Daily Crunch: Snapchat is getting mini apps

Posted by | Daily Crunch, Mobile, Snap, Snapchat, Social | No Comments

Snap announces a bunch of new features, Moderna prepares for the final-stage trial of its coronavirus vaccine and Sony shows off the PlayStation 5.

Here’s your Daily Crunch for June 12, 2020.

1. Snapchat debuts Minis, bite-sized third-party apps that live inside chat

Snap Minis are lightweight third-party programs that users can quickly pull up in the Chat section. This allows them to complete tasks without switching apps, like ordering movie tickets, comparing class schedules, studying a flashcard deck or going through a guided meditation.

The news came at a virtual version of the Snap Partner Summit, in which the company also announced a number of AR updates, including Lens voice search, a bring-your-own machine learning model update to Lens Studio and a geography-specific AR system that will turn public Snaps into spatial data.

2. Moderna set to start final-stage trial of its coronavirus vaccine by July

Pharmaceutical company Moderna told Bloomberg that it’s on pace to begin by July the final-stage clinical trial of its vaccine for the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. The company has previously said that it could potentially begin offering experimental doses available to healthcare workers in limited capacities as early as this fall.

3. And finally … here’s Sony’s PlayStation 5

Sony finally revealed the PS5 tower in all its glory. It doesn’t look entirely un-router-like — but if so, it’s a sleek-looking router.

4. Chris Cox returns to the fold as Facebook’s chief product officer

After a very high-profile departure last year, Facebook’s former chief product officer Chris Cox will return to his long-held position. He said the unique national and global climate of 2020 influenced his decision, particularly the coronavirus pandemic, its subsequent economic devastation and the nation’s current focus on “a reckoning of racial injustice.”

5. Why are unicorns pushing back IPOs when the Nasdaq is near record highs?

Instacart just announced that it has raised fresh capital at a valuation north of $13 billion. DoorDash, meanwhile, is reportedly looking to add more cash at a pre-money valuation that exceeds $15 billion. Both announcements make it plain that late-stage unicorns are still able to attract huge sums despite a putatively uncertain IPO market. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

6. Microsoft’s Brad Smith says company will not sell facial recognition tech to police

Microsoft is joining IBM and Amazon in taking a position against the use of facial recognition technology by law enforcement — at least, until more regulation is in place.

7. UK competition watchdog launches investigation into Facebook’s $400M acquisition of Giphy

The UK Competition and Markets Authority — the country’s antitrust watchdog — announced that it has launched an investigation into Facebook’s acquisition of Giphy. Specifically, it’s looking to see how and if the deal will lessen competition in the two companies’ respective markets.

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.

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Snap lets you play as your Bitmoji in third-party games

Posted by | Apps, Bitmoji, Bitmoji For Games, Gaming, Mobile, Snap, Snapchat, Social | No Comments

Snap is announcing at its Snap Partner Summit that the first games that will take advantage of Bitmoji will roll out soon. The feature was announced last year, and it looks like developers can finally take advantage of that SDK. You’ll be able to play a game with you as the hero — or at least the Bitmoji representation of you.

While this feature is reminiscent of Xbox Avatars or Nintendo’s Mii on the Wii, 3DS and Wii U, Bitmoji for Games is a cross-platform solution, from mobile games to console games and PC games. The issue with console-specific avatars is that you can’t support Xbox Avatars on PlayStation consoles for instance — that could be the reason why console manufacturers have been slowly phasing out those avatars. Bitmoji for Games could potentially solve that issue.

Having said that, the initial list of partners only includes mobile games on iOS and Android. Games include Super Brawl Universe from Nickelodeon and Playsoft, Uno from Mattel, Scrabble GO from Scopely and a soon-to-be-announced game from French startup Voodoo.

Let’s hope that Snap will be able to expand its list of partners beyond board games and casual mobile games. For instance, I would totally see Bitmoji for Games in Just Dance.

Here’s a concept video presenting the feature. As you can see, you just have to connect with your Snapchat account to import your Bitmoji to third-party games:

In other news, Snap is adding more games to Snapchat. There are already more than a dozen games that you can play with your friends when you’re chatting with them. Some of them are built in-house while others are developed by third-party game makers.

According to the company, 100 million Snapchat users have played a game since the feature launched last year. On average, users who choose to play Bitmoji Party, a Mario Party-inspired game that lets you compete with your friends in mini-games, spend 20 minutes in the game in a given day.

There’s a direct correlation between engagement and monetization as Snap doesn’t rely on micro-transactions and in-app purchases with Snap Games. The company monetizes this feature with video ads.

“We took a look at the state of mobile gaming a few years back and observed that so many successful games on mobile didn’t have your friends that deeply integrated into the experience,” Director of Product Will Wu told TechCrunch. “There’s a lot of games you just play solo on the bus or on the airplane or something like that. For us, we were really looking to recreate that experience that we may have had growing up, sitting side by side with our friends playing a game on a couch together. You’re actually looking at the same screen.”

The most interesting new game that the company will release in the coming months is Bitmoji Paint. This game is a sort of casual Minecraft-inspired creativity game. Users play together on the same planet and can paint tiles on the ground. It lets you create pixel art and look at other creations.

Other new games include Bumped Out (Zynga), Friend Quizzes (Game Closure), Ready Set Golf! (PikPok) and Sling Racers (Madbox). They will be released over the coming months.

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In the age of social distancing, the LA Rams turn to Snap and Madden to unveil new uniforms

Posted by | augmented reality, EA Sports, Entertainment, Gaming, Los Angeles Rams, madden nfl, National Football League, nfl, Snap, Snapchat, Sports, TC | No Comments

As the U.S. waits for the great reopening of its hallowed national pastimes in an era of pandemic-enforced social distancing, sports teams are increasingly turning to a new wave of digital tools like social media and video games to connect with a new generation of fans.

The Los Angeles Rams are the latest team to embrace the trend, choosing to work with social media giant Snap and EA Sports’ Madden NFL franchise to unveil the new design of their uniforms ahead of the opening of the most high-tech stadium in the National Football League later this year.

The team is working with Los Angeles’ own Snap to unveil the uniforms in a custom-created Snapchat augmented reality lens, featuring the ability to trigger players into action.

The revelation of the uniform in augmented reality, a decision brought about by social distancing measures put in place in California, is a first for any NFL team. The Rams franchise also collaborated with the Madden franchise to provide a sneak peak of the uniform through in-game renders of Rams players showing off the new look.

On Instagram, social media users can see interactive content of the uniforms in their new natural habitat before the stadium opens.

“We had been chatting about how to use AR for a while. Just across the board,” said Lexi Vonderlieth, the head of partnership marketing. “We were trying to figure out ways to bring the uniform to life and showcase that a bit and create something that was a bit engaging.”

From the world lens through Snap, viewers can see Jared Goff or Aaron Donald in their apartments, living rooms or backyards. Through the selfie view Snap users can put on the new jersey and Rams helmet.

The Los Angeles-based Snap has had a longtime relationship with the Rams — in part through proximity and in part through connections in the Los Angeles business world.

The unveiling of the uniforms, which happened earlier today, marked the first time that Snap had worked with a franchise directly instead of with the National Football League broadly.

Earlier uses of the Snap filters and camera this season came during the NFL draft itself — where Snap rolled out special cams as a way for fans to celebrate and represent their own teams.

The National Football League actually plays a prominent roll in the history of Snap lenses. The famous “Gatorade dump” tradition where the coach from the winning team in the Super Bowl gets doused with Gatorade by his players was one of the first lenses that Snap developed.

“We saw this incredible connection in how AR could engage,” said Snap senior director of global creative strategy, Jeff Miller. “Snap is a platform that is built for connecting with close friends and family. Sports passion is expressed through those kinds of connections.”

Snap, in some senses, is uniquely positioned to amplify the fan experience in a socially distanced sporting world. “[The technology] gives us an ability to create amazing experiences that can replace a physical activation, enhance it or give alternatives in a sport-from-home environment.”


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Snapchat preempts clones, syndicates Stories to other apps

Posted by | Apps, Developer, Developer Platform, hily, Mobile, Octi, snap inc, Snap Kit, Snapchat, Snapchat Ads, Snapchat Snap Kit, Social, Squad, TC, Triller | No Comments

If you can’t stop them, power them. That’s the strategy behind Snapchat App Stories, which launches today to let users show off their ephemeral content in other apps too. The first partners will let you post Stories to your dating profile in Hily, share them alongside [music] videos in Triller, watch them while screensharing in Squad, or give people a peek at your life in augmented reality network Octi. Developers can now sign up to add Stories to their apps.

Snapchat’s Stories format has been widely cloned, most famously by Instagram and Facebook, but with versions in various states of development for YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn, SoundCloud, and more. Snapchat hopes to retain some grip on Stories and dissuade more copycats by letting developers bake the original version into their apps rather than building a bootleg attempt from scratch.

If you need Snapchat to share Stories to popular apps, that could boost content production plus subsequent viewership and ad impressions inside of Snapchat, remind people to shoot Stories, and make sure having a Snapchat account stays relevant. “We definitely think there’s a potential for monetization in App Stories but not yet” Snap’s VP of partnerships Ben Schwerin tells me. For now, Snapchat isn’t injecting ads into alongside Stories into other apps, though that’s clearly the plan.

“There are certain platforms out there that have decided they want to invest in building their own Stories product and their own camera, but it’s not a trivial thing to do. It takes resources and time. We think we can help developers do that” Schwerin explains. “Getting more people out there, regardless of age or where they live, comfortable using Stories probably makes them more likely to be able to pick up and enjoy Snapchat.”

Snapchat initially announced the plan for App Stories at its Partner Summit exactly a year ago. Unfortunately, its second annual developer conference that was set for this week was cancelled due to coronavirus.

Though advertising spend may be reduced, at least the app has experienced an increase in usage while everyone shelters in place. That includes third-party apps built on its Snap Kit platform that lets developers piggyback on Snapchat’s login, Bitmoji, and camera effects.

“We continue to see incredible growth from established apps like Reddit and Spotify and TikTok, and from startups that are really building from the ground up on Snap Kit like Yolo” Schwerin reveals. “People are spending more time at home and less time with friends. We’re seeing increased usage of Snapchat.”

Snap Kit has allowed Snapchat to rally would-be copycats into a legion of allies as it fights to stave off the Facebook empire. That strategy combined with a high-performance rebuild of its Android app for the developing world led Snapchat’s share price to grow from $11.36 a year ago to a recent high of $18.98 before coronavirus dragged it almost all the way back down.

Now, when people shoot a photo or video in the Snapchat camera, they’ll get options to share it not just to their Story or Snap Map and the crowdsourced community Stories, but also to their Story within other apps integrated with Snap Kit. Users will see options to syndicate their Story to products equipped with App Stories where they’re already logged in.

Unlike on Snapchat where Stories disappear after 24 hours, they default to a 7-day expiration in other App Stories. That relieves users of having to constantly post ephemeral Snaps to keep their dating or social app profiles stocked with biographical content.

In Hily, Snapchat Stories partially replaces the homegrown version it’d spun up in the meantime to show potential dates off-the-cuff looks at people’s lives. In Triller, users can tap on a content creator’s profile pic to see biographical Stories instead of just their polished music videos. In Squad, users can co-watch Stories along with other things to screenshare. And in Octi, users can see someone’s Snapchat Story amongst other hidden content revealed by its augmented reality camera.

One app missing is Tinder, which Snapchat originally previewed as its launch partner at the App Stories reveal last year. Tinder is using Snapchat’s Bitmoji stickers, but may have gotten cold feet about Stories. The fact that Snap is only now launching App Stories, and still hasn’t officially launched Ad Kit that lets it inject its ads into other apps and split revenue with developers, shows it’s taking time to adjust to its platform strategy after years of shunning outside integrations. It still won’t reveal the revenue percentage split it’s applying to Ad Kit.

For Snapchat to gain momentum it needs two things: a constant influx of new users, eager to use its augmented reality camera and Bitmoji wherever they’re available, and more impressions to monetize with ads after Instagram stole the Stories use case for untold millions of older users. App Stories could help with both.

“The proliferation of stories as the primary way to share video content on mobile we think is a good thing” Schwerin concludes. But Snap has sat by idly as it’s served as the R&D lab for Facebook’s product. Now Snapchat needs to own the viewership and the ad dollars that Stories generate everywhere other than Facebook. Just coining the concept doesn’t bring in cash.

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Snapchat’s Zenly launches shelter-in-place leaderboard

Posted by | Apps, coronavirus, COVID-19, danny trinh, Health, location sharing, Mobile, Snapchat, Social, TC, Zenly | No Comments

Snapchat’s location-sharing app acquisition Zenly has gamified shelter-in-place during the COVID-19 outbreak. Today the app launched its Stay At Home challenge that shows a leaderboard of which friends have spent the most percentage of the last three days in their homes. Users can see who’s social distancing the best and share stickers of the scoreboard and coronavirus prevention tips to Snapchat, Instagram and other apps.

Location apps like Zenly that typically encourage users to go out and explore the world suddenly lost most of their purpose due to the widespread order for people to self-quarantine. They even might have incentivized people to disobey those orders. But by building a game around isolation, Zenly could make it cool to show off how you’re NOT grabbing coffee, visiting friends or taking a walk down Main Street.

Zenly’s CEO Antoine Martin announced the feature this morning, and credited a tweet I posted on March 15 calling for developers to build a gamified quarantine app as the inspiration. The quick work and rapid deployment was spearheaded by Danny Trinh, the renowned designer of Path who joined the company last year. TechCrunch broke the news back in June 2018 that Snapchat had acquired Zenly for $213 million plus retention bonuses.

👏🏼@thek3vinkim @TurnerNovak @GillesPoupardin @LucasLambertini @nicolasfallourd for staying home!

And thanks @JoshConstine for the idea leading to this feature!

— Antoine Martin (@an21m) March 24, 2020

Beyond Zenly’s version of “Pokemon No Go,” the app is also offering tips for containing coronavirus and a link to World Health Organization info. You can also attach a surgical mask to your profile pic to let your friends know you’re taking social distancing seriously.

What could really make a difference in convincing people to do their part to fight this worldwide pandemic, though, is Zenly’s coronavirus lens for its map that it released last week. It lets you look around the world and see the number of confirmed cases and recoveries in each country or state. Zenly updates the data three times per day based on the The John Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering. The map also overlays info from the WHO, the Netherlands’ BNO News, China’s DXY and this crowdsourced GitHub.

We’ve asked if there are any plans to launch similar features on Snap Map, which was inspired by Zenly. To date, Snapchat has mostly allowed its acquisition to operate independently from its existing headquarters in Paris.

“During these tough times, millions of people are turning to Zenly as a source of information and connection, so that they can feel close to friends and family even when social distancing is keeping them apart,” says Martin. “While spending too much time at home could be perceived as uncool, we wanted to flip the narrative to make it something that our community would be proud of and do our part in stopping the spread.” Foursquare founder Dennis Crowley told me his company was looking for a way to build its own quarantine gamification, and now has complimented Zenly on its execution, calling it “clever and awesome and beautiful.”

Knowing what’s happening around the globe might reinforce the gravity of our situation and that people can’t just go about their normal routine. We all have to battle this together, even if we’re stuck apart. Thanks to Zenly, social distancing just got a lot more social.

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Instagram prototypes Snapchat-style disappearing text messages

Posted by | Apps, ephemeral messaging, Facebook, instagram, Instagram Direct, Mobile, Snapchat, Snapchat Clone, Social, TC, WhatsApp | No Comments

Instagram is finally preparing to copy Snapchat’s most popular feature, and one of the few it hasn’t already cloned. Instagram has prototyped an unreleased ephemeral text messaging feature that clears the chat thread whenever you leave it, a Facebook spokesperson confirms to TechCrunch. That could make users more comfortable with having rapid-fire, silly, vulnerable, or risque chats, thereby driving up the reply notifications that keep people opening Instagram all day long.

Instagram already has disappearing photo and video messaging which it launched in February 2018 to let users choose if chat partners can “view once”, “allow replay” multiple times for a limited period, or “keep in chat” permanently. Technically you could use the Create mode for overlaying words on a colored background to send an ephemeral text, but otherwise you have to use the “Unsend” feature which notifies other people in the thread.

But today, reverse engineering specialist and TechCrunch’s favorite tipster Jane Manchun Wong unearthed something new. Buried in the code of the Android app is the a new “🙊” mode, labeled in the code with the ‘speak-no-evil’ monkey emoji.

How Instagram Disappearing Messages Work

When users enter this mode by swiping up from Instagram Direct message thread, they’re brought to a dark mode messaging window that starts as an empty message thread. When users close this window, any messages from them or their chat partners disappear. The feature works similarly to Snapchat, which clears a chat after all members of a thread have viewed it and closed the chat window.

Here’s how Instagram disappearing messages work

The ephemeral messaging feature is not currently not publicly available but a Facebook spokesperson confirms to me that they are working on it internally. “We’re always exploring new features to improve your messaging experience. This feature is still in early development and not testing externally.” The company later tweeted the confirmation. They gave no indication of a timeline for if or when this might officially launch. Some features never make it out of the prototype phase, but others including many spotted by Wong end up being rolled out several months later.

Instagram has seen great success using Snapchat as a product R&D lab. Instagram’s version of Stories rocketed to 500 million daily users compared to just 218 million users on Snapchat as a whole.

But ephemeral messaging has kept Snapchat relevant. Back in late 2017, just 51 million of Snapchat’s 178 million users were posting Stories per day, and that was when Instagram Stories was still in its first year on the market. According to Statista, Snapchat’s top use case is staying in touch with friends and family, not entertainment.

Instagram Stories caused Snapchat to start shrinking at one point, but now it’s growing healthily again. That may signaled that Instagram still had more work to do to steal Snap’s thunder. But Instagram’s existing version of ephemeral messaging that is clunkier, Facebook scrapped a trial of a similar feature, and WhatsApp’s take that started testing in October hasn’t rolled out yet.

That’s left teens to stick with Snapchat for fast-paced communication they don’t have to worry about coming back to haunt them. If Instagram successfully copies this feature too, it could reduce the need for people to stay on Snapchat while making Instagram Direct more appealing to a critical audience. Every reply and subsequent alert draws users deeper into Facebook’s web.

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Instagram uses its power to put coronavirus tips atop feed

Posted by | Apps, coronavirus, COVID-19, Government, Health, instagram, Mobile, Snapchat, Social, TC | No Comments

Instagram is embracing its potential as a news source, employing its ubiquity to distribute coronavirus prevention techniques through a new call-out at the top of its homescreen feed. In some countries, Instagram will show a link to information from the World Health Organization and local health ministries, along with a message like this: “Help Prevent the Spread of Coronavirus: See the latest information from the World Health Organization so you can help prevent the spread of COVID-19. — Go to”.

An Instagram spokesperson tells TechCrunch that the notice will start appearing in countries that have seen significant impact from the virus.

Additionally, Instagram is preventing users from searching for COVID-19-related augmented reality effects unless they were made in partnership with legitimate health organizations. This could limit the spread of disinformation or insensitive jokes about the virus. Instagram was already sending false information to fact checkers and listing official health sources atop the search results for coronavirus-related queries.

To help the company stay focused, Facebook is also shutting down the MSQRD app it acquired in 2016 to jumpstart is AR face filters feature. MSQRD will become unavailable on April 13th, though its tech is already fully integrated into Facebook and Instagram.

Meanwhile, on Snapchat, the company prohibits partners from sharing misinformation, relying on its closed platform to prevent the false news hoaxes that have plagued open platforms like Facebook. Snapchat is also highlighting health information shared by its Discover partners, including NBC’s Stay Tuned, Sky News, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, CNN and NowThis. Those include (these links may only open to content on mobile):

  • Washington Post explained the proper way to wash your hands
  • WSJ looked at how COVID-19 spread across the world
  • SkyNews Explains (UK) breaks down how to self-isolate 

These are smart efforts by social platforms that know they might get opened by more people more often than some traditional news sources. With over 1 billion monthly users on Instagram and over 200 million daily users on Snapchat, they have the power to spread vital information and act as a new form of the emergency broadcast system.


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All the startups threatened by iOS 14’s new features

Posted by | Apple, Apps, augmented reality, Blippar, Developer, eCommerce, Future, hardware, Health, iOS 14, Mobile, Snapchat, Startups, sweat, TC, tile, Vellum, Wearables | No Comments

Fitness, wallpaper, and lost item-finding startups could have a big new competitor baked into everyone’s iPhones. Leaks of the code from iOS 14 that Apple is expected to reveal in June signal several new features and devices are on the way. Startups could be at risk due to Apple’s ability to integrate these additions at the iOS level, instantly gain an enormous install base and offer them for free or cheap, as long as they boost sales of its main money maker, the iPhone.

It’s unclear if all of these fresh finds will actually get official unveiling in June versus further down the line. But here’s a breakdown of what the iOS 14 code obtained by 9To5Mac’s Chance Miller shows and which startups could be impacted by Apple barging into their businesses:

Fitness – Codename: Seymour

Apple appears to be preparing a workout guide app for iOS, WatchOS and Apple TV that would let users download instructional video clips for doing different exercises. The app could potentially be called Fit or Fitness, according to MacRumors‘ Juli Clover, and offer help with stretching, core training, strength training, running, cycling, rowing, outdoor walking, dance and yoga. The Apple Watch appears to help track your progress through the workout routines.

Icons for Apple’s fitness feature from the iOS 14 code

The iOS Health app is already a popular way to track steps and other fitness goals. By using Health to personalize or promote a new Fitness feature, Apple has an easy path to a huge user base. Many people are afraid of weight and strength training because there’s a lot to learn about having proper form to avoid injury or embarrassment. Visual guides with videos shot from multiple angles could make sure you’re doing those pushups or bicep curls correctly.

Apple’s entrance into fitness could endanger startups like Future, which offer customized workout routines with video clips demonstrating how to do each exercise. The $11.5 million-funded Future actually sends you an Apple Watch with its $150 per month service to track your progress while using visuals, sounds and vibrations to tell you when to switch exercises without having to look at your phone. By removing Future’s human personal trainers that text to nag you if you don’t work out, Apple could offer a simplified version of this startup’s app for free.

Apple Fitness could be even more trouble for less premium apps like Sweat and Sworkit that provide basic visual guidance for workouts, or Aaptiv that’s restricted to just audio cues. Hardware startups like Peloton, which offers off-bike Beyond the Ride workouts with live or on-demand class, and Tempo’s giant 3D-sensing in-home screen for weight lifting, could also find casual customers picked off by a free or cheap alternative from Apple.

There’s no code indicating a payment mechanism, so Apple Fitness could be free. But it’s also easy to imagine Apple layering on a premium feature like remote personal training assistance from human experts or a wider array of exercises for a fee, tying into its increasing focus on services revenue.

Wallpapers – access for third-parties

The iPhone’s current wallpaper selector

In iOS 14, it appears that Apple will offer new categorizations for wallpapers beyond the existing Dynamic (slowly shifting), Still and Live (move when touched) options. Apple’s always only offered a few native wallpapers plus the option to pull one from your camera roll. But the iOS 14 code suggests Apple may open this up to third-party providers.

A wallpaper “store” could be both a blessing and a curse for entrepreneurs in the space. It could endanger sites and apps like Vellum, Unsplash, Clarity, WLPPR and Walli that aggregate wallpapers for browsing, purchase or download. Instead, Apple could make itself the ultimate aggregator by being built directly into the wallpaper settings. But for creators of beautiful wallpaper images, iOS 14 could potentially offer a new distribution method where their collections could be available straight from where users install their phone backgrounds.

The big question will be whether Apple merely works with a few providers to add wallpaper packs for free, does financially backed deals to bring in providers or creates a full-blown marketplace for wallpapers where creators can sell their imagery like developers do apps. By turning this formerly free feature into a marketplace, Apple could also start earning a cut of sales to add to its services revenue.

AirTags – find your stuff

Apple appears to be getting closer to launching its long-awaited AirTags, based on iOS 14 code snippets. These small tracking tags could be attached to your wallet, keys, gadgets or other important or easily lost items, and then located using the iOS Find My app. AirTags may be powered by removable coin-shaped batteries, according to MacRumors.

Native integration with iOS could make AirTags super-easy to set up. They also could benefit from the ubiquity of Apple devices, as the company could let the crowd help find your stuff by allowing AirTags to piggyback on the connectivity of any of its phones, tablets or laptops to send you the missing item’s coordinates.

Most obviously, AirTags could become a powerful competitor to the vertical’s long-standing frontrunner, Tile. The $104 million-funded startup sells $20 to $35 tracking tags that locate devices from 150 to 400 feet away. It also sells a $30 per year subscription for free battery replacements and 30-day location history. Other players in the space include Chipolo, Orbit and MYNT.

But as we saw with the launch of AirPods, Apple’s design expertise and native iOS integrations can allow its products to leapfrog what’s in the market. If AirTags get proprietary access to the iPhone’s Bluetooth and other connectivity hardware, and if they’re quicker to set up, Apple fans might jump from startups to these new devices. Apple also could develop a similar premium subscription for battery or full AirTag replacements, as well as bonus tracking features.

Augmented reality scanning – Codename: Gobi

iOS 14 includes code for a new augmented reality feature that lets users scan places or potentially items in the real world to pull up helpful information. The code indicates Apple is testing the feature, codenamed Gobi, at Apple Stores and Starbucks to let users see product, pricing and comparison info, according to 9To5Mac’s Benjamin Mayo. Gobi can recognize QR-style codes for specific locations like a certain shop, triggering a companion augmented reality experience.

It appears that an SDK would allow partners to build their own AR offerings and generate the QR codes that initiate them. Eventually, these capabilities could be extended from Apple’s mobile devices to the AR headset it’s working on so you’d instantly get a heads-up display of information when you entered the right place.

Apple moving to power lighter-weight AR experiences rather than just offering the AR Kit infrastructure for developers to build full-fledged apps could create competition for a range of startups and other tech giants. The whole point of augmented reality is that it’s convenient to explore hidden experiences in the real world, which is defeated if users have to know to download and then wait to install a different app for every place or product. Creating a central AR app for simpler experiences that load instantly could speed up adoption.

Snapchat’s Scan AR platform

Startups like Blippar have been working on AR scanning for years in hopes of making consumer packaged goods or retail locations come alive. But again, the need to download a separate app and remember to use it has kept these experiences out of the mainstream. Snapchat’s Scan platform can similarly trigger AR effects based on specific items from a more popular app. And teasers of Facebook and Google’s eventual augmented reality hardware and software hinge on adding utility to every day life.

If Apple can build this technology into everyone’s iPhone cameras, it could surmount one of AR’s biggest distribution challenges. That might help it build out a developer ecosystem and train customers to seek out AR so they’re all ready when its AR glasses finally arrive.

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How Hoop hit #2 with its Tinder for Snapchat

Posted by | Apps, dating, Developer, hoop, Mobile, people discovery, Snap Kit, Snapchat, Snapchat Platform, Social, Startups, TC, Tinder | No Comments

Snapchat’s developer platform is blowing up as a gateway to teen social app users. Hoop is the latest Snap Kit blockbuster, rocketing to No. 2 on the overall App Store charts this month with its Tinder -esque swiping interface for discovering people and asking to message with them over Snapchat. Within a week of going viral, unfunded French startup Dazz saw Hoop score 2.5 million downloads.

The fact that such a dumbfoundingly simple and already ubiquitous style of app was able to climb the charts so fast demonstrates the potential of Snap Kit to drive user lock-in for Snapchat. Because the developer platform lets other apps piggyback on its login system and Bitmoji avatars, it creates new reasons for users to set up a Snapchat account and keep using it. It’s the same strategy that made Facebook an entrenched part of the internet, but this time it’s for a younger crowd.

In the first-ever interview about Hoop, Dazz’s 26-year-old co-founders Lucas Gervais and Alexi Pourret reveal that the idea came from watching user patterns in their previous experiment on the Snap Kit platform. They built an app called Dazz in 2018 that let users create polls and get anonymous answers from friends, but they noticed their 250,000 users “always ended up adding each other on Snap. So we decided to create Hoop, the app to make new Snap friends,” Gervais tells me.

Gervais and Pourret have been friends since age two, growing up in small town in France. They met their two developers in high school, and are now marketing students at university. With Hoop, they say the goal was to “meet everyone’s needs, from connecting people from different cultures to helping lonely people to feel better to simply growing your Snapchat community.”

The Dazz / Hoop team (from left): Developers Julien Maire & Teddy Vallar, co-founders Alexi Pourret & Lucas Gervais

At first, Hoop for iOS or Android looks just like Tinder. You create an account with some photos and bio information, and start swiping through profiles. If you like someone, you tap a Snapchat button to request their Snap username so you can message them.

But then Hoop reveals its savvy virality and monetization strategy. Rather than being able to endlessly “swipe right” and approach people, Hoop limits your asks by making you spend its in-app “diamonds” currency to reach out. After about 10 requests to chat, you’ll have to earn more diamonds. You do that by sharing and getting friends to open your invite link to the app, adding people on Snapchat that you meet on Hoop, logging in each day, taking a survey, watching a video ad and completing offers by signing up for streaming services or car insurance providers. It also trades diamonds for rating Hoop in the App Store, though that might run afoul of Apple’s rules.

Those tactics helped Hoop climb as high as No. 2 on the overall iOS chart and No. #1 on the Social Apps chart on January 24th. It’s now at No. 83 overall and No. 7 in social, putting it above apps like Discord, LinkedIn, Skype and new Vine successor Byte. Hoop had more than 3 million installs as of a week ago.

There are certainly some concerns, though. Gervais claims that “We are not a meeting or dating app. We simply offer an easy way to make new Snap friends.” But because Tinder isn’t available for people under 18, they might be looking to Hoop instead. Thankfully, adults can’t see profiles of users under 18, and vice versa, and users only see potential matches in their age group. However, users can edit their age at any time.

Snap Kit keeps startups lean

Tools like Amazon’s AWS have made building a startup with a lean team and little money increasingly easy. Snap Kit’s ability to let developers skip the account creation and management process is another step in that direction. But the power to imbue overnight virality is something even Facebook never accomplished, though it helped build empires for developers like Zynga.

Another Snap Kit app called Yolo for receiving anonymous responses to questions shot up to No. 1 in May. Seven months later, it’s still at No. 51. That shows Snap Kit can offer longevity, not just flash-in-the-pan download spikes. Gervais calls the platform “a very powerful tool for developers.”

Three years ago I wrote that Snapchat’s anti-developer attitude was a liability. It needed to become a platform with a cadre of allies that could strengthen its role as an identity platform for teens, and insulate it against copycats like Facebook. That’s exactly what it did. By letting other apps launch themselves using its accounts, Stories and Bitmoji, they wouldn’t need to copy its social graph, sharing format or avatars, and instead would drive attention to the originals.

If Snap can keep building useful developer tools, perhaps by adding to its platform real-world object scanning, augmented reality filters and video calling, a Snapchat account could become a must-have for anyone who wants to use the next generation of apps. Then could come the crown jewel of a platform: discovery and virality. By building a section for promoting Snap Kit apps into Snapchat Discover, developers looking for shortcuts in both engineering and growth might join Evan Spiegel’s army.

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Snapchat hits 218M users but big Q4 losses sink share price

Posted by | Advertising Tech, Apps, augmented reality, Earnings, Evan Spiegel, lawsuit, Mobile, snap inc, Snapchat, Snapchat earnings, Social, TC | No Comments

Snapchat still isn’t profitable nearly two years after its IPO. In Q4 2019, Snap lost $241 million on 560.8 million in revenue that’s up 44% year-over-year and an EPS of $0.03. That comes from adding 8 million daily users to reach a total of 218, up 3.8% this quarter from 210 million and 17% year-over-year.

The big problem was a one-time $100 million legal settlement that pushed it to lose $49 million more in Q4 2019 than Q4 2018. That comes from a shareholders lawsuit claiming Snap didn’t adequately disclose the impact of competition from Facebook on its business. The IPO was soured by weak user growth as people shifted from Snapchat Stories to Instagram Stories.

A rough Q4

Snapchat had a mixed quarter compared to estimates, exceeding the EPS predicitions but falling short on revenue. FactSet’s consensus predicted $563 million in revenue and a loss of $0.12 EPS. Estimize’s consensus came in at $568 million in revenue and an EPS gain of $0.02.

Snapchat shares plunged over 10% in after-hours trading following the announcement. Shares had closed up 4.17% at $18.99 today. That’s up from a low of $4.99 in December 2018 when its user count was shrinking under competition from Instagram Stories. It’s now hovering around its $17 IPO price but it’s still under its post-IPO pop to $27.09.

Snap gave stronger than expected revenue guidance for Q1 2020 of $450 million to $470 million, and 224 million to 225 million users. The company’s CFO Derek Anderson says that “Q4 marked our first quarter of Adjusted EBITDA profitability at $42 million for the quarter, an improvement of $93 million over the prior year.” Still, he predicts an Adjusted EBITDA in Q1 of negative $90 million to negative $70 million. That’s manageable for Snap without raising more money, since it now has $2.1 billion in cash and marketable securities, down $148 million quarter-after-quarter.

Snapchat 2020

“Throughout the course of 2019, we added 31 million daily active users, largely driven by investments in our core product and improvements to our Android application “said Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel . “We’ve recently completed our 2020 strategic planning process and have aligned our teams and resources around our goals of supporting real friendships on Snapchat, expanding our service to a broader global community, investing in our AR and content platforms, and scaling revenue while achieving profitability in order to self-fund our investments in the future.”

Some other highlights:

  • 1.3 trillion Snaps were created in 2019
  • The average Snapchat user engages for 30 minutes per day,
  • Snapchat reaches 90% of US 13 to 24 year-olds and over 75% of 13 to 34 year-olds
  • Total daily time spent by Snapchatters watching Discover increased by 35% year-over-year, and its up 60% for users over the age of 25
  • Over 50 Snapchat shows reached a monthly audience of 10 million viewers or more
  • 75% of users engage with augmented reality per day
  • 20% of Snaps sent with an AR lens were made with commununity-developed lenses
  • 5X more users open the Lens Explorer now versus a year ago, and 10% of users open it every day

Snapchat’s user growth has been on tear thanks to international penetration, especially in India, after it re-engineered its Android app for developing markets. It gained users in all markets. Crucially, it raised its average revenue per user 23% from $2.09 in Q4 2018 to $2.58, though only from $1.24 to $1.35 in the Rest Of World region where it’s growing user count the fastest. Snap will need to figure out how to squeeze more cash out of the international market to offset the costs of streaming tons of video to these users.

Q4 saw Snapchat readying several new products that could help boost engagement and therefore ad views. Cameos, first reported by TechCrunch, lets users graft their face onto an actor in an animated GIF like a lightweight Deepfake. Bitmoji TV, which won’t run ads initially but could drive attention to Snapchat Discover, offers zany four-minute cartoons that star your Bitmoji avatar. We could see a bump to engagement from these starting in Q1 2020.

To retain its augmented reality filter creators, Snapchat has pledged $750,000 in payouts in 2020. It’s also expanded the use of product catalog ads, and now lets advertisers buy longer skippable ads.

Outside of the legal settlement, Snapchat is inching closer to profitability but still has a ways to go. It’s managed to develop a strong synergy between its popular chat feature that’s tougher to monetize, and the Stories and Discover content where it can inject ads. The big question is whether Facebook Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp will get more serious about ephemeral messaging that’s at the core of Snapchat. If it can hold onto the market and maintain its place as where teens talk, it could ride out its costs and build revenue until it’s sustainable for the long-term.

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