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Snapchat Spectacles 3 review: Pretty, pricey

By Josh Constine

No one’s going to pay $380 for decent point-of-view video glasses and some trippy filters. But that’s kind of the point of Snapchat Spectacles 3. They’re merely a stepping stone towards true augmented reality eyewear — a public hardware beta for the Snap Lab R&D team that Apple and Facebook aren’t getting as they tinker in their bunkers.

Still, I hoped for something that could at least unlock the talents of forward-thinking video creators. Yet the unpredictable and uncontrollable AR effects sadly fail to make use of Spectacles‘ fashionable form factor in premium steel. The clunky software requires clips be uploaded for processing and then re-downloaded before you can apply the 10 starter effects like a rainbow landscape filter or a shimmering fantasy falcon. This all makes producing AR content a chore instead of a joy for something only briefly novel.

Spectacles 3 go on sale today for $380 in black ‘Carbon’ or rose gold-ish ‘Mineral’ color schemes on Spectacles.com, Neiman Marcus, and Ron Robinson in the UK, shipping in a week. Announced in August, they’re sunglasses with two stereoscopic lenses capable of capturing depth to produce “3D” photos, and videos you can add AR effects to on your phone. You also get a very nice folds-flat leather USB-C charging case that powers up the glasses four times, and a Google Cardboard-style VR viewer.

“Spectacles 3 is a limited production run. We’re not looking for massive sales here. We’re targeting people who are excited about these effects  — creative storytellers” says Matt Hanover of the Snap Lab team.

Gen 1 featured a “toy-like design to get people used to wearing tech on their face”, while Gen 2 and 2.1 had a more subdued look abandoning the coral color schemes to push mainstream adoption. What Gen 3 can’t do is force a $40 million write-off due to poor sales, as V1 did after only shipping 220,000 with hundreds of thousands more gathering dust somewhere. Snap is already losing $227 million per quarter as it scrambles to break even.

So it seems with Spectacles 3 that Snap is gathering data and biding its time, trying to avoid burning too much cash until it can build a version that overlays effects atop a user’s view through the glasses. “We’re still able to get feedback from the customer and inform the future of Spectacles. That’s really the goal for us” Hanover confirms.

His CEO Evan Spiegel agrees, telling me on stage at TechCrunch Disrupt that it would be 10 years until we see augmented reality glasses worthy of mainstream consumer adoption. That’s a long time for an unprofitable company to spend competing to invest in R&D versus cash-rich companies like Facebook and Apple.

tl;dr

Spectacles could be worth the steep $380 if you’re a videographer for a living, perhaps making futuristic social media clips like Karen X Cheng, a creator Snap hired to demonstrate the device’s potential. They’re cool enough looking that you could wear them around Cannes or Coachella without people getting weirded out like they did with Google Glass. And as Snap’s Lens Studio lets anyone build 3D effects for Spectacles 3, perhaps we’ll see some filters and imaginary characters that are more than just a momentary gimmick.

But for those simply seeking first-person camera glasses, I’d still recommend the Spectacles 2 at $150 to $200 depending on style. The 3D features don’t carry the weight of paying double the price for Spec 3s. And at least the 2nd-gen Specs are waterproof, which make them great for ocean play with fun underwater shooting when you don’t want to risk losing or fizzling your phone.

“We’re testing the price point and the premium aesthetic to see if it lands with this demographic” Hanover says. But Snap’s Director Of Communications Liz Markman notes that “there isn’t this perfect one-to-one overlap with the core Snap users.”

The result is that Spectacles 3 are really more for Snap’s benefit than yours.

Slick Eyewear, Now Where’s The AR?

The Spectacles 3 software is disappointing, but you’ll be delighted when you open the box. Slick black packaging reveal sturdily built metal sunglasses with a luxury matte finish. As they magnetically dislodge from their charging case, you definitely get they sense you’re trying on something futuristic.

The style concurs, with a flat black bar at the top connecting the round lenses with a camera on both corners. Unlike the old Specs that sat right on your nose, feeling heavy at times, Spectacles 3 offers adjustable acetate non-slip nose tips to keep the weight off. All the tech is built discreetly into the hinges and temples without appearing too chunky.

Tap the button either arm, and LED light swooshes in a circle to let people know you’re recording a video for 10 seconds, with multiple presses growing that to up to 60. Tap and hold to shoot a photo, and the light blinks. There’s no obnoxious yellow rubber ring to shout “these are cameras”, and the defused LEDs are more subtle than Gen 2’s dots while remaining an obvious enough signal to passersby so they’re not creepy.

One charge powers up to 70 captures and transfers to your phone over a combined Bluetooth built-in Wifi connection. The 4 gigabyte storage holds up to 100 videos or 1200 photos, and Spectacles 3 even have GPS and GLOSNASS on-board. A 4-mic array picks up audio from others and your own voice, though they’re susceptible to windshear if you’re biking or running.

The magnetically-sealing folding leather USB-C charging case is my favorite part. I wish I could get an even flatter one without a battery in it for my other sunglasses. It’s a huge improvement on the unpocketable bulky triangular case of the previous versions.

A Toy Not Fun Enough For The Price

So far so good, right? But then it comes time to actually see and augment what you shot.

Pairing and syncing is much easier than Gen 1. The glasses forge a Bluetooth connection, then spawn a WiFi network for getting media to your phone faster.

If you just want to share to Snapchat, you’re in luck. Spectacles content posts to Stories or messages in its cool circular format that lets viewers tilt their phones around while always staying full-screen to reveal the edges of your shots. Otherwise, you still have to go through the chore of exporting from Snapchat to your camera roll. Spectacles can at least now export in a variety of croppings for better sharing on Instagram and elsewhere.

What’s new are the 3D photos and videos. They utilize the space between the stereoscopic cameras in the corners of Spectacles employ parallax to sense the depth of a scene. After tapping the 3D button on a photo, you can wiggle the perspective of the image around to almost see around the edges of what you’re looking at. Spectacles will automatically pan back and forth for you, and export 3D photos as short Boomerang-esque six-second videos.

Unfortunately, I found that I didn’t get much sense of depth from most of the 3D photos I shot or saw. It takes a very particular kind of three-dimensional object from the right angle in the right light to much sense of movement from the wiggle. Snapchat’s algorithms also had a bad habit of mistakenly assigning bits of the foreground and background to each other, breaking the illusion. Occasionally you’ll have someone’s ear or their hair left behind and disembodied by the 3D effect. Don’t expect these to flood social media or convince prospective Spectacles buyers.

The biggest problem comes with the delay when playing with 3D videos. Snapchat has to do the depth processing on its servers, so you have to wait for your video to upload, get scanned, and be re-downloaded before you can apply the 3D AR filters. On WiFi that takes about 35 seconds per 10 second video, which is quite a bore. It takes forever over a mobile connection. That means you often won’t be able to apply the filters and see how they look until you’re home and unable to reshoot anything.

The filter set is also limited and haphazard. You can add a 3D bird or balloons around you, wander through golden snow or neon arcs, overlay flower projections or rainbow waves, or sprinkle on sparkles and light-bending blobs. While the bird is cute, and the rainbows and flowers are remarkably psychedelic, none of them are more than briefly entertaining.

The 3D objects often glitch through real pieces of scenery, and you can’t control them at all. No summoning the bird mid-video. My favorite trick, learned from Karen X Cheng, was to export unedited and filtered versions of a video and splice them together on my computer as scene in my demo video above. You can’t actually do that from within Snapchat.

Snap will have to build a lot cooler filters with interactivity if they’re going to compel creators to fork over $380 for Spectacles 3. It could hope to rely on its Lens Studio community platform, but so few developers or users will have the glasses that most will stick to making and using filters for phones.

Spectacles 3 are too expensive to be a toy, but don’t excel at being much more. Videography influencers might enjoy having a pair in their tool bag. But it’s hard to imagine anyone not sharing content professionally paying for the gadget.

Iteration vs Ideation

“We’re now pushing to elevate the technology and the design to master depth technically” Hanover tells me. “Holing ourselves up within an R&D center for years and years? That’s not our approach. It’s important to meet the customer where they are today and continue to iterate and get that feedback.”

But this iteration doesn’t feel like Snap meeting the customer where they are. That raises the question of whether Snapchat is really getting enough data out of the whole endeavor to justify publicly releasing Spectacles at all. The company will have to hope that testing short-term is worth thinking short-term, when it’s trying to win the long-term war in augmented reality eyewear.

Inside StockX’s authentication center

By Veanne Cao

Joshua Luber runs a sneaker empire valued at more than $1 billion, but he thinks they’re just now scratching the surface. The consumer marketplace recently expanded to include a fifth category (collectibles). “It’s an evolution of eBay that works similar to the stock market,” Luber states, “but at the core, it’s around the concept of true market price.” 

We visited StockX’s 15,000-square-foot facility in Detroit to get a peek into their authentication process, and sat down with Luber to chat about humble beginnings, business expansion and sneakers.

The Best Game Controller Buttons of All Time

By WIRED UK
From Nintendo to PlayStation, a definitive list of buttons, sticks, and more.

Hideo Kojima's 'Death Stranding' Is Beautiful, Smart—and Kinda Boring

By Julie Muncy
Here are 10 things you should know about the auteur’s latest game.

'The Outer Worlds': An Anticapitalist Game That's Too Much Work

By Julie Muncy
Obsidian Entertainment's latest has far too many pointless quests.

TikTok expands its influence to third-party apps with new developer program & SDK

By Sarah Perez

TikTok is looking to expand its influence by integrating with popular third-party video creation and editing apps. The company today announced a new TikTok for Developers program which will introduce tools for third-party app developers, including those that allow them to access TikTok’s creative offerings as well as push content from their apps to TikTok directly. The first of these tools is the new Share to TikTok SDK, which will let users edit videos in other apps then publish them from that app to TikTok.

One of the key launch partners for the new SDK is Adobe Premiere Rush, Adobe’s mobile app for video editing. With the new TikTok integration, Premiere Rush users can access video editing features like aspect ratio switching, transitions, color filters, timelapse and slo-mo, audio control and more, then share instantly to TikTok and other video destinations.

In addition to Adobe, the apps supporting the Share to TikTok SDK at launch also include looping video creator Plotaverse, AR app Fuse.it, gaming highlights recorder Medal, Momento GIF Maker, PicsArt, and Enlight Videoleop.

For some of the smaller, single-purpose apps being able to become a useful tool for the creator community can have an outsized impact on their growth and revenues. For example, Facetune’s maker Lightricks has built a profitable business across its suite of photo and video editing apps, including Enlight Videoleap, and has now raised a total of $205 million.

In addition to built-in sharing features, apps that integrate with the new TikTok SDK will also gain access to a wider selection of creative tools, says TikTok.

But the apps will benefit in another way, too — when creators share their videos, they’ll include the specified partner hashtag along with the content. This will help to give the app the ability to gain exposure among even more TikTok users.

“This new Share to TikTok feature enriches the content available on TikTok, diversifies the types of videos users can discover, and offers more editing choices for users to explore in addition to TikTok’s built-in creative tools,” explained TikTok, in an announcement. “Most importantly, it gives users multiple avenues to create new original, high-quality content using platforms with exciting creative tools,” the company said.

The TikTok for Developers program also includes tools to embed videos on the web, and offers developer documentation, demos, and more. The program’s terms of service restricts developers from collecting users’ personal data or other nefarious activity, and threatens developers’ access could be removed if terms are violated.

The news follows reports that the U.S. government has opened a national security review of TikTok owner, Beijing-based ByteDance, specifically with regard to its $1 billion acquisition of U.S. app Musical.ly.

TikTok didn’t say what other plans its has in store for the developers program, only that it will continue to expand access to its own creative tools further across the wider app ecosystem.

Adobe’s Premiere Rush can now publish to TikTok

By Frederic Lardinois

Adobe is launching a slew of updates to its various Creative Cloud video production tools today. For the most part, these are aimed at professionals (or at least YouTubers). Premiere Rush, however, has always been positioned as Adobe’s tool for anybody who wants to dabble in video and so it’s maybe no surprise that the company today announced that it will now also support sharing videos directly to TikTok, the red hot (yet not uncontroversial) video sharing platform for sharing short clips. That makes Adobe the first third-party app that can publish directly to TikTok.

Rush launched last October, with support for sharing to all of the usual video publishing services. Now, thanks to this new partnership with TikTok, the company is bringing all of the built-in and easy to use editing features of Rush to the TikTok community as well. With that, TikTok users now get access to video editing features like auto-ducking, transitions and color filters, timelapse and slo-mo.

Thanks to some of Adobe’s machine learning smarts, video producers — especially those who don’t usually shoot the kind of vertical videos that TikTok prefers — can switch to a different aspect ratio with just the click of a button and Premiere Rush will automatically reframe these shots for you.

“We spoke to video-makers around the world and the thing we heard over and over was a need for speed, ease, and sharability,” Adobe notes in today’s announcement. “Enter your ability to share on yet another favorite platform, TikTok.”

The new feature is now live in Premiere Rush, which is available to all Creative Cloud users, as well as in a free version.

Apple TV+ now live, with one year free for new iOS, Apple TV and Mac purchases

By Darrell Etherington

Apple has launched its streaming video subscription service, making available a varied and sizeable library of content immediately for subscribers. To access the service, you do need to sign up for a$4.99 per month subscription, but if you’ve purchased any new iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Apple TV or Mac since the beginning of September, and you’re signed in to the Apple ID associated with those devices on those devices, the subscribe button should show that you get one full year of free trial service applied automatically.

Apple TV+ content lives in the Apple TV app that’s available across macOS, Apple TV, iOS and iPadOS devices, and which should be pre-installed already unless you’ve deleted it form your device or you’re running an older version of the operating system. Shows from the new program will then show up in a dedicated AppleTV+ row in the app’s home screen, as well as throughout the interface in various places.

At launch, you’ll find ‘The Morning Show,’ ‘See,’ ‘For All Mankind,’ ‘Dickinson,’ ‘Snoopy in Space,’ ‘Ghostwriter,’ ‘Helpsters,’ as well as documentary feature ‘The Elephant Queen’ and talk show ‘Oprah’s Book Club.’ Some of these offer the first three episodes, with others to follow on a staged release schedule, while others include the full season all available to view at launch.

Of course, you can either stream or download these for offline viewing, and AppleTV+ will remember your progress so long as you have an internet connection and then pick up where you left off across your connected devices. All Apple TV+ content is in 4K, and most also offer Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos support.

I literally just turned on ‘The Morning Show’ for a few seconds to make sure everything was working, so no opinions yet on the quality of the actual content. But if you’ve recently picked up any new Apple hardware, it’s definitely worth checking out for the free trial period, at least.

Nielsen says it can now measure Amazon Prime Video

By Sarah Perez

Nielsen announced this morning it will now be able to measure the viewing taking place on Amazon Prime Video, through its Subscription Video on Demand Content Ratings solution. This product, first launched two years ago, was originally focused on measuring Netflix’s viewing numbers with promises to add support for measuring Prime Video in 2018.

Though delayed by a year, that Prime Video measurement is now available.

Through Nielsen’s service, clients will have access to the measurement data for their own content, as well as the total content life cycle for competitive media — whether it’s live, content-shifted viewing, steamed or available through video-on-demand, Nielsen says.

As with Netflix, however, Nielsen is able to measure only the Amazon Prime Video streams taking place in the U.S. via TVs. This includes through connected and smart devices — like streaming media players, for example.

That limitation has been a point of criticism from Netflix, which routinely dismisses Nielsen’s accuracy because it misses streams coming from mobile devices and PCs. But insiders now say Nielsen’s numbers are fairly close, according to a Variety report from earlier this year, which detailed how Nielsen’s numbers backed up Netflix’s claims about its hit movie “Bird Box.”

Plus, those missing mobile and PC streams may not be as important in terms of U.S. viewership as you may think. Although many U.S. consumers are cutting the cord with traditional linear TV, they still often watch their streamed shows on the TV’s big screen. Hulu, for example, said last year that as much as 78% of its viewing takes place on a TV, to give you an idea.

For networks and studios, Nielsen’s SVOD measurement numbers help provide insight into what otherwise can be a bit of a black box. Although Netflix argued during its Q3 earnings last week that it does now share some viewing data with producers, it can be hard for studios and networks to put those numbers in context.

“Nielsen’s measurement in the SVOD space is invaluable for our studio to understand how our programs perform on these platforms and the audiences they attract,” said James Petretti, SVP, U.S. Research and Analytics at Sony Pictures Television, in a statement. “It becomes even more exciting for us, because Nielsen has the ability to help us understand what these audiences are doing outside of those platforms as well — how and what they are watching on other on-demand and linear services,” he continued.

“We are also able to understand the impact of traditional linear advertising driving viewers to these SVOD programs so what Nielsen is providing is extraordinarily compelling,” said Petretti.

To kick off its news of new capabilities, Nielsen also offered a few examples of what sort of data its Prime Video measurements can deliver.

The company says the Amazon Prime Video show “The Boys” averaged 4.1 million viewers per episode, with its premier averaging a little over 6 million. The largest share (39%) of viewers are aged 35 to 49, it also said. And within the first 10 days, the show had reached nearly 8 million viewers across its eight-episode season.

“This is a significant milestone for Nielsen, especially considering the upcoming high-profile streaming service launches,” said  Brian Fuhrer, SVP Product Leadership, Nielsen, in a statement. “We think the addition of Amazon Prime Video will allow rights owners an added ability to understand both the size, as well as the composition, of their streaming audiences relative to other platforms or programs. Beyond that, making this enhancement re-affirms our commitment to continuous improvement and to being the one media truth of an increasingly-fragmented video landscape,” he added.

We’ve reached out to Amazon for comment and will update if one is provided.

So Long, Supply Drops: *Call of Duty* Ditches Loot Boxes

By Kyle Orland, Ars Technica
In the upcoming *Modern Warfare*, players will have to unlock all weapons and attachments through gameplay. 

China Roundup: Tencent’s NBA test, TikTok parent deepens education push

By Rita Liao

Welcome to TechCrunch’s China roundup, a digest of events that happened at major Chinese tech companies and what they mean to tech founders and executives around the world.

The talk about U.S.-China relationships over the past two weeks has centered heavily on the NBA controversy, which has put the interest of some of China’s largest tech firms at stake. Last week, Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey voiced support for Hong Kong protests in his since-deleted tweet, angering China’s NBA fans and prompting a raft of local tech companies to sever ties with the league. But some businesses seem to be back on track.

Tencent, which is famous for a slew of internet products, including WeChat and its Netflix-like video service, has been NBA’s exclusive streaming partner since 2009 and recently renewed the deal through the 2024-25 season. As many as 490 million fans in China watched NBA programming through Tencent in just one season this year, the pair claims.

The basketball games are clearly a driver of ad revenue and subscribers for Tencent amid fierce competition in China’s video streaming market, but following Morey’s statement, the company swiftly announced (in Chinese) it would suspend portions of its broadcast arrangements with the NBA. Popular smartphone brand Vivo and Starbucks’s local challenger Luckin also promised to pause collaboration with the NBA.

It was a tough call for businesses having to choose between economic interest and patriotism, and Tencent was tactful in its response, pledging only to “temporarily” halt the streaming of NBA “preseason games (China).” As public anger subsided over the week, Tencent resumed airing NBA preseason games on Monday. After all, the content partnership reportedly cost Tencent a heavy sum of $1.5 billion.

Entertainment giant turns to education

tiktok edutok

TikTok is probably the Chinese Internet service being most closely watched by the world at the moment. Its parent firm ByteDance, last reportedly valued at $75 billion, has ambitions beyond short videos.

This week, more details emerged on the upstart’s education endeavors through a WeChat post by Musical.ly founder Lulu Yang, whose short-video startup was acquired by ByteDance and subsequently merged with TikTok. Yang confirmed he was helping ByteDance to develop an education device in collaboration with phone maker Smartisan’s former hardware team, which ByteDance has absorbed. The product, which leverages ByteDance’s artificial intelligence capabilities, will be a “robotic learning companion” for K-12 students to use at home.

The news arrived in the same week that ByteDance’s flagship video app TikTok announced producing educational content for India, where it’s used by 200 million people every month. The move is designed to assuage local officials who have vehemently slammed TikTok for hosting illicit content, as my colleague Manish Singh pointed out.

Diving into education appears to be a sensible move for ByteDance to build relationships with local authorities, which can at times find its entertainment-focused content problematic. The multi-billion-dollar online education industry is also highly lucrative. ByteDance, with 1.5 billion daily users across TikTok, Douyin (TikTok for China), Toutiao news aggregator and other new media apps, is in a good position to monetize the enormous base by touting new services, whether they are educational content or mobile games.

Also worth your time

  • A total of 53 major video streaming services in China have introduced a “safe mode” for teenagers as of this week, state media reported (in Chinese). During the controls mode, underage users won’t be able to search for content, send real-time comments or private messages, upload or share videos, or reward live streaming hosts with virtual gifts. It’s part of China’s national effort to protect young people from consuming harmful digital content and internet addiction, which has also spawned age checks processes in Tencent games. 
  • Xiaohongshu, a fast-growing social commerce app in China, is back in Android app stores nearly three months after it was banned by the government for undisclosed reasons. Rumors had it that the service, which was reportedly valued at more than $2.5 billion last year, was used to spread pornography and fake reviews. It’s hardly the first tech company hit by media regulation, and it can probably learn a thing or two from ByteDance, which has aggressively ramped up its content moderation force following a sequence of crackdowns by the government.
  • Meituan will partner with 1,000 vocational schools in the country to train as many as 100 million workers from the service industry over the next ten years, the Hong Kong-listed company announced (in Chinese) this week. Food delivery makes up the bulk of the on-demand services giant’s business but its footprint spans a wide range. The classes it provides to prepare workers for a digital era will also touch upon skincare, hair styling, manicure, plastic surgery, hospitality and parenting, a program highlighting the extensive reach of technology into Chinese people’s every life.
  • Chinese workers turn out to be big advocates for the application of AI. According to a survey by Oracle and research firm Future Workplace, workers in India (60 percent) and China (56 percent) are the most excited about AI. Japan, where the labor force is shrinking, ranks surprisingly low (25 percent), and the U.S. has an equally mild reaction (22 percent) toward the technology.

Riot Games Makes More Than Just 'League of Legends' Now

By Julie Muncy
The developer just announced a slew of new games. Also, 'Fortnite' is back from the dead.

How Unity built the world’s most popular game engine

By Eric Peckham

What do BMW, Tencent, Pokémon Go creator Niantic, movie director Jon Favreau and construction giant Skanska have in common? They’re all using the same platform to create their products.

Founded in a small Copenhagen apartment in 2004, Unity Technologies’ makes a game engine — a software platform for building video games. But the company, which was recently valued around $6 billion and could be headed toward an IPO, is becoming much more than that.

“Unity wants to be the 3D operating system of the world,” says Sylvio Drouin, VP of the Unity Labs R&D team.

Customers can design, buy, or import digital assets like forests, sound effects, and aliens and create the logic guiding how all these elements interact with players. Nearly half of the world’s games are built with Unity, which is particularly popular among mobile game developers. 

And in the fourteen years since Unity’s engine launched, the size of the global gaming market has exploded from $27 billion to $135 billion, driven by the rise of mobile gaming, which now comprises the majority of the market.

Unity is increasingly used for 3D design and simulations across other industries like film, automotive, and architecture and is now used to create 60% of all augmented and virtual reality experiences. That positions Unity — as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg argued in a 2015 memo in favor of acquiring it — as a key platform for the next wave of consumer technology after mobile.

Unity’s growth is a case study of Clayton Christensen’s theory of disruptive innovation. While other game engines targeted the big AAA game makers at the top of the console and PC markets, Unity went after independent developers with a less robust product that was better suited to their needs and budget. 

As it gained popularity, the company captured growth in frontier market segments and also expanded upmarket to meet the needs of higher-performance game makers. Today, it’s making a push to become the top engine for building anything in interactive 3D.

This article is part of my ongoing research into the future of interactive media experiences. This research has included interviews with dozens of developers, executives, and investors in gaming and other industries, including interviews with over 20 Unity executives.

Founding

Unity was founded in Copenhagen by Nicholas Francis, Joachim Ante, and David Helgason. Its story began on an OpenGL forum in May 2002, where Francis posted a call for collaborators on an open source shader-compiler (graphics tool) for the niche population of Mac-based game developers like himself. It was Ante, then a high school student in Berlin, who responded. 

Ante complemented Francis’ focus on graphics and gameplay with an intuitive sense for back-end architecture. Because the game he was working on with another team wasn’t going anywhere, they collaborated on the shader part-time while each pursued their own game engine projects, but decided to combine forces upon meeting in-person. In a sprint to merge the codebases of their engines, they camped out in Helgason’s apartment for several days while he was out of town. The plan was to start a game studio grounded in robust tech infrastructure that could be licensed as well.

Helgason and Francis had worked together since high school, working on various web development ventures and even short-lived attempts at film production. Helgason dropped in and out of the University of Copenhagen while working as a freelance web developer. He provided help where he could and joined full-time after several months, selling his small stake in a web development firm to his partners. 

According to Ante, Helgason was “good with people” and more business-oriented, so he took the CEO title after the trio failed to find a more experienced person for the role. (It would be two years before Ante and Francis extended the co-founder title and a corresponding amount of equity to Helgason.)

They recruited a rotating cast to help them for free while prototyping a wide range of ideas. The diversity of ideas they pursued resulted in an engine that could handle a broad range of use cases. Commercializing the engine became a focus, as was coming up with a hit game that would show the engine off to its best advantage; for indie developers, having to reconstruct an engine with every new game idea was a pain point that, if solved, would enable more creative output. 

Supported by their savings, a €25,000 investment from Ante’s father, and Helgason’s part-time job at a café, they pressed on for three years, incorporating in the second year (2004) with the name Over The Edge Entertainment.

The game they ultimately committed to launching in spring 2005, GooBall, was “way too hard to play,” says Ante and didn’t gain much traction. Recognizing that they were better at building development tools and prototypes than commercially-viable games, they bet their company on the goal of releasing a game engine for the small Mac-based developer community. Linking the connotations of collaboration and cross-compatibility, they named the engine Unity.

Tivo’s CEO explains how the company ‘fully embraces’ streaming

By Anthony Ha

Does TiVo has a future beyond the DVR?

Dave Shull certainly hopes so. The former Weather Channel CEO joined the company as president and CEO back in May, and when I spoke to him last month, he insisted that he’s excited and optimistic about the company’s prospects.

In fact, he said the DVR business “is not really TiVo” anymore. And the proliferation of streaming services is exactly what’s creating a big new opportunity for the company, one where it can help consumers navigate the seemingly overwhelming streaming landscape.

“Let’s embrace the chaos,” Shull told me. “The more streaming, the better.”

In the interview below — which has been edited and condensed for clarity — we discuss why he took on the job, how he plans to split TiVo into two companies and his plans for TiVo+, the company’s ad-supported streaming service (which launched earlier this week.)

TechCrunch: It seems like part of the goal with you coming on as CEO is this idea of reinventing the company for the world of streaming.

Dave Shull: We fully embrace the streaming wars at TiVo, is what I would say.

A little bit of context. I’ve known the company for years, because I’ve been familiar with some of the technology pieces that they had in the IP portfolio. But before I took the job, I talked to CTOs at some of the major operators around the world and said, “TiVo, right? I mean this is a company I’ve heard of, but are they still around?” And the answer consistently was, “Yeah, it’s actually the best technology out there.”

So I started talking to the board and eventually I get the job offer. I walk into a Best Buy and I pick up a Roku box and a TiVo box. I install the Roku box. It’s a brilliant installation process, absolutely brilliant. But then what it gives you is a bunch of different tiles for each of the apps. And so you have to figure out, okay, was that show on Netflix or Hulu?

The TiVo experience was a little bit — it needed some more work, is the polite way to say it. But once I had it installed, it’s taken my live TV and my on-demand Prime, Netflix, Hulu and some digital content and pulled it all together. That’s pretty cool because it’s allowing me to find the entertainment that I want to watch tonight, right?

And so we’re betting on this chaos of applications that are out there with the streaming wars, saying people are having fatigue from subscriptions and they are desperate to find an amazing way to go back to enjoying watching their TV again. They want someone who can bring all this entertainment together — on-demand, live, digital — and make it fun to find, to watch TV again. So that’s our mission. Very simple.

I came in three months ago. The first mandate is, we’ve decided to split the company. So about half of the company is an IP portfolio, 5,000 patents. Then we have the TiVo product base — and everyone thinks of TiVo as this DVR that you buy at Best Buy. That’s really not TiVo, that’s a tiny fraction of our customers. We have 22 million households around the world that use TiVo to provide exactly what I just said, which is this amazing ability to find entertainment.

Giphy Joins Netflix and Tinder on the Videogames Bandwagon

By Julie Muncy
The GIF gold mine is just the latest platform to offer up microgames—strange, branded, trashy microgames.

'Red Dead Redemption 2' Is Finally Coming to PC—and Stadia, Too!

By Julie Muncy
Rejoice, PC users. You're getting your cowboy game. Yee—and we can't stress this enough—haw.

Amazon’s Prime Video app disappears from the App Store [Updated]

By Sarah Perez

In what we understand was a “technical issue”, the Amazon Prime Video app disappeared from the Apple App Store, making it unavailable for new downloads or updates to users both on iOS and Apple TV. Twitter users began to tweet to Amazon for help about the problem on Friday morning, to which Amazon’s support channels have yet to reply.

[Update: we’ve learned the issue is technical in nature, but we have no further information as to the details. The app should be back shortly.]

The app’s disappearance was earlier reported by AppleInsider, iMore and others.

The most likely reason for the app’s removal is a technical one — an issue with the update could have caused it to be temporarily pulled, perhaps.

What’s not likely is that Amazon Prime Video is gone for good.

The company just released an X-Ray upgrade to the app across platforms, including iOS, allowing users to get more information about what they’re streaming, including Amazon’s run of Thursday Night Football games.

Nor is it likely that Apple has for some reason booted out Prime Video, given the anti-competitive nature of such a move (Apple TV+ is soon to launch), at a time when the tech giants are under increased regulatory scrutiny.

Not just you – https://t.co/DTgGRZwsUc

— Jared DiPane (@jareddipane) October 4, 2019

Was ist da los? Amazon Prime Video wurde aus dem App Store entfernt? pic.twitter.com/w6urAq7X70

— Pino (@madphone) October 4, 2019

The amazon prime video app is gone from the App Store? 🤔@PrimeVideo pic.twitter.com/wtiyIBCI3u

— Adrian (@emoflipsan) October 4, 2019

@PrimeVideo is it just me or is the Amazon Prime Video app gone from the Apple App Store??

— Gary Schafer (@GaryLSchafer) October 4, 2019

Does the Amazon Prime Video app not exist on the App Store anymore?

— Swapnanil Dhol (@SwapnanilDhol) October 4, 2019

Whaaat!!! Amazon Prime Video App removed pic.twitter.com/ayxtrGAHuz

— Jesús Cruz (@jesusmisanador) October 4, 2019

Amazon video is no longer in App Store @amazon @PrimeVideo pic.twitter.com/JuY3s9Ygs0

— Ahmad Najim Noori (@Ah_najeem_noori) October 4, 2019

The issue isn’t only impacting users in the U.S., nor is it limited to iPhone, as Apple TV is also affected.

According to data from app store intelligence firm Sensor Tower, the app was removed today in all regions except Australia, Guatemala, Hong Kong, Hungary, Israel, India, Kenya, Kuwait, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Madagascar and Saudi Arabia.

Amazon has not responded publicly to users asking for help.

TechCrunch has also reached out to Amazon for comment and will update when we hear back.

How Bongo, the ‘Netflix of Bangladesh’, won the local video streaming market with just $10M

By Manish Singh

Thousands of miles away from the U.S., where technology giants, cable networks, and studios are locked in an intense multi-billion dollar battle to court users to their video streaming services, a startup in Bangladesh has already won the local video streaming market.

And it did all of this in six years with just $10 million. And it’s also profitable.

Ahad Mohammad started Bongo in 2013. The on-demand video service began life as a channel on YouTube in 2014 before expanding as a standalone app to users a year later.

Of the 96 million people in Bangladesh who are online today, 75 million of them are subscribed to either Bongo’s YouTube channel or to its app, Mohammed said.

Bongo’s domination in Bangladesh is second to none in the nation. iFlix, which raised $50 million a few months ago to expand its presence in several Asian markets, and India’s Zee5 are among the players that Bongo competes with, though their market share remains tiny in comparison.

TechCrunch caught up with Mohammed to get an insight into the early days of building Bongo and what holds next for the “Netflix of Bangladesh” as it increasingly expands to international markets.

Facetune maker Lightricks expands with a trio of apps for small businesses

By Sarah Perez

Fresh of its recent raise of $135 million, Lightricks, the maker of popular selfie editor Facetune and several other top consumer-focused photo editing applications, is branching out. The company this morning announced the launch of a suite of new mobile apps aimed at small businesses that want professional content creation tools to help them with their social media marketing campaigns.

Together, the new suite of apps is known as “BoostApps,” and includes StoryBoost for creating unique stories for Instagram; VideoBoost for making videos using your own clips, stock footage or both; and PosterBoost, which lets you turn photos into engaging posts for your business.

Screens StoryBoost

The move to serve the needs of small businesses was directed by how Lightricks saw its users taking advantage of its existing products, like Enlight Videoleap and Enlight Photofox, the company says.

When Lightricks surveyed its Videoleap subscriber base, for example, it found that roughly 30% were already using the app for business purposes.

“We understood then, that our next product had to be a tool specifically for businesses. Businesses are results-driven, and that’s the basis of the BoostApps — empowering and enabling businesses to create social media marketing materials that are not only beautiful, but also effective,” says Zeev Farbman, Lightricks Co-Founder and CEO.

Like its consumer line of apps, the BoostApps are designed to be easy to use — even if you’re not a photo-editing professional or have a social media marketing background.

Instead, they’re for people who consider themselves a small business owner, Farbman says. That could be a yoga teacher, startup entrepreneur, influencer, or anyone else.

Screens PosterBoost

“The common denominator is that they started their business because they were passionate about something, and then needed to become full-fledged marketers in addition to building their businesses,” he explains. “They know that social media can get them to their marketing goals, but they don’t know how to get results without investing too much time and money.”

Like the rest of the Lightricks line, the apps are subscription-based. StoryBoost and PosterBoost are $7.99 per month, and VideoBoost is $9.99 per month. There are also annual discounts ($44.99 or $59.99, respectively) and the option for a lifetime purchase ($99.99 or $119.99). And you can subscribe to all three in a bundle for $95.99 per year. 

Also like other Lightricks apps, the new BoostApps rely heavily on the company’s technology investments and A.I. Lightricks has a dedicated team whose job it is to figure out ways to integrate their most advanced and innovative research into their apps.

For example, it created a camera motion effect that can be used on every image, using A.I. technology to build a depth map that turns the images into engaging posters, says Farbman. They also created a video engine capable of producing a range of composition effects. And the results render in real-time on the device, to make the editing process feel fast.

Screens VideoBoost

While there are plenty of other companies offering creative tools for marketers, Lightricks brings its own knowledge of digital marketing to the table — something it credits with its own success, in fact.

The launch of the SMB-focused suite doesn’t mean Lightricks is pivoting to pro tools, however, Farbman clarified. It’s more of an expansion.

Case in point: the company today is also partnering with subscription beauty service BoxyCharm on a collaboration with Facetune2, which will allow users to virtually “try on” products in the October box using AR filters.

That said, Lightricks does plan to further expand BoostApps further down the road with more tools that will integrate scheduling, smart algorithms, and post optimization features.

The Jerusalem-headquartered company, which recently achieved unicorn status, is growing quickly. It now has over 300 employees, and expects to reach at least 500 by 2020. And despite the sizable funding round, Lightricks says it tries to stay profitable or as close to profitable as possible, even when launching new products.

Combined, its suite of apps has seen nearly 200 million downloads and has 3 million paying subscribers.

To date, Lightricks has raised $205 million.

BoostApps will be available today on iOS devices. (iOS 11 or higher).

 

Zuckerberg misunderstands the huge threat of TikTok

By Josh Constine

“It’s almost like the Explore Tab that we have on Instagram” said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in leaked audio of him describing TikTok during an all-hands meeting. But it’s not. TikTok represents a new form of social entertainment that’s vastly different from the lifelogging of Instagram where you can just take a selfie, show something pretty, or pan around what you’re up to. TikToks are premeditated, storyboarded, and vastly different than the haphazard Stories on Insta.

That’s why Zuckerberg’s comments cast a dark shadow over the future of the Facebook family of apps. How can it beat what it doesn’t understand? He certainly can’t ignore it. Facebook’s copycat Lasso has been installed just 425,000 times since it launched in November, while TikTok has 640 million installs in the same period outside of China. Oh, and TikTok has 1.4 billion total installs beyond China to date.

TikTok Screenshots

TikTok

Casey Newton of The Verge today published two hours of audio and transcripts from two internal-only all-hands Q&As held by Zuckerberg at Facebook in July. His comments touch on the company’s plan to fight being broken up by regulators, especially if Elizabeth Warren becomes President. He thinks Facebook would win, but on resorting to suing the government, he says “does that still suck for us? Yeah.” Zuckerberg also describes how Facebook is working to launch a payments product in Mexico and elsewhere by year’s end as Libra deals with regulatory scrutiny.

But beyond his comments on regulation, it’s his pigeonholing of TikTok that’s most alarming. It foreshadows Facebook failing to win one of the core social feeds that its business depends on. Perhaps his perspective on the competitor is evolving, but the leak portrays him as thinking TikTok is just the next Snapchat Stories to destroy.

Zuckeberg’s Thoughts On TikTok

Here’s what Zuckerberg said about TikTok during the internal Q&A sessions, (emphasis mine):

So yeah. I mean, TikTok is doing well. One of the things that’s especially notable about TikTok is, for a while, the internet landscape was kind of a bunch of internet companies that were primarily American companies. And then there was this parallel universe of Chinese companies that pretty much only were offering their services in China. And we had Tencent who was trying to spread some of their services into Southeast Asia. Alibaba has spread a bunch of their payment services to Southeast Asia. Broadly, in terms of global expansion, that had been pretty limited, and TikTok, which is built by this company Beijing ByteDance, is really the first consumer internet product built by one of the Chinese tech giants that is doing quite well around the world. It’s starting to do well in the US, especially with young folks. It’s growing really quickly in India. I think it’s past Instagram now in India in terms of scale. So yeah, it’s a very interesting phenomenon.

And the way that we kind of think about it is: it’s married short-form, immersive video with browse. So it’s almost like the Explore Tab that we have on Instagram, which is today primarily about feed posts and highlighting different feed posts. I kind of think about TikTok as if it were Explore for stories, and that were the whole app. And then you had creators who were specifically working on making that stuff. So we have a number of approaches that we’re going to take towards this, and we have a product called Lasso that’s a standalone app that we’re working on, trying to get product-market fit in countries like Mexico, is I think one of the first initial ones. We’re trying to first see if we can get it to work in countries where TikTok is not already big before we go and compete with TikTok in countries where they are big.

We’re taking a number of approaches with Instagram, including making it so that Explore is more focused on stories, which is increasingly becoming the primary way that people consume content on Instagram, as well as a couple of other things there. But yeah, I think that it’s not only one of the more interesting new phenomena and products that are growing. But in terms of the geopolitical implications of what they’re doing, I think it is quite interesting. I think we have time to learn and understand and get ahead of the trend. It is growing, but they’re spending a huge amount of money promoting it. What we’ve found is that their retention is actually not that strong after they stop advertising. So the space is still fairly nascent, and there’s time for us to kind of figure out what we want to do here. But I think this is a real thing. It’s good.

To Zuckerberg’s credit, he’s not dismissing the threat. He knows TikTok is popular. He knows it’s growing in key international markets Facebook and Instagram depend on to keep user counts rising. And he knows his company needs to respond via its standalone clone Lasso and more.

Facebook Lasso Screenshots

Lasso

But while TikToks might look like Stories because they’re vertical videos, and TikTok might algorithmically recommend them to people like Instagram Explore, it’s a whole ‘nother beast of a product and one that may be harder than it seems to copy.

To crystallize why, let’s rewind to Snapchat. With the launch of Stories, it started to blow up with US teens. Facebook’s attempts to clone it in standalone apps like Poke and Slingshot never gained traction. In fact, none of Facebook’s standalone apps have succeeded unless they splintered off an already-popular piece of Facebook like chat and users were forced to download them like Messenger. It wasn’t until Zuckerberg stuck his clone of Stories front-and-center atop Instagram and Facebook that Snapchat’s user count went from growing 18% per quarter to shrinking. There, Facebook used the same strategy laid out in Zuckerberg’s comments — push its good-enough clone in countries where the original isn’t popular yet.

But Facebook was fortunate because Stories really wasn’t that dissimilar to the content users were already sharing on Instagram — tiny biographical snippets of their lives. Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel had originally invented Stories as a vision of Facebook’s News Feed through the lens of an ephemeral camera. All users had to know was “I take the same videos, but shorter and sillier, posted more often, and then they disappear”. The concept of Instagram and Facebook didn’t have to change. They were still about telling friends what you were up to. Choking off TikTok’s growth will be much more complicated.

Why TikTok Is Tough To Clone

TikTok isn’t about you or what you’re doing. It’s about entertaining your audience. It’s not spontaneous chronicling of your real life. It’s about inventing characters, dressing up as someone else, and acting out jokes. It’s not about privacy and friends, but strutting on the world stage. And it’s not about originality — the heart of Instagram. TikTok is about remixing culture — taking the audio from someone else’s clip and reimagining the gag in a new context by layering it atop a video you record.

TikTok Remixes

That makes TikTok distinct enough that it will be very difficult to shoehorn into Instagram or Facebook, even if they add the remixing functionality. Most videos on those apps aren’t designed to be templates for memes like TikToks are. Insta and Facebook’s social graphs are rooted in friendship and augmented by the beautiful and famous, but don’t encompass the new wave of amateur performers TikTok elevates. And since each post to the app becomes fodder for someone else’s creativity, a competitor starting from scratch doesn’t offer much to remix.

That means a TikTok clone would have to be somewhat buried in Instagram or Facebook, rebuild a new social graph, and retrain users’ understanding of these apps’ purpose…at the risk of distracting from their core use cases. This leaves Facebook hoping to grow its standalone TikTok clone Lasso which TechCrunch scooped a year ago before it launched last November. But as we’ve seen, Facebook struggles growing brand new apps, and that effort is further hindered by its increasingly toxic brand and sheen of uncoolness. Nor does it help that Facebook must divert development resources to comply with all the new privacy and transparency obligations as part of its $5 billion FTC fine and settlement.

The Next Feed

Facebook’s best bet is to assess the future value of the ads it could run on a successful TikTok clone and apply some greater fraction of that grand sum to competing directly. It’s already made some smart additions to Lasso like tutorials for how to remix and the option to add GIFs as sections of your video. But it’s still failing to gain serious traction in the US. While typical TikTok homepage videos have hundreds of thousands of Likes, the top ones I saw in my Lasso feed today received 70 or fewer.

I had Sensor Tower run some analysis comparing TikTok with Lasso since its launch last November, and found that Lasso gets 6 downloads for every 1000 for TikTok in the US. Some more stats:

  • US Total Downloads Since November: Lasso – 250,000 // TikTok – 41.3 million
  • US Downloads Per Day Since November: Lasso – 760 // TikTok – 126,000
  • Average US Google Play Social App Chart Ranking: Lasso – #155 // TikTok – #2

Beyond the US, Lasso has only launched in one other market, Mexico in April, where it’s been faring better but could hardly even be considered a competitor to TikTok. They won’t even coherently fit together on a graph. Facebook needs to lean harder into Lasso:

  • Mexico Total Downloads Since April: Lasso – 175,000 // TikTok – 3.3 million
  • Mexico Downloads Per Day Since November: Lasso – 1,000 // TikTok – 19,000

Facebook Lasso Logo

Zuckerberg may need to find a coherent place for TikTok style features inside Instagram and potentially Facebook. That could be another horizontal row of previews like with Stories and/or a header on the Explore page dedicated to premeditated content. Certainly something more prominent than a single button like IGTV that still no one is asking for. One opportunity to best TikTok would be building a dedicated remix source browser into the Stories camera to help users find content to put their own spin on.

Facebook will also need to buy out top TikTok creators to make videos for it instead, and even quasi-hire some of the most prolific video meme or challenge inventors to give users trends to jump on rather than just one-off clips to watch. Its failure to offer IGTV stars monetization has led many to ignore that platform, and it can’t afford that again.

If Zuckerberg approaches TikTok as merely an algorithmic video recommender like Explore, Facebook will miss out on owning the social entertainment feed. If he doesn’t decisively move to challenge TikTok soon, its catalog of content to remix will grow insurmountable and it will own the whole concept of short form performative video. Snapchat’s insistence on ephemerality makes it incompatible with remixing, and YouTube isn’t nimble enough to reinvent itself.

If no American company can step up, we could see our interest data, faces, and attention forfeited to an app that while delightful to use, heralds Chinese political values at odds with our own.

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