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SharePlay arrives, Android Dev Summit wraps, Snap and TikTok go to Congress – TechCrunch

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Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.

The app industry continues to grow, with a record 218 billion downloads and $143 billion in global consumer spend in 2020. Consumers last year also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone. And in the U.S., app usage surged ahead of the time spent watching live TV. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day, but now spends four hours per day on their mobile devices.

Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re also a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus. In 2020, investors poured $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year-over-year.

This Week in Apps offers a way to keep up with this fast-moving industry in one place with the latest from the world of apps, including news, updates, startup fundings, mergers and acquisitions, and suggestions about new apps and games to try, too.

Do you want This Week in Apps in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here: techcrunch.com/newsletters

Apple SharePlay Arrives

Image Credits: Apple

Apple’s new FaceTime feature SharePlay wasn’t immediately available with the iOS 15 launch, as it needed a bit more polish. But with this week’s release of iOS 15.1, SharePlay — and a number of mobile app updates ready to support it — have finally arrived. The feature makes using Apple’s video calling platform more interactive and could help to potentially lock in users to Apple’s ecosystem.

As with many Apple features, SharePlay is easy to use despite the complicated technology powering the new system that runs under the hood. With the tap of a button on FaceTime’s controls, you can start sharing your device’s screen on your call or you can just switch over to the app you want to co-watch with a friend — the app alerts you upon arrival that it supports SharePlay as well as how to get started.

While screen sharing, you can view your screen or other apps together. However, you won’t have a good experience trying to co-watch videos this way due to lags. Apple also smartly blocks other viewers from seeing your incoming notifications or any kind of application pop-ups or dialogs, as they may contain sensitive information. And everything is end-to-end encrypted, so you can feel comfortable screen sharing in a business setting, not just a personal one. (And this will be further improved when SharePlay arrives on macOS Monterey later this fall.)

If anything, the biggest obstacle to using SharePlay at launch is simply availability.

Apple has a robust lineup of launch partners for the new addition — but unless you’ve happened across the App Store’s editorial round-up of SharePlay-enabled apps (do a search for “shareplay” to find it), you may not know if your favorite app is “SharePlay ready” as of yet.

Initially, SharePlay is rolling out to apps, including Apple TV+, Apple Fitness, TikTok, NBA: Live Games & Scores, Paramount+, Showtime, Kahoot!, Cameo, SmartGym, Flow, Moon FM, MUBI, Digital Concert Hall, Piano with Friends, Relax Melodies, LookUp, Heads Up!, CARROT Weather, Apollo, Night Sky and others. Disney+ will soon support SharePlay, as will ESPN, HBO Max, Hulu, MasterClass, Twitch, Pluto TV and more.

While that’s pretty decent right out of the gate, it is missing one key player: Netflix.

You have to wonder what’s going there — is it in the works? Being held back as a negotiating tactic? Is Netflix…just not interested? As you might recall, Netflix was one of the few streamers that didn’t add a native co-watching feature (or at least officially partner with another software maker) during the pandemic, while everyone else was busy building remote social experiences. Competitors like Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, Plex, HBO and others rolled out co-viewing experiences. But Netflix sat out the trend, despite the growing popularity of third-party co-viewing apps like Netflix Party. With Netflix’s more recent slower growth following the pandemic’s peak, you would think the company would see SharePlay as a potential source of new user acquisition.

After all, SharePlay can be used to offer a free user without an account a way to co-watch with a paid subscriber, if that’s what the developer wants. This, in turn, could then be used to push the free user to buy a subscription after some time has passed — like after they got hooked on some exclusive shows, perhaps. It seems like a no-brainer to offer support for this sort of thing — but perhaps Netflix is building out its own version where it can collect more data as a first-party experience. Time will tell.

In the meantime, the SharePlay feature could appeal to younger people who already use FaceTime the way older people use the Phone app, and who are comfortable multi-tasking on their devices.

In-App Events Go Live

Image Credits: Apple

A whole new way to market apps has now appeared on the App Store. On Wednesday, the first in-app events began appearing on the App Store, giving users a new way to find out what’s happening inside their favorite apps and games right now. At launch, Rise of Kingdoms and Pokémon GO are promoting Halloween special events, for example, as are others. But in-app events could also be used to promote things like movie premieres or live sports in the future. When users tap a new event card on the App Store (in iOS 15 or iPadOS 15), they’ll be taken directly to the event taking place. They can also tap “Notify Me” to get alerts when upcoming events go live, share events with friends or add them to their calendar app.

Other games adopting the feature include Call of Duty: Mobile, PUBG Mobile, Clash Royale and Genshin Impact and soon, so will apps like Tinder, TikTok, Disney+, Hulu, Paramount+, HBO Max and ESPN.

Platforms: Apple

  • Apple released iOS 15.2 and iPadOS 15.2 beta 1, as well as watchOS 8.3. One of the biggest new features to arrive in the iOS/iPadOS beta is the App Privacy Report. First announced at WWDC, the report will show users what apps are up to — that is, which sensitive data they request, which sensors they’re using and which domains they’re contacting to possibly share that information further. Other new features include an updated Emergency SOS call feature; and an easier to read, card-style Notification Summary.
  • Apple released iOS 15.1 and iPadOS 15.1 to the general public, bringing support for SharePlay, ProRes video capture, the ability to disable automatic camera switching to Macro mode, support for COVID vaccination cards and test results in Wallet and many other improvements.
  • Apple also released iOS 14.8.1 and iPadOS 14.8.1, with several critical security updates, making good on its promise to keep people on older software up to date with necessary fixes.
  • Apple now lets you review more of its default apps, including Phone, Messages, Photos and Safari, among others, including default Watch apps. The company had earlier rolled out a selection of its apps as standalone downloads with support for ratings and reviews, to put Apple on a more even playing field with regard to competitors amid regulatory scrutiny over its App Store. Most of the new apps are doing well in reviews so far, as people seem to appreciate the functionality provided by Apple’s default experiences.
  • Apple refreshed its set of design resources for iOS 15 on a revamped website that makes it easier to find the things you need, like templates or fonts. The site includes new templates, libraries, fonts and other iOS 15-specific resources and components.
  • The company also opened Apple Entrepreneur Camp applications for one of three newly announced online cohorts for Black, Hispanic/Latinx, or female founders starting late January 2022.

Platforms: Google

  • Google held its annual Android Dev Summit this week, where it announced a series of updates for developers. The summit included over 30 Technical Talks to help developers build apps that run across devices and learn about the latest in developer tools.
  • Google announced the 12L, an OS designed for large screens, along with a set of tools, at the Dev Summit event.
  • The company also released the first alpha of Compose Material 3, which offers “Material Design 3 styled components and theme, enabling Material You personalization features like dynamic color.” Google also released the first beta version of Jetpack Compose 1.1, which has features like “stretch overscroll for Android 12, improved touch-target sizing, experimental lazy layout animations,” and others. And Compose for Wear OS is now in developer preview.

Augmented Reality

Image Credits: Snap

  • Snapchat rolled out Halloween AR Lenses, including those for finding a Halloween costume through AR in partnership with Walmart, a Halloween World Lens, one with The Home Depot’s 12-foot Skeletons, a transforming “Werewolf Lens,” a Lens for decorating your home in AR, a spooky fashion Lens, and others with candy brands like Mars-Wrigley, Skittles, Starburst and Reese’s.

Fintech

  • Robinhood reported a revenue miss for its third-quarter earnings, sending the stock down 8% in after-hours trading on Tuesday. The company reported total net revenue at $365 million, versus the $431.5 million Wall Street expected. Revenues were up 35% year over year but were below the second quarter’s revenue of $565 million.

Social

Image Credits: Instagram

  • Instagram will now allow all users to share links in their Instagram Stories via the new Link Stickers, making the final move away from the “swipe up to read” gesture. The feature was previously limited to select creators.
  • TikTok is testing a new direct tipping feature with select creators. The feature lets fans tip favorite creators outside of TikTok LIVE streams where gifting is already available.
  • TikTok brings its Video Kit feature to desktop, web and consoles, in addition to its previous support for mobile apps. The expansion will allow professional creators and others to use a variety of editing and collaboration tools to make their TikTok videos, which they can then publish directly using the “Share to TikTok” functionality provided by the SDK. Early adopters include Clipchamp, Combo, Grabyo, Kapwing, Mobcrush and LG U+.
  • Twitter’s subscription service Blue adds a “Labs” feature that provides early access to tools Twitter is considering for the premium service. The first two Labs features include the ability to pin favorite DM conversations on iOS to the top of your DM inbox and support for longer video uploads (up to 10 mins.) on desktop.
  • Twitter said it added 5 million users in its third quarter, to reach average monetizable DAUs (its own metric) of 221 million, up 13% year-over-year. Revenue increased 37% to $1.28 billion, as the company noted Apple’s privacy changes with ATT only had a “modest impact” on its business.
  • Snapchat now has 100 million MAUs in India, and is partnering with Flipkart and Android smartphone vendors to increase adoption.
  • Facebook reported a miss on revenue, citing Apple’s privacy changes as one cause, ahead of its big announcement about a shift to focus on its metaverse and VR products and a rebranding of the company to “Meta.” Facebook reported $29 billion in total revenue and earnings per share of $3.22, calculated on a diluted basis. Investors had expected revenues of $29.58 billion and earnings per share of $3.19.

Messaging

Streaming & Entertainment

  • Spotify says its service is now used more by U.S. podcast listeners than Apple Podcasts. The company made the announcement during its Q3 earnings, citing its own internal data and Edison Research (where it’s a client). It did not say how many podcast listeners it had, but noted MAUs overall grew 19% year-over-year to reach 381 million in the quarter, up from 365 million last year. Premium subscribers also grew 19% to reach 172 million, up from 165 million last year. Spotify revenue was $2.9 billion in the quarter, up 27% year-over-year, with ad sales rising 75% to reach $374 million, at the top end of its guidance.
  • Clubhouse added a new Pinned Links feature that allows room creators and moderators to share URLs at the top of the room’s pages, similar to how Twitter Spaces users can add tweets to their live audio sessions.
  • Amazon is working on a Clubhouse competitor codenamed Project Mic, The Verge reported. The new app would let anyone make and distribute live radio shows that include music, which users can listen to through Audible, Amazon Music, Twitch and Alexa devices.

Dating

  • Match-owned dating app Hinge introduces a new “Voice Prompts” feature that gives users a new way to interact, by answering a prompt through a 30-second recording. The company hopes the voice feature will give users a peek into someone’s personality and hint at what a first date might be like.
  • Chinese dating app Lesdo, designed for lesbian women, announced it was shutting down. This specific niche of online dating has failed to scale and make a profit in the country, despite a potential audience of 10 million in China. Contributing to the problem of scale is a hostile environment for the LGBTQ+ community, as Beijing has pressured charities not to work with queer activists and WeChat deactivated queer groups’ public accounts, Protocol reported.
  • Tinder continued to lead the dating app market with the highest number of paid subscribers, followed by Match.com, according to new data shared by Bloomberg’s Second Measure.

Image Credits: Bloomberg Second Measure

Gaming

  • Google Stadia rolls out a free, 30-minute game trial to woo people to its service. The option is being made available on its exclusive title Hello Engineer as a test, but Google confirmed it would expand the feature to other games in the next couple of months.
  • Amazon Luna’s game streaming service announced plans to add new titles in November, including Carrion, Gris and Mortal Shell: Enhanced Edition on the Luna+ Channel, and PHOGS! on the Family Channel. It also recently rolled out Alien Isolation, Amnesia: Rebirth, Far Cry 6, Olija, Riders Republic and others.

News & Reading

  • Apple News expanded its local news coverage to Charlotte, Miami and Washington, D.C., giving users access to numerous publications such as Axios Charlotte, the Charlotte Observer, Eater Miami, the Miami Herald, DCist, Washingtonian, The Washington Post and others. The company also said it’s expanding Fitness+ and its Apple One Premier subscription bundle to 17 more countries on November 3.

Health & Fitness

  • Apple rolled out support for COVID-19 vaccination cards and test results in Wallet with the release of iOS 15.1. Vaccination and test result records are downloaded in a verifiable format that’s digitally signed by a vaccine or test result provider, Apple says.

Government & Policy

Committee Chairman Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) speaks during a Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security hearing on Protecting Kids Online: Snapchat, TikTok, and YouTube on October 26, 2021 in Washington, DC.

Image Credits: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

  • This week, reps from TikTok, Snap and YouTube faced Congress to talk about how their apps are addressing kids and online safety as the U.S. considers legislation that would require tech companies to offer a safer environment for kids online. One of the highlights from the hearing was listening to senators try to get the companies on the record as to whether or not they support specific legislation, like the upcoming COPPA revamp, which only TikTok fully said “yes” to. When asked about the KIDS Act, which would prevent manipulative marketing (like undisclosed influencer marketing), there was less support. Companies said they would be happy to “look” at the details as if the Act was new, and not something that had already been around for a while.
  • TikTok dodged questions about its plans for biometric data collection during its first-ever Senate hearing. In an update to the company’s U.S. privacy policy in June, TikTok added a new section that noted the app “may collect biometric identifiers and biometric information” from its users’ content, including things like “faceprints and voiceprints.” The company was questioned by multiple lawmakers on this matter during a hearing conducted by the Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security, which was focused on social media’s detrimental impacts on children and teens.
  • The lawmakers also asked YouTube and Snap to defend their apps’ age ratings on the app stores, where they were sometimes rated 13 and up or 17 and up, depending on the platform. Snap was also pressed on whether its content was even appropriate for younger teens, given the app’s Discover page contained content that Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) deemed “wildly inappropriate” for a child, like “recommendations for…an invite to play an online sexualized video game that’s marketed itself to people who are 18 and up; tips on, quote, ‘why you shouldn’t go to bars alone;’ notices for video games that are rated for ages 17 and up; and articles about porn stars,” he said.
  • The senators also asked TikTok, Snap and YouTube how they handled eating disorder content, after Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen‘s document leaks exposed Facebook’s knowledge that Instagram could be dangerous for teenage girls with body image issues.
  • In non-hearing news, Apple is “very likely” going to face a DOJ antitrust lawsuit, The Information reported this week, citing sources with knowledge of the matter.

Security & Privacy

  • Malware-laden “Squid Game”-themed apps have been found in the Google Play Store, including an app for Squid Game wallpaper that infected phones with Joker malware, allowing hackers to sign up the user for premium services they profit from.

💰 Barcelona-based mobile keyboard software maker Fleksy raised $1.6 million in Series A led by Spanish asset management firm Inveready. The funds will be used to help the company pivot to B2B for its white-label SDK for iOS and Android.

💰 Social networking app OneRoof, aimed at connecting people in residential buildings, raised $1.2 million in seed funding led by General Catalyst. The app offers a Slack-like hub for messaging with neighbors and is now live in around 400 buildings in NYC.

📈  Indian payments app Paytm is planning to raise as much as $2.4 billion in what could be the country’s biggest IPO, valuing the business at $20 billion. The startup has raised more than $3 billion over the past decade and was last valued at $16 billion.

🤝 Celeb video app Cameo announced its first acquisition. The company is buying marketing and merch company Represent, which helps brands and celebs set up their own individualized storefronts and already has clients like Jennifer Lopez, Ed Sheeran, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matthew McConaughey and Kendall Jenner. Deal terms were not revealed, but Cameo plans to offer “gift bundles” that will allow users to pair videos with related merch.

💰 Neobanking app Zolve raised $40 million in Series A funding led by DST Global, valuing the startup at $210 million. The app offers a bank account, and debit and credit cards for Indian users working in the U.S., or planning to.

📈  Brazilian neobank Nu (aka Nubank) filed to go public. According to its filing, Nu plans to list in the U.S. with intent to “negotiate a program of Brazilian Depositary Receipts” in its home country. In June, Nu raised a $750 million round led by Berkshire Hathaway at a $30 billion valuation.

💰 Brazilian startup Gringo, which helps drivers monitor and perform services related to their documents and vehicles, raised $8 million in new funding led by Kaszek. The app is used to manage and pay for things like driver licenses, registration and taxes, and now has 2.5 million users.

💰 Digital physical therapy app Hinge Health raised $400 million in Series E funding led by returning investors Tiger Global and Coatue Management, valuing the startup at $6.2 billion. The app helps people treat chronic musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions, like back and joint pain, and now serves more than 575 enterprise customers.

💰 Early-stage startup Groopit raised $2 million in pre-seed funding led by Ascend.vc to help companies crowdsource data from the information supplied by employees working in the field. The product can be customized for the individual businesses to gather the kinds of data it needs — and works across mobile and web.

Pikmin Bloom

Niantic’s attempt to once again replicate the success of Pokémon GO, in a way that Harry Potter: Wizards Unite has not really been able to, arrived this week. The company announced the launch of a new AR game Pikmin Bloom in collaboration with Nintendo. The game, like Pokémon GO, encourages users to go outside and explore — but now, instead of capturing Pokémon, they’ll collect seedlings and a squad of “Pikmin” — a sort of plant-animal hybrid creature. As you walk, you’ll leave AR trails of flowers behind you. The game will also later host monthly “Community Days” for Pikmin so users can plant and play together. Overall, the game seems less competitive than Pokémon GO and may be aimed at someone who wants more casual gameplay. The game initially rolled out to Singapore and Australia, then the U.S., and will continue to roll out globally.

Matterport 3D Capture (Android)

Matterport brought its 3D capture app to Android users, which allows customers to digitize their home, office or hotel with any compatible Android device, for free. Homeowners can use the app to create a digital appraisal of their property and everything in it for insurance, space planning or just peace of mind. Meanwhile, builders can plan and manage their construction projects along with designers, contractors and clientele. And real estate agents and rental property managers can quickly capture and publish 3D virtual experiences online, then share them across websites and social networks. The Matterport App for Android is available now on Google Play and can be used with a free account.



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Indian ride-hailing startup Ola valued at $7.3 billion in new funding – TechCrunch

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Indian ride-hailing giant Ola has raised $139 million at a valuation of about $7.3 billion, it said in a filing, ahead of its plans to file for an initial public offering early next year.

Mumbai-headquartered financial giant Edelweiss led the new investment tranche. IIFL, Siddhant Partners, Tejal Merchantile, Hero Enterprise also poured money, Bangalore-headquartered Ola said in the filing, which was first reported by Indian news outlet Entrackr.

The new investment comes five months after SoftBank-backed Ola raised $500 million in a round, one of the largest in the internet consumer segment in India, led by Temasek and Warburg Pincus. Ola co-founder and chief executive Bhavish Aggarwal had also invested in that round, the firm said at the time.

Ola — which operates in India as well as Australia, the U.K. and New Zealand and has over a million drivers on its platform — said at the time that its ride-hailing business had rebounded after New Delhi eased restrictions in the country.

Separately, Ola Electric has raised $52.7 million in a round led by Temasek, the firm said in a filing. This investment comes two months after Ola Electric, which spun out of Ola in 2019, raised $200 million at a $3 billion valuation in a round led by Alpha Wave Global (formerly known as Falcon Edge Capital). Aggarwal also spearheads Ola Electric.

The firm, which unveiled its electric scooters in August, has delayed the delivery of the vehicle several times citing chip shortage. Furthermore, Bangalore-headquartered mobility startup Bounce this month launched its own electric scooter that is more affordable than Ola Electric’s offerings.

But the issues don’t stop there. Both Ola and Ola Electric have seen several key executive departures in recent months as a result of what Indian outlet Morning Context reported as toxic work culture and distrustful chief executive.



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Gotham Greens opens a 10-acre farm/research facility in California – TechCrunch

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During the good number of hours I’ve spent researching and writing about vertical farming in recent months, one key word keeps popping up: proximity. So many of the resources spent on modern farming are devoted to transporting produce long stretches, ramping up carbon footprints in the process. Gotham Greens isn’t vertical farming, exactly, but it has become a poster child for locally grown agriculture, courtesy of its urban greenhouse that sits directly atop a Whole Foods in Gowanus Brooklyn.

The 10-year-old company currently has three New York City locations (two in Brooklyn and one in Queens), two additional farms on the East Coast (Baltimore and Providence), a pair in the Midwest (Chicago) and one in the Mountain region (Denver). Today, it announced further westward expansion with the opening of its first California greenhouse, based just outside UC Davis.

Image Credits: Gotham Greens

Gotham’s ninth location is a 10-acre farm designed to dramatically reduce the resources required to grow produce. Using its hydroponic technology, the company says it’s capable of reducing the standard 10 gallons of water required to grow a head of lettuce to less than a single gallon. Overall, it claims the farm will be able to save 270 million gallons of water a year, while occupying 300 fewer acres than traditional farming practices.

It’s an interesting move, heading to California, where so much of the nation’s produce is grown — and certainly a different tactic that opening a location in New York City or Chicago. Of course, in spite of California’s proud tradition of growing, the state has been plagued by the very real devastation of climate change.

Image Credits: Gotham Greens

“California is the center of North America’s leafy greens production, where water shortages, wildfires and other results of climate change are straining critical agricultural resources. By putting down roots in California, we aspire to be a part of the agricultural industry’s solution to the increasingly visible impacts of climate change,” co-founder and CEO Viraj Puri said in a release. “Our newest greenhouse facility in Northern California is strategically located to service retailers and food service providers throughout the region more quickly while conserving precious resources, including land and water.”

The proximity to UCD was no mistake, either. The company will be partnering with researchers from the school and will likely have a solid pipeline of future employees. The company also used the opportunity to announce plans to reduce the plastic in its packaging 40% (versus 2020) and electricity use 5% by the year 2024.



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Autonomous driving startup Deeproute.ai prices L4 solution at $10,000 – TechCrunch

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Deeproute.ai, an autonomous vehicle startup with offices in Shenzhen and Fremont, California, unveiled an ambitious self-driving solution on Wednesday.

The package, named DeepRoute-Driver 2.0, is a production-ready Level 4 system that costs approximately $10,000. The price tag is incredible given the hardware used: five solid-state lidar sensors, eight cameras, a proprietary computing system, and an optional millimeter-wave radar.

Lidar accounts for roughly half of the total cost, a Deeproute spokesperson told TechCrunch. “As the whole supply chain is getting more developed and scale[s] up, we can expect the cost can go further down.”

The two-year-old startup is unabashed about going up against its more mature counterparts. As it said in its Wednesday release, “DeepRoute-Driver 2.0 offers differentiation from existing L4 pioneers like Waymo and Cruise, which boast sophisticated and efficient L4 algorithms but with a hefty price tag, and from advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) such as Tesla, that are affordable but have limited capabilities in terms of fully automated driving.”

Sensor makers in China have been working to reduce the once exorbitant prices of lidar to make them fit for mass production. DJI-spawned Livox is one, and so is Temasek-backed Innovusion.

Lidar on the car roof. Photo: Deeproute.ai

Deeproute’s L4 solution uses two pieces of lidar from Robosense, which is based in Shenzhen, as its main lidar on the car roof. Three other lidar sensors from Beijing-based Z Vision are located at the front, left and right around the rear wheel, covering the vehicle’s blind spot. Both Z Vision and Deeproute are backed by Fosun RZ Capital, an affiliate fund of Chinese conglomerate Fosun Group.

The low price of Deeproute’s L4 tech could mean thin profits for the startup, or, it’s squeezing the margins of its suppliers, a founder of an autonomous vehicle startup suggested to TechCrunch.

A test drive shows that Deeproute’s L4 system is able to navigate rush-hour traffic in downtown Shenzhen, performing tasks like flexible lane change, yielding to pedestrians and auto on or off-ramp merging.

Though merely two years old, the team behind Deeproute includes pioneers in China’s self-driving industry. In 2019, Zhou Guang founded Deeproute after he was forced out of his last company Roadstar.ai amid infighting. At the time, Roadstar had raised at least $140 million from investors and was widely considered a promising player in the autonomous vehicle space.

Investors have been rooting for Zhou’s new venture. In September, the startup announced a $300 million Series B round from Alibaba, Jeneration Capital, Chinese automaker Geely, among others. 

It’s not uncommon to see OEMs and carmakers pouring money into AV startups in exchange for future production partnerships. Momenta, for instance, has landed multiple strategic investments from titans like Bosch, Toyota and Daimler.

While Deeproute hasn’t officially secured a customer for its L4 solution, the startup’s spokesperson said a few “major automakers” have taken rides in the cars integrated with the tech and “they were impressed by the functionality as well as the pricing.”

“We are very positive on the prospect of signing the contract soon,” the spokesperson said.



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At ‘Lens Fest,’ Snap debuts creations tools for more sophisticated augmented reality experiences – TechCrunch

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As Snap’s creators begin to experiment with the company’s augmented reality Spectacles hardware, the company is delving deeper into juicing the capabilities of its Lens Studio to build augmented reality filters which are more connected, more realistic and more futuristic. At the company’s annual Lens Fest event, Snap debuted a number of changes coming to their lens creation suite. Changes range from efforts to integrate outside media and data to more AR-centric features designed with a glasses-future in mind.

On the media side, Snap will be debuting a news sounds library which will allow creators to add audio clips and millions of songs from Snapchat’s library of licensed music directly into their lenses. Snap is also making efforts to bring real-time data into Lenses via an API library that showcase evolving trends like weather information from Accuweather or cryptocurrency prices from FTX. One of the bigger feature updates will allow users to embed links inside lenses and send them to different web pages.

Image: Snap

Snap’s once-goofy selfie filters remain a big growth opportunity for the company which has long had augmented reality in its sights. Snap detailed that there are now more than 2.5 million lenses that have been built by more than a quarter-million creators. Those lenses have been viewed by users a collective 3.5 trillion times, the company says. The company is building out its own internal “AR innovation lab,” called Ghost, which will help the company bankroll Lens designers who are looking to push the limits of what’s possible, dishing out grants for up to $150k for individual projects.

As the company looks to make lenses smarter, they’re also looking to. make them more technically capable.

Beyond integrating new data types, Snap is also looking at the underlying AR tech to help make for enjoyable lenses for users with lower-end phones. Its World Mesh feature has allowed users with higher-end phones to leverage AR and view lenses that integrate more real world geometry data for digital objects in a lens to interact with. Now, Snap is enabling this feature across more basic phones as well.

Image: Snap

Similarly, Snap is also rolling out tools to make digital objects react more realistically in reference to each other, debuting an in-lens physics engine which will allow for more dynamic lenses that can not only interact more deeply with the real world but can adjust to simultaneous user input as well.

Snap’s efforts to create more sophisticated lens creation tools on mobile come as the company is also looking to build out more future-flung support for the tools developers may need to design for hands-free glasses experiences on its new AR Spectacles. Creators have been crafting experiences with the new hardware for months and Snap has been building new lens functionality to address their concerns and spark up new opportunities.

Image:Snap

Ultimately, Snap’s glasses are still firmly in developer mode and the company hasn’t offered any timelines for when they might ship a consumer product with integrated AR capabilities, so they theoretically have plenty of time to build to build in the background.

Some of the tools Snap has been quietly building include Connected Lenses which enable shared experiences inside Lenses so multiple users can interact with the same content using AR Spectacles. In their developer iteration, the AR Spectacles don’t have the longest battery life, meaning that Snap has had to get creative in ensuring that Snap’s are there when you need them without running persistently. The company’s Endurance mode allows lenses to continue running in the background off-display while waiting for a specific trigger like reaching a certain GPS location.



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Samsung Electronics merges mobile and consumer electronics units, names new co-CEOs – TechCrunch

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Samsung Electronics announced today it has merged its mobile and consumer electronics units and unveiled its new leadership to replace its three major divisions leaders, effective starting today (Dec.7), in the company’s biggest shake-up since 2017.

Jong-Hee (JH) Han, head of visual display business, was promoted to vice chairman and co-CEO and will lead the newly merged mobile and consumer electronics unit, which is also called SET division, and continue to head the visual display business.

Han, who played a key role in the company achieving the company’s top position in global TV sales for the last 15 years, is expected to “strengthen the synergies among the different businesses in the SET division and help drive new business and technologies,” Samsung said.

Kyehyun Kyung, CEO of Samsung Elecro-Mechanics, was also named co-CEO of Samsung Electronics and will lead the company’s device solutions (DS) division spanning semiconductor and components units.

The tech giant said the new leadership will help lead “the next phase of the company’s future growth and to strengthen its business competitiveness.”

The consolidation of its two main units, mobile and consumer electronics, is seen as an effort to simplify its structures and focus more on the semiconductor business.

The sweeping reshuffle announcement comes roughly four months after the company’s vice president and de facto leader Jay Y. Lee was released on parole in August.

Samsung announced in November its plans for a $17 billion US semiconductor plant in Taylor Texas and laid out a $205 billion investment plan, which includes semiconductor, artificial intelligence, robotics, and biopharma, over the next three years.

Kinam Kim, the former vice chairman and head of the DS division, was named chairman of Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology. As part of its reshuffle, the company also named Hark Kyu Park as its new chief financial officer.



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EV maker Arrival to build high-voltage battery module assembly plant in North Carolina – TechCrunch

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Arrival, the electric vehicle manufacturer that aims to break up the assembly line in favor of multiple microfactories, is investing $11.5 million to build a high-voltage battery module assembly plant in Charlotte, North Carolina. The plant will provide batteries for electric buses and vans produced at the company’s microfactories in Rock Hill, South Carolina and Charlotte, respectively.

Earlier this week, Arrival also agreed to collaborate with Li-Cycle, a lithium-ion battery recycler, to create a closed-loop EV battery supply chain. Like most other automakers, Arrival is recognizing the reality of supply chain delays and materials shortages and is working to vertically integrate as much of the process as possible, while also maintaining its commitment to sustainability.

“This was not always part of the plan,” Katie Blixt, Arrival’s head of PR and communications in North America, told TechCrunch. “As we’re figuring out the production plan and timeline and figuring out what makes sense to bring in-house and add to our vertical integration, we just decided that the best move was for us to be able to assemble these ourselves and have more control over the process.”

Over the next several months, Arrival will be refitting an existing warehouse in order to start production in the third quarter of 2022, according to Blixt, who noted that Arrival’s battery chemistry supplier is LG. The plant should have a production capacity of up to 350,000 battery modules per year, which can be used across Arrival’s different commercial vehicle platforms and can be tailored to suit the customer’s specific battery requirements, according to the company.

Arrival has announced before that it hopes to build 31 microfactories by 2024. So far, it has three planned for 2022; Arrival aims to start production of its buses at Rock Hill in Q2 next year, vans in Bicester, England in Q3 and vans in Charlotte in Q4.

“We’ve withdrawn long-term forecasts on microfactory numbers beyond that because the advantage of the microfactory model is that we don’t have to plan several years in the future and the number will be determined by demand and access to capital,” said Blixt.

Whenever Arrival does start scaling up its microfactories, it will also now scale battery assembly plants alongside them, so it’s almost an opposite approach to the Tesla gigafactory style of production, said Blixt, noting that Arrival might build multiple regional battery assembly facilities to supply local microfactories.

The battery modules will be software-based and have self-diagnostic capabilities, so if there’s an issue with one, the module itself can be replaced instead of the entire set of batteries in the vehicle, said Blixt. If the software detects an anomaly, it will send information up to the cloud for Arrival’s technicians to diagnose and then send instructions back down to Arrival’s network of outside service providers. The company recently announced partnerships with companies like Valvoline and Firestone to provide Arrival customers with vehicle maintenance.



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Aussie online used car dealership Carma comes out of stealth with $20M seed round – TechCrunch

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Australia is emerging onto the online used car dealership scene with Carma, a startup that just raised a $20 million (AUD $28 million) seed round from Tiger Global, an American investment firm. Carma has been operating in stealth for the past nine months, and says the funding has enabled the company to recruit an executive team, develop its website and establish its first inspection and reconditioning facility in Sydney.

Carma isn’t the first online car dealership with a punny name. The startup now joins the ranks of Carvana and Vroom in the U.S., Clutch and Canada Drives in Canada, Kavak in Mexico and Cazoo in the U.K. They’re all coming to fruition at a time when the pandemic has resulted in a shortage of semiconductors, which has led to automakers being unable to meet rising demand in vehicles. Increasingly, consumers want a contactless, frictionless way to not only search for and buy a used car, but also have it delivered to their doors – a service companies like Carma are offering in their native markets around the world.

“We are convinced there is a massive opportunity to disrupt the used car industry in Australia by replicating an online, full-stack model that we see achieving success in the US and globally,” said Griffin Schroeder, partner at Tiger Global.

Carma’s service will open to Sydney customers first, but Carma plans to expand throughout the state of New South Wales in the coming months, and to Brisbane and Melbourne next year. The startup said it would begin another round of fundraising soon to support its accelerated expansion plans in 2022.

“Investment in the digital used car dealership space is very active globally, given the international success of the model,” said Carma co-founder and CEO, Lachlan MacGregor, in a statement. “Having this significant backing from Tiger Global has been a fantastic vote of confidence in Carma and allowed us to move rapidly to build out an exceptional team, technology stack and physical infrastructure. We skipped the start-up phase and were able to go straight to scaling up with a proven business model.”

With this sizeable seed round, Carma is gearing up to launch its online platform. The company currently has a fleet of 300 vehicles in stock, which it sources from private sellers, other dealers and through auctions, but will shortly have over 500, according to a spokesperson for the company.

“Typically, our cars are under five years old, with less than 100,000 kms (62,137 miles), and with the latest features,” a spokesperson for Carma told TechCrunch. “After we buy them, they undergo a thorough mechanical inspection, repair and reconditioning process in-house, before being photographed at our state-of-the-art facility in Sydney. We will only sell cars that meet our high standards.”

Customers looking at cars on Carma’s platform will be able to view 360-degree high-res imagery of the exterior and interior, with any flaws called out and photographed. The company says it will offer transparent prices and over-the-phone and online customer support. After a checkout process that can take as little as 10 minutes, customers can have a car delivered to their homes and are given a week to try it out. If they’re not satisfied, they get their money back – all standard stuff in this industry.

The Australian used car landscape is fragmented, and the online car buying space is somewhat limited to classifieds and Facebook Marketplace. Carma has no major competition to speak of, so it has a chance to corner the market while it’s hot.



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