One of the biggest technology takeaways of the last couple of months has been that organizations need confident, wide-ranging digital strategies to stay afloat, and Facebook — in its wider bid to build products to serve businesses — is taking note. In the same week that the social network doubled down on business tools for small and medium enterprises with Shops, it is also sharpening its focus on larger enterprises and how they might use its platform.
Today, Facebook announced a number of new products coming to Workplace, its enterprise-focused chat and video platform, including Workplace versions of Rooms (its Houseparty video drop-in clone), Work Groups (a feature it launched on Facebook itself last October to create informal Groups for co-workers), more tools to make video conversations more interactive and enhanced tools for its Portal video hardware.
Alongside all that, Facebook also announced the general availability of Oculus for Business, an enterprise-focused version of its virtual reality headset and platform that plays on how spatial computing is starting to get adopted in a business setting, particularly in training and collaboration projects. It said that there are now more than 400 independent software vendors contributing products to the effort.
This is something that Mark Zuckerberg has also been teasing out, with his own announcements and discussion today about moving more of Facebook’s staff to remote work. “This is all about a feeling of presence,” he said during his Live video, aimed at staff but broadcast publicly. “As we use these tools for work as well and eat our own dog food, we’ll advance the technology.”
Facebook is also responding to what is going on in the wider working world. Video conferencing and other communications services for remote teams are booming, a direct result of people having to work from home to fall in line with current COVID-19 social distancing measures.
That shift has led to a huge surge of usage and interest in communications tools like Zoom, Teams and Skype (from Microsoft) and Hangouts and Meet (Google’s video offerings).
Facebook itself has been no stranger to that trend: Workplace now has 5 million paying users (and millions more using it for free) — up by 2 million to the end of March. (For some, but not direct, comparison, Slack says it has 12 million daily users and more than 119,000 paying customers, which include many more individual users; Microsoft’s Teams most recent numbers from March are 44 million daily users, but it doesn’t break out which of those are paying.)
Interestingly, that number doesn’t include April or the first part of May, arguably the peak of measures for people to shelter in place in countries outside of Asia (where many put in measures earlier).
“We will see the impact of COVID-19 a few weeks from now,” Julien Codorniou, VP for Workplace, said in an interview. He added that he doesn’t think that the softened economy, and subsequent layoffs for some large employers, will have had an impact on growth, despite Facebook’s customer list including big players from the hospitality and retail sectors (Walmart, Virgin Atlantic and Booking.com are among its many customers in those sectors).
“Usage has stayed the same,” he said. “They know they will have to go back to work at some point and they have to keep their [employee] community engaged. Workplace became mission-critical overnight.”
The new features getting launched today are interesting in part because they are not necessarily so much about expanding the Workplace ecosystem with more links to outside apps — that was one strategy that Workplace has chased in previous iterations to keep up with Slack and enhance its toolset — as it is about enhancing the Facebook-native set of features that it would like people to use. It might speak to Facebook accepting that its strongest play is to accentuate its social features rather than try to position itself as an all-in-one productivity platform (which might come naturally as a result; or might not).
Work Groups — basically smaller groups you could create on Facebook to chat directly to your colleagues outside of your wider circle of friends — was an odd one to launch outside of Workplace, but Codorniou said it was very intentional: the idea was to give a wider set of Facebook users a taste of how they might use Facebook in a work context, and to hopefully drive more usage of Facebook as a result.
The fact that the Rooms feature is now coming to Workplace itself will be one way to entice more of those users — there are now 20 million (yes, that’s right: the power of Facebook scale) — to migrate their usage to Workplace to take up other tools on offer there. For those on Workplace already, it’s another way to boost engagement on the platform.
Rooms are also an import from the consumer side of the business. Rooms was Facebook’s informal attempt to bring in a bit of the spontaneity of other apps like Houseparty (which is a part of Epic Games), but tapping into the social graph that you already have on Facebook. It’s a relatively new feature, only getting launched at the end of April, so it’s interesting to see it making such a quick appearance on Workplace. (Live took significantly longer to get imported.)
The key element of Rooms that will stand out for Workplace users is that those who are on Workplace already can use it to create links that others can use to drop in, even if they’re not a part of the user’s Workplace group or on Facebook itself. Like Zoom or the others, essentially it’s a URL link that will let anyone with a camera, a microphone, a browser and a connection link in.
The tools that Facebook is adding to enhance how Workplace users are able to work with video, meanwhile, will also potentially improve engagement on the platform, but also more simply, give it needed parity with the other tools that have proven popular — necessary if Facebook hopes to get more traction with its native tools, even as it continues to offer integrations with the likes of Zoom.
Live Producer lets the host of a video live event start polls, share their screens and see “health” metrics to gauge responses to what they are saying. Q&A follows the same idea, a Slide-like system to queue, triage and select questions without the questions being necessarily visible to everyone watching. Lastly, the addition of captions will be especially welcome in international teams when you might not always be speaking to people fluent in whatever language you’re using. It’s starting first with live captions in English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian and German.
Facebook will soon allow users to go on “virtual dates,” the company announced today. The social network is planning to introduce a new video calling feature that will allow users of its Facebook Dating service to connect and video call over Messenger, as an alternative to going on a real-world date. This sort of feature is much in demand amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has forced people to stay home and practice social distancing.
But for online dating apps, which aim to connect people in the real world, it’s a significant challenge for their business.
For the time being, government lockdowns have limited the places where online daters could meet up for their first date. Restaurants, malls, bars and other retail establishments are closed across regions impacted by the coronavirus outbreak. But even when those restrictions lift, many online dating app users will be wary of meeting up with strangers for those first-time, getting-to-know-you dates. Video chat offers a safer option to explore potential connections with their matches.
When the new Facebook Dating feature goes live, online daters will be able to invite a match to a virtual date. The recipient can either choose to accept or decline the offer via a pop-up that appears.
If they accept, the Facebook Dating users will be connected in a video chat powered by Facebook Messenger in order to get to know one another.
As the feature is still being developed, Facebook declined to share more specific details about how it will work, in terms of privacy and security features.
Facebook is not the first online dating service to pivot to video as a result of the pandemic. But many rival dating apps were adopting video features well before the coronavirus struck, as well.
Bumble, for example, has offered voice and video calling in its app for roughly a year. The feature there works like a normal phone call or Apple’s FaceTime. However, users don’t have to share their phone number or other private information, like an email address, which makes it safer.
The company says use of the feature has spiked over the last two months as users embrace virtual dating.
Meanwhile, Match Group has more recently rolled out video across a number of the dating apps it operates.
This month, the Match app added video chat that allows users who have already matched to connect over video calls. Match-owned Hinge also rolled out a “Dating from Home” prompt and is preparing its own live video date feature, as well, Match says. Plenty of Fish (PoF), another Match property, launched live-streaming in March, giving singles a new way to hang out with friends and potential matches.
Match Group’s flagship app Tinder has not yet embraced live video dates, but still offers a way for users to add video to their profiles. The company couldn’t comment on whether or not video dating was in the works for Tinder, but in the post-COVID era, it would be almost bizarre to not offer such feature.
Other dating apps have also launched video dating, including eHarmony and a number of lesser-known dating apps hoping to now gain traction for their video dating concepts.
Facebook says the feature will roll out in the months ahead and will be available everywhere Facebook Dating is available.
This Week in Apps: YouTube TV cancels Apple’s rev share, more bad news for mobile voting, WhatsApp hits 2B users
Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the Extra Crunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support and the money that flows through it all.
The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 204 billion downloads in 2019 and $ 120 billion in consumer spending in 2019, according to App Annie’s recently released “State of Mobile” annual report. People are now spending 3 hours and 40 minutes per day using apps, rivaling TV. Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $ 544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus.
In this Extra Crunch series, we help you keep up with the latest news from the world of apps, delivered on a weekly basis.
This week, we look at YouTube TV’s decision to stop revenue-sharing with Apple, another mobile voting app with serious flaws, new Apple launches in coding and AR, Microsoft’s game-streaming service Project xCloud arrival on iOS and other notable app news and trends, including WhatsApp’s big 2 billion user milestone, and more.
YouTube TV fights back against Apple’s cut of in-app subscription revenue
This week, YouTube emailed customers subscribed to its YouTube TV service by way of Apple’s in-app purchases to let them know that this subscription offering will be discontinued starting on March 13, 2020. Current subscribers will have their subscription canceled automatically on their billing date after March 13, the letter said.
This is a pretty severe way for Google to end its subscription revenue-sharing with Apple, however. Most companies that decide to shut off in-app subscriptions still continue to honor those from existing subscribers — they just stop selling to new customers. In YouTube TV’s case, it’s actually ending its relationship with all its customers on Apple devices with the hope they’ll return and resubscribe. That’s quite a risk, given that YouTube TV is not the only streaming TV service out there, and customers getting their subscription canceled may take this opportunity to shop around. The timing is also poorly thought-out, given that YouTube TV just picked up new subs following Sony’s PlayStation Vue shutdown — and now it’s kicking them out.
The move makes Google the latest company to rebel against Apple’s 30% cut of all in-app payments (which drops to 15% in year two). A growing number of app publishers are refusing to share a cut of their revenue with Apple — even saying that Apple’s decision to charge this fee is anti-competitive. For example, Spotify believes Apple’s fee makes it more difficult to compete with Apple’s built-in music service, and has raised the issue repeatedly to regulators. Netflix also stopped paying the “Apple tax” over a year ago.
Mobile voting app Voatz, used by several states, was filled with security flaws
Above: Voatz, via The NYT
Last week, we looked at how a smartphone app meant to tabulate votes from the caucuses really screwed things up in Iowa. This week, MIT researchers took a look at mobile voting app Voatz, which has been used to tally votes for federal elections in parts of West Virginia, Oregon, Utah and Washington as part of various mobile voting pilot programs. The researchers found the app was riddled with security flaws that would let attackers monitor votes or even change ballots or block them without users’ knowledge. Attackers could also create a tainted paper trail, making a reliable audit impossible — despite Voatz’s promise of using blockchain technology to increase security. One security expert, speaking to VICE, called the app “sloppy” and filled with “elementary” mistakes.
Coming on the heels of the Iowa caucus mobile voting disaster, this latest news delivers another huge blow to the promise of mobile voting in the U.S.
If the goal of conversion rate optimization (CRO) is to alter users’ behavior, we need to first understand how they currently behave and what’s preventing them from taking that desired action.
Read more at PPCHero.com
Twitter announced today that over the holidays it identified and shut down “a large network of fake accounts,” as well as many others “located in a wide range of countries,” collectively abusing a feature that let them match phone numbers to user accounts.
TechCrunch previously reported this same issue on December 24, which is also the day Twitter says that it “became aware” that the abuse was taking place. Security researcher Ibrahim Balic found that a bug in Twitter’s Android app let him submit millions of phone numbers through an official API, which returned any associated user account.
We recently discovered an issue that allowed bad actors to match a specific phone number with the corresponding accounts on Twitter. We quickly corrected this issue and are sorry this happened. You can learn more about our investigation here: https://t.co/Z6Q4geQ8jo
— Twitter Support (@TwitterSupport) February 3, 2020
The feature is intended, if you have enabled it, to let friends who have your number look up your Twitter handle. But obviously submitting millions of numbers goes “beyond its intended use case.”
If you had turned this feature off, you weren’t affected by this bug. Fortunately for users in the EU this was opt-in there. But for the rest of the world it’s opt-out — so if you had a phone number associated with your account, you may have been affected.
Furthermore, the phone numbers include those provided for purposes of two-factor authentication, so those outside the EU may have been vulnerable to this exploit without realizing it.
It seems that after Twitter was alerted to the issue and shut down the original network (presumably Balic’s), its investigators identified many more accounts that were exploiting this flaw, though a representative declined to provide a number or estimate.
“We observed a particularly high volume of requests coming from individual IP addresses located within Iran, Israel, and Malaysia,” wrote the company in a security bulletin. “It is possible that some of these IP addresses may have ties to state-sponsored actors,” the post continued.
This suspicion was justified by the observation of unrestricted access to Twitter from the IPs in Iran, where the platform is blocked from general access — suggesting government involvement. Belic, when contacted by TechCrunch, said that his work was not state-sponsored in any way.
Any account suspected of abusing the feature was suspended, and the API itself has been modified to prevent any further exploitation of this type. I’ve asked the company how many accounts were suspended and will update this post if I hear back.
Twitter has had numerous incidents where it exposed or leaked user data over the last year. In addition to sharing rather too much data with its ad partners, the company admitted it used phone numbers used for two-factor authentication to serve targeted ads.
Using a computer and modern software can be a chore to begin with for the visually impaired, but fundamentally visual tasks like 3D design are even harder. This Stanford team is working on a way to display 3D information, like in a CAD or modeling program, using a “2.5D” display made up of pins that can be raised or lowered as sort of tactile pixels. Taxels!
The research project, a collaboration between graduate student Alexa Siu, Joshua Miele and lab head Sean Follmer, is intended to explore avenues by which blind and visually impaired people can accomplish visual tasks without the aid of a sighted helper. It was presented this week at SIGACCESS.
The device is essentially a 12×24 array of thin columns with rounded tops that can be individually told to rise anywhere from a fraction of an inch to several inches above the plane, taking the shape of 3D objects quickly enough to amount to real time.
“It opens up the possibility of blind people being, not just consumers of the benefits of fabrication technology, but agents in it, creating our own tools from 3D modeling environments that we would want or need – and having some hope of doing it in a timely manner,” explained Miele, who is himself blind, in a Stanford news release.
Siu calls the device “2.5D,” since of course it can’t show the entire object floating in midair. But it’s an easy way for someone who can’t see the screen to understand the shape it’s displaying. The resolution is limited, sure, but that’s a shortcoming shared by all tactile displays — which it should be noted are extremely rare to begin with and often very expensive.
The field is moving forward, but too slowly for some, like this crew and the parents behind the BecDot, an inexpensive Braille display for kids. And other tactile displays are being pursued as possibilities for interactions in virtual environments.
Getting an intuitive understanding of a 3D object, whether one is designing or just viewing it, usually means rotating and shifting it — something that’s difficult to express in non-visual ways. But a real-time tactile display like this one can change the shape it’s showing quickly and smoothly, allowing more complex shapes, like moving cross-sections, to be expressed as well.
The device is far from becoming a commercial project, though as you can see in the images (and the video below), it’s very much a working prototype, and a fairly polished one at that. The team plans on reducing the size of the pins, which would of course increase the resolution of the display. Interestingly another grad student in the same lab is working on that very thing, albeit at rather an earlier stage.
The Shape Lab at Stanford is working on a number of projects along these lines — you can keep up with their work at the lab’s website.
The Snap-back continues. Snapchat blew past earnings expectations for a big beat in Q3, as it added 7 million daily active users this quarter to hit 210 million, up 13% year-over-year. Snap also beat on revenue, notching $ 446 million, which is up a whopping 50% year-over-year, at a loss of $ 0.04 EPS. That flew past Bloomberg’s consensus of Wall Street estimates that expected $ 437.9 million in revenue and a $ 0.05 EPS loss.
Snap has managed to continue cutting losses as it edges towards profitability. Net loss improved to $ 227 million from $ 255 million last quarter, with the loss decreasing $ 98 million versus Q3 2018.
CEO Evan Spiegel made his case in his prepared remarks for why Snapchat’s share price should be higher: “We are a high growth business, with strong operating leverage, a clear path to profitability, a distinct vision for the future, and the ability to invest over the long term.”
Snapchat’s share price had closed down 4% at $ 14, and had fallen roughly 4.6% in after-hours trading as of 1:50pm pacific to $ 13.35 despite the earnings beat. It remains below its $ 17 IPO price but has performed exceedingly well this year, rising from a low of $ 4.99 in December.
That’s partially because of the high cost of Snapchat’s growth relative average revenue per user. While it notes that it saw user growth in all regions, 5 million of the 7 million new users came from the Rest Of The World, with just 1 million coming from the North America and Europe regions. That’s in part thanks to better than expected growth and retention on its reengineered Android app that’s been a hit in India. But since Snapchat serves so much high-definition video content but it earns just $ 1.01 average revenue in the Rest Of World, it has to hope it can keep growing ARPU so it becomes profitable globally.
Some other top-line stats from Snapchat’s earnings:
- Operating cash flow improved by $ 56 million to a loss of $ 76 million in Q3 2019, compared to the prior year.
- Free Cash Flow improved by $ 75 million to $ (84) million in Q3 2019, compared to the prior year.
- Cash and marketable securities on hand reached $ 2.3 billion.
Interestingly, Spiegel noted that “We benefited from year-over-year growth in user activity in Q3 including growth in Snapchatters posting and viewing Stories.” Snapchat hadn’t indicated Stories was growing in at last the past two years, as it was attacked by clones including Instagram Stories that led Snapchat to start shrinking in user count a year ago before it recovered.
Since Stories viewership is critical to total ad view on Snapchat, we may see analysts insisting to hear more about that metric in the future. Snap also said users opened the app 30 times per day, up from 25 times per day as of July 2018, showing its still highly sticky and being used for rapid-fire visual communication.
The other major piece of Snapchat’s ad properties is Discover where total time spent watching grew 40% year-over-year. And rather than being driving by just a few hits, over 100 Discover channels saw over 10 million viewers per month in Q3. With Instagram’s IGTV a flop, Discover remains Snapchat’s best differentiated revenue driver, and one it needs to keep investing in and promoting. With Instagram trying to compete more heavily on chat with its new close friends-only Threads app, Snapchat can’t rely on ephemeral messaging to keep it special.
Surprisingly, Spiegel said that “We definitely see TikTok as a friend” when asked about why it allowed the competitor to continue buying ads on Snapchat. The two apps are different, with Snapchat focused on messaging and biographical social media while TikTok is about storyboarded, premeditated social entertainment. But this could be dangerous friendship for Snapchat, since TikTok may be taking time away that users might spend watching Snapchat Discover, and its growth could box Snapchat out of the social entertainment space.
Looking forward, in Q4 Snap is estimating 214 to 215 million daily active users and $ 540 million to $ 560 million in revenue. It’s expecting between break even and positive $ 20 million for Adjusted EBITDA. That revenue guidance was below estimates for the holiday Q4, contributing to the share price fall.
Snap has a ways to go before reaching profitability. That milestone would let it more freely invest in long-term projects, specifically its Spectacles camera-glasses. Spiegel has said he doesn’t expect augmented reality glasses to be a mainstream consumer product for 10 years. That means Snap will have to survive and spend for a long time if it wants a chance to battle Apple, Facebook, Magic Leap, and more for that market.
Telegram, a popular instant messaging app, has introduced a new feature to give group admins on the app better control over how members engage, the latest in a series of interesting features it has rolled out in recent months to expand its appeal.
The feature, dubbed Slow Mode, allows a group administrator to dictate how often a member could send a message in the group. If implemented by a group, members who have sent a text will have to wait between 30 seconds to as long as an hour before they can say something again in that group.
The messaging platform, which had more than 200 million monthly active users as of early 2018, said the new feature was aimed at making conversations in groups “more orderly” and raising the “value of each individual message.” It suggested admins to “keep [the feature] on permanently, or toggle as necessary to throttle rush hour traffic.”
Tech platforms including WhatsApp are grappling with containing the spread of misinformation on their messaging services. Though Telegram has largely been immune to such controversies, it has its fair share of issues.
WhatsApp has enforced limits on how often a user could forward a text message and is using machine learning techniques to weed out fraudulent users during the sign up procedure itself.
Shivnath Thukral, Director of Public Policy for Facebook in India and South Asia, said at a conference this month that virality of content has dropped by 25% to 30% on WhatsApp since the messaging platform imposed limits on forwards.
Telegram isn’t marketing the “Slow Mode” as a way to tackle the spread of false information, though. Instead, it says the feature would give users more “peace of mind.” Indeed, unlike WhatsApp, which allows up to 256 users to be part of a group, up to a whopping 200,000 users can join a Telegram group.
this new Telegram groups feature is so interesting pic.twitter.com/763mHGmZ0u
— freia lobo (@freialobo) August 10, 2019
On a similar tone, Telegram has also added an option that will enable users to send a message without invoking a sound notification at the recipient’s end. “Simply hold the Send button to have any message or media delivered without sound,” the app maker said. “Your recipient will get a notification as usual, but their phone won’t make a sound – even if they forgot to enable the Do Not Disturb mode.”
Telegram has also introduced a range of other small features such as the ability for group owners to add custom titles for admins. Videos on the app now display thumbnail previews when a user scrubs through them, making it easier to them to find the right moment. Like YouTube, users on Telegram too can now share a video that jumps directly at a certain timestamp. Users can also animate their emojis now — if they are into that sort of thing.
In June, Telegram introduced a number of location-flavored features to allow users to quickly exchange contact details without needing to type in digits.
Hyp3r, an apparently trusted marketing partner of Facebook and Instagram, has been secretly collecting and storing location and other data on millions of users, against the policies of the social networks, Business Insider reported today. It’s hard to see how it could do this for years without intervention by the platforms except if the latter were either ignorant or complicit.
After BI informed Instagram, the company confirmed that Hyp3r (styled HYP3R) had violated its policies and has now been removed from the platform. In a statement to TechCrunch, a Facebook spokesperson confirmed the report, saying:
HYP3R’s actions were not sanctioned and violate our policies. As a result, we’ve removed them from our platform. We’ve also made a product change that should help prevent other companies from scraping public location pages in this way.
The company started several years ago as a platform via which advertisers could target users attending a given event, like a baseball game or concert. It used Instagram’s official API to hoover up data originally, the kind of data-gathering that has been happening for years by unsavory firms in tech, most infamously Cambridge Analytica.
The idea of getting an ad because you’re at a ball game isn’t so scary, but if the company maintains a persistent record not just of your exact locations, but objects in your photos and types of places you visit, in order to combine that with other demographics and build a detailed shadow profile… well, that’s a little scary. And so Hyp3r’s business model evolved.
Unfortunately, the API was severely restricted in early 2018, limiting Hyp3r’s access to location and user data. Although there were unconfirmed reports that this led to layoffs at the company around the time, the company seems to have survived (and raised millions shortly afterwards) not by adapting its business model, but by sneaking around the apparently quite minimal barriers Instagram put in place to prevent location data from being scraped.
Some of this was done by taking advantage of Instagram’s Location pages, which would serve up public accounts visiting them to anyone who asked, logged in or not. (This was one of the features turned off today by Instagram.)
According to BI’s report, Hyp3r built tools to circumvent limitations on both location collection and saving of personal accounts’ stories — content meant to disappear after 24 hours. If a user posted anything at one of thousands of locations and regions monitored by Hyp3r, their data would be sucked up and added to their shadow profile.
To be clear, it only collected information from public stories and accounts. Naturally these people opted out of a certain amount of privacy by choosing a public account, but as the Cambridge Analytica case and others have shown, no one expects or should have to expect that their data is being secretly and systematically assembled into a personal profile by a company they’ve never heard of.
Facebook and Instagram, however, had definitely heard of Hyp3r. In fact, Hyp3r could until today be found in the official Facebook Marketing Partners directory, a curated list of companies it recommends for various tasks and services that advertisers might need.
And Hyp3r has been quite clear about what it is doing, though not about the methods by which it is doing it. It wasn’t a secret that the company was building profiles based around tracking locations and brands — that was presumably what Facebook listed it for. It was only when this report surfaced that Hyp3r had its Facebook Marketing Partner privileges rescinded.
For its part Hyp3r claims to be “compliant with consumer privacy regulations and social network Terms of Services,” and emphasized in a statement that it only accessed public data.
It’s unclear how Hyp3r could exist as a privileged member of Facebook’s stable of recommended companies and simultaneously be in such blatant violation of its policies. If these partners receive even cursory reviews of their products and methods, wouldn’t it have been obvious to any informed auditor that there was no legitimate source for the location and other data that Hyp3r was collecting? Wouldn’t it have been obvious that it was engaging in Automated Data Collection, which is specifically prohibited without Facebook’s permission?
I’ve asked Facebook for more detail on how and when its Marketing Partners are reviewed, and how this seemingly fundamental violation of the prohibition against automated data collection could have gone undetected for so long. This story is developing and may be updated further.
Africa’s mobile phone industry has in recent times been dominated by Transsion, a Shenzhen-based company that is little known outside the African continent and is gearing up for an initial public offering in China. Now, its Chinese peer Vivo is following its shadow to this burgeoning part of the world with low-cost offerings.
Vivo, the world’s fifth-largest smartphone maker, announced this week that it’s bringing its budget-friendly Y series smartphones into Nigeria, Kenya and Egypt; the line of products is already available in Morocco.
It’s obvious that Vivo wants in on an expanding market as its home country China experiences softening smartphone sales. Despite a global slowdown, Africa posted annual growth in smartphone shipments last year for the first time since 2015 thanks in part to the abundance of entry-level products, according to market research firm IDC.
Affordability is the key driver for any smartphone brands that want to grab a slice of the African market. That’s what vaulted Transsion into a top dog on the continent where it sells feature phones for less than $ 20. Vivo’s Y series smartphones, which are priced as little as $ 170, are vying for a place with Transsion, Samsung and Huawei that have respective unit shares of 34.3%, 22.6% and 9.9% in Africa last year.
The Middle East is also part of Vivo’s latest expansion plan despite the region’s recent slump in smartphone volumes. The Y series, which comes in several models sporting features like the 89% screen-to-body ratio or the artificial intelligence-powered triple camera, is currently for sale in the United Arab Emirates and will launch in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain in the coming months.
“Since our first entry into international markets in 2014, we have been dedicated to understanding the needs of consumers through in-depth research in an effort to bring innovative products and services to meet changing lifestyle needs,” said Vivo’s senior vice president Spark Ni in a statement.
“The Middle East and Africa markets are important to us, and we will tailor our approach with consumers’ needs in mind. The launch of Y series is just the beginning. We look forward to bringing our other widely popular products beyond Y series to consumers in the Middle East and Africa very soon,” the executive added.