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Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Today Crunch News, News Updates, Tech News

Today Crunch News, News Updates, Tech News


Eminem’s publisher accuses Spotify of copyright infringement in new lawsuit

Posted: 21 Aug 2019 03:49 PM PDT

Eminem’s music publisher Eight Mile Style has filed a lawsuit against Spotify, accusing the service of “blatant copyright infringement” in streaming “Lose Yourself” and other Eminem songs.

As explained by The Hollywood Reporter, the suit is tied Spotify’s implementation of the Music Modernization Act, which was signed into law last year. Under the MMA, Spotify can obtain a compulsory license to stream a song, but it would still need to file a “notice of intention” and pay rightsholders.

However, Eight Mile says, “Spotify did not have any license to reproduce or distribute the Eight Mile Compositions, either direct, affiliate, or compulsory, but acted deceptively by pretending to have compulsory and/or other licenses.”

For example, the complaint describes the service’s treatment of “Lose Yourself” as “the most egregious example of Spotify’s willful infringement,” saying that Spotify placed the song in the Copyright Control category, which is “reserved for songs for which the copyright owner is not known so the song cannot be licensed.”

Eight Mile then characterizes this position as “absurd”: “Spotify, and [the Harry Fox Agency], its agent … certainly knew (and had the easy means to know) that Eight Mile is the copyright owner of ‘Lose Yourself.’ ”

In addition, Eight Mile claims that even though the songs in question have been “streamed on Spotify billions of times,” the service has “not accounted to Eight Mile or paid Eight Mile for these streams but instead remitted random payments of some sort, which only purport to account for a fraction of those streams.”

The complaint also takes issue with protections that Spotify might claim under the MMA, saying that if the law limits Spotify’s liability, then it represents “an unconstitutional denial of due process (both procedural and substantive), and an unconstitutional taking of vested property rights.”

This isn’t the first time Eight Mile has challenged digital music platforms: It sued Apple over copyright issues more than a decade ago, and ultimately settled.

In an emailed statement, Eight Mile’s attorney Richard Busch described this as “a very important lawsuit for all songwriters that raises vital issues for those whose songs stream on Spotify or other Digital Music Providers.”

We’ve reached out to Spotify for comment and will update if we hear back.

T-Mobile customers report outage, can’t make calls or send text messages

Posted: 21 Aug 2019 03:36 PM PDT

T-Mobile customers across the U.S. say they can’t make calls or send text messages following an apparent outage — although mobile data appears to be unaffected.

We tested with a T-Mobile phone in the office. Both calls to and from the T-Mobile phone failed. When we tried to send a text message, it said the message could not be sent. The outage began around 3pm PT (6pm ET).

Users took to social media to complain about the outage. It’s not clear how many customers are affected, but users across the U.S. have said they are affected.

A spokesperson for T-Mobile did not immediately comment, but a T-Mobile support account said the cell giant has “engaged our engineers and are working on a resolution.”

T-Mobile is the third largest cell carrier after Verizon (which owns TechCrunch) and AT&T. The company had its proposed $26.5 billion merger with Sprint approved by the Federal Communications Commission, despite a stream of state attorneys general lining up to block the deal.

Apple warns against storing the Apple Card in leather and denim

Posted: 21 Aug 2019 03:23 PM PDT

First of all, keep it out of the light. It hates bright light, especially sunlight, it’ll kill it. Second, don’t give it any water, not even to drink. But the most important rule, the rule you can never forget, no matter how much it cries, no matter how much it begs, never feed it after midnight.

Oh, and Apple says the card should also avoid contact with denim and leather, as such materials “might cause permanent discoloration that will not wash off.”

Should you raise equity venture capital or revenue-based investing VC?

Posted: 21 Aug 2019 03:20 PM PDT

Most founders who are raising capital look first to traditional equity VCs. But should they? Or should they look to one of the new wave of revenue-based investors?

Revenue-based investing ("RBI") is a new form of VC financing, distinct from the preferred equity structure most VCs use. RBI normally requires founders to pay back their investors with a fixed percentage of revenue until they have finished providing the investor with a fixed return on capital, which they agree upon in advance.

This guest post was written by David Teten, Venture Partner, HOF Capital. You can follow him at teten.com and @dteten. This is the 5th part of our series on Revenue-based investing VC that touches on:

From the founders' point of view, the advantages of the RBI model are:

After a breakout year, looking ahead to the future of podcasting

Posted: 21 Aug 2019 02:30 PM PDT

2019 has been a breakout year for podcasting. According to Edison Research's Infinite Dial report, more than half of Americans have now listened to a podcast, and an estimated 32% listen monthly (up from 26% last year). This is the largest yearly increase since this data started being tracked in 2008. Podcast creation also continues to grow, with more than 700,000 podcasts and 29 million podcast episodes, up 27% from last year.

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Thanks to this growing listener base, big companies are finally starting to pay attention to the space — Spotify plans to spend $500 million on acquisitions this year, and already acquired content studio Gimlet, tech platform Anchor, and true crime network Parcast for a combined $400 million. In the past week, Google added playable podcasts to search results, Spotify released an analytics dashboard for podcasters and Pandora launched a tool for podcasters to submit their shows.

We've been going to Podcast Movement, the largest annual industry conference, for three years, and have watched the conference grow along with the industry — reaching 3,000 attendees in 2019. Given the increased buzz around the space, we were expecting this year's conference to have a new level of energy and professionalism, and we weren't disappointed. We've summarized five top takeaways from the conference, from why podcast ads are hard to scale to why so many celebrities are launching their own shows.

Rise of celebrity podcasters boosts listenership

We've officially entered the age of celebrity podcasters. After early successes like “WTF with Marc Maron” (2009), Alec Baldwin's “Here's The Thing” (2011) and Anna Faris' “Unqualified” (2015), top talent is flooding into the space. In 2017, 15% of Apple's top 20 most-downloaded podcasts of the year were hosted by celebrities or influencers — this jumped to 32% of the top 25 in 2018. And of all the new shows that launched in 2018, 48% of the top 25 were celebrity-hosted.

Screen Shot 2019 08 21 at 1.21.50 PMThough podcasts are undermonetized compared to other forms of media, talent agents now consider them to be an important part of a well-rounded content strategy. Dan Ferris from CAA tells his clients to think of podcasting as a way of connecting with fans that is "much more intimate than social media." Podcasts also help celebrities find a new audience. Ben Davis from WME said that while his client David Dobrik has a smaller audience on his podcast than on YouTube (1.5 million downloads per episode versus 6 million views per video), the podcast helps him reach a new group of listeners who stumble upon his show on the Apple Podcast charts.

While some podcast veterans grumble about the rise of celebrity talk shows, famous podcasters are good for the industry as a whole. Advertisers are drawn to the space by the opportunity to get to access A-list talent at lower prices. One recent example is Endeavor Audio's fiction show “Blackout,” which starred Rami Malek, who was fresh off an Oscar win. Endeavor's head of sales, Charlie Emerson, said brands might have to sign a "seven or eight-figure deal" to advertise alongside Malek's content in other forms of media. Other podcasters also benefit from new listeners brought into the medium by their favorite stars — a Westwood One survey in fall 2018 found that 60% of podcast listeners report discovering shows via social media, where celebrities and influencers have huge existing audiences to push content to.

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Creator backlash against "walled garden" apps

Paid listening apps represent a fairly small percentage of podcast listenership, with production platform Anchor estimating that Apple Podcasts and Spotify control more than 70% of listenership. A venture-backed company called Luminary is trying to change this — it raised $100 million to launch a "Netflix for podcasts" this spring. Consumers pay $7.99/month to access Luminary-exclusive shows alongside podcasts that are free on other apps. Because podcasts have RSS feeds, distributors like Luminary can easily grab free content and put it behind a paywall. The platform, not the creator, benefits from this monetization.

Within days of Luminary's launch, prominent podcasters and media companies (The New York Times, Gimlet and more) requested their shows be removed from the app. It's interesting to note that YouTube has a similar premium plan — for $11.99/month, users can access and download ad-free videos. Unlike Luminary, however, YouTube, pays creators a cut of the revenue from these subscriptions based on how frequently their content is viewed.

Unsurprisingly, creator sentiment is more positive toward platforms like Spotify and Pandora . Though these companies do make money from premium subscribers who listen to podcasts, creators can choose whether or not to submit their shows. And podcasters benefit from making their shows discoverable to the existing user base of these platforms, which already dominate "earshare." Spotify alone has 232 million MAUs, which dwarfs the 90 million people in the U.S. who listen to a podcast monthly.

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Industry anxiety around maintaining quality at scale

Podcast ad revenue has been scaling quickly, with $480 million in spend last year and a projected $680 million this year. Over the past four years, ad revenue has scaled at a 65% CAGR, and this growth is expected to continue. In its early days, the podcast ad market has largely been driven by D2C brands — you've probably heard hundreds of Casper, Blue Apron and Madison Reed ads. However, bigger brands are also starting to enter podcasting (Geico, Capital One and Progressive made the top 10 list for June 2019) due to the growing audience scale and increased precision around targeting and attribution.

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While many attendees were excited by the massive growth in ad revenue, others worried that it may kill what makes podcasting special. They're particularly concerned that podcasts may go the way of online video, with annoying, generic, low CPM ads. Podcast hosts typically read their own ads, and are often true fans of the product — they share personal stories instead of reciting brand talking points. This results in premium CPMs compared to most digital media — AdvertiseCast's 2019 survey found an average CPM of $18 for a 30-second podcast ad and $25 for a 60-second ad, more than 2x the average CPM on other digital platforms.

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While these ads are effective, they're time-consuming and expensive to produce. Big brands interested in podcast ads often expect to reuse radio spots — they aren't used to the process of crafting and approving a host-read ad that may only reach 10,000 listeners. Podcasters, meanwhile, value their trust with listeners and don't want to spam them with loud, unoriginal radio ads. The tension between maintaining the quality of ads while scaling quantity was an underlying theme of most monetization discussions, and industry veterans disagree on how it will play out.

Podcasts are still undermonetized — but there is hope!

Despite the growth in ad revenue and relatively high CPMs, the industry is significantly undermonetized. Using data from Nielsen, IAB and Edison, we calculated that podcasts monetize through advertisements at only $0.01 per listener hour — less than 10 times the rate of radio. Podcast monetization per listener hour has increased over the past year, up 25% by our calculations, but still substantially lags all other forms of media.

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Why are podcasts so undermonetized? Unlike many other forms of media, the dominant distribution platform (Apple Podcasts) has no ad marketplace. Creators have historically had to approach brands themselves or sign with podcast networks to construct custom ad deals, and the "long tail" of podcasters were unable to monetize. This is finally changing. Anchor, which reported in January that it powers 40% of new podcasts, has an ad marketplace that has doubled the number of podcasts that are running ads. Other popular platforms like Radio Public have launched programs for small podcasters to opt-in to ad placements.

The second major hurdle in monetization is attribution. Podcasts have historically monetized through direct response campaigns — a podcaster provides a special URL or promo code for listeners to use when making a purchase. However, many people listen to podcasts when exercising or driving, and can't write down the promo code or visit the URL immediately. These listeners might remember the product and make a purchase later, but the podcaster won't get the attribution. Thomas Mancusi of Audioboom estimated that this happens in 50-60% of purchases driven by podcast ads.

Startups are trying to bring better adtech into podcasting to fix this issue. Chartable is one example — the company installs trackers to match a listener's IP address with a purchaser's IP address, allowing podcasters to claim attribution for listeners who don't use their URL or promo code. Chartable currently runs on 10,000 shows, and the early results are so promising that ad agencies expect to see higher CPMs and significantly more spend in the space.

Podcast fans of the future ≠ podcast fans today

As podcasting grows, the listener base is diversifying. Edison Research looked into data on "rookie" listeners (listening for six months or less) and "veteran" listeners (listening for 3+ years), and found significant demographic differences. Only 37% of veterans are female, compared to 53% of rookies. While the plurality of veterans (43%) are age 35-54, 54% of rookies are age 12-34. Rookies are also 1.6x more likely to say they most often listen to podcasts on Spotify, Pandora or SoundCloud (43% versus 27% of veterans). And social media is an important way that rookies discover podcasts — 52% have found a podcast from video and 46% from audio on social media, compared to 41% and 37% for veterans.

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These new listeners will have a profound impact on the future of podcasting, in both the type of content produced and the way it's distributed. Industry experts are already noting significant new demand for female-hosted podcasts, as well as audio dramas that appeal to young people looking for a fast-paced, suspenseful story. They're advising podcasters to share clips of their content on social media, and to leverage broader listening platforms like YouTube and SoundCloud for distribution.

International markets also represent an enormous opportunity for growth. Most podcast listeners today live in the U.S. or China, but content producers are starting to see significant demand elsewhere. Castbox's Valentina Kaledina said that many fans abroad have resorted to listening in their non-native language, with the top 100 shows in each country comprising a mix of English and local language. Adonde Media's Martina Castro, who recently conducted the first listener survey on Spanish-language podcast fans, said that 53% of the survey's 2,100 respondents reported listening to podcasts in English — and only 20% of them use Apple Podcasts.

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Larger podcast producers are beginning to translate shows for non-English-speaking markets. Wondery CEO Hernan Lopez announced at the conference that the company's hit show Dr. Death is now available in seven languages. Lopez noted that it was an expensive process, and he doesn't expect the shows to generate profit in the near future. However, he believes that Wondery will eventually see a significant return from investing in the development of new podcast markets — and if they do, other podcast companies will likely follow in their footsteps.

Splunk acquires cloud monitoring service SignalFx for $1.05B

Posted: 21 Aug 2019 01:48 PM PDT

Splunk, the publicly traded data processing and analytics company, today announced that it has acquired SignalFx for a total price of about $1.05 billion. Approximately 60% of this will be in cash and 40% in Splunk common stock. The companies expect the acquisition to close in the second half of 2020.

SignalFx, which emerged from stealth in 2015, provides real-time cloud monitoring solutions, predictive analytics and more. Upon close, Splunk argues, this acquisition will allow it to become a leader “in observability and APM for organizations at every stage of their cloud journey, from cloud-native apps to homegrown on-premises applications.”

Indeed, the acquisition will likely make Splunk a far stronger player in the cloud space as it expands its support for cloud-native applications and the modern infrastructures and architectures those rely on.

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Ahead of the acquisition, SignalFx had raised a total of $178.5 million, according to Crunchbase, including a recent Series E round. Investors include General Catalyst, Tiger Global Management, Andreessen Horowitz and CRV. Its customers include the likes of AthenaHealth, Change.org, Kayak, NBCUniversal and Yelp.

“Data fuels the modern business, and the acquisition of SignalFx squarely puts Splunk in position as a leader in monitoring and observability at massive scale,” said Doug Merritt, president and CEO, Splunk, in today’s announcement. “SignalFx will support our continued commitment to giving customers one platform that can monitor the entire enterprise application lifecycle. We are also incredibly impressed by the SignalFx team and leadership, whose expertise and professionalism are a strong addition to the Splunk family.”

Porsche invests in ‘low visibility’ sensor startup TriEye

Posted: 21 Aug 2019 01:32 PM PDT

Porsche’s venture arm has acquired a minority stake in TriEye, an Israeli startup that’s working on a sensor technology to help vehicle driver-assistance and self-driving systems see better in poor weather conditions like dust, fog and rain.

The strategic investment is part of a Series A financing round that has been expanded to $19 million. The round was initially led by Intel Capital and Israeli venture fund Grove Ventures. Porsche has held shares in Grove Ventures since 2017.

TriEye has raised $22 million to date. Terms of Porsche’s investment were not disclosed.

The additional funding will be used for ongoing product development, operations and hiring talent, according to TriEye.

The advanced driver-assistance systems found in most new vehicles today typically rely on a combination of cameras and radar to “see.” Autonomous vehicle systems, which are being developed and tested by dozens of companies such as Argo AI, Aptiv, Aurora, Cruise and Waymo, have a more robust suite of sensors that include light detection and ranging radar (lidar) along with cameras and ultrasonic sensors.

For either of these systems to function properly, they need to be able to see in all conditions. This pursuit of sensor technology has sparked a boom in startups hoping to tap into demand from automakers and companies working on self-driving car systems.

TriEye is one of them. The premise of TriEye is to solve the low visibility problem created by poor weather conditions. The startup’s co-founders argue that fusing existing sensors such as radar, lidar and standard cameras don’t solve this problem.

TriEye, which was founded in 2017, believes the answer is through short-wave infrared (SWIR) sensors. The startup said it has developed an HD SWIR camera that is a smaller size, higher resolution and cheaper than other technologies. The camera is due to launch in 2020.

The technology is based on advanced nano-photonics research by Uriel Levy, a TriEye co-founder and CTO who is also a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The company says its secret sauce is its “unique” semiconductor design that will make it possible to manufacture SWIR HD cameras at a “fraction of their current cost.”

TriEye’s technology was apparently good enough to get Porsche’s attention.

Michael Steiner, a Porsche AG board member focused on R&D, said the technology was promising, as was the team, which is comprised of people with expertise in deep learning, nano-photonics and semiconductor components.

"We see great potential in this sensor technology that paves the way for the next generation of driver assistance systems and autonomous driving functions,” Steiner said in a statement. “SWIR can be a key element: it offers enhanced safety at a competitive price."

Peak Design’s Travel Duffel 35L is as simple or as powerful as you need it to be

Posted: 21 Aug 2019 01:08 PM PDT

A good, solid duffel bag is a mainstay for many travelers — especially those who like packing up a car for a weekend away, or frequent flyers who disdain the thought of checking a bag. Peak Design introduced its own take on the duffel bag this year, with a couple of different twists on the concept. The Peak Design Travel Duffel 35L is the most fundamental of the company’s options, and it delivers a lot of packing space and support for Peak’s packing tools if you want to get real serious about space optimization.

I’m an unabashed fan of Peak Design’s Everyday camera bags, its capture clips and basically its entire ecosystem. This is a company that you can tell things deeply about the problems it’s aiming to solve for its customers — because they’re the problems shared by the company’s founders themselves. The Travel Duffel is actually probably a bit more mainstream and less specialized than most of their offerings, but that only makes it more appealing, not less.

Peak Travel Duffel 35 2

You’ll find the same weatherproof nylon coating in this bag that Peak uses in its other packs, and it’s a very durable material that also looks great both up close and at a distance. If there’s a complaint here, it’s that the black color I prefer tends to pretty easily pick up dust, but it also wipes or washes off just as easily. The heavy-duty nylon canvas shell should also stand up to the elements well, and the zipper is the especially weather sealed kind, plus there’s a waterproof bottom liner in case you’re less than careful about where you drop your pack while en route.

Peak Travel Duffel 35 3

Peak Travel Duffel 35 4

The Duffel includes both hand straps and a longer padded shoulder strap, and the unique connector hardware system means you can reposition the straps in a number of ways to suit your carrying preferences. The hand straps double as shoulder straps for wearing it like a backpack and though this is a bit tight for my larger frame, it’s still a way to quickly alleviate shoulder or hand strain for longer treks with the bag in tow. The connectors here are also super smart — there are no moving parts, they just snap on and off the sewn-in loops placed around the bag — which means added durability and ease of use.

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Plenty of pockets inside and out give you lots of divided storage options, and there’s also a security loop feature on the main zipper to make it much harder for someone to quickly yank the bag open and grab what’s inside if they’re targeting a quick theft opportunity. A dedicated ID card holder is a nice touch that tells you exactly who this is ideal for, too.

As I alluded to above, there’s also support for the rest of Peak’s packing tools. I’ve got their small camera cube in the bag width-wise in the photo below, and it should be able to fit up to three of these in this orientation. Peak also offers packing cubes, dop kits and more, and you can use the slide hooks provided with those with internal elastic attachment points if you want to ensure things won’t shift around. But the best part about this bag is that it has everything you need in a straightforward duffel out of the box — the rest of the packing tools are totally optional and don’t take away form its fundamental effectiveness at all.

Peak Travel Duffel 35 6

The 35L carrying capacity of this bag is perfect for a weekend trip, or even a few days longer if you’re an economical packer. At $129.95, it’s actually very reasonable for a high-quality duffel bag, too, and definitely one of the better bargains in the Peak lineup when it comes to value for the money.

YC is doubling down on these investment theses in its most recent batch

Posted: 21 Aug 2019 01:01 PM PDT

Nearly 200 startups have just graduated from the prestigious San Francisco startup accelerator Y Combinator . The flock of companies are now free to proceed company-building with a fresh $150,000 check and three-months full of tips and tricks from industry experts.

As usual, we sent several reporters to YC’s latest demo day to take notes on each company and pick our favorites. But there were many updates to the YC structure this time around and new trends we spotted from the ground that we’ve yet to share.

CTO and HR demo days

Second docking adapter for commercial crew vehicles installed on International Space Station

Posted: 21 Aug 2019 12:21 PM PDT

The International Space Station is now more than ready for crew-carrying spacecraft flown by commercial companies to pay it a visit: The second planned International Dock Adapter (IDA) was installed on the Space Station during a spacewalk by NASA astronauts Nick Hague and Andrew Morgan earlier today.

The dock adapter is actually IDA-3, as the first IDA was lost during the SpaceX launch failure of its CRS-7 mission on June 28, 2015. IDA-2, which was intended to be the second installed on ISS, instead became the first and was delivered in July 2016 during the SpaceX CRS-9 resupply mission.

IDA-2 has already proven effective, too: It received its first docking vehicle on March 3 of this year, when SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Demo-1 test vehicle used the automated docking procedure designed for this adapter to demonstrate how it will work eventually when crew are on board.

IDA-3 is the second working dock adapter that uses this automated procedure, which makes it so that vehicles arriving at the ISS don’t have to be caught and guided in manually by astronauts with the help of the station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm. The automated procedure is designed as an industry standard of sorts, and should mean that any commercial crew craft, from SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, to Boeing’s CST-100, and any other potential future craft, can easily and automatically dock with the ISS to transfer over passengers and cargo.

Boeing is the company that was contracted to design and build these docking adapters. Each weigh about 1,150 pounds, and they’re about 42 inches high and 63 inches wide, which means it’s a bit of a tight squeeze for crew to come through (these aren’t big step-through passageways like you sometimes see in movies).

Having both the IDAs installed on the Space Station is key milestone in the commercial crew program, but there are still plenty of hurdles left to clear — including the first test flights of commercial Crew vehicles with astronauts on board.

Google updates to a cleaner, simpler Play Store design [Updated]

Posted: 21 Aug 2019 12:00 PM PDT

[Update: the Music tab has been relocated] Google’s Play Store has gotten a big visual makeover, the company announced today, with changes that include a cleaner look-and-feel, new navigation, an easier way to to see app information and more. Most notably, however, is that Google has taken a page from Apple’s playbook with the priority given to its two distinct sections for apps and games. It has also removed the “Music” tab from the top-level navigation, likely ahead of planned changes to Google Play Music and YouTube Music.

Though the redesign is in keeping with Google’s Material Design philosophy, it’s hard to miss Apple’s influence here — from the brighter, whiter and cleaner layout to the new navigation and updated app detail page layouts, among other things.

With Apple’s huge App Store revamp in 2017, the company made several changes to refocus user attention away from top charts and rankings to editorial content, stories and tips, recommendations and curated collections. As a part of this redesign, it created two separate tabs for Apps and Games in the App Store app’s main navigation to better direct users to the type of app content they wanted to browse.

The Play Store had already broken out Apps and Games before today, but they had been part of a much larger navigational element at the top of the home page.

The new design now relocates the Play Store’s main navigation to the bottom of the screen, just like on the iOS App Store. It also distills navigation to just four tabs: Games, Apps, Movies & TV and Books. (Music is gone).

Google says its decision to create two main tabs for apps and games will help it to “better serve users the right kind of content.”

Within the Games and Apps sections, users can browse into other sections, including Google’s personalized “For You” suggestions and Top Charts, and more. Here, you’ll find the same sections the Play Store had before (like “New,” “Events,” “Premium,” etc.) — they’ve just been relocated within the new tabs instead of existing as a second-level navigation bar on the Play Store homepage.

When the user finds an app or game they’re interested in, the updated store listing page layout will now surface richer app information at the top of the page and a bigger call-to-action button (e.g. “Install”).

This, too, is similar to iOS, where key details about the app or game — like its rating or age range — are at the top of this app detail page.

The store also features Google’s new icon system, where apps have a uniform rounded square shape. Apple has always enforced standardized app icons.

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The Play Store makeover had already leaked earlier this year, thanks to enterprising developers who got their hands on Google’s tests and published screenshots.

As for the Music tab’s relocation, Google already confirmed it was planning to replace Google Play Music with YouTube Music, and shut down Google Play’s artist hub this April in preparation for that. With the removal of the Music tab from the new Play Store, the completion of this merger appears to be imminent.

Update: The Music tab has been relocated, says Google… it’s a bit buried now

In Google’s announcement today about the redesign, it showed off the new look with a photo (see top photo above).

It’s pretty odd that the app being showcased in Google’s photo, Alto’s Odyssey, is an Apple Design Winner that launched on iOS first — as did its precursor, Alto’s Adventure. When coming to Android, the game development company worked with Android publisher Noodlecake on its Android ports.

In other words, not only is this a non-exclusive game, it comes from an iOS-first shop. Sure, it’s a great game. But that’s also a pretty weird pick on Google’s part.

The Google Play Store has more than two billion monthly active users, Google said in its announcement. The new version of the Play Store is rolling out now.

Our 12 favorite startups from Y Combinator’s S19 Demo Day 2

Posted: 21 Aug 2019 11:56 AM PDT

After two days of founders tirelessly pitching, we’ve reached the end of YC’s Summer 2019 Demo Days. TechCrunch witnessed more than 160 on-the-record startup pitches coming out of Y Combinator, spanning healthcare, B2B services, augmented reality and life-extending.

The full list is worth a gander, you can read about the 84 startups from Day 1 and the 82 companies from Day 2 in the linked posts. You can also check out our votes for the best of the best from day 1.

After conferring on the dozens of startups we saw yesterday, here are our favorites from the second day of Y Combinator pitches.

Twitter picks up team from narrative app Lightwell in its latest effort to improve conversations

Posted: 21 Aug 2019 10:24 AM PDT

Twitter’s ongoing, long-term efforts to make conversations easier to follow and engage with on its platform is getting a boost with the company’s latest acquihire. The company has picked up the team behind Lightwell, a startup that had built a set of developer tools to build interactive, narrative apps, for an undisclosed sum. Lightwell’s founder and CEO, Suzanne Xie, is becoming a director of product leading Twitter’s Conversations initiative, with the rest of her small four-person team joining her on the conversations project.

(Sidenote: Sara Haider, who had been leading the charge on rethinking the design of Conversations on Twitter, most recently through the release of twttr, Twitter’s newish prototyping app, announced that she would be moving on to a new project at the company after a short break. I understand twttr will continue to be used to openly test conversation tweaks and other potential changes to how the app works. )

The Lightwell/Twitter news was announced late yesterday both by Lightwell itself and Twitter’s VP of product Keith Coleman. A Twitter spokesperson also confirmed the deal to TechCrunch in a short statement today: “We are excited to welcome Suzanne and her team to Twitter to help drive forward the important work we are doing to serve the public conversation,” he said. Interestingly, Twitter is on a product hiring push it seems. Other recent hires Coleman noted were Other recent product hires include Angela Wise and Tom Hauburger. Coincidentally, both joined from autonomous companies, respectively Waymo and Voyage.

To be clear, this is more acqui-hire than hire: only the Lightwell team (of what looks like three people) is joining Twitter. The Lightwell product will no longer be developed, but it is not going away, either. Xie noted in a separate Medium post that apps that have already been built (or plan to be built) on the platform will continue to work. It will also now be free to use.

Lightwell originally started life in 2012 as Hullabalu, as one of the many companies producing original-content interactive children’s stories for smartphones and tablets. In a sea of children-focused storybook apps, Hullabalu’s stories stood out not just because of the distinctive cast of characters that the startup had created, but for how the narratives were presented: part book, part interactive game, the stories engaged children and moved narratives along by getting the users to touch and drag elements across the screen.

hullabalu lightwell

After some years, Hullabalu saw an opportunity to package its technology and make it available as a platform for all developers, to be used not just by other creators of children’s content, but advertisers and more. It seems the company shifted at that time to make Lightwell its main focus.

The Hullabalu apps remained live on the App Store, even when the company moved on to focus on Lightwell. However, they hadn’t been updated in two years’ time. Xie says they will remain as is.

In its startup life, the company went through YCombinator, TechStars, and picked up some $6.5 million in funding (per Crunchbase), from investors that included Joanne Wilson, SV Angel, Vayner, Spark Labs, Great Oak, Scout Ventures and more.

If turning Hullabalu into Lightwell was a pivot, then the exit to Twitter can be considered yet another interesting shift in how talent and expertise optimized for one end can be repurposed to meet another.

One of Twitter’s biggest challenges over the years has been trying to create a way to make conversations (also narratives of a kind) easy to follow — both for those who are power users, and for those who are not and might otherwise easily be put off from using the product.

The crux of the problem has been that Twitter’s DNA is about real-time rivers of chatter that flow in one single feed, while conversations by their nature linger around a specific topic and become hard to follow when there are too many people talking. Trying to build a way to fit the two concepts together has foxed the company for a long time now.

At its best, bringing in a new team from the outside will potentially give Twitter a fresh perspective on how to approach conversations on the platform, and the fact that Lightwell has been thinking about creative ways to present narratives gives them some cred as a group that might come up completely new concepts for presenting conversations.

At a time when it seems that the conversation around Conversations had somewhat stagnated, it’s good to see a new chapter opening up.

Classic Hangouts will hang in there a bit longer

Posted: 21 Aug 2019 10:19 AM PDT

Earlier this year, Google said it would transition all Hangouts users on G Suite to Hangouts Chat and Meet by October 2019 and then retire the classic version of Hangouts. But a lot of G Suite users love their classic Hangouts, so Google has now revised Hangouts’ retirement date to “no sooner than June 2020.” That leaves the door open for a later date, too, and the company says it will provide a “more definitive date” at some point in the future.

It’s worth stressing that this new timeline is about Hangouts for paying G Suite users, but it will also influence the consumer timeline. What exactly is happening to Hangouts for consumers remains a bit unclear, though, given that Google’s original consumer messaging strategy failed after the disappointment that was Allo.

But here is what we know: Earlier this year, Google said that it wanted to transition consumers over to a free version of Hangouts Chat and Meet after the G Suite transition. A Google spokesperson told me this plan remains in place and it will start after the G Suite transition.

As for G Suite users, Google plans to make the transition for G Suite users easier as it looks to move them over to the new platform. Admins can already jump on an accelerated timeline and disable classic Hangouts right now (but they still need an invitation from Google to do so).

Daily Crunch: DoorDash acquires Scotty Labs

Posted: 21 Aug 2019 10:19 AM PDT

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

1. DoorDash acquires autonomous driving startup Scotty Labs

DoorDash seems to be very interested in self-driving technology — not only did it acquire Scotty Labs (a startup enabling people to remotely control self-driving cars), it also brought on the two co-founders of Lvl5, which was creating high-resolution maps for autonomous driving.

"We'll share more updates in the near future but for now, we're really excited to be part of the amazing DoorDash family and looking forward to building something magical together,” Scotty Labs co-founder Tobenna Arodiogbu wrote on in a blog post.

2. Apple, Google and Mozilla block Kazakhstan's browser spying tactics

Apple, Google and Mozilla have taken the rare step of blocking an untrusted certificate issued by the Kazakhstan government, which critics say it forced its citizens to install as part of an effort to monitor their internet traffic.

3. The 11 best startups from Y Combinator's S19 Demo Day 1

We already rounded up all the startups that presented at the accelerator’s Demo Day 1, but now the team has selected their favorites. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

4. MoviePass exposed thousands of unencrypted customer card numbers

An unprotected MoviePass database included both customer cards (those are the debit cards used to purchase movie tickets) and personal credit card numbers.

5. Waymo releases a self-driving open data set for free use by the research community

The data set isn't for commercial use, but Waymo’s definition of “research” is fairly broad, and includes researchers at other companies as well as academics.

6. PayPal-backed money lender Tala raises $110M to enter India

Tala looks at behavioral data gathered through an Android app to build a customer’s credit profile. The new round values the company at $750 million.

7. Join The New Stack for Pancake & Podcast with Q&A at TC Sessions: Enterprise

Popular enterprise news and research site The New Stack is coming to TechCrunch Sessions: Enterprise on September 5 for a special Pancake & Podcast session with live Q&A. (And we’re dead serious about the pancakes.)

Google denies reports of unannounced changes to Android app review process

Posted: 21 Aug 2019 10:11 AM PDT

Multiple reports this week claimed Google had quietly rolled out a more in-depth app review process to all developers — changes designed to keep the Play Store safer from spam, malware and copycat apps. Those reports are inaccurate, Google tells TechCrunch. Instead, the company is giving itself more time to review apps from new, unestablished developers on the Play Store, as previously announced, but this hasn’t been extended to all developers.

Concerns about these so-called “unannounced changes” stemmed from a blog post by Choice of Games, which wrote that “all new apps” would be getting an additional review, slowing down app approvals. It claimed new apps would require at least three days for review, and this now included existing developers.

The post cited a conversation with Google Support as the source for its claims.

This led to a ton of confusion, as the development shop behind the post was well-established, having been on the Play Store since 2010 and would have been exempt from Google’s policy of increased reviews for new developers.

As it turns out, it appears there was miscommunication between Google Play Store developer support and the developer, according to the chat transcript that was published. The support person, “Liz,” was alerting the developer to the new policy Google announced in April, which detailed increased review times for Play Store newcomers. She didn’t appear to understand that she was speaking with a developer who had published on Google Play for nearly a decade.

Android Police also picked up the news, writing that Google had “quietly instigated a more involved review process that impacts every app and update.”

Reddit and Hacker News also weighed in. In addition to the reported changes, developers were concerned there was now no way to schedule new app releases through the Timed Publishing feature. (That’s also not true — developers can publish to a closed testing track, then use Timed Publishing to go live to the public.)

A Google Developer Relations team member stepped in to clear things up on Reddit, and we’ve confirmed with Google that his responses were accurate.

Google’s updated app review process, first announced in April, hasn’t changed.

At the time, Google said:

“We will soon be taking more time (days, not weeks) to review apps by developers that don't yet have a track record with us. This will allow us to do more thorough checks before approving apps to go live in the store and will help us make even fewer inaccurate decisions on developer accounts.”

Google began notifying developers directly in the Play Console in June that new apps by developers without a track record will take a couple of days longer to review. Google says that, since this change, it’s already seen a meaningful increase in the number of harmful apps blocked by Play even before they are published.

It’s not clear why the developer relations support person miscommunicated this information to the developer in question, but it points to a training issue on Google’s part.

It’s also unclear why the established developer’s app was held up in app review, beyond it just being a mistake on Google’s part.

Unfortunately for Google, Play Store developers have come to expect a speedy review process, so any delays feel like unnecessary friction.

Unlike Apple, which employs a large team to carefully review app submissions and make hard calls on controversial apps, Google has more heavily relied on automation over the years. The company disclosed in the past how it uses software to pre-analyze apps for viruses, malware and other content and copyright violations.

That process doesn’t always work, though. Only days ago, dozens of Android apps disguised as harmless photo editors and games were discovered to actually be adware. This follows similar news from January, when 85 apps were found to contain adware… and in May, when adware was discovered in some 200 apps totaling 150+ million installs… and, news from last November, when malware was found across more than a dozen apps with half a million installs… and so on.

While it would make sense for Google to increase its review of all apps, given its inability to address this problem, that was not the case here.

Bring your posse to Disrupt SF 2019 with group discounts

Posted: 21 Aug 2019 10:05 AM PDT

Disrupt San Francisco 2019, our flagship event on October 2-4, features three full days of programming, more than 10,000 attendees, over 1,200 exhibiting startups and sponsors — and that's just for starters. That's a lot of ground to cover. Here's a hot tip: take advantage of group discounts, saddle up and bring your whole posse to the show and squeeze out every bit of information, inspiration and opportunity possible.

Spread your crew across Disrupt and get more done. Network til you drop in Startup Alley — using CrunchMatch, our free business match-making platform, to find and schedule meetings with only the best connections for your business. Bear witness to our epic pitch competition, Startup Battlefield — a great place to spot investment-worthy companies.

Attend the many Main Stage panel discussions and interviews with tech titans, up-and-coming founders and startup investors. Check out the conference agenda hereLooking for actionable tips and advice? Head for the Extra Crunch Stage. Yeah, you'll learn a thing or two.

We offer group discounts for every pass level, to make your posse possible. Here's what you need to know.

Group Innovator Pass: Buy five or more passes and get a 20% discount. Need 10 or more passes? Email us for a price quote at events@techcrunch.com. An Innovator Pass grants access to the Main Stage, Extra Crunch Stage, Q&As, workshops, CrunchMatch, networking receptions and the TechCrunch Events App, which lets you communicate with other attendees.

Group Founder Pass: Buy two or more passes and you'll get a 10% discount. Your Founder Pass gets you the same benefits as an Innovator Pass but at an already discounted rate — but you must be a (co)founder of a company (of any size).

Group Investor Pass: Purchase two or more passes to get a 10% discount. An Investor Pass provides the same benefits as an Innovator pass, PLUS access to the Investor Lounge, an invitation to the investor-only reception and two hours of private meeting space.

Group Expo Only Pass: If you want to buy Expo Only passes in bulk (10 or more), email events@techcrunch.com for a price quote. An Expo Only Pass provides access to the Startup Alley expo floor, workshops and a lite version of the TechCrunch Events App.

Group Startup Alley Exhibitor Packages: If you're interested in purchasing more than one Startup Alley Exhibitor Package, email startupalley@techcrunch.com for more information. This package includes exhibit space for one day, use of the Startup Alley Lounge, access to the media list and two or three Founder Passes, depending on when you book.

Disrupt San Francisco 2019 takes place on October 2-4. Bring your posse and cover more ground, find more opportunity and discover more ways to grow your business. Get your group discounts today. If you're riding solo, no problemo. Get an early-bird ticket and, depending on the pass level you choose, you can save up to $1,300. Saddle up and ride!

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt San Francisco 2019? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

How Dropbox, Nike, Salesforce, MailChimp, Google and Pepsi welcome their new hires

Posted: 21 Aug 2019 10:02 AM PDT

The first day of work at a new job can be very stressful. The unfamiliar surroundings and onslaught of new material can cause new hires some degree of discomfort. But sometimes the atmosphere at the new company can be welcoming and can help counteract the stress.

Different companies have their own traditions to help make this transition period more comfortable and memorable for new hires. Some of these traditions include:

  • Team-building day trips for new hires
  • Breakfast with the CEO
  • Tours of the best cafes, parks, and other spots in the neighborhood
  • Office "quests" (or some other gamification of onboarding)
  • Personalized onboarding programs or interactive company academies

Usually, only employees can experience these traditions. But there's one new-hire tradition that has become extremely popular and often highly publicized: the “welcome kit”.

Welcome kits usually contain a hodgepodge of items that employees will need on the job (pens, notebooks, books, etc.) and things to make employees feel welcome (clothing, stickers, water bottles, or more unusual items — often with the company name or logo on them).

To get a sense of how different companies handle their kits, we talked to four successful startups about their welcome kits in the article below, followed by our look at a dozen more:

Table of Contents:

This article is based on the personal welcome kit collection of Vladimir Polo, founder of AcademyOcean. AcademyOcean is a tool for interactive onboarding and training (and Vladimir Polo is a fan of welcome kits).

Dropbox

Apple exec Susan Prescott is coming to TechCrunch Sessions: Enterprise

Posted: 21 Aug 2019 09:50 AM PDT

Susan Prescott, Apple’s vice president of markets, apps and services, has been at Apple since 2003. She worked with the company’s co-founder Steve Jobs, and has witnessed such milestones as the launch of the iPhone and the iPad. Prescott will be coming to TechCrunch Sessions: Enterprise in San Francisco on September 5 to discuss Apple’s enterprise strategy.

Prescott has been closely involved in that from the earliest days of the iPhone, and as she told TechCrunch in a 2018 article on Apple’s enterprise strategy, the company was thinking about the enterprise as a potential market from the start. “Early on we engaged with businesses and IT to understand their needs, and have added enterprise features with every major software release,” she said at the time.

When you think about it, it was in fact the iPhone and the iPad that led to the Consumerization of IT and Bring Your Own Device movements, two huge trends in enterprise IT that began in the 2011 timeframe. Later the company helped grow the business further by partnering with such enterprise stalwarts as IBM, SAP, Cisco, GE and most recently Salesforce along with systems integrators like Deloitte and Accenture. Today, the company offers a range of business tools including Apple Business Chat and Apple Business Manager, an IT management tool for managing Macs, iPhones and iPads and the apps that run on them.

All of that adds up to robust enterprise strategy, and Prescott will discuss all of that and more with TechCrunch editors. We’ll dive into Apple’s history in the enterprise and what it’s doing today to enhance that part of its business.

In all, Prescott has over 25 years of technology industry experience. Before joining Apple in 2003, she worked for Adobe where she had a range of engineering, marketing and management roles. Her last position before joining Apple in 2003 was Vice President of product management and marketing in Adobe’s Creative Professional Solutions group.

Grab your $349 tickets today to join the show and meet amazing enterprise leaders. Don’t wait! Ticket prices go up at the door! If you book 4+ tickets you’ll save 20% – book for your team here.

BuzzFeed’s new MoodFeed recommends content based on how you’re feeling

Posted: 21 Aug 2019 09:23 AM PDT

BuzzFeed is offering readers a new approach to finding content that fits the way they’re feeling right now.

It’s not the boring old approach of following a link on social media or search, or of typing BuzzFeed.com into your browser. Instead, on MoodFeed, readers can identify their mood, then they’ll get a list of articles that match those feelings.

There are currently six options — curious, stressed, bored, nostalgic, joyful or hungry. If you select “curious,” you’ll see a list of BuzzFeed posts about strange facts, life hacks and the like. If, on the other hand, you go with “nostalgic,” you’ll get lots of headlines about pop culture history. And if you’re not sure, you can just give the mood wheel a spin and see what it lands on.

Talia Halperin, BuzzFeed’s vice president of brand management, described this as an experiment in “getting our audience engaged and excited in a non-traditional way.” The team apparently created these recommendations by first identifying the main mood options, then “reverse-engineering” which articles would be a good fit.

And while BuzzFeed’s never offered this kind of interface before, Halperin argued that the broader strategy is one that the organization uses “all the time, in a curated, audience-focused way” — when the team is sharing and promoting articles, it’s thinking about moods and associated identities.

MoodFeed

In fact, the BuzzFeed team has actually built AI tools to help with this process, automating the ability to identify which BuzzFeed stories should be posted on which BuzzFeed pages, when “evergreen” stories should be re-promoted and at what time headlines should be shared.

In the case of MoodFeed, Halperin made it sound like this is very much an experiment, with the company still figuring out things like “how often we should refresh it, what our strategy is around that.”

At the same time, she said there’s plenty of room for expansion.

“This could scale in a really interesting way,” she added. “You may have noticed that there are only six moods, but of course, there are several different moods that come along with certain events [so we’re interested] in really being able expand to expand the moods at different times of the year.”