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    MediaLab acquires messaging app Kik, expanding its app portfolio

    news.movim.eu / TechCrunch – 3 days ago - 20:47

Popular messaging app Kik is, indeed, “here to stay” following an acquisition by the Los Angeles-based multimedia holding company, MediaLab .

It echoes the same message from Kik’s chief executive Tim Livingston last week when he rebuffed earlier reports that the company would shut down amid an ongoing battle with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Livingston had tweeted that Kik had signed a letter-of-intent with a “great company,” but that it was “not a done deal.”

Now we know the the company: MediaLab. In a post on Kik’s blog on Friday the MediaLab said that it has “finalized an agreement” to acquire Kik Messenger.

Kik is one of those amazing places that brings us back to those early aspirations,” the blog post read. “Whether it be a passion for an obscure manga or your favorite football team, Kik has shown an incredible ability to provide a platform for new friendships to be forged through your mobile phone.”

MediaLab is a holding company that owns several other mobile properties , including anonymous social network Whisper and mixtape app DatPiff . In acquiring Kik, the holding company is expanding its mobile app portfolio.

MediaLab said it has “some ideas” for developing Kik going forwards, including making the app faster and reducing the amount of unwanted messages and spam bots. The company said it will introduce ads “over the coming weeks” in order to “cover our expenses” of running the platform.

Buying the Kik messaging platform adds another social media weapon to the arsenal for MediaLab and its chief executive, Michael Heyward .

Heyward was an early star of the budding Los Angeles startup community with the launch of the anonymous messaging service, Whisper nearly 8 years ago. At the time, the company was one of a clutch of anonymous apps — including Secret and YikYak — that raised tens of millions of dollars to offer online iterations of the confessional journal, the burn book, and the bathroom wall (respectively).

In 2017, TechCrunch reported that Whisper underwent significant layoffs to stave off collapse and put the company on a path to profitability.

At the time Whisper had roughly 20 million monthly active users across its app and website, which the company was looking to monetize through programmatic advertising, rather than brand-sponsored campaigns that had provided some of the company’s revenue in the past. Through widgets, the company had an additional 10 million viewers of its content per-month using various widgets and a reach of around 250 million through Facebook and other social networks on which it published posts.

People familiar with the company said at the time that it was seeing gross revenues of roughly $1 million and was going to hit $12.5 million in revenue for that calendar year. By 2018 that revenue was expected to top $30 million, according to sources at the time.

The flagship Whisper app let people post short bits of anonymous text and images that other folks could like or comment about. Heyward intended it to be a way for people to share more personal and intimate details —  to be a social network for confessions and support rather than harassment.

The idea caught on with investors and Whisper managed to raise $61 million from investors including Sequoia, Lightspeed Venture Partners, and Shasta Ventures . Whisper’s last round was a $36 million Series C back in 2014.

Fast forward to 2018 when Secret had been shut down for three years while YikYak also went bust — selling off its engineering team to Square for around $1 million. Whisper, meanwhile, seemingly set up MediaLab as a holding company for its app and additional assets that Heyward would look to roll up. The company filed registration documents in California in June 2018.

According to the filings, Susan Stone, a partner with the investment firm Sierra Wasatch Capital , is listed as a director for the company.

Heyward did not respond to a request for comment.

Zack Whittaker contributed reporting for this article.

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    This Week in Apps: League of Legends goes mobile, Tim Cook talks to China and more

    news.movim.eu / TechCrunch – 3 days ago - 18:00

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 in 2018 saw 194 billion downloads and more than $100 billion in purchases. Just in the past quarter, consumer spending exceeded $23 billion and installs topped 31 billion. It’s a fact: we spend more time on our phones than we do watching TV .

This week, Chinese censorship is still a big topic, and one which sees Apple CEO sitting down with Chinese regulators to discuss. China was also found to have forced a spy app on its people, according to a code review. Meanwhile, TikTok got cloned in Russia. It also decided to bring in corporate lawyers to help it to figure out how to moderate its content and be transparent.

We also take a look at headlines about Luna Display’s response to sherlocking, an Arcade developer’s localization efforts, and hear from a former App Store reviewer, among other things.

Let’s get to it.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a bit old-fashioned when it comes to phones. Everyone scoffs at my iPhone SE, but the truth is it’s the best phone Apple ever made — a beautiful, well designed object in just about every way. But damn is the iPhone 11 Pro ugly. And so are the newest phones from Samsung and Google, while we’re at it.

Let’s just get right to why the new iPhones are ugly, front and back. And sideways. We can start with the notch. Obviously it’s not new, but I thought maybe this would be some kind of generational anomaly that we’d all look back and laugh at in a year or two. Apparently it’s sticking around.

I know a lot of people have justified the notch to themselves in various ways — it technically means more raw screen space, it accommodates the carrier and battery icons, it’s necessary for unlocking the phone with your face.

Yeah, but it’s ugly.

If they removed the notch, literally no one would want the version with the notch, because it’s so plainly and universally undesirable. If Apple’s engineers could figure out a way to have no notch, they’d have done it by now, but they can’t and I bet they are extremely frustrated by that. They try to hide it with the special notch-camouflaging wallpaper whenever they can, which is as much as saying, “hey, we hate looking at it too.”

nonotch

You can forget for a few seconds. But in the back of your mind you know it’s there. Everyone knows.

It’s a prominent, ugly compromise (among several) necessitated by a feature no one asked for and people can’t seem to figure out if they even like or not. Notches are horrible and any time you see one, it means a designer cried themselves to sleep. To be fair that probably happens quite a bit. I grew up around designers and they can be pretty sensitive, like me.

I’m not a big fan of the rounded screen corners for a couple reasons, but I’ll let that go because I envision a future where it doesn’t matter. You remember how in Battlestar Galactica the corners were clipped off all the paper? We’re on our way.

Having the screen extend to the very edge of the device on the other hand isn’t exactly ugly, but it’s ugly in spirit. The whole front of the phone is an interface now, which would be fine if it could tell when you were gripping the screen for leverage and not to do something with it. As it is, every side and corner has some kind of dedicated gesture that you have to be wary of activating. It’s so bad people have literally invented a thing that sticks out from the back of your phone so you can hold it that way. Popsockets wouldn’t be necessary if you could safely hold your phone the way you’d hold any other object that shape.

iphone 11 pro

The back is ugly now, too. Man, is that camera bump bad. Bump is really the wrong word. It looks like the iPhone design team took a field trip to a maritime history museum, saw the deep sea diving helmets, and thought, Boom. That’s what we need. Portholes. To make our phone look like it could descend to 4,000 fathoms. Those helmets are actually really cool looking when they’re big and made of strong, weathered brass. Not on a thin, fragile piece of electronics. Here it’s just a huge, chunky combination of soft squares and weirdly arranged circles — five of them! — that completely take over the otherwise featureless rear side of the phone.

The back of the SE is designed to mirror the front, with a corresponding top and bottom “bezel.” In the best looking SE (mine) the black top bezel almost completely hides the existence of the camera (unfortunately there’s a visible flash unit); it makes the object more like an unbroken solid, its picture-taking abilities more magical. The camera is completely flush with the surface of the back, which is itself completely flush except for texture changes.

The back of the iPhone 11 Pro has a broad plain, upon which sits the slightly higher plateau of the camera assembly. Above that rise the three different little camera volcanoes, and above each of those the little calderas of the lenses. And below them the sunken well of the microphone. Five different height levels, producing a dozen different heights and edges! Admittedly the elevations aren’t so high, but still.

hero gallery color story m6kjl7t4boqm large

If it was a dedicated camera or another device that by design needed and used peaks and valleys for grip or eyes-free navigation, that would be one thing. But the iPhone is meant to be smooth, beautiful, have a nice handfeel. With this topographic map of Hawaii on the back? Have fun cleaning out the grime from in between the volcanoes, then knocking the edge of the lens against a table as you slide the phone into your hand.

Plus it’s ugly.

The sides of the phones aren’t as bad as the front and back, but we’ve lost a lot since the days of the SE. The geometric simplicity of the + and – buttons, the hard chamfered edge that gave you a sure grip, the black belts that boldly divided the sides into two strips and two bows. And amazingly, due to being made of actual metal, the more drops an SE survives, the cooler it looks.

The sides of the new iPhones look like bumpers from cheap model cars. They look like elongated jelly beans, with smaller jelly beans stuck on that you’re supposed to touch. Gross.

That’s probably enough about Apple. They forgot about good design a long time ago, but the latest phones were too ugly not to call out.

Samsung has a lot of the same problems as Apple. Everyone has to have an “edge to edge” display now, and the Galaxy S10 is no exception. But it doesn’t really go to the edge, does it? There’s a little bezel on the top and bottom, but the bottom one is a little bigger. I suppose it reveals the depths of my neurosis to say so, but that would never stop bugging me if I had one. If it was a lot bigger, like HTC’s old “chins,” I’d take it as a deliberate design feature, but just a little bigger? That just means they couldn’t make one small enough.

sung 10

As for the display slipping over the edges, it’s cool looking in product photos, but I’ve never found it attractive in real life. What’s the point? And then from anywhere other than straight on, it makes it look more lopsided, or like you’re missing something on the far side.

Meanwhile it not only has bezels and sometime curves, but a hole punched out of the front. Oh my god!

Here’s the thing about a notch. When you realize as a phone designer that you’re going to have to take over a big piece of the front, you also look at what part of the screen it leaves untouched. In Apple’s case it’s the little horns on either side — great, you can at least put the status info there. There might have been a little bit left above the front camera and Face ID stuff, but what can you do with a handful of vertical pixels? Nothing. It’ll just be a distraction. Usually there was nothing interesting in the middle anyway. So you just cut it all out and go full notch.

Samsung on the other hand decided to put the camera in the top right, and keep a worthless little rind of screen all around it. What good is that part of the display now? It’s too small to show anything useful, yet the hole is too big to ignore while you’re watching full-screen content. If their aim was to make something smaller and yet even more disruptive than a notch, mission accomplished. It’s ugly on all the S10s, but the big wide notch-hole combo on the S10 5G 6.7″ phablet is the ugliest.

galaxy s10 camera

The decision to put all the rear cameras in a long window, like the press box at a hockey game, is a bold one. There’s really not much you can do to hide 3 giant lenses, a flash, and that other thing. Might as well put them front and center, set off with a black background and chrome rim straight out of 2009. Looks like something you’d get pointed at you at the airport. At least the scale matches the big wide “SAMSUNG” on the back. Bold — but ugly.

Google’s Pixel 4 isn’t as bad, but it’s got its share of ugly. I don’t need to spend too much time on it, though, because it’s a lot of the same, except in pumpkin orange for Halloween season. I like the color orange generally, but I’m not sure about this one. Looks like a seasonal special phone you pick up in a blister pack from the clearance shelf at Target, the week before Black Friday — two for $99, on some cut-rate MVNO. Maybe it’s better in person, but I’d be afraid some kid would take a bite out of my phone thinking it’s a creamsicle.

pixel 4

The lopsided bezels on the front are worse than the Samsung’s, but at least it looks deliberate. Like they wanted to imply their phone is smart so they gave it a really prominent forehead.

I will say that of the huge, ugly camera assemblies, the Pixel’s is the best. It’s more subtle, like being slapped in the face instead of kicked in the shins so hard you die. And the diamond pattern is more attractive for sure. Given the square (ish) base, I’m surprised someone on the team at Google had the rather unorthodox idea to rotate the cameras 45 degrees. Technically it produces more wasted space, but it looks better than four circles making a square inside a bigger, round square.

And it looks a hell of a lot better than three circles in a triangle, with two smaller circles just kind of hanging out there, inside a bigger, round square. That iPhone is ugly !

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    HTC releases a cheaper blockchain phone

    news.movim.eu / TechCrunch – 3 days ago - 13:22

Whatever you might say about HTC (and believe me, there’s plenty to say), at least the company takes some fascinating chance. As newly minted CEO Yves Maitre admitted to me at Disrupt a couple of weeks back, the once mighty smartphone giant has lost the thread in recent years. But if nothing else, the Exodus project marks a glimpse at some potential smartphone future.

With this weekend’s launch of the Exodus 1s at Berlin’s Lightning conference, HTC aims to make it clear that the project is more than just a one-off. The new device lowers the barrier of entry to €219 (~$244). All said, not a bad price for those looking to dabble in the technology. Oh, and obviously it’s available in all of the various equivalent cryptocurrencies.

Exodus1s 6V 19Oct1

The specs are fittingly pretty dismal. There’s a Snapdragon 435, running Android 8.1. The screen is a 5.7 inch HD+, coupled with a decent 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. Oh, and there’s a microUSB port and, good news, a headphone jack. Honestly, it’s a pretty low-end device, all told.

The big difference here being the the inclusion of a hardware wallet and Bitcoin node access. “We gave users the ability to own their own keys, and now we’ve gone one step further to allow users to run their own full Bitcoin node,” HTC’s Phil Chen said in a release tied to the news. “We are providing the tools for access to universal basic finance; the tools to have a metaphorical Swiss bank in your pocket.”

Exodus1s PerRight 19Oct1

Maitre told me the other week he still believes mainstream use of blockchain on these devices is more than two or three years out. What the 1s provides, however, is an inexpensive way to see what the technology provides today. Interested parties in Europe, Taiwan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE can order it online starting today.

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    Tilting Point acquires game monetization startup Gondola

    news.movim.eu / TechCrunch – 4 days ago - 21:04

Tilting Point announced yesterday that it has acquired Gondola, a company that aims to increase to improve game monetization by optimizing in-game offers and video ads.

Tilting Point CEO Kevin Segalla described his company’s model as “progressive publishing” — usually, mobile game developers starting working with Tilting Point because they need help with user acquisition, and then develop a deeper publishing relationship over time.

“With a select group of our development partners, we’ll acquire an IP, and we’ll … have them take the engine that they already have and create a whole new game,” Segalla said. “It’s really a dual effort between us and the developer.”

To accomplish all this, the company has built artificial intelligence tools to improve user acquisition. But the other side of that equation, in Segalla’s view, is increasing the lifetime value of the users acquired.

“At the end of the day, scaling a game boils down to two simple things, [cost per install] and LTV,” he said. “Strong developers are working to improve the LTV of their players, but there’s a lot of low-hanging fruit that with the right toolset you can use to improve the lifetime values. That’s what Gondola is about … We’ve been following for years, and we said, ‘Let’s bring this in-house.'”

Gondola currently offers four modules: Target Optimization (choosing the best offer for a player), Rewarded Video Ad Optimization (choosing the right amount of virtual currency to reward a player for watching a video ad), Store Optimization (choosing the right store items to show a player) and Currency Optimization (choosing the best virtual currency amounts for offers and promotions).

The financial terms of the acquisition — Tilting Point’s first — were not disclosed. As part of the deal, Gondola CTO André Cohen is joining Tilting Point as its head of data science, while his co-founder and CEO Niklas Herriger remains involved as an executive advisor.

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    T-Mobile partners with Jeffrey Katzenberg’s mobile streaming service Quibi

    news.movim.eu / TechCrunch – 4 days ago - 13:51

On the heels of getting the FCC’s proposal to merge with Sprint, T-Mobile announced a plan to partner with Jeffrey Katzenberg’s mobile streaming service, Quibi. According to statements provided to the LA Times , and confirmed by Variety , Quibi CEO Meg Whitman specifically called out T-Mobile’s “impressive 5G road map” as a good fit for the soon-to-launch streaming service.

The partnership will give T-Mobile’s 83.1 million customers access to Quibi’s premium content, but no details as to how it would be bundled into the carrier’s plans are currently available. It’s possible that Quibi will either be offered at a discount for T-Mobile users, or it could be available as an add-on or available with a special bundle deal.

The deal will present a new competitor to AT&T’s streaming services, AT&T TV Now (previously DirecTV Now) and low-cost WatchTV, as well as its upcoming premium service, HBO Max. Verizon (TechCrunch’s parent company) also dabbled with mobile streaming with go90, but that service was shut down last year after failing to gain adoption.

The news of the T-Mobile deal comes on the heels of a series of rapid-fire announcements about the shows and celebs who will be contributing to Quibi, which will provide a range of programming , including news , lifestyle, comedy, drama, horror, reality, action and more. And all is broken up into shorter-form bits — or “quick bites,” hence the service’s name.

As for the programming, Quibi has brought in big names like Sam Raimi, Guillermo del Toro, Antoine Fuqua and producer Jason Blum, Liam Hemsworth , Lorne Michaels , Steven Speilberg , Tyra Banks , Idris Elba , Trevor Noah , Queen Latifah , Sophie Turner and others.

“Quibi will deliver premium video content for millennials on a technology platform that is built exclusively for mobile, so a telecommunications partner like T-Mobile, with their broad coverage today and impressive 5G road map, is the perfect fit,” Quibi chief executive Meg Whitman said in a statement run by the LA Times.

“Quibi is leading the way on how video content is made and experienced in a mobile-first world,” said Mike Sievert, president and chief operating officer of T-Mobile. “That’s why our partnership makes perfect sense — two mobile-centric disrupters coming together to give customers something new and remarkable.”

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The companies confirmed the news to TechCrunch, following the L.A. Times report.

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    This app waits on hold for you

    news.movim.eu / TechCrunch – 6 days ago - 16:35

DoNotPay helps you get out of parking tickets, cancel forgotten subscriptions, and now it can call you when it’s your turn in a customer service phone queue. The app today is launching “Skip Waiting On Hold”. Just type in the company you need to talk to, and DoNotPay calls for you using tricks to get a human on the line quick. Then it calls you back and connects you to the agent so you never have to listen to that annoying hold music.

And in case the company tries to jerk you around or screw you over, the DoNotPay app lets you instantly share a legal recording of the call to social media to shame them.

How To Get Off hold

Skip Waiting On Hold comes as part of the $3 per month DoNotPay suite of services designed to save people time and money by battling bureaucracy on their behalf. It can handle DMV paperwork for you, write legal letters to scare businesses out of overcharging you, and it provides a credit card that automatically cancels subscriptions when your free trial ends.

“I think the world would be a lot fairer place if people had someone fighting for them” says DoNotPay’s 22-year-old founder Joshua Browder. $3 per month gets the iOS app ‘s 10,000 customers unlimited access to all the features with no extra fees or commissions on money saved. “If DoNotPay takes a commission then we have an incentive to perpetuate the problems we are fighting against.”

Browder comes from a family of activists. His father Bill Browder got the Magnitsky Act passed, which lets the US government freeze the foreign assets and visas of human rights abusers. It’s named after Bill’s Russian lawyer who was murdered in Moscow after uncovering a $230 million government curruption scheme linked to President Putin’s underlings.

DoNotPay app

“These big companies [and governments] are getting away with a lot” Browder tells me. He hit a breaking point when frustrated with the process of appealing parking tickets. He built DoNotPay to cut through hassles designed to separate us from our money. In April it raised a $3.5 million seed round led by Felicis to develop an Android version after picking up early funding from Andreessen Horowitz. Surprisingly, the startup has never been sued.

For Skip Waiting On Hold, DoNotPay built out a database of priority and VIP customer service numbers for tons of companies. For legality, if you opt in to recording the exchanges, the app automatically plays a message informing both parties they’ll be recorded. A human voice detection system hears when a real agent picks up the phone, and then rings your phone. It’s like having customer service call you.

Not only can DoNotPay help you get in touch about cancelling subscriptions, scoring refunds, or retreiving information. It’s like “a body camera for customer service calls” Browder says. “Before they make a decision that rips off the customer, they’ll think ‘this could be made public and go viral and hurt our business.'” For example, an airline that jacks up prices for rescheduled flights surrounding hurricanes could be shamed for profiting off of natural disasters.

Record and share customer service calls

The full list of DoNotPay services includes:

  1. Customer service disputes where it contacts companies about refunds for Comcast bills, delayed flights, etc
  2. The free trial credit card that auto-cancels subscriptions before you’re actually charged
  3. Traffic and parking appeals where it generates a letter for you based on answers to questions like if signs were too hard to read or there was a mistake on the ticket
  4. Hidden money discovery that finds refunds in your bank fees, identifies forgotten subscriptions, gets you free stuff on your birthday, and more
  5. Government paperwork assistance that can help you get DMV appointments and fill out forms
  6. Skip Waiting On Hold

Browder hopes that with time, companies and governments will make all these chores easier for everyone. To avoid putting itself out of a job, DoNotPay is constantly looking for new annoyances to eliminate. “I’m from the UK. America seems to be a pay-to-play society. The more money you have to more rights you have” Browder concludes. But those rights could be restored for all by building a robot lawyer that’s affordable to everyone.

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    Live Caption, Google’s automatic captioning technology, is now available on Pixel 4

    news.movim.eu / TechCrunch – 6 days ago - 13:38

Live Caption , Google’s automatic captioning system first introduced at its I/O developer conference this May , is now officially available, alongside the launch of the new Pixel 4. But unlike some of the other technologies highlighted at the company’s Pixel hardware event yesterday, Live Caption won’t be limited to Google’s new smartphone alone. After the initial debut on Pixel 4, the automatic captioning technology will roll out to Pixel 3, Pixel 3 XL, Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL before the year-end, says Google, and will become more broadly available in 2020.

The company has already offered automatic captions on YouTube for a decade, but that same sort of experience isn’t available across the wider web and mobile devices. For example, Google explains, you can’t read captions for things like the audio messages sent by your friends, on trending videos published elsewhere on social media, and on the content you record yourself.

There’s a significant accessibility issue with the lack of captions in all these places, but there’s a convenience issue, as well.

If you’re in a loud environment, like a commuter train, or trying to watch content privately and forgot your headphones, you may need to just use the captions. Or maybe you don’t want to blare the audio, which disturbs others around you. Or perhaps, you want to see the words appear because you’re having trouble understanding the audio, or just want to be sure to catch every word.

With the launch of the Pixel 4, Live Caption is also available for the first time to the general public.

The technology will capture and automatically caption videos and spoken audio on your device, except for phone and video calls. This captioning all happens in real-time and on your device — not in the cloud. That means it works even if your device lacks a cell signal or access to Wi-Fi. The captions also stay private and don’t leave your phone.

Google Live Caption UIDemo720 16MB

This is similar to how the Pixel 4’s new Recorder app functions . It, too, will do its speech-to-text processing all on your device, in order to give you real-time transcriptions of your meetings, interviews, lectures, or anything else you want to record, without compromising your privacy.

You can launch the Live Captions feature with a tap from the volume slider that appears, then reposition the caption box anything on your screen so it doesn’t get in the way of what you’re viewing.

Currently, the feature supports English only. But Google says it’s working to add more languages in the future.

After today’s launch on Pixel 4 and the rollout to the rest of the modern Pixel line of smartphones this year, it will start to show up in other new Android phones. Google says it’s working with other manufacturers to make the technology available to more people as soon as next year.