Mansour Wakim

Squad is the new screensharing chat app everyone will copy

Posted by | Apps, Mobile, Screensharing, Social, Squad, Startups, TC | No Comments

Squad could be the next teen sensation because it makes it easy to do nothing… together. Spending time with friends in the modern age often means just being on your phones next to each other, occasionally showing off something funny you found. Squad lets you do this even while apart, and that way of punctuating video chat might make it the teen girl “third place” like Fortnite is for adolescent boys.

With Squad, you fire up a video chat with up to six people, but at any time you can screenshare what you’re seeing on your phone instead of showing your face. You can browse memes together, trash talk about DMs or private profiles, brainstorm a status update, co-work on a project or get consensus on your Tinder swipe. It’s deceptively simple, but remarkably alluring. And it couldn’t have happened until now.

How Squad screensharing looks

Squad takes advantage of Apple’s ReplayKit for screensharing. While it was announced in 2015, it wasn’t until June 2018’s iOS 12 that ReplayKit became stable and easy enough to be built into a consumer app for teens. Meanwhile, plus-size screens and speedy LTE and upcoming 5G networks make screensharing watchable. And with Instagram aging and Snapchat shrinking, there’s demand for a more intimately connected social network.

Squad only launched its app last week, but droves of Facebook and Snap employees have signed up to spy on and likely copy the startup, co-founder and CEO Esther Crawford tells me. Screensharing would fit well in group video chat startup Houseparty too. To fuel its head start, Squad has the $2.2 million it raised before it pivoted away from Molly, the team’s previous App where people can make FAQs about themselves. That cash came from betaworks, Y Combinator, BBG Ventures, Basis Set Ventures, Jesse Draper, Gary Vaynerchuk, Niv Dror, and [Disclosure: former TechCrunch editor] Alexia Bonatsos’ Dream Machine. Next, Squad wants to let people tune in to screenshares via URL to unlock a new era of Live broadcasting, and equip other apps with the capability through a Squad SDK.

“People under 24 do video chat way different than people 25 and above” says Crawford. Adding screensharing is “an excuse for hanging out.”

Serious ideas are preludes to toys

Screensharing has long been common in enterprise communication apps like Webex, Zoom and Slack. I even called a collaborative browsing and desktop screensharing app my favorite project from Facebook’s 2011 college hackathon. But we don’t just use our screens for work any more. Teens and young adults live on the digital plane, navigating complex webs of friendships, entertainment and academia through their phones. Squad makes those experiences social — including the “social” networks we often scroll through in isolation. Charles and Ray Eames said “Toys are preludes to serious ideas,” but this time, it is happening in reverse.

Squad co-founders from left: Ethan Sutin, Esther Crawford

“The idea came from a combination of things — a pain we were experiencing as a team,” Crawford recalls. My development team is constantly sending each other screenshots and screen recordings. It seemed ridiculous that I can’t just show you what’s on my screen. It was a business use case internally.” But then came the wisdom of a 13-year-old. “My daughter over the summer was bugging me. ‘Why can’t I just show what’s on my screen with my friends?’ I said I think it’s not technically possible.” That’s when Crawford discovered advances in ReplayKit meant it suddenly was possible.

Crawford had already seen this cycle of tool to toy before, as she was an early YouTuber. Back in the mid-2000s, people thought of YouTube as a place to host videos about eBay listings, professional presentations or dating profile supplements. “They couldn’t imagine that if you let people just reliably and easily upload video content, there’d be all these creative enterprises.”

Use cases for Squad

After stints in product marketing at Coach.com and Stride Labs, she built Estherbot — a chatbot version of herself that let people learn about her. Indeed, 50,000 people ended up trying it, convincing her people needed new ways to reveal themselves to friends. She met Ethan Sutin through the project and together they co-founded FAQ app Molly before it fizzled out and was shut down. “Molly wasn’t working; it had high initial engagement sessions, but then they would drop off. Maybe it’s not the right time for the augmented version of you,” noted Crawford.

Crawford and Sutin pivoted Molly into Squad to keep exploring new formats for vulnerability. “What excited Ethan and I was this mission to help people feel less lonely.”

Alone, together

Squad recommends apps to screenshare

Squad worked, thanks to a slick way to activate screensharing. The app launches to the selfie camera similar to Snapchat, but with a + button for inviting friends to a video call. Tap the screenshare button at the bottom, select Squad and start the broadcast. To guide users toward the best screensharing experiences, a menu of apps emerges encouraging users to open Instagram, TikTok, Bumble, their camera roll and others.

People can bounce back and forth between screensharing and video chat, and tap a friend’s window to view it full-screen. And when they want another friend to see what they’re seeing, Squad goes viral. One concern is that Squad breaks privacy controls. You could have friends show you someone’s Instagram profile you’re blocked by or aren’t allowed to see. But the same goes for hanging out in person, and this is one reason Squad doesn’t let you download videos of your chats and is considering screenshot warnings.

What’s so special about Squad is that it lacks the intensity of traditional video chat, where you constantly feel pressured to perform. You can fire up a chat room, and then go back to phoning as you please with your screen displayed instead of your blank face (though the Android version in beta offers picture-in-picture so you can show your mug and the screen).

“There’s no picture-in-picture on iOS, but younger users don’t even really care. I can point it at the bed and you can tell me when there’s something to look at,” Crawford tells me. A few people, alone in their houses, video chatting without looking at each other, still feel a sense of togetherness.

The future of Squad could grant that feeling to a massive audience of a celebrity or influencer. The startup is working on shareable URLs that creators could post on other social networks like Twitter or Facebook that their fans could click to watch. Tagging along as Kylie Jenner or Ninja play around on their phone could bring people closer to their heroes while serving as a massive growth opportunity for Squad. Similarly, colonizing other apps with an SDK for screensharing could allow Squad to recruit their users.

Squad makes starting a screenshare easy

The startup will face stiff technical challenges. Lag or low video quality destroy the feeling of delight it delivers, Crawford admits, so the team is focused on making sure the app works well even in rural areas like middle America where many early users live. But the real test will be whether it can build a new social graph upon the screensharing idea if already popular apps build competing features. Gaming tools like Discord and Twitch already offer web screensharing, and I suggested Facebook should bring the feature to Messenger when in late-2017 it launched in its Workplace office collaboration app.

Helping a friend choose when to swipe right on Tinder via Squad

In June I wrote that Instagram and Snapchat would try to steal the voice-activated visual effects at the center of an app called Panda. Snapchat started testing those just two months later. Instagram’s whole Stories feature was cloned from Snapchat, and it also cribbed Q&A Stories from Polly. Overshadowed, Panda and Polly have faded from the spotlight. With Facebook and Snap already sniffing around Squad, it’s quite possible they’ll try to copy it. Squad will have to hope first-mover advantage and focus can defeat a screensharing feature bolted on to apps with hundreds of millions or even billions of users.

But regardless of who delivers this next phase of sharing, it’s coming. “Everyone knows that the content flooding our feeds is a filtered version of reality. The real and interesting stuff goes down in DMs because people are more authentic when they’re 1:1 or in small group conversations,” Crawford wrote.

Perhaps there’s no better antidote to the poison of social media success theater that revealing that beyond the Instagram highlights, we’re often just playing around on our phones. Squad might not be glamorous, but it’s authentic and a lot more fun.

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Google’s Pixel 3 Lite could bring back the headphone jack

Posted by | Google, hardware, Mobile, PIXEL | No Comments

Word about the next member of the Pixel family started leaking out just after Christmas. Now the rumored Pixel 3 Lite is getting some more time to shine, courtesy of a three-minute YouTube video that highlights what appears to be a budget addition to Google’s flagship hardware line.

Perhaps most interesting here (aside from the mere existence of a third Pixel 3 model) is the apparent return of the headphone jack. After making a stink about including the port on the first Pixel, the company quickly reversed course for its successor.

The addition of a mid-range handset would, however, be the ideal reason to bring back the port (likely for a limited time). After all, while Bluetooth headsets have become far more accessible in recent years, specialized headphones are still a big ask for folks looking to save a few (or few hundred) bucks.

There are some cost-cutting measures throughout, including a Snapdragon 670, plastic body and no second selfie-camera. In all, the device is a bit like Google’s take on the iPhone XR, though it notably appears to have roughly the same rear-facing camera configuration as its more expensive siblings. That could well owe to the fact that AI — not hardware — is doing most of the heavy imaging lifting on the new handsets.

Notably, Pixel devices generally already cost less than flagships from Apple and Samsung, but a new addition could be a nice opportunity for Google to show how Android can shine on lower-cost devices.

Update: Looks like the video was (unsurprisingly) pulled by its original poster, but has since surfaced from other uploaders.

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US will reportedly seek criminal case against Huawei for stealing tech secrets

Posted by | business, huawei, Meng Wanzhou, Mobile, mobile device, smartphone, T-Mobile, TC, the wall street journal, Trump administration | No Comments

According to a new report from The Wall Street Journal, U.S. federal prosecutors are preparing a criminal indictment against Huawei for stealing trade secrets. The report, which cites sources with knowledge of the indictment, specifically mentions Huawei’s actions surrounding a T-Mobile smartphone testing tool known as “Tappy.” The report notes that the current investigation is far enough along that an indictment may come soon.

This isn’t the first we’ve heard of Tappy. In 2014, T-Mobile sued Huawei for allegedly gaining access to a company lab outside of Seattle and photographing and attempting to steal parts of the robotic smartphone testing device. In May 2017, T-Mobile won $4.8 million against Huawei, only a fraction of the $500 million the U.S. mobile carrier sought. The current federal criminal investigation reportedly arose from that civil suit.

The Chinese phone maker has faced increased scrutiny, escalating to open hostility from U.S. agencies and lawmakers who believe that Huawei poses a security threat due to its close relationship with the Chinese government. The tension escalated considerably last December, when Canada arrested Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou at the request of the U.S. Meng was charged with fraud for deceptive practices that allowed the Chinese company to avoid U.S. sanctions against Iran.

Huawei, now the world’s number two smartphone maker, trails only Samsung when it comes to mobile device sales, beating Apple for the second slot in late 2018.

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Robots learn to grab and scramble with new levels of agility

Posted by | artificial intelligence, Berkeley, ETHZ, Gadgets, hardware, robotics, robots, science, TC | No Comments

Robots are amazing things, but outside of their specific domains they are incredibly limited. So flexibility — not physical, but mental — is a constant area of research. A trio of new robotic setups demonstrate ways they can evolve to accommodate novel situations: using both “hands,” getting up after a fall, and understanding visual instructions they’ve never seen before.

The robots, all developed independently, are gathered together today in a special issue of the journal Science Robotics dedicated to learning. Each shows an interesting new way in which robots can improve their interactions with the real world.

On the other hand…

First there is the question of using the right tool for a job. As humans with multi-purpose grippers on the ends of our arms, we’re pretty experienced with this. We understand from a lifetime of touching stuff that we need to use this grip to pick this up, we need to use tools for that, this will be light, that heavy, and so on.

Robots, of course, have no inherent knowledge of this, which can make things difficult; it may not understand that it can’t pick up something of a given size, shape, or texture. A new system from Berkeley roboticists acts as a rudimentary decision-making process, classifying objects as able to be grabbed either by an ordinary pincer grip or with a suction cup grip.

A robot, wielding both simultaneously, decides on the fly (using depth-based imagery) what items to grab and with which tool; the result is extremely high reliability even on piles of objects it’s never seen before.

It’s done with a neural network that consumed millions of data points on items, arrangements, and attempts to grab them. If you attempted to pick up a teddy bear with a suction cup and it didn’t work the first ten thousand times, would you keep on trying? This system learned to make that kind of determination, and as you can imagine such a thing is potentially very important for tasks like warehouse picking for which robots are being groomed.

Interestingly, because of the “black box” nature of complex neural networks, it’s difficult to tell what exactly Dex-Net 4.0 is actually basing its choices on, although there are some obvious preferences, explained Berkeley’s  Ken Goldberg in an email.

“We can try to infer some intuition but the two networks are inscrutable in that we can’t extract understandable ‘policies,’ ” he wrote. “We empirically find that smooth planar surfaces away from edges generally score well on the suction model and pairs of antipodal points generally score well for the gripper.”

Now that reliability and versatility are high, the next step is speed; Goldberg said that the team is “working on an exciting new approach” to reduce computation time for the network, to be documented, no doubt, in a future paper.

ANYmal’s new tricks

Quadrupedal robots are already flexible in that they can handle all kinds of terrain confidently, even recovering from slips (and of course cruel kicks). But when they fall, they fall hard. And generally speaking they don’t get up.

The way these robots have their legs configured makes it difficult to do things in anything other than an upright position. But ANYmal, a robot developed by ETH Zurich (and which you may recall from its little trip to the sewer recently), has a more versatile setup that gives its legs extra degrees of freedom.

What could you do with that extra movement? All kinds of things. But it’s incredibly difficult to figure out the exact best way for the robot to move in order to maximize speed or stability. So why not use a simulation to test thousands of ANYmals trying different things at once, and use the results from that in the real world?

This simulation-based learning doesn’t always work, because it isn’t possible right now to accurately simulate all the physics involved. But it can produce extremely novel behaviors or streamline ones humans thought were already optimal.

At any rate that’s what the researchers did here, and not only did they arrive at a faster trot for the bot (above), but taught it an amazing new trick: getting up from a fall. Any fall. Watch this:

It’s extraordinary that the robot has come up with essentially a single technique to get on its feet from nearly any likely fall position, as long as it has room and the use of all its legs. Remember, people didn’t design this — the simulation and evolutionary algorithms came up with it by trying thousands of different behaviors over and over and keeping the ones that worked.

Ikea assembly is the killer app

Let’s say you were given three bowls, with red and green balls in the center one. Then you’re given this on a sheet of paper:

As a human with a brain, you take this paper for instructions, and you understand that the green and red circles represent balls of those colors, and that red ones need to go to the left, while green ones go to the right.

This is one of those things where humans apply vast amounts of knowledge and intuitive understanding without even realizing it. How did you choose to decide the circles represent the balls? Because of the shape? Then why don’t the arrows refer to “real” arrows? How do you know how far to go to the right or left? How do you know the paper even refers to these items at all? All questions you would resolve in a fraction of a second, and any of which might stump a robot.

Researchers have taken some baby steps towards being able to connect abstract representations like the above with the real world, a task that involves a significant amount of what amounts to a sort of machine creativity or imagination.

Making the connection between a green dot on a white background in a diagram and a greenish roundish thing on a black background in the real world isn’t obvious, but the “visual cognitive computer” created by Miguel Lázaro-Gredilla and his colleagues at Vicarious AI seems to be doing pretty well at it.

It’s still very primitive, of course, but in theory it’s the same toolset that one uses to, for example, assemble a piece of Ikea furniture: look at an abstract representation, connect it to real-world objects, then manipulate those objects according to the instructions. We’re years away from that, but it wasn’t long ago that we were years away from a robot getting up from a fall or deciding a suction cup or pincer would work better to pick something up.

The papers and videos demonstrating all the concepts above should be available at the Science Robotics site.

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Sprint customers can now use Apple Business Chat to reach an agent

Posted by | Apple, Apple Business Chat, business, Mobile, sprint | No Comments

Sprint today announced it will support Apple’s Business Chat — the new platform that allows businesses and customers to interact over iMessage. According to the carrier, customers can now message a Sprint customer service agent, get info about plans and other services, as well as look up store information in Maps, Safari and with Siri during a chat session.

The support from Sprint comes after two other launches on the platform this week.

TD Ameritrade said it will allow customers to fund their brokerage accounts using Apple Pay on Apple Business Chat. And Gubagoo said it will connect car dealerships with customers through Business Chat for viewing inventory, plus scheduling test drives and service appointments.

Apple has been steadily growing its list of supported Business Chat partners, and today has a number of big brands on its platform, which is still in beta. These include names like 1-800-Contacts, DISH, Overstock.com, Quicken Loans, Kimpton Hotels, West Elm, Burberry, Vodafone, Wells Fargo, Credit Suisse, Jos A. Bank, Men’s Warehouse, The Home Depot, Hilton, Four Seasons, American Express, Harry & David and several others.

The platform also supports integrations with customer service platforms LivePerson, Salesforce, Nuance, Genesys, InTheChat, Zendesk, Quiq, Cisco, Kipsu, Lithium, eGain, [24]7.ai, ContactAtOnce, Dimelo, Brand Embassy, ASAPP, IMImobile and MessengerPeople, according to Apple’s website.

Business Chat was officially introduced at WWDC 2017, and is Apple’s entry into the business messaging and chatbot space.

Before its arrival, customers would generally reach out to businesses through social media sites like Facebook (e.g. Pages and Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram) and Twitter. But Apple’s product gets the businesses even closer to the customer, as their chats can live alongside those from family and friends. Plus, they don’t have to share their data with a third party.

For consumers, reaching a business through iMessage is also a bit easier at times.

A company’s Business Chat profile is highlighted across Apple’s iOS platform in areas like Safari, Maps and Spotlight, and via Siri. This makes it more seamless to move from one Apple app to an iMessage chat, compared with having to seek out the business’s social media profile.

It’s also less painful than having to dial a customer service phone number, in many cases — as Sprint today pointed out.

“More consumers are embracing quick and easy self-service and digital assistance versus calling customer service through an 800 line,” said Rob Roy, Sprint chief digital officer, in a statement about the launch. “Apple Business Chat is an amazing tool for our customers that makes communicating with Sprint fast, easy and stress-free.”

Business Chat has come at a time when the “phone” part of our smartphones is turning into just another “app” — and increasingly, a spammy and bothersome one thanks to spam calls. Apple’s solution makes it easier for customers and businesses to move away from phone lines, while Google is leveraging AI to handle spammers — and even place calls for customers through its Google Duplex technology.

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Tinder is testing the ability to share Spotify music clips in chat

Posted by | Apps, Media, Mobile, Music, Social, Spotify, Tinder | No Comments

Tinder has already developed a fairly robust chat platform within its dating app, with support for sharing things like Bitmoji and GIFs, and the ability to “like” messages by tapping a heart icon. Now, the company is testing a new integration — sharing music via Spotify. Tinder confirmed with TechCrunch it’s trying out a new way to connect users, by allowing them to share music within their chats.

The test is currently taking place across global markets, and Spotify is the only music service involved.

The new feature was first spotted by the blog MSPoweruser, which speculated the addition could be an experiment on Tinder’s part, ahead of a public launch. That does seem to be the case, as it turns out.

According to screenshots the site posted, a green music icon has been swapped in for the Bitmoji icon. Clicking this allows you to enter a query into a search box and see matching results displayed above. You’re not able to share the full song, however — only a 30-second clip.

Above: Tinder music test with Spotify; credits: MSPoweruser

Tinder, like its rival Bumble, has offered integration with Spotify’s streaming music service since 2016.

Both apps allow users to connect their Spotify accounts in order to showcase their top artists on their profile. As Tinder explained at the time of launch, music can be a powerful signal in terms of attraction, and plays an important role in terms of getting to know a new connection, as well.

The company even launched its own profile on Spotify, with playlists focused on dating, love and romance as a part of its collaboration with the music service.

The Spotify integration has paid off for Tinder in terms of user engagement within its app, the company tells us.

“Users love connecting over shared tastes in music,” a Tinder spokesperson explained. “In fact, users who update their ‘Anthem’ are most likely to start a conversation via Feed. With this in mind, we’re testing the ability to share music with a match while chatting on Tinder,” they added.

The “Anthem” is a feature that lets you pick a favorite song or one that’s representative of your tastes or personality. This is then highlighted in a special section on your Tinder profile.

Tinder did not offer any details as to when it expects the test to wrap or when it would launch music sharing more broadly.

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Niantic finalizes its Series C at $245M with a valuation of nearly $4B

Posted by | funding, Gaming, niantic, pokemon, TC | No Comments

We’ve known since around December that Niantic (the company behind Pokémon GO and the soon to be released Harry Potter Wizards Unite) was in the middle of raising a ton of money for its Series C round. At the time, it looked like it’d come in around $200 million.

The company has just officially announced the round, disclosing the final amount: $245 million.

Niantic says that the round was led by IVP, and backed by aXiomatic Gaming, Battery Ventures, Causeway Media Partners, CRV and Samsung Ventures. They also confirmed that the company’s current valuation is “nearly” $4 billion, as rumored when word of the round was first floating around.

This raise comes just as Niantic is plotting its next steps, post overwhelming Pokémon success. It’s just about to launch another game based on massively nostalgic IP with Wizards Unite, all while working on slowly opening up its armory of AR frameworks (and its massive database of locational points of interest) for third-party developers to build upon.

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The Motorola Razr could return as a $1,500 foldable smartphone

Posted by | hardware, lenovo, Mobile, morotola, razr, smartphones | No Comments

Motorola has revived the Razr name a few times over the years, but the once-mighty brand has failed to regain the heights of its early days as an ultra-slim flip phone. But what better time for the phone maker’s parent Lenovo to bring back the brand in earnest as the mobile world is readying itself for a wave of foldable smartphones?

Nostalgia’s a bit of a mixed bag in consumer electronics. Take the recent returns of Nokia (good), BlackBerry (okay) and Palm (yikes). Slapping a familiar brand on a new product is a fast track to prominence, but not necessarily success. What ultimately may hinder Razr’s rumored return, however, is price.

All of this stems from a new Wall Street Journal report noting Lenovo’s plan to revive the Razr as a foldable smartphone. The price point puts the handset north of even Apple and Samsung’s flagships, at $1,500. Of course, there isn’t really a standardized price point for the emerging foldables category yet.

The Royole FlexPai starts at around $1,300 — not cheap, especially for a product from a relative unknown. And Samsung, the next on the list to embrace the foldable, has never been afraid to hit a premium price point. Ultimately, $1,500 could well be standard for these sorts of products. Whether or not consumers are willing to pay that, however, is another question entirely.

The new Razr is apparently destined for Verizon this year. The carrier (which, as it happens, also owns TechCrunch) has had a longstanding relationship with Motorola. Success, however, is going to hinge on more than name recognition alone.

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Apple expands its reach with free Apple Music on Verizon Wireless

Posted by | apple music, Gadgets, music streaming services, Verizon, verizon wireless | No Comments

Verizon Wireless is now offering free access to Apple Music. The music streaming service is available on select Verizon Wireless plans starting on January 17, 2019. Previously, Verizon and Apple offered a free six-month trial to the streaming service.

The partnership comes as Apple is clearly looking for partners to help extend the reach of Apple’s services. Just last week, at CES 2019, multiple consumer electronic companies announced compatibility and support for several of Apple’s services, including Airplay 2, HomeKit and iTunes video streaming services. This Verizon partnership further demonstrates Apple’s willingness to piggyback on another company to reach new users.

Verizon Wireless is America’s largest wireless carriers, though it’s unclear how many users will have access to this service. The free Apple Music offer is only available to Verizon subscribers on select plans. Starting January 17, Apple Music will be included in Beyond Unlimited and Above Unlimited plans. For other users, a six-month trial is still available.

Wireless carriers have long looked to offering outside services to its subscribers to prop up their offerings. T-Mobile offers free Netflix and limited access to GoGo. Sprint gives subscribers free Hulu and Tidal. Sprint lets users on some plans pick from free HBO, Cinemax, Showtime or other services. Verizon is the first to offer free Apple Music.

Partnering with wireless carriers is a proven strategy to supercharge growth. Previously, Spotify used similar methods to introduce its service to customers. Others, such as Dropbox, followed. It’s a smart move: Go where there are already customers. Wireless carriers offer service companies access to a huge range of customers from various demographic groups.

Going forward, it will be interesting to see if Apple discloses the source of Apple Music subscribers in quarterly reports. This deal will likely result in a massive increase of subscribers who are not paying for the service through traditional means.

Disclosure: TechCrunch is a Verizon Media company.

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Consolidation is coming to gaming, and Jam City raises $145 million to capitalize on it

Posted by | App Annie, Bank of America, Chris DeWolfe, computing, Disney, Electronic Arts, Europe, Facebook, Gaming, helsinki, jam city, King, Los Angeles, mobile game, Pixar, Recent Funding, silicon valley bank, Software, Startups, TC, toronto, United States, Zynga | No Comments

A slew of banks are coming together to back a new roll-up strategy for the Los Angeles-based mobile gaming studio Jam City and giving the company $145 million in new funding to carry that out.

There’s no word on whether the new money is in equity or debt, but what is certain is that JPMorgan Chase Bank, Bank of America Merrill Lynch and syndicate partners, including Silicon Valley Bank, SunTrust Bank and CIT Bank, are all involved in the deal.

“In a global mobile games market that is consolidating, Jam City could not be more proud to be working with JPMorgan, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Silicon Valley Bank, SunTrust Bank and CIT Group to strategically support the financing of our acquisition and growth plans,” said Chris DeWolfe, co-founder and CEO of Jam City. “This $145 million in new financing empowers Jam City to further our position as a global industry consolidator. As we grow our global business, we are honored to be working alongside such prestigious advisers who share Jam City’s mission of delivering joy to people everywhere through unique and deeply engaging mobile games.”

The new money comes after a few years of speculation on whether Jam City would be the next big Los Angeles-based startup company to file for an initial public offering. It also follows a new agreement with Disney to develop mobile games based on intellectual property coming from all corners of the mouse house — a sweet cache of intellectual property ranging from Pixar, to Marvel, to traditional Disney characters.

Jam City is coming off a strong year of company growth. The Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery game, which launched last year, became the company’s fastest title to hit $100 million in revenue.

Add that to the company’s expansion into new markets with strategic acquisitions to fuel development and growth in Toronto and Bogota and it’s clear that the company is looking to make more moves in 2019.

Jam City already holds intellectual property for a new game built on Disney’s “Frozen 2,” the company’s newly acquired Fox Studio assets like “Family Guy” and the Harry Potter property. Add that to its own Cookie Jam and Panda Pop properties and it seems like the company is ready to make moves.

Meanwhile, games are quickly becoming the go-to revenue driver for the entertainment industry. According to data collected by Newzoo, mobile games revenue reached a record $63.2 billion worldwide in 2018, representing roughly 47 percent of the total revenue for the gaming industry in the year. That number could reach $81.3 billion by 2020, the Newzoo data suggests.

Roughly half of the U.S. plays mobile games, and they’re spending significant dollars on those games in app stores. App Annie suggests that roughly 75 percent of the money spent in app stores over the past decade has been spent on mobile games. And consumers are expected to spend roughly $129 billion in app stores over the next year. The data and analytics firm suggests that mobile gaming will capture some 60 percent of the overall gaming market in 2019, as well.

All of that bodes well for the industry as a whole, and points to why Jam City is looking to consolidate. And the company isn’t the only mobile games studio making moves.

The publicly traded games studio Zynga, which rose to fame initially on the back of Facebook’s gaming platform, recently expanded its European footprint with the late-December acquisition of the Helsinki-based gaming studio Small Giant Games.

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