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Yesterday — July 2nd 2020Your RSS feeds

Sprint 5G is no more, as T-Mobile focuses on its own network

By Brian Heater

A day after formally completing the sale of Boost, Virgin and other Sprint prepaid networks to Dish, T-Mobile is pulling the plug on Sprint 5G. The move is one in a long list of issues that need sorting out in the wake of April’s $26.5 billion merger. And like a number of other moves, it’s set to leave some customers in the lurch.

The end of Sprint’s 2.5 GHz 5G comes as T-Mobile opts to focus on its own network. T-Mobile already started the process in New York City, a few weeks after the merger and has since completed it in a handful of other cities, including Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Washington, D.C.

As CNET notes, while most existing Sprint 5G customers won’t be able to make the transition with their existing device, Samsung Galaxy S20 5G users are in the clear here. For everyone else, T-Mobile is offering up credits on leases for new 5G handsets.

T-Mobile told TechCrunch in a statement, “We are working to quickly re-deploy, optimize and test the 2.5GHz spectrum before lighting it up on the T-Mobile network.”

Along with the sale of Boost, 5G was a big selling point for T-Mobile’s Sprint acquisition. The carriers argued that the deal was necessary to keep them competitive with first and second place carriers AT&T and Verizon when it came to the next-generation wireless technology.

At the time FCC chairman Ajit Pai agreed stating, “This transaction will provide New T-Mobile with the scale and spectrum resources necessary to deploy a robust 5G network across the United States.”

Earlier this week, OpenSignal awarded T-Mobile the top spot in availability, noting, “In the U.S., T-Mobile won the 5G Availability award by a large margin with Sprint and AT&T trailing with scores of 14.1% and 10.3%, respectively.”

Police roll up crime networks in Europe after infiltrating popular encrypted chat app

By Devin Coldewey

Hundreds of alleged drug dealers and other criminals are in custody today after police in Europe infiltrated an encrypted chat system reportedly used by thousands to discuss illegal operations. The total failure of this ostensibly secure method of communication will likely have a chilling effect on the shadowy industry of crime-focused tech.

“Operation Venetic” was reported by various police agencies, major local news outlets, and by Motherboard in especially vibrant form, quoting extensively people apparently from within the groups affected.

The operation involved hundreds of officers working across numerous agencies in France, the Netherlands, the U.K., and other countries. It began in 2017, and culminated two months ago when a service called EncroChat was hacked and the messages of tens of thousands of users exposed to police scrutiny.

EncroChat is a step up in some ways from encrypted chat apps like Signal and WhatsApp. Rather like Blackberry once did, EncroChat provided customized hardware, a dedicated OS, and its own servers to users, providing an expensive service costing thousands per year rather than a one-time purchase or download.

Messages on the service were supposedly very secure and had deniability built in by letting conversations be edited later — so theoretically a user could claim after the fact they never said something. Motherboard’s Joseph Cox has been following the company for some time and has far more details on its claims and operations.

Image Credits: EncroChat /

Needless to say those claims were not entirely true, as at some point in early 2020 police managed to introduce malware into the EncroChat system that completely exposed the conversations and images of its users. Because of the trusted nature of the app, people would openly discuss drug deals, murders, and other crimes, making them sitting ducks for law enforcement.

Throughout the spring criminal operations were being cracked open with alarming (to them) regularity, but it wasn’t until May that users and EncroChat managed to put the pieces together. The company attempted to warn its users and issue an update, but the cat was out of the bag. Seeing that its operation was now exposed, the Operation Venetic teams struck.

Arrests across the several countries involved (there were numerous sub-operations but France and the Netherlands were the primary investigators) total near a thousand, but exact numbers are not clear. Dozens of guns, tons (metric, naturally) of drugs and the equivalent of tens of millions of dollars in cash were seized. More importantly, the chat logs seem to have provided access to people higher up the food chain than ordinary busts would have.

That the reportedly most popular of encrypted chat companies focused on illegal activities could be so completely subverted by international authorities will likely put a damper on its competition. But like other, more domestic challenges to encryption, such as the perennial complaints by the FBI, this event is more likely to strengthen the tools in the long run.

Daily Crunch: Apple and Google block banned apps in India

By Anthony Ha

Banned Chinese apps are beginning to disappear from India’s app stores, Palantir is raising more funding and Venmo starts testing Business Profiles.

Here’s your Daily Crunch for July 2, 2020.

1. Apple and Google block dozens of Chinese apps in India

Two days after India blocked 59 apps developed by Chinese firms, Google and Apple have started to comply with the government’s order and are preventing users in the world’s second-largest internet market from accessing those apps.

UC Browser, Shareit, Club Factory and other apps are no longer listed on Apple’s App Store and Google Play Store. In a statement, a Google spokesperson said that the company had “temporarily blocked access to the apps”on Google Play Store as it reviews the order.

2. SEC filing indicates big data provider Palantir is raising $961M, $550M of it already secured

Palantir, the controversial and secretive big data and analytics provider, has reportedly been eyeing up a public listing this autumn. But in the meantime it’s also continuing to push ahead in the private markets.

3. Venmo begins piloting ‘Business Profiles’ for small sellers

Business Profiles offer small sellers and other sole proprietors the opportunity to have a more professional profile page on its platform. Sellers can share key business details like address, phone number, email, website and more.

4. Tesla delivered 90,650 vehicles in second quarter, a smaller than expected decline

Tesla said Thursday that it delivered 90,650 vehicles in the second quarter, a 4.8% decline from the same period last year, prompted by challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic — like suspending production for weeks at its main U.S. factory. But the company still managed to beat expectations despite the headwinds.

5. Top LA investors discuss the city’s post-COVID-19 prospects

From larger fund investors like Mark Suster and Kara Nortman at Upfront Ventures to Dana Settle at Greycroft Partners; to early-stage investors like Will Hsu at Mucker Capital; TX Zhuo at Fika Ventures, the responses were generally upbeat about the future opportunities for Los Angeles startups. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

6. Dish closes Boost Mobile purchase, following T-Mobile/Sprint merger

T-Mobile today announced that it has closed a deal that divests Sprint’s pre-paid businesses, including Boost and Virgin Mobile. The whole thing was a key part of T-Mobile’s bid to merge with Sprint.

7. AR 1.0 is dead: Here’s what it got wrong

Many AR startups made huge promises and raised huge amounts of capital before flaring out in a similarly dramatic fashion. Lucas Matney argues that a key error was thinking that an AR glasses company should be hardware-first, when the reality is that the missing value is almost entirely centered on first-party software experiences. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

Dish closes Boost Mobile purchase, following T-Mobile/Sprint merger

By Brian Heater

T-Mobile today announced that it has closed a deal that divests Sprint’s pre-paid businesses, including Boost and Virgin Mobile. The news finds Dish entering the wireless carrier game in earnest, courtesy of the $1.4 billion deal.

The whole thing was, of course, a key part of T-Mobile’s bid to merge with Sprint. It was a relatively small concession to those worried that such a deal would decrease competition in the market, as the number of major U.S. carriers shrunk from four down to three. The $26 billion T-Mobile/Sprint deal was finally completed in April of this year, and has already resulted in hundreds of lost jobs, as reported last month by TechCrunch.

The deal gives Dish a nice head start in the pre-paid phone game, with north of 9 million customers and access to T-Mobile’s wireless network for the next seven years. It also finds current Dish’s COO John Swieringa stepping in to lead the new subsidiary. Oh, and there’s a new Boost logo, too:

Dish

See? It’s basically the old Boost Mobile logo, but with the little Dish wireless symbols in the middle, to really show you who’s boss.

Dish used the opportunity to announce a new plan for Boost users with 15GB of data for $45, and has already begun switching consumers with compatible devices over to the new T-Mobile-backed network.

AR 1.0 is dead: Here’s what it got wrong

By Lucas Matney

The first wave of AR startups offering smart glasses is now over, with a few exceptions.

Google acquired North this week for an undisclosed sum. The Canadian company had raised nearly $200 million, but the release of its Focals 2.0 smart glasses has been cancelled, a bittersweet end for its soft landing.

Many AR startups before North made huge promises and raised huge amounts of capital before flaring out in a similarly dramatic fashion.

The technology was almost there in a lot of cases, but the real issue was that the stakes to beat the major players to market were so high that many entrants pushed out boring, general consumer products. In a race to be everything for everybody, the industry relied on nascent developer platforms to do the dirty work of building their early use cases, which contributed heavily to nonexistent user adoption.

A key error of this batch was thinking that an AR glasses company was hardware-first, when the reality is that the missing value is almost entirely centered on missing first-party software experiences. To succeed, the next generation of consumer AR glasses will have to nail this.

Image Credits: ODG

App ecosystems alone don’t create product-market fit

Match Group completes separation from IAC, new board includes Wendi Murdoch and Ryan Reynolds

By Anthony Ha

IAC and Match Group announced that they have completed a “full separation.”

Previously, Match Group (which owns Tinder, Hinge, OkCupid, PlentyOfFish and Match itself) was a publicly traded company, with digital holding company IAC as its majority shareholder. Last year, the companies announced a plan that would see IAC’s ownership of Match distributed to IAC’s shareholders — a plan that is complete as of this morning.

The separation also involves a leadership change, with Mark Stein and Gregg Winiarski stepping down from the Match Group board. The company has four new board members: ExecOnline CEO Stephen Bailey, the NBA’s executive president for digital media Melissa Brenner, investor and entrepreneur Wendi Murdoch and actor Ryan Reynolds (also an owner of Aviation American Gin and Mint Mobile).

“Most millennials and Gen Z can’t remember what dating was like before the advent of Tinder, OkCupid and Hinge,” Reynolds said in a statement. “These brands have enormous responsibility and opportunities to affect societies, all while embracing new technologies and remaining at the forefront of pop culture. I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and work with the team on their future growth and success.”

Shar Dubey will continue to serve as Match Group’s CEO, a position she took at the beginning of this year, while Joey Levin remains a both IAC’s CEO and Match Group’s executive chairman.

“This is just the largest transaction at the core of our strategy throughout these 25 years,” said IAC Chairman Barry Diller in a statement. “Be opportunistic, be balance sheet conservative, build up enterprises and when they deserve independence let them have it. Be a conglomerate and an anti-conglomerate, a business model that has been unique to us.”

Before yesterdayYour RSS feeds

This Week in Apps: WWDC20 highlights, App Store antitrust issues, tech giants clone TikTok

By Sarah Perez

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the Extra Crunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support and the money that flows through it all.

The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 204 billion downloads and $120 billion in consumer spending in 2019. People are now spending three hours and 40 minutes per day using apps, rivaling TV. Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus.

In this Extra Crunch series, we help you keep up with the latest news from the world of apps, delivered on a weekly basis.

This week, we’re looking at the highlights from Apple’s first-ever virtual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) and what its announcements mean for app developers. Plus, there’s news of the U.S. antitrust investigation into Apple’s business, a revamp of the App Store review process, and more. In other app news, both Instagram and YouTube are responding to the TikTok threat, while Snapchat is adding new free tools to its SDK to woo app developers. Amazon also this week entered the no-code app development space with Honeycode.

WWDC20 Wrap-Up

Image Credits: Apple

Apple held its WWDC developer event online for the first time due to the pandemic. The format, in some ways, worked better — the keynote presentations ran smoother, packed in more content, and you could take in the information without the distractions of applause and cheers. (If you were missing the music, there was a playlist.)

Of course, the virtual event lacked the real-world networking and learning opportunities of the in-person conference. Better online forums and virtual labs didn’t solve that problem. In fact, given there aren’t time constraints on a virtual event, some might argue it would make sense to do hands-on labs in week two instead of alongside all the sessions and keynotes. This could give developers more time to process the info and write some code.

Among the bigger takeaways from WWDC20 — besides the obvious changes to the Mac and the introduction of “Apple silicon” — there was the introduction of the refreshed UI in iOS 14 that adds widgets, an App Library and more Siri smarts; plus the debut of Apple’s own mini-apps, in the form of App Clips; and the ability to run iOS apps on Apple Silicon Macs — in fact, iOS apps will run there by default unless developers uncheck a box.

Let’s dig in.

  • The iPad’s influence over Mac. There are plenty of iOS apps that would work on Mac, but making the choice an opt-out instead of an opt-in experience could lead to poor experiences for end users. Developers should think carefully about whether they want to make the leap to the Mac ecosystem and design accordingly. There’s also a broader sense that the iPad and the Mac are starting to look very similar. The iPad already gained support for a proper trackpad and mouse, while the Mac with Big Sur sees the influence of design elements like its new iPad-esque notifications, Control Center, window nav bars and rounded rectangular icons. Are the two OS’s going to merge? Apple’s answer, thankfully, is still “NO.”

Newzoo forecasts 2020 global games industry will reach $159 billion

By Eric Peckham

Games and esports analytics firm Newzoo released its highly cited annual report on the size and state of the video gaming industry yesterday. The firm is predicting 2020 global game industry revenue from consumers of $159.3 billion, a 9.3% increase year-over-year. Newzoo predicts the market will surpass $200 billion by the end of 2023.

Importantly, the data excludes in-game advertising revenue (which surged +59% during COVID-19 lockdowns, according to Unity) and the market of gaming digital assets traded between consumers. Advertising within games is a meaningful source of revenue for many mobile gaming companies. In-game ads in just the U.S. drove roughly $3 billion in industry revenue last year, according to eMarketer.

To compare with gaming, the global markets for other media and entertainment formats are:

Counting gamers

Of 7.8 billion people on the planet, 4.2 billion (53.6%) of whom have internet connectivity, 2.69 billion will play video games this year, and Newzoo predicts that number to reach three billion in 2023. It broke down the current geographic distribution of gamers as:

  • 1,447 million (54%) in Asia-Pacific
  • 386 million (14%) in Europe
  • 377 million (14%) in Middle East & Africa
  • 266 million (10%) in Latin America
  • 210 million (8%) in North America

Fleetsmith customers unhappy with loss of third-party app support after Apple acquisition

By Ron Miller

When Apple confirmed it had acquired Fleetsmith, a mobile device management vendor, on Wednesday, it seemed like a straightforward purchase, but Fleetsmith customers quickly learned a key piece of functionality had stopped working  — and many weren’t happy about it.

Apple systems administrators began complaining on social media on the morning of the acquisition announcement that the company was no longer allowing them to connect to third-party applications.

“Primarily Fleetsmith maintained a third party app catalog, so you could deploy things like Chrome or Zoom to your Macs, and Fleetsmith would maintain security updates for those apps. This was the main reason we purchased Fleetsmith,” a Fleetsmith customer told TechCrunch.

The customer added that the company described this functionality as a major feature in a company blog post:

Fleetsmith handles this all for you automatically. Once the version is enforced, it is downloaded and queued for install immediately across the device fleet. Most apps will update silently and automatically once they’re restarted, but users can also choose to do the update manually. Our agent will remind users about the update periodically, and then once the enforcement date hits, it will give them an opportunity to save work and then run the update itself.

As it turned out, Apple had made it clear that it was discontinuing this feature in an email to Fleetsmith customers on the day of the transition. The email included links to several help articles that were supposed to assist admins with the transition. (The email is included in full at the end of the article).

The general consensus among admins that I spoke to was that these articles were not terribly helpful. While they described a way to fix the issues, they said that Apple has turned what was a highly automated experience into a highly manual one, effectively eliminating the speed and ease of use advantage of having then update feature in the first place.

Apple did confirm that it had responded to some help ticket requests after the changes this week, saying that it would soon restore some configurations for Catalog apps, and were working with impacted customers as needed. The company did not make clear, however, why they removed this functionality in the first place.

Fleetsmith offered a couple of key features that appealed to Mac system administrators. For starters, it let them set up new Macs automatically out of the box. This allows them to ship a new Mac or other Apple device, and as soon as the employee powers it up and connects to WiFi, it connects to Fleetsmith where systems administrators can track usage and updates. In addition, it allowed System Administrators to enforce Apple security and OS updates on company devices.

What’s more, it could also do the same thing with third-party applications like Google Chrome, Zoom or many others. When these companies pushed a new update, system administrators could make sure all users had the most recent version running on their machines. This is the key functionality that was removed this week.

It’s not clear why Apple chose to strip out these features outlined in the email to customers, but it seems likely that most of this functionality  isn’t coming back, other than restoring some configurations for Catalog apps.

Email that went out to Fleetsmith customers the day of the acquisition outlining the changes:

 

Attempts to reach Fleetsmith founders for comment were unsuccessful. Should that change we will update the article.

Four perspectives: Will Apple trim App Store fees?

By Devin Coldewey

The fact that Apple takes a 30% cut of subscriptions purchased via the App Store isn’t news. But since the company threatened to boot email app Hey from the platform last week unless its developers paid the customary tribute, the tech world and lawmakers are giving Apple’s revenue share a harder look.

Although Apple’s Senior Vice President of worldwide marketing Phil Schiller denied the company was making any changes, a new policy will let developers challenge the very rules by which they were rejected from the platform, which suggests that change is in the air.

According to its own numbers, the App Store facilitated more than $500 billion in e-commerce transactions in 2019. For reference, the federal government has given out about $529 billion in loans to U.S. businesses as part of the Paycheck Protection Program.

Given its massive reach, is it time for Apple to change its terms? Will it allow its revenue share to go gently into that good night, or does it have enough resources to keep new legislation at bay and mollify an increasingly vocal community of software developers? To examine these questions, four TechCrunch staffers weighed in:

Devin Coldewey: The App Store fee structure “seems positively extortionate”

Apple is starting to see that its simplistic and paternalistic approach to cultivating the app economy may be doing more harm than good. That wasn’t always the case: In earlier days it was worth paying Apple simply for the privilege of taking part in its fast-expanding marketplace.

But the digital economy has moved on from the conditions that drove growth before: Novelty at first, then a burgeoning ad market supercharged by social media. The pendulum is swinging back to more traditional modes of payment: one-time and subscription payments for no-nonsense services. Imagine that!

Combined with the emergence of mobile platforms not just as tools for simple consumption and communication but for serious work and productivity, the stakes have risen. People have started asking, what value is Apple really providing in return for the rent it seeks from anyone who wants to use its platform?

Surely Apple is due something for its troubles, but just over a quarter of a company’s revenue? What seemed merely excessive for a 99-cent app that a pair of developers were just happy to sell a few thousand copies of now seems positively extortionate.

Apple is in a position of strength and could continue shaking down the industry, but it is wary of losing partners in the effort to make its platform truly conducive to productivity. The market is larger and more complicated, with cross-platform and cross-device complications of which the App Store and iOS may only be a small part — but demanding an incredibly outsized share.

It will loosen the grip, but there’s no hurry. It would be a costly indignity to be too permissive and have its new rules be gamed and hastily revised. Allowing developers to push back on rules they don’t like gives Apple a lot to work with but no commitment. Big players will get a big voice, no doubt, and the new normal for the App Store will reflect a detente between moneyed interests, not a generous change of heart by Apple.

YouTube’s latest experiment is a TikTok rival focused on 15-second videos

By Sarah Perez

YouTube is taking direct aim at TikTok. The company announced on Wednesday it’s beginning to test a new feature on mobile that will allow users to record 15-second long multi-segment videos. That’s the same length as the default on TikTok as well as Instagram’s new TikTok clone, Reels.

Users in the new YouTube experiment will see an option to “create a video” in the mobile upload flow, the company says.

Similar to TikTok, the user can then tap and hold the record button to record their clip. They can then tap again or release the button to stop recording. This process is repeated until they’ve created 15 seconds worth of video footage. YouTube will combine the clips and upload it as one single video when the recording completes. In other words, just like TikTok.

The feature’s introduction also means users who want to record mobile video content longer than 15 seconds will no longer be able to do so within the YouTube app itself. Instead, they’ll have to record the longer video on their phone then upload it from their phone’s gallery in order to post it to YouTube.

YouTube didn’t provide other details on the test — like if it would later include more controls and features related to the short-form workflow, such as filters, effects, music, AR, or buttons to change the video speed, for example. These are the tools that make a TikTok video what it is today — not just the video’s length or its multi-segment recording style.

Still it’s worth noting that YouTube has in its sights the short-form video format popularized by TikTok.

This would not be the first time YouTube countered a rival by mimicking their feature set with one of its own.

The company in 2017 launched an alternative to Instagram Stories, designed for the creation and sharing of more casual videos. But YouTube Stories wouldn’t serve the TikTok audience, as TikTok isn’t as much about personal vlogs as it is about choreographed and rehearsed content. That demands a different workflow and toolset.

The news of YouTube’s latest experiment arrived just ahead of TikTok’s big pitch to advertisers at this week’s IAB NewFronts. TikTok today launched TikTok For Business, its new platform aimed at brands and marketers looking to do business on TikTok’s app. From the new site, advertisers can learn about TikTok’s ad offerings, create and track campaigns, and engage in e-learning.

YouTube says its new video test is running with a small group of creators across both iOS and Android. A company spokesperson noted it was one of several tests the company had in the works around short-form video.

“We’re always experimenting with ways to help people more easily find, watch, share and interact with the videos that matter most to them. We are testing a few different tools for users to discover and create short videos,” a YouTube spokesperson said. “This is one of many experiments we run all the time on YouTube, and we’ll consider rolling features out more broadly based on feedback on these experiments,” they added.

Apple Maps to tell you to refine location by scanning the skyline

By Romain Dillet

With iOS 14, Apple is going to update Apple Maps with some important new features, such as cycling directions, electric vehicle routing and curated guides. But the app is also going to learn one neat trick.

In dense areas where you can’t get a precise location, Apple Maps will prompt you to raise your phone and scan buildings across the street to refine your location.

As you may have guessed, this feature is based on Look Around, a Google Street View-inspired feature that lets you… look around as if you were walking down the street. It’s a bit more refined than Street View as everything is in 3D so you can notice the foreground and the background.

Look Around is only available in a handful of U.S. cities for now, such as San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Washington, DC, Las Vegas, etc. But the company is still expanding it with Seattle coming on Monday and major Japanese cities this fall. Some areas that are only accessible on foot will also be available in the future.

When you scan the skyline to refine your location, Apple doesn’t send any data to its servers. Matching is done on your device.

When it comes to guides, Apple has partnered with AllTrails, Lonely Planet, The Infatuation, Washington Post, Louis Vuitton and others to add curated lists of places to Apple Maps. When you tap on the search bar and scroll down on the search card, you can see guides of nearby places.

When you open a guide, you can see all the places on the map or you can browse the guide itself to see those places in a list view. You can share places and save them in a user-made guide — Apple calls it a collection in the current version of Apple Maps.

You can also save a curated guide altogether if you want to check it out regularly. Places get automatically updated.

Image Credits: Apple

As for EV routing, Apple Maps will let add your car, name it and choose a charger type — Apple has partnered with BMW and Ford for now. When you’re planning a route, you can now select the car you’re going to be using. If you select your electric car, Apple Maps will add charging spots on the way. You can tap on spots to see if they are free or paid and the connector type.

Waze users will also be happy to learn that Apple Maps will be able to warn you if you’re exceeding the speed limit. You can also view speed and red light cameras on the map.

In some cities with congestion zones and license plate access, you’ll be able to add your license plate. The information is kept on the device. It’ll refine directions for those cities.

Image Credits: Apple

Finally, my favorite new feature is cycling directions. It’s only going to be available in New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Shanghai and Beijing at first. Apple ticks all the right boxes, such as taking into consideration cycling paths and elevation. Turn-by-turn directions look slightly different from driving directions with a different framing and a more vertical view.

Google Maps also features cycling directions, but they suck. I can’t wait to try it out to see whether cycling directions actually make sense in Apple Maps. The new version of Apple Maps will ship with iOS 14 this fall.

Image Credits: Apple

China’s GPS competitor is now fully launched

By Danny Crichton

For decades, the United States has had a monopoly on positioning, navigation, and timing technology with its Global Positioning System (GPS), a constellation of satellites operated by the military that today provides the backbone for location on billion of devices worldwide.

As those technologies have become not just key to military maneuvers but the very foundation of modern economies, more and more governments around the world have sought ways to decouple from usage of the U.S.-centric system. Russia, Japan, India, the United Kingdom and the European Union have all made forays to build out alternatives to GPS, or at least, to augment the system with additional satellites for better coverage.

Few countries though have made the investment that China has made into its Beidou (北斗) GPS alternative. Over twenty years, the country has spent billions of dollars and launched nearly three dozen satellites to create a completely separate system for positioning. According to Chinese state media, nearly 70% of all Chinese handsets are capable of processing signals from Beidou satellites.

Now, the final puzzle piece is in place, as the last satellite in the Beidou constellation was launched Tuesday morning into orbit, according to the People’s Daily.

It’s just another note in the continuing decoupling of the United States and China, where relations have deteriorated over differences of market access and human rights. Trade talks between the two countries have reached a standstill, with one senior Trump administration advisor calling them off entirely. The announcement of a pause in new issuances of H-1B visas is also telling, as China is the source of the second largest number of petitions according to USCIS, the country’s immigration agency.

While the completion of the current plan for Beidou offers Beijing new flexibility and resiliency for this critical technology, ultimately, positioning technologies are mostly not adversarial — additional satellites can offer more redundancy to all users, and many of these technologies have the potential to coordinate with each other, offering more flexibility to handset manufacturers.

Nonetheless, GPS spoofing and general hacking of positioning technologies remains a serious threat. Earlier this year, the Trump administration published a new executive order that would force government agencies to develop more robust tools to ensure that GPS signals are protected from hacking.

Given how much of global logistics and our daily lives are controlled by these technologies, further international cooperation around protecting these vital assets seems necessary. Now that China has its own fully-working system, they have an incentive to protect their own infrastructure as much as the United States does to continue to provide GPS and positioning more broadly to the highest standards of reliability.

Privacy assistant Jumbo raises $8 million and releases major update

By Romain Dillet

A year after its initial release, Jumbo has two important pieces of news to announce. First, the company has released a major update of its app that protects your privacy on online services. Second, the company has raised an $8 million Series A funding round.

If you’re not familiar with Jumbo, the app wants to fix what’s broken with online privacy today. Complicated terms of services combined customer-hostile default settings have made it really hard to understand what personal information is out there. Due to recent regulatory changes, it’s now possible to change privacy settings on many services.

While it’s possible, it doesn’t mean it’s easy. If you’ve tried to adjust your privacy settings on Facebook or LinkedIn, you know that it’s a convoluted process with a lot of sub-menus and non-descriptive text.

Similarly, social networks have been around for more than a decade. While you were comfortable sharing photos and public messages with a small group of friends ten years ago, you don’t necessarily want to leave this content accessible to hundreds or even thousands of “friends” today.

The result is an iPhone and Android app that puts you in charge of your privacy. It’s essentially a dashboard that lets you control your privacy on the web. You first connect the app to various online services and you can then control those services from Jumbo. Jumbo doesn’t limit itself to what you can do with APIs as it can mimic Javascript calls on web pages that are unaccessible to the APIs.

For instance, if you connect your Facebook account, you can remove your profile from advertising lists, delete past searches, change the visibility of posts you’re tagged in and more. On Google, you can delete your history across multiple services — web searches, Chrome history, YouTube searches, Google Map activities, location history, etc.

More fundamentally, Jumbo challenges the fact that everything should remain online forever. Conversations you had six months ago might not be relevant today, so why can’t you delete those conversations?

Jumbo lets you delete and archive old tweets, Messenger conversations and old Facebook posts. The app can regularly scan your accounts and delete everything that is older than a certain threshold — it can be a month, a year or whatever you want.

While your friends will no longer be able to see that content, Jumbo archives everything in a tab called Vault.

With today’s update, everything has been refined. The main tab has been redesigned to inform you of what Jumbo has been doing over the past week. The company now uses background notifications to perform some tasks even if you’re not launching the app every day.

The data breach monitoring has been improved. Jumbo now uses SpyCloud to tell you exactly what has been leaked in a data breach — your phone number, your email address, your password, your address, etc.

It’s also much easier to understand the settings you can change for each service thanks to simple toggles and recommendations that you can accept or ignore.

A clear business model

Jumbo’s basic features are free, but you’ll need to buy a subscription to access the most advanced features. Jumbo Plus lets you scan and archive your Instagram account, delete your Alexa voice recordings, manage your Reddit and Dropbox accounts, and track more than one email address for data breaches.

Jumbo Pro lets you manage your LinkedIn account (and you know that LinkedIn’s privacy settings are a mess). You can also track more information as part of the data breach feature — your ID, your credit card number and your social security number. It also lets you activate a tracker blocker.

This new feature in the second version of Jumbo replaces default DNS settings on your phone. All DNS requests are routed through a Jumbo-managed networking profile on your phone. If you’re trying to access a tracker, the request is blocked, if you’re trying to access some legit content, the request goes through. It works in the browser and in native apps.

You can pay what you want for Jumbo Plus, from $3 per month to $8 per month. Similarly, you can pick what you want to pay for Jumbo Pro between $9 per month and $15 per month.

You might think that you’re giving a ton of personal information to a small startup. Jumbo is well aware of that and tries to reassure its user base with radical design choices, transparency and a clear business model.

Jumbo doesn’t want to mine your data. Your archived data isn’t stored on Jumbo’s servers. It remains on your phone and optionally on your iCloud or Dropbox account as a backup.

Jumbo doesn’t even have user accounts. When you first open the app, the app assigns you with a unique ID in order to send you push notifications but that’s about it. The company has also hired companies for security audits.

“We don’t store email addresses so we don’t know why people subscribe,” Jumbo CEO Pierre Valade told me.

Profitable by 2022

Jumbo has raised an $8 million funding round. It had previously raised a $3.5 million seed round. This time, Balderton Capital is leading the round. The firm had already invested in Valade’s previous startup, Sunrise.

A lot of business angels participated in the round as well, and Jumbo is listing them all on its website. This is all about being transparent again.

Interestingly, Jumbo isn’t betting on explosive growth and eyeballs. The company says it has enough funding until February 2022. By then, the startup hopes it can attract 100,000 subscribers to reach profitability.

iOS 14’s App Clips will save you from always needing ‘an app for that’

By Sarah Perez

The App Store ecosystem today is home to nearly 2 million apps. That means finding new apps to download is now more challenging than ever. This, in turn, leads app developers to funnel more money into App Store Search ads, traditional SEO and digital advertising in an effort to acquire new users. A new feature called App Clips, arriving in iOS 14 later this year, will give developers another option to introduce their app to users. With App Clips, users can instead load just a small part of an app on demand, when required. And when they’re done, the App Clip disappears.

The concept behind App Clips isn’t new. Google’s Android platform has for several years offered tiny app-on-demand downloads called “Instant Apps.”

Like Instant Apps, Apple’s App Clips are about making apps as seamless to use as the web. They are fast, ephemeral and eliminate the barrier to entry that is downloading an app from the App Store.

Today, many users don’t want to bother with a full app download when they’re in a hurry. For example, if a user is trying to pay for parking, they’re more likely to swipe their credit card in the meter to save time, instead of downloading the city’s parking app.

A customer waiting in line to place a food or drink order also doesn’t want to bother downloading the restaurant’s app to browse a menu and pay — they’ll just speak their order at the counter. And a customer wanting to rent a scooter just wants to tap, pay and be on their way.

Image Credits: Apple

An App Clip would work in any of of these scenarios, and many others, by making it as easy to use apps as it is to tap to check out with Apple Pay or launch a website.

While Apple will allow users to launch clips by way of a QR code, a new “App Clip Code” arriving later this year will offer an upgraded experience to kicking off these apps you find suggested to you out in the real world. App Clip Codes will combine both NFC and a visual code, so users can either tap or scan the code to access the App Clip experience.

Image Credits: Apple

For example, an App Clip Code placed on a parking meter would allow a user to quickly load just the part of the app where they pay for their time. They can even skip manual credit card entry by using Apple Pay, if included in a given App Clip.

The App Clips themselves are less than 10 MB in size and ship bundled with the app on the App Store. They’re built using the same UI technologies developers use today to build apps, like UIKit or SwiftUI. But using an App Clip doesn’t trigger the app to download to the user’s device.

A key advantage App Clips offer is how they address concerns over data privacy. Because App Clips are essentially a way to run app code on demand, they’re restricted from tapping into iPhone’s more sensitive data — like health and fitness information, for example. Plus, the App Clip and all its data will automatically disappear if it’s not used again within some period of time.

However, if a user begins to launch a particular App Clip more regularly — perhaps one for their favorite coffee order at their local shop, for instance — the App Clip’s lifetime is extended and it can get smarter. In this example, the App Clip could cache the customer’s last order and present it as a recommendation, to speed up the ordering process. Eventually, this repeat user may decide to download the full app.

In that case, the hand-off is seamless as well — iOS will automatically migrate the authorizations for things like Camera, Microphone and Bluetooth access, which the App Clip had already requested. Select data can also be migrated.

Image Credits: Apple

There are other ways for users to encounter App Clips besides out in the real world, though that may be a primary use case.

Apple says App Clips can be sent as links in iMessage, popped up as a suggestion when you’re browsing a mobile site in Safari, shown on a business’s details page in Apple Maps or may appear in Siri’s Nearby suggestions.

The idea is that wherever a user may be on their device — or out in the world — the App Clip can be there, too.

What went wrong with Quibi?

By Eric Peckham

Two months after Quibi’s high-profile launch as a short-form mobile-native TV app led by Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman, it is evident the startup is greatly underperforming relative to the hundreds of millions of dollars already spent on content and marketing. 

According to a Wall Street Journal report, “daily downloads peaked at 379,000 on its April 6 launch day but didn’t exceed 20,000 on any day in the first week of June, according to Sensor Tower.” The article says Quibi is on pace for just 2 million subscribers by year-end, from its predicted 7.2 million. Most of the current subscriber base is on free trials, so even just maintaining the current pace of subscriber growth for several more months will be challenging. Quibi hasn’t released any of its own stats on subscribers, which it almost certainly would do to combat the negative perception among investors and press, if the stats showed a lot of traction.

I argued in 2018 that Facebook should turn its IGTV into a Quibi competitor, and I continue to believe there’s untapped opportunity for premium, mobile-native storytelling apps. So what went wrong with Quibi? There appear to have been four key mistakes:

  1. Miscalculating the risk of launching during the COVID-19 lockdown.
  2. Failing to see the central role of interactivity in mobile-native entertainment.
  3. Creating misaligned financial incentives with the wrong content partners.
  4. Launching Quibi like a movie instead of like a startup.

Watch Apple’s WWDC keynote live right here

By Romain Dillet

Apple is holding a keynote today on the first day of its developer conference, and the company is expected to talk about a ton of software updates. WWDC is a virtual event this year, but you can expect the same amount of news, in a different format. At 10 AM PT (1 PM in New York, 6 PM in London, 7 PM in Paris), you’ll be able to watch the event as the company is streaming it live.

Rumor has it that the company plans to unveil new versions of its operating systems. Get ready for iOS 14 and its sibling iPadOS 14, a new version of macOS, some updates for watchOS and tvOS as well.

But the most interesting rumor of the year is that Apple could announce a major change for the Mac. The company could start using its own in-house ARM systems on a chip instead of Intel’s processors. It would have a ton of consequences for third-party apps running on your Mac as well as Mac hardware in general. Imagine a MacBook with a battery that lasts as long as what you get from an iPad. There could be some more hardware news, such as a new design for the iMac or some Tile-style hardware trackers.

You can watch the live stream directly on this page as Apple is streaming its conference on YouTube.

If you have an Apple TV, you can download the Apple Events app in the App Store. It lets you stream today’s event and rewatch old ones. The app icon was updated a few days ago for the event.

And if you don’t have an Apple TV and don’t want to use YouTube, the company also lets you live-stream the event from the Apple Events section on its website. This video feed now works in all major browsers — Safari, Microsoft Edge, Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox.

Of course, you also can read TechCrunch’s live blog if you don’t want to stop everything and watch a video.

This Week in Apps: App Store outrage, WWDC20 prep, Android subscriptions change

By Sarah Perez

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the Extra Crunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support and the money that flows through it all.

The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 204 billion downloads and $120 billion in consumer spending in 2019. People are now spending three hours and 40 minutes per day using apps, rivaling TV. Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus.

In this Extra Crunch series, we help you keep up with the latest news from the world of apps, delivered on a weekly basis.

This week, one story completely took over the news cycle: Hey vs. Apple. An App Store developer dispute made headlines not because Apple was necessarily in the wrong, per its existing rules, but because of a growing swell of developer resentment against those rules. We’re giving extra bandwidth to this story this week, before jumping into the other headlines.

Also this week we look at what’s expected to arrive at next week’s WWDC20, the TikTok clone Zynn getting banned from both app stores (which is totally fine, I guess!), Facebook’s failed attempts to get its Gaming app approved by Apple, as well as some notable Android updates and other app industry trends.

Main Story: Hey vs. Apple

One story dominated this week’s app news. Unless you were living under the proverbial rock, there’s no way you missed it. After Basecamp received App Store approval for its new email app called Hey, the founders, David Heinemeier Hansson and Jason Fried, turned to Twitter to explain how Apple had now rejected the app’s further updates. Apple told Basecamp it had to offer in-app purchases (IAP) for its full email service within the app, in addition to offering it on the company website. They were not happy, to say the least.

This issue came to a head at a time when regulators are taking a closer look at Apple’s business. The company is facing antitrust investigations in both the U.S. and the E.U. which, in part, will attempt to determine if Apple is abusing its market power to unfairly dominate its competitors. In Hey’s case, the subscription-based app competes with Apple’s built-in free Mail app, which could put this case directly in the regulators’ crosshairs.

But it also brings up the larger concerns over how Apple’s App Store rules have evolved to become a confusing mess which developers — and apparently even Apple’s own App Store reviewers — don’t fully understand. (Apple reportedly told Basecamp that Hey should have never been approved in the first place without IAP.)

Apple has carved out a number of conditions where apps don’t have to implement IAP, by making exceptions for enterprise apps that may have per-seat licensing plans for users and for a set of apps that more directly compete with Apple’s own. These, Apple calls “reader” apps, as they were originally directed making an exception for Amazon’s Kindle. But now this rule offers exceptions to the IAP rule for apps focused on magazines, newspapers, books, audio, music, video, VoIP, access to professional databases, cloud storage, and more.

That leaves other digital service providers wondering why their apps have to pay when others don’t.

Apple didn’t help its argument, when earlier in the week it released a report that detailed how its App Store facilitated $519B in commerce last year. The company had aimed to prove how much business flows through the App Store without Apple taking a 30% commission, positioning the portion of the market Apple profits from as a tiny sliver. But after the Hey debacle, this report only drives home how Apple has singled out one type of app-based business — digital services — as the one that makes the App Store its money.

Apple’s decision to squander its goodwill with the developer community the week before WWDC is an odd one. Heinemeier Hansson, a content marketing expert, easily bested the $1.5 trillion dollar company by using Apple’s hesitance to speak publicly against it. He set the discussion on fire, posted App Store review email screenshots to serve as Apple’s voice, and let the community vent.

Amid the Twitter outrage, large publishers’ antitrust commentary added further fuel to the fire, including those from Spotify, Match, and Epic Games.

For more reading on this topic, here are some of the key articles:

  • TechCrunch’s exclusive interview with iOS App Store head, Phil Schiller. The exec said Apple’s position on the Hey app is unchanged and no changes to App Store rules are imminent. “You download the app and it doesn’t work, that’s not what we want on the store,” he argued. (Except of course, at those times when such an experience is totally fine with Apple, as in the case of “reader” apps.) Schiller also said Basecamp could have avoided the problems if Hey had offered a free version with paid upgrades, or if it offered IAP at a higher price than on its own website.
  • Daring Fireball’s comments on the “flimsiness” of Business vs. Consumer as a justification for Apple’s rejection of Hey. John Gruber points out that the line between what’s a business app and a consumer app is too blurred. Apple allows some business apps to forgo IAP if they sell enterprise plans (e.g. per seat plans) that often involve upgraded feature sets that aren’t even iOS-specific. But in this day and age, who’s to say that an email service doesn’t deserve the same ability to opt out of IAP in order to serve its own business user base? After all, what if it upgrades its paid service with web-only features — why should Apple get a cut of that business, too?
  • App Store policy criticism from The Verge. Nilay Patel sat down with Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) and Basecamp CTO David Heinemeier Hansson to discuss the plight of Hey for its The Vergecast podcast. Cicilline said Apple’s fees were “exorbitant” and amounted to “highway robbery, basically.” He said Apple bullied developers by charging 30% of their business for access to its market — a decision which crushes smaller developers. “If there were real competition in this marketplace, this wouldn’t happen,” he added. The Verge’s Dieter Bohn also argued that Apple’s interpretation and enforcement of its App Store policies is terrible.
  • Basecamp CEO’s take on Apple’s App Store payment policies: Basecamp, the makers of the Hey app, put out a company statement about the App Store rules. The statement doesn’t add anything new to the conversation that wasn’t already in the tweetstorm, except the Basecamp response to Schiller’s suggestions which was something along the lines of 😝. The bottom line is that Hey wants to make the choice for its own business whether it needs the benefit of being able to acquire its users through the App Store or not. One way requires IAP and the other does not.
  • Vox’s Recode examines the antitrust case against Apple. The article doesn’t reference Hey, but lays out some of the other antitrust arguments being leveraged against Apple, including its “sherlocking” behavior,

Headlines

Apple has denied Facebook’s Gaming app at least 5 times since February

The Hey debacle is only one of many examples of how Apple exerts its market power over rivals. It has also repeatedly denied Facebook’s Gaming app entry to its App Store, citing the rule (Apple Store Review Guidelines, section 4.7) about not allowing apps whose main purpose is to sell other app, The NYT revealed this week.

Facebook’s Gaming app, which launched on Android in April, isn’t just another app store, however. The app offers users a hub to watch streamers play live, social networking tools, and the ability to play casual games like Zynga’s Words with Friends or Chobolabs Thug Life, for example. The latter is the point of contention, as Apple wants all games sold directly on the App Store, where it’s able to take a cut of their revenues.

One of the iterations Facebook tried was a version that looked almost exactly like how Facebook games are presented within the main Facebook iOS app — a single, alphabetized, unsortable list. The fact that this format was rejected when Apple already allows it elsewhere is an indication that even Apple doesn’t play by its own rules.

Zynn gets kicked out of App Store

Image Credits: Zynn

Zynn, the TikTok clone that shot to the top of the app store charts in late May, was pulled from Apple’s App Store on Monday. Before its removal, Sensor Tower estimates Zynn was downloaded 5 million times on iOS and 700,000 times on Google Play.

BMW, Mercedes Benz end ‘long term’ automated driving alliance, for now

By Kirsten Korosec

BMW Group and Mercedes-Benz AG have punted on what was meant to be a long term collaboration to develop next-generation automated driving technology together, less than a year after announcing the agreement.

The German automakers called the break up “mutual and amicable” and have each agreed to concentrate on their existing development paths. Those new paths may include working with new or current partners. The two companies also emphasized that cooperation may be resumed at a later date.

The partnership, which was announced in July 2019, was never meant to be exclusive.  Instead, it reflected the increasingly common approach among legacy manufacturers to form loose development agreements in an aim to share the capitally intensive work of developing, testing and validating automated driving technology.

The two companies did have some lofty goals. The partnership aimed to develop  driver assistance systems, highly automated driving on highways, and automated parking and launch those technology in series vehicles scheduled for 2024.

It seems that the perceived benefits of working together were overshadowed by reality: creating a shared technology platform was a more complex and expensive task than expected, according to comments from the companies. BMW and Mercedes-Benz AG said they were unable to hold detailed expert discussions and talk to suppliers about technology roadmaps until the contract was signed last year.

“In these talks — and after extensive review — both sides concluded that, in view of the expense involved in creating a shared technology platform, as well as current business and economic conditions, the timing is not right for successful implementation of the cooperation,” the companies said.

BMW and Mercedes have other projects and partners. BMW, for instance, is part of a collaboration with Intel, Mobileye, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Ansys. Daimler and Bosch launched a robotaxi pilot project in San Jose last year.

Meanwhile, both companies are still working together in other areas. Five years, BMW and Daimler, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz, joined Audi AG to acquire location and technology platform HERE. That ownership consortium has since grown to include more companies.

And last year, BMW Group and Daimler AG also pooled their mobility services in a joint venture under the umbrella of the NOW family.

Separately, BMW said Friday it will cut 6,000 jobs in an agreement reached with the German Works Council. The cuts, prompted by sluggish sales caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, will be reportedly accomplished through early retirement, non-renewal of temporary contracts, ending redundant positions and not filling vacant positions, Marketwatch reported.

How Reliance Jio Platforms became India’s biggest telecom network

By Manish Singh

It’s raised $5.7 billion from Facebook. It’s taken $1.5 billion from KKR, another $1.5 billion from Vista Equity Partners, $1.5 billion from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund$1.35 billion from Silver Lake, $1.2 billion from Mubadala, $870 million from General Atlantic, $750 million from Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, $600 million from TPG, and $250 million from L Catterton.

And it’s done all that in just nine weeks.

India’s Reliance Jio Platforms is the world’s most ambitious tech company. Founder Mukesh Ambani has made it his dream to provide every Indian with access to affordable and comprehensive telecommunications services, and Jio has so far proven successful, attracting nearly 400 million subscribers in just a few years.

The unparalleled growth of Reliance Jio Platforms, a subsidiary of India’s most-valued firm (Reliance Industries), has shocked rivals and spooked foreign tech companies such as Google and Amazon, both of which are now reportedly eyeing a slice of one of the world’s largest telecom markets.

What can we learn from Reliance Jio Platforms’s growth? What does the future hold for Jio and for India’s tech startup ecosystem in general?

Through a series of reports, Extra Crunch is going to investigate those questions. We previously profiled Mukesh Ambani himself, and in today’s installment, we are going to look at how Reliance Jio went from a telco upstart to the dominant tech company in four years.

The birth of a new empire

Months after India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani, launched his telecom network Reliance Jio, Sunil Mittal of Airtel — his chief rival — was struggling in public to contain his frustration.

That Ambani would try to win over subscribers by offering them free voice calling wasn’t a surprise, Mittal said at the World Economic Forum in January 2017. But making voice calls and the bulk of 4G mobile data completely free for seven months clearly “meant that they have not gotten the attention they wanted,” he said, hopeful the local regulator would soon intervene.

This wasn’t the first time Ambani and Mittal were competing directly against each other: in 2002, Ambani had launched a telecommunications company and sought to win the market by distributing free handsets.

In India, carrier lock-in is not popular as people prefer pay-as-you-go voice and data plans. But luckily for Mittal in their first go around, Ambani’s journey was cut short due to a family feud with his brother — read more about that here.

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