A mobile security startup has found seven security flaws in Samsung’s pre-installed mobile apps, which it says if abused could have allowed attackers broad access to a victim’s personal data.
Oversecured said the vulnerabilities were found in several apps and components bundled with Samsung phones and tablets. Oversecured founder Sergey Toshin told TechCrunch that the vulnerabilities were verified on a Samsung Galaxy S10+ but that all Samsung devices could be potentially affected because the baked-in apps are responsible for system functionality.
Toshin said the vulnerabilities could have allowed a malicious app on the same device to steal a victim’s photos, videos, contacts, call records and messages, and change settings “without any user consent or notice” by hijacking the permissions from Samsung’s stock apps.
One of the flaws could have allowed the theft of data by exploiting a vulnerability in Samsung’s Secure Folder app, which has a “large set” of rights across the device. In a proof-of-concept, Toshin showed the bug could be used to steal contacts data. Another bug in Samsung’s Knox security software could have been abused to install other malicious apps, while a bug in Samsung Dex could have been used to scrape data from user notifications from apps, email inboxes, and messages.
Oversecured published technical details of the vulnerabilities in a blog post, and said it reported the bugs to Samsung, which fixed the flaws.
Samsung confirmed the flaws affected “selected” Galaxy devices but would not provide a list of specific devices. “There have been no known reported issues globally and users should be assured that their sensitive information was not at risk,” but provided no evidence for this claim. “We addressed the potential vulnerability by developing and issuing security patches via software update in April and May, 2021 as soon as we identified this issue.”
More signs of the global market righting the ship after a disastrous 2020. New figures from Gartner point to 26% increase in global sales year over year for the first quarter of 2021. The overall increase is an impressive one, though it comes after a couple of years of market slow down, followed by a step drop amid the pandemic.
Manufacturers got hit from all sides last year. 2020 kicked things off with a manufacturing slowdown, as China and greater Asia were the first to be impacted by the effects of Covid-19. In the following months, global demand slowed, as shutdowns were instated and job loss and economic issues massively hampered sales.
Image Credits: Gartner
The new Gartner numbers maintain the same global top three manufacturers as this time last year. Samsung’s overall market share grew from 18.4- to 20.3%, courtesy of budget devices, returning to the number one spot.
Apple had managed to push its way to number one in Q4, on the strength of its belated 5G push. The company dropped down to number two for the first quarter – the same position it held this time last year. Overall, its market share is up around 2% y-o-y to 15.5, according to the figures. The top five are rounded out by three Chinese manufacturers — Xiaomi, Vivo and Oppo – as Huawei’s struggles continue.
Thus far, global chip shortages appear to have had little impact on shipments.
Samsung has spent the last year or so upending its SmartThings ecosystem. SmartThings was born as an independent company in 2012 when it launched one of the largest Kickstarter campaigns ever: a $1.2 million funding program for the company’s first smart home hub. Samsung bought SmartThings in 2014, and in June 2020, the Korean giant announced a plan that would basically shut down all of the stuff it acquired, forcing everyone over to in-house Samsung infrastructure. A big part of that plan is happening at the end of the month, when Samsung will kill the first-generation SmartThings Hub.
The SmartThings Hub is basically a Wi-Fi access point—but for your smart home stuff instead of your phones and laptops. Instead of Wi-Fi, SmartThings is the access point for a Zigbee and Z-Wave network, two ultra low-power mesh networks used by smart home devices. Wi-Fi is great for loading webpages and videos, but it’s extreme overkill for something like turning on a light switch or working a door sensor; these things need to just send a few bits for “on or off” or “open or closed.” Zigbee and Z-Wave are so low-power that you can run the devices on AA or coin cell batteries for months. The Hub connects your smart home network to the Internet, giving you access to a control app and connecting to other services like your favorite voice assistant.
You might think that killing the old Hub could be a ploy to sell more hardware, but Samsung—a hardware company—is actually no longer interested in making SmartThings hardware. The company passed manufacturing for the latest “SmartThings Hub (v3)” to German Internet-of-things company Aeotec. The new Hub is normally $125, but Samsung is offering existing users a dirt-cheat $35 upgrade price.
Interactio, a remote interpretation platform whose customers include massive institutions like the United Nations, European Commission and Parliament along with corporates like BMW, JP Morgan and Microsoft, has closed a whopping $30 million Series A after usage of its tools grew 12x between 2019 and 2020 as demand for online meeting platforms surged during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Series A funding is led by Eight Roads Ventures and Silicon Valley-based Storm Ventures, along with participation from Practica Capital, Notion Capital, as well as notable angels such as Jaan Tallinn, the co-founder of Skype, and Young Sohn, ex-chief strategy officer of Samsung.
The Vilnius, Lithuania-based startup offers digital tools to connect meetings with certified interpreters who carry out real-time interpretation to bridge language divides between participants. It does also offer a video conferencing platform which its customers can use to run remote meetings but will happily integrate with thirty party software like Zoom, Webex etc. (Last year it says its digital tools were used alongside 43 different video streaming platforms.)
Interactio’s interpreters can be in the room where the meeting is taking place or doing the real-time interpretation entirely remotely by watching and listening to a stream of the meeting. (Or, indeed, it can support a mix of remote and on-site interpretation, if a client wishes.)
It can also supply all the interpreters for a meeting — and it touts a strict vetting procedure for onboarding certified interpreters to its platform — or else it will provide training to a customer’s interpreters on the use of its tools to ensure things run smoothly on the day.
At present, Interactio says it works with 1,000+ freelance interpreters, as well as touting “strong relations with interpretation agencies” — claiming it can easily quadruple the pool of available interpreters to step up to meet rising demand.
It offers its customers interpretation in any language — and in an unlimited number of languages per event. And last year it says it hosted 18,000+ meetings with 390,000 listeners spread across more than 70 countries.
Now, flush with a huge Series A, Interactio is gearing up for a future filled with increasing numbers of multi-lingual online meetings — as the coronavirus continues to inject friction into business travel.
“When we started, our biggest competition was simultaneous interpretation hardware for on-site interpretation. At that time, we were on the mission to fully replace it with our software that required zero additional hardware for attendees besides their phone and headphones. However, for institutions, which became our primary focus, hybrid meetings are the key, so we started partnering with simultaneous interpretation hardware manufacturers and integrators by working together on hybrid events, where participants use hardware on-site, and online participants use us,” a spokeswoman told us.
“This is how we differentiate ourselves from other platforms — by offering a fully hybrid solution, that can be integrated with hardware on-site basically via one cable.”
“Moreover, when we look at the market trends, we still see Zoom as the most used solution, so we compliment it by offering professional interpretation solutions,” she added.
A focus on customer support is another tactic that Interactio says it relies upon to stand out — and its iOS and Android apps do have high ratings on aggregate. (Albeit, there are bunch of historical complaints mixed in suggesting it’s had issues scaling its service to large audiences in the past, as well as sporadic problems with things like audio quality over the years.)
While already profitable, the 2014-founded startup says the Series A will be used to step on the gas to continue to meet the accelerated demand and exponential growth it’s seen during the remote work boom.
Specifically, the funds will go on enhancing its tech and UX/UI — with a focus on ensuring ease of access/simplicity for those needing to access interpretation, and also on upgrading the tools it provides to interpreters (so they have “the best working conditions from their chosen place of work”).
It will also be spending to expand its client base — and is especially seeking to onboard more corporates and other types of customers. (“Last year’s focus was and still is institutions (e.g. European Commission, European Parliament, United Nations), where there is no place for an error and they need the most professional solution. The next step will be to expand our client base to corporate clients and a larger public that needs interpretation,” it told us.)
The new funding will also be used to expand the size of its team to support those goals, including growing the number of qualified interpreters it works with so it can keep pace with rising demand.
While major institutions like the UN are never going to be tempted to skimp on the quality of translation provided to diplomats and politicians by not using human interpreters (either on premise or working remotely), there may be a limit on how far professional real-time translation can scale given the availability of real-time machine translation technology — which offers a cheap alternative to support more basic meeting scenarios, such as between two professionals having an informal meeting.
Nonetheless, such efforts aren’t well suited to supporting meetings and conferences at scale — where having a centralized delivery service that’s also responsible for troubleshooting any audio quality or other issues which may arise looks essential.
And while machine translation has undoubtedly got a lot better over the years (albeit performance can vary, depending on the languages involved) there is still a risk that key details could be lost in translation if/when the machine gets it wrong. So offering highly scalable human translation via a digital platform looks like a safe bet as the world gets accustomed to more remote work (and less globetrotting) being the new normal.
“AI-driven translation is a great tool when you need a quick solution and are willing to sacrifice the quality,” says Interactio when we ask about this. “Our clients are large corporations and institutions, therefore, any kind of misunderstanding can be crucial. Here, the translation is not about saying a word in a different language, it’s about giving the meaning and communicating a context via interpretation.
“We strongly believe that only humans can understand the true context and meaning of conversations, where sometimes a tone of voice, an emotion and a figure speech can make a huge difference, that is unnoticed by a machine.”
Things have been a bit quiet on the foldables front of late, but plenty of parties are still bullish about the form factor’s future. Ahead of today’s big I/O kickoff, Samsung (undoubtedly the most bullish of the bunch) posted a bunch of metrics this morning, noting,
The global outlook is just as impressive. This year alone, the foldables market is expected to triple over last year — a year in which Samsung accounted for three out of every four foldable smartphones shipped worldwide.
Part of anticipating growth in the category is ensuring that the software is ready it. Samsung has been tweaking things for a while now on its end, and at I/O in 2018, Google announced that it would be adding support for foldable screens. Recent rumors have suggested that the company is working on its own foldable Pixel, but even beyond that, it’s probably in the company’s best interest to ensure that Android plays nicely with the form factor.
“We studied how people interact with large screens,” the company said in today’s developer keynote. This includes a variety of different aspects, including where users place their hands while using the device — which can be a bit all over the place when dealing with different applications in different orientations and form factors. Essentially, you don’t want to, say, put buttons where people generally place your hands.
The list of upgrades includes the ability to resize content automatically, without overly stretching it out to fit multiple panels. All of this is no doubt going to be a learning curve as foldables end up in the hands of more users. But at very least, it signals Google’s continued view of foldables as a growing category. It’s also one of multiple updates today that involve the company working more closely with Samsung.
The two tech giants also announced a joint Wear OS/Tizen play early today.
Flutter, Google’s cross-platform UI toolkit for building mobile and desktop apps, is getting a small but important update at the company’s I/O conference today. Google also announced that Flutter now powers 200,000 apps in the Play Store alone, including popular apps from companies like WeChat, ByteDance, BMW, Grab and DiDi. Indeed, Google notes that 1 in 8 new apps in the Play Store are now Flutter apps.
The launch of Flutter 2.2 follows Google’s rollout of Flutter 2, which first added support for desktop and web apps in March, so it’s no surprise that this is a relatively minor release. In many ways, the update builds on top of the features the company introduced in version 2 and reliability and performance improvements.
Version 2.2 makes null safety the default for new projects, for example, to add protections against null reference exceptions. As for performance, web apps can now use background caching using service workers, for example, while Android apps can use deferred components and iOS apps get support for precompiled shaders to make first runs smoother.
Google also worked on streamlining the overall process of bringing Flutter apps to desktop platforms (Windows, macOS and Linux).
But as Google notes, a lot of the work right now is happening in the ecosystem. Google itself is introducing a new payment plugin for Flutter built in partnership with the Google Pay team and Google’s ads SDK for Flutter is getting support for adaptive banner formats. Meanwhile, Samsung is now porting Flutter to Tizen and Sony is leading an effort to bring it to embedded Linux. Adobe recently announced its XD to Flutter plugin for its design tool and Microsoft today launched the alpha of Flutter support for Universal Windows Platform (UWP) apps for Windows 10 in alpha.
For years, Wear OS has been, at best, something of a dark horse among Google operating systems. It’s certainly not for lack of partnership or investment, but for whatever reason, the company has never really stuck the landing with its wearable operating system.
It’s a category in which Apple has been utterly dominant for some time. Google has largely failed to chip away at that market, in spite of enlisting some of the biggest names in consumer electronics as partners. Figures from Strategy Analytics classify Wear OS among the “others” category.
Google’s strategy is, once again, the result of partnerships – or, more precisely, partnerships combined with acquisitions. At the top of the list is an “if you can’t beat ‘em, join em’” approach to Samsung’s longstanding preference for open-source Tizen. It seemed like one of the stranger plays in the category, but building out its own version of Tizen has proven a winning strategy for the company, which trails only Apple in the category.
We’re making the biggest update ever to @wearosbygoogle, including new capabilities for Google apps — like turn-by-turn navigation in Google Maps, or downloading songs from YouTube Music for offline listening… even if you leave your phone behind. #GoogleIOpic.twitter.com/vOnxnWl0MA
During today’s I/O keynote, the company company revealed a new partnership with Samsung, “combining the best of Wear OS and Tizen.” We’re still waiting to see how that will play out, but it will be fascinating watching two big players combine forces to take on Apple. You come at the king, you best not miss, to quote a popular prestige television program. On the developer side, this seems to allude to the ability to create joint apps for both platforms, as third-party app selection has been a sticking point for both.
The other big change sheds some more light on precisely why the company was interested in Fitbit. Sure the company was a wearables leader that dominated fitness bands and eventually created its own solid smartwatches (courtesy of, among other things, its own acquisition of Pebble), but health is really the key here.
Image Credits: Google
Health monitoring has become the dominant conversation around wearables in recent years, and Google’s acquisition seems to be, above all, about integrating that information. “[A] world-class health and fitness service from Fitbit is coming to the platform,” the company noted. Beyond adding Fitbit’s well-loved tracking features, the company will also be integrated Wear features into Google’s hardware, working to blur the line between the two companies.
“Health and fitness tracking is essential for wearables,” Google notes in a blog post. “With the latest Wear update, we welcome Fitbit’s many years of health expertise to the experience. The best of Fitbit, including features like tracking your health progress throughout your day and on-wrist goal celebrations, will motivate you on your journey to better health.”
The consumer-facing experience has been revamped here, as well. Apps like Calm, Sleep Cycle and Flo are getting their own tiles, while shortcuts are now accessible from anywhere. A number of Google’s own apps are getting a refresh, as well, including Maps, Assistant and Pay, the latter of which is rolling out to an additional 26 countries — adding to the 11 currently available. Later this year, the company will also be introducing a Watch version of the YouTube Music app.
The aforementioned updates are set to arrive later this year.
With a long-standing history of working together on the mobile side, it’s always been a bit of surprise that Samsung hasn’t had much patience for Google’s wearables play. The hardware giant had flirted with Android Wear in the past, but for the last several years, it’s been invested in building out its own version of open-source operating system, Tizen.
Today, both companies announced a partnership featuring a “unified platform” between the two some time competitors. The goal of the deal is to essentially create a way for devs to build apps for both Wear OS and Tizen at once. The deal makes sense from that perspective. Third-party apps have been something of a sticking point for both companies.
Even more to the point, it’s an opportunity for two smaller players in the space to join forces and take on Apple, which has been utterly dominant in the smartwatch category, more or less since the first Apple Watch arrived.
Wear OS has already gone through a number of cycles, including a big rebrand from Android OS a while back, but nothing has really stuck over the years, leaving the wearable operating as something of an also-ran. For now, at least, this is far from a full-throated embrace of Wear OS on Samsung’s part and appears to be something more akin to an “the enemy of my enemy situation.” Along with developing a unified API, the companies are joining forces to pluck the best from each operating system, including longer battery life — perhaps the largest hurdle facing smartwatches at the moment.
“We know that health and wellness are at the forefront of consumers’ minds, and we’re excited to continue building the industry-leading health experience on our new unified platform with Google,” Samsung company said in a blog post. “As our consumers turn to wearable technology to monitor their wellbeing, we’re meeting these needs head on. By creating world-class health technology, we hope to elevate how users approach to their wellbeing, and enable them to make positive changes in their everyday lives.
Samsung added that the next version of the Galaxy Watch will be the first to leverage this partnership, but offered little additional information on the hardware front. I’d anticipate big news on the Wear OS front in the next year. If nothing else, the company’s acquisition of Google is a sign that it’s ready to go for broke with the platform.
Reuters reports that TSMC—Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, the chip foundry making advanced processors for Apple, AMD, and Qualcomm—is beefing up its plans to build factories in Arizona while turning away from an advanced plant in Europe.
Last year, TSMC announced that it would invest $10-$12 billion to build a new 5 nm capable foundry near Phoenix, Arizona. According to Reuters’ sources, TSMC officials are considering trebling the company’s investment by building a $25 billion second factory capable of building 3 nm chips. More tentative plans are in the works for 2 nm foundries as the Phoenix campus grows over the next 10-15 years as well.
US President Joe Biden called for $50 billion to subsidize US chip manufacturing facilities, and the US Senate may take action on the item this week. Strong domestic manufacturing capacity is seen as critical, since US chip firms such as Nvidia and Qualcomm rely on Asian manufacturing facilities. TSMC would be competing with Samsung and Intel to secure these Biden administration subsidies.
Upsie, a consumer warranty startup, has raised $18.2 million in a Series A round led by True Ventures.
The financing brings the total raised for the St. Paul, Minnesota-based startup to $25 million since its 2015 inception.
A large group of investors participated in the round, including Concrete Rose VC, Avanta Ventures, Kapor Capital, Samsung Next, Massive, Backstage Capital, Awesome People Ventures, Draft Ventures, Matchstick Ventures, M25, Silicon Valley Bank and Uncommon VC, among others. A number of angels also put money in the round.
Clarence Bethea (pictured below) founded Upsie after realizing the significant markup that retailers were placing on warranties.
His goal was to focus not on the retailer, but rather the end user and making the process more transparent, more affordable and simpler. For example, Upsie claims that it saves its customers anywhere from 50% to 90% compared to competitor warranty plans. Most other companies in the space, such as SquareTrade, offer warranties at the point of sale via retailers.
Image Credits: Upsie
“I’m sure you’ve walked into a Best Buy or a Target, and when you’re checking out somebody at the register is offering you a warranty. But what most customers don’t know is that you’re paying as much as 900% more for that warranty than you should,” Bethea said. “There’s no transparency at the register and you never get to ask what’s covered and what’s not covered, or what should you do if you need to make a claim.”
Just like many other companies, Upsie saw a bump in business last year thanks to the COVID-pandemic and resulting increase in consumer electronics sales (17%, according to the NPD Group Retail Tracking Service). In particular, there was a spike in demand for laptops, desktops and tablets for distance learning and remote work. As a result, Upsie’s revenue surged by 2.5x over the past 12 months, although Bethea declined to reveal hard revenue figures.
“With people working from home, devices were no longer a luxury but a necessity,” he told TechCrunch.
Rather than at the point of sale, Upsie gives consumers an opportunity to purchase a warranty for a product via its website or mobile app after the transaction has taken place. The company offers protection for thousands of devices — from smartphones to appliances to gaming consoles to lawn and garden tools — or about 60% of the warranty market, according to Bethea.
Consumers have up to 120 days to purchase smartphone protection, 11 months to purchase appliance, TV and fitness equipment protection and up to 60 days for other consumer electronics. All warranty information, including a copy of the product receipt, is stored and accessible on demand. Upsie says it also aims to offer same-day repairs on many devices.
The process, according to Bethea, is straightforward. Consumers need only upload an image of their receipt and provide purchase price and serial/IMEA numbers. When they need to file a claim, it’s a matter of pressing a button. And to make the process even easier, it will give consumers the ability to say, take their items directly to the Apple store for repair, and then get reimbursed afterwards by Upsie.
“We want more people to be able to protect what they buy with their hard-earned money,” Bethea said. “Removing the worry around paying out of pocket to repair, say, your kid’s laptop is huge for families who have had to go with remote learning when the system doesn’t make this easy for everyone.”
Upsie plans to use its new capital to increase customer awareness and continue building out its warranty product offerings and verticals, as well as to double its current headcount of 15.
“We want to continue to grow our presence online through digital channels such as Facebook and Google, for one thing,” Bethea told TechCrunch.
Puneet Agarwal, partner at True Ventures, says his firm doubled down on its investment in Upsie after witnessing its solid growth over the years. (True Ventures led the startup’s $5 million seed round in April of 2019.)
True Ventures was initially attracted to the sheer size of the warranty industry (estimated at $100 billion globally) and “how broken it was from the consumer experience perspective.” The firm also viewed Bethea as a “very special entrepreneur” who “exudes authenticity,” which must be refreshing to VCs who get inundated with pitches.
“We love to invest in old, staid industries where companies can disrupt from a business model and product perspective,” Agarwal said. “Upsie has done that in a big way.”
He went on to describe Bethea’s move to go direct to consumer in the warranty space as “bold.”
“Upsie is the only one doing that, and it’s the biggest swing to take in this type of industry,” Agarwal said. “We believe he’s cracked the code and that’s why we doubled down.”
Bethea’s background is not the same as a “typical” startup founder, which also was viewed as an advantage by True Ventures.
“He came from the streets of Atlanta, Georgia, and had to overcome so much in his life,” Agarwal told TechCrunch. “Clarence is the type of person that when we started True, we wanted to fund. We admire his perseverance and grit to come to this point.”
It’s beginning to feel a bit like 2020, as yet another major manufacturer has announced that it won’t be attending MWC’s upcoming in person event in Barcelona. Roughly a month and a half out, Samsung is joining a growing list of companies that already includes Google, IBM, Nokia, Sony, Oracle and Ericsson.
“The health and safety of our employees, partners and customers is our number one priority, so we have made the decision to withdraw from exhibiting in-person at this year’s Mobile World Congress,” the company said in a statement provided to TechCrunch. “We look forward to participating virtually and continuing to work with GSMA and industry partners to advance new mobile experiences.”
In the lead up to last year’s event, there was something of a domino effect, as companies ducked out, one by one, ultimately leading up to the event’s cancelation. Obviously things are fairly different more than a year later. The virus is certainly less of an unknown, but its effects are still have a massive impact on much of the world. Even in those places where vaccination rollout has been swift, there are still plenty of question marks when it comes to attending a global event in massive, tightly-packed spaces. MWC had already been pushed back several months from its standard February-March timeframe, but organizers have so far been confident about the inevitability of an in-person event.
MWC’s governing body — the GSMA — recently told TechCrunch, “We appreciate that it will not be possible for everyone to attend MWC Barcelona 2021, but we are pleased that exhibitors including Verizon, Orange and Kasperksy are excited to join us in Barcelona. To ensure everyone can enjoy the unique MWC experience, we have developed an industry-leading virtual event platform. The in-person and virtual options are provided so that all friends of MWC Barcelona can attend and participate in a way that works for them. ”
We’ve reached out for an additional comment following Samsung’s statement. The GSMA has been positioning MWC as something of a hybrid event — similar to the upcoming Computex in Taipei. It’s difficult to say at this point what the in-person aspect is going to look like when so many high profile companies have opted out. Either way, it seems safe to assume that — even as things return to relative normal — the virtual aspect won’t be going away any time soon.
More good news from a smartphone market currently rebounding from the far reaching impacts of the pandemic. New numbers from Canalys put global shipments for Q1 2021 at 27% above where they were the same time last year.
The industry was hit early and hit hard by Covid-19. The first quarter saw company running into serious supply chain issues as the pandemic first hit China and parts of Asia where most manufacturing occurs. Following that, demand began to slow, as fewer people were interested in buying mobile devices, coupled with broader economic and job impacts.
Image Credits: Canalys
Samsung continued to lead the way globally, with 76.5 million, up from 59.6 million, representing a 28% jump, year-over-year. In all, the company controls around 22% of global shipments (same as a year prior).
In second place, Apple represented the biggest jump of the quarter, with a 41% increase from 37.1 million to 52.4 million. That no doubt owes substantially to the big upgrades that arrived toward to the end of last year. Huawei’s struggles, meanwhile, have knocked the company out of the top five.
“Xiaomi is in pole position to be the new Huawei,” said Canalys’ Ben Stanton said in a release. “Its competitors offer superior channel margin, but Xiaomi’s sheer volume actually gives distributors a better opportunity to make money than rival brands. But the race is not over. Oppo and Vivo are hot on its heels, and are positioning in the mid-range in many regions to box Xiaomi in at the low end.”
The study also notes that LG’s exit from the category should mix things up a bit, as well, particularly in the Americas region, which accounted for 80% of the company’s sales last year.
Blockchain developer platform Alchemy announced today it has raised $80 million in a Series B round of funding led by Coatue and Addition, Lee Fixel’s new fund. The company previously raised a total of $15.5 million, so the latest financing brings its total raised to $95.5 million since it launched in 2017.
The latest round caught our attention for a few reasons.
First, the company, which describes itself as the backend technology behind the blockchain industry, went from public launch to a $505 million valuation in a matter of just eight months. During that time, Alchemy says it powered over $30 billion in transactions for tens of millions of users all over the world. Second, the startup says it also already powering the majority of the NFT industry.
And finally, its investors in the round include a high-profile mix of institutions and individuals such as DFJ Growth, K5 Global, the Chainsmokers, actor Jared Leto and the Glazer family (owners of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Manchester United). They joined existing backers including Yahoo co-founder and former CEO Jerry Yang, Pantera Capital, Coinbase, SignalFire, Samsung, Stanford University, Google chairman and Stanford University President John L. Hennessy, Charles Schwab, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman and others.
Sources with inside knowledge of Alchemy’s operations tell TechCrunch that the company has already grown its business more than eightfold since it signed the Series B term sheet. They also said Alchemy had over $300 million of investor demand wanting to enter the round and is being inbounded to do another financing at “many times” the current valuation.
TechCrunch talked with Alchemy co-founders Nikil Viswanathan (CEO) and Joe Lau (CTO) about the raise and their passion for the startup’s mission was clear. As is its explosive growth.
“We realized that in order for space to thrive and build to its full potential, we needed to build a developer platform layer for blockchain,” Viswanathan told TechCrunch.
Alchemy’s goal is to be the starting place for developers considering to build a product on top of a blockchain or mainstream blockchain applications. Its developer platform aims to remove the complexity and costs of building infrastructure while improving applications through “necessary” developer tools.
The startup powers a range of transactions across nearly every blockchain vertical, including financial institutions, exchanges, billion-dollar decentralized finance projects and multinational organizations such as UNICEF. It has also quickly become the technology behind every major NFT platform, including Makersplace, OpenSea, Nifty Gateway, SuperRare and CryptoPunks.
“Every time you open DoorDash, you’re using Amazon’s infrastructure,” Lau said. “Every time you interact with an NFT, you’re using Alchemy. It’s being powered by Alchemy underneath the hood.”
While the pair would not provide hard revenue figures, the company – which operates as a SaaS business – says it increased its revenue by 600% in 2020.
For inside players, Alchemy’s efforts are paving the way for the whole industry.
“The cryptoeconomy is innovating faster than any technological movement that came before it, and Alchemy has been a key driver of that,” said Coinbase President and COO Emilie Choi. “Alchemy enables developers to build the rich ecosystem of applications necessary for mainstream blockchain adoption.”
Pantera Capital’s Paul Veradittakit describes Alchemy as “the Amazon Web Services (AWS) of the blockchain industry” that is “enabling the vision of a decentralized web.”
“While in Web 2.0, Microsoft, Apple and AWS are three of the most valuable companies in the world because they are the developer platform powering the computer and internet industries, Alchemy is primed to do the same for the blockchain,” he said.
The company believes the comparison to AWS is fair, noting that: “Just as AWS provides the platform that powers Uber, Netflix and much of the technology industry, Alchemy powers infrastructure for many large players in the blockchain industry.”
Alchemy plans to use its new capital to expand its developer platform to new blockchains, fuel global expansion and to open new offices in the U.S. and globally. The startup is based in San Francisco and is planning to open an office in New York.
“We are going to use the funds to support new chains with our developer platform,” Viswanathan said. “We also expect to 5x the team this year.”
But to be clear, Alchemy prides itself on being lean and mean.
“We just went from 14 to 22 employees,” Lau said. “We have intentionally wanted to keep the team as small as possible.”
The blockchain space has been the subject of increased investor interest as of late.
In March, BlockFi, which describes itself a financial services company for crypto market investors, announced it had closed on a massive $350 million Series D funding that valued it at $3 billion. Also last month, Chainalysis, a blockchain analysis company, revealed the close of $100 million in Series D financing, which doubled its valuation to over $2 billion.
Following the customary weeks of leaks, Samsung just announced a couple of new additions to its laptop line. The Galaxy Book Pro and Galaxy Book Pro 360 joined the hardware giant’s wide range of devices toward the high end — offering what can reasonably be categorized as the company’s take on the MacBook Pro.
The Windows machines continue the company’s push to blur some of the productivity lines between its Galaxy PC and mobile offerings, including a number of cross-device software offerings and, naturally, the inclusion of the S-Pen, which ships in the box with the Pro 360. As the name implies, the 360’s lid hinges in either direction, so it can double as a writing surface.
The thin and light design is probably the headline feature for Samsung. The Pro and Pro 360 measure 11.2 and 11.9 millimeters, respectively. Both feature an option of a 13.3 and 15.6-inch Super AMOLEDs. With a 1920 x 1080 resolution. That’s all powered by either a Core i5 or i7 11th-gen Intel processor, 8 or 16GB of RAM and up to 1TB of storage (512GB max on the Pro).
Image Credits: Samsung
There are also options for LTE and 5G versions (depending on market availability). That will almost certainly have a direct impact on the battery, which the company rates as “all-day.” Both models sport 65W fast charging by way of the USB-C port. The keyboard mechanisms have been upgraded over previous models and the track pad is now 23% larger.
The systems go up for preorder today and start shipping May 14. The 13 and 15-inch versions of the Pro start at $1,000 and $1,100, respectively and the 360 runs $1,200 and $1,300.
Samsung announced Galaxy Upcycling a few years back, but has largely been quiet on that front, aside from some stage time at CES back in January. Today the company announced that Upcycling at Home is being opened to beta today for users in the U.S., Korea and the U.K.
It’s a pretty novel program, in a world where consumers are encouraged to scrap their old devices every two to three years for something shiny and new. The program is designed to breathe new life into handsets that might otherwise be tossed in a landfill or stashed away in a drawer.
Image Credits: Samsung
“We are rethinking how we use existing resources, and we believe the key to upcycling is to enable solutions that transform old technology into something new by adding value,” VP Sung-Koo Kim said in a release tied to the news. “We are committed to integrating sustainable practices into our day-to-day lives, and through Galaxy Upcycling at Home, users can join our journey toward a more sustainable future.”
Specifically, the products can be revamped into smart home devices, like childcare and pet monitors.
The feature can be accessed within the SmartThings Labs feature found in Samsung’s SmartThings App. When enabled, the product can send alerts when things like a crying baby or barking dog are detected. The recorded sound will be sent as part of the alert. Another feature uses built-in sensors to turn on a room’s lights when things get dark. The service will optimize device battery so it can operate for an extended period while detecting these inputs.
Making deep fake videos used to be hard. Now all you need is a smartphone. Avatarify, a startup that allows people to make deep-fake videos directly on their phone rather than in the Cloud, is soaring up the app charts after being used by celebrities such as Victoria Beckham.
However, the problem with many deep fake videos is that there is no digital watermark to determine that the video has been tampered with. So Avatarify says it will soon launch a digital watermark to prevent this from happening.
Run out of Moscow but with a US HQ, Avatarify launched in July 2020 and since then has been downloaded millions of times. The founders say that 140 million deepfake videos were created with Avatarify this year alone. There are now 125 million views of videos with the hashtag #avatarify on TikTok. While its competitors include the well-funded Reface, Snapchat, Wombo.ai, Mug Life, Xpression, Avatarify has yet to raise any money beyond an Angel round.
Despite taking only $120,000 in angel funding, the company has yet to accept any venture capital and says it has bootstrapped its way from zero to almost 10 million downloads and claims to have a $10 million annual run-rate with a team of less than 10 people.
It’s not hard to see why. Avatarify has a freemium subscription model. They offer a 7-day free trial and a 12-month subscription for $34.99 or a weekly plan for $2.49. Without a subscription, they offer the core features of the App for free, but videos then carry a visible watermark.
The founders also say the app protects privacy, because the videos are processed directly on the phone, rather than in the cloud where they could be hacked.
Avatarify processes user’s photos and turns them into short videos by animating faces, using machine learning algorithms, and adding sounds. The user chooses a picture she wants to animate, chooses the effects and music, and then taps to animate the picture. This short video can then be posted on Instagram or TikTok.
The Avatarify videos are taking off on TikTok because teens no longer need to learn a dance or be much more creative than finding a photo of a celebrity to animate to.
Avartify says you can’t use their app to impersonate someone, but there is of course no way to police this.
Founders Ali Aliev and Karim Iskakov wrote the app during the COVID-19 lockdown in April 2020. Ali spent 2 hours writing a program in Python to transfer his facial expressions to the other person’s face and use a filter in Zoom. The result was a real-time video, which could be streamed to Zoom. He joined a call with Elon Mask’s face and everyone on the call was shocked. The team posted the video, which then went viral.
The code on Github and immediately saw the number of downloads grow. The repository was published on 6 April 2020, and as of 19 March 2021 had been downloaded 50,000 times.
Ali left his job at Samsung AI Centre and devoted himself to the app. After Avatarify’s iOS app was released on 28 June 2020, viral videos on TikTok, created with the app, led it to App Store’s top charts without paid acquisition. In February 2021, Avatarify was ranked first among Top Free Apps worldwide. Between February and March, the app 2021 generated more than $1M in revenue (Source: AppMagic).
However, despite Avartify’s success, the ongoing problems with deep-fake videos remain, such as using these apps to make non-consensual porn, using the faces of innocent people.
A Samsung Micro LED TV in suitably swanky digs. [credit: Samsung ]
Samsung, the world’s biggest TV manufacturer, may be on the precipice of significantly shifting its strategy to focus on OLED technology. Samsung has not produced OLED TVs in recent years, focusing instead on variants of LED LCD technology.
The news comes from a report by South Korean broadcaster MTN (among other South Korean news outlets), which says Samsung and LG have reached a conditional deal wherein Samsung would buy as many as 1 million OLED panels from LG this year and 4 million in 2022. MTN clarifies that the deal is not yet final but says only a few details are left to be worked out.
LG produces most of the world’s large-format OLED panels, such as those used for TVs; its panels are not just used in LG TVs but also in TVs sold by Sony, Panasonic, and others. Samsung produces OLED panels as well, but not at TV sizes. Samsung makes OLED panels for smartphones, and those panels use a different technology than what is seen in LG’s OLED TVs.
Among other technology trends accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic, the use of contactless mobile payments boomed in 2020. According to a recent report by analyst firm eMarketer, in-store mobile payments usage grew 29% last year in the U.S., as the pandemic pushed consumers to swap out cash and credit cards for the presumably safer mobile payments option at point-of-sale.
Last year, 92.3 million U.S. consumers age 14 or older used proximity-based mobile payments at least one time during a 6-month period in 2020 — a figure the firm expects to grow to reach 101.2 million this year. And that usage is now on track to surpass half of all smartphone users by 2025, eMarketer forecasts.
Image Credits: eMarketer
Adoption last year was largest among younger consumers, including Gen Z and millennials. The former is expected to account for more than 4 million of the total 6.5 million new mobile wallet users per year from 2021 to 2025. Millennials, meanwhile, will continue to account for around 4 in 10 mobile wallet users.
Several industry reports had already noted the pandemic impacts on the mobile wallet industry in general, with one from earlier this month by finance and investment company Finaria estimating that the industry would grow 24% from last year to reach $2.4 trillion in 2021. It had said that while Asian markets and particularly China had been leading the way in mobile payments adoption, the U.S. had earlier struggled due to the slow rollout of mobile payment technologies by retail stores. But now, the U.S. has grown to become the second-largest market with $465.1 billion worth of mobile payment transactions, which will grow to $698 billion in 2023.
The pandemic had pushed lagging retailers to finally get on board with mobile payments. A mid-year survey published in 2020 by the National Retail Federation and Forrester, found that no-touch payments had increased for 69% of retailers, and that 67% now accept some form of contactless payment, including both mobile payments and contactless cards.
Image Credits: eMarketer
As a result of the industry changes, eMarketer reports that not only has mobile wallet usage increased, the average annual spend per user is increasing, as well. The firm predicts that figure will grow 23.6% from ~$1,973.70 in 2020 to $2,439.68 in 2021, and will surpass $3,000 by 2023.
In the U.S., Apple Pay remains the top mobile payment player with 43.9 million users in 2021, growing by 14.4 million between 2020 and 2025 — more than its competitors. Starbucks will remain the No. 2 player with 31.2 million users, followed by Google Pay, which will add 10.2 million users during that time frame. Samsung Pay, meanwhile, is seeing stagnant growth, adding just 2 million more users between 2020 and 2025.
LG said on Monday it will close its loss-making mobile phone business worldwide as the once pioneer brand looks to focus its resources in “growth areas” such as electric vehicle components, connected devices, smart homes, robotics, AI and B2B solutions, and platforms and services.
The South Korean firm said in a statement that its board of directors approved the decision today. The unsurprising move follows the company’s statement from January when it said it was reviewing the direction of its smartphone business.
LG, which maintained No. 3 spot in the smartphone market in the U.S. for a long time, said it will continue to sell handsets until the inventory lasts, and will provide software support for existing lineup of smartphones for a certain period of time that would vary by region.
The company said the status of its employees of phone business will be determined at the local level. In January, reports emerged that said LG was looking to sell its smartphone business. In the same month, the company said it would launch a rollable phone this year. But it appears all the efforts to keep the business stay afloat failed.
“Moving forward, LG will continue to leverage its mobile expertise and develop mobility-related technologies such as 6G to help further strengthen competitiveness in other business areas. Core technologies developed during the two decades of LG’s mobile business operations will also be retained and applied to existing and future products,” it said in a statement.
The poor financial performance of LG’s smartphone business has been public information for several years. Like countless other Android smartphone vendors, LG has struggled to turn things around.
LG focused on mid-range and high-end smartphones, two segments of the market that have become increasingly competitive in the past decade thanks to the rise of Chinese phonemakers such as Huawei, Xiaomi, OnePlus, Oppo and Vivo that are launching better value-for-money models every few months. (Once a rival, HTC has been struggling, too.)
Several phonemakers today rely heavily on software services such as mobile payments to make money. While LG launched a mobile payments service in 2017, two years after Samsung launched Samsung Pay, LG’s portfolio of services remained thin throughout the years.
The Galaxy A52. It’s water-resistant. [credit: Samsung ]
Samsung might be the world’s most popular phone manufacturer, but that doesn’t mean its best phone, the Galaxy S series, is the world’s most popular phone. Samsung stays atop the sales charts on the strength of its midrange smartphones, and last year (at least for some quarters) the company’s best-selling phone was the Samsung Galaxy A51.
So then: meet the Galaxy A52, the follow-up to Samsung’s chart-topper. These phones are such a big deal now that Samsung held a presentation for them, its third online show in as many months.
Galaxy A52 5G
90Hz, 6.5-inch 2400×1080 OLED
120Hz 6.5-inch 2400×1080 OLED
90Hz 6.7-inch 2400×1080 OLED
(two Cortex A76 cores,
six A55 cores, 8nm)
(two Cortex A77 cores,
six A55 cores, 8nm)
(two Cortex A76 cores,
six A55 cores, 8nm)
4GB, 6GB, or 8GB
6GB or 8GB
6GB or 8GB
128GB or 256GB
128GB or 256GB
128GB or 256GB
64 MP Main
12 MP Wide-angle
5 MP Macro
5 MP Depth
32 MP Front
64 MP Main
12 MP Wide-angle
5 MP Macro
5 MP Depth
32 MP Front
64 MP Main
12 MP Wide-angle
5 MP Macro
8 MP 3X Telephoto
32 MP Front
There is a lot to talk about in this table. First, Samsung tossed in the Galaxy A72 in its presentation along with the A52. It’s the most expensive phone out of the bunch, but I don’t know why anyone would buy it if they have access to the A52 5G, which has a faster display and faster SoC. The A72 has a slightly bigger battery, but it also has a bigger screen, so I’m not sure if that’s going to result in significantly more runtime. Availability details are up in the air right now, so maybe regions would get either the A52 5G, or the A72 but not both? Speaking of availability, Samsung has only announced prices in euros, so for now we only know these are headed for somewhere in Europe. Samsung will probably expand the rollout over time.
Huawei plans to start charging big smartphone-makers like Samsung and Apple royalties for use of its various 5G-related patents, according to CNBC.
Huawei is seeking to make up some of the losses it has experienced as a result of the US government’s moves to sanction the company and limit its ability to sell products in the American market. The US government says national security concerns have driven the policy.
Apple and Samsung would each have to pay up to $2.50 per smartphone sold, with Huawei promising to cap it there and keep rates lower than competitors like Qualcomm or Nokia. For example, Nokia has capped its licensing rate at around $3.58 per unit.
Northvolt, the Swedish battery manufacturer which raised $1 billion in financing from investors led by Goldman Sachs and Volkswagen back in 2019, has signed a massive $14 billion battery order with VW for the next 10 years.
The deal will not only see Northvolt become the strategic lead supplier for battery cells for Volkswagen Group in Europe, but will also involve the German automaker increasing its equity ownership of Northvolt.
As part of the partnership agreement, Northvolt’s gigafactory in Sweden will be expanded and Northvolt agreed to sell its joint venture share in Salzgitter, Germany to Volkswagen as the car maker looks to build up its battery manufacturing efforts across Europe, the companies said.
The agreement between Northvolt and VW brings the Swedish battery maker’s total contracts to $27 billion in the two years since it raised its big $1 billion cash haul.
“Volkswagen is a key investor, customer and partner on the journey ahead and we will continue to work hard with the goal of providing them with the greenest battery on the planet as they rapidly expand their fleet of electric vehicles,” said Peter Carlsson, the co-founder and chief executive of Northvolt, in a statement.
Northvolt’s other partners and customers include ABB, BMW Group, Scania, Siemens, Vattenfall, and Vestas. Together these firms comprise some of the largest manufacturers in Europe.
Back in 2019, the company said that its cell manufacturing capacity could hit 16 Gigawatt hours and that it had sold its capacity to the tune of $13 billion through 2030. That means that the Volkswagen deal will eat up a significant portion of expanded product lines.
Founded Carlsson, a former executive at Tesla, Northvolt’s battery business was intended to leapfrog the European Union into direct competition with Asia’s largest battery manufacturers — Samsung, LG Chem, and CATL.
Back when the company first announced its $1 billion investment round, Carlsson had said that Northvolt would need to build up to150 gigawatt hours of capacity to hit targets for. 2030 electric vehicle sales.
The plant in Sweden is expected to hit at least 32 gigawatt hours of production thanks, in part to backing by the Swedish pension fund firms AMF and Folksam and IKEA-linked IMAS Foundation, in addition to the big financial partners Volkswagen and Goldman Sachs.
Northvolt has had a busy few months. Earlier in March the company announced the acquisition of the Silicon Valley-based startup company Cuberg.
That acquisition gave Northvolt a foothold in the U.S. and established the company’s advanced technology center.
The acquisition also gives Northvolt a window into the newest battery chemistry that’s being touted as a savior for the industry — lithium metal batteries.
Cuberg spun out of Stanford University back in 2015 to commercialize what the company called its next-generation battery combining a liquid electrolyte with a lithium metal anode. The company’s customers include Boeing, BETA Technologies, Ampaire, and VoltAero and it was backed by Boeing HorizonX Ventures, Activate.org, the California Energy Commission, the Department of Energy and the TomKat Center at Stanford.
Cuberg’s cells deliver 70 percent increased range and capacity versus comparable lithium ion cells designed for electric aviation applications. The two companies hope that they can apply the technology to Northvolt’s automotive and industrial product portfolio with the ambition to industrialize cells in 2025 that exceed 1,000 Wh/L, while meeting the full spectrum of automotive customer requirements, according to a statement.
“The Cuberg team has shown exceptional ability to develop world-class technology, proven results and an outstanding customer base in a lean and efficient organization,” said Peter Carlsson, CEO and Co-Founder, Northvolt in a statement. “Combining these strengths with the capabilities and technology of Northvolt allows us to make significant improvements in both performance and safety while driving down cost even further for next-generation battery cells. This is critical for accelerating the shift to fully electric vehicles and responding to the needs of the leading automotive companies within a relevant time frame.”
The company said it would use the cash to further develop its hybrid cloud application networking platform and support a new product, based on Istio, that makes the application service mesh easier to use, according to a statement from the company. Geographic expansion to Latin America, Europe and Asia is also on the menu now that it has 40 million simoleons to play around with (personally I’d have converted all that money into bills and gone swimming in it like Scrooge McDuck).
“As the microservices revolution picks up steam, it’s indispensable to use Istio for managing applications built with microservices and deployed on containers. Both the product and background of the founding team lead us to believe that Tetrate is poised to bring Istio into the mainstream for enterprises by making it easy to manage and deploy on multi-cloud and hybrid cloud environments,” said Jai Das, the partner, president and co-founder of Sapphire’s multi-billion dollar firm, who’s joining the Tetrate board. “The applications we use daily require a lot of work in the background, and Tetrate helps make that happen with its Istio-based service mesh technology, which helps route traffic between microservices, add visibility and enhance security.”
Founded in 2018, Tetrate formally launched in 2019 with a $12.5 million round that boosted the company’s profile and helped the company commercialize and professionalize services around the Istio and Envoy Proxy open source projects.
Tons of really big customers, including the U.S. Department of Defense use Tetrate’s services currently. In the military, Tetrate powers the DevSecOps platform called Platform One.
“We partnered with Tetrate to help secure and smoothly operate Platform One with Istio. Platform One works with the most critical systems across the DoD. The Tetrate team has provided world class expertise, trained our team members, reviewed our platform architecture and configurations, and helped with debugging and upgrades,” said Nicolas Chaillan, the chief software officer for the US Air Force, in a statement. “We’re getting excellent production support for running our platform smoothly and we rely on them and their platform for a critical layer of our stack.”
Samsung’s newest generation of midgrade consumer NVMe storage is out today—the new drive is simply dubbed the “Samsung 980,” without any suffix. The reviewer guide Samsung provided us compares the new drive to last generation’s 970 EVO—we didn’t have a 970 EVO on hand, but we did have a 970 EVO Plus and a 970 Pro, so those are the prior-generation drives we’ll compare the new 980 to today.
(Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.)
If you’re not 100% up on your NAND storage terms, the first thing we need to talk about is cell levels. The fastest and most durable NAND storage is SLC—the Single Level Cell. An SLC NAND cell has only two values—0 and 1, or if you prefer, on and off. An SLC NAND cell can thus store a single bit of data. From there, we have MLC which can store two bits, TLC which can store three, and QLC which can store four data bits per cell.
bits per cell
Discrete voltage levels
Samsung calls the 980 a “three bit MLC” SSD, which is a lot like referring to a red car as “pink.” In order to do this, the company leans on the fact that “M” stands for “Multi”—so in plain English, “three bit MLC” could make sense, despite being utter nonsense in the established terminology of SSDs. From here on out, we’re going to call it what it is: TLC.
Tens of millions of people each year purchase a second-hand smartphone in India, the world’s second largest market. Phone makers and giant online sellers such as Amazon and Flipkart are aware of it, but it’s too much of a hassle for them to inspect, repair, and resell used phones. But these firms also know that customers are more likely to buy a smartphone if they are offered the ability to trade-in their existing handsets.
A startup that is helping these firms tackle this challenge said on Thursday it has raised $15 million in a new financing round. New York-based Olympus Capital Asia made the investment through Asia Environmental Partners, a fund dedicated to the environmental sector. The five-year-old startup, which counts Blume Ventures among its early investors, has raised $42 million to date.
“For consumers, our proposition is that we make it easy for you to sell your devices. You come to our site or app, answer questions to objectively evaluate the condition of your device, and we give you an estimate of how much your gadget is worth,” he said. “If you like the price, we pick it up from your doorstep and give you instant cash.”
A few years ago, I wrote about the struggle e-commerce firms face globally in handling returned items. There are many liability challenges — such as having to ensure that the innards in a returned smartphone haven’t been tempered with — as well as overhead costs in reversing an order.
Manocha said that phone makers and e-commerce firms have found better ways to handle returned items in recent years, but they still lose a significant amount of money on them. These challenges have created a big opportunity for startups such as Cashify.
In fact, Cashify says it’s the market leader in its category in India. The startup has partnerships with “nearly every OEM” including Apple, Samsung, OnePlus, Oppo, Xiaomi, Vivo, and HP. “If you walk into an Apple store today, they use our platform.” For consumers in India, if they opted for the trade-in program, Apple.com also uses Cashify’s trading platform, he said.
The startup also works with top e-commerce firms in India — Amazon, Flipkart, and Paytm Mall. The firms use Cashify’s trading and exchange software, and also rely on the startup for liquidation of devices. The startup then repairs these gadgets and sells the refurbished units to customers.
“Essentially, whether you come directly to us, or go to popular e-commerce firms or phone OEMs, we are handling the majority of the trading,” he said. Even if a customer trades in the device to OEMs, or e-commerce firms, these companies sell the device to players like Cashify, which serves over 2 million customers in more than 1,500 cities.
The startup plans to deploy part of the fresh capital to expand its presence in the offline market. Manocha said Cashify currently has dozens of offline stores and kiosks at shopping malls across the country and it has already proven immensely effective in brand awareness among customers.
The startup also plans to expand outside of India, hire more talent, and invest more in getting the word out about its offerings. Manocha said the team is also working on expanding its expertise to more hardware categories such as cameras.
“The management team at Cashify has an excellent track record in building a strong consumer-facing franchise and building relationships with OEMs, e-commerce companies and electronic product retailers to be present across all touch points for the consumer,” said Pankaj Ghai, Managing Director of Asia Environmental Partners, in a statement.
A Samsung Micro LED TV in suitably swanky digs. [credit: Samsung ]
It’s that time of year when many TV manufacturers begin announcing prices for and shipping their annual product refreshes. We took a look at Sony’s OLED lineup yesterday, and today we’re turning our attention to Samsung, which just announced imminent availability (most models will start shipping this month) for its high-end Micro LED and Mini LED TV lineup.
We’ll get to Micro LED in a minute, but let’s start with the mainstream high end, which comprises the Mini LED TVs. Samsung is giving these a proprietary “Neo QLED” label.
The top-end QN900A is the most tricked-out 8K option, with 65-inch ($5,000), 75-inch ($7,000), and 85-inch options ($9,000). One step down while keeping the 8K banner flying is the QN800A, offered in the same sizes but at $3,500, $4,700, and $6,500, respectively.
The iPhone 12 Pro Max (left) and iPhone 12 mini (right). [credit: Samuel Axon ]
Apple beat out Samsung to become the world’s leading seller of smartphones in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a new data report by research firm Gartner. Samsung had outsold Apple since the same quarter in 2016.
Gartner estimates that Apple sold 79.94 million during the quarter, while Samsung managed to sell 62.17 million. Samsung did not release new flagship phones that quarter. Apple’s sales were driven by the introduction of the new iPhone 12 lineup, which generally sold better than the previous year’s iPhone updates. Apple sold 69.6 million iPhones in the fourth quarter of 2019.
However, this victory for Apple happened amid a general decline of the smartphone market. Overall smartphone sales declined 12.5 percent in 2020 and by 5.4 percent in the fourth quarter.
Like countless other industries, mobile phone sales got hit hard in 2020. The industry hit a 10.5% decline for the year, as Covid-19 first decimated the supply and later consumer demand for devices. It was the latest in a rough couple of years for manufacturers, but 2020 hit significantly harder than most.
New numbers from Gartner point to a rebound to pre-2020 levels. The firm is forecasting 1.5 billion devices shipped globally for 2021, amounting to an 11.4% increase across the board. We certainly saw the beginnings of that rebound arrive in Q4 for last year, as declines continued to slow, thanks in no small part to a record quarter for iPhone sales.
That points to the beginnings of a so-called “supercycle” for Apple, which hits a sort of perfect storm. The last few years have seen consumers slow down upgrades, as device prices increased, features were generally less compelling and their existing devices were perfectly fine so as not to warrant a standard two to three year upgrade pattern.
Analysts pointed to 5G a clear conduit for righting slipping sales numbers early last year, but a global pandemic very much threw a wrench in all of that. If anything, however, the iPhone’s Covid-19 related delay actually contributed to a stellar quarter for the company, both in time for holiday sales and the arrival of multiple vaccines that pointed to some potential return to normalcy.
The long awaited 5G bump will continue in 2021, according to the new numbers, coupled with a quick push to offer next-gen wireless at an accessible price.
“The growing availability of 5G networks coupled with a higher variety of 5G smartphones starting at $200 will steer demand in mature markets and China,” the firm notes. “Demand in emerging countries will be driven by buyers looking for a smartphone with better specifications and a 5G connectivity as an optional feature. Gartner forecasts sales of 5G smartphones will total 539 million units worldwide in 2021, which will represent 35% of total smartphone sales in that year.”
Samsung Electronics said a global semiconductor shortage that has hit global carmakers could also disrupt orders for the memory chips used in smartphones, as manufacturers rushed to respond to the crisis.
The warning from the world’s biggest memory chipmaker comes as companies and governments grow concerned that constrained chip manufacturing capacity could derail countries’ economic recoveries from the coronavirus pandemic.
The rush by semiconductor foundries to meet demand for auto chips means many are now operating at full capacity, limiting their ability to take on new orders, which could in turn slow deliveries of chips designed for mobile devices.
Much of those discoveries were found from the company’s proprietary internet scanner, SpiderSilk co-founder and chief security officer Mossab Hussein told TechCrunch.
Any company would want their data locked down, but mistakes happen and misconfigurations can leave sensitive internal corporate data accessible from the internet. SpiderSilk helps its customers understand their attack surface by looking for things that are exposed but shouldn’t be.
The cybersecurity startup uses its scanner to map out a company’s assets and attack surfaces to detect vulnerabilities and data exposures, and it also simulates cyberattacks to help customers understand where vulnerabilities are in their defenses.
“The attack surface management and threat detection platform we built scans the open internet on a continuous basis in order to attribute all publicly accessible assets back to organizations that could be affected by them, either directly or indirectly,” SpiderSilk’s co-founder and chief executive Rami El Malak told TechCrunch. “As a result, the platform regularly uncovers exploits and highlights how no organization is immune from infrastructure visibility blind-spots.”
El Malak said the funding will help to build out its security, engineering and data science teams, as well as its marketing and sales. He said the company is expanding its presence to North America with sales and engineering teams.
It’s the company’s second round of funding, after a seed round of $500,000 in November 2019, also led by Global Ventures and several angel investors.
“The SpiderSilk team are outstanding partners, solving a critical problem in the ever-complex world of cybersecurity, and protecting companies online from the increasing threats of malicious activity,” said Basil Moftah, general partner at Global Ventures.
The Galaxy S21 is a tank. It’s a big, heavy (8.04 ounces versus its predecessor’s 7.7), blunt instrument of a phone. It’s quintessential Samsung, really — the handset you purchase when too much isn’t quite enough. In fact, it even goes so far as adopting S-Pen functionality — perhaps the largest distinguishing factor between the company’s two flagship lines.
In many ways it — and the rest of the S21 models — are logical extensions of the product line. Samsung hasn’t broken the mold here. But the company didn’t particularly need to. The line remains one of the best Android devices you can buy. It’s a product experience the company is content to refine, while saving more fundamental changes for the decidedly more experimental Galaxy Z line.
Samsung certainly deserves credit for going all in on 5G early. The company was ahead of the curve in adopting next-gen wireless and was among the first to add it across its flagship offerings. 5G became a utilitarian feature remarkably fast — owing in no small part to Qualcomm’s major push to add the tech to its mid-tier chips. In fact, the iPhone 12 may well be the last major flagship that can get away with using the addition of the tech as a major selling point.
With that out of the way, smartphone makers are returning to familiar terrain on which to wage their wars — namely imaging. S-Pen functionality for the Ultra aside, most of the top-level upgrades of this generation come on the camera side of things. No surprise there, of course. The camera has always a focus for Samsung — though the changes largely revolved around software, which is increasingly the trend for many manufacturers.
Image Credits: Brian Heater
There are, however, some hardware changes worth noting. Namely, the new S models represent one of the bigger aesthetic updates in recent memory. I’d mentioned being kind of on the fence about them in my original write up of the news, owing largely to that weird wrinkle of 2020/2021 gadget blogging: not being able to see the device in person. Now that I’ve been toting the product around the streets of New York for several days, I can say definitive that, well, I’m mostly kind of okay with them, I guess.
The big sticking point is that massive contour cut camera housing. Pretty sure I used the word “brutalist” to describe it last time. Having used the product, I’d say it’s fairly apt. There’s something…industrial about the design choice. And it’s really pronounced on the Ultra, which sports four camera holes, plus a laser autofocus sensor and flash. It’s a big, pronounced camera bump built from surprisingly thick metal. I suspect it’s owed, in part, to the “folded” telephoto lens.
Samsung sent along the Phantom Black model. The color was something the company devoted a surprising amount of stage time to during the announcement. It was the kind of attention we rarely see devoted to something as inconsequential as a color finish, outside of some Apple bits. Here’s a long video about it if you’re curious. I don’t know what to tell you. It’s nice. It’s matte black. I do dig the new metallic back; even with Corning on your side, a glass back really feels like an accident waiting to happen.
The curved screen looks nice, per usual, accented well by the round corners. The screen itself is striking — Samsung’s displays always are. The screens on the S21, S21+ and S21 Ultra are 6.2, 6.7 and 6.8 inches, respectively. Those are all unchanged, save for the Ultra, which is, strangely, 0.1 inches smaller than its predecessor. It’s not really noticeable, but is an odd choice from a company that has long insisted that bigger is better when it comes to displays.
Eye Comfort Shield is a welcome addition, adjusting the screen temperature based on time of day and your own usage. If you’ve used Night Shift or something similar, you know the deal — the screen slowly shifts toward the more yellow end of the white balance spectrum, reducing blue light so as to not throw your circadian rhythms out of whack. It’s off by default, so you’ll have to go into settings to change it.
The company has also introduced a Dynamic Refresh Rate feature, which cycles between 46 and 120Hz, depending on the app you’re using. This is designed to save some battery life (a 120Hz along with 5G can be a big power hog). The effect is fairly subtle. I can’t say I really noticed over the course of my usage. I certainly appreciate the effort to find new ways to eke out extra juice.
The new era of Samsung is equally notable for what it left off. The new S models mark the end of an era as the company finally abandons expandable storage (following in the footsteps of the Z line). I mean, I get it. These devices range from 128 to 512GB of storage. For a majority of users, the microSD reader was superfluous. I certainly never needed to use it. Per the company, “Over time, SD card usage has markedly decreased on smartphones because we’ve expanded the options of storage available to consumers.”
Of course, expanding the built-in memory is going to cost you. Mostly, though, it’s always a bit of a bummer to say farewell to a long-time distinguishing factory. Speaking of, the company also ditched the in-box headphones and power adapter, notably deleting some ads in which it mocked Apple for recently doing the same. It’s the headphone jack all over again.
The company offered up a similar sustainability explanation in a recent statement. “We discovered that more and more Galaxy users are reusing accessories they already have and making sustainable choices in their daily lives to promote better recycling habits.” As a consequence, the box is nearly half as thick as those from earlier S lines, for what that’s worth.
As mentioned above, the cameras are remarkably similar to their predecessors, with a few key differences. The S20 Ultra sported an 108-megapixel wide lens (f/1.8), 12-megapixel ultrawide (f/2.2) and 48-megapixel (f/3.5) telephoto (4x zoom), while the S21 Ultra features a 108-megapixel wide (f/1.8), 12-megapixel ultrawide (f/2.2), 10MP (f/2.4) telephoto (3x zoom) and 10MP telephoto (f/4.9) (10x zoom). The dual telephoto lenses are the biggest differentiator.
Image Credits: Brian Heater
The device will switch between telephotos, depending on how much you zoom in. The device performs a lot better than many competing handsets at distances requiring around 10x. Though, while the ability to zoom up to 100x is an extremely impressive thing for a phone to do on paper, the images degrade really quickly at higher levels. At a certain point, the image starts taking on the style of an impressionist painting, which isn’t particularly useful in a majority of cases.
Once Samsung (or whoever) can properly crack the code on translating that noise into signal, it will really be a breakthrough. Still, Zoom Lock is a nice addition in helping to minimize hand shake while zooming. Accidental movements tend to increasing exponentially the tighter you get in on an image. The Super Steady, too, has been improved for video recording.
Portrait mode has been improved. There still tends to be trouble with more complex shapes, but this is a problem I’ve run into with pretty much all solutions. Samsung gets some points here for offering a ton of post-shot portrait editing, from different bokeh levels, to adjusting the focal point to other effects. As with much of the camera software, there’s a lot to play around with.
Other key additions include 8K snap, a nice addition that lets you pull high-res images from a single frame of 8K video. There’s also Vlogger Mode, which shoots from the front and back simultaneously. Someone will no doubt find some social use for this, but it feels a bit gimmicky — one of those features a majority of users will promptly forget about. Additional options are generally a good thing, though the camera software has gotten to the point where there are a ton of menus to navigate.
I get the sense that most users want a way to quickly snap photos and shoot videos. The lower-end S21 entries are great for that. The hardware is strong enough to give you great shots with minimal effort. If you’re someone who really enjoys drilling down on features and getting the best images on-device without exporting to a third-party app, the Ultra is the choice for you. In addition to being a kind of kitchen sink approach, the high-end device is all about choice.
Image Credits: Brian Heater
The addition of S Pen functionality is probably the most notable — and curious — thing the Ultra has going for it. On the face of it, this feels like the latest — and most pronounced — in a series of moves effectively blurring the lines between the company’s two flagships. Perhaps Samsung will make a move to further differentiate the next Note, or maybe the company is content to simply let the device meld over time.
There is one major difference off the bat, of course. Namely the fact that there’s no pen slot on the S21. This means that:
The stylus is sold separately.
You need to buy a case with an S Pen holder (also sold separately, naturally) if you’ve got any hope of not losing it.
Image Credits: Brian Heater
I happened to have a Note S Pen lying around and found the experience to be pretty smooth. I’ve been upfront about the fact that I’m not really a stylus person myself, but Samsung’s done a good job building up the software over the years. The S Pen is a surprisingly versatile tool, courtesy of several generations of updates. But I would say if the peripheral is important to you, honestly, just buy a Note.
The components are what you’d expect from a high-end Samsung. That includes the brand new Snapdragon 888 (in some markets, at least), and either 12 or 16GB of RAM and 128, 256 or 512GB of storage on the Ultra. The battery remains the same as last year, at 5,000mAh. In spite of 5G and a high refresh rate, I’ve gotten more than a day and a half of moderate use on a single charge.
In the end, the S21 isn’t a huge change over the S20. It’s more of a refinement, really. But it does represent a big change for Samsung. The company has implemented a $200 price drop across the board for these products. The S21, S21+ and S21 Ultra start at $799, $999 and $1,199, respectively. None are what you would call cheap, exactly, but $200 isn’t exactly insignificant, whether it means easing the blow of getting in on the entry level or taking the pain out of going for a higher-end model.
It’s a clear reflection of a few years’ worth of stagnating smartphone sales, exacerbated by some dire numbers amid COVID. It’s nice to see a company take those issues — and concern around spending $1,000+ on a smartphone — to heart beyond simply offering up a flagship “lite.”
A startup based out of San Diego and Taipei is quietly nailing fundings and deals from some of the biggest names in electronics. Kneron, which specializes in energy-efficient processors for edge artificial intelligence, just raised a strategic funding round from Taiwan’s manufacturing giant Foxconn and integrated circuit producer Winbond.
The deal came a year after Kneron closed a $40 million round led by Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-Shing’s Horizons Ventures. Amongst its other prominent investors are Alibaba Entrepreneurship Fund, Sequoia Capital, Qualcomm and SparkLabs Taipei.
Kneron declined to disclose the dollar amount of the investment from Foxconn and Winbond due to investor requests but said it was an “eight figures” deal, founder and CEO Albert Liu told TechCrunch in an interview.
Founded in 2015, Kneron’s latest product is a neural processing unit that can enable sophisticated AI applications without relying on the cloud. The startup is directly taking on the chips of Intel and Google, which it claims are more energy-consuming than its offering. The startup recently got a talent boost after hiring Davis Chen, Qualcomm’s former Taipei head of engineering.
Among Kneron’s customers are Chinese air conditioning giant Gree and German’s autonomous driving software provider Teraki, and the new deal is turning the world’s largest electronics manufacturer into a client. As part of the strategic agreement, Kneron will work with Foxconn on the latter’s smart manufacturing and newly introduced open platform for electric vehicles, while its work with Winbond will focus on microcontroller unit (MCU)-based AI and memory computing.
“Low-power AI chips are pretty easy to put into sensors. We all know that in some operation lines, sensors are quite small, so it’s not easy to use a big GPU [graphics processing unit] or CPU [central processing unit], especially when power consumption is a big concern,” said Liu, who held R&D positions at Qualcomm and Samsung before founding Kneron.
Unlike some of its competitors, Kneron designs chips for a wide range of use cases, from manufacturing, smart home, smartphones, robotics, surveillance, payments, to autonomous driving. It doesn’t just make chips but also the AI software embedded in the chips, a strategy that Liu said differentiates his company from China’s AI darlings like SenseTime and Megvii, which enable AI service through the cloud.
Kneron has also been on a less aggressive funding pace than these companies, which fuel their rapid expansion through outsize financing rounds. Six-year-old SenseTime has raised about $2.6 billion to date, while nine-year-old Megvii has banked about $1.4 billion. Kneron, in comparison, has raised just over $70 million from a Series A round.
Like the Chinese AI upstarts, Kneron is weighing an initial public offering. The company is expected to make a profit in 2023, Liu said, and “that will probably be a good time for us to go IPO.”
Samsung Electronics vice chairman Jay Y. Lee is back in prison following a retrial of his 2017 conviction in a bribery case that helped lead to the downfall of former South Korean president Park Guen-hye. The Seoul High Court sentenced Lee to 30 months on Monday.
Lee was originally convicted of bribery in 2017 and sentenced to five years, but was released in 2018 after the sentence was reduced and suspended on appeal. In August 2019, however, South Korea’s Supreme Court overturned the appeals court, ruling that it was too lenient, and ordered the case to be retried.
Lee was expected to become chairman of Samsung after the death of his father, Lee Kun-hee, in October 2020. He has served as the chaebol’s de facto leader since his father suffered a stroke in 2014. With Lee’s sentencing today, it is unclear who will take over his responsibilities at Samsung.
Charges against Lee included bribing Park to gain support for deals that would have helped Lee inherit control of Samsung from his father. The illegal payments played a major role in the corruption scandal that led to Park’s impeachment, arrest and 25-year prison sentence.
The bribery case is separate from another one Lee is involved in, over alleged accounting fraud and stock manipulation. Hearings in that case begun in October.
I suspect it will be a while before I get excited over wireless earbuds. It’s not for a lack of trying on the part of manufacturers. In fact, quite the contrary. The category actually matured quite quickly, compared to various other verticals in the consumer electronics space. The truth is, most major hardware makers have gotten pretty decent at making a pair of wireless buds — many for pretty cheap.
Samsung’s been in that category for a while now. I’ve liked the last several models I’ve tried from the company. The sound quality has been good, they’re generally pretty comfortable — a good experience, all around. In fact, one of the issues I’ve raised the last couple of times is the fact that Samsung didn’t offer its own equivalent to products like the AirPods Pro and Sony WF-1000XM3 (though that latter reference is starting to become a bit dated).
It’s a hole in the lineup now filled by the Galaxy Buds Pro, which slot in the high end, above the Galaxy Buds Live and Galaxy Buds+. The naming conventions could be streamlined a bit, but it’s a small complaint in the grand scheme. At $199, the Pros are $30 more than the Live and $50 more than the Pluses. More importantly, it puts them at $50 less than the AirPods Pro – their clearest analogue.
Image Credits: Brian Heater
And like Apple’s Pro buds, the Galaxy Buds are very specifically designed to operate with Samsung’s devices. You can still pair them with other Android handsets, but you’re going to lose key parts of the software integration. This honestly seems to be the way things are headed, with practically every smartphone company also manufacturing their own headphones. And certainly Samsung’s got enough market share that such a play makes sense.
If you do want to use them on another Android device, you can pair them by downloading the Galaxy Wearables app. You can pair them manually without the app, but you’ll lose a bunch more features in the process. Like past Galaxy Buds models, there’s no physical button on the case for pairing.
After several generations of devices, Samsung’s certainly got the foundation in place. And its purchase of Harman/AKG in 2017 has clearly played a key role in its ability to create some quality audio accessories. All of that comes into play here. Samsung’s made some solid choices on the design front. The charging case is remarkably compact. I was actually a bit surprised when I opened the package. It’s not nearly as long as the AirPods case, though it is a bit thicker. In any case, it’s certainly compact enough to carry around, unlike, say the Powerbeats Pro.
The battery claims are pretty impressive, given the size. The company rates the buds at five hours each and 28 hours with the case. Turn off active noise canceling and Bixby (I’ll let you guess which of those two I won’t miss) and the numbers bump up to eight and 20 hours, respectively. I will say that I was able to confidently bring the headphones with me on one of my lengthy morning sabbaticals without worrying about packing the case. That’s not something I can say about every wireless earbud.
Image Credits: Brian Heater
The headphones sport an 11-millimeter woofer and 6.5-millimeter tweeter. I found the sound to be an overall good mix, whether listening to music or a podcast. If you’re so included, you can also fiddle with the equalizer in the wearable app. It features six presets, rather than sliders, so it’s an imperfect science. But I didn’t really feel the need to mess around in there much.
The active noise canceling is solid, as well (okay, I admit it, Bixby is the one I’d drop in a heartbeat). I wasn’t really aware at how good a job it was doing drowning out street noise until I switched it off — this can be accomplished with a long press on the side touch panel or through the app. By default the former switches between ANC and transparent mode, skipping the off mode in the middle. Like the equalizer, you an adjust the level of ANC here — either high or low.
If you’re a Samsung true believer, Seamless Switch can be enabled, allowing you to, say, switch between a tablet and a phone when a call comes in. Other neat Samsung-specific features include the ability to use the buds as a kind of makeshift lavalier mic while recording video on the Galaxy S21. The SmartThings app can also be used to find misplaced buds. All in all, Samsung is clearly building up its ecosystem here.
Image Credits: Brian Heater
The design of the buds themselves has been streamlined since the extremely bean-like Buds Live. The company says they were designed to minimize contact with the ear, to help relieve pressure. It’s a shame that everyone isn’t able to try every earbud on before buying — how they fit in your own ears is obviously an extremely personal thing.
I found, however, that one of my ears tends to ache when wearing them for a prolonged period — not an issue I’ve had with either the AirPods Pro or Pixel Buds (the Powerbeats Pro are also great in this respect). I found myself fiddling with them semi-regularly and triggering the touch mechanism in the process (this can be turned off by default in the app).
Most of my issues with the Buds Pro are pretty minor. They’re a worthy update to the line and a great pair of headphones if you’re a Samsung user.