A year ago Instagram made a bold bet with the launch of IGTV: That it could invent and popularize a new medium of long-form vertical videos. Landscape uploads weren’t allowed. Co-founder Kevin Systrom told me in August that “What I’m most proud of is that Instagram took a stand and tried a brand new thing that is frankly hard to pull off. Full-screen vertical video that’s mobile only. That doesn’t exist anywhere else.”
Now a dedicated hub for multi-minute portrait-mode video won’t exist anywhere at all. Following lackluster buy-in from creators loathe to shoot in a proprietary format that’s tough to reuse, IGTV is retreating from its vertical-only policy. Starting today, users can upload traditional horizontal landscape videos too, and they’ll be shown full-screen when users turn their phones sideways while watching IGTV’s standalone app or its hub within the main Instagram app. That should hopefully put an end to crude ports of landscape videos shown tiny with giant letterboxes slapped on to soak up the vertical screen.
Instagram spins it saying, “Ultimately, our vision is to make IGTV a destination for great content no matter how it’s shot so creators can express themselves how they want . . . . In many ways, opening IGTV to more than just vertical videos is similar to when we opened Instagram to more than just square photos in 2015. It enabled creativity to flourish and engagement to rise – and we believe the same will happen again with IGTV.”
Last year I suggested IGTV might have to embrace landscape after a soggy start. “Loosening up to accept landscape videos too might nullify a differentiator, but also pipe in a flood of content it could then algorithmically curate to bootstrap IGTV’s library. Reducing the friction by allowing people to easily port content to or from elsewhere might make it feel like less of a gamble for creators deciding where to put their production resources,” I wrote.
The coming influx of repurposed YouTube videos could drive more creators and their fans to IGTV. To date there have been no break-out stars, must-see shows or cultural zeitgeist moments on IGTV. Instagram refused to provide a list of the most viewed long-form clips. Sensor Tower estimates just 4.2 million installs to date for IGTV’s standalone app, amounting to less than half a percent of Instagram’s billion-plus users downloading the app. It saw 3.8 times more downloads per day in its first three months on the market than than last month. The iOS app sank to No. 191 on the US – Photo & Video app charts, according to App Annie, and didn’t make the overall chart.
Instagram has tried several changes to reinvigorate IGTV already. It started allowing creators to share IGTV previews to the main Instagram feed that’s capped at 60 seconds. Users can tap through those to watch full clips of up to 60 minutes on IGTV, which has helped to boost view counts for video makers like BabyAriel. And earlier this week we reported that IGTV had been quietly redesigned to ditch its category tabs for a central feed of videos that relies more on algorithmic recommendations like TikTok and a two-wide vertical grid of previews to browse like Snapchat Discover.
But Instagram has still refused to add what creators have been asking for since day one: monetization. Without ways to earn a cut of ad revenue, accept tips, sign up users to a monthly patronage subscription or sell merchandise, it’s been tough to justify shooting a whole premium video in vertical. Producing in landscape would make creators money on YouTube and possibly elsewhere. Now at least creators can shoot once and distribute to IGTV and other apps, which could fill out the feature with content before it figures out monetization.
For viewers and the creators they love, IGTV’s newfound flexibility is a positive. But I can’t help but think this is Instagram’s first truly massive misstep. Nine months after safely copying Snapchat Stories in 2016, Instagram was happy to tout it had 200 million daily users. The company still hasn’t released a single usage stat about IGTV usage. Perhaps after seemingly defeating Snap, Instagram thought it was invincible and could dictate how and what video artists create. But the Facebook pet proved fallible after all. The launch and subsequent rethinking should serve as a lesson. Even the biggest platforms can’t demand people produce elaborate proprietary content for nothing in return but “exposure.”
Phone sales have been trending downward for some time now. There are a number of reasons for this — many of which you can read about in this piece I published last week. The creeping cost of premium handsets is pretty high on that list, with flagships now routinely topping $ 1,000 from many of the big names.
The big smartphone makers have begun to react to this, with budget flagship alternatives like the iPhone XR, Galaxy S10e and Pixel 3a. A new crop of mid-range flagships, however, are giving them a run for their money and serving as an important reminder that a quality handset doesn’t need to be priced in the four digits.
The Honor 20 Pro fits nicely in the latter camp, joining the likes of the recently announced OnePlus 7 Pro and Asus ZenFone 6 in demonstrating that premium specs can still be had for what was once considered a reasonable flagship price.
Of course, before we get into specifics of pricing with the newly announced handset, it bears mentioning whether Honor, a brand owned by Huawei, will actually ever make it to the States. That’s all pretty complicated — like Donald Trump in a trade war with with China complicated. The pricing on the London-launched Pro version is €599, putting it at around $ 670.
The phone’s got Huawei’s latest and greatest Kirin 980 processor, coupled with a 6.26-inch display with hole-punch cutout and a quartet of rear-facing cameras. Those include a wide angle with 117-degree shots, 48-megapixel main, telephoto and a macro, which is an interesting addition to the standard array. The Pro’s out at some point in the June or July time frame.
Huawei bans aside, it will be interesting to see how this new crop of more affordable premium devices impacts the rest of the big names up top.
The social network has a plan to merge the worlds of artificial intelligence and real-world machines, so that both may grow more powerful.
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We got pro tips from the master—like, the actual guy who created Dothraki and High Valyrian.
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Retail Zipline, a startup aiming to improve communication between retail stores and corporate decision makers, announced today that it has raised $ 9.6 million in Series A funding.
CEO Melissa Wong previously worked in corporate communications for Old Navy, where she said she saw “such a disconnect between what was decided in headquarters and what was decided in stores.” For example, management might decide on a big marketing push to sell any remaining Mother’s Day-related items after the holiday has passed, but then “the stores wouldn’t do it.”
“The stores would say there were too many messages, they didn’t see the memo, they didn’t know it was a priority,” Wong said.
So she founded Retail Zipline with CTO Jeremy Baker, with the goal of building better communication tools for retailers. Baker said that while they looked at existing chat and task management software for inspiration, those tools were “mostly built for people sitting at a desk all day,” rather than workers who are “on the floor, dealing with customers.”
Retail Zipline’s features include messaging and task management — plus a centralized library of documents and multimedia and a survey tool to track results and feedback from stores.
To illustrate how the software is actually being used, Baker outlined a scenario where an athletic shoe company is launching “a huge initiative,” with a big-name athlete signed on to promote the latest pair of shoes.
“In a traditional environment, someone might FedEx over a package to [the store], someone might send an email down, ‘Hey, look for a package on this day,’ someone else from the marketing team might say, ‘Hey guys, we’re doing a shoe launch,’ ” he said. “All of this in these disparate systems, where people have to piece together the story. It’s kind of like a murder mystery.”
Baker said that Retail Zipline, on the other hand, provides a single place to find all the needed materials and tasks “tied together with a bow, instead of a store manager spending 10-plus hours in the back room trying to piece this thing together, or even worse not seeing it.”
The company’s customers include Casper, LEGO and Lush Cosmetics. Wong said Retail Zipline works “with anyone that has a retail location” — ranging from Gap, Inc. with thousands of stores, to Toms Shoes with 10.
The funding was led by Emergence, with Santi Subotovsky and Kara Egan from Emergence both joining the startup’s board of directors. Serena Williams’ new firm Serena Ventures also participated.
“As someone with an incredibly active life, I understand the need to be dynamic, and capable of quickly adapting to shifting priorities, but I’m also aware of the stress a fast-paced work environment can impose,” Williams said in a statement. “Retail Zipline is tackling this issue head-on in retail – a notoriously stressful industry – by pioneering products that help store associates get organized, communicate efficiently, and deliver amazing customer experiences.”
A day after India’s largest wallet app Paytm entered the credit cards business, local ride-hailing giant is following suit. Ola has inked a deal with state-run SBI bank and Visa to issue as many as 10 million credit cards in next three and a half years, it said today.
The move will help Visa and SBI bank acquire more customers in India, where most transactions are still bandied out over cash. For Ola, which rivals Uber in India, foray into cards business represents a new avenue to monetize its customers, as TechCrunch previously reported.
With about 150 million users availing more than 2 million rides on its platform each day, Ola is sitting on a mountain of data about its users’ financial power and spends. With the card, dubbed Ola Money-SBI Credit Card, the mobility firm is also offering several discounts and savings to retain its loyal customer base.
Ola, which is nearing $ 6 billion in valuation and counts SoftBank and Naspers among its investors, said it will offer its credit card holders “highest cashback and rewards” in form of Ola Money that could be redeemed for Ola rides, and flight and hotel bookings. There will be seven percent cashback on cab spends, five percent on flight bookings, 20 percent on domestic hotel bookings (six percent on international hotel bookings), 20 percent on over 6,000 restaurants, and one percent on all other spends.
“Mobility spends form a significant wallet share for users and we see a huge opportunity to transform their payments experience with this solution. With over 150 million digital-first consumers on our platform, Ola will be a catalyst in driving India’s digital economy with cutting edge payment solutions,” Bhavish Aggarwal, cofounder and CEO of Ola, said in a statement.
Why credit cards?
Ola appears to be following the playbook of Grab and Go-Jek, two ride-hailing services in Southeast Asian markets that have ventured into a number of businesses in recent years. Both Grab and Go-Jek offer loans, remittance and insurance to their riders, while the former also maintains its own virtual credit card. Interestingly, Uber, which also offers a credit card in some markets, has no such play in India.
The move will allow Ola to look beyond ride-hailing and food delivery, two businesses that appear to have hit a saturation point in India, said Satish Meena, an analyst with research firm Forrester.
In recent years, Ola has started to explore financial services. It offers riders “micro-insurance” that covers a range of risks including loss of baggage and medical expenses. The company said earlier this year, it has sold over 20 million insurances to customers. Using Ola Money to facilitate cashbacks also underscores Ola’s push to increase the adoption of its mobile wallet, which according to estimates, lags Paytm and several other wallet and UPI payment apps.
The company has also made major push in electric vehicles business, which it spun off as a separate company earlier this year. In March, its EV business raised $ 300 million from Hyundai and Kia. The company has said that it plans to offer one million EVs by 2022. Its other EV programs include a pledge to add 10,000 rickshaws for use in cities.
In a carefully framed deal, ServiceNow announced this morning that it has acquired the intellectual property and key personnel of mobile analytics company Appsee for an undisclosed price. Under the terms of the deal, the co-founders and R&D team will be joining ServiceNow after the deal closes.
It’s worth noting that ServiceNow did not acquire Appsee’s customers, and the company is expected to wind down its existing business over the next 12 months.
Appsee provides more than pure numerical analytics. As the name it implies, it lets developers see what the user is seeing by recording an interaction and seeing what went right or wrong as the person used the program.
ServiceNow wants to take that functionality and incorporate it into its Now Platform, which enables customers to create customized service applications for their businesses, or use mobile applications it has created out of the box.
The company sees this as a way to improve the UI and build more usable apps. “We’ll be able to use Appsee for our mobile app and browser analytics. This can be used across all three of our workflows, and with this level of visibility our customers will be able to see how customers or employees are engaging [with the application]. With these analytics, ServiceNow will be able to provide insights on user behavior. In turn, this will help us provide an improved UI for customers,” a company spokesperson told TechCrunch.
Just last week at its Knowledge 19 customer conference in Las Vegas, the company announced Now Mobile, a new tool for performing tasks like ordering a new laptop or searching for the holiday calendar, and a mobile on-boarding tool for new employees. Both of these will be available in the company’s next release and could benefit from the Appsee functionality to improve the overall design of these products after it releases them to users.
Appsee has always been focused on capturing user activity. Over the years it has layered on more traditional analytics like DAUs (daily active users) and crash rates, the kind of metrics that can give companies insight into their user experience, but they combine that with the visual record to help see more detail about exactly what was happening, along with myriad other features, all of which will be incorporated into the ServiceNow platform moving forward.
The deal is expected to close by the end of Q2 2019.
Happy Blockchain Week to you and yours. HTC helped kick off this important national holiday by announcing the upcoming release of the HTC Exodus 1s. The latest version of the company’s intriguing blockchain phone shaves some of price off the Exodus 1 — which eventually sold for $ 699 when the company made it available in more traditional currency.
HTC’s being predictably cagey about exact pricing here, instead simply calling it “a more value-oriented version” of the original. Nor is the company discussing the actions it’s taking to reduce the cost here — though I’d expect much of them to be similar to those undergone by Google for the Pixel 3a, which was built by the former HTC team. There, most of the hits were to processing power and building material. Certainly the delightfully gimmicky transparent rear was a nice touch on the Exodus 1.
Most interesting here is the motivation behind the price drop. Here’s HTC in the press release:
It will allow users in emerging economies, or those wanting to dip their toes into the crypto world for the first time, easier access to the technology with a more accessible price point. This will democratize access to crypto and blockchain technology and help its global proliferation and adoption. HTC will release further details on exact specification and cost over the coming months.
A grandiose vision, obviously, but I think there’s something to be said for the idea. Access to some blockchain technology is somewhat price-prohibitive. Even so. Many experts in the space agree that blockchain will be an important foundation for microtransactions going forward. The Exodus 1 wasn’t exactly a smash from the look of things, but this could be an interesting first step.
Another interesting bit in all of this is the opening of the SDK for Zion Vault, the Trusted Execution Environment (TEE) product vault the company introduced with the Exodus 1. HTC will be tossing it up on GitHub for developers. “We understand it takes a community to ensure strength and security,” the company says, “so it’s important to the Exodus team that our community has the best tools available to them.”
The new wireless MW65 Active Noise Canceling (ANC) headphones take the excellent sound Master & Dynamic is known for and add active noise-canceling.
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