Mobile

Google Assistant introduces personalized playlists of audio news

Posted by | Google, Google Assistant, Media, Mobile | No Comments

Starting today, when you say “Hey Google, play me the news” to a Google Assistant-enabled phone or smart speaker, you’ll get a tailored playlist of the day’s big headlines and stories.

That’s probably what many of us are hoping for when we listen to a news radio station or a daily news podcast during the morning commute. But those come from a single broadcaster, and may require you to hop around to get all the news you’re looking for.

In contrast, the feature that Google is calling Your News Update draws stories from a variety of publisher partners, focusing on the ones that seem relevant to your interests and your location.

“Audio has always been great,” said Audio News Product Manager Liz Gannes (a former tech journalist herself.) “It’s a tremendously evocative medium that conveys an immense amount of information.”

But she suggested that “the distribution technology has been slower [t evolve] than things like text and video,” which is why Google has been experimenting in this area. For example, it’s already added news stories to Google Assistant, as well as responses to news-related questions like “What’s the latest news about Brexit?”

Gannes added that behind the scenes, the company has been developing “an open specification for single topic audio stories.” So rather than dealing with an unwieldy hourlong broadcast or podcast, Google Assistant is working clips focused on a specific piece of news.

Your News Update usually starts with a few brief, general interest clips — namely, the big headlines of the day. Then it starts playing longer stories that are selected based on what Google knows about you.

For example, when I tried it out this morning, my update began with a 30-second update on the impeachment from Fox News (not one of my regular news sources) and ran through other then major stories of the day, then switched to longer (two- to three-minute) entertainment stories from sources like The Hollywood Reporter.

Gannes noted that “there’s a big emphasis on local news in this product — that don’t just mean where you live, but also other locations you care about.” And she said the average update will be around an hour and a half — so it can keep you occupied during a long commute, no dial-fiddling required.

John Ciancutti, Google’s director of engineering for search, added that the recommendations should get smarter over time: “If you want to skip a story … the more you listen, the better sense we get of your tastes and interests.” He also suggested that Your News Update could become more sensitive to context, offering different stories depending on whether (say) you’re in your car or in your kitchen.

“You can imagine in the future, you tune in and we know you’re in your car on Tuesday morning at 7:36, and we can predict based on other listening that you’ve got about a 28-minute commute,” Ciancutti said.

Your News Update is currently available in English in the United States, with plans for international expansion next year.

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Spotify turns its personalization technology to podcasts with launch of Your Daily Podcasts

Posted by | Apps, Media, Mobile, Podcasts, Spotify, streaming | No Comments

Spotify is taking the personalization technology that powers its music playlists, like Discover Weekly and Daily Mix, and turning it to podcasts. The company announced this morning the launch of a new podcast playlist called Your Daily Podcasts, that allows users to discover new shows and keep up with their favorites. In other words, it’s a discovery mechanism for finding new podcasts — similar to how Discovery Weekly will recommend new music.

The playlist will only appear when you’ve listened to at least four podcasts in the past 90 days, Spotify says. It will be available in the “Your Top Podcasts” shelf in the Home tab or in the “Made for You” hub in the app.

As with Spotify’s music playlists, algorithms will be used to analyze your podcast listening behavior like what’s you’ve recently streamed and what you follow. It will then recommend what episode to listen to next based on this history and what sort of podcasts you like. This could be the next episode in something you’re already listening to, a standalone evergreen episode from a popular podcast, or a more timely episode from a daily updating podcast, the company says. It also promises it won’t skip ahead if you’re listening to a story-driven sequential series.

After a few recommended episodes from your own subscriptions or history, Spotify will suggest new shows and begin playing their episodes after a brief intro that says, “And now, something new based on your listening.”

But unlike Discover Weekly, where the main goal is to keep users engaged and subscribed to Spotify’s service, Your Daily Podcasts has a secondary motive as well — to point users to Spotify’s own, in-house programs. While the new playlist at launch doesn’t appear to be favoring Spotify’s shows over others, it certainly is including them.

Over time, Spotify’s playlist could help grow the fan bases for its own programming, which listeners can’t get elsewhere. That also keeps them subscribed. Plus, podcasts are another surface against which Spotify can advertise, and they don’t have the hefty licensing fees associated with streaming music — especially when their creation is handled in-house.

In the third quarter, Spotify launched 22 original and exclusive titles from Spotify Studios, including The Ringer: The Hottest Take and The Conversation with Amanda de Cadenet in the U.S. It also launched a number of originals from the studios it recently acquired, Gimlet and Parcast, the company said. As a result of its efforts, it’s seeing exponential growth in podcast hours streamed (up 39% from the prior quarter).

However, podcast adoption among the overall user base lags…just under 14% of users are listening to the audio programs. A new playlist like this could help, but it also misunderstands how some people listen to audio shows. They don’t necessarily want to hear any ol’ program they like at any time. Much like selecting something to watch on TV, people will be in the “mood” for one type of podcast over another at different times. Sometimes, it may be true crime, sometimes news, sometimes pop culture, sometimes comedy, etc. Throwing all those genres into the same mix is a disjointed experience.

If anything, Spotify should be trying to design a podcast experience that looks more like Netflix than a music app. Perhaps with rows where there are different grouping by genre or topic, or rows featuring short-form quick bites or longer, in-depth shows. A row with clips where you could check out new shows then click “subscribe” to keep following them. It could even put easy-to-access buttons next to these rows in order to launch a stream of favorites from a given genre. Basically, personalize the whole podcast interface so it feels like your own rather than trying to do that within a single playlist.

This is not Spotify’s first attempt at a podcast playlist. It also recently launched “Your Daily Drive” which combines music and podcasts. And it now allows users to create their own playlists using podcasts.

Spotify says the new playlist is available free and Premium users in U.S., U.K., Germany, Sweden, Mexico, Brazil, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

 

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SocialRank sells biz to Trufan, pivots to a mobile LinkedIn

Posted by | Advertising Tech, Apps, Enterprise, Exit, funding, Fundings & Exits, M&A, Mobile, Personnel, Recent Funding, Social, Startups, TC | No Comments

What do you do when your startup idea doesn’t prove big enough? Run it as a scrawny but profitable lifestyle business? Or sell it to a competitor and take another swing at the fences? Social audience analytics startup SocialRank chose the latter and is going for glory.

Today, SocialRank announced it’s sold its business, brand, assets, and customers to influencer marketing campaign composer and distributor Trufan which will run it as a standalone product. But SocialRank’s team isn’t joining up. Instead, the full six-person staff is sticking together to work on a mobile-first professional social network called Upstream aiming to nip at LinkedIn.

SocialRank co-founder and CEO Alex Taub

Started in 2014 amidst a flurry of marketing analytics tools, SocialRank had raised $2.1 million from Rainfall Ventures and others before hitting profitability in 2017. But as the business plateaued, the team saw potential to use data science about people’s identity to get them better jobs.

“A few months ago we decided to start building a new product (what has become Upstream). And when we came to the conclusion to go all-in on Upstream, we knew we couldn’t run two businesses at the same time” SocialRank co-founder and CEO Alex Taub tells me. “We decided then to run a bit of a process. We ended up with a few offers but ultimately felt like Trufan was the best one to continue the business into the future.”

The move lets SocialRank avoid stranding its existing customers like the NFL, Netflix, and Samsung that rely on its audience segmentation software. Instead, they’ll continue to be supported by Trufan where Taub and fellow co-founder Michael Schonfeld will become advisors.

“While we built a sustainable business, we essentially knew that if we wanted to go real big, we would need to go to the drawing board” Taub explains.

SocialRank

Two-year-old Trufan has raised $1.8 million Canadian from Round13 Capital, local Toronto startup Clearbanc’s founders, and several NBA players. Trufan helps brands like Western Union and Kay Jewellers design marketing initiatives that engage their customer communities through social media. It’s raising an extra $400,000 USD in venture debt from Round13 to finance the acquisition, which should make Trufan cash-flow positive by the end of the year.

Why isn’t the SocialRank team going along for the ride? Taub said LinkedIn was leaving too much opportunity on the table. While it’s good for putting resumes online and searching for people, “All the social stuff are sort of bolt-ons that came after Facebook and Twitter arrived. People forget but LinkedIn is the oldest active social network out there”, Taub tells me, meaning it’s a bit outdated.

Trufan’s team

Rather than attack head-on, the newly forged Upstream plans to pick the Microsoft-owned professional network apart with better approaches to certain features. “I love the idea of ‘the unbundling of LinkedIn’, ala what’s been happening with Craigslist for the past few years” says Taub. “The first foundational piece we are building is a social professional network around giving and getting help. We’ll also be focused on the unbundling of the groups aspect of LinkedIn.”

Taub concludes that entrepreneurs can shackle themselves to impossible goals if they take too much venture capital for the wrong business. As we’ve seen with SoftBank, investors demand huge returns that can require pursuing risky and unsustainable expansion strategies.

“We realized that SocialRank had potential to be a few hundred million dollar in revenue business but venture growth wasn’t exactly the model for it” Taub says. “You need the potential of billions in revenue and a steep growth curve.” A professional network for the smartphone age has that kind of addressable market. And the team might feel better getting out of bed each day knowing they’re unlocking career paths for people instead of just getting them to click ads.

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SmartNews raises $92M at a $1.2B valuation

Posted by | ACA Investments, Apps, funding, Fundings & Exits, Japan Post Capital Co., Media, Mobile, Recent Funding, smartnews, Startups | No Comments

Looks like there’s still money to be made in news aggregation — at least according to the investors backing the news app SmartNews.

The company is announcing the close of a $92 million round of funding at a valuation of $1.2 billion. The funding was led by Japan Post Capital Co. and ACA Investments, with participation from Globis Capital Partners Co., Dentsu and D.A. Consortium.

This includes the $28 million that SmartNews announced in August, and it brings the startup’s total funding to $182 million.

News aggregation apps seemed to everywhere a few years ago, and while they haven’t exactly disappeared, they didn’t turn into unicorns, with many of them acquired or shut down.

However, Vice President of U.S. Marketing Fabien-Pierre Nicolas told me that SmartNews has a few unique advantages. For one thing, it uses machine learning rather than human curation to “thoughtfully generate a news discovery experience” that’s personalized to each user.

SmartNews team

Secondly, he said that many news aggregators treat the publishers creating the content that they rely on “like a commodity,” whereas SmartNews treats them as “true partners.” For example, it’s working with select publishers like Business Insider, Bloomberg, BuzzFeed and Reuters on a program called SmartView First, where articles are presented in a custom format that gives publishers more revenue opportunities and better analytics.

Lastly, he said SmartNews has focused on only two key markets — Japan (where the company started) and the United States. And it sounds like one of the main goals with the new funding is to continue growing in the United States.

Nicolas also suggested that there are some broader trends that SmartNews is taking advantage of, like the fact that the shift to mobile news consumption is still underway, particularly for older readers.

And then there’s “the loss of trust in some news sources — political news, especially,” which makes SmartNews’ curated approach seem more valuable. (It also recently launched a News From All Sides feature to show coverage from different political perspectives.)

As for monetization, he said SmartNews remains focused on advertising.

Yes, there’s a growing interest in subscriptions and paywalls, which is also reflected in subscription news aggregators like Apple’s News+, but Nicolas said, “Eighty-five to ninety percent of Americans are not subscribing to news media. We believe those 85 to 90 percent have a right to have quality information as well.”

Update: Also worth noting is that SensorTower says SmartNews has been downloaded 45 million times since the beginning of 2014, with 11 million of those downloads in 2019.

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John Legere is stepping down as CEO of T-Mobile, succeeded by deputy Mike Sievert on May 1

Posted by | adam neumann, AT&T, deutsche telekom, john legere, M&A, Mobile, Personnel, Softbank, SoftBank Group, sprint, T-Mobile, TC, telecommunications, united nations, United States, Verizon, WeWork | No Comments

He’s reportedly not going to take over WeWork, but John Legere is definitely on his way out of the CEO role at T-Mobile, the carrier that is currently merging with SoftBank-controlled Sprint. Today the carrier and Legere confirmed that Mike Sievert — currently T-Mobile’s COO — will succeed Legere as CEO on May 1 of 2020. Legere will stay on the board.

Neither Legere nor T-Mobile commented on what his next move will be, and specifically if this will pave the way for him to take over the top job at WeWork. There had been reports that Legere — something of a turnaround specialist — was being lined up for the job at the very troubled office-space startup, which had to shelve its IPO earlier this year after showing poor financials amid questionable management that not only led to the departure of its founder Adam Neumann as CEO, but a strong devaluation of the company that resulted in SoftBank, as a major creditor, taking control.

The reports of Legere coming in to fix things at WeWork seemed to get refuted quite swiftly. However, the same “sources” that quashed that story also insisted he had “no plans” to leave T-Mobile. With elements of the report in doubt, that could put the WeWork rumors (or thoughts of other SoftBank roles, for that matter) back on the table. We’ve asked Legere directly and will update this post if he replies.

Legere has been with T-Mobile since 2012, where he used his irreverent personality to directly spar with the industry while at the same time position the carrier — which has long trailed bigger competitors like AT&T and Verizon (which owns us) in size — as a growth story and different from the pack (hence the “un-carrier” marketing strategy). The stock price has over that time gone up, and the carrier is currently valued at around $65 billion. (Notably, the stock is down about 1.5% today on the back of this news.)

Sievert will be tasked with continuing the route that Legere set, T-Mobile said, “demonstrating that T-Mobile will remain a disruptive force in US wireless marketplace to benefit consumers.”

“I hired Mike in 2012 and I have great confidence in him. I have mentored him as he took on increasingly broad responsibilities, and he is absolutely the right choice as T-Mobile’s next CEO,” said Legere in a statement. “Mike is well prepared to lead T-Mobile into the future. He has a deep understanding of where T-Mobile has been and where it needs to go to remain the most innovative company in the industry. I am extremely proud of the culture and enthusiasm we have built around challenging the status quo and our ongoing commitment to putting customers first.”

“The Un-carrier culture, which all our employees live every day, will not change,” Sievert said in a separate statement. “T-Mobile is not just about one individual. Our company is built around an extraordinarily capable management team and thousands of talented, committed, and customer-obsessed employees. Going forward, my mission is to build on T-Mobile’s industry-leading reputation for empowering employees to deliver an outstanding customer experience and to position T-Mobile not only as the leading mobile carrier, but as one of the most admired companies in America.”

Regardless of whether this is a sign that SoftBank indeed has a job lined up for Legere at one of its other portfolio companies, such as WeWork, the changing of the guard makes some sense, as the merger with Sprint would leave a question mark over who would lead the combined business. The two companies were reportedly close to releasing a management line-up for the merged business earlier this year, but that has yet to happen. The merger is due to be completed early next year.

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Salesforce, Apple partnership begins to come to life

Posted by | Apple, artificial intelligence, Cloud, CRM, Enterprise, Mobile, partnerships, Salesforce | No Comments

Last year at Dreamforce, Salesforce’s enormous annual customer conference, Apple and Salesforce announced the beginnings of a partnership where the two organizations would work together to enhance Salesforce products running on Apple devices. Today, as this year’s Dreamforce conference begins, the companies announced the fruits of that labor with general availability of two new tools that were first announced at last year’s event.

For starters, Apple has been working with Salesforce to redesign the Salesforce Mobile app to build in Apple iOS features into the app like being able to use Siri shortcuts to get work done faster, using your voice instead of typing, something that’s sometimes awkward to do on a mobile device.

Hey Siri example in Salesforce Mobile app.

Photo: Salesforce

For instance, you could say, “Hey Siri, next sales meeting,” and Siri can interact with Salesforce CRM to tell you who your meeting is with, the name of his or her company, when you last met and what the Einstein opportunity score is to help you predict how likely it is that you could make a sale today (or eventually).

In addition, the Mobile App takes advantage of Apple’s Handoff feature to reflect changes across devices immediately, and Apple’s Face ID for easy log on to the app.

Salesforce also announced a pilot of Einstein Voice on Salesforce Mobile, allowing reps to enter notes, add tasks and update the CRM database using voice. Einstein is Salesforce’s general artificial intelligence layer, and the voice feature uses natural language understanding to interpret what the rep asks.

The company reports that over 1000 companies participated in piloting the updated app, which constitutes the largest pilot in the history of the organization.

Salesforce also announced its new mobile development platform SDK, built specifically for iOS and iPadOS using the Swift language. The idea is to provide a tool to give Salesforce developers with the ability to build apps for iPad and iPhone, then package them up with a new tool called Swift UI and Package Manager.

Trailhead Go

Photo: Salesforce

Trailhead Go is the mobile version of the company’s online learning platform designed specifically for iPad and iPhone. It was built using the new Mobile SDK, and allows users to access the same courses they can on the web in a mobile context. The new mobile tool includes the ability to Handoff between devices along with support for picture-in-picture and split view for multi-tasking when it makes sense.

Salesforce Mobile and Trailhead Go are available starting today for free in the iOS App Store. The Salesforce Mobile SDK will be available later this year.

As this partnership continues to develop, both companies should benefit. Salesforce gets direct access to Apple features, and can work with Apple to implement them in an optimized way. Apple gets deeper access to the enterprise with help from Salesforce, one of the biggest enterprise software vendors around.

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This Week in Apps: Apple’s vaping app ban, Disney+ gets installed, apps gear up for Black Friday

Posted by | app-store, Apple, Apps, developers, e-commerce, Gaming, Google, Mobile, publishers, TC, this week in apps | No Comments

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. What are developers talking about? What do app publishers and marketers need to know? How are politics impacting the App Store and app businesses? And which apps are everyone using?

As mid-November rolls around, we’re looking at a few big stories, including Apple’s decision to ban an entire category of apps due to health concerns, the launch of Disney+ from an app perspective, what Black Friday will mean for e-commerce apps, and more.

Fast Facts

With Disney+’s huge launch (10+ million users!) on everyone’s minds, it’s time to think about what these streaming newcomers mean for the overall landscape and the app stores. In this case, it seems that Disney+’s user base was highly mobile. The company itself announced more than 10 million users, while data on the Disney+ app’s first few days indicates it now has over 10 million downloads. It seems like consumers definitely want to take their new streaming service with them everywhere they go.

  • In 2020, App Annie forecasts consumers will spend more than 674 billion hours in the Entertainment and Video Player and Editor categories worldwide on Android phones, up from an expected 558 billion hours in 2019. Thanks to Disney+, Apple TV+ and soon, HBO Max, Peacock and Quibi, to making the landscape both richer and more complicated.
  • On its launch day, Disney+ hit #1 by iPhone Overall downloads at 8 AM in the U.S. and at 11 AM in Canada — an indication of the ability that strong IP has can really excite consumers to come out in droves. (Unfortunately, that led to some launch day glitches, too.)
  • Apptopia estimated Disney+ was downloaded 3.2 million times in its first 24 hours. The firm also estimated users collectively spent 1.3 million hours watching Disney+ on day one — ahead of Amazon Prime Video, but well behind Netflix.

  • Sensor Tower waited to collect a little more data instead. It found that the Disney+ app was installed approximately 9.6 million times in all available markets (the U.S., Canada, and the Netherlands), since its U.S. launch on Tuesday, Nov. 12. For comparison’s sake, HBO Now’s U.S. launch only saw 180,000 installs in its first three days — or 2% of the Disney+ total. Combined with the test period installs in the Netherlands, the app has now been installed over 10 million times.
  • The hype around Disney+ has had a halo effect. Hulu and ESPN, which were offered in a bundle with Disney+, also grew as a result of the Disney+ launch. Sensor Tower found combined users of the apps in the U.S. and Canada were up 30% in the past week over the week prior.

Headlines

Apple removed all vaping apps from the App Store, citing CDC health concerns

The CDC says 42 people have died due to vaping product use and thousands more cases of lung injuries have been reported from 49 states. Now, Apple has made the controversial decision to remove all 181 vaping-related apps from its App Store — including those with news and information about vaping and even vaping-related games, Axios reported this week.

Some say Apple is helping to protect kids and teens by limiting their exposure to e-cigarette and vaping products, which are being used to addict a younger generation to nicotine and cause serious disease. Others argue that Apple is over-reaching. After all, many of the lung illnesses involve people who were vaping illegally obtained THC, studies indicated.

This isn’t the first time Apple has banned a category of apps because of what appear to be moral concerns. The company in the past had booted apps that promoted weed or depicted gun violence, for example. In the case of vaping apps, Apple cited the public health crisis and youth epidemic as contributing factors, telling Axios that:

We take great care to curate the App Store as a trusted place for customers, particularly youth, to download apps. We’re constantly evaluating apps, and consulting the latest evidence, to determine risks to users’ health and well-being. Recently, experts ranging from the CDC to the American Heart Association have attributed a variety of lung injuries and fatalities to e-cigarette and vaping products, going so far as to call the spread of these devices a public health crisis and a youth epidemic. We agree, and we’ve updated our App Store Review Guidelines to reflect that apps encouraging or facilitating the use of these products are not permitted. As of today, these apps are no longer available to download.

Existing users will still be able to use their apps, but new users will not be able to download the banned apps going forward.

Minecraft Earth arrives 

Minecraft Earth launched early last week across 9 countries on both Android and iOS and now it’s come to the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and several other markets. Some expect the app will rival the success of the AR breakout hit, Pokémon Go, which was thought at the time to be the precursor to a new wave of massive AR gaming titles. But in reality, that didn’t happen. The highly anticipated follow-up from Niantic, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite didn’t come close to competing with its predecessor, generating $12 million in its first month, compared with Pokémon Go’s first-month earnings of $300 million. With Minecraft Earth now sitting at No. 2 (c’mon, you can’t unseat Disney+) on the U.S. App Store, it seems there’s potential for another AR kingpin.

App Annie releases a user acquisition playbook

A top name in App Store intelligence, App Annie this week released a new how-to handbook focused on user acquisition strategies on mobile. Sure the free download is just a bit of lead gen for App Annie, but the guide promises to fill you in on all you need to know to be successful in acquiring mobile users. The playbook’s arrival follows App Annie’s acquisition of adtech insights firm Libring this fall, as it expands to cover more aspects of running an app business. Just as important as rankings and downloads are the very real costs associated with running an app business — including the cost of acquiring users.

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Daily Crunch: TikTok starts experimenting with commerce

Posted by | Apps, Daily Crunch, Mobile, Social, tiktok | No Comments

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. TikTok tests social commerce

The short-form video app said it’s allowing some users to add links to e-commerce sites (or any other destination) to their profile, while also offering creators the ability to easily send their viewers to shopping websites.

On their own, these changes might not sound that dramatic, and parent company ByteDance characterizes them as experiments. But it could eventually lead TikTok to become a major force in commerce — and to follow the lead of Instagram, where “link in bio” has become one of the most common promotional messages.

2. Despite bans, Giphy still hosts self-harm, hate speech and child sex abuse content

A new report from Israeli online child protection startup L1ght  has uncovered a host of toxic content hiding within the popular GIF-sharing community, including illegal child abuse content, depictions of rape and other toxic imagery associated with topics like white supremacy and hate speech.

3. Lyft is ceasing scooter operations in six cities and laying off 20 employees

Lyft notified employees today that it’s pulling its scooters from six markets: Nashville, San Antonio, Atlanta, the Phoenix area, Dallas and Columbus. A spokesperson told us, “We’re choosing to focus on the markets where we can have the biggest impact.”

4. Takeaways from Nvidia’s latest quarterly earnings

After yesterday’s earnings report, Wall Street seems to have barely budged on the stock price — everyone’s waiting for resolution on some of the key questions facing the company. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

5. Virgin Galactic begins ‘Astronaut Readiness Program’ for first paying customers

The program is being run out of the global headquarters of Under Armour, Virgin Galactic’s partner for its official astronaut uniforms. The training, with instruction from Chief Astronaut Instructor Beth Moses and Chief Pilot Dave Mackay, is required for all Virgin Galactic passengers.

6. AWS confirms reports it will challenge JEDI contract award to Microsoft

In a statement, an Amazon spokesperson suggested that there was possible bias in the selection process: “AWS is uniquely experienced and qualified to provide the critical technology the U.S. military needs, and remains committed to supporting the DoD’s modernization efforts.”

7. SoftBank Vision Fund’s Carolina Brochado is coming to Disrupt Berlin

At SoftBank’s Vision Fund, Brochado focuses on fintech, digital health and marketplace startups. Some of her past investments with both Atomico and SoftBank include LendInvest, Gympass, Hinge Health, Ontruck and Rekki.

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Spotify confirms it’s testing real-time lyrics synced to music

Posted by | Apps, lyrics, Media, Mobile, Music, Spotify | No Comments

With the launch of iOS 13, Apple added perfectly timed live lyrics to its Apple Music app. Now Spotify may do the same. Several users in international markets are now seeing a similar synced lyrics feature in their Spotify mobile app, where lyrics scroll by in time with the music. The feature is powered by Musixmatch, according to the screenshots. Spotify confirmed to TechCrunch the feature is a test in a limited number of markets.

While Spotify didn’t confirm which regions have access, we’re seeing that users in Canada, Indonesia and Mexico appear to be among the test markets.

The feature sits beneath the playback controls where today, other enhancements like Behind the Lyrics or Storyline, currently appear. And users say they can also view the lyrics in a full-screen experience.

We were not able to duplicate the same experience here in the U.S., which indicates it’s still limited by geography.

Spotify kalian ada lirik nya tak?:”V
Ini tiba tiba ada:”V kaget gw:”V eh trnyta dari musixmatch:V pic.twitter.com/DFO54qFzuQ

— Aku sayang Wandireksen :(( (@notfndm) November 14, 2019

Bisa full screen juga

Terus ternyata dari musixmatch sepertiny mereka bekerjasm pic.twitter.com/EFqZom2Wmm

— 𝙉𝙤𝙧𝙖▯ (@lasttosleep) November 13, 2019

ahora spotify ha vuelto con ponerte los lyrics (gracias musicxmatch) y obvio lo más importante era hacer esto pic.twitter.com/Ip9goVs7SI

— mar crocs (@hijodeIaluna) November 14, 2019

Spotify had lyrics support on the desktop several years ago, but that feature was later removed. Since then, users have repeatedly asked when it would return. On Spotify’s user feedback community, for example, a request asking the company to “bring back lyrics” was upvoted more than 14,300 times. Spotify wouldn’t respond to user requests except to point users to its Genius integration, Behind the Lyrics.

Genius, however, doesn’t provide full lyrics. Instead, it’s a way to annotate tracks with a combination of lyrics and stories. While the feature can be both informative and entertaining, it’s not necessarily the experience people want when they’re trying to learn the words to a song.

Currently, neither Spotify’s desktop or mobile app has lyrics support, with the exception of Japan. It also regularly runs tests like this, so this is not a confirmation of a near-term launch.

Spotify’s decision to not make lyrics integration a priority has given Apple Music a competitive advantage in terms of its feature set. While it may not be a key selling point, per se — Spotify now has 113 million paying customers to Apple Music’s 60 million — it could help to retain users who don’t want to lose access by switching. Amazon has also capitalized on Spotify’s lack of lyrics with integrations of music and lyrics on Alexa devices.

Reached for comment, a Spotify spokesperson confirmed a synced lyrics experience is something it’s testing.

“We can confirm we are testing this feature in a small number of markets,” the spokesperson said. “At Spotify, we are always testing new products and experiences but have no further news to share at this time.”

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Facebook quietly built “Popular Photos”, an in-app Instagram

Posted by | Apps, Facebook, Facebook ads, facebook photos, instagram, Mobile, Social, TC | No Comments

Facebook is copying Instagram while simultaneously invading its acquisition with branding and links back to the mothership. TechCrunch has spotted Facebook testing a feature called Popular Photos, which affixes an endless scroll of algorithmically selected pics from friends beneath the full-screen view of a photo opened from the News Feed. The result is an experience that feels like the Instagram feed, but inside of Facebook.

Popular Photos could offer users a more relaxing, lean-back browsing experience that omits links you have to click through, status updates you have to read, and other content types that bog down the News Feed. Instead, users can just passively watch the pretty pictures go by.

Facebook’s text and link-heavy feed looks increasingly stodgy and exhausting compared to visual communication-based social networks like Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok. Users have to do the work of digging into the meaning of News Feed each post rather than being instantly entertained. That experience doesn’t fit as well into short browsing sessions throughout the day, or when users are already drained from work, school, or family. Facebook used to have a dedicated Photos bookmark on desktop that would let you just browse that content type, but at some point it disappeared.

A Facebook spokesperson confirms that Facebook was running a small test of Popular Photos in October when we spotted it. That trial has concluded but the team is now iterating on the product and plans to do updated tests in the future. The company refused to disclose more details or its motives for Popular Photos. Given Facebook already has Stories, messaging, profiles, and its IGTV-esque Watch video hub, it’s only the Explore tab and a dedicated media feed that are missing from it being a full clone of Instagram.

Here’s how Popular Photos works. When users discover a photo in the News Feed or a profile, they can tap on it to see it full-screen on a black theater-view background. Typically, if users swipe or scroll on that photo, they’re just booted back out to where they came from. But with the Popular Photos feature, Facebook splays out more images for users to scroll through after the original.

By scrolling down past the Popular Photos title, they’ll see additional pics and a “See More Photos” label beckoning them to keep whipping through more public and friends-only images shared by friends and who they follow. Like on Instagram but unlike the News Feed, Facebook truncates the captions of Popular Photos after only around 65 characters so the stream doesn’t look overwhelmingly wordy. The black backgrounds give a more cinematic feel to the Popular Photos, putting emphasis on the imagery.

Facebook started showing Related Videos in 2014 when users scrolled past a video they’d opened full-screen. Now this “More Videos” feature will auto-play the next video and automatically bump users down the feed to view it. The feature even shows video ads. That could foreshadow Facebook inserting advertisers’ photos into the Popular Photos tab to monetize the extra browsing.

Facebook hasn’t been shy about trying to leverage Instagram to benefit itself. The company has placed an Open Facebook button in the Instagram navigation sidebar.

Previously, Instagram tried showing Facebook alerts in its own Notifications tab, and an annoying red counter for Facebook notifications on the three-line hamburger button that opens the Instagram sidebar in an attempt to drive referral traffic back to the Facebook app. Facebook has also tried notifying users in its app asking them to Like the Facebook Pages of people they follow on Instagram. And now, a “from Facebook” and new FACEBOOK logo can be found appended to the Instagram loading screen.

For Facebook to keep growing after 15 years in the market, it needs to fully embrace visual communication. It’s already copied Snapchat Stories and implemented the ephemeral photo and video format across its apps. Clearly it’s not above copying its own subsidiary Instagram to offer an alternative take on feed scrolling. I wonder how Instagram’s team feels about its parent company building a direct competitor?

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