drawn to invest in LeagueApps. In his view, the company is tackling a “large yet fragmented” market.

I have seen firsthand just how important youth sports experiences, and the organizations that provide them, are to kids, families and communities,” he said.LeagueApps is unique in so many ways, particularly regarding its unparalleled approach and commitment to combining technology, community, customer service and impact for the maturing youth sports market.”

LeagueApps plans to use its new capital mainly to invest in product and engineering so that it can “provide more solutions” to youth sports organizations.

#contour-venture-partners, #funding, #fundings-exits, #leagueapps, #new-york, #operating-system, #payments, #recent-funding, #saas, #sports, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital

Microsoft launches Windows 365

Microsoft today launched Windows 365, a service that gives businesses the option to easily let their employees access a Windows 10 desktop from the cloud (with Windows 11 coming once it’s generally available). Think game streaming, but for your desktop. It’ll be available for business users (and only business users), on August 2, 2021.

Announced through a somewhat inscrutable press release, Windows 365 has been long expected and is really just an evolution of existing remote desktop services.

But hey, you may say, doesn’t Microsoft already offer Azure Virtual Desktop that gives businesses the option to let their employees access a Windows PC in the cloud? Yes, but the difference seems to be that Windows 365 is far easier to use and involves none of the complexity of setting up a full Azure Virtual Desktop environment in the Azure cloud.

But couldn’t Microsoft have made Azure Virtual Desktop easier to use instead of launching yet another virtual desktop service? Yes, but Azure Virtual Desktop is very much an enterprise service and by default, that means it must play nicely with the rest of the complexities of a company’s existing infrastructure. The pandemic pressed it into service in smaller companies because they had few alternatives, but in many ways, today’s launch is Microsoft admitting that it was far too difficult to manage for them. Windows 365, on the other hand, is somewhat of a fresh slate. It’s also available through a basic subscription service.

“Microsoft also continues to innovate in Azure Virtual Desktop for those organizations with deep virtualization experience that want more customization and flexibility options,” the company says. At least we know why the company renamed Windows Virtual Desktop to Azure Virtual desktop now. That would’ve gotten quite confusing.

Image Credits: Microsoft

This also gives Microsoft the opportunity to talk about “a new hybrid personal computing category” its CEO Satya Nadella calls a ‘Cloud PC.’ It’s a bit unclear what exactly that’s supposed to be, but it’s a new category.

“Just like applications were brought to the cloud with SaaS, we are now bringing the operating system to the cloud, providing organizations with greater flexibility and a secure way to empower their workforce to be more productive and connected, regardless of location,” Nadella explains in today’s press release.

But isn’t that just a thin client? Maybe? But we’re not talking hardware here. It’s really just a virtualized operating system in the cloud that you can access from anywhere — and that’s a category that’s been around for a long time.

“Hybrid work has fundamentally changed the role of technology in organizations today,” said Jared Spataro, corporate vice president, Microsoft 365. “With workforces more disparate than ever before, organizations need a new way to deliver a great productivity experience with increased versatility, simplicity and security. Cloud PC is an exciting new category of hybrid personal computing that turns any device into a personalized, productive and secure digital workspace. Today’s announcement of Windows 365 is just the beginning of what will be possible as we blur the lines between the device and the cloud.”

 

 

#ceo, #cloud, #cloud-infrastructure, #computing, #jared-spataro, #microsoft, #microsoft-365, #microsoft-windows, #operating-system, #satya-nadella, #tc, #technology, #thin-client, #thin-clients, #windows, #windows-10

Months later, we’re still making sense of the Supreme Court’s API copyright ruling

APIs, or application programming interfaces, make the digital world go round. Working behind the scenes to define the parameters by which software applications communicate with each other, APIs underpin every kind of app — social media, news and weather, financial, maps, video conferencing, you name it. They are critically important to virtually every enterprise organization and industry worldwide.

Given APIs’ ubiquity and importance, it’s understandable that all industry eyes were on the U.S. Supreme Court’s April 5 ruling in Google LLC v. Oracle America Inc., an 11-year-old case that addressed two core questions: Whether copyright protection extends to an API, and whether use of an API in the context of creating a new computer program constitutes fair use. Google lawyers had called it “the copyright case of the decade.”

I was one of 83 computer scientists — including five Turing Award winners and four National Medal of Technology honorees — who signed a Supreme Court amicus brief stating their opposition to the assertion that APIs are copyrightable, while also supporting Google’s right to fair use under the current legal definition.

We explained that the freedom to re-implement and extend existing APIs has been critical to technological innovation by ensuring competitors could challenge established players and advance the state of the art. “Excluding APIs from copyright protection has been essential to the development of modern computers and the Internet,” the brief said.

The Supreme Court ruling was a mixed bag that many observers are still parsing. In a 6-2 decision, justices sided with Google and its argument that the company’s copying of 11,500 lines of code from Oracle’s Java in the Android operating system was fair use. Great! At the same time, though, the court appeared to be operating under the assumption that APIs are copyrightable.

“Given the rapidly changing technological, economic and business-related circumstances, we believe we should not answer more than is necessary to resolve the parties’ dispute,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote for the majority. “We shall assume, but purely for argument’s sake, that (the code) “falls within the definition of that which can be copyrighted.”

While it may take years to fully understand the ruling’s impact, it’s important to keep dissecting the issue now, as APIs only continue to become more essential as the pipes behind every internet-connected device and application.

The legal saga began when Google used Java APIs in developing Android. Google wrote its own implementation of the Java APIs, but in order to allow developers to write their own programs for Android, Google’s implementation used the same names, organization, and functionality as the Java APIs.

Oracle sued Google in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in August 2010, seven months after it closed its acquisition of Java creator Sun Microsystems, contending that Google had infringed Oracle’s copyright.

In May 2012, Judge William Alsup ruled that APIs are not subject to copyright because that would hamper innovation. Oracle appealed the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals, which reversed Judge Alsup in May 2014, finding that the Java APIs are copyrightable. However, he also sent the case back to the trial court to determine whether Google has a fair use defense.

A new District Court trial began in May 2016 on the fair use question. A jury found that Google’s implementation of the Java API was fair use. Oracle appealed, and the U.S. Court of Appeals in March 2018 again reversed the lower court. Google filed a petition with the Supreme Court in January 2019, receiving a hearing date in early 2020. However, lengthening the case’s torturous path through the courts even further, COVID-19 forced oral arguments to be postponed to last October. Finally, on April 5, the Supreme Court settled the matter.

Or did it?

“Supreme Court Leaves as Many Questions as It Answers in Google v. Oracle,” read a headline on law.com. The National Law Review said: “The Supreme Court sidestepped the fundamental IP issue — whether or not Oracle’s software code at the heart of the case is copyrightable.”

On one hand, I’m disappointed that the court’s ruling left even a hint of ambiguity about whether APIs are copyrightable. To be clear: APIs should be free of copyright, no ifs, ands or buts.

APIs provide structure, sequence, and organization for digital resources in the same way that a restaurant menu does for food. Imagine if Restaurant A, which serves burgers, fries, and shakes, couldn’t use the same words, as well as the ordering and organization of the words, on their menu as Restaurant B. A menu doesn’t represent a novel expression; rather, it is the ingredients, processes, and service that define a restaurant. Both burger places benefit from the shared concept of a menu and the shared knowledge among their consumers of what burgers, fries and shakes are. It is the execution of the menu that ultimately will set one restaurant apart from another.

Likewise, APIs are not intellectual property; they are the simply operational elements that are common, reusable, remixable, and able to be put into use in as many applications by as many developers as possible.

This pattern plays out over and over across many different sectors of our economy where APIs are being used, reused, and remixed to generate new kinds of applications, integrations or entirely new companies and products or services. Immense value is generated by the free, collective, collaborative and open evolution of APIs.

On the other hand, I’m pleased by the part of the Supreme Court ruling that widens the definition of fair use. I think that provides the scope needed to take the industry into its API future without too much friction.

I also believe the case will chill future attempts by other companies to engage in litigation over API copyright. In the end, the decade-long Google vs. Oracle case negatively affected Oracle’s image when it comes to the fast-growing API sector, and I suspect other companies will think twice before going to court.

Nevertheless, companies may want to be extra cautious about licensing their APIs using the widest possible license, applying a Creative Commons CC0 or CCY-BY to APIs built with tolls and specifications, such as Swagger, OpenAPI, and AsyncAPI.

Now that Google vs. Oracle is finally history, I feel that the API sector will remain as vibrant as ever. That’s excellent news for everybody.

#android, #apis, #column, #creative-commons, #java, #lawsuit, #operating-system, #opinion, #oracle-corporation, #programming-languages, #software-developers, #sun-microsystems, #tc, #video-conferencing

Nowports raises $16M to build the OS for LatAm’s shipping industry

Nowports, an automated digital freight forwarder in Latin America, has raised $16 million in Series A funding.

Mouro Capital — a venture capital fund focused on fintechs and adjacent businesses that is backed by Banco Santanderled the round for the Monterrey, Mexico-based startup. Foundation Capital also participated in the financing, which included participation from existing backers Broadhaven Ventures, InvestoVC, Monashees, Base10 Partners and Y Combinator.

A number of angels also put money in the round, including Justo.mx founder Ricardo Weder, Luuna’s Carlos Salinas from Luuna and Tinder co-founder Justin Mateen. The investment brings Nowports’ total raised since its 2018 inception to over $24 million.

Nowports raised its initial seed round in 2019 after graduating from Y Combinator’s Winter 2019 batch with a mission to innovate the freight forwarding industry by helping companies improve the import process. Its software and services track freight shipments from ports to destinations across Latin America. Over time, it has expanded its offerings and now also automates insurance policies for, and provides financing, to its clients. 

“In this way, we allow our clients to import and export more, which helps them grow their businesses and improves the foreign trade conditions of the region,” said Nowports CEO and co-founder Alfonso de los Rios.

2020 was a good year for Nowports, which saw its revenue climb by 605% compared to 2019.

“Our 2021 goal is 400% to 600%,” de los Rios told TechCrunch.

The company currently has offices in Mexico, Chile, Colombia, and Uruguay. Nowports plans to use its new capital in part to expand its 160-person team to China, according to de los Rios. It also plans to expand its logistics and financial services and to “solidify its most important routes.”

Image Credits: CEO and co-founder Alfonso de los Rios / Nowports

“With platforms, algorithms with AI and integrations, our platform allows companies to take control of their shipments and plan and predict the best timing to move the freight based on the needs of their own company,” he said at the time of the company’s seed raise. “Our goal with the series A is to position ourselves as the biggest digital freight forwarder in the region and expand our venture financing solution.”

Tens of millions of containers are imported and exported from Latin America each year, and nearly half of them are either delayed or lost due to mismanagement. And, an estimated 50% of shipping containers suffer delays due to disorganized processes or errors during transport, which ends up costing companies billions per year. It’s a big opportunity. And, Nowports pledges to shippers that its digital management software will keep track of each container. 

“Slow, inefficient, and manual processes in international logistics are disassociated from today’s technological world”, said Nowports co-founder and COO Maximiliano Casal. “Customers are looking for solutions that can improve their logistics processes adapted to current challenges of international trade.”

The two co-founders of Nowports met at a program at Stanford University, with de los Rios hailing from a family with deep ties to the shipping industry. He and Casal linked up and the two began plotting a way to make the deeply inefficient industry more modern and transparent. To familiarize himself with the market for which he’d be developing a technology, Casal worked with a freight forwarder in Kansas City that had been operating for more than 30 years.

Michael Sidgmore, co-founder and partner of seed round lead investor Broadhaven Ventures, described the team as “visionaries in the freight forwarding industry who see the ability to build the operating system for the shipping industry, much like Carta has done for equity ownership.”

The need to track and digitize the supply chain process was never more apparent than with the recent blockage of the Suez Canal by the Ever Given, which became a meme that represented the impacts of inefficiencies in the supply chain, Sidgmore said. 

“Nowports has created industry leading technology to help its customers know when to turn starboard or port side,” he added.

Chris Gottschalk, senior advisor of Mouro Capital, said the Nowports platform brings both “transparency and technology” to a global client base.

#articles, #base10-partners, #chile, #china, #co-founder, #colombia, #finance, #financial-services, #foundation-capital, #freight-forwarding, #funding, #fundings-exits, #insurance-policies, #justin-mateen, #kansas-city, #latin-america, #logistics, #mexico, #mouro-capital, #nowports, #operating-system, #recent-funding, #ricardo-weder, #stanford-university, #startup, #startups, #supply-chain, #transport, #uruguay, #venture-capital, #y-combinator

The first preview of Windows 11 is now available

Microsoft today released the first preview build of Windows 11 to those in the Dev Channel of the company’s Windows Insider program. If you have joined the Insider program and meet Microsoft’s new — and somewhat complicated — system requirements for the new operating system, you should see the update soon.

This first preview includes most of the new features Microsoft has promised for Windows 11, including the new look and feel, themes, widgets, the new snap layouts and the updated File Explorer. But there are also some features that didn’t yet make the cut for this first release. Support for Android apps and the new built-in Teams integration, for example, are coming in a later release, but a preview of the new Windows Store is already available today.

Otherwise, though, you’ll get to try out the new Start menu for example (and fret not, you will be able to move the start button to the bottom-left if you don’t like the centered look — but you won’t be able to move the entire taskbar to another side of the screen). And while the Start menu is an iconic part of the Windows experience, most power users probably never use it and instead use their keyboard or the taskbar to start 99% of their applications. Still, Microsoft is trying to do something different here with its new “recommended” section that highlights newly installed apps and recently used files.

windows 11 file explorer

Image Credits: Microsoft

Another new feature you’ll likely spot right away is the new File Explorer, which now does away with the ribbon-style menu in favor of a flatter look (Microsoft calls it a ‘command bar’) and new, more modern icons across the board. It looks good, but we’ll have to give it a try to see if it hasn’t lost a lot of functionality in the process.

The File Explorer, just like every other app in WIndows 11, will also feature support for Microsoft’s new Snap layouts, which take the existing ‘snapping’ gesture or keyboard shortcuts in Windows that let you snap windows to any side of the screen and brings it to the maximize button. While the overall functionality isn’t new here, I’m pretty sure that a lot of Windows users never knew it existed, so this new feature will introduce window snapping to a lot more users.

Windows 11 widgets

Image Credits: Microsoft

The new widgets, too, are now prominently highlighted in the taskbar. Right now, there are calendar, weather, local traffic, Microsoft To Do and stocks widgets, as well widgets that show you recent photos from OneDrive and sports and esports news if that’s your thing. There’s also a personalized news feed.

The last new feature worth mentioning here is the new Settings menu. Ever since the ill-fated Windows 8, Windows essentially had two settings menus (the Control Panel and Settings). It looks like those confusing days aren’t over just yet, but the new Settings menu at least looks a lot cleaner than the existing one in Windows 10.

windows 11 settings

There are, of course, plenty of other changes in Windows 11. This is definitely more than just another bi-annual Windows 10 update with a few minor UI changes. Now we’ll just have to see how all of this works in the real world — though keep in mind that this is still an early release. The preview is now rolling out to Insiders, so we’ll likely hear more about how it performs soon. We’ll also put it through its paces in the coming days.

 

#android, #developer, #microsoft, #microsoft-windows, #operating-system, #start-menu, #windows-11, #windows-8, #windows-8-1, #windows-95, #windows-store, #windows-xp

Microsoft announces Windows 11, generally available by the holidays

After weeks of leaks and hype, Microsoft today officially announced Windows 11, the next version of its desktop operating system. While the company may have once said that Windows 10 was the last version of Windows, forgoing major point launches for a regular cadence of bi-annual upgrades, but it clearly believes that the changes — and especially the redesigned user interface — in this update warrant a new version number.

Microsoft plans to release Windows 11 to the general public by the holidays, so we can probably expect it sometime around late November. Before that, we’ll likely see a slew of public betas.

If you followed along with the development and eventual demise of Windows 10X, Microsoft’s operating system with a simplified user interface for dual- and (eventually) single-screen laptops, a lot of what you’re seeing here will feel familiar, down to the redesigned Start menu. Indeed, if somebody showed you screenshots of Windows 11 and early previews of Windows 10X, you’d have a hard time telling them apart.

Image Credits: Microsoft

As Microsoft Chief Product Officer Panos Panay noted in today’s announcement, the overall idea behind the design is to make you feel “an incredible sense of calm,” but at the same time, the Windows team has also worked to make it a lot faster. Windows Updates, for example, are supposed to be 40 percent faster, but Panay also noted that starting up your machine and even browsing should feel much faster.

Image Credits: Microsoft

Besides the new user interface, which makes copious use of translucency and shadows and new features for touch screen users, one of the core new UI features is what Microsoft calls Snap Layouts, which pops up a small widget when you hover over the icon that maximizes your window to allow you to move the window to any corner, something that previously involved dragging your window to the corner of your screen (which was often hard when you used multiple screens).

Another major new feature is that Windows 11 will come with Teams built-in from the outset. It’s no secret that Microsoft is bullish when it comes to Teams. It recently launched the consumer version of Teams, so it makes sense to now bring it to Windows 11, too. It’s worth noting that Microsoft never brought Skype to Windows, so this is quite a change, but it basically makes Teams Microsoft’s Facetime.

Image Credits: Microsoft

If you saw the Windows 11 leaks, you know that web widgets are one of the more visible new features. “Windows widgets is a new, personalized feed, powered by AI, serving you curated content,” Panay said. Widgets aren’t a new thing, of course, and in many ways, they make up for the removal of Live Tiles in the Start Menu. They’ll also give developers a new canvas to surface information from their applications.

Image Credits: Microsoft

This wouldn’t be a new Windows without Microsoft talking about gaming, of course. The company argues that Windows 11 will “deliver the best PC gaming experience yet,” but what else would they say?

Image Credits: Microsoft

Microsoft promises better graphics thanks to Auto HDR, a feature that’s already available on Xbox. Thousands of games, Microsoft says, will be automatically enhanced with Auto HDR on Windows 11. In addition, the company argues that thanks to a new storage API in Windows 11, games will be able to quickly load game assets without bogging down the CPU (but it’ll take a compatible PC to do so). Oh, and Microsoft’s Game Pass subscription will be built right into Windows 11, too.

Image Credits: Microsoft

Developing…

#microsoft, #microsoft-windows, #operating-system, #operating-systems, #panos-panay, #tc, #windows-10, #windows-10x, #windows-8, #windows-8-1

Kai-Fu Lee’s Sinovation bets on Linux tablet maker Jingling in $10M round

Kai-Fu Lee’s Sinovation Ventures has its eyes on a niche market targeting software developers. In April, the venture capital fund led a $10 million angel round in Jingling, a Chinese startup developing Linux-based tablets and laptops, TechCrunch learned. Other investors in the round included private equity firm Trustbridge Partners.

Jingling was founded only in June 2020 but has quickly assembled a team of 80 employees hailing from the likes of Aliyun OS, Alibaba’s Linux distribution, Thunder Software, a Chinese operating system solution provider, and active participants in China’s open source community.

The majority of the startup’s staff are working on its Linux-based operating system called JingOS in Beijing, with the rest developing hardware in Shenzhen, where its supply chain is located.

“Operating systems are a highly worthwhile field for investment,” Peter Fang, a partner at Sinovation Ventures, told TechCrunch. “We’ve seen the best product iteration for work and entertainment through the combination of iPad Pro and Magical Keyboard, but no tablet maker has delivered a superior user experience for the Android system so far, so we decided to back JingOS.”

“The investment is also in line with Sinovation’s recognition and prediction in ARM powering more mobile and desktop devices in the future,” the investor added.

Jingling’s first device, the JingPad A1 tablet based on the ARM architecture, has already shipped over 500 units in a pre-sale and is ramping up interest through a crowdfunding campaign. Jingling currently uses processors from Tsinghua Unigroup but is looking into Qualcomm and MediaTek chipsets for future production, according to Liu.

On the software end, JingOS, which is open sourced on GitHub, has accumulated over 50,000 installs from users around the world, most of whom are in the United States and Europe.

But how many people want a Linux tablet or laptop? Liu Chengcheng, who launched Jingling with Zhu Rui, said the demand is big enough from the developer community to sustain the startup’s early-phase growth. Liu is known for founding China’s leading startup news site 36Kr and Zhu is an operating system expert and a veteran of Motorola and Lenovo.

Targeting the Linux community is step one for Jingling, for “it’s difficult to gain a foothold by starting out in the [general] consumer market,” said Liu.

“The Linux market is too small for tech giants but too hard for small startups to tackle… Aside from Jingling, Huawei is the only other company in China building a mobile operating system, but HarmonyOS focuses more on IoTs.”

Linux laptops have been around for years, but Jingling wanted to offer something different by offering both desktop and mobile experiences on one device. That’s why Jingling made JingOS compatible with both Linux desktop software like WPS Office and Terminal as well as the usual Android apps on smartphones. The JingPad A1 tablet comes with a detachable keyboard that immediately turns itself into a laptop, a setup similar to Apple’s Magic Keyboard for iPad.

“It’s a gift to programmers, who can use it to code in the Linux system but also use Android mobile apps on the run,” said Liu.

Jingling aspires to widen its user base and seize the Chromebook market about two from now, Liu said. The success of Chromebooks, which comprised 10.8% of the PC market in 2020 and increasingly ate into Microsoft’s dominance, is indicative of the slowing demand for Windows personal computers, the founder observed.

The JingPad A1 is sold at a starting price of $549, compared to Chrome’s wide price range roughly between $200 and $550 depending on the specs and hardware providers.

#android, #asia, #beijing, #china, #funding, #gadgets, #hardware, #ipad, #kai-fu-lee, #linus-torvalds, #linux, #mediatek, #operating-system, #operating-systems, #shenzhen, #software-developers, #tc, #trustbridge-partners

7 new security features Apple quietly announced at WWDC

Apple went big on privacy during its Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) keynote this week, showcasing features from on-device Siri audio processing to a new privacy dashboard for iOS that makes it easier than ever to see which apps are collecting your data and when.

While typically vocal about security during the Memoji-filled, two-hour-long(!) keynote, the company also quietly introduced several new security and privacy-focused features during its WWDC developer sessions. We’ve rounded up some of the most interesting — and important.

Passwordless login with iCloud Keychain

Apple is the latest tech company taking steps to ditch the password. During its “Move beyond passwords” developer session, it previewed Passkeys in iCloud Keychain, a method of passwordless authentication powered by WebAuthn, and Face ID and Touch ID.

The feature, which will ultimately be available in both iOS 15 and macOS Monterey, means you no longer have to set a password when creating an account or a website or app. Instead, you’ll simply pick a username, and then use Face ID or Touch ID to confirm it’s you. The passkey is then stored in your keychain and then synced across your Apple devices using iCloud — so you don’t have to remember it, nor do you have to carry around a hardware authenticator key.

“Because it’s just a single tap to sign in, it’s simultaneously easier, faster and more secure than almost all common forms of authentication today,” said Garrett Davidson, an Apple authentication experience engineer. 

While it’s unlikely to be available on your iPhone or Mac any time soon — Apple says the feature is still in its ‘early stages’ and it’s currently disabled by default — the move is another sign of the growing momentum behind eliminating passwords, which are prone to being forgotten, reused across multiple services, and — ultimately — phishing attacks. Microsoft previously announced plans to make Windows 10 password-free, and Google recently confirmed that it’s working towards “creating a future where one day you won’t need a password at all”.

Microphone indicator in macOS

macOS has a new indicator to tell you when the microhpone is on. (Image: Apple)

Since the introduction of iOS 14, iPhone users have been able to keep an eye on which apps are accessing their microphone via a green or orange dot in the status bar. Now it’s coming to the desktop too.

In macOS Monterey, users will be able to see which apps are accessing their Mac’s microphone in Control Center, MacRumors reports, which will complement the existing hardware-based green light that appears next to a Mac’s webcam when the camera is in use.

Secure paste

iOS 15, which will include a bunch of privacy-bolstering tools from Mail Privacy Protection to App Privacy Reports, is also getting a feature called Secure Paste that will help to shield your clipboard data from other apps.

This feature will enable users to paste content from one app to another, without the second app being able to access the information on the clipboard until you paste it. This is a significant improvement over iOS 14, which would notify when an app took data from the clipboard but did nothing to prevent it from happening.

With secure paste, developers can let users paste from a different app without having access to what was copied until the user takes action to paste it into their app,” Apple explains. “When developers use secure paste, users will be able to paste without being alerted via the [clipboard] transparency notification, helping give them peace of mind.”

While this feature sounds somewhat insignificant, it’s being introduced following a major privacy issue that came to light last year. In March 2020, security researchers revealed that dozens of popular iOS apps — including TikTok — were “snooping” on users’ clipboard without their consent, potentially accessing highly sensitive data.

Advanced Fraud Protection for Apple Card

Payments fraud is more prevalent than ever as a result of the pandemic, and Apple is looking to do something about it. As first reported by 9to5Mac, the company has previewed Advanced Fraud Protection, a feature that will let Apple Card users generate new card numbers in the Wallet app.

While details remain thin — the feature isn’t live in the first iOS 15 developer beta — Apple’s explanation suggests that Advanced Fraud Protection will make it possible to generate new security codes — the three-digit number you enter at checkout – when making online purchases. 

“With Advanced Fraud Protection, Apple Card users can have a security code that changes regularly to make online Card Number transactions even more secure,” the brief explainer reads. We’ve asked Apple for some more information. 

‘Unlock with Apple Watch’ for Siri requests

As a result of the widespread mask-wearing necessitated by the pandemic, Apple introduced an ‘Unlock with Apple Watch’ in iOS 14.5 that let enabled users to unlock their iPhone and authenticate Apple Pay payments using an Apple Watch instead of Face ID.

The scope of this feature is expanding with iOS 15, as the company has confirmed that users will soon be able to use this alternative authentication method for Siri requests, such as adjusting phone settings or reading messages. Currently, users have to enter a PIN, password or use Face ID to do so.

“Use the secure connection to your Apple Watch for Siri requests or to unlock your iPhone when an obstruction, like a mask, prevents Face ID from recognizing your Face,” Apple explains. Your watch must be passcode protected, unlocked, and on your wrist close by.”

Standalone security patches

To ensure iPhone users who don’t want to upgrade to iOS 15 straight away are up to date with security updates, Apple is going to start decoupling patches from feature updates. When iOS 15 lands later this year, users will be given the option to update to the latest version of iOS or to stick with iOS 14 and simply install the latest security fixes. 

“iOS now offers a choice between two software update versions in the Settings app,” Apple explains (via MacRumors). “You can update to the latest version of iOS 15 as soon as it’s released for the latest features and most complete set of security updates. Or continue on ‌iOS 14‌ and still get important security updates until you’re ready to upgrade to the next major version.”

This feature sees Apple following in the footsteps of Google, which has long rolled out monthly security patches to Android users.

‘Erase all contents and settings’ for Mac

Wiping a Mac has been a laborious task that has required you to erase your device completely then reinstall macOS. Thankfully, that’s going to change. Apple is bringing the “erase all contents and settings” option that’s been on iPhones and iPads for years to macOS Monterey.

The option will let you factory reset your MacBook with just a click. “System Preferences now offers an option to erase all user data and user-installed apps from the system, while maintaining the operating system currently installed,” Apple says. “Because storage is always encrypted on Mac systems with Apple Silicon or the T2 chip, the system is instantly and securely ‘erased’ by destroying the encryption keys.”

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Honeywell and Cambridge Quantum form joint venture to build a new full-stack quantum business

Honeywell, which only recently announced its entry into the quantum computing race, and Cambridge Quantum Computing (CQ), which focuses on building software for quantum computers, today announced that they are combining Honeywell’s Quantum Solutions (HQS) business with Cambridge Quantum in the form of a new joint venture.

Honeywell has long partnered with CQ and invested in the company last year, too. The idea here is to combine Honeywell’s hardware expertise with CQ’s software focus to build what the two companies call “the world’s highest-performing quantum computer and a full suite of quantum software, including the first and most advanced quantum operating system.”

The merged companies (or ‘combination,’ as the companies’ press releases calls it) expect the deal to be completed in the third quarter of 2021. Honeywell Chairman and CEO Darius Adamczyk will become the chairman of the new company. CQ founder and CEO Ilyas Khan will become the CEO and current Honeywell Quantum Solutions President Tony Uttley will remain in this role at the new company.

The idea here is for Honeywell to spin off HQS and combine it with CQC to form a new company, while still playing a role in its leadership and finances. Honeywell will own a majority stake in the new company and invest between $270 and $300 million. It will also have a long-term agreement with the new company to build the ion traps at the core of its quantum hardware. CQ’s shareholders will own 45% of the new company.

Image Credits: Honeywell

“The new company will have the best talent in the industry, the world’s highest-performing quantum computer, the first and most advanced quantum operating system, and comprehensive, hardware-agnostic software that will drive the future of the quantum computing industry,” said Adamczyk. “The new company will be extremely well positioned to create value in the near-term within the quantum computing industry by offering the critical global infrastructure needed to support the sector’s explosive growth.”

The companies argue that a successful quantum business will need to be supported by large-scale investments and offer a one-stop shop for customers that combines hardware and software. By combining the two companies now, they note, they’ll be able to build on their respective leadership positions in their areas of expertise and scale their businesses while also accelerate their R&D and product roadmaps.

“Since we first announced Honeywell’s quantum business in 2018, we have heard from many investors who have been eager to invest directly in our leading technologies at the forefront of this exciting and dynamic industry – now, they will be able to do so,” Adamczyk said. “The new company will provide the best avenue for us to onboard new, diverse sources of capital at scale that will help drive rapid growth.”

CQ launched in 2014 and now has about 150 employees. The company raised a total of $72.8 million, including a $45 million round, which it announced last December. Honeywell, IBM Ventures, JSR Corporation, Serendipity Capital, Alvarium Investments and Talipot Holdings invested in this last round — which also means that IBM, which uses a different technology but, in many ways, directly competes with the new company, now owns a (small) part of it.

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Huawei officially launches Android alternative HarmonyOS for smartphones

Think you’re living in a hyper-connected world? Huawei’s proprietary HarmonyOS wants to eliminate delays and gaps in user experience when you move from one device onto another by adding interoperability to all devices, regardless of the system that powers them.

Two years after Huawei was added to the U.S. entity list that banned the Chinese telecom giant from accessing U.S. technologies, including core chipsets and Android developer services from Google, Huawei’s alternative smartphone operating system was unveiled.

On Wednesday, Huawei officially launched its proprietary operating system HarmonyOS for mobile phones. The firm began building the operating system in 2016 and made it open-source for tablets, electric vehicles and smartwatches last September. Its flagship devices such as Mate 40 could upgrade to HarmonyOS starting Wednesday, with the operating system gradually rolling out on lower-end models in the coming quarters.

HarmonyOS is not meant to replace Android or iOS, Huawei said. Rather, its application is more far-reaching, powering not just phones and tablets but an increasing number of smart devices. To that end, Huawei has been trying to attract hardware and home appliance manufacturers to join its ecosystem.

To date, more than 500,000 developers are building applications based on HarmonyOS. It’s unclear whether Google, Facebook and other mainstream apps in the West are working on HarmonyOS versions.

Some Chinese tech firms have answered Huawei’s call. Smartphone maker Meizu hinted on its Weibo