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Thursday, September 19, 2019

Today Crunch News, News Updates, Tech News

Today Crunch News, News Updates, Tech News


Subscription email app Tempo hits the right minimalist notes

Posted: 19 Sep 2019 04:17 PM PDT

Email will likely never die, but if new apps can change how we think about using it, maybe it will feel like the worst parts have croaked.

In the wake of popular apps like Inbox and Mailbox being sunsetted, like many, I’ve been left rudderless trying to find an email client that fills the void. I’ve been experimenting with so-called premium email clients for a while, and a tiny team in Copenhagen has built what has become my favorite as of late.

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Tempo is an email app — currently in free beta — that tries to minimize distractions while helping you be more deliberate and less obsessive about email.

“We believe that we can provide something better for email, but you can’t be everything for everybody,” co-founder Sebastian Stockmarr told TechCrunch in an interview. “I think we’re ready for this fragmentation of the market where we can actually have these niche products, but then they’re still for the most widely used technology for communication.”

It’s Mac-only for Gmail users at the moment, though Android, iOS and Windows platform-support are all on the docket.

Tempo’s niche has grown a bit since development began, and the co-founders have eased up on some of their originally spartan design choices that included a desktop app where you couldn’t access your full inbox and a beta mobile app that didn’t allow you to reply to emails at all.

The radical design decisions were originally made to organize around the idea that being a slave to notifications was bad for productivity and that email was never meant to be an ever-present life blood. The app had “hard-coded in good habits,” Stockmarr told me. Over time, the app has become more appealing to a general user, but as the company prepares to launch their mobile app, they are trying to ensure that they can stop their users from defaulting to bad habits with the proper interface.

“Mobile is a pretty important piece,” Stockmarr says. “If we want to allow people to focus more and be less disturbed by things, I think the biggest killer of that is in our pockets.”

The app has just emerged from its invite-only days in recent weeks and after relying on it for the past couple of months, I’ve really begun to enjoy some of its intricacies. The most recent email service I spent time with was Superhuman, so expect a few comparisons.

Tempo is an email app that’s about directing your focus. Workplace toolsets are so often about sending you mixed signals that drag you out of deep work. Tempo is a design-focused desktop email app that encourages you to give your all to it while it’s fullscreen on your computer, and then to let your more trivial emails fade while you get to your other work.

The fundamental difference between the two apps is that Superhuman has optimized for users to get in and out of the app quickly so they can stay current, but Tempo is more focused on you settling into the app but using it less per day. True to the sell, I’ve ended up checking my email less with Tempo, but I spend more time in the app sending more emails when I do.

The most useful feature of Superhuman was splitting the inbox into messages that were sent only to you and ones that are more likely to be spam or low-priority. You aren’t currently able to designate new inbox buckets or set your own rules, which is something that may hold back power users from adopting it.

“Focus” is a dedicated mode inside the app that just tosses your most recent email in fullscreen glory right in front of you, and gives you the option to archive it, delete it, send it to the workspace or pound out a quick reply. The quick replies are kind of fun; they somewhat arbitrarily give you a 140-character “limit” that you of course can blow through, but Tempo finds places to encourage you to just get done what you need to rather than rattling on.

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Tempo’s workspace (image via Tempo)

The workspace is probably the main distinguishing feature of the app — it’s a to-do list that you stock with emails that probably warranted more than a quick reply and may necessitate a few messages before they’re safely out of mind. Combining a getting-things-done interface with your inbox makes a lot of sense, given how parallel the mantras of GTD and inbox-zero are. One feature that I don’t use, because I can’t really afford to as a reporter (or so I tell myself), is scheduled notifications, where you are only sent a desktop notification or two per day letting you know that you have emails to check. You can schedule when these arrive and it encourages you to not be afraid to let a few emails build up in your inbox rather than obsessively checking them.

There are still some design quirks I don’t love, especially regarding how search works, some of the reply/forward mechanics and the occasional beta bugginess, but it seems to help me be healthier about email without feeling too preachy. While competing apps like Superhuman are putting the emphasis on speed, Tempo’s founders say that shaving milliseconds from open times isn’t where much of their focus lies.

“Speed, in itself, is not a goal for us,” Stockmarr tells TechCrunch.

That seems pretty in-line with the product’s design ethos, but it also might have something to do with the fact that Tempo just has five people on its team and isn’t looking to raise any big venture rounds soon, saying that they believe they’re within sight of profitability with the current funding from the design studio Founders inside which Tempo sits.

Tempo’s Mac desktop app is currently free, but once the startup launches their mobile app, they’re planning to charge $15 per month for the service. The service might cost half of Superhuman’s $30/mo, but the test for the startup will be forcing users to compare how the app makes them feel about their relationship with email versus how it makes their credit card feel.

Facebook employee dies after apparent suicide at company’s Menlo Park headquarters

Posted: 19 Sep 2019 04:11 PM PDT

An employee of Facebook died by apparent suicide Thursday morning, Menlo Park police reported and the company confirmed.

“We were saddened to learn that one of our employees passed away at our Menlo Park headquarters earlier today,” a Facebook spokesperson told TechCrunch in an email.

The male employee was pronounced dead at the scene, which was near the 100 block of Jefferson Drive at a building on Facebook’s Menlo Park campus. Police say that after preliminary investigations they do not suspect any foul play.

“Menlo Park Police Officers and Menlo Park Fire Protection District personnel responded, and when they arrived, found the victim unresponsive,” a police press release reads.

“We’re cooperating with police in their investigation and providing support to employees. While the family is being notified, we have no information to share. We hope to provide an update when we learn additional information from law enforcement,” the Facebook spokesperson further noted.

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or has had thoughts of harming themselves or taking their own life, get help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) provides 24/7, free, confidential support for people in distress, as well as best practices for professionals and resources to aid in prevention and crisis situations.

The Mate 30 is a moment of truth for Huawei

Posted: 19 Sep 2019 03:59 PM PDT

We've known this day would come for a long time now. Over the past several months, however, it feels like it has arrived in slow motion. Seemingly legitimate concerns over security and sanction violations have been muddled by chest-puffing and braggadocio and large-headed leaders promising to do deals. Executives were arrested in Canada and the company was added to a trade blacklist, only to be given a temporary reprieve.

This morning, in spite of it all, Huawei unveiled its latest flagship. The Mate 30 Pro is a beast of a smartphone, as we've come to expect from the Chinese electronics powerhouse. It has a quartet of cameras aligned in a ring up top. On the flip side, a 6.53-inch flexible OLED hugs the corners of the handset, boasting an always-on functionality — the long-awaited new feature that served as the central selling point for Apple's latest wearable.

From a 100-foot view, however, it seems inevitable that no one will remember the handset for its screen or cameras or beefy 4,500mAh. It's what's missing that's the most notable. The Mate 30 and Mate 30 Pro don't use full Android, but rather an open-source version of the operating system based on it. More importantly, they are missing Google's fundamental apps like Gmail, Maps and Chrome, a central part of the Android experience. Worse yet, there's no Google Play Store to download them.

The solutions for now are mostly stop-gap. There's a Huawei-branded browser that lets you download apps through a Huawei-branded channel. There are 45,000 or so. Not bad, but nowhere near the 2.7 million you'll find via Google Play. There will be better solutions to these, but they take a lot of time and money. Huawei's got plenty of the latter, though the former has been the cause for some debate amongst those following the company.

The emergence of super apps in Latin America

Posted: 19 Sep 2019 02:00 PM PDT

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

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

The expansion of the super apps model

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

Note that not all super apps are the same.

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

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

So, what to expect in Latin America?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twitter launches its controversial ‘Hide Replies’ feature in the US and Japan

Posted: 19 Sep 2019 02:00 PM PDT

Twitter’s controversial “Hide Replies” feature, aimed at civilizing conversations on its platform, is launching today in the U.S. and Japan after earlier tests in Canada. The addition is one of the more radical changes to Twitter to date. It puts people back in control of a conversation they’ve started by giving them the ability to hide those contributions they think are unworthy.

These replies, which may range from the irrelevant to the outright offensive, aren’t actually deleted from Twitter. They’re just put behind an extra click.

That means people who come into a conversation to cause drama, make inappropriate remarks or bully and abuse others won’t have their voices heard by the majority of the conversation’s participants. Only those who choose to view the hidden replies will see those posts.

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Other social media platforms don’t give so much power to commenters to disrupt conversations. On Facebook and Instagram, for example, you can delete any replies to your own posts.

But Twitter has a different vibe. It’s meant to be a public town square, where everyone has a right to speak (within reason.)

Unfortunately, Twitter’s open nature also led to bullying and abuse. Before today, the only options Twitter offered were to mute, block and report users. Blocking and muting, however, only impact your own Twitter experience. You may no longer see posts from those users, but others still could. Reporting a tweet is also a complicated process that takes time. It’s not an immediate solution for a conversation rapidly spinning out of control.

While “Hide Replies” will help address these problems, it ships with challenges of its own, too. It could be used as a way to silence dissenting opinions, including those expressed thoughtfully, or even fact-checked clarifications.

Twitter believes the feature will ultimately encourage people to better behave when posting to its platform.

"We already see people trying to keep their conversations healthy by using block, mute, and report, but these tools don't always address the issue. Block and mute only change the experience of the blocker, and report only works for the content that violates our policies," explained Twitter's PM of Health Michelle Yasmeen Haq earlier this year.

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Since launching in Canada in July, Twitter said that people mostly used the feature to hide replies they found were irrelevant, abusive or unintelligible. User feedback was positive, as well, as those who used the tool said they found it was a helpful way to control what they saw, similar to keyword muting.

In a survey, 27% of those who had their tweets hidden said they would reconsider how they interact with others in the future, Twitter said. That’s not a large majority, but it’s enough to make a dent. However, it’s unclear how representative this survey was. Twitter declined to say how many people used the feature or how many were surveyed about its impacts.

The system will now also ask users who hide replies if they also want to block the account, as a means of clarifying that “hiding” is a different function.

“These are positive and heartening results: the feature helped people have better conversations, and was a useful tool against replies that deterred from the person's original intent,” explained Twitter in a blog post, shared today. “We’re interested to see if these trends continue, and if new ones emerge, as we expand our test to Japan and the U.S. People in these markets use Twitter in many unique ways, and we're excited to see how they might use this new tool,” the post read.

Despite the expansion, Twitter says “Hide Replies” is still considered a test as the company is continuing to evaluate the system, and it’s not available to Twitter’s global user base.

The new feature will start rolling out at 2 PM PT in both the U.S. and Japan and will be available across mobile and web clients.

Readying an IPO, Postmates secures $225M led by private equity firm GPI Capital

Posted: 19 Sep 2019 01:54 PM PDT

Postmates, the popular food delivery service, has raised another $225 million at a valuation of $2.4 billion, the company confirmed to TechCrunch on Thursday, ahead of an imminent initial public offering.

Private equity firm GPI Capital has led the investment, first reported by Forbes, which brings Postmates’ total funding to nearly $1 billion. GPI takes non-controlling stakes — between 2% and 20% — in both late-stage private companies and publicly listed ventures.

After tapping JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America to lead its float, Postmates filed privately with the Securities and Exchange Commission for an IPO earlier this year. Sources familiar with the company’s exit plans say the business intends to publicly unveil its IPO prospectus this month.

To discuss the company’s journey to the public markets and the challenges ahead in the increasingly crowded food delivery space, Postmates co-founder and chief executive officer Bastian Lehmann will join us onstage at TechCrunch Disrupt on Friday October 4th.

As Forbes noted, last-minute financings are critical for companies poised to run out of cash and in need of an infusion prior to hitting the public markets. The motives for Postmates’ last-minute financing are unclear; however, the company will certainly begin trading on the stock market at an interesting time. 2019 has proven to be the year of unicorn listings, and former Silicon Valley darlings like Uber and Lyft have struggled to stabilize since their multi-billion-dollar debuts, despite years of support and coddling from venture capitalists.

Meanwhile, activity in the food delivery space has distracted from Postmates’ prospects. DoorDash, for one, recently purchased another food delivery service, Caviar, from Square in a deal worth $410 million. Uber is said to have considered buying Caviar, which had been looking for a buyer at least since 2016, according to Bloomberg. Postmates, for its part, has long been the subject of M&A rumors.

On-demand food delivery, undeniably popular, has yet to prove its long-term viability as a money-making business. At the very least, a sizeable check from a private equity firm ensures Postmates has the capital it needs, for the time being, to accelerate growth and double down on its autonomous robotic delivery ambitions.

Founded in 2011, Postmates is also backed by Spark Capital, Founders Fund, Uncork Capital, Slow Ventures, Tiger Global, Blackrock and others.

Lime is shutting down car rental service, LimePod

Posted: 19 Sep 2019 01:34 PM PDT

Transportation startup Lime is shutting down LimePod, its car-sharing service that it launched last November in Seattle. Lime plans to start removing its vehicles from the streets of Seattle next month and will completely shut down the service by the end of the year. The news was first reported by GeekWire.

Lime has operated a pilot program in Seattle since last year and is set to conclude at the end of the year. Throughout the program, more than 18,000 people took more than 200,000 trips in LimePods, according to a Lime spokesperson. At launch, the plan was to explore carsharing for short distances and eventually replace its vehicles with an all-electric fleet. Lime, however, is not looking to make LimePods a permanent fixture of the city at this point.

“While the program was a great learning experience, at our core, we are an electric mobility company first,” Lime wrote in an email to LimePod users. “We are committed — like Seattle is — to sustainability, lower carbon emissions, and to make cities more livable, all of which require reduced car travel.”

Additionally, Lime said it was not able to find the right partner for its LimePod’s electric fleet, which led to the decision to end the program at the end of the pilot period.

“We deeply appreciate our partnership with the Seattle community and the opportunity to collaborate on our LimePod Pilot Program,” a Lime spokesperson told TechCrunch. “The experience is a testament to the city's forward-looking position on the future of transportation and the necessity of sustainable options for citizens. We are similarly committed to that goal and the information gained during our pilot will support the work necessary should we decide to expand and improve this service with an all-electric fleet in the future.”

Lime, which got its beginnings as a bike-share company, has deployed its scooters and bikes in more than 100 cities in the U.S. and more than 20 international cities. Recently, Lime hit 100 million rides across its micromobility vehicles. Clearly, Lime sees more of a future with shared bikes and scooters than it does with cars.

Earlier this year, Lime raised a $310 million Series D round led by Bain Capital Ventures and others. That round valued the startup at $2.4 billion.

Ricoh’s Theta Z1 is the first truly premium consumer 360 camera

Posted: 19 Sep 2019 01:05 PM PDT

Ricoh has a well-earned good reputation when it comes to building smart, technically excellent photographic equipment — including the almost legendary Ricoh GR series of pocketable APS-C cameras, which are a favorite among street photographers everywhere. Earlier this year, the company released the Ricoh Theta Z1, which builds on its success with its pioneering Theta line of 360-degree cameras and delivers a step-up in terms of image quality and build that will feel at home in the hands of enthusiasts and pro photographers.

The Theta Z1 is what happens when you push the limits of what’s possible in a portable form factor 360 camera, both in terms of build materials and what’s going on on the inside. Like its more affordable, older sibling, the Theta V, it shoots both stills and video in 360 degrees — but unlike the V, it does so using two 1-inch sensors — unprecedented for a 360 camera in this category. Sony’s celebrated RX100 series was pushing boundaries with its own 1-inch sensor in a traditional compact camera, and the Ricoh is similarly expanding the boundaries of 360 photography by including not just one, but two such sensors in its Z1. That translates to unmatched image quality for 360 photographers — provided you’re willing to pay a premium price to get it.

Design and build

The Ricoh Theta Z1 feels a lot like previous iterations of the Theta line — it’s essentially a handle with two big lenses on top, which is a pretty optimal design overall for a device you’re mostly going to be holding up to take 360 photos and video. It’s a bit bulkier than previous generations, and heavier, too, but it’s still a very portable device despite the increased size.

Ricoh Theta Z1 7

With the bulkier build, you also get a magnesium outer case, which is textured and feels fantastic when held. If you’ve ever held a pro DSLR or mirrorless camera, then the feel will be familiar, and that says a lot about Ricoh’s target audience with this $1,000 device. The magnesium alloy shell isn’t only for making it feel like it’s worth what it costs, however; you also get big durability benefits, which is important on a device that you’re probably going to want to use in remote locales and off the beaten path.

The build quality also feels incredibly solid, and the button layout is simple and easy to understand. There’s a single shutter button on the front of the camera, just above an OLED display that provides basic info about remaining space for images or video, battery life and connection status. A single LED indicates both mode and capture status information, and four buttons on the side control power on/off, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections, photo and video mode switching and enabling basic functions like a shutter countdown timer.

[gallery ids="1884065,1884067,1884066"]

Using the hardware buttons to control the Theta Z1 independent of your smartphone, where you can remotely control all aspects of the camera when connected via Wi-Fi and using the app, is intuitive and easy, and probably the way you’ll use the Z1 more often than not when you’re actually out and about. There’s little to worry about when it comes to framing, for instance, because it captures a full 360 image, and you can handle all of that after the fact with Ricoh’s editing tools prior to sharing.

On the bottom, there’s a USB-C port for charging and wired data transfer, and a 1/4″ standard tripod mount for attaching the Z1 to tripods or other accessories. This is useful, because if you use a small handle you’ll get a better overall image, as the Z1’s software automatically edits out the camera, and, to some extent, the thing that’s supporting it. There’s also a small lug for attaching a wrist strap, but what you won’t find is a flap or door for a micro SD card — the Theta Z1 relies entirely on built-in storage, and offers just under 20GB of usable storage.

Ricoh Theta Z1 9

Still images

Ricoh’s Theta Z1 has two 1-inch sensors on board, as mentioned, and those combine to provide an image resolution of 670×3360. The camera captures two 180-degree fields of view from each lens, and automatically stitches them together in software to produce the final image. The result is the sharpest, most color-accurate still photos I’ve ever seen from a 360-degree camera, short of the kind of content shot by professionals on equipment costing at least 10x more.

The resulting images do incredibly well when viewed through VR headsets, for instance, or when you use Theta’s own 360 viewer for web in full-screen mode on high-resolution displays. They also make it possible to export flat images that still look sharp, which you can crop and edit in the Theta+ app. You can create some truly amazing images with interesting perspective that would be hard to get using a traditional camera.

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Indoors in low-light situations, the Ricoh Theta Z1 still performs pretty well, especially compared to its competitors, thanks to those big 1-inch sensors. Especially in well-lit indoor environments, like in the restaurant example below, details are sharp and crisp across the frame and colors come out great.

In settings where a lot of the frame is dark or unevenly lit, as in the example at the Robot Restaurant in Tokyo below, the results aren’t nearly as good when operating in full automatic mode. You can see that there is some blur in the parts of the scene with motion, and there’s more grain apparent in parts of the frame, too. Overall though, the audience is pretty well captured and the colors still look accurate and good despite the many different tones from different sources.

The Ricoh Theta Z1 still does its best work in bright outdoor settings, however — which is true for any camera, but especially for cameras with sensors smaller than full-frame or APS-C. It’s still definitely capable enough to capture images you can work with, and that provide a great way to revisit great events or memories in a more immersive way than standard 2D images can accomplish.

You can adjust settings, including aperture to optimize your photo capture, as well as choosing between f/2.1, f/3.5 and f/5.6, with higher apertures offering higher-resolution images. The built-in lens has been designed to reduce ghosting, purple fringe artifacts and flare, and it does an outstanding job at this. RAW capture allows you to edit DNG files using Lightroom, and it works amazingly well with Lightroom mobile for advanced tweaks right on the same device.

Video

The Ricoh Theta Z1 does video, too — though the specs for the video it produces are essentially unchanged from the Theta V on paper. It can capture 4K video at 30 fps/56 mbps or 2K video at 30fps/16mbps, and live stream in both 4K and 2K. There’s a four-channel built-in microphone for immersive audio recording, and it can record as much as 40 minutes of 4K or 130 minutes of 2K footage, though each individual recording session is capped at 5 minutes and 25 minutes for 4K and 2K, respectively.

Ricoh has tougher competition when it comes to video in the 360 camera game — Insta 360’s One X has been a clear winner in this category, and has led to this camera even finding some fans when compared to action cameras like the GoPro Hero 7 and the DJI Osmo Action, thanks in large part to its fantastic built-in image stabilization.

The Ricoh Theta Z1 just frankly doesn’t impress in this regard. The sensors do allow for potentially better image quality overall, but the image stabilization is definitely lacking, as you can see, and overall quality just isn’t there when measured against the Insta360 One X. For a fixed installation for real-time live-streaming, the Ricoh probably makes more sense, but video isn’t the device’s strength, and it’s a little disappointing given its still shooting prowess.

Features and sharing

The range of editing options available either via Theta+ or using the DNG files in both mobile and desktop photo editing software for the Theta Z1 is outstanding. You can really create and compose images in a wide variety of ways, including applying stickers and text that stick to the frame as a viewer navigates around the image. Sharing from the Theta app directly works with a number of platforms, including YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and theta360.com, where you can get embeddable 360 images like those found in this post above.

Ricoh has done a great job making sure you can not only capture the best possible 360 images with this camera, but also share them with others. It’s also leading the pack when it comes to the range of options you have for getting creative with slicing up those 7K spherical images in a variety of ways for traditional flat image output, which is not surprising, given the company’s heritage.

Bottom line

Simply put, the Ricoh Theta Z1 is the best 360 camera for still photos that you can buy for less than $1,000 – even if just squeaks under that line. It’s the best still photo 360 camera you can pick up for considerably more than that, too, given its sensor arrangement and other technical aspects of the device, including its selectable aperture settings and RAW output.

The $999.95 asking price is definitely on the high end for this category — the Theta V retails for less than half that, as does the Insta360 One X. But I mentioned the Sony RX100 above, and the pricing is similar: You can get a compact camera for much less money, including very good ones, but the latest RX100 always commands a premium price, which people are willing to pay for the very best-in-class device.

If what you want is the best still photography 360 camera on the market, the Ricoh Theta Z1 is easily it, and if that’s the specific thing you’re looking for, then Ricoh has packed a lot of cutting-edge tech into a small package with the Z1.

Google announces 18 new renewable energy deals

Posted: 19 Sep 2019 01:00 PM PDT

Google today announced its largest package of renewable energy deals yet. Worth a total of 1,600-megawatts, the package includes 18 deals in the U.S., Chile and Europe. This brings Google’s current set of wind and solar agreements to about 5,500 megawatts (MW) and the company’s number of total renewables projects it’s involved in to 52. Google argues that these new projects it announced today will drive about $2 billion in investments in new energy infrastructure.

In the U.S., Google says it’ll purchase a total of 720 MW from solar farms in North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas. In Chile, it’s buying an additional 125 MW to power its data center there. For reasons only known to Google PR, the company will only announce details of its plans for Europe tomorrow, at an event in Finland, where Google CEO Sundar Pichai will be present.

RE americas v3

In today’s announcement, Pichai notes that many of Google’s earlier investments were in wind energy. Its new investments in the U.S. are mostly in solar, though. The reason for that, he notes, is the declining cost of solar. In Chile, the company is investing in a hybrid solar and wind deal for the first time. “Because the wind often blows at different times than the sun shines, pairing them will allow us to match our Chilean data center with carbon-free electricity for a larger portion of each day,” Pichai writes.

Google’s announcements follow Amazon’s pledge to run its business on 100% renewable energy by 2030 and buy 100,000 electric vans.

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Finding sustainable success with Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman

Posted: 19 Sep 2019 12:21 PM PDT

"We were so low that people would take advantage of us. People we knew well would just lie to us. One of my favorites was a company we did an enormous amount of work for and really helped save. We then went to see the CEO and he said, 'I really love you guys but we just don’t make these kinds of investments.'”

When you hear an investment banker recounting the tribulations of raising a private equity fund, your first response might be to get out the metaphorical small violin in your head. But when I met-up recently with Stephen Schwarzman, The Blackstone Group's Chairman, CEO and co-founder, and heard several statements like the one above, I came to appreciate that he and his co-founder, gentlemen capitalist (and former Commerce Secretary) Pete Petersen, endured their fair share of indignities and near-fatal setbacks on the road to establishing Blackstone as an alternative investment management powerhouse.

At 38 years old at the time of Blackstone's founding, Schwarzman was already successful and celebrated for having played an integral role in orchestrating a rescue of Lehman Brothers from a set of risky trades spurred on by its then-trader-CEO Lew Glucksman. But Schwarzman's journey from banker to Wall Street entrepreneur to head of a $500-billion-plus asset manager is more interesting and nuanced than I had realized. On that basis alone, Schwarzman's new book easily clears the hurdle rate for the entrepreneurially minded, and especially for those interested in the unique challenges of scaling a financial services business from scratch.

Feature image by John Moore/Getty Images

Thinkful confirms data breach days after Chegg’s $80M acquisition

Posted: 19 Sep 2019 12:08 PM PDT

Thinkful, an online education site for developers, has confirmed a data breach, just days after it confirmed it would be acquired.

“We recently discovered that an unauthorized party may have gained access to certain Thinkful company credentials so, out of an abundance of caution, we are notifying all of our users,” said Erin Rosenblatt, the company’s vice-president of operations, in an email to users.

“As soon as we discovered this unauthorized access, we promptly changed the credentials, took additional steps to enhance the security measures we have in place, and initiated a full investigation,” the executive said.

At the time of writing, there has been no public acknowledgement of the breach beyond the email to users.

Thinkful, based in Brooklyn, New York, provides education and training for developers and programmers. The company claims the vast majority of its graduates get jobs in their field of study within a half-year of finishing their program. Earlier this month, education tech giant Chegg bought Thinkful for $80 million in cash.

But the company would not say when the breach happened — or if Chegg knew of the data breach prior to the acquisition announcement.

A spokesperson for Chegg did not respond to a request for comment. Thinkful spokesperson Catherine Zuppe did not respond to several emails of questions about the breach.

The email to users said the stolen credentials could not have granted the hacker access to certain information, such as government-issued IDs and Social Security numbers, or financial information. But although the company said it’s seen “no evidence” of any unauthorized access to users’ account data, it did not rule out any improper access to user data.

Thinkful said it is requiring all users to change their passwords.

We also asked Thinkful what security measures it has employed since the credentials breach, such as employing two-factor authentication, but did not hear back.

Just months earlier, Chegg confirmed a data breach, which forced the online technology giant to reset the passwords of its 40 million users.

At least Thinkful is now in good company.

Founders, get to Disrupt SF for answers to the really hard questions

Posted: 19 Sep 2019 11:44 AM PDT

One lesson from TechCrunch’s Disrupt SF is that founders can’d get enough programming on the really hard questions.  How do I get into Y Combinator? How do I hire a technical lead? How do I raise my first round? That’s why we created a special stage at Disrupt SF for the sole purpose of bringing the top Silicon Valley experts on stage to go deep on those questions with TechCrunch editors and also take audience  questions. We call this the Extra Crunch stage, in a tip of the hat to TechCrunch’s Extra Crunch subscription service, which has the same, founder-centric mission.

Please check out the agenda for all three days of the Extra Crunch stage below. You can see the full agenda here (including new additions Will Smith and Steph Curry), which includes the main and Q&A stages as well. Get your Disrupt SF pass here – but remember that only Innovator, Founder and Investor passes get access to the programming at Disrupt.

AGENDA for the Extra Crunch Stage

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 2

10:05 am – 10:45 am How to Build a Billion-Dollar SaaS Company with Neeraj Agrawal (Battery Ventures), Jyoti Bansal (AppDynamics) and Whitney Bouck (HelloSign) 

Growing your SaaS company to a billion dollars in revenue is no easy task. It takes patience, perseverance and a strong team. Often it doesn't happen until well after a company has gone public. We will talk to three people who have experience working with SaaS startups and understand the unique challenges they face getting to a billion dollars and beyond.

11:05 am – 11:45 am Could the U.S. Government Be Your Next Investor? with Steve Isakowitz (The Aerospace Corporation) and Raj Shah (DIU) 

No founder likes dilution, which is why the U.S. government is becoming an increasingly popular source for early-stage, ambitious venture capital. Hear from leaders who have navigated the process to discover your next source of non-dilutive capital.

11:45 am – 12:15 pm How to Evaluate Talent and Make Decisions with Ray Dalio (Bridgewater)

Ray Dalio knows a thing or two about building successful startups. As founder of the firm Bridgewater, he helped build it into one of the most successful investment companies ever, managing a whopping $150 billion in assets. He recently wrote a book called Principles, and he's here on the TechCrunch Disrupt Extra Crunch stage to discuss the book and companion mobile app on how building a strong culture can lead to a flourishing startup.

1:35 pm – 2:15 pm How to Take a Digital Brand Offline with Rich Fulop (Brooklinen), James Reinhart (thredUP) and Susan Tynan (Framebridge)

E-commerce has fundamentally changed the way we browse and buy physical goods. But even though online sales have taken a huge bite out of brick-and-mortar, it doesn't mean that digital brands aren't interested in the prospect of offline channels. Hear from three founders who have taken their own unique approach to launching a store.

2:15 pm – 2:55 pm How to Hire at Breakneck Speed with Scott Cutler (StockX), Harj Taggar (Triplebyte) and Liz Wessel (WayUp)

Nothing is better than striking product-market fit and suddenly finding a path to rapid, venture-scale growth. But as that growth accelerates, how do you create the conditions to rapidly find, attract and hire the talent you need to reach unicorn status? Hear from some of the leading recruiters and services on how they have successfully scaled recruiting and avoided key pitfalls.

3:15 pm – 3:45 pm How to Get into Y Combinator with Ali Rowghani (Y Combinator) and Michael Seibel (Y Combinator)

The seed-stage venture firm has come to form its own startup economy over the years, with its network of companies and founders interconnecting across the tech industry and beyond. Find out how Y Combinator works today, and how you can become a part of it, in this discussion with CEO of YC Continuity Ali Rowghani and CEO and partner Michael Seibel.

3:45 pm – 4:25 pm How to Build a Subscription Product with Alex Friedman (LOLA), Eurie Kim (Forerunner Ventures) and Sandra Oh Lin (KiwiCo)

The direct-to-consumer landscape has exploded in the past year, but the keys to making a subscription product indispensable are still up in the air, as few have discovered a path to success. This chat with LOLA’s Alex Friedman, Forerunner partner Eurie Kim and KiwiCo's Sandra Oh Lin will address the constant struggles of getting a subscription service off the ground and retaining customers.

4:25 pm – 4:45 pm How to Locate the Value with Dennis Crowley (Foursquare)

Foursquare has pulled off a monumental pivot over the last decade, going from a silly location-based social network to an integral enterprise business with the chops to take on Google and Facebook. Hear founder Dennis Crowley discuss the journey the company has taken over the past ten years and what the next ten years looks like for New York's tech sweetheart.

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 3

10:00 am – 10:40 am How to Raise My First Dollars with Russ Heddleston (DocSend), Charles Hudson (Precursor) and Annie Kadavy (Redpoint Ventures)

Venture funding may have boomed over the last decade, but the decisions around your initial funding are as tricky as ever. Hear how to take advantage of the current landscape from top Silicon Valley early-stage thinkers, including pre-seed investor Charles Hudson of Precursor Ventures, early-stage investor Annie Kadavy of Redpoint Ventures and Russ Heddleston, CEO of DocSend.

11:00 am – 11:40 am How to Build a Secure Startup without Slowing Growth with Heather Adkins (Google), Jennifer Sunshine Steffens (IOActive) and Dug Song (Duo)

Leading security experts from Google, Duo and IOActive discuss some of the challenges startups and enterprises face in security. How do companies navigate the litany of issues and threats without hampering growth?

12:40 pm – 1:20 pm How to Build a Sex Tech Startup with Cyan Banister (Founders Fund), Cindy Gallop (MakeLoveNotPorn) and Lora Haddock (Lora DiCarlo)

As the old adage goes, sex sells. A panel of investors and founders will discuss the opportunities — and challenges — of building a successful sex tech startup, and how to capitalize on a market that’s projected to be worth more than $123 billion by 2026.

1:40 pm – 2:20 pm How to Build a Space Economy with Tess Hatch (Bessemer Venture Partners), Sara Spangelo (Swarm Technologies) and Adrian Steckel (OneWeb)

From thousand-satellite constellations to space tourism, orbit is a fresh and inspiring source of new startup ideas and evolutions of established ones. Swarm’s Sara Spangelo is taking on low-cost global connectivity and Bessemer Ventures’ Tess Hatch provides the perspective of investors looking to make bets like these happen.

2:20 pm – 3:00 pm How Do I Exit and What Happens Next with Justin Kan (Atrium), Jess Lee (Sequoia Capital) and Mike Marquez (Code Advisors)

Most good startup outcomes are acquisitions, and most good acquisitions happen because a buyer needs your company for a specific reason. Hear from Justin Kan (sold Twitch), Jess Lee (sold Polyvore) and top Silicon Valley banker Mike Marquez of Code Advisors about how to make them happen the right way.

3:20 pm – 4:00 pm How to be a Positive Force in the Gig Economy with Sarah Cannon (Index Ventures), Derecka Mehrens (Working Partnerships USA) and Amanda de Cadanet (GirlGaze Network)

As gig workers continue to struggle with financial instability, inadequate labor protections and few alternatives, hear from leaders and companies that are now trying to figure out how to create an equitable, just and sustainable economic system for gig workers.

4:00 pm – 4:40 pm How Do You Decide Between Bootstrapping and Raising Venture Capital? with Ben Chestnut (Mailchimp) and Kathryn Petralia (Kabbage)

In this panel, we host two founders who have each grown their respective startups to stratospheric levels, but with very different funding approaches. Kathryn Petralia, co-founder and president of SMB lender Kabbage, has raised prodigious venture capital, including $500 million in equity from the likes of the SoftBank Vision Fund and an additional $2 billion in debt financing to underwrite Kabbage's loan products. Meanwhile, Ben Chestnut, co-founder and CEO of MailChimp, has built a massive and well-known marketing automation business entirely by bootstrapping. Why did they choose their different financing strategies? Come hear from two leading founders about how they thought through their fundraises and the lessons we can all learn from their experiences.

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 4

10:05 am – 10:55 am How to Iterate Your Product with Manik Gupta (Uber), Diya Jolly (Okta), Ravi Mehta (Tinder) and Robby Stein (Instagram)

Launching an MVP and finding early product-market fit are just the first steps in the journey to build a great startup. Learn from leading product thinkers from Instagram, Okta, Tinder and Uber on how they expand, grow and refine their products to increase their value without alienating existing users.

10:55 am – 11:15 am How to Take a Hardware Company Public with James Park (Fitbit) and Eric Friedman (Fitbit)

Ten years after launching their product at TechCrunch 50, Fitbit co-founders James Park and Eric Friedman join us to discuss the company's ups and downs.

11:35 am – 12:15 pm How to Build a Brand that Gets Attention with Brooke Hammerling (Brew Media Relations), Chelsea Cain Maclin (Bumble) and Ben Pham (Character)

Brooke Hammerling is the founder of one of the most iconic tech startup PR firms of the past decade, Brew Media Relations, which was sold for $15 million in 2016. Chelsea  Cain Maclin is VP of Marketing at Bumble, one of the most recognizable brands in the app world today. And Ben Pham is the founder of Character, a brand design firm that's worked with the likes of Oculus, Nike, DoorDash and Peet's Coffee. The three will discuss how to think about brand design and what gets and keeps the attention of users.

1:25 pm – 1:50 pm How to be a Serial Founder with David Cancel (Drift) 

So your first company worked out well. Let's say you have a burning desire to do another one — what's the right way to do it the next time around? Hear from frequent founder David Cancel (formerly of Performable/HubSpot, Lookery, Ghostery, Compete) on what he's done.

1:50 pm – 2:30 pm How to Build a Better Banking Startup with Chris Britt (Chime), Adam Dell (Clarity Money; Goldman Sachs) and Angela Strange (Andreessen Horowitz)

Chris Britt, the chief executive of Chime, Goldman Sachs’ Adam Dell and Andreessen Horowitz’s Angela Strange know that money is what everyone wants. The problem is how to make it more accessible to everyone in the world. Hear them discuss how to build a better bank for everyone.

2:50 pm – 3:10 pm What's Growing on the Consumer Internet with Andrew Chen (Andreessen Horowitz)

You may know Andrew Chen as a widely read startup growth strategist, but today he's investing in his expertise. As a partner at top venture firm Andreessen Horowitz, he is focused on consumer internet companies, seeking out the new growth in this maturing tech sector. Come hear the latest on what he's seeing in the industry both from the growth and investing perspective.

3:10 pm – 4:10 pm Disrupt Hackathon Finals

The top contenders of the Disrupt Hackathon demo their projects that they spent the last two days creating to compete for sponsor prizes and the $10K TechCrunch best of show award.

Inside Apple’s reimagined Fifth Ave. store

Posted: 19 Sep 2019 11:16 AM PDT

After two years of work, the wrapper comes off the giant glass cube this week, as Apple's Fifth Avenue flagship opens to the public this Friday. The big reveal coincides with the company's latest releases, including new iPhones and an Apple Watch — an appropriately grandiose homecoming for new gear.

This morning, the company offered a sneak preview to select media, ourselves included. Apple pulled back the curtain as a handful of curious onlookers stood by on the sidewalk. The cube itself appears largely unchanged, aside from a new shine. The colorful concealer wrap was, sadly, just temporary.

DSCF7877

But then, why mess with what's become a New York City landmark in its decade and a half of existence? The store is positioned in one of the most highly trafficked corners of the city, at the southeast corner of Central Park, directly across from the Plaza (and perhaps less attractively to some, two blocks north of a certain presidential tower). Until a few years back, it fittingly shared the square with the iconic FAO Schwarz.

DSCF7881

Now, however, Apple's completely taken over the space. The plaza surrounding the cube has changed a good deal to accommodate a new lighting system that leverages a combination of sunlight and the power of 500,000 LEDs. More on that here.

Underground, the store occupies the full area of the plaza, as well. That extra space allows for a larger Genius Bar that stretches the length of the store and a special HomePod listening area sealed behind glass that brings to mind the once-popular world of hi-fi stereo stores.

DSCF7901

Most surprising, the signature spiral staircase is no longer purely glass. The steps now have a stainless steel covering — for safety purposes, one assumes. One attendee this morning confided to me that he nearly bit it walking down the steps the first time he visited the store. As cool as the glass looked, it always felt like a disaster waiting to happen whenever it rained.

As promised, the lighting system was employed to great effect. It's a cool combination, the sunlight streaming through the fogged portholes along with the lighting rings around them. Check the reflection below:

DSCF7856

The sunlight, in turn, is used by eight full-sized trees divided in two rows on the east and west sides of the store, along with a long, live green wall to the east (near the AirPods, FWIW). It’s also apparently the coolest during sunrise and sunset when it takes on a glowing effect. 

The new store opens to public this Friday at 8AM.

[gallery ids="1883936,1883934,1883933,1883932,1883931,1883930,1883929,1883928,1883927,1883926,1883925,1883924,1883923,1883922,1883920,1883918,1883917,1883916"]

iOS 13 pushes the envelope across the board

Posted: 19 Sep 2019 10:44 AM PDT

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

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

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

Dark Mode is here

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

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

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

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

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

The privacy hammer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Low-level improvements

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New app features

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

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

iOS 13 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Payments giant Stripe is raising another $250M at a $35B pre-money valuation

Posted: 19 Sep 2019 10:16 AM PDT

After a week of launching new services to bring payments giant Stripe into the areas of lending and credit, the company is announcing another big step forward to fuel its growth: it’s raising another $250 million in funding at a pre-money valuation of $35 billion, money to fuel more international expansion, launching more products and targeting larger enterprise-sized businesses.

This is a huge jump in valuation for the company: Stripe was valued at $22.5 billion earlier this year when it raised $100 million.

The startup said that General Catalyst, Andreessen Horowitz and Sequoia are all in the round already. We’ve also heard that SoftBank had been considering an investment. “It was a big miss when SoftBank didn’t invest two years ago,” one source close to the VC said to TechCrunch. But we’ve confirmed also with John Collison — the president of Stripe who co-founded the company with his brother Patrick (who is the CEO) — that SoftBank is not in this round.

Nor will there be any corporate strategics involved in this round. Of note, Collison today confirmed that the bank providing the financial backing for its new cash advance and corporate card services is Celtic Bank, based in Salt Lake City. But the bank is not taking a strategic investment in the company as part of that deal.

Although the round is not yet closed, Collison said the $250 million size is unlikely to change. The round should close in the next several weeks, he added.

Stripe has long been reluctant to talk about when it might consider going public, and this round will put that prospect off even further. “We are still very happy as a private company,” Collison said today. “Our emphasis remans on the long-term opportunities.”

Stripe spent the first several years of its life slowly building up its payments business — which primarily consisted of providing an API to e-commerce businesses so that they could easily integrate a payments option in their apps or websites.

But in more recent years, it’s started to accelerate its growth with a significantly larger range of financial services — notably, now it describes its business as a “Global Payments and Treasury Network.” The latest products — cash advances and credit cards — are coming on the heels of other services that include incorporation services, fraud protection and and more.

All this means not only that the company can diversify its own revenues, but it can differentiate itself from (or, in some cases, offer the same services as) its competitors. Others offering similar services to Stripe’s include PayPal and Adeyn on the payments front, but as it adds more services, it’s also opening new competitive fronts with other rivals, now including Square, Brex and Clearbanc.

While the U.S. remains Stripe’s main market, especially for new launches, it’s getting increasingly global. The company last week expanded its payments out to eight more countries and that is set to expand again to total 40 in the coming months. 

The company says it processes “hundreds of billions of dollars a year for millions of businesses worldwide,” although it declines to give specific numbers. Wayfair, Airbnb, Twilio, GitHub and The RealReal are among the kind of “enterprise” customers that it hopes to target more. Indeed, as startups in e-commerce grow into huge businesses, they are turning from being the kinds of small companies that Stripe used to target into the big companies that it now wants to target.

“This comes in the context of the fact that we feel strongly about Stripe's role in the growing internet economy,” Collison said. 

As we have pointed out before, the internet economy, for all its seeming ubiquity, is still a small part of all commerce, which is one reason brick and mortar is likely to be another target for Stripe in the long run, building on the point-of-sale services it already provides — even as the company continues to reap the rewards of its traction in the digital universe.

"Even now, in 2019, less than eight percent of commerce happens online," said John Collison, president and co-founder of Stripe, in a statement announcing the round. "We're investing now to build the infrastructure that'll power internet commerce in 2030 and beyond. If we get it right, we can help the internet fulfill its potential as an engine for global economic progress."

Updated with comments from John Collison, the co-founder of Stripe

Wing will test drone delivery in the US with Walgreens and FedEx

Posted: 19 Sep 2019 10:02 AM PDT

Wing, the drone delivery company that started its life within the Google X lab before spinning out into its own thing under the Alphabet umbrella, is prepping for takeoff.

The company announced this morning that it’s launching a test program in Virginia with Walgreens, FedEx and local retailer Sugar Magnolia.

As part of the program, Wing will be able to deliver kids’ snacks (goldfish, water, gummy bears and yogurt were mentioned as examples) and over-the-counter meds (like Tylenol or cough drops) from Walgreens, select packages from FedEx Express and sweets and stationary from Sugar Magnolia.

Alas, unless you’re one of the roughly 22,000 people in Christiansburg, Va. and happen to be in a neighborhood they’ve deemed eligible, you’re not going to be able to check it out just yet. Wing says the pilot program is limited to the small Montgomery County town for now as they work with locals to figure out what works and what doesn’t. The company declined to give any sort of timeline for when the program might expand to other parts of the U.S.

So how does it work?

When the customer places an order, one of Wing’s delivery drones heads for a pickup location. As Wing’s drones are only allowed to takeoff or land in specific locations, pickups and deliveries are handled via a tether, with the drone itself hovering about 20 feet in the air. Once at the pickup location, a tether is lowered and a human operator hooks the package onto the line. The drone winches the package into the air, secures it, and heads for its destination.

Once in flight, Wing says its drone cruises at about 60-70mph, with a range of about six miles each way. Once the drone arrives at the delivery location, the same tether line lowers the package. When the drone detects that the package has reached the ground, the package is released and the drone heads back home. All in all, Wing estimates they can make a delivery within about 10 minutes of a customer finalizing their order.

And if the tether gets stuck on something, or someone tries to grab it and tug it down? The drone is designed to detect the resistance and release the tether, dropping the line to the ground.

wing fedex

Wing says its drone can currently handle a payload of about 3 lbs, with the drone itself weighing roughly 10 lbs.

Wing won’t charge pilot program customers for delivery; customers will pay the store’s sticker price, and delivery during this test phase will be free.

Wing says the first deliveries should start next month.

YouTube overhauls its problematic verification program

Posted: 19 Sep 2019 10:00 AM PDT

YouTube’s verification program is getting a massive overhaul, the company announced today, which will likely result in a number of less prominent creators losing their verification status. Previously, YouTube allowed any channel that reached 100,000 subscribers to request verification. That limit is being removed, with a change to the verification program that rolls out in October. Going forward, YouTube will focus its efforts on verifying channels that have more of a need to prove their authenticity — like those belonging to a brand, public figure, artist or another creator who might be subject to impersonation, for example.

YouTube says the earlier verification system was established when the site was smaller, but its ecosystem has since grown and “become more complex.”

Instead of looking at a number of subscribers — a metric than can be gamed by bots — the new system will have more murky requirements. YouTube says it’s about “prominence,” which it defines in a number of ways.

For starters, YouTube will determine if the channel represents a “well-known or highly searched for creator, artist, public figure or company.” It will also consider if the channel is widely recognized outside of YouTube and has a strong online presence, or if it’s a channel that has a very similar name to many other channels.

We understand YouTube will use a combination of human curation and algorithmic signals to make these determinations. When asked, the company declined to discuss the specifics, however.

Creators V3

There were several reasons YouTube wanted to change its system, beyond raising the threshold for verification.

The company had run into a similar problem that Twitter once faced — people mistook the verification badge as an endorsement. On Twitter, that issue reached a tipping point when it was discovered that Twitter had verified the Charlottesville rally organizer. Twitter stopped verifying accounts shortly afterward. Its system today is still being fixed, but the project has been put on the back burner.

Similarly, YouTube’s research found that over 30% of users misunderstood the verification badge’s meaning, believing the checkmark indicted “endorsement of content,” not “identity.”

This is problematic for YouTube for a number of reasons, but mainly because the company wants to distance itself from the content on its platform — content that is often racist, vile, false, dangerous, conspiracy-filled and extremist. YouTube wants to be an open site, with all the troubles that entails, but doesn’t want to be held accountable for the terrible things posted there — like the 14-year-old girl who grew to online fame by posting racist, anti-Muslim, anti-LGBTQ videos, or the high-profile star who made repeated racist comments, then gets honored by YouTube with special creator rewards. 

There were other issues with the prior system, as well.

Some creators would fake their verification status, for instance. Before the changes, a verified channel would display a checkmark next to its channel name. This could be easily forged by simply adding a checkmark to the end of a channel name.

Plus, the checkmark itself only really worked when people viewed the channel’s main watch page on desktop or mobile. It didn’t translate as well to interactions in live chats, on community posts or in stories.

Music V3

By revamping the verification system, YouTube is clarifying that the verification isn’t an endorsement — it’s a neutral statement of fact. It’s also less difficult to forge, and works everywhere the creator interacts with fans.

The updated verification system drops the checkmark in favor of a gray swipe across the channel name (see above).

This applies to both channels and artists. With regards to the latter, it will replace the music note.

The system will roll out in late October, YouTube said, and the new criteria will apply for all channels.

Those who meet the new requirements won’t need to apply — they’ll automatically receive the new verified treatment. Others who didn’t qualify for re-verification will be notified today and will have the option to appeal the decision before the changes take place.

Information on the appeals process will be available in YouTube’s Help Center.

Update, 9/19/19, 1:26 PM ET: Here’s the letter YouTube creators are receiving. Note it refers to a timeframe of “early” instead of “late” October for the changes.

youtube letter

Here’s the email if you stay verified (thanks @thiojoe) –

How Automattic wants to build the operating system of the web

Posted: 19 Sep 2019 09:54 AM PDT

Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com, WooCommerce, Longreads, Simplenote and soon Tumblr, is now worth $3 billion. But its founder and CEO Matt Mullenweg has a bigger goal. He wants to make the web better, more open and diverse.

With the rise of social networks and closed platforms, Automattic's mission statement has never sounded so important. Automattic doesn't want to be the hot new startup. It wants to build a strong foundation to empower content creators for decades to come.

In an interview this week, Matt Mullenweg discussed why he raised $300 million from Salesforce Ventures, what he thinks of the current state of the web and how Automattic has a shot at building the open-source operating system of the web. The interview was edited for clarity and brevity.

(Photo Credit: Christopher Michel / Flickr under a CC BY 2.0 license)


Romain Dillet: Tell me more about how much money you've raised, who you've raised from.

iOS 13 is now available to download

Posted: 19 Sep 2019 09:52 AM PDT

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

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

iOS 13 is compatible with the iPhone 6s or later, the iPhone SE or the 7th-generation iPod touch. If you have an iPad and you are looking for iPadOS 13, it'll be available on September 30 (Update: September 24) with the release of iOS and iPadOS 13.1.

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

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

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

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

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

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

While you download the update, why don't you head over to my review and read about all the new features in iOS 13.

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

Posted: 19 Sep 2019 09:50 AM PDT

It’s finally here.

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

Here’s what you need to know.

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

1 location track

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

You can grant an app your location just once

2 location ask

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

And apps wanting access to Bluetooth can be declined access

Screen Shot 2019 07 18 at 12.18.38 PM

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

Find My gets a new name — and offline tracking

5 find my

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

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

8 contact snoop

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

Sign in with Apple lets you use a fake relay email address

6 sign in

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

You can silence unknown callers

4 block callers

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

You can strip location metadata from your photos

7 strip location

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

And Safari gets better anti-tracking features

9 safari improvements

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

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

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