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Today — September 24th 2019Your RSS feeds

Messaging app Kik shuts down as company focuses on Kin, its cryptocurrency

By Catherine Shu

Kik Interactive CEO Ted Livingston announced today that the company is shutting down Kik Messenger to focus on its cryptocurrency Kin, the target of a lawsuit filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission. The company’s team will be reduced to 19 people, a reduction that will affect over 100 employees, as it focuses on converting more Kin users into buyers.

“Instead of selling some of our Kin into the limited liquidity that exists today, we made the decision to focus our current resources on the few things that matter most,” Livingston wrote in a blog post, adding that the changes will reduce the company’s burn rate by 85%, enabling it to get through the SEC trial.

Kin launched two years ago, raising nearly $100 million in its ICO, one of the first held by a mainstream tech company.

But in June, the SEC filed a lawsuit against Kik Interactive, claiming the ICO was illegal, as part of the Commission’s wider crackdown on companies it alleges are issuing securities illegally.

The SEC also claimed that the company’s management had predicted Kik Messenger would run out of money by 2017, when it started planning the launch of Kin. Kik Interactive hit back in a court filing last month, saying that the SEC’s claims about its finances were “solely designed for misdirection, thereby prejudicing Kik and portraying it in a negative light.”

One of the core issues in the lawsuit is whether or not Kin is a security. The SEC alleges that it is and that the token sale violated securities laws. Kik Interactive denies Kin is a security.

“After 18 months of working with the SEC the only choice they gave us was to either label Kin a security or fight them in court. Becoming a security would kill the usability of any cryptocurrency and set a dangerous precedent for the industry,” Livingston wrote in today’s blog post. “So with the SEC working to characterize almost all cryptocurrencies as securities we made the decision to step forward and fight.”

Livingston added that since Kin isn’t available on most exchanges, it doesn’t rely on speculative demand. Instead, Kin is used by “millions of people in dozens of independent apps,” with more than two million monthly active users and 600,000 monthly active spenders, he wrote. Kik Interactive’s objective now is to increase those numbers.

To get more people who buy Kin to use the currency, Livingston said the company will focus on three things: enabling the Kin blockchain to support a billion consumers making a dozen transactions a day, with confirmation times of less than a second; increasing adoption and growth for developers who use Kin in their apps; and building a mobile wallet that makes it easier to buy and use Kin.

Yesterday — September 23rd 2019Your RSS feeds

Social radio startup Stationhead moves beyond live broadcasts

By Anthony Ha

Stationhead, the mobile app that turns its users into streaming radio DJs, got a big upgrade today. Where Stationhead DJs were previously limited to broadcasting live, they can now record their shows, making them available on-demand for anyone to listen later.

The idea behind Stationhead is to democratize and recapture the personality of traditional radio broadcasts — the kind of conversation and personal connection that’s missing from a playlist.

The app includes features like the ability to call guests to join the show, and integration with Spotify and Apple Music. For Stationhead, that means it doesn’t have to make its own licensing deals with the music labels; for listeners, it means that when a DJ plays a song, you’re hearing it stream from the music service of your choice.

That integration will continue with these new on-demand broadcasts — so they don’t really exist as a single, continuous recording, but rather as DJ recordings interspersed with cued-up songs from Apple or Spotify. (That’s presumably why these broadcasts won’t be available for offline listening.)

CEO Ryan Star has said that he co-founded Stationhead as a result of his own frustrations as an independent musician, particularly the difficulty and cost of getting a single played on the radio.

More recently, he told me that Stationhead is becoming a real alternative for independent musicians trying to get attention, with more than 200,000 shows created since November of last year.

Stationhead

“Some shows are mostly talk, some shows are mostly music, but just having the ability to play the song completely changes the way it’s consumed,” said COO Levison.

The company isn’t sharing overall listener numbers, but it pointed to success stories like Burrell Kobe, who said he drove 23,000 streams on Stationhead.

And Star described the Stationhead approach as combining “creative freedom and real human connection. While the most popular Stationhead broadcasts can get more than 1,000 live listeners, he suggested that the connection can happen even when the audience is much smaller:  He recalled stumbling on a broadcast where he was literally the only person listening, but the host was “spilling her guts — this was her therapy.”

And by making these broadcasts available on-demand, he said Stationhead is “tapping into something proven to be the most intimate form of communication.”

He added, “For the first time, you’re actually able to create binge-able audio content around these streams.”

Google Play Pass launches with 350+ premium apps and games, initially for $1.99 per month

By Sarah Perez

Following the well-received launch of Apple Arcade, Google today is officially introducing its own take on subscription-based access to premium mobile games — or, Google’s case, premium mobile apps, too. The new Google Play Pass subscription, arriving this week, will offer over 350 apps and games that are completely unlocked, with no upfront fees, in-app purchases, or advertisements. And the initial price point is something of a no-brainer — it’s just $1.99 per month for the first year, Google says.

That price will increase to $4.99 per month after the first 12 months have passed, which is the same price as Apple Arcade at launch. This launch promotion is only available until October 10, 2019, however.

The two services are similar in concept, as both are providing a large library of premium content for a monthly subscription. But there are some differences between the two.

For starters, Apple Arcade is filled with exclusives — meaning its games will not be found on Andriod. The reverse is not true for Google Play Pass. Instead, the Play Pass catalog includes many cross-platform titles, including some that even found their fame first on iOS, like ustwo’s Monument Valley.

In addition, Play Pass’s launch titles aren’t all games. There are also ad-free versions of popular mobile apps, like AccuWeather, Facetune, and Pic Stitch, for example.

Notable launch titles include Stardew Valley, Risk, Terraria, Monument Valley, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Reigns: Game of Thrones, Titan Quest, and Wayward Souls. Some lesser-known additions include LIMBO, Lichtspeer, Mini Metro, and Old Man’s Journey. Others, like This War of Mine and Cytus, are coming soon. And for little kids, there are some preschooler-friendly titles like Toca Boca classics and the My Town series.

More titles are added on a monthly basis, Google says.

pph realistic

Because it’s not relying on exclusives, Google’s catalog is more than triple the size of Apple’s at launch. That being said, Apple’s Arcade library is filled with gorgeous, high-quality games while Play Pass is rounded out with a lot of more utilities, like weather apps and photo editors.

Play Pass ticket logoLike Apple Arcade, the new subscription gets its own tab in the Google Play app, where the games are organized by genre, popularity and other factors — just like a mini app store. However, unlike Apple Arcade, where games are only found in the Arcade tab or through search, Google Play Pass titles will appear directly in the Play Store. They’ll be designated with a Play Pass ticket badge, so you can easily identify them.

The Play Pass subscription also allows the games to be shared with the whole family. The family manager can share their Play Pass subscription with up to five other family members, who can each access the titles independently. This is comparable to Apple Arcade.

We already knew Google was working on an Apple Arcade competitor before today. The Play Pass subscription’s existence had been leaked, and Google later confirmed the service with a tweet. What we didn’t yet know was the launch date, lineup, or the official pricing.

Google Play Pass service is rolling out this week to Android devices in the U.S., with more countries coming soon. A 10-day subscription is available, before it converts to the $1.99 per month limited promotion, followed by the $4.99 per month price point when the promotion ends.

While neither Apple nor Google is discussing the terms of their deals with developers, Google says that the more people who download a Play Pass title, the more the revenue developers receive on a recurring basis. It also explained that Google itself is funding the initial launch offer, so developers can gain more subscriber interest without impacting their revenue.

 

 

The latest version of Yahoo Mail helps users find attachments and deals

By Anthony Ha

Yahoo Mail is getting a mobile update, with new versions of the iOS and Android app launching today.

Many of you probably haven’t tried out Yahoo Mail in years, but Senior Director of Product Management Josh Jacobson noted that it’s one of the top productivity apps in the Apple App Store, where it has been rated 2.1 million times, with an average rating of 4.6 stars.

Jacobson also said that Yahoo Mail is trying to do something very different from the Superhumans of the world, because it’s not one of the many apps that “solve for essentially corporate use cases.” Instead, it’s “completely focused on the consumer email use case, solving the business of your life.”

For example, Jacobson said he joined Yahoo after the company acquired his previous employer, the smart inbox service Xobni. At the time, everyone assumed that when it came to helping users find things in email, “search is the way to go.” (Note: Yahoo, like TechCrunch, is owned by Verizon Media.)

Instead, he said it turns out “people just don’t know or want to have to figure out what to type into that imposing white box to find the thing that they’re looking for.”

Yahoo Mail

So Yahoo Mail now offers a number of different views that should help you find stuff without searching, by focusing on specific types of content from your inbox.

If you’re looking for a photo or a file that someone sent you, there’s a view that just brings up all your attachments. Or if you’re looking for deals, there are three different views that you use— the overall Deals View, the currently iOS-only Location View (which shows you nearby deals on a map) and Grocery View (which shows you grocery discounts based on your loyalty cards).

Director of Product Management Shiv Shankar noted that while the app is sorting and prioritizing these offers, the deals themselves come from your inbox, not from Yahoo.

The new Yahoo Mail also includes a view for checking all your email subscriptions, and a button that allows you to unsubscribe from any of them with a single tap. And there’s an additional view (also iOS-only for now) focusing “active updates,” namely pressing and time-sensitive emails, such as package tracking and travel updates.

The Yahoo Mail team has also refreshed the app’s overall look. That includes adding a navigation bar at the bottom of the screen, which Shankar said will make “single-hand usage” possible again despite the fact that phone screens are getting bigger. The navigation bar is customizable — each user can decide which views to include.

And by the way, if you’re a little leery of sending email from a Yahoo address, Jacobson pointed out that use the Yahoo Mail app to access non-Yahoo email accounts, including Gmail and Outlook.

How Peloton made sweat addictive enough to IPO

By Josh Constine

It makes lazy people like me work out. That’s the genius of the Peloton bicycle. All you have to do is velcro on the shoes and you’re trapped. You’ve eliminated choice and you will exercise. Through a succession of savvy product design choice I’ll break down here, Peloton removes the friction to getting fit. It’s the leader in a movement I call “pushbutton health”. And this is why I think Peloton will be a big succes no matter what short-term investors do when it IPOs this week after raising $994 million in venture capital.

Peloton Bike Photo

The bike

Basically, Peloton is a $2300 stationary bike with a tablet stuck to the front. The $40 per month subscription unlocks thousands of live and on-demand video cycling classes where instructors positively yell at you. When you think you’re tired already, they look into your eyes, tell you “you got this”, the soundtrack crescendos, you crank up the resistance, and you pedal harder at home. The resulting endorphin rush is addictive, and you find yourself persuading friends they need a Peloton too.

That viral loop which adds to its 500,000 subscribers is how Peloton plans to raise ~$1.16 billion going public this week at an ~$8 billion valuation. Its revenue doubled this year as it began to dominate the connected exercise equipment market, though losses quadrupled as it burned cash to become a household name. But after riding 110 of 150 days I’ve been home since buying its bike, I’m confident in the company. Whatever it invests now to build its lead will likely be paid back handsomely by its increasingly handsome customers who can’t bear to clip out. Here’s why.

Peloton Class

Peloton classes are recorded in front of a live studio audience of riders

The Brilliance Of This Bike

The Shoes – Usually the activation energy to start a workout requires dragging yourself to the gym or suiting up to face the elements outside. That can be daunting enough that you rarely do. But once you slip into the Peloton bike shoes, you can hardly walk normally which means you can hardly procrastinate. You’re home so you don’t even need clothes. Just a few velcro straps and you’re over the hump and resigned to exercise.

The Clips – Home gym equipments reduces the barrier to entry but also the barrier to exit. You can tell yourself you’ll keep doing push-up sets or squats jumping rope, but you can stop any time. Yet after you’re clipped into the Peloton bike, you’re almost assured to keep pedaling until the instructor gives you that end-of-ride congratulations.

Peloton Shoes

Just put the shoes on and you’ll exercise

The Schedule – You can get a sweat in just 10 or 20 minutes going hard on a Peloton. Combined with zero commute, that means you’ll practically always be able fit in a ride regardless of how busy you are. No more “I don’t have time to make it to the gym so I’ll just skip out”. When my calendar gets crunched or I dawdle a little before deciding to ride, classes as short as 5 minutes ensure there’s no weaseling out.

The Instructors – I wish I had these coaches to motivate me through sorting email. Peloton’s 20+ instructors range from hippie-dippie gurus to no-nonsense trainers that fit your personality type. You find yourself craving your favorite’s special brand of relentless positivity. I burn far more calories in a shorter time than exercising solo because they inspire me to push a little harder or they slow their countdown to add a couple all-out seconds to the end of a sprint. They’re even becoming celebrities, with bankers lining up for selfies during Peloton’s IPO road show. Sick of them? You can always Scenic Ride through video of some of the world’s prettiest bike paths.

Peloton Instructors

Peloton instructors (from left): Alex Toussaint, Emma Lovewell, Ben Alldis, and Leane Hainsby

The Intimacy – You’re eye-to-eye with those instructors as they stare into the camera and out of the giant screen bolted to your handlebars. That generates intimacy despite them broadcasting to thousands. Even in person, a SoulCycle coach across the room can feel further away. You’re mostly guided by audio cues, but their gaze compels you to perform. Peloton almost feels like FaceTime, and that’s a sense of connection many long for more of these days.

The Pavlovian Response – Your brain quickly begins to associate the sounds of Peloton with the glowing feeling of finishing a workout. The rip of the velcro shoe straps, the click of clipping into the bike, but most of all the instructor catch-phrases. You get hooked on hear the bubbling British accent of “I’mmmm Leeaannne Haaaaainsby” as she introduces herself, Ben Alldis’ infectious “You got 5, you got 4…” countdowns, or Emma Lovewell reminding you to “Live, learn, love well”. That final ‘namaste’ followed by wiping down the bike and jumping in a cold shower forms a ritual you’re inclined to repeat.

Peloton Class

Eye-contact with the instructors creates an intimate bond

The Soundtrack – Popular songs are more than just a pump-up accompaniment to Peloton classes. Your pedaling pace is often pegged to the tempo, with sprints starting when the beat drops. As your legs tire, you feel obliged to maintain your speed so you don’t fall behind the drums. You can even search classes by music genre and preview each’s playlist. Peloton has paid out $50 million in royalties for its music, and faces $300 million-plus in lawsuits for copyright infringement. But having the best tunes to bike to might end up worth the penalty since it helped Peloton race ahead in a lucrative market.

The Bike As Decor – Most home exercise equipment ends up in a closet or as a clothing rack. By designing its bicycles for beauty, Peloton coerces you to place them conspicuously in your home. You might have seen the hysterical Twitter thread parodying this practice, but it’s funny because it’s true. You’re a lot more likely to ride it if it’s central to your home (ours is between our bed and the doors to the veranda), and you’ll be embarassed if visitors ask about it and you haven’t hopped on recently.

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“A good place for your Peloton bike is between your kitchen and your living room facing the cactus garden so you always remember virtual spin class” –ClueHeywood on Twitter

The Network Effect – Many of these smart product design moves could be copied by competitors. But by amassing a community of 1.4 million members to date, Peloton benefits from social features and economies of scale. You can ride together with pals over video chat, send each other digital high fives, or race and compare achievements. Each friend that joins Peloton is one more reason not to sign up for a competitor. The whole concept virtual personal training is being legitimized. And the cost of producing more classes gets spread wider as membership grows.

The Shared Accounts – Peloton has even built in a way to feel noble about your sanctimonious prosyletizing about how it “jumpstarted your metabolism”. Each $39 on-bike subscription allows unlimited accounts on up to three devices, so you can hook up some friends if you convince them to buy the big-budget gadget.

Peloton High Five

High-five fellow riders as you virtuall pass them

The Growth Hacks – Peloton streaks are for adults what Snapchat streaks are to kids: a clever way to reward consistent usage. But beyond the achievement badges displayed on your profile, you’ll get in-ride leaderboards full of people to proudly pass, progress bars to fill by pedaling, and kilojoule output high scores to beat. Peloton makes exercise a game you want to win.

The Shoutouts – Yet Peloton’s most explicit levering of our psychology comes from the in-class name-drop shoutouts instructors give. Whether mentioning the screen names of a few participants at the start of a session or congratulating users hitting their 50th, 200th, or 500th ride, the recognition pushes people to join the dozen live-streamed classes each day that add urgency to the on-demand catalog. Proof it works? People strategize to ensure their 100th ride is a long live class to maximize the chance of a shout-out.

Peloton Century Club Free Shirt

A free cult shirt after your 100th ride

The ‘Transcendence’ – Peloton minimizes the isolation from working out at home. In fact, its whole product enables people to feel ‘glamorous’ and ‘manifested’ yet nonchalant in ways going to a sweaty gym or using a personal trainer can’t. It’s like being able to buy a little piece of the smug satisfaction and in-group affiliation of going to Burning Man. That’s why the company even sends you a free “Century Club” t-shirt when you hit your 100th ride. You’re meant to feel cool sharing that you “Peloton”, using the startup’s name as a verb.

Peloton Conspicuous Self Actualization 2

Conspicuous Self-Actualization

Still, Peloton has plenty left to optimize. There’s room to expand use of its camera to offer premium one-on-one coaching, head-to-head racing, group video chat with friends, and augmented reality filters to make people feel comfortable on screen and take shareable selfies. A wider range of intense but short classes could appeal to overworked professionals who picked Peloton precisely because they don’t have an hour for the gym.

Novelty could come from celebrity guest instructors, or themed classes for pre-gaming for a night out, fans of a particular artist, or songs about a certain topic. And it should definitely have some iconic sounds like an om or singing bowl chime that play before each class to center you and after to release you.

Most excitingly, the Peloton screen has the potential to be a platform for exercise-controlled gaming and apps. Whether pedaling to escape zombies chasing you or piece together a puzzle, maintaining an output level to keep your cross-hairs locked on an enemy plane as you dogfight, or making a garden bloom by growing each flower during a different interval, Peloton could evolve riding to be much more interactive. Apps could offer training simulators for different sports focused on sprints for basketball or marathons for soccer. Or just put Netflix on it! By opening up to outside developers, Peloton could build a moat of extra experiences competitors can’t match.

With the strengths and opportunities of its core product, Peloton is poised to absorb more of your fitness time and money. It’s already branching out with yoga, meditation, lifting, bootcamp, and jazzercise classes you can do standing next to your bike or without one on its $19 per month app. Its second gadget is a $4300 treadmill.

From there it could break into more of the “pushbutton health” business. I categorize these as wellness products and services that rely on convenience instead of your will power. Think delivery health food instead calorie-counting apps that are a chore. My pushbutton regimen includes Peloton, six salads per week dropped off in batches by Thistle, monthly packages of Nomiku vacuum-sealed meals that RFID scan into its sous vide machine, and a Future remote personal trainer who nags me by text message.

Peloton Coaching

It’s easy to get hooked on the positivity

Peloton could easily dive into selling meal kits, personal training, or a wider range of workout clothes to compete with Lulu Lemon. If it’s the center of your fitness routine, the company could become a gateway to new health products it owns or partners with.

I’m bullish on Peloton because I’m betting people are going to stay busy, lazy, and competitive. It offers the effectiveness of a spin class but with scheduling flexibility. It removes every excuse for staying on the couch. And in an age of visual communication where many seek to share both the journey to and the destination of an Instagrammable body and the discipline to ge there, Peloton provides conspicuous self-actualization through consumerism. Plus, finishing a ride feels damn good.

Before yesterdayYour RSS feeds

Tinder’s interactive series ‘Swipe Night’ could bring a needed boost to user engagement

By Sarah Perez

On Sundays in October, Tinder is launching an “interactive adventure” in its dating app called “Swipe Night” that will present a narrative where users make a series of choices in order to proceed. This sort of choose-your-own-adventure format has been more recently popularized by Netflix and others as a new way to engage with digital media. In Tinder’s case, its larger goal may not a dramatic entry into scripted, streaming video, as has been reported, but rather a creative way to juice some lagging user engagement metrics.

For example, based on analysis of Android data in the U.S. from SimilarWeb, Tinder’s sessions per user, meaning the number of times the average user opens the app per day, have declined. From the period of January – August 2018 to the same period in 2019 (January – August 2019), sessions declined 10.8%, from 4.5 to 4.1.

The open rate, meaning the percentage of the Tinder install base that opens the app on a daily basis, also declined 5.9% during this time, going from 28% to 22.1%.

These sort of metrics are hidden behind what would otherwise appear to be steady growth. Tinder’s daily active users, for example, grew 3.1% year-over-year from 1.114 million to 1.149 million. And its install penetration on Android devices grew by 1%, the firm found. (See below).

Tinder Install Penetration

Drops in user engagement are worth tracking, given the potential revenue impact.

App store intelligence firm Sensor Tower found Tinder experienced its first-ever quarter-over-quarter decline in combined revenue from both the App Store and Google Play in Q2 2019.

Spending was down 8.8% from $260 million in Q1 to $237 million in Q2, the firm says. This was largely before Tinder shifted in-app spending out of Google Play, which was in late Q2 to early Q3. Tinder revenue was still solidly up 46% year-over-year, the company itself reported in Q2, due to things like pricing changes, product optimizations, better “Tinder Gold” merchandising and more.

There are many reasons as to why users could be less engaged with Tinder’s app. Maybe they’re just not having as much fun — something “Swipe Night” could help to address. Sensor Tower also noted that negative sentiment in Tinder’s user ratings on the U.S. App Store was at 79% last quarter, up from 68% in Q2 2018. That’s a number you don’t want to see climbing.

Of course, all these figures are estimates from third-parties, not directly reported — so take them with the proverbial grain of salt. But they help to paint a picture as to why Tinder may want to try some weird, experimental “mini-series”-styled event like this.

It wouldn’t be the first gimmick that Tinder used to boost engagement, either. It also recently launched engagement boosters like Spring Break mode and Festival mode, for example. But this would be the most expensive to produce and far more demanding, from a technical standpoint.

Swipe Night Intro

In “Swipe Night,” Tinder users will participate by launching the app on Sundays in October, anytime from 6 PM to midnight. The 5-minute story will follow a group of friends in an “apocalyptic adventure” where users will face both moral dilemmas and practical choices.

You’ll have 7 seconds to make a decision and proceed with the narrative, Tinder says. These decisions will then be added to your user profile, so people can see what decisions others made at those same points. You’ll make your choice using the swipe mechanism, hence the series’ name.

Every Sunday, a new part of the series will arrive. Tinder shot over 2 hours worth of video for the effort, but you’ll only see the portions relevant to your own choices.

The series stars Angela Wong Carbone (“Chinatown Horror Story”), Jordan Christian Hearn (“Inherent Vice”), and Shea Gabor, and was directed by Karena Evans, a music director used by Drake. Writers include Nicole Delaney (Netflix’s “Big Mouth”) and Brandon Zuck (HBO’s “Insecure”).

Swipe Night Choice

 

Tinder touts the event as a new way to match users and encourage conversations.

“More than half of Tinder members are Gen Z, and we want to meet the needs of our ever-evolving community. We know Gen Z speaks in content, so we intentionally built an experience that is native to how they interact,” said Ravi Mehta, Tinder’s Chief Product Officer. “Dating is all about connection and conversation, and Swipe Night felt like a way to take that to the next level. Our hope is that it will encourage new, organic conversations based on a shared content experience,” he said.

How someone chooses to play through a game doesn’t necessarily translate into some sort of criteria as to whether they’d be a good match, however. Which is why it’s concerning that Tinder plans to feed this data to its algorithm, according to Variety.

At best, a series like this could give you something to talk about — but it’s probably not as much fun as chatting about a shared interest in a popular TV show or movie.

Variety also said the company is considering whether to air the series on another streaming platform in the future.

Tinder declined to say if it plans to launch more of these experiences over time.

Despite the user engagement drop, which crazy stunts like “Swipe Night” could quickly — if temporarily — correct, the dating app doesn’t have much to worry about at this time. Tinder still accounts for the majority of spending (59%) in the top 10 dating apps globally as of last quarter, Sensor Tower noted. This has not changed significantly from Q2 2018 when Tinder accounted for 60% of spending in the top 10 dating apps, it said.

 

Tonic launches a personalized news reader that respects user privacy

By Sarah Perez

Personalization technology can lead to better experiences as it allows apps to customize their content for each individual user. But it can also chip away at user privacy. A company called Canopy wants to change that. It has developed a personalization engine that works without requiring users to log in or even provide an email. Instead, it uses a combination of on-device machine learning and differential privacy to offer a personalized experience to an app’s users. Now it’s demonstrating how this works with the launch of the news reader app, Tonic.

The new app is designed to be completely private, while also learning what you like over time, in order to offer a customized experience. But unlike other personalization engines, all the raw interaction and behavioral data stays on your own device. That means the company itself never see it, nor does any content provider or partner it works with, it says.

As Canopy explains:

What we instead send over an encrypted connection to our server is a differentially private version of your personal interaction and behavior model. The local model of you that goes to Canopy never has a direct connection to the things you’ve interacted with, but instead represents an aggregate set of preferences of people like you. It’s a crucial difference for our approach: even in the worst case of the encryption failing, or our servers being hacked, no one could ever do anything with the private models because they do not represent any individual.

Another big differentiator is that Tonic puts you in control over your own personalization settings. This is not typical. If you’ve ever used an app powered by personalization technology, there’s probably been a point where you were recommended a song, video, or a news article, for example, that seemed to be entirely wrong and not representative of something you’d actually like. But you may have been at a loss as to why it was recommended, because most apps don’t detail this sort of information.

Tonic, on the other hand, lets you view, change and even reset your personalization settings whenever you want.

tonic app phones

While Tonic is mainly meant to demonstrate of its engine in action — Canopy’s larger goal is to license the technology — the app itself has several other features that make it worth a look.

The company employs a human editorial team to help select the app’s news content, to ensure that it’s not offering a bunch of noise, like clickbait or “hate-reads.” It also avoids breaking news and “hot takes,” it says, as it’s not designed to be an app you use to track the latest news with urgency.

Instead, Tonic pulls from a diversity of sources with its core focus on bringing you a curated, personalized selection of daily reads to inform and inspire. And in the spirit of digital well-being, it’s a finite list of articles — not an endless news feed.

“We made Tonic because we were tired of having to give up our digital selves to get great recommendations, and because we wanted to build an alternative to endless feeds optimized for maximum engagement, breaking news, and outrage,” the company explains in its announcement of the app’s launch.

The technology’s arrival comes at a time when big tech is being investigated for carelessness with user data, and there’s increased attention on user privacy in general. Apple, for example, has made its respect for user privacy a key selling point for its hardware and software.

The New York-based startup was founded by Brian Whitman, formerly the founder of The Echo Nest and a former principal scientist at Spotify. The team also includes several ex-Spotify, Instagram, Google and New York Times execs. It’s seed-funded by Matrix Partners, and other investors from Spotify, WeWork, Splice, MIT Media Lab, Keybase, and more to the tune of $4.5 million dollars.

An Indian startup that uses WhatsApp to serve thousands with chronic disease raises $5.5M seed round

By Manish Singh

Another startup in India is cashing in on the popularity of WhatsApp, the most popular app in the country with more than 400 million users, to build a business around it.

Digi-Prex is a seven-month old startup that runs an eponymous online subscription pharmacy in Hyderabad and serves patients with chronic diseases. Patients share their prescription with Digi-Prex through WhatsApp and the startup’s workers then deliver the medication to them on a recurring cycle.

Delivery is not the only thing Digi-Prex is trying to provide. It helps patients better track when they need a new supply of medicine, and checks if they are seeing improvements. The startup has amassed thousands of customers in Hyderabad, Samarth Sindhi, founder of Digi-Prex, told TechCrunch in an interview.

Digi-Prex just closed its seed round from a range of highly-influential VC firms. It’s also one of the largest seed financing rounds for an Indian startup.

The startup has raised $5.5 million from Khosla Ventures, Vedanta Capital, Y Combinator, Quiet Capital, and SV Angel. Justin Mateen, a founder of Tinder, also participated in the round, said Sindhi.

“Instead of trying to acquire customers online, we work with physicians and pharmacies to serve customers,” said Sindhi, an alum of Brown University who worked with a healthcare firm in the U.S. before returning to India. The startup shares some margin with physicians and pharmacies, but more importantly, it says this arrangement works for everyone because it is able to serve customers who are living at distant neighborhoods.

Digi-Prex works directly with medicine distributors to secure supplies at lower costs. It then undercuts the pricing of over-the-top counters, providing medicines to its customers at discounted rates.

Sindhi said the startup will use the fresh capital to expand its business to 10 cities in India, and find ways to be more useful to the patients. Some of the things that Digi-Prex is working on includes providing patients with access to better physicians and offering them more information about their disease.

It’s not surprising why Digi-Prex is using WhatsApp as a distribution platform. “When I returned to India, I was fascinated by how nobody was texting anymore. Everyone was doing everything on WhatsApp,” he said.

WhatsApp, which is already the most popular app in India, is increasingly finding business applications in the country. Vahan, another Y Combinator-backed startup, is using WhatsApp to help white-collar workers find jobs with logistics companies.

The emergence of super apps in Latin America

By David Riggs
Thiago Paiva Contributor
Thiago Paiva is a fintech entrepreneur, writer and investor. He is the co-founder of Liquia Digital Assets, an investment platform for international investments using blockchain technology.

The super apps WeChat and Alipay became an integral part of the Chinese mobile ecosystem, growing to more than 1 billion monthly active users (MAU) and 1 billion annual active users (AAU), respectively. They both offer services from food delivery and bike sharing to a full suite of financial services such as payment, insurance and investments.

Now, companies from around the world are trying to replicate the successful Chinese model in their region. And Latin America is an especially compelling region for the emergence of super apps, due to its vast population, almost 650 million, distributed in more or less similar countries regarding language, culture and religion. It also has a mobile-first population with 62% of smartphone penetration, according to GSMA data.

The expansion of the super apps model

After the incredible success of WeChat and Alipay, many companies around the world decided to replicate their model in different regions. Due to the proximity to China and its influence and money, Southeast Asia was one of the first regions in which super apps started to appear. The Singaporean ride-hailing Grab and the Indonesian Go-Jek both raised billions of dollars to not only successfully block the expansion of Uber in the region but also to expand their portfolio of services provided beyond ride-hailing to food delivery, payments and other services.

Note that not all super apps are the same.

In India, payTM is expanding beyond its core service and positioning itself to be the leading player in the country, especially after Tapzo was acquired by Amazon last year and closed.

It is interesting to note that not all super apps are the same. Alipay came from the e-commerce Alibaba and is more focused on financial services, while WeChat started as a messenger app, expanding not only to financial services but also to daily services such as e-commerce, gaming, travel and many others. In Southeast Asia, Go-Jek and Grab started as ride-hailing, expanding to delivery before going to financial services, and payTM started as a prepaid recharge mobile platform and then moved to offer a range of financial and daily services.

So, what to expect in Latin America?

Latin American super apps should develop themselves in their own particular way, as the environment in the region is quite different from the one in China.

The internet ecosystem in the region is highly influenced by European and American tech companies that dominate segments such as communication, music, search and many others. It is quite hard for a local startup to compete in those markets. However, there are a few battlegrounds that are not as easy to dominate from abroad, such as ride-hailing, food delivery and finance. Those are on-the-ground or highly regulated industries that are very hard to scale, especially across different countries. Those are precisely the industries in which we have seen the emergence of some super apps candidates, fueled by an unprecedented amount of venture capital investment in the region.

The most prominent candidate to super app in the region is the Colombian on-demand delivery Rappi. It is one of the most funded startups in Latin America, backed by titans such as Sequoia, Andreessen Horowitz and SoftBank, which have poured US$ 1.4 billion in investments so far. Although it started offering just food delivery, it now provides services such as e-scooter, payments, P2P transfer, movie theater tickets and a debit card. It also operates in the most relevant countries in the region: Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Peru.

Another strong candidate is the financial side of the e-commerce behemoth Mercado Libre (MELI), Mercado Pago. It started as a way to enable payment between users in the marketplace; however, it grew to offer a diverse portfolio of financial services such as online and offline payment, bill payments and, more recently, investment (through its Mercado Fondo). Thanks to its parent company, it’s pretty much all over Latin America, and processes around 400 million transactions annually.

The Brazilian Movile is also positioning itself as a strong competitor. The company already has a diverse portfolio of services, from delivery food to event tickets, courier and even a kids Netflix, operating in Brazil, Mexico, Colombia and Argentina. Not only did it raise a total of US$395 million investment, but also one of its companies, iFood, raised a total of US$592 million.

Latin America is an especially compelling region for the emergence of super apps.

The Spanish Cabify is another company trying to position itself as a super app. It recently started to offer e-scooters and bike service, as well as financial services through its own fintech company, Lana. Even though it raised US$477 million in funding, it will be hard for Cabify to become a super app, as the ride-hailing competition is getting quite intense in the region. Its competitors Uber and Didi are also adding more services and trying to position themselves.

An interesting potential competitor would be Nubank, the Brazilian decacorn (private companies with more than US$10 billion of valuation). It already has more than 8 million customers in Brazil and is starting to expand in the region to Mexico, Argentina and Colombia. Although Nubank still only offers traditional financial services, it has Tencent as a significant investor and has raised US$1.1 billion, so far. Therefore, it would be no surprise if it decides to follow a similar path as WeChat.

Also, in Brazil, Banco Inter (BIDI11) recently launched a marketplace to expand the offer to its customers beyond financial services to e-commerce, travel and more. The challenger bank is already a public company with around US$7 billion valuation, but it is now backed by SoftBank after its latest share offer.

Those are the most well-positioned candidates to be super apps in Latin America. Even so, other players could surprise, such as Magazine Luiza, leading retail and e-commerce in Brazil. Its CEO is transforming the company from a brick-and-mortar retail to a technology company and already showed its ambition to transform MagaLu (its app) into a super app offering many other services. Although it could compete in the Brazilian market, it would be doubtful that it becomes a regional player, as its primary business operates only in Brazil.

Super apps in Latin America will not be the same as in China

We are starting to see the rise of the super apps in Latin America, but they will not follow the Chinese path as the markets are very different. A better comparison could be with the Southeast Asian players as the markets are more similar; however, Latin American’s super apps will probably be the result of the unique environment in the region.

As more companies are looking into the Chinese success stories, we will probably see even more players competing to become the Latin American super app. The venture capitalists are already placing their bets on who will become the leading players in Latin America. One thing is certain: It will be exhilarating to see how the market unfolds in the region — the customers will be the true winners in this battle.

iOS 13 pushes the envelope across the board

By Romain Dillet

Apple released iOS 13, the new major version of iOS. This isn’t a groundbreaking release that is going to change the way you use your phone. But Apple has done some tremendous work across the board to improve some low-level features as well as most Apple apps.

In many ways, iOS 13 feels like a quality-of-life update. In developer lingo, quality-of-life updates are all about refining things that already work. It helps you save a second here, do something more easily there.

I’m going to talk about many of those small refinements, but I want to focus on two things that are going to matter more than the rest — Dark Mode and Apple’s focus on privacy.

Dark Mode is here

At some point, smartphone manufacturers started making bigger phones. And if you don’t want to become blind at night, Dark Mode is a must. It took a while, but it is finally here and it looks great.

Dark Mode on iOS 13 is a system-wide trigger. You can activate it from the Settings app or by opening up the Control Center panel and long-pressing on the brightness indicator. And it completely transforms the look and feel of your iPhone.

While some third-party apps have been updated, many developers still have to release updates to make their apps work with this new setting. I hope in six months, you’ll be able to turn on Dark Mode and jump from one app to another without any white interface.

I would recommend turning on the automated mode in the settings. iOS uses your current location to time the change with sunset and sunrise — your iPhone goes dark at night and it lights up in the morning.

Dark Mode doesn’t just affect apps. Widgets, notifications and other buttons in the user interface become dark. Apple uses pure black, which looks great on OLED displays. And you can optionally dim your custom wallpapers at night.

The privacy hammer

Many geeks have tried iOS 13 over the summer. But it’s going to be a completely different story when tens of millions of people download it this fall. iOS 13 brings some much-needed changes on the privacy front, and it’s going to be nasty for some companies.

Apple is adding more ways to control your personal information. If an app needs your location for something, you can now grant access to your location just once. The app will have to ask for your permission the next time.

Similarly, iOS 13 can tell you when an app has been silently tracking your location in the background with a map of those data points.

Apple is shaming app developers directly by saying “This app has used 40 locations in the background in the past 2 days” and showing you a map. You can turn off location tracking directly in the popup. Facebook is already freaking out and wrote a blog post last week to tell you that it cares about your privacy.

iOS 13 also blocks Bluetooth scanning by default in all apps. Many apps scan for nearby Bluetooth accessories and compare that with a database of Bluetooth devices around the world. In other words, it’s a way to get your location even if you’re not sharing your location with this app.

You now get a standard permission popup for apps that actually need to scan for Bluetooth devices. Some apps actually need Bluetooth to communicated with connected devices, initiate peer-to-peer payments with nearby users, etc.

But the vast majority of them have been abusing Bluetooth scanning. To be clear, you can disable Bluetooth scanning and still use Bluetooth headphones. Audio will still be routed to your headphones just fine.

I hope many app developers will review the third-party SDKs that they use. Many ad-supported apps embed code from adtech companies. But they don’t always that those SDKs are hostile to your privacy.

Finally, Apple is adding “Sign In with Apple”. It is an alternative to “Sign In with Google” or “Sign In with Facebook”. Customers can choose whether or not to share their email address and developers get little personal data. It’s going to be interesting to see if it takes off.

Low-level improvements

There are a few changes at the operating system level. First, in addition to optimizations, animations have been slightly sped up. Swiping, opening and closing apps feels faster.

Second, the keyboard now supports swipe-to-type. If you’ve used Android phones or third-party keyboards in the past, you already know how it works. You can move your finger across the display from one letter to another without lifting it. It feels like magic.

Third, the share sheet has been updated. It is now separated in three areas: a top row with suggested contacts to send photos, links and more depending on your most important contacts.

Under that row of contacts, you get the usual row of app icons to open something in another app. If you scroll down, you access a long list of actions that vary from one app to another.

When it comes to automation, the Shortcuts is installed by default with iOS 13. Many people are going to discover Shortcuts for the first time by opening the app. Voice-activated Siri Shortcuts are now also available in the Shortcuts app.

More interestingly, you can now create automated triggers to launch a shortcut. For instance, you can create scenarios related to CarPlay, a location or even a cheap NFC tag. Here are some examples:

  • Launch a music playlist when I connect my phone to CarPlay or to my car using Bluetooth.
  • Dim my screen and turn on low power mode when I activate airplane mode.
  • Turn off my Philips Hue lights when I put my phone on an NFC sticker on my nightstand.

New app features

I’m going to go through some of the major changes in Apple’s apps.

Apple Arcade is here. You have to download iOS 13 to access it. I’ll let you read our first impressions in our separate article.

iOS 13 5

Photos has received some of the biggest improvements. The main tab has been completely redesigned. You now get four sub-tabs that lets you see a curated photo library.

In addition to ‘All Photos’, you can tap on ‘Years’ to jump straight to a specific year, ‘Months’ to see some smart albums based on dates and locations. You can then open those events. It’ll jump to the ‘Days’ tab and show you the best photos.

I’m not sure I like the wording of those sub-tabs, but it’s definitely a lot more efficient if you’re looking for an old photo from a few years.

Photo editing is also much better on iOS 13. It feels like you can do pretty much all the basic editing you’d do with a third-party app.

Maps is an interesting app. While Apple has been working on improved mapping data, it’s going to be hard to notice if you don’t live in California. But Look Around, a feature that works pretty much like Google Street View, is quite impressive. This isn’t just 360 photo shots — those are 3D representations of streets with foregrounds and backgrounds. I’d recommend finding a street in San Francisco and opening Look Around.

Messages now works a bit more like WhatsApp. By that, I mean that you can pick a profile name and picture and share those with your friends and family. Apple also tells you to use Memoji, but you can pick any photo. Search in Messages is also much better.

Health has been slightly redesigned. But the big addition is that you can track your menstrual cycles in the Health app. You don’t need to install any third-party app.

Reminders has gained some new features. There’s a quick toolbar to add times, dates, locations and more. You can indent items, create smart lists and more. To-do apps are highly personal, but I’m sure some people will like it.

Find My is the new name for Find My Phone and Find My Friends. Maybe you’ll be able to find your objects soon when Apple launches Tile-like trackers?

Mail, Notes and Safari received small improvements, such as rich-text editing in Mail, a gallery view in Notes, a new site settings popup in Safari to request the desktop site, disable a content blocker or enable reader view.

Files works with Samba file servers and you can zip/unzip files directly in the app — no shortcut needed. You can also install custom fonts.

As you can see, there are a lot of big and tiny improvements across the board with iOS 13. Sure, this version feels buggy at times. It’s an ambitious update with Apple telling everyone that they’re not ready to slow down the pace of iOS releases. And Apple is making some welcome progress on the privacy front.

iOS 13: Here are the new security and privacy features you need to know

By Zack Whittaker

It’s finally here.

Apple’s new iOS 13, the thirteenth major iteration of its popular iPhone software, is out to download. We took iOS 13 for a spin with a focus on the new security and privacy features to see what’s new and how it all works.

Here’s what you need to know.

You’ll start to see reminders about apps that track your location

1 location track

Ever wonder which apps track your location? Wonder no more. iOS 13 periodically reminds you about apps that are tracking your location in the background. Every so often it will tell you how many times an app has tracked where you’ve been in a recent period of time, along with a small map of the location points. From this screen you can “always allow” the app to track your location or have the option to limit the tracking.

You can grant an app your location just once

2 location ask

To give you more control over what data have access to, iOS 13 now lets you give apps access to your location just once. Previously there was “always,” “never” or “while using,” meaning an app could be collecting your real-time location as you’re using it. Now you can grant an app access on a per use basis — particularly helpful for the privacy-minded folks.

And apps wanting access to Bluetooth can be declined access

Screen Shot 2019 07 18 at 12.18.38 PM

Apps wanting to access Bluetooth will also ask for your consent. Although apps can use Bluetooth to connect to gadgets, like fitness bands and watches, Bluetooth-enabled tracking devices known as beacons can be used to monitor your whereabouts. These beacons are found everywhere — from stores to shopping malls. They can grab your device’s unique Bluetooth identifier and track your physical location between places, building up a picture of where you go and what you do — often for targeting you with ads. Blocking Bluetooth connections from apps that clearly don’t need it will help protect your privacy.

Find My gets a new name — and offline tracking

5 find my

Find My, the new app name for locating your friends and lost devices, now comes with offline tracking. If you lost your laptop, you’d rely on its last Wi-Fi connected location. Now it broadcasts its location using Bluetooth, which is securely uploaded to Apple’s servers using nearby cellular-connected iPhones and other Apple devices. The location data is cryptographically scrambled and anonymized to prevent anyone other than the device owner — including Apple — from tracking your lost devices.

Your apps will no longer be able to snoop on your contacts’ notes

8 contact snoop

Another area that Apple is trying to button down is your contacts. Apps have to ask for your permission before they can access to your contacts. But in doing so they were also able to access the personal notes you wrote on each contact, like their home alarm code or a PIN number for phone banking, for example. Now, apps will no longer be able to see what’s in each “notes” field in a user’s contacts.

Sign In With Apple lets you use a fake relay email address

6 sign in

This is one of the cooler features coming soon — Apple’s new sign-in option allows users to sign in to apps and services with one tap, and without having to turn over any sensitive or private information. Any app that requires a sign-in option must use Sign In With Apple as an option. In doing so users can choose to share their email with the app maker, or choose a private “relay” email, which hides a user’s real email address so the app only sees a unique Apple-generated email instead. Apple says it doesn’t collect users’ data, making it a more privacy-minded solution. It works across all devices, including Android devices and websites.

You can silence unknown callers

4 block callers

Here’s one way you can cut down on disruptive spam calls: iOS 13 will let you send unknown callers straight to voicemail. This catches anyone who’s not in your contacts list will be considered an unknown caller.

You can strip location metadata from your photos

7 strip location

Every time you take a photo your iPhone stores the precise location of where the photo was taken as metadata in the photo file. But that can reveal sensitive or private locations — such as your home or office — if you share those photos on social media or other platforms, many of which don’t strip the data when they’re uploaded. Now you can. With a few taps, you can remove the location data from a photo before sharing it.

And Safari gets better anti-tracking features

9 safari improvements

Apple continues to advance its new anti-tracking technologies in its native Safari browser, like preventing cross-site tracking and browser fingerprinting. These features make it far more difficult for ads to track users across the web. iOS 13 has its cross-site tracking technology enabled by default so users are protected from the very beginning.

First published on July 19 and updated with iOS 13’s launch. 

Read more:

iOS 13 is now available to download

By Romain Dillet

Apple has just released the final version of iOS 13. This update brings many much needed quality-of-life improvements — and there are also a bunch of new features. The update is currently rolling out and is available both over-the-air in the Settings app, and by plugging your device into iTunes for a wired update.

Many people try to download these major updates at the same time. Apple usually implements a queue system to ensure speedy downloads once you’re at the front of the queue.

iOS 13 is compatible with the iPhone 6s or later, the iPhone SE or the 7th-generation iPod touch. If you have an iPad and you are looking for iPadOS 13, it’ll be available on September 30 with the release of iOS and iPadOS 13.1.

But first, backup your device. Make sure your iCloud backup is up to date by opening the Settings app on your iPhone or iPad and tapping on your account information at the top and then on your device name. Additionally, you can also plug your iOS device to your computer to do a manual backup in iTunes (or do both, really).

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

Once this is done, you should go to the Settings app as soon as possible to get in the queue. Navigate to ‘Settings,’ then ‘General’ and then ‘Software Update.’ Then you should see ‘Update Requested…” It will then automatically start downloading once the download is available.

Here’s a quick rundown of what’s new in iOS 13. This year, in addition to dark mode, it feels like every single app has been improved with some quality-of-life updates. The Photos app features a brand new gallery view with autoplaying live photos and videos, smart curation and a more immersive design.

This version has a big emphasis on privacy as well thanks to a new signup option called “Sign in with Apple” and a bunch of privacy popups for Bluetooth and Wi-Fi consent, background location tracking. Apple Maps now features an impressive Google Street View-like feature called Look Around. It’s only available in a handful of cities, but I recommend… looking around as everything is in 3D.

Many apps have been updated, such as Reminders with a brand new version, Messages with the ability to set a profile picture shared with your contacts, Mail with better text formatting options, Health with menstrual cycle tracking, Files with desktop-like features, Safari with a new website settings menu, etc.

Groww, an investment app for millennials in India, raises $21.4M

By Manish Singh

Of the 1.3 billion people who live in India, more than 100 million of whom are using digital payment apps each day, only about 20 million today invest in mutual funds and stocks. An Indian startup that is betting on changing that figure by courting millennials has just received a big backing.

Groww, a Bangalore-based startup, said today it has raised $21.4 million in a Series B financing round that was led by US-based VC firm Ribbit Capital. Existing investors Sequoia India and Y Combinator also participated in the round, said the two-year-old startup that has raised about $29 million to date.

Groww allows users to invest in mutual funds, including systematic investment planning (SIP) and equity-linked savings. The app, which maintains a very simplified user interface to make it easier for its largely millennial customer base to comprehend the investment world, offers every fund that is currently available in India.

Lalit Keshre, co-founder and CEO of Groww, told TechCrunch in an interview earlier this week that the market of the mutual funds is increasingly widening in India and the startup is hoping to accelerate its growth with the fresh capital. Other than that, he plans to double Groww’s headcount to 200 in the coming months.

Groww has amassed about 2.5 million registered users, two-thirds of which are first-time investors, Keshre said. Groww is currently free to use and does not charge any commission on transactions. The startup eventually plans to offer a paid service as it looks to monetize its user base, but Keshre declined to share a timeline on how soon that would happen.

Groww will also soon begin to offer the ability to purchase stocks from its eponymous app, said Keshre, a former executive at Flipkart who co-founded Groww with three other Flipkart colleagues (Harsh Jain, Neeraj Singh and Ishan Bansal).

In a statement, Micky Malka, founder of Ribbit Capital, said, “We backed the Groww team because we believe in their mission. They have built the most trusted product in this space and are on the path to create a category-defining product.”

Ribbit Capital has made a number of investments in India in recent months. Last month, it invested in Cred, a startup that is trying to improve the financial behavior of credit card holders, and BharatPe, a payments solution for businesses.

In recent years, a number of startups such as INDWealth and Cube Wealth have emerged in India to offer wealth management platforms to country’s growing internet population.

Ashish Agarwal, a principal partner at Sequoia Capital India, said, “Investment products such as mutual funds and stocks were traditionally sold offline through financial advisors, who were mis-incentivized to sell high commission products. Groww is taking a refreshing approach with a zero-commission mobile first model, enabling investors to make their own investment choices through a slick and easy user interface.”

Google chases businesses to maintain its payments lead in India

By Manish Singh

Google said today it is bringing its mobile payments app — Google Pay — to businesses in India and introducing a jobs discovery feature as the Android-maker rushes to maintain its lead in one of its key overseas markets before its global rival Facebook expands its payment offerings in the country.

At its annual event in India, the company said even as more than 400 million people in India are online today, most businesses in the nation remain unconnected. The company unveiled Google Pay for Business, a standalone app that will enable businesses to build their digital presence and accept payments online.

Additionally, Google announced Spot Platform that will allow businesses to create their own store fronts on Google Pay app. For instance, they can use QR-like codes to offer some offerings to customers without having to build their own apps, company executives said.

The company is also bringing a feature that will enable users to discover jobs through Google Pay apps itself.

Google launched its payments app Google Pay (called Tez then) in 2017. Its payments service, built on top of Indian government-backed UPI payments infrastructure, is already among the top payment apps in the category.

The payments market in India — which is projected to be worth $1 trillion by 2023, according to a Credit Suisse — is aggressively crowded and competitive. Google today competes with Flipkart’s PhonePe, Amazon Pay, and Paytm, the country’s most popular mobile wallet app whose parent company has raised over $2.3 billion from investors.

The addition of new features is crucial for Google Pay, which prior to today’s announcements did not have many differentiating offerings. It is also racing against time as Facebook’s WhatsApp, which has over 400 million users in India, is set to expand its UPI-based payments service to all its users by the end of the year.

Paytm is currently focusing on expanding its reach in the nation and not profits. The company, which posted more than half a billion of loss last year, said earlier this month it intends to invest another $3 billion into its business in the next two years.

More to follow…

Google is bringing Assistant to people without internet access

By Manish Singh

Over the years, Google has expanded the reach of its digital assistant service to include people who own internet-enabled feature phones. Now the search giant is bringing the service to users who don’t have access to internet at all.

At an event in New Delhi on Thursday, the company announced phone line that will anyone on Vodafone-Idea telecom network could dial to have their questions answered.

Users will be able to dial 000-800-9191-000 and they won’t be charged for the call or the service.

More to folliow…

How to profit from valuable peer referrals hiding in Slack

By Arman Tabatabai
Colin Bendell Contributor
Colin is Senior Director of Analytics and Strategy for Cloudinary, the co co-author of High Performance Images, and passionate about data, web performance and user experience.

Brands are often left to act like the person who searches for their keys under the streetlight simply because that is where the light is better. However, when brand marketers focus only on engaging with the customers they can more easily see — where online activity is visible — they risk overlooking the valuable opportunities hiding in darker spaces.

One of the most valuable of those dark web spaces is in the realm of what we call “microbrowsers” — the messaging apps like Slack, WhatsApp and WeChat. We call them microbrowsers because they display miniature previews of web pages inside private message discussions. These previews, also known as ‘unfurled links’, create your brand’s first impression and play a big role in whether or not the person on the receiving end will click through to buy, or read or engage.

Google Analytics lumps all microbrowser-generated web traffic into the ‘Direct’ bucket, which we often just ignore. This means we look for customers where we know how to create campaigns easily — on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and buying Google Ad Words.

And as more people rely more heavily on messaging apps for primary communication, these link previews from microbrowsers are becoming the leading segment of your direct traffic visitors. In Cloudinary’s 2019 State of Visual Media Report, which drew on data from more than 700 customers and 200 billion transactions, we found that 77% of link sharing in Slack occurs during working hours and that the vast majority of the click-throughs are reported as ‘direct’ traffic. The rise of microbrowsers gives us an opportunity to engage and attract customers through word of mouth discussions.

The good news is that the ‘leads’ that microbrowsers send to your brand site are usually highly qualified and close to the bottom of the traditional sales pipeline funnel. When consumers arrive on your site they are often ready and eager to buy (or read, view and listen to your content).

Whether it be for sneakers, tickets to a concert, a birthday gift idea, or an article to read — a trusted peer recommendation typically happens in that fleeting moment when the appetite to buy is right now. That isn’t just valuable, it’s the holy freaking grail!

Top tips for creating links that engage

GettyImages 952111924

Image via Getty Images / drogatnev

The way to get the most value from microbrowser traffic is by helping along this peer influencing that happens in the dark. By creating compelling, informative links with images, video and text information specifically for microbrowsers, you increase the likelihood that peer-to-peer recommendations in groups convert into sales and reads.

What follows are some top tips to ensure that the links unfurling within microbrowsers have the greatest impact.

First, remember the golden rule: your audience is human. When creating content for microbrowsers, design it for humans, not machines.

Google’s parental control software Family Link gains much-needed features

By Sarah Perez

Google’s parental control software, Family Link, is getting a noteworthy update today with the addition of new features that will allow parents to limit screen time per app, instead of the device as a whole, as well as let them more easily extend screen time as needed. The features were first announced at Google’s I/O developer conference this spring, and help to make Family Link a more complete parental control and screen-time solution.

While the simplest way to manage screen time is to just not give kids a device in the first place, it’s not the most realistic. As parents, we need to teach our kids to navigate the world — and that means we have to show them how to establish a healthy, non-addictive relationship with technology, too. Certain apps make that more difficult, as they’ve been intentionally designed to steal our focus for long periods of time. Even as adults, many of us struggle with this same problem.

For years, platform makers like Apple and Google were complicit with regard to users’ app addictions. They were thrilled about the success of the third-party developers and the money they brought in. Only more recently have these companies realized that their popular devices are starting to be seen as the digital equivalent of junk food — sure, it fuels you. But it’s bad for your health and should be limited. And that, of course, is bad for business. Hence, the arrival of screen-time and digital well-being features.

Family Link is not a perfect system, but it now comes built-in to Android devices with Android 10 and up, and can be downloaded as a standalone app from Google Play if you don’t have it available. It’s to Google’s credit that it has integrated it now into the core mobile OS, where it’s easier to find and use.

family link

Already, it’s able to do things like set device “bedtimes,” track activity per app, set daily limits, view the device’s location on the map and ring it (you’ll need Family Link for this feature alone) and more.

But what was sorely lacking was the ability to more narrowly define how a child’s screen time should be used.

Today, there are plenty of educational apps — from flashcards to study guides to Kindle books — that kids don’t deserve to be locked out from just because they’ve used their phone over a certain number of hours per day. And as a parent myself, I was hesitant to enforce daily limits in Family Link because it locked my child out of her phone entirely, except for the ability to make calls. She just as often uses texting to reach me, so I didn’t want to cut her off from that ability.

With the new per-app limits, you’ll be able to limit how long each individual app on the device can be used.

That means I can drastically trim the number of hours per week she spends on TikTok and YouTube (sorry, not sorry, Google!), or in mobile games. It also now means that chores around the house aren’t tied to “screen time” as a whole, but time in a favorite app, like Roblox. (Oh, the motivation!)

However, per-app limits will require a lot of manual labor on parents’ part. I don’t mind the extra work, because I appreciate the granular control, but a lot of parents would be better-served by category-based limits. (e.g. “mobile gaming.”) This could be something Google addresses in a future update.

bonus time

The other update rolling out today is Bonus Time, which lets you up the amount of screen time in sort of a one-off situation.

For example, if the child is in the middle of something and just needs a few more minutes, you can now grant this extra time without having to disable the screen-time setting. You’ll know screen time is running out because the child gets warnings at 15 minutes, 5 minutes and 1 minute. And they’ll be sure to tell you about this.

These updates are rolling out today to the cross-platform Family Link service. Parents can control Family Link settings from their Android or iOS device, and the child can use an Android or Chrome device.

Apple introduces a ‘grace period’ for lapsed App Store subscriptions

By Sarah Perez

Apple is changing how subscriptions work on its App Store. Before, any lapse in payment could cut off the customer from being able to use the app’s subscription-based features — and make it more difficult for the developer to reacquire that customer’s business in the future. Now, Apple says developers will have the option to instead offer a “grace period” for auto-renewable subscriptions which gives Apple more time to collect payment on the developer’s behalf.

Lapsed payments can occur for many reasons — like expired credit cards, changes in addresses requiring an update of the billing zip, corporate cards getting shut off because your company’s expense program is ridiculous (ahem), credit cards that get disabled by the bank, and so on. This sort of involuntary churn means developers were losing out on revenue not because the customer had wanted to end their subscription, but because of a simple billing issue.

The new Grace Period — which is opt-in, not opt-out on the developer’s part — is enabled from App Store Connect, where developers manage their apps. Here, you can navigate to “My Apps,” then in the toolbar click Features –> In-App Purchases, and in the new Billing Grace Period section, click “Turn On.”

Screen Shot 2019 09 13 at 10.06.52 AM

Of course, there’s a bit more to it than that when it comes to actually integrating support in the app itself but for many developers, it will be worth the extra effort to more easily retain their customers going forward.

Once enabled, Apple’s documentation says it will attempt to collect payment for either 6 or 16 days, depending on whether the subscription duration is weekly or monthly or longer, respectively. Meanwhile, the customer retains full access to the app’s paid content.

If the subscription is renewed within this period, there won’t be any interruption to the days of paid service or to the developer’s revenue.

In typical "new features for StoreKit" fashion, supporting Grace Periods isn't exactly trivial. The new grace period field lives in the "pending renewal info", and is only available via refreshing the StoreKit receipt.https://t.co/uv2fvvLeAx

— Jacob Eiting (@jeiting) September 13, 2019

If the user resubscribes after 60 days, the days of paid service will reset and the developer will receive 70% of the subscription price until one year of paid service passes. (After the first year, Apple cuts its revenue share, allowing developers to retain 85% of the subscription.)

Subscription revenue is critical to developers, as the App Store has shifted away from paid downloads towards recurring revenue streams. For developers, subscriptions mean a more sustainable business. And for Apple, subscriptions are a huge part of its growing “services” business which including App Store revenues, along with its own subscriptions like Apple Card, iCloud, Apple Music, Apple News+, Apple TV+, and its Apple Pay business.

In Q3, services revenue increased 13% to $11.46 billion from $10.17 billion a year earlier, and now accounts for a fifth of Apple’s revenue. As Apple now has a growing line of subscription products of its own, it makes sense that it would want to better design the overall subscription offering to make it easier to handle common billing problems, too.

 

 

Pandora debuts a desktop app for Windows

By Sarah Perez

Pandora today is launching a desktop app for Windows users following its debut of a native Mac app earlier this year. On Mac, Pandora offers a variety of features for desktop users like on-screen notifications, keyboard controls, and a way to select listening “modes” and more. It didn’t, however, include support for streaming podcasts. The new Windows app includes a similar feature set.

Update: The Windows Store app description mentions that at higher tiers you can stream podcasts. Pandora tells us this is not actually true of the app itself, however. It plans to support podcasts in the future, it says. We’ve removed references to podcast support from this article.  

Screen Shot 2019 09 12 at 2.28.04 PM

Above: Pandora’s Windows 10 app — note references to playing podcasts! 

Like its Mac counterpart, Pandora’s Windows app can be used by both free users and paid subscribers alike.

The free users will have access to Pandora’s ad-supported stations, while Pandora Plus subscribers get ad-free stations, unlimited skips, personalized stations, and up to four offline stations. Pandora Premium subscribers, meanwhile, get the same, plus the ability to make and share playlists, play albums and songs on-demand, and take advantage of unlimited offline listening.

Also like the Mac app, the Windows version supports keyboard controls for doing things like playing, pausing, replaying, shuffling, thumbs up and down, etc. And it supports the Pandora Modes feature which lets you refine your personalized stations by asking Pandora to focus more on certain types of songs — like crowd favorites, the discovery of new artists, deep cuts, songs from a select artist only, new releases, and more.

Desktop users often prefer to use a native app instead of leaving a service open in a browser tab as it allows them a more seamless and integrated experience. That said, Pandora’s Mac version didn’t have the best reviews from Apple users.

Still, Pandora’s rollout of native desktop apps helps the SiriusXM-owned company better compete with rivals like Apple Music and Spotify, both of which have long offered desktop applications. In Apple’s case, it actually built so much into iTunes, that the company decided to finally break it up into parts with the next version of macOS. Pandora doesn’t have the same problem because it doesn’t include a user library or marketplace.

Windows users can download the Pandora app from the Microsoft Store starting today.

The app works on Windows 10. (Pandora also supports streaming to Xbox via the Microsoft Store app.)

Google Photos adds a time-traveling version of Stories, plus more sharing and printing options

By Sarah Perez

Google Photos is getting its own version of Stories. But instead of focusing on what you’re doing now, as Stories on other platforms like Instagram and Snapchat offer, Google Photos is adopting the format to help you take a trip down memory lane. The feature is one of several updates coming to the photo-sharing service that focuses on helping you reconnect with your old photos that often get forgotten after upload.

Its unique take on Stories is, perhaps, the most interesting update, as it’s the first time we’ve seen the format used as a way to rewind time.

In Google Photos, the feature is more appropriately called “Memories,” as is designed to help users relive their life in a more meaningful way.

Memories

The company said it came up with the idea by watching user behavior on its app.

“We see users browse their photos and scroll all the way down to look at pictures from five years ago,” explained Google Photos Lead, Shimrit Ben-Yair. “We see them searching for moments and having a good experience with that. But we thought, how can we make that even easier?”

The Memories feature, she continued, is meant to accomplish that by helping users “better reminisce digitally.”

Most users will already know how to use Google Photos Memories, given the broad adoption of Stories across various platforms, including Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Messenger, YouTube, and even surprising places like Netflix. As with some other implementations, the feature places small, rounded icons at the top of the Google Photos gallery, which you can tap to launch and advance through.

Except, in this case, each Story circle is taking you back in time — for example, a year ago, two years ago, three, and so on.

Memories

 

However, the feature isn’t just a variation on “Rediscover this Day,” because it’s not as tightly tied to a particular date. It’s more like a showcase of what you were doing around the same time as in years prior — like around the same week. It lets you look back without having to swipe through the badly shot photos and duplicates.

To help users from reliving more sensitive memories — like deaths they’re still grieving or breakups they’d rather forget, for example — you’ll also be able to block certain people or places from showing up in the Memories feature, to better personalize your highlight reel.

Another key difference is that Google Photos’ Memories are not put on public display.

“Even though it is the Stories format — which we lean into because we feel it creates a more immersive experience for reliving your life — this is only your library. It’s your private content,” noted Google Photos Engineering Lead, James Gallagher, when demoing the feature, pre-launch, to TechCrunch.

In a few months’ time, however, Google Photos plans to let you share these old photos — or any others you come across in your library  — in a more direct and more personal way. Through an enhancement to the sharing feature, you’ll be able to send a photo directly to friends or family, where it’s then adding to an ongoing and private conversation that will eventually become a stream of all your chats and shares.

Photo prints

And Google Photos is expanding its options for getting photos off your phone and into the real world.

It’s partnering with Walmart and CVS for 4×6 photo prints that can be picked up in about an hour at over 11,000 U.S. locations. These prints will cost the same as if you ordered through the retailers directly at $0.25 from Walmart and $0.33 from CVS. You’ll also be able to turn photos into wall art of various sizes, in the U.S. This follows Flickr’s recent expansion into the area of prints and wall art, which rolled out last month.

Photo prints

In Google Photos’ case, you’ll be able to select canvas prints in three different sizes, 8×8 ($19.99), 11×14 ($29.99), and 16×20 ($44.99), which can be customized with either black, white, or photo wrap borders. The canvases also come with a wire hanger on the back to make mounting easier.

This feature will generate revenue, though Google outsources the actual work to a network of printing partners across the U.S. It joins an existing feature that lets users turn photos into photo books in just a few steps.

Canvas prints

One final feature, though not necessarily related to reminiscing, is an improvement to search that will now help you find photos or screenshots with text — like a recipe.

This feature, prints, and the Memories feature are rolling out now. Direct sharing is coming in a few months.

The additions are part of many enhancements to Google Photos since its spin-out from Google+ just over four years ago. The company has rapidly improved its photo-hosting and sharing service with A.I. functionality to clean up users’ vast photo libraries and automatically create photo edits and mini-movies, among other things. And it continues to improve with features like support for Lens’ visual search and an expanded array of A.I.-powered photo fixes, for example.

Thanks to these features and its integration with the Android operating system, Google Photos now has over a billion monthly users.

 

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