UK’s CMA opens market study into Apple, Google’s mobile “duopoly”

The UK’s competition watchdog will take a deep dive look into Apple and Google’s dominance of the mobile ecosystem, it said today — announcing a market study which will examine the pair’s respective smartphone platforms (iOS and Android); their app stores (App Store and Play Store); and web browsers (Safari and Chrome). 

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is concerned that the mobile platform giants’ “effective duopoly” in those areas  might be harming consumers, it added.

The study will be wide ranging, with the watchdog concerns about the nested gateways that are created as a result of the pair’s dominance of mobile ecosystem — intermediating how consumers can access a variety of products, content and services (such as music, TV and video streaming; fitness tracking, shopping and banking, to cite some of the examples provided by the CMA).

“These products also include other technology and devices such as smart speakers, smart watches, home security and lighting (which mobiles can connect to and control),” it went on, adding that it’s looking into whether their dominance of these pipes is “stifling competition across a range of digital markets”, saying too that it’s “concerned this could lead to reduced innovation across the sector and consumers paying higher prices for devices and apps, or for other goods and services due to higher advertising prices”.

The CMA further confirmed the deep dive will examine “any effects” of the pair’s market power over other businesses — giving the example of app developers who rely on Apple or Google to market their products to customers via their smart devices.

The watchdog already has an open investigation into Apple’s App Store, following a number of antitrust complaints by developers.

It is investigating Google’s planned depreciation of third party tracking cookies too, after complaints by adtech companies and publishers that the move could harm competition. (And just last week the CMA said it was minded to accept a series of concessions offered by Google that would enable the regulator to stop it turning off support for cookies entirely if it believes the move will harm competition.)

The CMA said both those existing investigations are examining issues that fall within the scope of the new mobile ecosystem market study but that its work on the latter will be “much broader”.

It added that it will adopt a joined-up approach across all related cases — “to ensure the best outcomes for consumers and other businesses”.

It’s giving itself a full year to examine Gapple’s mobile ecosystems.

It is also soliciting feedback on any of the issues raised in its statement of scope — calling for responses by 26 July. The CMA added that it’s also keen to hear from app developers, via its questionnaire, by the same date.

Taking on tech giants

The watchdog has previously scrutinized the digital advertising market — and found plenty to be concerned about vis-a-vis Google’s dominance there.

That earlier market study has been feeding the UK government’s plan to reform competition rules to take account of the market-deforming power of digital giants. And the CMA suggested the new market study, examining ‘Gapple’s’ mobile muscle, could similarly help shape UK-wide competition law reforms.

Last year the UK announced its plan to set up a “pro-competition” regime for regulating Internet platforms — including by establishing a dedicated Digital Markets Unit within the CMA (which got going earlier this year).

The legislation for the reform has not yet been put before parliament but the government has said it wants the competition regulator to be able to “proactively shape platforms’ behavior” to avoid harmful behavior before it happens” — saying too that it supports enabling ex ante interventions once a platform has been identified to have so-called “strategic market status”.

Germany already adopted similar reforms to its competition law (early this year), which enable proactive interventions to tackle large digital platforms with what is described as “paramount significance for competition across markets”. And its Federal Cartel Office has, in recent months, wasted no time in opening a number of proceedings to determine whether Amazon, Google and Facebook have such a status.

The CMA also sounds keen to get going to tackle Internet gatekeepers.

Commenting in a statement, CEO Andrea Coscelli said:

“Apple and Google control the major gateways through which people download apps or browse the web on their mobiles – whether they want to shop, play games, stream music or watch TV. We’re looking into whether this could be creating problems for consumers and the businesses that want to reach people through their phones.

“Our ongoing work into big tech has already uncovered some worrying trends and we know consumers and businesses could be harmed if they go unchecked. That’s why we’re pressing on with launching this study now, while we are setting up the new Digital Markets Unit, so we can hit the ground running by using the results of this work to shape future plans.”

The European Union also unveiled its own proposals for clipping the wings of big tech last year — presenting its Digital Markets Act plan in December which will apply a single set of operational rules to so-called “gatekeeper” platforms operating across the EU.

The clear trend in Europe on digital competition is toward increasing oversight and regulation of the largest platforms — in the hopes that antitrust authorities can impose measures that will help smaller players thrive.

Critics might say that’s just playing into the tech giants’ hands, though — because it’s fiddling around the edges when more radical intervention (break ups) are what’s really needed to reboot captured markets.

Apple and Google were contacted for comment on the CMA’s market study.

A Google spokesperson said: “Android provides people with more choice than any other mobile platform in deciding which apps they use, and enables thousands of developers and manufacturers to build successful businesses. We welcome the CMA’s efforts to understand the details and differences between platforms before designing new rules.”

According to Google, the Android App Economy generated £2.8BN in revenue for UK developers last year, which it claims supported 240,000 jobs across the country — citing a Public First report that it commissioned.

The tech giant also pointed to operational changes it has already made in Europe, following antitrust interventions by the European Commission — such as adding a choice screen to Android where users can pick from a list of alternative search engines.

Earlier this month it agreed to shift the format underlying that choice screen from an unpopular auction model to free participation.

#amazon, #android, #app-store, #apple, #apple-inc, #big-tech, #cma, #competition-and-markets-authority, #competition-law, #digital-markets-act, #digital-markets-unit, #duopoly, #europe, #european-commission, #european-union, #germany, #google, #ios, #mobile, #policy, #smartphone, #smartphones, #uk-government, #united-kingdom, #web-browsers

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Motorway’s auction platform for second-hand cars raises $67.7M Series B led by Index Ventures

Motorway, is a UK startup that allows professional car dealers to bid in an auction for privately-owned cars for sale. The startup has had rapid success by removing a lot of friction in the process. It’s now raised £48m / $67.7m in a Series B round led by Index Ventures, along with new investors BMW i Ventures and Unbound. Existing investors Latitude and Marchmont Ventures also participated. The funding will be used to extend its platform and grow the current 160-strong team.

The startup allows consumers to sell their car for up to £1,000, by uploading its details via a smartphone. Over 3,000 professional car dealers then bid for the vehicle in a daily online auction. The highest offer wins the car, which is then collected for free by the winning dealer inside 24 hours. 

Motorway says it has sold 65,000 cars since its launch in 2017 and seen sales hit £50m in May 2021 alone, £2.5m of transactions a day, and more than 4,000 completed car sales a month. With only 5% of all vehicles in the UK sold online right now, there is plenty of headroom for this market to grow.
 
Tom Leathes, CEO of Motorway, said: “For half a century, inefficient offline processes have led to bad deals and a bad experience for both car sellers and car dealers. Motorway has fundamentally changed a broken experience where everyone ends up dissatisfied – and we’ve transformed it with a superior online experience where everybody wins. Cutting out the middlemen leaves both the consumer and car dealer with a better deal, all from home and without the stress. Our incredible growth so far is testament to our focus on delivering more value through technology – and this investment will provide us with the fuel to take Motorway to the next level.”
 
Danny Rimer, Partner at Index Ventures, said: “We’re always looking to invest in companies that are truly disrupting an industry and meeting a real customer need. We have found that in Motorway. The team has built an incredibly powerful platform, underpinned by great technology and a deep understanding of the challenges both consumers and car dealers face. Motorway has quickly become the first port of call for tens of thousands of people selling their car.” 
 
Motorway previously raised £14m in venture funding since it was founded by Tom Leathes, Harry Jones and Alex Buttle in 2017.

Speaking to me over interview Leathes added: “COVID has been a real accelerator of something that was already happening. The car industry is moving online and that’s partly about people buying their next car online, but it’s also about dealers changing their behavior, how they do business, where they buy their cars. It forced that change which they resisted for a long time, and now they’re embracing it, so it’s a fundamental shift in the industry. And this is why we see such a massive opportunity to provide the rails to help both sides of the marketplace to move online.”

Rimer added: “It’s rare that you have founders who have worked together across multiple successful and less successful startups who have that scar tissue and success, and are now going for a much bigger opportunity. The business model is really an important one for us because instead of owning inventory and then having to get rid of your inventory, sort of like the difference between Nat-a-Porter and Farfetch. Motorway’s marketplace is just like Farfetch – they don’t have any inventory, which means that just by merely making that platform happen for buyers and sellers, they win. So there’s a lot less risk associated with what the money is going to be used for when building the business.”

#auction, #car-dealership, #car-sales, #ceo, #danny-rimer, #europe, #farfetch, #motorway, #smartphone, #tc, #transport, #united-kingdom

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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 account that its smart devices might adopt HarmonyOS. Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi, who are much larger players than Meizu, are probably more reluctant to embrace a rival’s operating system.

Huawei’s goal is to collapse all HarmonyOS-powered devices into one single control panel, which can, say, remotely pair the Bluetooth connections of headphones and a TV. A game that is played on a phone can be continued seamlessly on a tablet. A smart soymilk blender can customize a drink based on the health data gleaned from a user’s smartwatch.

Devices that aren’t already on HarmonyOS can also communicate with Huawei devices with a simple plug-in. Photos from a Windows-powered laptop can be saved directly onto a Huawei phone if the computer has the HarmonyOS plug-in installed. That raises the question of whether Android, or even iOS, could, one day, talk to HarmonyOS through a common language.

The HarmonyOS launch arrived days before Apple’s annual developer event scheduled for next week. A recent job posting from Apple mentioned a seemingly new concept, homeOS, which may have to do with Apple’s smart home strategy, as noted by Macrumors.

Huawei denied speculations that HarmonyOS is a derivative of Android and said no single line of code is identical to that of Android. A spokesperson for Huawei declined to say whether the operating system is based on Linux, the kernel that powers Android.

Several tech giants have tried to introduce their own mobile operating systems to no avail. Alibaba built AliOS based on Linux but has long stopped updating it. Samsung flirted with its own Tizen but the operating system is limited to powering a few Internet of Things like smart TVs.

Huawei may have a better shot at drumming up developer interest compared to its predecessors. It’s still one of China’s largest smartphone brands despite losing a chunk of its market after the U.S. government cut it off critical chip suppliers, which could hamper its ability to make cutting-edge phones. HarmonyOS also has a chance to create an alternative for developers who are disgruntled with Android, if Huawei is able to capture their needs.

The U.S. sanctions do not block Huawei from using Android’s open-source software, which major Chinese smartphone makers use to build their third-party Android operating system. But the ban was like a death knell for Huawei’s consumer markets overseas as its phones abroad lost access to Google Play services.

#alibaba, #android, #apple, #asia, #bluetooth, #china, #facebook, #gadgets, #harmonyos, #huawei, #internet-of-things, #linux, #meizu, #microsoft-windows, #mobile, #mobile-linux, #mobile-operating-system, #mobile-phones, #open-source-software, #operating-system, #operating-systems, #smart-devices, #smartphone, #smartphones, #tc, #xiaomi

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Penfold closes $8.5M to provide a full stack pension in an app aimed at freelancers

Penfold, a startup that offers a full stack pension in a smartphone app, has closed a $8.5 million (£6m) funding round, $4M of which was from a crowdfunding campaign. The company is now approved by the FCA to operate a pension itself rather than relying on third parties, and is aimed at freelancers who rarely save.

The round was led by Bridford Group, the Family Office of Jorg Mohaupt, allegedly the only Angel investor in Adyen. Alan Morgan of MMC Ventures also invested.

Penfold says it built the backend infrastructure “from scratch” Hykin told me. He said legacy providers are built up from “100s of consolidated schemes” and are often still paper-based and require an army of people to administer. Thus a tech-driven approach means fewer overheads and the ability to make an attractive offer to freelancers.

CEO Pete Hykin told me: “I was self-employed for two years so had no pension. I tried five times to set one up with Scottish widows, standard life, AJ bell etc. I gave up, as all of them forced you to print something, call them, or speak to an IFA. At a previous company, I set up a workplace pension for 70 staff and none of them engaged. Many left money on the table as a result.”

He said: “We rebuilt the entire backend of pensions so all processes can happen instantly, quick, flexibly and at a low cost. Then we put an amazing UX on it via a great app and amazing human customer service.” Features include search, track, consolidate old pensions, among others.

Hykin said users download the app, enter bare minimum legal details for KYC, choose one of 5 investment plans based on age/risk appetite, choose how to fund (Recurring Direct Debit, Open banking topup, transfer another pension). Then they receive HMRC 25% top ups until retirement.

A “Find my pension” tool is possibly the most powerful feature of this startup, where you put in the name of your old employer it tracks down your old pension pot.

Its competitors include traditional providers such as Standard Life, Scottish Widows, Aviva and AJ Bell.

Pensions are definitely heading to apps. PensionBee recently arrived on the London Stock Exchange, for instance. PensionBee also recently announced self-employed offering.

Users will be charged an annual percentage fee on their pension balance (0.75%), but with no other fees. The other founders are Chris Eastwood (Co-Founder and Co-CEO), Stuart Robinson (Co-Founder and CTO).

#adyen, #aviva, #banking, #ceo, #europe, #mmc-ventures, #personal-finance, #smartphone, #tc, #the-family

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Forget multiple cameras—Sharp phone has one giant 1-inch camera sensor

Is filling the back of a smartphone with several small camera lenses really the best camera solution? Sharp is bucking the multi-camera trend with the Aquos R6, a phone with—get this—a single massive camera on the back. Sharp is skipping all the wide-angle zoom lenses out there and going with a giant 1-inch camera sensor instead. This is either the single biggest smartphone camera sensor ever or it’s tied for the largest ever, depending on how you categorize 2014’s Panasonic Lumix CM1, which isn’t so much a “phone” as it is a point-and-shoot camera that runs Android and can make phone calls.

Sharp is not talking about its camera sensor supplier, but there’s a good chance the part is from fellow Japanese company Sony, which has had a 1-inch “IMX800” sensor circulating around the rumor mill for some time. Sony is the leading smartphone camera sensor manufacturer, so don’t be surprised to see a few more 1-inch sensor phones this year. The rest of the specs look pretty good, too. The phone comes with Android 11, a Snapdragon 888 SoC, 12GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, a 5000 mAh battery, a microSD slot, a headphone jack, and a USB-C port.

The display is a Sharp-made OLED with a whopping 240 Hz refresh rate. Sharp has made 240 Hz displays before, but it says this one is the “world’s first” display to have a dynamic refresh rate that goes from 1 Hz to 240 Hz, depending on the content.

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#android, #camera, #japan, #sharp, #smartphone, #tech

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Upsie’s direct-to-consumer swing at the warranty space nets $18.2M

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.”

#allstate, #apple-store, #apps, #atlanta, #backstage-capital, #consumer-electronics, #distance-learning, #economy, #finance, #funding, #fundings-exits, #georgia, #google, #kapor-capital, #large, #matchstick-ventures, #minnesota, #puneet-agarwal, #recent-funding, #samsung, #silicon-valley-bank, #smartphone, #smartphones, #squaretrade, #st-paul, #startup, #startups, #target, #tc, #true-ventures, #upsie, #venture-capital, #warranty

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Cowboy launches the Cowboy 4 e-bike, with a step-through version and built-in phone charger

E-bike startup Cowboy has launched the Cowboy 4, its newest generation of urban electric bikes. The bike will come in two different frames, a traditional frame, and a step-through.
The C4 is basically an upgrade on the previous version 3, while the ‘C4 ST’ is a step-through model which the company is predicting will appeal to young people used to city bikes.

The C4 and C4 ST are both priced at £2,290/€2,490 inclusive of mudguards and are available for pre-order with a €100/£100 deposit starting from today cowboy.com, with deliveries starting in September 2021.

Cowboy has raised $46.1M in venture capital and largely extent competes with VanMoof (which raised $61.1M) and Furo Systems (£750K) to a lesser extent. The basic differences between the three are that Cowboy is moving closer to leverage the cloud and apps as its main differentiation, VanMoof tends to built things (like a screen) into the bike (and has an app), and Furo is more about ease of maintenance, and weight.

Cowboy says both bikes feature 50% more torque via their automatic transmission. There are no gears to change, with the engine kicking in as you turn the cranks. The removable battery weighs 2.4kg, giving the bike a range of up to 70km.

The heaviest version of the bikes is 19.2 kg including battery and both will hit 25 km/h (15 mph).

Adrien Roose, Cowboy Co-Founder and CEO said in a statement: “The Cowboy 4 completely redefines life in and around cities. By designing two frame types featuring our first-ever step-through model, an integrated cockpit, and a new app, we are now able to address a much larger audience and cater to many more riders to move freely in and around cities,” he added. “Our mission is to help city dwellers move in a faster, safer and more enjoyable way than any other mode of urban transportation. Be it wandering through the city or staying fit, it’s a reconnection with your senses and a rediscovery of the simple thrill of riding a bike.”

The step-through model is optimized to suit riders 160-190cm in height, while the normal C4 will accommodates riders 170-195cm tall.

Mike Butcher meets Cowboy's Adrien Roose

Mike Butcher meets Cowboy’s Adrien Roose

Doing a very quick test of the new bikes in a London basketball court and around local streets, I found both bikes to be very nippy on the off and a pleasure to ride. Cowboy is probably right – the step-through version is likely to appeal to a wide variety of riders.

Roose said the bike has been custom-designed. Only the saddle and the carbon belt are made by third-party companies Selle Royal and Gates, respectively. The brake cables are now integrated into the handlebars and stem, brakes and pedals have new angles, and the rear wheel has a ‘dropout’ design.
Cowboy will offer a custom-designed series of accessories starting with a rear rack and kickstand. The C4 and C4 ST will come in Absolute Black, Peyote Green, and Sand Dune, and are available to pre-order now, with deliveries beginning in September. Both models will feature pre-fitted mudguards.

The bikes also now feature a wireless charging mont on the stem featuring a built-in Quad Lock mount to hold the rider’s smartphone and wirelessly charge it via the bike’s internal battery.

Tanguy Goretti, Co-Founder, and VP Software added: “The new Cowboy app [will show] remaining battery range, air quality en route and a wide range of live fitness stats.”

The app also has a new navigation screen, 3D map rendering layout, turn-by-turn directions, air quality index for routes, live fitness data, leaderboard rankings; a new community feature offering the ability to join curated group rides across capital cities in Europe.

Cowboy is also offering a free repair network across Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Austria and Luxembourg; 6 days a week customer support; and a subscription plan operated in partnership with Qover which includes theft detection, theft insurance throughout Europe.

#austria, #belgium, #cowboy, #electric-bicycle, #europe, #france, #germany, #luxembourg, #micromobility, #mike-butcher, #netherlands, #smartphone, #tc, #transport, #united-kingdom, #venture-capital

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Riot Games and Konvoy Ventures back games publisher Carry1st in $6M Series A

Africa is the last frontier for basically anything. Mobile gaming is no exception. For a continent that is home to more than 1 billion millennials and Gen Zers, mobile gaming has never really picked up, despite the continent witnessing rapid economic growth and smartphone adoption.

Two issues have proved detrimental to this growth: distribution and payments. With fragmented and unresolved distribution and digital payments ecosystems, game studios have found it difficult to serve African consumers and make a ton of money doing so. Carry1st is a mobile games publishing platform fixing this problem, and today it is announcing the close of its $6 million Series A round.

This month last year, we reported that the company had just raised a $2.5 million seed investment. CRE Ventures led that round, but this time, the company, which has offices in Cape Town and New York, brought in a blue-chip group of investors spanning gaming, media and fintech.

U.S. VC firm Konvoy Ventures led the Series A round. The firm is known for its investment in the video gaming industry’s infrastructure, technology, tools and platforms. Riot Games (developer of League of Legends), Tokyo’s Akatsuki Entertainment Technology Fund (the company behind Dragon Ball Z), Raine Ventures and fintech VC TTV Capital participated.

Carry1st was founded by Cordel Robbin-Coker, Lucy Hoffman and Tinotenda Mundangefupfu in 2018. The company started as a game studio, developing and launching its own mobile games. But a projection on what it could be in the long run made the company switch tactics.

Instead of the studio model (quite popular among gaming companies in Africa), Carry1st sought to become a regional publisher, thereby opening the continent to international studios. Also, the company helps local studios that find it difficult to create games with a global appeal by pairing them with strong operators.

“We learned that African users don’t need their own games; they want to play the best games in the world,” CEO Robbin-Coker told TechCrunch.

COO Hoffman said that the company provides a full-stack publishing platform for its partners. It also handles localization, distribution, user acquisition, monetization, customer experience for studios and licenses their games on exclusive, long-term contracts.

“We fund user acquisition so that the games are played by as many users as possible, and then send our partners a royalty in return for the ability to leverage their IP,” Hoffman said.  

Carry1st

L-R: Cordel Robbin-Coker (CEO), Lucy Hoffman (COO) and Tinotenda Mundangefupfu (CTO)

This is somewhat akin to how Tencent-backed Sea Limited (parent company of Garena) took off. The company was the publisher of League of Legends across Southeast Asia but launched its own game, Free Fire. Now, the company has built out the largest consumer payments and e-commerce platform in the region, which is now worth over $130 billion. Carry1st aspires to do the same for Africa.

Although there aren’t many details about its e-commerce activity, Carry1st is tackling payments and difficult monetization issues by partnering with some fintechs like Paystack, Safaricom, and Cellulant. These partnerships have been pivotal to developing its in-house payments platform Pay1st, which allows customers to pay in their preferred way. “For global studios, this is the difference between making money and not,” Robbin-Coker added

Demand for Carry1st has grown rapidly. Since its seed round last year, the company has signed seven games with well-known mobile gaming studios. They include Sweden’s Raketspel (the company has more than 120 million downloads across its portfolio), Cosi Games and Ethiopia’s Qene Games.

All these signups happened in 2020 and the catalyst for this growth has pandemic-induced lockdowns written all over it. The African mobile gaming market has always pointed toward a strong growth market, but being forced indoors surely skyrocketed mobile usage and gaming.

People who might not have previously needed a mobile phone have now come to rely on them to keep in touch with family and friends. For the average user using a smartphone for the first time, there’s a natural tendency to explore the fun things available on their device.

Typically, the first things people do when they get their first smartphone is to chat with friends and play games. This is the same all over the world — Africa is no different. For that reason, we are seeing more and more mobile gamers across Africa,” remarked Robbin-Coker.

The company has also grown its team from 18 to 26 across 11 countries with recruits from Carlyle, King, Jumia, Rovio, Socialpoint, Ubisoft and Wargaming — a testament to the company’s global ambitions to be a top gaming publisher. 

Expanding the team, which cuts across product, engineering and growth departments, is one way Carry1st will put the new investment to use. The company also plans to secure new partnerships with global gaming studios while launching and scaling its existing games like Carry1st Trivia and All-Star Soccer.

Carry1st

User playing a Carry1st game

With this investment, Carry1st has raised a total of $9.5 million. On the caliber of investors brought on, Robbin-Coker said their investment in the company would put them in a place to “delight millions of users across Africa and the globe.”

Carry1st is Konvoy Ventures first foray into the African gaming market (same can be said for Riot Games), and representatives from both teams (Konvoy managing partner Jackson Vaughan and Riot Games head of corporate development Brendan Mulligan) believe the company is unequivocally solving the continent’s distribution and gaming experience problems. Vaughan will also join the company’s board.

Africa’s gaming industry has lacked innovation in times past. While we’ve seen companies try to change the narrative, most have operated as studios. Carry1st is one of the few companies to operate a hybrid model, but the endgame for the company really is to be one of the region’s dominant consumer internet companies. 

We think social games and payments is the best first step to doing so, but we have very large ambitions. If we execute this, we will catalyze massive growth in the digital ecosystem across the region, creating tons of high-quality jobs in the process. We think all of the ingredients are in place — we want to be the catalyst,” Hoffman said. 

#africa, #carry1st, #consumer-internet, #cordel-robbin-coker, #electronic-arts, #gaming, #konvoy-ventures, #league-of-legends, #mobile, #mobile-game, #recent-funding, #riot-games, #smartphone, #startups, #tc

0

Apple sales bounce back in China as Huawei loses smartphone crown

Huawei’s smartphone rivals in China are quickly divvying up the market share it has lost over the past year.

92.4 million units of smartphones were shipped in China during the first quarter, with Vivo claiming the crown with a 23% share and its sister company Oppo following closely behind with 22%, according to market research firm Canalys. Huawei, of which smartphone sales took a hit after U.S. sanctions cut key chip parts off its supply chain, came in third at 16%. Xiaomi and Apple took the fourth and fifth spot respectively.

All major smartphone brands but Huawei saw a jump in their market share in China from Q1 2020. Apple’s net sales in Greater China nearly doubled year-over-year to $17.7 billion in the three months ended March, a quarter of all-time record revenue for the American giant, according to its latest financial results.

“We’ve been especially pleased by the customer response in China to the iPhone 12 family,”
said Tim Cook during an earnings call this week. “You have to remember that China entered the shutdown phase earlier in Q2 of last year than other countries. And so they were relatively more affected in that quarter, and that has to be taken into account as you look at the results.”

Huawei’s share shrunk from a dominant 41% to 16% in a year’s time, though the telecom equipment giant managed to increase its profit margin partly thanks to slashed costs. In November, it sold off its budget phone line Honor.

This quarter is also the first time China’s smartphone market has grown in four years, with a growth rate of 27%, according to Canalys.

“Leading vendors are racing to the top of the market, and there was an unusually high number of smartphone launches this quarter compared with Q1 2020 or even Q4 2020,” said Canalys analyst Amber Liu.

“Huawei’s sanctions and Honor’s divestiture have been hallmarks of this new market growth, as consumers and channels become more open to alternative brands.”

#apple, #asia, #china, #gadgets, #honor, #huawei, #iphone, #oppo, #smartphone, #smartphones, #tim-cook, #vivo, #xiaomi

0

Deep fake video app Avatarify, which process on-phone, plans digital watermark for videos

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.

#apps, #artificial-intelligence, #europe, #github, #instagram, #mobile-applications, #mobile-software, #moscow, #python, #reface, #samsung, #smartphone, #snapchat, #software, #tc, #tiktok, #united-states, #venture-capital, #video-hosting

0

A ‘more honest’ stock market

Hello friends, and welcome back to Week in Review!

Last week, I talked about Clubhouse’s slowing user growth. Well, this week news broke that they had been in talks with Twitter for a $4 billion acquisition, so it looks like they’re still pretty desirable. This week, I’m talking about a story I published a couple days ago that highlights pretty much everything that’s wild about the alternative asset world right now.

If you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny.


The big thing

If you successfully avoided all mentions of NFTs until now, I congratulate you, because it certainly does seem like the broader NFT market is seeing some major pullback after a very frothy February and March. You’ll still be seeing plenty of late-to-the-game C-list celebrities debuting NFT art in the coming weeks, but a more sober pullback in prices will probably give some of the NFT platforms that are serious about longevity a better chance to focus on the future and find out how they truly matter.

I spent the last couple weeks, chatting with a bunch of people in one particular community — one of the oldest active NFT communities on the web called CryptoPunks. It’s a platform with 10,000 unique 24×24 pixel portraits and they trade at truly wild prices.

This picture sold for a $1.05 million.

I talked to a dozen or so people (including the guy who sold that one ^^) that had spent between tens of thousands and millions of dollars on these pixelated portraits, my goal being to tap into the psyche of what the hell is happening here. The takeaway is that these folks don’t see these assets as any more non-sensical than what’s going on in more traditional “old world” markets like public stock exchanges.

A telling quote from my reporting:

“Obviously this is a very speculative market… but it’s almost more honest than the stock market,” user Max Orgeldinger tells TechCrunch. “Kudos to Elon Musk — and I’m a big Tesla fan — but there are no fundamentals that support that stock price. It’s the same when you look at GameStop. With the whole NFT community, it’s almost more honest because nobody’s getting tricked into thinking there’s some very complicated math that no one can figure out. This is just people making up prices and if you want to pay it, that’s the price and if you don’t want to pay it, that’s not the price.”

Shortly after I published my piece, Christie’s announced that they were auctioning off nine of the CryptoPunks in an auction likely to fetch at least $10 million at current prices. The market surged in the aftermath and many millions worth of volume quickly moved through the marketplace minting more NFT millionaires.

Is this all just absolutely nuts? Sure.

Is it also a poignant picture of where alternative asset investing is at in 2021? You bet.

Read the full thing.


an illustration of a cardboard ballot box with an Amazon smile on the front

Other things

Here are the TechCrunch news stories that especially caught my eye this week:

Amazon workers vote down union organization attempt
Amazon is breathing a sigh of relief after workers at their Bessemer, Alabama warehouse opted out of joining a union, lending a crushing defeat to labor activists who hoped that the high-profile moment would lead more Amazon workers to organize. The vote has been challenged, but the margin of victory seems fairly decisive.

Supreme court sides with Google in Oracle case
If any singular event impacted the web the most this week, it was the Supreme Court siding with Google in a very controversial lawsuit by Oracle that could’ve fundamentally shifted the future of software development.

Coinbase is making waves
The Coinbase direct listing is just around the corner and they’re showing off some of their financials. Turns out crypto has been kind of hot lately and they’re raking in the dough, with revenue of $1.8 billion this past quarter.

Apple share more about the future of user tracking
Apple is about to upend the ad-tracking market and they published some more details on what exactly their App Tracking Transparency feature is going to look like. Hint: more user control.

Consumers are spending lots of time in apps
A new report from mobile analytics firm App Annie suggests that we’re dumping more of our time into smartphone apps, with the average users spending 4.2 hours a day doing so, a 30 percent increase over two years.

Sonos perfects the bluetooth speaker
I’m a bit of an audio lover, which made my colleague Darrell’s review of the new Sonos Roam bluetooth speaker a must-read for me. He’s pretty psyched about it, even though it comes in at the higher-end of pricing for these devices, still I’m looking forward to hearing one with my own ears.


 

Image Credits: Nigel Sussman

Extra things

Some of my favorite reads from our Extra Crunch subscription service this week:
The StockX EC-1
“StockX is a unique company at the nexus of two radical transitions that isn’t just redefining markets, but our culture as well. E-commerce upended markets, diminishing the physical experience by intermediating and aggregating buyers and sellers through digital platforms. At the same time, the internet created rapid new communication channels, allowing euphoria and desire to ricochet across society in a matter of seconds. In a world of plenty, some things are rare, and the hype around that rarity has never been greater. Together, these two trends demanded a stock market of hype, an opportunity that StockX has aggressively pursued.”

Building the right team for a billion-dollar startup
“I would really encourage you to take some time to think about what kind of company you want to make first before you go out and start interviewing people. So that really is going to be about understanding and defining your culture. And then the second thing I’d be thinking about when you’re scaling from, you know, five people up to, you know, 50 and beyond is that managers really are the key to your success as a company. It’s hard to overstate how important managers, great managers, are to the success of your company.

So you want to raise a Series A
“More companies will raise seed rounds than Series A rounds, simply due to the fact that many startups fail, and venture only makes sense for a small fraction of businesses out there. Every check is a new cycle of convincing and proving that you, as a startup, will have venture-scale returns. Moore explained that startups looking to move to their next round need to explain to investors why now is their moment.”

Until next week,
Lucas M.

And again, if you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny.

#alabama, #amazon, #app-annie, #apple, #bessemer, #blockchain, #bluetooth, #bluetooth-speaker, #christies, #coinbase, #cryptocurrency, #e-commerce, #extra-crunch, #gamestop, #google, #operating-systems, #oracle, #real-time-web, #smartphone, #software, #software-development, #sonos, #stockx, #supreme-court, #tc, #techcrunch, #text-messaging, #twitter, #week-in-review

0

LG’s exit from the smartphone market comes as no surprise

For those who follow the space, LG will be remembered fondly as a smartphone trailblazer. For a decade-and-a-half, the company was a major player in the Android category and a driving force behind a number of innovations that have since become standard.

Perhaps the most notable story is that of the LG Prada. Announced a month before the first iPhone, the device helped pioneer the touchscreen form factor that has come to define virtually every smartphone since. At the time, the company openly accused Apple of ripping off its design, noting, “We consider that Apple copycat Prada phone after the design was unveiled when it was presented in the iF Design Award and won the prize in September 2006.”

LG has continued pushing envelopes – albeit to mixed effect. In the end, however, the company just couldn’t keep up. This week, the South Korean electronics giant announced it will be getting out of the “incredibly competitive” category, choosing instead to focus on its myriad other departments.

The news comes as little surprise following months of rumors that the company was actively looking for a buyer for the smartphone unit. In the end, it seems, none were forthcoming. This July, the company will stop selling phones beyond what remains of its existing inventory.

The smartphone category is, indeed, a competitive one. And frankly, LG’s numbers have pretty consistently fallen into the “Others” category of global smartphone market share figures ruled by names like Samsung, Apple, Huawei and Xiaomi. The other names clustered beneath the top five have been, more often than not, other Chinese manufacturers like Vivo.

#5g, #ec-hardware, #ec-news-analysis, #hardware, #lg, #mobile, #smartphone

0

Fueled by pandemic, contactless mobile payments to surpass half of all smartphone users in U.S. by 2025

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.

Image Credits: eMarketer

#apple, #apple-pay, #china, #digital-wallet, #finance, #google, #mobile-payments, #retail-stores, #samsung, #smartphone, #starbucks, #tc, #technology-trends

0

BMW debuts the next generation of its iDrive operating system

For modern cars, the standalone, photo frame-like display in the center of the dashboard has become something of a default. But with its next-generation iDrive 8 system, BMW is moving away from this design language by introducing what it calls the “BMW Curved Display,” which takes this idea to the next level by expanding that center display all the way through the cockpit. It’s actually still two screens, the 12.3-inch information display and 14.9-inch control display, but it looks like a single curved display that BMW describes as giving an “appearance of almost floating.”

The new curved display with the new iDrive 8 system will debut in the upcoming all-electric iX and i4, which should arrive later this year.

While the company isn’t sharing any details about the underlying technology stack just yet, BMW is willing to say that its new stack is able to process 20 to 30 times more data than the previous system. The company plans to share more details about the stack after July, Frank Weber, BMW’s head of development, told me during a press roundtable earlier today.

Image Credits: BMW

The company provided a first glimpse of the new layout when it announced the iX last November, but at the time, it didn’t provide any details about the new iDrive system. At the core of it is, unsurprisingly, a wholesale redesign of the user interface. Drivers will be able to choose between different layouts, for example. There’s a standard “Drive” layout for example, which will feature “a dynamically changing area in the center of the information display to show individually selectable information.” There’s also a “focus” mode for “dynamic driving situations,” a “gallery” layout that minimizes driving info in favor of other widgets from apps like your media source and, for when you just want to drive and be left in peace, a “calm” mode that only shows your vehicle speed in the center of the information display, and virtually nothing else.

Image Credits: BMW

There also are three different driving modes: efficient, sport and personal, which allows you to change some of the core driving experience settings like engine throttle, steering characteristics and chassis settings, as well as the audio characteristics of the car.

For maps, which are probably still the most-often used app in any car, there are also three different modes (adaptive, reduced and expanded), all going back to the central idea that the drivers should be able to decide how much information they want to see.

That’s a lot of personalization options and Weber acknowledged as much, but he also argues that the company has made them easy to use so that they don’t overwhelm the driver — and that a lot of drivers really want this functionality.

“When you test our system in China, you cannot do enough for personalization, they almost want to personalize everything,” Weber explained. “And then there are other people who say: I just want to drive my vehicle, I don’t want to see any of that. Therefore, what we did is, we have included a ‘My Mode’ function — a very simple surface in the vehicle. When you push My Mode, you find Sport and you find Efficiency and you find Personal here. And there, it is very easy to almost say ‘Do I want something that is very reduced? Or do I want something that has all the possibilities of personalization?’ There are very artful things that we have included in here. And there are very simple choices.”

Image Credits: BMW

And talking about personalization, with the BMW ID, the company now offers a new system for saving those personalized settings on your smartphone and the new My BMW app.

With this update, BMW is also launching the next generation of its BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant, which made its debut at TechCrunch Disrupt a few years ago. Built on top of Microsoft’s Azure Cognitive Services, the improved in-car assistant will get better at interacting with drivers through a more natural dialog, but in addition to voice interactions, BMW is now also adding more visual components and integrating the assistant with its gesture recognition capabilities. We’ll have to see this in action to see how this works in practice. So far, BMW hasn’t shared a lot of details about these features.

Image Credits: BMW

“In communication between people, a great deal of information is conveyed non-verbally,” the company explains. “The BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant has thus been upgraded with a greater focus on how it is presented visually. This new visualization approach features spheres of light in differing sizes and brightness levels, giving the assistant more space and new ways of expressing itself. This visual image also gives it a “face” with a clearly visible point of focus and identifiable states of activity.”

Like with the iDrive 7 system, this new operation system will also support remote software upgrades, either over the air thanks to the car’s built-in SIM card and cell connectivity (up to 5G for the iX) or through the My BMW app.

As for current cars with the iDrive 7, Weber noted that those cars will get some of the features from iDrive 8 that can be ported back to it — and iDrive 7 will continue to get updates as well.

Image Credits: BMW

“It’s a little bit like in the smartphone world,” Weber said. “All the things — and the good and interesting new things from iD8 that can be transferred to iD7, iD7 we’ll get those upgrades. But like a particular function on a phone, not all of them can be transferred back to the previous generation. So most of it can be transferred, but not all of them. But certainly, we will continue to work on updating the previous generation. We won’t stop that.”

As a side note, Weber also addressed the current chip shortage that has led some car manufacturers to slow down production. He noted that since about Christmas, BMW is “fighting for every single production day” but hasn’t lost a single production day yet. He wasn’t willing to make any forecasts, but noted that the company has started to develop alternative solutions on the engineering side. “So far, we are really able and capable of adjusting our pipeline, so that we didn’t have to stop any production at this point,” he said.

 

#assistant, #automotive, #bmw, #cars, #idrive, #in-car-entertainment, #smartphone, #tc

0

Polestar, ChargePoint introduce seamless charging in new partnership

A new alliance between Swedish electric performance automaker Polestar and EV infrastructure startup ChargePoint takes aim at the charging experience with the debut of an in-car app that will let customers seamlessly charge their Polestar 2 model vehicles.

Seamless charging—being able to pull up to a charging station, plug in and let the vehicle handle billing and payment—has been dominated by Tesla through its branded Supercharger network. Most other EV drivers have to pay for charging using an RFID card or smartphone, and the convenience level is on-par with a traditional gas station. The partnership eliminates the need for these extra items at ChargePoint’s more than 130,000 stations. The app will embed directly into Polestar 2’s in-car “infotainment system,” which runs on Google’s Android Automotive OS.

There have been some inroads into seamless charging elsewhere, most notably by Electrify America, the entity established by Volkswagen as part of its settlement with U.S. regulators over its diesel-emissions scandal. It introduced an in-car payment technology dubbed Plug&Charge last November that will allow 2021 models of the Porsche Taycan, Ford Mustang Mach-E and Lucid Air to seamlessly charge at its stations.

The partnership also takes aim at the buying experience, another area that Tesla’s cornered with its branded Wall Connector home charger. Polestar 2 drivers will now be able to order the $699 ChargePoint Home Flex home charger alongside the purchase of a Polestar 2 and arrange for home installation prior to vehicle delivery.

It’s a blueprint for future collaboration between the two companies, ChargePoint senior VP Bill Loewenthal said in a statement. The partnerships may be the start of many more alliances between automakers and EV infrastructure companies who see user experience as a key part of their value proposition.

#android, #automotive, #cars, #chargepoint, #charging-stations, #ecotality, #electric-vehicles, #electrify-america, #ev, #ford, #gas-station, #greentech, #li-auto, #mobility, #mustang, #polestar, #smartphone, #tc, #tesla, #transport, #transportation, #united-states

0

Amsterdam’s Crisp, an online-only supermarket, raises €30M Series B led by Target Global

Crisp, an Amsterdam-based, online-only supermarket focused on fresh produce, has raised €30 million in a Series B financing led by leading Target Global and joined by Keen Venture Partners and the co-founders of Adyen and Takeaway.com. Crisp has now raised a total of €42.5 million to date. It plans to use the money to expand in the Netherlands, and eventually across Europe.

Crisp says its USP is seasonal products sourced directly from 600+ small and high-quality producers at an affordable price in the Netherlands. Customers order through a smartphone app and deliveries are the next day within a 1-hour time slot. It also uses a 100% electric fleet serving big cities and suburbs, and its model is to have zero food waste.

The European grocery market is currently worth €2 trillion, but access to customers for high-quality, smaller producers is still tricky and blocked by incumbents. Crisp is taking advantage of consumers moving online, and wanting fresher food.

Tom Peeters, CEO and co-founder of Crisp, told my via online interview that “the differentiation on our model is that we offer quality and convenience. So, fish is super fresh fruits and produce is super fresh, etc. We basically stay away from the standard supermarket proposition that everything is always there, and you manage long shelf life. We’d rather build a very short chain sourcing directly at the source and bringing it in a very convenient way to you.”

He said it’s not a 15 minute delivery but the next day in order to ensure freshness. “The typical customer is a young family. An average order is 45 products and rather than offering all the brands, we on-boarded the long-tail of food producers in our digital marketplace, so we sourced from over 600 sources of food.”

He said: “Food in Holland is 40 billion euros, in Germany it is 200 billion. I think Europe combined it’s over two or 3 trillion. So that means basically we don’t need to spread thin over many countries in order to build a healthy business, not just healthy products, so we make money on every customer order.”

Founded in 2018, by serial entrepreneurs Tom Peeters, Michiel Roodenburg and Eric Klaassen Crisp claims to be now one of the fastest-growing supermarkets in the Netherlands, with a seven-fold in sales in 2020 and more than 85% of sales coming from repeat customers, it says.

Bao-Y van Cong, Investment Director at Target Global, headquartered in Berlin, said: “Crisp is building a world-class technology platform that is of value to both consumers and producers. The way we buy our food has not changed a lot since the 1950’s, creating inefficiencies in quality, affordability, and convenience. Crisp reflects the changing relationship that consumers today have with food: The European market for grocery shopping is starting to move online fast, super-accelerated by the pandemic. At the same time, we see a massive surge in demand for fresh and transparently sourced food.”

#adyen, #amsterdam, #berlin, #europe, #food, #food-waste, #germany, #grocery-store, #netherlands, #retailers, #shopping, #smartphone, #supermarkets, #takeaway-com, #target-global, #tc

0

ChargeLab raises seed capital to be the software provider powering EV charging infrastructure

As money floods into the electric vehicle market a number of small companies are trying to stake their claim as the go-to provider of charging infrastructure. These companies are developing proprietary ecosystems that work for their own equipment but don’t interoperate.

ChargeLab, which has raised $4.3 million in seed financing led by Construct Capital and Root Ventures, is looking to be the software provider providing the chargers built by everyone else.

“You’ll find everyone in every niche and corner,” says ChargeLab chief executive Zachary Lefevre. Lefevre likens Tesla to Apple with its closed ecosystem and compares Chargepoint and Blink, two other electric vehicle charging companies to Blackberry — the once dominant smartphone maker. “What we’re trying to do is be android,” Lefevre said.

That means being the software provider for manufacturers like ABB, Schneider Electric and Siemens. “These guys are hardware makers up and down the value stack,” Lefevre said.

ChargeLab already has an agreement with ABB to be their default software provider as they go to market. The big industrial manufacturer is getting ready to launch their next charging product in North America.

As companies like REEF and Metropolis revamp garages and parking lots to service the next generation of vehicles, ChargeLab’s chief executive thinks that his software can power their EV charging services as they begin to roll that functionality out across the lots they own.

Lefevre got to know the electric vehicle charging market first as a reseller of everyone else’s equipment, he said. The company had raised a pre-seed round of $1.1 million from investors including Urban.us and Notation Capital and has now added to that bank account with another capital infusion from Construct Capital, the new fund led by Dayna Grayson and Rachel Holt, and Root Ventures, Lefevre said.

Eventually the company wants to integrate with the back end of companies like Chargepoint and Electrify America to make the charging process as efficient for everyone, according to ChargeLab’s chief executive.

As more service providers get into the market, Lefevre sees the opportunity set for his business expanding exponentially. “Super open platforms are not going to be building an EV charging system any more than they would be building their own hardware,” he said.

#abb, #android, #apple, #chargelab, #chargepoint, #charging-stations, #companies, #construct-capital, #dayna-grayson, #electric-vehicles, #electrical-engineering, #electrify-america, #inductive-charging, #north-america, #notation-capital, #rachel-holt, #reef, #root-ventures, #siemens, #smartphone, #software, #tc

0

Google to offer heart and respiratory rate measurements using just your smartphone’s camera

Google is introducing features that will allow users to take vital health measurements using just the camera they already have on their smartphone, expanding health and fitness features typically only available on dedicated wearables to a whole new group of people. Beginning next month, and available initially on Google Pixel phones exclusively (but with plans to offer it for other Android devices in future), users will be able to measure both their heart rate and their respiratory rate using just their device’s camera.

Typically, taking these measurements has required specialized hardware, including red or green light-based heart rate monitors like those found on the Apple Watch or on fitness trackers like those made by Google-acquired Fitbit. Google’s hardware and software teams, including the Google Health unit led by Director of Health Technologies Schwetak Patel, have managed to develop computer vision-based methods for taking these measurements using only smartphone cameras, which it says can produce results that are comparable to clinical-grade measurement hardware (it has produced a study to validate these results, which it’s making available in pre-print format while it seeks peer review through an academic journal).

For respiratory rate, the technology relies on a technique known as ‘optical flow,’ which monitors movements in a person’s chest as they breathe and uses that to determine their breathing rate. In its clinical validation study, which covered both typical individuals in good health, and people with existing respiratory conditions, Google’s data indicates that it’s accurate to within 1 breath per minute across all participants.

For heart rate, Google is initially using the camera to detect “subtle color changes” in a user’s finger tip, which provide an indicator about when oxygenated blood flows from your heart through to the rest of your body. The company’s validation data (again, still subject to external review) has shown accuracy within 2% margin of error, on average, across people with a range of different skin types. Google is also working on making this same technology work using color changes in a person’s face, it says, though that work is still in the exploratory phase.

Google is going to make these measurement features available to users within the next month, it says, via the Google Fit app, and initially on currently available Pixel devices made by the company itself. The plan is then to expand the features to different Android devices running Android 6 or later, sometime “in the coming months.”

Image Credits: Google

“My team has been working on ways that we can unlock the potential of everyday smart devices,” Patel said in a press briefing regarding the new features. This would include smart devices in the home, or a mobile phone, and how we leverage the sensors that are starting to become more and more ubiquitous within those devices, to support health and wellness.”

Patel, who is also a computer science professor at the University of Washington and who has been recognized with an ACM Prize in Computing Award for his work in digital health, said that the availability of powerful sensors in ubiquitous consumer devices, combined with advances in AI, have meant that daily health monitoring can be much more accessible than ever before.

“I really think that’s going to be a really important area moving forward given that if you think about health care, the journey just doesn’t end at the hospital, the four walls of the hospital,” he said. “It’s really this continuous journey, as you’re living your daily life, and being able to give you feedback and be able to measure your general wellness is an important thing.”

It’s worth noting that Google is explicit about these features being intended for use in a person’s own tracking of their general wellbeing – meaning it’s not meant as a diagnostic or medical tool. That’s pretty standard for these kinds of features, since few of these companies want to take of the task of getting full FDA medical-grade device certification for tools that are meant for general consumer use. To that end, Google Fit also doesn’t provide any guidance or advise based on the results of these measurements; instead, the app provides a general disclaimer that the results aren’t intended for medical use, and also offers up some very high-level description of why you’d even want to track these stats at all.

Many of the existing dedicated wellness and health tracking products on the market, like the Oura ring, for instance, provide more guidance and actionable insight based on the measurements it takes. Google seems intent on steering well clear of that line with these features, instead leaving the use of this information fully within the hands of users. That said, it could be a valuable resource to share with your physician, particularly if you’re concerned about potential health issues already, in place of other less convenient and available continuous health monitoring.

Patek said that Google is interested in potentially exploring how sensor fusion could further enhance tracking capabilities on existing devices, and in response to a question about potentially offering this on iPhones, he said that while the focus is currently on Android, they ultimate goal is indeed to get it “to as many people as possible.”

#android, #apple, #biotech, #computing, #fda, #fitbit, #google, #google-health, #health, #internet-of-things, #physician, #science-and-technology, #smart-devices, #smartphone, #smartphones, #tc, #technology, #university-of-washington

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Will Apple’s spectacular iPhone 12 sales figures boost the smartphone industry in 2021?

You’d be forgiven for being skeptical about the iPhone 12’s stellar performance this past quarter. It’s been a rough couple of years for smartphones — a phenomenon from which not even Apple was immune.

Frankly, after staring down these macro trends over the last couple of years, it seemed like the days of phone-fueled earnings reports were behind the company as its expanding services portfolio started to become its primary financial driver.

For the final quarter of 2020, Apple earnings surpassed $100 billion — a first.

I capped off my mobile coverage last year with an article titled, “Not even 5G could rescue smartphone sales in 2020.” Among the figures cited were two year-over-year drops of 20% for the first two quarters, followed by a global decline of 5.7% for Q3. As we noted at the time, a mere 5.7% drop constituted good news in 2020.

The straightforward premise of the piece was that COVID-19 subverted industry expectations that 5G would finally reverse declining smartphone sales, even if only temporarily. That all came with the important caveat that Apple’s numbers would likely have a big impact the following quarter.

Ahead of yesterday’s earnings, Morgan Stanley noted, “In our view, the iPhone 12 has been Apple’s most successful product launch in the last five years.” Such a sentiment may have seemed like hyperbole in the lead-up to the news, but in hindsight, it’s hard to argue, with five years having passed since the launch of the first Apple Watch.

The iPhone X was more of a radical departure for the company, but the 12 is proving to be a massive hit. The recent launch of Apple Silicon Macs juiced sales in that product category rising 21% year over year, but ultimately the company’s computer business is a drop in the bucket compared to phone sales.

#5g, #apple, #ec-hardware, #ec-news-analysis, #hardware, #ios, #iphone, #mobile-phones, #samsung-electronics, #smartphone, #wearables

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Location broker X-Mode continues to track users despite app store bans

Hundreds of Android apps, far more than previously disclosed, have sent granular user location data to X-Mode, a data broker known to sell location data to U.S. military contractors.

The apps include messaging apps, a free video and file converter, several dating sites, and religion and prayer apps — each accounting for tens of millions of downloads to date, according to new research.

Sean O’Brien, principal researcher at ExpressVPN Digital Security Lab, and Esther Onfroy, co-founder of the Defensive Lab Agency, found close to 200 Android apps that at some point over the past year contained X-Mode tracking code.

Some of the apps were still sending location data to X-Mode as recently as December when Apple and Google told developers to remove X-Mode from their apps or face a ban from the app stores.

But weeks after the ban took effect, one popular U.S. transit map app that had been installed hundreds of thousands of times was still downloadable from Google Play even though it was still sending location data to X-Mode.

The new research, now published, is believed to be the broadest review to date of apps that collaborate with X-Mode, one of dozens of companies in a multibillion-dollar industry that buys and sells access to the location data collected from ordinary phone apps, often for the purposes of serving targeted advertising.

But X-Mode has faced greater scrutiny for its connections to government work, amid fresh reports that U.S. intelligence bought access to commercial location data to search for Americans’ past movements without first obtaining a warrant.

X-Mode pays app developers to include its tracking code, known as a software development kit, or SDK, in exchange for collecting and handing over the user’s location data. Users opt-in to this tracking by accepting the app’s terms of use and privacy policies. But not all apps that use X-Mode disclose to their users that their location data may end up with the data broker or is sold to military contractors.

X-Mode’s ties to military contractors (and by extension the U.S. military) was first disclosed by Motherboard, which first reported that a popular prayer app with more than 98 million downloads worldwide sent granular movement data to X-Mode.

In November, Motherboard found that another previously unreported Muslim prayer app called Qibla Compass sent data to X-Mode. O’Brien’s findings corroborate that and also point to several more Muslim-focused apps as containing X-Mode. By conducting network traffic analysis, Motherboard verified that at least three of those apps did at some point send location data to X-Mode, although none of the versions currently on Google Play do so. You can read Motherboard’s full story here.

X-Mode’s chief executive Josh Anton told CNN last year that the data broker tracks 25 million devices in the U.S., and told Motherboard its SDK had been used in about 400 apps.

In a statement to TechCrunch, Anton said:

“The ban on X-Mode’s SDK has broader ecosystem implications considering X-Mode collected similar mobile app data as most advertising SDKs. Apple and Google have set the precedent that they can determine private enterprises’ ability to collect and use mobile app data even when a majority of our publishers had secondary consent for the collection and use of location data.

We’ve recently sent a letter to Apple and Google to understand how we can best resolve this issue together so that we can both continue to use location data to save lives and continue to power the tech communities’ ability to build location-based products. We believe it’s important to ensure that Apple and Google hold X-Mode to the same standard they hold upon themselves when it comes to the collection and use of location data.”

The researchers also published new endpoints that apps using X-Mode’s SDK are known to communicate with, which O’Brien said he hoped would help others discover which apps are sending — or have historically sent — users’ location data to X-Mode.

“We hope consumers can identify if they’re the target of one of these location trackers and, more importantly, demand that this spying end. We want researchers to build off of our findings in the public interest, helping to shine light on these threats to privacy, security, and rights,” said O’Brien.

TechCrunch analyzed the network traffic on about two-dozen of the most downloaded Android apps in the researchers’ findings to look for apps that were communicating with any of the known X-Mode endpoints, and confirmed that several of the apps were at some point sending location data to X-Mode.

We also used the endpoints identified by the researchers to look for other popular apps that may have communicated with X-Mode.

At least one app identified by TechCrunch slipped through Google’s app store ban.

New York Subway in Google Play., until it was removed by Google. (Image: TechCrunch)

New York Subway, a popular app for navigating the New York City subway system that has been downloaded 250,000 times, according to data provided by Sensor Tower, was still listed in Google Play as of this week. But the app, which had not been updated since the app store bans were implemented, was still sending location data to X-Mode.

As soon as the app loads, a splash screen immediately asks for the user’s consent to send data to X-Mode for ads, analytics and market research, but the app did not mention X-Mode’s government work.

Desoline, the Israel-based app maker, did not respond to multiple requests for comment, but removed references to X-Mode from its privacy policy a short while after we reached out. At the time of writing, the app has not returned to Google Play.

A Google spokesperson confirmed the company removed the app from Google Play.

Using the researchers’ list of apps, TechCrunch also found that previous versions of two highly popular apps, Moco and Video MP3 Converter, which account for more than 115 million downloads to date, are still sending user location data to X-Mode. That poses a privacy risk to users who install Android apps from outside Google Play, and those who are running older apps that are still sending data to X-Mode.

Neither app maker responded to a request for comment. Google would not say if it had removed any other apps for similar violations or what measures it would take, if any, to protect users running older app versions that are still sending location data to X-Mode.

None of the corresponding and namesake apps for Apple’s iOS that we tested appeared to communicate with X-Mode’s endpoints. When reached, Apple declined to say if it had blocked any apps after its ban went into effect.

Read more on TechCrunch

“The sensors in smartphones provide rich data that can be exploited to limit our movements, our free expression, and our autonomy,” said O’Brien. “Location spying poses a serious threat to human rights because it peers into the most sensitive aspects of our lives and who we associate with.”

The newly published research is likely to bring fresh scrutiny to how ordinary smartphone apps are harvesting and selling vast amounts of personal data on millions of Americans, often without the user’s explicit consent.

Several federal agencies, including the Internal Revenue Service and Homeland Security, are under investigation by government watchdogs for buying and using location data from various data brokers without first obtaining a warrant. Last week it emerged that intelligence analysts at the Defense Intelligence Agency buy access to commercial databases of Americans’ location data.

Critics say the government is exploiting a loophole in a 2018 Supreme Court ruling, which stopped law enforcement from obtaining cell phone location data directly from the cell carriers without a warrant.

Now the government says it doesn’t believe it needs a warrant for what it can buy directly from brokers.

Sen. Ron Wyden, a vocal privacy critic whose office has been investigating the data broker industry, previously drafted legislation that would grant the Federal Trade Commission new powers to regulate and fine data brokers.

“Americans are sick of learning that their location data is being sold by data brokers to anyone with a credit card. Industry self-regulation clearly isn’t working — Congress needs to pass tough legislation, like my Mind Your Own Business Act, to give consumers effective tools to prevent their data being sold and to give the FTC the power to hold companies accountable when they violate Americans’ privacy,” said Wyden.


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#apps, #broker, #government, #law-enforcement, #location-data, #mobile-app, #new-york-city, #policy, #privacy, #security, #smartphone

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Treadly’s next-gen compact treadmill is ideal for small spaces and features app-based social workouts

As the global pandemic continues, having options for keeping active at home is increasingly top-of-mind. Treadly is a startup focused on building a home treadmill that’s compact and convenient, with smart connected features that boost engagement. The company recently released its second-generation product, and it’s super compact, with hardware improvements that boost the weight limit for users and add cooling benefits that extend workout times.

Basics

Treadly’s design is probably a lot smaller than you’re expecting – it’s just 3.7-inches tall for the base, and it weights just 77 lbs. The whole deck is just 56-inches long by 25-inches wide, and there’s a flip-down handle that you extend when you want to jog at a faster pace, while folding it away for strictly walking workouts.

There’s a display built into the deck itself, offering a simple but easy to read black and white readout of key stats, including speed, total steps, time and distance. The handrail features manual controls, and the Treadly 2 can also be controlled either via a dedicated remote control for the basic model, or through the Treadly app (iOS only now, but Android coming soon) via Bluetooth for the upgraded Treadly 2 Pro version.

The Treadly 2 also features a built-in Bluetooth speaker, which allows you to connect your smartphone and play music via whatever app you want. The Treadly iOS app also offers community iterative training, and live video integration. Treadly is also introducing new groups features to the app to allow users form their own communities, and also new challenges that users can issue to one another, like step count records and more.

Design and features

Treadly’s design is very compact, as mentioned, and it’s the perfect size for small spaces. It’ll slide easily under most couches thanks to its low height, and it can also be stored vertically if you want to put it against the wall or in a larger closet. The design is also attractive and minimal, which make it more unobtrusive than most exercise equipment even if left out in plain view.

The built-in display in the deck itself is a nice accommodation for keeping the dimensions compact, while also providing all the feedback you’d expect from a piece of home gym equipment. It’d be easier to check periodically if it was mounted into the fold-down handlebar, but that would definitely lead to increased bulk. Plus, having the stats slightly difficult to access is probably actually better for many people, since zeroing in on those can make a workout more arduous than it needs to be.

For the basic model, the remote is effective and compact, with a wriststrap included so that you can keep track of it easily while using the treadmill. The built-in Bluetooth speaker isn’t amazing, as you might expect, but it’s more than good enough to provide a soundtrack if you don’t have other speakers or earbuds on hand to use.

Image Credits: Treadly

As for the experience of actually using Treadly 2 to run or walk, it definitely delivers, with a few caveats: First, don’t expect this to provide a true indoor running experience. While it definitely offers impressive weight capacity for a treadmill of this size, the max speed is 5 mph, which is a low-intensity jog for most people. With the handrail down, that drops to just 3.7 mph, which is a brisk walk.

For something this compact, that’s actually still very impressive – especially since there’s no time limit on how long you can use the treadmill at 5 mph thanks to Treadly 2’s new and improved cooling system. For avoiding a sedentary lifestyle while remaining mostly indoors, the Treadly 2’s speed settings more than deliver, and that’s probably enough for most users, advanced fitness buffs excluded.

Bottom line

The Treadly 2 is a connected treadmill that provides a great blend of convenience, social features, guided usage, connected control and space-saving design into a reasonably-priced package starting at $749 for the Basic and $849 for the Pro with special New Year Sale pricing. It’s like the Peloton that most people are actually more likely to use long-term, and it’s a great way to stay active during the long winter months in our unprecedented times.

#app-store, #bluetooth, #bluetooth-speaker, #computing, #fitness, #gadgets, #hardware, #health, #ios, #itunes, #reviews, #science-and-technology, #smartphone, #tc, #technology, #treadmill

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Augmented reality and the next century of the web

Howdy friends, this is the web version of my Week in Review newsletter, it’s here to entice you to sign up and get it in your inbox every week.

Last week, I showcased how Twitter was looking at the future of the web with a decentralized approach so that they wouldn’t be stuck unilaterally de-platforming the next world leader. This week, I scribbled some thoughts on another aspect of the future web, the ongoing battle between Facebook and Apple to own augmented reality. Releasing the hardware will only be the start of a very messy transition from smartphone-first to glasses-first mobile computing.

Again, if you so desire you can get this in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny


The Big Thing

If the last few years of new “reality” tech has telegraphed anything, it’s that tech companies won’t be able to skip past augmented reality’s awkward phase, they’re going to have to barrel through it and it’s probably going to take a long-ass time.

The clearest reality is that in 2021 everyday users still don’t seem quite as interested in AR as the next generation of platform owners stand to benefit from a massive transition. There’s some element of skating to where the puck is going among the soothsayers that believe AR is the inevitable platform heir etc. etc., but the battle to reinvent mobile is at its core a battle to kill the smartphone before its time has come.

A war to remake mobile in the winner’s image

It’s fitting that the primary backers of this AR future are Apple and Facebook, ambitious companies that are deeply in touch with the opportunities they could’ve capitalized on if they could do it all over again.

While Apple and Facebook both have thousands of employees toiling quietly in the background building out their AR tech moats, we’ve seen and heard much more on Facebook’s efforts. The company has already served up several iterations of their VR hardware through Oculus and has discussed publicly over the years how they view virtual reality and augmented reality hardware converging. 

Facebook’s hardware and software experiments have been experimentations in plain sight, an advantage afforded to a company that didn’t sell any hardware before they started selling VR headsets. Meanwhile Apple has offered up a developer platform and a few well-timed keynote slots for developers harnessing their tools, but the most ambitious first-party AR project they’ve launched publicly on iOS has been a measuring tape app. Everything else has taken place behind closed doors.

That secrecy tends to make any reporting on Apple’s plans particularly juicy. This week, a story from Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman highlights some of Apple’s next steps towards a long-rumored AR glasses product, reporting that Apple plans to release a high-end niche VR device with some AR capabilities as early as next year. It’s not the most surprising but showcases how desperate today’s mobile kingpins are to ease the introduction of a technology that has the potential to turn existing tech stacks and the broader web on their heads.

Both Facebook and Apple have a handful of problems getting AR products out into the world, and they’re not exactly low-key issues:

  1. hardware isn’t ready
  2. platforms aren’t ready
  3. developers aren’t ready
  4. users don’t want it yet

This is a daunting wall, but isn’t uncommon among hardware moonshots. Facebook has already worked its way through this cycle once with virtual reality over several generations of hardware, though there were some key difference and few would call VR a mainstream success quite yet.

Nevertheless, there’s a distinct advantage to tackling VR before AR for both Facebook and Apple, they can invest in hardware that’s adjacent to the technologies their AR products will need to capitalize on, they can entice developers to build for a platform that’s more similar to what’s coming and they can set base line expectations for consumers for a more immersive platform. At least this would all be the case for Apple with a mass market VR device closer to Facebook’s $300 Quest 2, but a pricey niche device as Gurman’s report details doesn’t seem to fit that bill quite so cleanly.

The AR/VR content problem 

The scenario I’d imagine both Facebook and Apple are losing sleep over is that they release serviceable AR hardware into a world where they are wholly responsible for coming up with all the primary use cases.

The AR/VR world already has a hefty backlog of burnt developers who might be long-term bullish on the tech but are also tired of getting whipped around by companies that seem to view the development of content ecosystems simply as a means to ship their next device. If Apple is truly expecting the sales numbers of this device that Bloomberg suggests — similar to Valve’s early Index headset sales — then color me doubtful that there will be much developer interest at all in building for a stopgap device, I’d expect ports of Quest 2 content and a few shining stars from Apple-funded partners.

I don’t think this will me much of a shortcut for them.

True AR hardware is likely going to have different standards of input, different standards of interaction and a much different approach to use cases compared to a device built for the home or smartphone. Apple has already taken every available chance to entice mobile developers to embrace phone-based AR on iPhones through ARKit, a push they have seemed to back off from at recent developer-centric events. As someone who has kept a close eye on early projects, I’d say that most players in the space have been very underwhelmed by what existing platforms enable and what has been produced widely.

That’s really not great for Apple or Facebook and suggests that both of these companies are going to have to guide users and developers through use cases they design. I think there’s a convincing argument that early AR glasses applications will be dominated by first-party tech and may eschew full third-party native apps in favor of tightly controlled data integrations more similar to how Apple has approached developer integrations inside Siri.

But giving developers a platform built with Apple or Facebook’s own dominance in mind is going to be tough to sell, underscoring the fact that mobile and mobile AR are going to be platforms that will have to live alongside each other for quite a bit. There will be rich opportunities for developers to create experiences that play with 3D and space, but there are also plenty of reasons to expect they’ll be more resistant to move off of a mutually enriching mobile platform onto one where Facebook or Apple will have the pioneer’s pick of platform advantages. What’s in it for them?

Mobile’s OS-level winners captured plenty of value from top-of-funnel apps marketplaces, but the down-stream opportunities found mobile’s true prize, a vastly expanded market for digital ads. With the opportunity of a mobile do-over, expect to find pioneering tech giants pitching proprietary digital ad infrastructure for their devices. Advertising will likely be augmented reality’s greatest opportunity allowing the digital ads market to create an infinite global canvas for geo-targeted customized ad content. A boring future, yes, but a predictable one.

For Facebook, being a platform owner in the 2020s means getting to set their own limitations on use cases, not being confined by App Store regulations and designing hardware with social integrations closer to the silicon. For Apple, reinventing the mobile OS in the 2020s likely means an opportunity to more meaningfully dominate mobile advertising.

It’s a do-over to the tune of trillions in potential revenues.

What comes next

The AR/VR industry has been stuck in a cycle of seeking out saviors. Facebook has been the dearest friend to proponents after startup after startup has failed to find a speedy win. Apple’s long-awaited AR glasses are probably where most die-hards are currently placing their faith.

I don’t think there are any misgivings from Apple or Facebook in terms of what a wild opportunity this to win, it’s why they each have more people working on this than any other future-minded project. AR will probably be massive and change the web in a fundamental way, a true Web 3.0 that’s the biggest shift of the internet to date.

That’s doesn’t sound like something that will happen particularly smoothly.

I’m sure that these early devices will arrive later than we expect, do less than we expect and that things will be more and less different from the smartphone era’s mobile paradigms in ways we don’t anticipate. I’m also sure that it’s going to be tough for these companies to strong-arm themselves into a more seamless transition. This is going to be a very messy for tech platforms and is a transition that won’t happen overnight, not by a long shot.


Other things

The Loon is dead
One of tech’s stranger moonshots is dead, as Google announced this week that Loon, it’s internet balloon project is being shut down. It was an ambitious attempt to bring high-speed internet to remote corners of the world, but the team says it wasn’t sustainable to provide a high-cost service at a low price. More

Facebook Oversight Board tasked with Trump removal
I talked a couple weeks ago — what feels like a lifetime ago — about how Facebook’s temporary ban of Trump was going to be a nightmare for the company. I wasn’t sure how they’d stall for more time of a banned Trump before he made Facebook and Instagram his central platform, but they made a brilliant move, purposefully tying the case up in PR-favorable bureaucracy, tossing the case to their independent Oversight Board for their biggest case to date. More

Jack is Back
Alibaba’s head honcho is back in action. Alibaba shares jumped this week when the Chinese e-commerce giant’s billionaire CEO Jack Ma reappeared in public after more than three months after his last public appearance, something that stoked plenty of conspiracies. Where he was during all this time isn’t clear, but I sort of doubt we’ll be finding out. More

Trump pardons Anthony Levandowski
Trump is no longer President, but in one of his final acts, he surprisingly opted to grant a full pardon to one Anthony Levandowski, the former Google engineer convicted of stealing trade secrets regarding their self-driving car program. It was a surprising end to one of the more dramatic big tech lawsuits in recent years. More

Xbox raises Live prices
I’m not sure how this stacks in importance relative to what else is listed here, but I’m personally pissed that Microsoft is hiking the price of their streaming subscription Xbox Live Gold. It’s no secret that the gaming industry is embracing a subscription economy, it will be interesting to see what the divide looks like in terms of gamer dollars going towards platform owners versus studios. More

Musk offers up $100M donation to carbon capture tech
Elon Musk, who is currently the world’s richest person, tweeted out this week that he will be donating $100 million towards a contest to build the best technology for carbon capture. TechCrunch learned that this is connected to the Xprize organization. More details


Extra Things

I’m adding a section going forward to highlight some of our Extra Crunch coverage from the week, which dives a bit deeper into the money and minds of the moneymakers.

Hot IPOs hang onto gains as investors keep betting on tech
“After setting a $35 to $39 per-share IPO price range, Poshmark sold shares in its IPO at $42 apiece. Then it opened at $97.50. Such was the exuberance of the stock market regarding the used goods marketplace’s debut.
But today it’s worth a more modest $76.30 — for this piece we’re using all Yahoo Finance data, and all current prices are those from yesterday’s close ahead of the start of today’s trading — which sparked a question: How many recent tech IPOs are also down from their opening price?” More

How VCs invested in Asia and Europe in 2020
“Wrapping our look at how the venture capital asset class invested in 2020, today we’re taking a peek at Europe’s impressive year, and Asia’s slightly less invigorating set of results. (We’re speaking soon with folks who may have data on African VC activity in 2020; if those bear out, we’ll do a final entry in our series concerning the continent.)” More

Hello, Extra Crunch Community!
“We’re going to be trying out some new things around here with the Extra Crunch staff front and center, as well as turning your feedback into action more than ever. We quite literally work for you, the subscriber, and want to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth, as it were.” More


Until next week,
Lucas Matney

#alibaba, #anthony-levandowski, #app-store, #apple, #apple-inc, #ar, #arkansas, #asia, #augmented-reality, #ceo, #computing, #engineer, #europe, #facebook, #google, #head, #high-speed-internet, #instagram, #itunes, #jack-ma, #lucas-matney, #microsoft, #mobile-computing, #mobile-developers, #oculus, #oversight-board, #poshmark, #president, #siri, #smartphone, #smartphones, #software, #tc, #technology, #trump, #twitter, #virtual-reality, #vr, #xprize, #yahoo

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Atlanta-based Sanguina wants to make fingernail selfies a digital biomarker for iron deficiency

Sanguina, an Atlanta-based health technology developer, is launching its a mobile app in the Google Play Store that uses pictures of fingernails to determine whether or not someone is getting enough iron.

The app measures hemoglobin levels, which are a key indicator of anemia, by analyzing the color of a person’s fingernail beds in a picture.

These fingernail selfies could be used to determine anemia for the more than 2 billion people who are affected by the condition — including women, children, athletes and the elderly.

Iron deficiencies can cause fatigue, pregnancy complications, and in severe cases, even cardiac arrest, the company said. AnemoCheck is the first smartphone application to measure hemoglobin levels, the company said — and through its app people can not only determine whether or not they’re anemic but also use the app’s information to address the condition, the company said.

Sanguina’s technology uses an algorithm to determine the amount of hemoglobin in the blood based on an examination and analysis of the coloration of the nail bed.

Created by Dr. Wilbur Lam, Erika Tyburski, and Rob Mannino, the company was born out of research conducted at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University.

“This non-invasive anemia detection tool is the only type of app-based system that has the potential to replace a common blood test,” said Dr. Lam, a clinical hematologist-bioengineer at the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, associate professor of pediatrics at Emory University School of Medicine, and a faculty member in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Emory University and Georgia Tech.

So far, Sanguina has raised over $4.2 million in funding from The Seed Lab, XRC Labs, as well as grants from The National Science Foundation and The National Institutes of Health, according to a statement.

 

#atlanta, #blood, #cardiac-arrest, #fatigue, #georgia-institute-of-technology, #google, #google-play-store, #healthcare, #national-science-foundation, #smartphone, #tc, #xrc-labs

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