smartphones

Samsung and Xiaomi had record smartphone shipments in India

Posted by | india, Mobile, Samsung, smartphones, Xiaomi | No Comments

India has quickly become ground zero for the smartphone wars. Last year, the country surpassed the U.S. to become the world’s No. 2 smartphone market, and manufacturers are falling over themselves to plant a flag.

Samsung and Xiaomi have been the two biggest winners in recent quarters, battling it out for the top spot. Earlier this year, the latter edged out the former, but the battle has remained neck and neck for the huge — and growing — market. According to new numbers from Canalys, both companies shipped 9.9 million smartphones for Q2 2018.

Xiaomi held onto the top spot — though just barely, with Samsung growing 47 percent year-over-year. That’s the Korean manufacturer’s biggest growth spurt in the country since late-2015. Look, here’s a graph.

Combined, the two manufacturers comprise 60 percent of shipments in India for the quarter. Vivo and Oppo round out the top four, making Samsung the only non-Chinese company vying for a top spot. The company announced recently that it will be doubling down its efforts in the country with a factory it’s deemed the world’s largest.

ASUS has seem some growth in the country, as well, tripling since the previous quarter. Apple’s shipments, meanwhile, have dipped around 50 percent year-over-year, according to the firm, as the company adjusts its strategy in the country.

“Apple’s paring back of distributor partners and move to a ‘brand-first, volume-next’ strategy will reap rewards as it will ensure better margin per device,” says Rushabh Doshi of Canalys. “Getting priorities right will be important to smartphone vendors, and it will be a choice between profitability and volume growth.”

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HTC’s blockchain phone is real, and it’s arriving later this year

Posted by | blockchain, cryptokitties, hardware, HTC, Mobile, smartphones | No Comments

HTC isn’t gone just yet. Granted, it’s closer than it’s ever been before, with a headcount of fewer than 5,000 employees worldwide — that’s down from 19,000 in 2013. But in spite of those “market competition, product mix, pricing, and recognized inventory write-downs,” the company’s still trucking on.

And while its claim to being “the leading innovator in smart phone devices,” is up for debate, the Taiwanese manufacturer has never shied away from a compelling gimmick. Announced earlier this year, the Exodus definitely fits the bill. The “world’s first major blockchain phone” is still shrouded in mystery, though the company did reveal a couple of key details this week at RISE in Hong Kong intended to keep folks interested while it irons out the rest of the product’s hiccups.

Chief among the reveals is an admittedly nebulous release date of Q3 this year. It’s hardly specific, but it does make the phone a little bit more real — unlike the images, which are still limited to the above blueprint picture at press time.

Here’s a quote from the company’s chief crypto officer, a position that really exists.

In the new internet age people are generally more conscious about their data, this a perfect opportunity to empower the user to start owning their digital identity. The Exodus is a great place to start because the phone is the most personal device, and it is also the place where all your data originates from. I’m excited about the opportunity it brings to decentralize the internet and reshape it for the modern user.

Prior to the launch, the company is partnering with the popular blockchain title, CryptoKitties. The game will be available on a small selection of the company’s handsets starting with the U12+. “This is a significant first step in creating a platform and distribution channel for creatives who make unique digital goods,” the company writes in a release tied to the news. “Mobile is the most prevalent device in the history of humankind and for digital assets and dapps to reach their potential, mobile will need to be the main point of distribution. The partnership with Cryptokitties is the beginning of a non fungible, collectible marketplace and crypto gaming app store.”

The company says the partnership marks the beginning of a “platform and distribution channel for creatives who make unique digital goods.” In other words, it’s attempting to reintroduce the concept of scarcity through these decentralized apps. HTC will also be partnering with Bitmark to help accomplish this.

If HTC is looking for the next mainstream play to right the ship, this is emphatically not it. That said, it could be compelling enough to gain some adoption among those heavily invested enough in the crypto space to pick up a handset built around the technology.

HTC promises more information on the device in “the coming months.”

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Light is building a smartphone with five to nine cameras

Posted by | Camera phone, camera+, consumer electronics, equipment, Gadgets, huawei, iPhone, Light, Microsoft, Mobile, mobile phones, Nokia, Nokia Lumia, Pureview, smartphone, smartphones, The Washington Post | No Comments

Light, the company behind the wild L16 camera, is building a smartphone equipped with multiple cameras. According to The Washington Post, the company is prototyping a smartphone with five to nine cameras that’s capable of capturing a 64 megapixel shot.

The entire package is not much thicker than an iPhone X, the Post reports. The additional sensors are said to increase the phone’s low-light performance and depth effects and uses internal processing to stick the image together.

This is the logical end-point for Light. The company introduced the $1,950 L16 camera back in 2015 and starting shipping it in 2017. The camera uses 16 lenses to capture 52 megapixel imagery. The results are impressive, especially when the size of the camera is considered. It’s truly pocketable. Yet in the end, consumers want the convenience of a phone with the power of a dedicated camera.

Light is not alone in building a super cameraphone. Camera maker RED is nearing the release of its smartphone that rocks a modular lens system and can be used as a viewfinder for RED’s cinema cameras. Huawei also just released the P21 Pro that uses three lenses to give the user the best possible option for color, monochrome and zoom. Years ago, Nokia played with high megapixel phones, stuffing a 41 MP sensor in the Lumia 1020 and PureView 808.

Unfortunately, additional details about the Light phone are unavailable. It’s unclear when this phone will be released. We reached out to Light for comment and will update this report with its response.

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OnePlus 6 Red goes on sale July 10

Posted by | Gadgets, Mobile, OnePlus, oneplus 6, smartphones, Startups, TC | No Comments

Folks riding the OnePlus bandwagon will be pleased to learn that the phone maker today introduced a red version of the OnePlus 6.

The company is calling the phone the OnePlus 6 Red, and the new model follows on the success of the OnePlus 5T Lava Red.

Here’s what OnePlus CEO Pete Lau had to say in a statement:

Deciding on this color was not without its challenges. We see individual colors as a way to express certain feelings or ideas. To us, red exudes enthusiasm and personality. It also represents an inner confidence and courage. There is a kind of power in red, which the OnePlus logo has always tried to articulate. We hope you feel similarly empowered when you hold the OnePlus 6 Red this summer.

The OnePlus 6 debuted in May with a starting price of $529. Specs include a 6.28-inch display at a 19:9 aspect ratio, a Snapdragon 845 chip, 6GB of RAM and 64GB of storage and Oxygen OS on the front end.

OnePlus has impressed with its ability to remain competitive in a landscape where Apple and Samsung reign supreme. Even HTC, the old king of the smartphone castle, has today announced that it’s cutting 1,500 jobs.

The OnePlus 6 Red will be available starting July 10, with sales in India beginning on July 16. The price will be the same as other OnePlus 6 variants.

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Apple is rebuilding Maps from the ground up

Posted by | Apple, apple inc, Apple Maps, artificial intelligence, california, ceo, Chevron, computing, driver, eddy cue, Google, gps, iPad, iPhone, Japan, journalist, location services, mac pro, machine learning, Mobile, mobile devices, OpenStreetMap, San Francisco, satellite imagery, smartphones, Software, TC, technology, TomTom, United States, vp | No Comments

I’m not sure if you’re aware, but the launch of Apple Maps went poorly. After a rough first impression, an apology from the CEO, several years of patching holes with data partnerships and some glimmers of light with long-awaited transit directions and improvements in business, parking and place data, Apple Maps is still not where it needs to be to be considered a world-class service.

Maps needs fixing.

Apple, it turns out, is aware of this, so it’s re-building the maps part of Maps.

It’s doing this by using first-party data gathered by iPhones with a privacy-first methodology and its own fleet of cars packed with sensors and cameras. The new product will launch in San Francisco and the Bay Area with the next iOS 12 beta and will cover Northern California by fall.

Every version of iOS will get the updated maps eventually, and they will be more responsive to changes in roadways and construction, more visually rich depending on the specific context they’re viewed in and feature more detailed ground cover, foliage, pools, pedestrian pathways and more.

This is nothing less than a full re-set of Maps and it’s been four years in the making, which is when Apple began to develop its new data-gathering systems. Eventually, Apple will no longer rely on third-party data to provide the basis for its maps, which has been one of its major pitfalls from the beginning.

“Since we introduced this six years ago — we won’t rehash all the issues we’ve had when we introduced it — we’ve done a huge investment in getting the map up to par,” says Apple SVP Eddy Cue, who now owns Maps, in an interview last week. “When we launched, a lot of it was all about directions and getting to a certain place. Finding the place and getting directions to that place. We’ve done a huge investment of making millions of changes, adding millions of locations, updating the map and changing the map more frequently. All of those things over the past six years.”

But, Cue says, Apple has room to improve on the quality of Maps, something that most users would agree on, even with recent advancements.

“We wanted to take this to the next level,” says Cue. “We have been working on trying to create what we hope is going to be the best map app in the world, taking it to the next step. That is building all of our own map data from the ground up.”

In addition to Cue, I spoke to Apple VP Patrice Gautier and more than a dozen Apple Maps team members at its mapping headquarters in California this week about its efforts to re-build Maps, and to do it in a way that aligned with Apple’s very public stance on user privacy.

If, like me, you’re wondering whether Apple thought of building its own maps from scratch before it launched Maps, the answer is yes. At the time, there was a choice to be made about whether or not it wanted to be in the business of maps at all. Given that the future of mobile devices was becoming very clear, it knew that mapping would be at the core of nearly every aspect of its devices, from photos to directions to location services provided to apps. Decision made, Apple plowed ahead, building a product that relied on a patchwork of data from partners like TomTom, OpenStreetMap and other geo data brokers. The result was underwhelming.

Almost immediately after Apple launched Maps, it realized that it was going to need help and it signed on a bunch of additional data providers to fill the gaps in location, base map, point-of-interest and business data.

It wasn’t enough.

“We decided to do this just over four years ago. We said, ‘Where do we want to take Maps? What are the things that we want to do in Maps?’ We realized that, given what we wanted to do and where we wanted to take it, we needed to do this ourselves,” says Cue.

Because Maps are so core to so many functions, success wasn’t tied to just one function. Maps needed to be great at transit, driving and walking — but also as a utility used by apps for location services and other functions.

Cue says that Apple needed to own all of the data that goes into making a map, and to control it from a quality as well as a privacy perspective.

There’s also the matter of corrections, updates and changes entering a long loop of submission to validation to update when you’re dealing with external partners. The Maps team would have to be able to correct roads, pathways and other updating features in days or less, not months. Not to mention the potential competitive advantages it could gain from building and updating traffic data from hundreds of millions of iPhones, rather than relying on partner data.

Cue points to the proliferation of devices running iOS, now over a billion, as a deciding factor to shift its process.

“We felt like because the shift to devices had happened — building a map today in the way that we were traditionally doing it, the way that it was being done — we could improve things significantly, and improve them in different ways,” he says. “One is more accuracy. Two is being able to update the map faster based on the data and the things that we’re seeing, as opposed to driving again or getting the information where the customer’s proactively telling us. What if we could actually see it before all of those things?”

I query him on the rapidity of Maps updates, and whether this new map philosophy means faster changes for users.

“The truth is that Maps needs to be [updated more], and even are today,” says Cue. “We’ll be doing this even more with our new maps, [with] the ability to change the map in real time and often. We do that every day today. This is expanding us to allow us to do it across everything in the map. Today, there’s certain things that take longer to change.

“For example, a road network is something that takes a much longer time to change currently. In the new map infrastructure, we can change that relatively quickly. If a new road opens up, immediately we can see that and make that change very, very quickly around it. It’s much, much more rapid to do changes in the new map environment.”

So a new effort was created to begin generating its own base maps, the very lowest building block of any really good mapping system. After that, Apple would begin layering on living location data, high-resolution satellite imagery and brand new intensely high-resolution image data gathered from its ground cars until it had what it felt was a “best in class” mapping product.

There is only really one big company on earth that owns an entire map stack from the ground up: Google .

Apple knew it needed to be the other one. Enter the vans.

Apple vans spotted

Though the overall project started earlier, the first glimpse most folks had of Apple’s renewed efforts to build the best Maps product was the vans that started appearing on the roads in 2015 with “Apple Maps” signs on the side. Capped with sensors and cameras, these vans popped up in various cities and sparked rampant discussion and speculation.

The new Apple Maps will be the first time the data collected by these vans is actually used to construct and inform its maps. This is their coming out party.

Some people have commented that Apple’s rigs look more robust than the simple GPS + Camera arrangements on other mapping vehicles — going so far as to say they look more along the lines of something that could be used in autonomous vehicle training.

Apple isn’t commenting on autonomous vehicles, but there’s a reason the arrays look more advanced: they are.

Earlier this week I took a ride in one of the vans as it ran a sample route to gather the kind of data that would go into building the new maps. Here’s what’s inside.

In addition to a beefed-up GPS rig on the roof, four LiDAR arrays mounted at the corners and eight cameras shooting overlapping high-resolution images, there’s also the standard physical measuring tool attached to a rear wheel that allows for precise tracking of distance and image capture. In the rear there is a surprising lack of bulky equipment. Instead, it’s a straightforward Mac Pro bolted to the floor, attached to an array of solid state drives for storage. A single USB cable routes up to the dashboard where the actual mapping-capture software runs on an iPad.

While mapping, a driver…drives, while an operator takes care of the route, ensuring that a coverage area that has been assigned is fully driven, as well as monitoring image capture. Each drive captures thousands of images as well as a full point cloud (a 3D map of space defined by dots that represent surfaces) and GPS data. I later got to view the raw data presented in 3D and it absolutely looks like the quality of data you would need to begin training autonomous vehicles.

More on why Apple needs this level of data detail later.

When the images and data are captured, they are then encrypted on the fly and recorded on to the SSDs. Once full, the SSDs are pulled out, replaced and packed into a case, which is delivered to Apple’s data center, where a suite of software eliminates from the images private information like faces, license plates and other info. From the moment of capture to the moment they’re sanitized, they are encrypted with one key in the van and the other key in the data center. Technicians and software that are part of its mapping efforts down the pipeline from there never see unsanitized data.

This is just one element of Apple’s focus on the privacy of the data it is utilizing in New Maps.

Probe data and privacy

Throughout every conversation I have with any member of the team throughout the day, privacy is brought up, emphasized. This is obviously by design, as Apple wants to impress upon me as a journalist that it’s taking this very seriously indeed, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s evidently built in from the ground up and I could not find a false note in any of the technical claims or the conversations I had.

Indeed, from the data security folks to the people whose job it is to actually make the maps work well, the constant refrain is that Apple does not feel that it is being held back in any way by not hoovering every piece of customer-rich data it can, storing and parsing it.

The consistent message is that the team feels it can deliver a high-quality navigation, location and mapping product without the directly personal data used by other platforms.

“We specifically don’t collect data, even from point A to point B,” notes Cue. “We collect data — when we do it — in an anonymous fashion, in subsections of the whole, so we couldn’t even say that there is a person that went from point A to point B. We’re collecting the segments of it. As you can imagine, that’s always been a key part of doing this. Honestly, we don’t think it buys us anything [to collect more]. We’re not losing any features or capabilities by doing this.”

The segments that he is referring to are sliced out of any given person’s navigation session. Neither the beginning or the end of any trip is ever transmitted to Apple. Rotating identifiers, not personal information, are assigned to any data or requests sent to Apple and it augments the “ground truth” data provided by its own mapping vehicles with this “probe data” sent back from iPhones.

Because only random segments of any person’s drive is ever sent and that data is completely anonymized, there is never a way to tell if any trip was ever a single individual. The local system signs the IDs and only it knows to whom that ID refers. Apple is working very hard here to not know anything about its users. This kind of privacy can’t be added on at the end, it has to be woven in at the ground level.

Because Apple’s business model does not rely on it serving to you, say, an ad for a Chevron on your route, it doesn’t need to even tie advertising identifiers to users.

Any personalization or Siri requests are all handled on-board by the iOS device’s processor. So if you get a drive notification that tells you it’s time to leave for your commute, that’s learned, remembered and delivered locally, not from Apple’s servers.

That’s not new, but it’s important to note given the new thing to take away here: Apple is flipping on the power of having millions of iPhones passively and actively improving their mapping data in real time.

In short: Traffic, real-time road conditions, road systems, new construction and changes in pedestrian walkways are about to get a lot better in Apple Maps.

The secret sauce here is what Apple calls probe data. Essentially little slices of vector data that represent direction and speed transmitted back to Apple completely anonymized with no way to tie it to a specific user or even any given trip. It’s reaching in and sipping a tiny amount of data from millions of users instead, giving it a holistic, real-time picture without compromising user privacy.

If you’re driving, walking or cycling, your iPhone can already tell this. Now if it knows you’re driving, it also can send relevant traffic and routing data in these anonymous slivers to improve the entire service. This only happens if your Maps app has been active, say you check the map, look for directions, etc. If you’re actively using your GPS for walking or driving, then the updates are more precise and can help with walking improvements like charting new pedestrian paths through parks — building out the map’s overall quality.

All of this, of course, is governed by whether you opted into location services, and can be toggled off using the maps location toggle in the Privacy section of settings.

Apple says that this will have a near zero effect on battery life or data usage, because you’re already using the ‘maps’ features when any probe data is shared and it’s a fraction of what power is being drawn by those activities.

From the point cloud on up

But maps cannot live on ground truth and mobile data alone. Apple is also gathering new high-resolution satellite data to combine with its ground truth data for a solid base map. It’s then layering satellite imagery on top of that to better determine foliage, pathways, sports facilities, building shapes and pathways.

After the downstream data has been cleaned up of license plates and faces, it gets run through a bunch of computer vision programming to pull out addresses, street signs and other points of interest. These are cross referenced to publicly available data like addresses held by the city and new construction of neighborhoods or roadways that comes from city planning departments.

But one of the special sauce bits that Apple is adding to the mix of mapping tools is a full-on point cloud that maps in 3D the world around the mapping van. This allows them all kinds of opportunities to better understand what items are street signs (retro-reflective rectangular object about 15 feet off the ground? Probably a street sign) or stop signs or speed limit signs.

It seems like it also could enable positioning of navigation arrows in 3D space for AR navigation, but Apple declined to comment on “any future plans” for such things.

Apple also uses semantic segmentation and Deep Lambertian Networks to analyze the point cloud coupled with the image data captured by the car and from high-resolution satellites in sync. This allows 3D identification of objects, signs, lanes of traffic and buildings and separation into categories that can be highlighted for easy discovery.

The coupling of high-resolution image data from car and satellite, plus a 3D point cloud, results in Apple now being able to produce full orthogonal reconstructions of city streets with textures in place. This is massively higher-resolution and easier to see, visually. And it’s synchronized with the “panoramic” images from the car, the satellite view and the raw data. These techniques are used in self-driving applications because they provide a really holistic view of what’s going on around the car. But the ortho view can do even more for human viewers of the data by allowing them to “see” through brush or tree cover that would normally obscure roads, buildings and addresses.

This is hugely important when it comes to the next step in Apple’s battle for supremely accurate and useful Maps: human editors.

Apple has had a team of tool builders working specifically on a toolkit that can be used by human editors to vet and parse data, street by street. The editor’s suite includes tools that allow human editors to assign specific geometries to flyover buildings (think Salesforce tower’s unique ridged dome) that allow them to be instantly recognizable. It lets editors look at real images of street signs shot by the car right next to 3D reconstructions of the scene and computer vision detection of the same signs, instantly recognizing them as accurate or not.

Another tool corrects addresses, letting an editor quickly move an address to the center of a building, determine whether they’re misplaced and shift them around. It also allows for access points to be set, making Apple Maps smarter about the “last 50 feet” of your journey. You’ve made it to the building, but what street is the entrance actually on? And how do you get into the driveway? With a couple of clicks, an editor can make that permanently visible.

“When we take you to a business and that business exists, we think the precision of where we’re taking you to, from being in the right building,” says Cue. “When you look at places like San Francisco or big cities from that standpoint, you have addresses where the address name is a certain street, but really, the entrance in the building is on another street. They’ve done that because they want the better street name. Those are the kinds of things that our new Maps really is going to shine on. We’re going to make sure that we’re taking you to exactly the right place, not a place that might be really close by.”

Water, swimming pools (new to Maps entirely), sporting areas and vegetation are now more prominent and fleshed out thanks to new computer vision and satellite imagery applications. So Apple had to build editing tools for those, as well.

Many hundreds of editors will be using these tools, in addition to the thousands of employees Apple already has working on maps, but the tools had to be built first, now that Apple is no longer relying on third parties to vet and correct issues.

And the team also had to build computer vision and machine learning tools that allow it to determine whether there are issues to be found at all.

Anonymous probe data from iPhones, visualized, looks like thousands of dots, ebbing and flowing across a web of streets and walkways, like a luminescent web of color. At first, chaos. Then, patterns emerge. A street opens for business, and nearby vessels pump orange blood into the new artery. A flag is triggered and an editor looks to see if a new road needs a name assigned.

A new intersection is added to the web and an editor is flagged to make sure that the left turn lanes connect correctly across the overlapping layers of directional traffic. This has the added benefit of massively improved lane guidance in the new Apple Maps.

Apple is counting on this combination of human and AI flagging to allow editors to first craft base maps and then also maintain them as the ever-changing biomass wreaks havoc on roadways, addresses and the occasional park.

Here there be Helvetica

Apple’s new Maps, like many other digital maps, display vastly differently depending on scale. If you’re zoomed out, you get less detail. If you zoom in, you get more. But Apple has a team of cartographers on staff that work on more cultural, regional and artistic levels to ensure that its Maps are readable, recognizable and useful.

These teams have goals that are at once concrete and a bit out there — in the best traditions of Apple pursuits that intersect the technical with the artistic.

The maps need to be usable, but they also need to fulfill cognitive goals on cultural levels that go beyond what any given user might know they need. For instance, in the U.S., it is very common to have maps that have a relatively low level of detail even at a medium zoom. In Japan, however, the maps are absolutely packed with details at the same zoom, because that increased information density is what is expected by users.

This is the department of details. They’ve reconstructed replicas of hundreds of actual road signs to make sure that the shield on your navigation screen matches the one you’re seeing on the highway road sign. When it comes to public transport, Apple licensed all of the type faces that you see on your favorite subway systems, like Helvetica for NYC. And the line numbers are in the exact same order that you’re going to see them on the platform signs.

It’s all about reducing the cognitive load that it takes to translate the physical world you have to navigate into the digital world represented by Maps.

Bottom line

The new version of Apple Maps will be in preview next week with just the Bay Area of California going live. It will be stitched seamlessly into the “current” version of Maps, but the difference in quality level should be immediately visible based on what I’ve seen so far.

Better road networks, more pedestrian information, sports areas like baseball diamonds and basketball courts, more land cover, including grass and trees, represented on the map, as well as buildings, building shapes and sizes that are more accurate. A map that feels more like the real world you’re actually traveling through.

Search is also being revamped to make sure that you get more relevant results (on the correct continents) than ever before. Navigation, especially pedestrian guidance, also gets a big boost. Parking areas and building details to get you the last few feet to your destination are included, as well.

What you won’t see, for now, is a full visual redesign.

“You’re not going to see huge design changes on the maps,” says Cue. “We don’t want to combine those two things at the same time because it would cause a lot of confusion.”

Apple Maps is getting the long-awaited attention it really deserves. By taking ownership of the project fully, Apple is committing itself to actually creating the map that users expected of it from the beginning. It’s been a lingering shadow on iPhones, especially, where alternatives like Google Maps have offered more robust feature sets that are so easy to compare against the native app but impossible to access at the deep system level.

The argument has been made ad nauseam, but it’s worth saying again that if Apple thinks that mapping is important enough to own, it should own it. And that’s what it’s trying to do now.

“We don’t think there’s anybody doing this level of work that we’re doing,” adds Cue. “We haven’t announced this. We haven’t told anybody about this. It’s one of those things that we’ve been able to keep pretty much a secret. Nobody really knows about it. We’re excited to get it out there. Over the next year, we’ll be rolling it out, section by section in the U.S.”

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India’s Cashify raises $12M for its second-hand smartphone business

Posted by | Asia, bessemer, eCommerce, funding, Fundings & Exits, india, Mobile, Samsung, smartphone, smartphones, Southeast Asia, technology | No Comments

Cashify, a company that buys and sells used smartphones, is the latest India startup to raise capital from Chinese investors after it announced a $12 million Series C round.

Chinese funds CDH Investments and Morningside led the round which included participation from Aihuishou, a China-based startup that sells used electronics in a similar way to Cashify and has raised over $120 million. Existing investors including Bessemer Ventures and Shunwei also took part in the round.

This new capital takes Cashify to $19 million raised to date.

The business was started in 2013 by co-founders Mandeep Manocha (CEO), Nakul Kumar (COO) and Amit Sethi (CFO) initially as ‘ReGlobe.’ The business gives consumers a fast way to sell their existing electronics, it deals mainly in smartphones but also takes laptops, consoles, TVs and tablets.

“When we began we saw a lot of transaction for phone sales moving from offline to online,” Manocha told TechCrunch in an interview. “But consumer-to-consumer [for used devices] is highly opaque on price discovery and you never know if you’re making the right decision on price and whether the transaction will take place in the timeframe.”

These days, the company estimates that the average upgrade cycle has shifted from 20 months to 12 months, and now it is doubling down.

With Cashify, sellers simply fill out some details online about their device, then Cashify dispatches a representative who comes to their house to perform diagnostic checks and gives them cash for the device that day. The startup also offers an app which automatically carries out the checks — for example ensuring the camera, Bluetooth module, etc all work — and offers a higher cash payment for the user since Cashify uses fewer resources.

 

A sample of the Cashify Q&A for selling a device.

Beyond its website and app, Cashify gets devices from trade-in programs for Samsung, Xiaomi and Apple in India, as well as e-commerce companies like Flipkart, Amazon and Paytm Mall.

Used device acquired, what happens next is interesting.

The startup has built out a network of offline merchants who specialize in selling used phones. Each phone it acquires is then sold (perhaps after minor refurbishments) to that network, so it might pop up for sale anywhere in India.

With this new money, Cashify CEO Manocha said the company will develop an online resale site that will allow anyone to buy a used phone from the company’s network. Devices sold by Cashify online will be refurbished with new parts where needed, and they’ll include a box and six-month warranty to give a better consumer experience, Manocha added.

Today, Cashify claims to handle 100,000 smartphones a month, but it is planning to grow that to 200,000 by the end of this year. Cashify said its devices are typically low-end, those that retail for sub-$300 when new. A large part of that push comes from the online site, but the startup is also enlarging its offline merchant network and working to reach more consumers who are actually selling their device. That’s where Manocha said he sees particular value in working with Aihuishou.

Cashify is also developing other services. It recently started offering at-home repairs for customers and Manocha said that adding Chinese investors — and Aihuishou in particular — will help it with its sourcing of components for the repairs service and general refurbishments.

Cashify estimates that the used smartphone market in India will see 90 million phones sold this year, with as many as 120 million trading by 2020. That’s close to the 124 million shipments that analysts estimate India saw in 2017, but with surprisingly higher margins.

A reseller can make 10 percent profit on a device, Manocha explained, and Cashify’s own price elasticity — the difference between what it buys from consumers at and what it sells to resellers for — is typically 30-35 percent, he added. That’s more than most OEMs, but that doesn’t take into account costs on the Cashify side which bring that number down.

“When I sell to a reseller, the margins aren’t that exciting which is why we want to sell direct to consumers,” the Cashify CEO said.

The startup has plenty going on at home in India, but already it is considering overseas possibilities.

“We will focus on India for at least next 12 months but we have had discussions on markets that would make sense to enter,” Manocha, explaining that the Middle East and Southeast Asia are early frontrunners.

“We are working very closely with one of the Chinese players and figuring out if we can do some business in Hong Kong because that’s the hub for second-hand phones in this part of the world,” he added.

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Samsung will probably unveil the Note 9 on August 9

Posted by | galaxy note 9, hardware, Mobile, Samsung, smartphones | No Comments

Those Galaxy Note 9 rumors have been coming fast and furious in recent weeks, and now we know why. Samsung just sent out invites for its next big event in New York City, and its beloved phablet seems all but guaranteed to show up. The timeframe certainly lines up.

The pen-enabled device was first announced at IFA back in 2011, and while the company has moved away from the trade show toward its own stage in recent years, announcements have more or less stayed within that August/September timeframe. And holding the event on August 9, well, that’s likely more than just a numerological coincidence. As if all that weren’t confirmation enough, the handset appears to have also recently passed through the FCC (alongside the Tab S3 tablet), a surefire sign that it’s just over the horizon.

The phone was the subject of a big leak earlier this week, which hinted at an update to the line’s iconic S Pen stylus. Exact details are pretty thin at the moment, though one leaker called it “the biggest update” in the peripheral’s history, for what that’s worth. And the close up shot on this morning’s invites do appear to confirm a focus on the stylus. Samsung has refined the S Pen’s writing system in the seven years since the first device was announced, but it’s largely taken a back seat to things like screen design and camera specs.

Otherwise, however, Note 9 reports paint a picture of fairly minor upgrades over the Note 8, with plenty of features cribbed from the S9 announced back in February at Mobile World Congress.

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Anker Mars II projector promises solid summer fun

Posted by | Amazon, Android, AV, Bluetooth, bluetooth speaker, chromecast, computing, DLP, Gadgets, HDMI, Netflix, smartphones, TC, wi-fi | No Comments

Anker, a popular if battery and cable company, recently announced the Mars II projector under its Nebula brand. The company, which primarily sells via Amazon, is expanding out of batteries and cables and is now creating audio and other portable AV gear. This compact, battery-powered DLP projector is their latest creation and it has found a place of honor at our family barbecues.

The projector is actually an Android 7.1 device stuffed into a case about as big as a Bluetooth speaker. A physical lens cap slides down and turns on the system and you control everything from he included remote or the buttons on the top of the device. You can also download an app that mimics a mouse and keyboard for choosing videos and information entry. It projects at a maximum of 300 lumens and projects at 720p. You can also connect an HDMI device like a game console or stick in a USB drive full of videos to view on the fly.

Again, the real benefit here is the ability to stream from various apps. I have YouTube, Netflix, Plex, and other apps installed and you can install almost any other Android app you can imagine. It has speakers built in and you can cast to it via Miracast but you cannot insert a Chromecast.

If all you want to do is throw up a little Santa Clarita Diet or Ice Age on a sheet in the back yard, this thing is perfect. Because the brightness is fairly low you need solid twilight or a partially dark room to get a good picture. However, the picture is good enough and it would also make a great presentation device for a closed, dark conference room. Because of its small size and battery life – four hours on a charge – it makes for a great alternative to a full-sized projector or even a standard TV.

At $539 the Mars II is priced on par with other 720p projectors. The primary use case – connecting a computer or console via HDMI – works quite well but streaming user experience is a bit of a mixed bag. Because Anker didn’t modify the Android installation much further than adding a few default apps, some apps require a mouse to use and others can be controlled via the arrow keys on the remote or body of the device. This means that some apps – like Plex, for example – let you pick a video via the arrow keys but require you to press the “mouse” button to begin simulating a mouse cursor on the screen. It’s a bit frustrating, especially in poor lighting conditions.

One of the interesting features is the automatic focus system. Instead of fiddling with a knob or slider, you simply point this at a surface and the system projects a bullseye focus ring until the picture is in focus. The focus changes any time you move the device and sometimes it gets caught up if the screen or projector are moving. However in most cases it works perfectly fine.

Like most portable projectors you aren’t buying the Mars II to watch 4K video in 5.1 surround sound. You buy it to offer an alternative to sitting on the couch and watching a movie. That means this is great for on-the-road business presentations, campouts, outdoor movie viewing, and sleepovers. It is cheap and portable enough to be almost disposable and it’s not as heavy and hot as other, larger devices. In short, it can go anywhere, show anything, and works really well. Anker also makes the Mars, a more expensive 1080p device, but this one works just fine for about $400 less – a big drop in just about a year of brisk sales. It’s nice to see a good, low-cost manufacturer dabble in the world of complex consumer electronics and come up with a product that is truly useful and fun.

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Google is quietly formulating a new strategy for China

Posted by | Android, Apple, Apps, artificial intelligence, Asia, Baidu, Beijing, China, computing, Getty-Images, Google, Google Play, Google Play Store, google search, HTC, huawei, mobvoi, photographer, premier, Search, shenzhen, smartphone, smartphones, TC, Tencent, United States, Virtual reality, xi jinping, Xiaomi | No Comments

Google is slowing piecing together a strategy for China to ensure that it doesn’t miss out on the growth of technology in the world’s largest country. It’s been months in the making through a series of gradual plays, but further evidence of those plans comes today via a product launch.

Files Go — a file manager for Android devices released last yearhas made its way to China today. Not a huge launch, for sure, but the mechanisms behind it provide insight into how Google may be thinking about the country, where it has been absent since 2010 after redirecting its Chinese search service to Hong Kong in the face of government pressure.

For Files Go, Google is taking a partner-led approach to distribution because the Google Play Store does not operate in China. The company is working with Tencent, Huawei, Xiaomi and Baidu, each of which will stock the app in their independent app stores, which are among the country’s most prominent third-party stores.

Let that sink in a little: the creator of Android is using third-party Android app stores to distribute one of its products.

On the outside that’s quite the scenario, but in China it makes perfect of sense.

There’s been regular media speculation in recent about Google’s desire to return to China which, during its absence, has become the largest single market for smartphone users, and the country with the most app downloads and highest app revenue per year. Mostly the rumors have centered around audacious strategies such as the return of the Google Play Store or the restoration of Google’s Chinese search business, both of which would mean complying with demands from the Chinese government.

Then there’s the politics. The U.S. and China are currently in an ongoing trade standoff that has spilled into tech, impacting deals, while Chinese premier Xi Jinping has taken a protectionist approach to promoting local business and industries, in particular AI. XI’s more controversial policies, including the banning of VPNs, have put heat on Apple, which stands accused of colluding with authorities and preventing free speech in China.

Political tension between the U.S. and China is affecting tech companies. [Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images]

Even when you remove the political issues, a full return is a tough challenge. Google would be starting businesses almost from scratch in a highly competitive market where it has little brand recognition.

It’s hardly surprising, then, that it hasn’t made big moves… yet at least.

Instead, it appears that the company is exploring more nimble approaches. There have been opportunistic product launches using established platforms, and generally Google seems intent at building relationships and growing a local presence that allows its global business to tap into the talent and technology that China offers.

Files Go is the latest example, but already we’ve seen Google relaunch its Translate app in 2017 and more recently it brought its ARCore technology for augmented and virtual reality to China using partners, which include Xiaomi and Huawei.

Bouquets of flowers lie on the Google logo outside the company’s China head office in Beijing on March 23, 2010 after the US web giant said it would no longer filter results and was redirecting mainland Chinese users to an uncensored site in Hong Kong — effectively closing down the mainland site. Google’s decision to effectively shut down its Chinese-language search engine is likely to stunt the development of the Internet in China and isolate local web users, analysts say. (Photo credit: xin/AFP/Getty Images)

Beyond products, Google is cultivating relationships, too.

It inked a wide-ranging patent deal with Tencent, China’s $500 billion tech giant which operates WeChat and more, and has made strategic investments to back AI startup XtalPi (alongside Tencent), live-streaming platform Chushou, and AI and hardware company Mobvoi. There have been events, too, including AlphaGo’s three-game battle with Chinese grandmaster Ke Jie in Wuzhen, developer events in China and the forthcoming first Google Asia Demo Day, which takes places in Shanghai in September.

In addition to making friends in the right places, Google is also increasing its own presence on Chinese soil. The company opened an AI lab in Beijing to help access China-based talent, while it also unveiled a more modest presence in Shenzhen, China’s hardware capital, where it has a serviced office for staff. That hardware move ties into Google’s acquisition of a chunk of HTC’s smartphone division for $1.1 billion.

The strategy is no doubt in its early days, so now is a good time to keep a keen eye on Google’s moves in this part of the world.

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Andy Rubin’s Essential is reportedly up for sale and has cancelled work on its next smartphone

Posted by | andy rubin, essential, Mobile, smartphones, TC | No Comments

Essential, the smartphone company helmed by Android co-creator Andy Rubin, is trying to sell itself and has cancelled development of its next phone, Bloomberg reports.

The report states that Essential has hired Credit Suisse Group AG to advise them on potentially selling itself. The company raised $330 million from investors, including Rubin’s own Playground Global, Tencent Holdings and the Amazon Alexa Fund. The news of a potential sale accompanies news that the company has ended development on its next smartphone, a major blow for a company aimed to challenge companies like Apple and Samsung with a device that it hoped would hold its own.

“We always have multiple products in development at the same time and we embrace canceling some in favor of the ones we think will be bigger hits,” an Essential spokesperson told TechCrunch. “We are putting all of our efforts towards our future, game-changing products, which include mobile and home products.”

The Essential phone went on sale in August for $699 with a bold, reduced bezel design that was soon present on a variety of smartphones. A report from IDC suggested that the company only sold 88,000 phones in 2017. Sluggish sales prompted the company to slash $200 off the price of the phone just months later, earning it a price that one of my colleagues called the “best deal in smartphones.”

Though Essential’s smartphone is still on sale, without a clear plan to continue their smartphone line, it’s pretty dubious how they’ll continue their dream of a unified experience centered around the company’s ambient OS. The company has already detailed some of their work on Essential Home, a home assistant hub that would include a circular display that could also deliver visual notifications.

Essential was always setting itself up for a David/Goliath battle, but it seems that nine months after showing off their flagship smartphone they’ve realized they weren’t quite ready to go up against the giants.

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