Software

Chat app Line’s games business raises $110M for growth opportunities

Posted by | anchor equity partners, Apps, Asia, Fundings & Exits, game publisher, Gaming, Indonesia, Japan, Kakao, korea, line, line corp, messaging apps, Nintendo, north america, Software, taiwan, TC, Thailand, Ticket Monster | No Comments

Messaging app firm Line has given up majority control of its Line Games business after it raised outside financing to expand its collection of titles and go after global opportunities.

The Line Games business was formed earlier this year when Line merged its existing gaming division from NextFloor, the Korea-based game publisher that it acquired in 2017. Now the business has taken on capital from Anchor Equity Partners, which has provided 125 billion KRW ($110 million) in financing via its Lungo Entertainment entity, according to a disclosure from Line.

A Line spokesperson clarified that the deal will see Anchor acquire 144,743 newly created shares to take a 27.55 percent stake in Line Games. That increase means Line Corp’s own shareholding is diluted from 57.6 percent to a minority 41.73 percent stake.

Korea-based Anchor is best known for a number of deals in its homeland, including investments in e-commerce giant Ticket Monster, Korean chat giant Kakao’s Podotree content business and fashion retail group E-Land.

Line operates its eponymous chat app, which is the most popular messaging platform in Japan, Thailand and Taiwan, and also significantly used in Indonesia, but gaming is a major source of income. This year to date, Line has made 28.5 billion JPY ($250 million) from its content division, which is primarily virtual goods and in-app purchases from its social games. That division accounts for 19 percent of Line’s total revenue, and it is a figure that is only better by its advertising unit, which has grossed 79.3 billion JPY, or $700 million, in 2018 to date.

The games business is currently focused on Japan, Korea, Thailand and Taiwan, but it said that the new capital will go toward finding new IP for future titles and identifying games with global potential. It is also open to more strategic deals to broaden its focus.

While Line has always been big on games, Line Games isn’t just building for its own service. The company said earlier this year that it plans to focus on non-mobile platforms, which will include the Nintendo Switch among others consoles.

That comes from the addition of NextFloor, which is best known for titles like Dragon Flight and Destiny Child. Dragon Flight has racked up 14 million users since its 2012 launch; at its peak it saw $1 million in daily revenue. Destiny Child, a newer release in 2016, topped the charts in Korea and has been popular in Japan, North America and beyond.

Line went public in 2016 via a dual U.S.-Japan IPO that raised more than $1 billion.

Note: The original version of this article was updated to clarify that Lungo Entertainment is buying newly issued shares.

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WhatsApp is finally adding stickers

Posted by | Android, Apps, Brian Acton, computing, Facebook, Jan Koum, social media, social network, Software, sticker, WhatsApp | No Comments

WhatsApp is finally adding stickers to its hugely popular messaging app. The company said today that support for stickers will roll out to Android and iOS users over “the coming weeks.”

Initially, the app’s 1.5 billion users will have a seemingly limited selection with the first packs provided by WhatsApp’s own design team and some “other artists” chosen by the company.

However, that’s likely to change in the future since WhatsApp will allow anyone to add stickers that can be used inside the app.

It’s taking an interesting route to enabling that. Would-be sticker artists will need to publish their packs as an app on the Google Play or Apple App Store. From there, users can download the apps and then make use of the packs inside WhatsApp. The company has provided a template that it claims requires “minimal development or coding experience.”

A full guide on the sticker submission process can be found here.

Other messaging apps have taken a different approach.

Line — which pioneered the concept of stickers — takes a very curated approach, with sticker packs approved by the company itself. That walled garden approach has helped it curate the best selection of stickers, many of which are paid. That’s nothing to be scoffed as since Line makes hundreds of millions of dollars from sticker purchases every year.

Telegram has the most open sticker platform. Anyone can make and publish stickers in just minutes, but that leads to its own problems such as plagiarism and differing levels of quality.

Either way, WhatsApp’s move into stickers is very much a Facebook -led move.

The service’s founders — Jan Koum and Brian Acton — have both left the social network under controversial terms, at least according to Acton himself.

Prior to the acquisition deal, both men were very vocally opposed to advertising, games and other functions. They deemed them trivial and believed that they detracted from the core focus of WhatsApp: simple and fast messaging.

At this point, their ethical ship has long since sailed with Facebook introducing features like a business service and ad integrations with Facebook, while there are plans to roll out payments and other features that Koum and Acton would no doubt have railed against. It’s enough to make you vomit over the side of your yacht in the Mediterranean.

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The Freewrite Traveler offers distraction-free writing for the road

Posted by | cloud applications, computing, Dropbox, E Ink, Gadgets, indiegogo, Laptop, Software, TC, traveler, typewriter, word processor, writing | No Comments

If you’ve ever tried to write something long – a thesis, a book, or a manifesto outlining your disappointment in the modern technocracy and your plan to foment violent revolution – you know that distractions can slow you down or even stop the creative process. That’s why the folks at Astrohaus created the Freewrite, a distraction-free typewriter, and it’s always why they are launching the Traveler, a laptop-like word processor that’s designed for writing and nothing else.

The product, which I saw last week, consists of a hearty, full-sized keyboard and an E ink screen. There are multiple “documents” you can open and close and the system autosaves and syncs to services like Dropbox automatically. The laptop costs $279 on Indiegogo and will have a retail price of $599.

The goal of the Freewrite Traveler is to give you a place to write. You pull it out of your bag, open it, and start typing. That’s it. There are no Tweets, Facebook sharing systems, or games. It lasts for four weeks on one charge – a bold claim but not impossible – and there are some improvements to the editing functions including virtual arrow keys that let you move up and down in a document as you write. There are also hotkeys to bring up ancillary information like outlines, research, or notes.

If the Traveler is anything like the original Freewrite then you can expect some truly rugged hardware. I tested an early model and the entire thing was built like a tank or, more correctly, like a Leica. Because it is aimed at the artistic wanderer, the entire thing weighs two pounds and is about as big as the collected stories of Raymond Carver.

Is it for you? Well, if you liked the original Freewrite or even missed the bandwagon when it first launched, you might really enjoy the Traveler. Because it is small and light it could easily become a second writing device for your more creative work that you pull out in times of pensive creativity. It is not a true word processor replacement, however, and it is a “first-thought-best-thought” kind of tool, allowing you to get words down without much fuss. I wouldn’t recommend it for research-intensive writing but you could easily sketch out almost any kind of document on the Traveler and then edit it on a real laptop.

There aren’t many physical tools to support distraction-free writing. Some folks, myself included, have used the infamous AlphaSmart, a crazy old word processor used by students or simply set up laptops without a Wi-Fi connection. The Freewrite Traveler takes all of that to the next level by offering the simplest, clearest, and most distraction-free system available. Given it’s 50% off right now on Indiegogo it might be the right time to take the plunge.

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Google’s Wear OS gets a new look

Posted by | Android, Assistant, Gadgets, Google, Google Assistant, Mobile, operating system, smartphone, smartphones, smartwatches, Software, TC, wear os | No Comments

Wear OS, Google’s smartwatch operating system that was once called Android Wear, is getting a new look today. Google says the overall idea here is to give you quicker access to information and more proactive help. In line with the Google Fit redesign, Wear OS now also provides you with the same kind of health coaching as the Android app.

In practice, this means you can now swipe through multiple notifications at once, for example. Previously, you had to go from one notifications card to the next, which sound minor but was indeed a bit of a hassle. Like before, you bring up the new notifications feed by swiping up. If you want to reply or take any other action, you tap the notification to bring up those options.

Wear OS is also getting a bit of a Google Now replacement. Simply swipe right and the Google Assistant will bring up the weather, your flight status, hotel notifications or other imminent events. Like in most other Assistant-driven interfaces, Google will also use this area to help you discover other Assistant features like setting timers (though I think everybody knows how to use the Assistant to set a time given that I’m sure that’s 90% of Assistant usage right there).

As for Google Fit, it doesn’t come as a surprise that Wear OS is adapting the same circle design with Hear Points and Move Minutes as the Android app. On a round Wear OS watch, that design actually looks quite well.

While this obviously isn’t a major break from previous versions, we’re definitely talking about quality-of-life improvements here that do make using Wear OS just that little bit easier.

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Google Fit gets a redesign, adds Heart Points and coaching

Posted by | activity trackers, Android, Apps, Endomondo, Google, Google Fit, Mobile, mobile software, myfitnesspal, RunKeeper, smartwatches, Software, Sports, Strava, TC | No Comments

Google Fit is getting a major update today. The company’s activity tracking app has been around for a few years now but until today, it pretty much worked and looked that same as on the day it launched. Today’s redesign is quite a departure from that old look and feel, though, and it also introduces quite a few new features that help take the service in a new direction.

The most obvious new feature in the new version is that instead of only focusing on active minutes (or ‘Move Minutes’ as they are called now), Google has now introduced the concept of Heart Points. With this, you don’t just score points for moving, the app will also reward you for activities that actually get your heart beating a bit faster. Google Fit will give you one point for every minute of moderate activity and double points for more intense activities (think running or kickboxing). You won’t be able to buy anything with those points, but you’re more likely to live longer, so there’s that.

Like before, Google Fit will automatically track your activities thanks to the sensors in your phone or Wear OS watch. You can always manually add activities, too, or use apps like Strava, Runkeeper, Endomondo and MyFitnessPal to get credit for the workouts you track with them.

What’s also new in this update is actionable coaching, something that was sorely missing from the old version. It remains to be seen how useful this new feature is in day-to-day use, but the idea here is to give you feedback on how active you’ve been throughout the week and help you stay motivated.

What I’m actually the most excited about, though, is the new look and feel. Based on the screenshots Google has shared so far, the app now provides you with far more details at a glance, without having to dig into timelines (which weren’t all that usable in the old version to begin with).

The new version is now rolling out to Android and Wear OS users.

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SNES.party lets you play Super Nintendo with your friends

Posted by | Apps, berlin, computing, Emulator, freeware, Gadgets, google-chrome, Nintendo, nintendo entertainment system, Software, TC, Web applications, web development, webrtc | No Comments

Hot on the heels of the wonderful NES.party comes Haukur Rosinkranz’s SNES.party, a site that lets you play Super Nintendo with all your buds.

Rosinkranz is Icelandic but lives in Berlin now. He made NES.party a year ago while experimenting with WebRTC and WebSockets and he updated his software to support the SNES.

“The reason I made it was simply because I discovered how advanced the RTC implementation in Chrome had become and wanted to do something with it,” he said. “When I discovered that it’s possible to take a video element and stream it over the network I just knew I had to do something cool with this and I came up with the idea of streaming emulators.”

He said it took him six months to build the app and a month to add NES support.

“It’s hard to say how long it took because I basically created my own framework for web applications that need realtime communication between one or more participants,” he said. He is a freelance programmer.

It’s a clever hack that could add a little fun to your otherwise dismal day. Feel like a little Link to the Past? Pop over here and let’s play!

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Musical.ly investor bets on internet radio with $17M deal for Korea’s Spoon Radio

Posted by | Altruist, Apps, Asia, bubble motion, bytedance, djs, Facebook, Fundings & Exits, goodwater capital, instagram, Internet Radio, Japan, korea, Media, Mobile, musical.ly, Singapore, Software, Southeast Asia, Twitter, vietnam | No Comments

One of the early backers of Musical.ly, the short video app that was acquired for $1 billion, is making a major bet that internet radio is one of the next big trends in media.

Goodwater Capital, one of a number of backers that won big when ByteDance acquired Musical.ly last year, has joined forces with Korean duo Softbank Ventures and KB Investment to invest $17 million into Korea’s Spoon Radio. The deal is a Series B for parent company Mykoon, which operates Spoon Radio and previously developed an unsuccessful smartphone battery sharing service.

That’s much like Musical.ly, which famously pivoted to a karaoke app after failing to build an education service.

“We decided to create a service, now known as Spoon Radio, that was inspired by what gave us hope when [previous venture] ‘Plugger’ failed to take off. We wanted to create a service that allowed people to truly connect and share their thoughts with others on everyday, real-life issues like the ups and downs of personal relationships, money, and work.

“Unlike Facebook and Instagram where people pretend to have perfect lives, we wanted to create an accessible space for people to find and interact with influencers that they could relate with on a real and personal level through an audio and pseudo-anonymous format,” Mykoon CEO Neil Choi told TechCrunch via email.

Choi started the company in 2013 with fellow co-founders Choi Hyuk jun and Hee-jae Lee, and today Spoon Radio operates much like an internet radio station.

Users can tune in to talk show or music DJs, and leave comments and make requests in real-time. The service also allows users to broadcast themselves and, like live-streaming, broadcasters — or DJs, as they are called — can monetize by receiving stickers and other virtual gifts from their audience.

Spoon Radio claims 2.5 million downloads and “tens of millions” of audio broadcasts uploaded each day. Most of that userbase is in Korea, but the company said it is seeing growth in markets like Japan, Indonesia and Vietnam. In response to that growth — which Choi said is over 1,000 percent year-on-year — this funding will be used to invest in expanding the service in Southeast Asia, the rest of Asia and beyond.

Audio social media isn’t a new concept.

Singapore’s Bubble Motion raised close to $40 million from investors but it was sold in an underwhelming and undisclosed deal in 2014. Reportedly that was after the firm had failed to find a buyer and been ready to liquidate its assets. Altruist, the India-based mobile services company that bought Bubble Motion has done little to the service. Most changes have been bug fixes and the iOS app, for example, has not been updated for nearly a year.

Things have changed in the last four years, with smartphone growth surging across Asia and worldwide. That could mean different fortunes but there are also differences between the two in terms of strategy.

Bubbly was run like a social network — a ‘Twitter for voice’ — whereas Spoon Radio is focused on a consumption-based model that, as the name suggests, mirrors traditional radio.

“This is mobile consumer internet at its best,” Eric Kim, one of Goodwater Capital’s two founding partners, told TechCrunch in an interview. “Spoon Radio is taking an offline experience that exists in classic radio and making it even better.”

Kim admitted that when he first used the service he didn’t see the appeal — he claimed the same was true for Musical.ly — but he said he changed his tune after talking to listeners and using Spoon Radio. He said it reminded him of being a kid growing up in the U.S. and listening to radio shows avidly.

“It’s a really interesting phenomenon taking off in Asia because of smartphone growth and people being keen for content, but not always able to get video content. It was a net new behavior that we’d never seen before… Musical.ly was in the same bracket as net new content for the new generation, we’ve been paying attention to this category broadly,” Kim — whose firm’s other Korean investments include chat app giant Kakao and fintech startup Toss — explained.

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Gmail for iOS and Android now lets you turn off conversation view

Posted by | Android, computing, email, gmail, Google, Google Allo, mail, outlook.com, Software, TC, webmail | No Comments

When Gmail launched with its threaded conversation view feature as the default and only option, some people sure didn’t like it and Google quickly allowed users to turn it off. On mobile, though, you were stuck with it. But here’s some good news for you conversation view haters: you can now turn it off on mobile, too.

The ability to turn off conversation view is now rolling out to all Gmail app users on iOS and Android . So if you want Gmail to simply show you all emails as they arrive, without grouping them to”make them easier to digest and follow,” you’re now free to do so.

If you’ve always just left conversation view on by default, maybe now is a good time to see if you like the old-school way of looking at your email better. I personally prefer conversation view since it helps me keep track of conversations (and I get too many emails already), but it’s pretty much a personal preference.

To make the change, simply tap on your account name in the Settings menu and look for the “conversation view” check box. That’s it. Peace restored.

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There’s more: Google is also said to be developing a censored news app for China

Posted by | Android, app-store, Apps, artificial intelligence, Asia, Beijing, bytedance, censorshit, China, cloning, computing, Facebook, files go, Google, internet service, JD.com, search app, search engine, Software, Tencent, Toutiao, United States, WeChat, world wide web | No Comments

Can Google’s week get any worse? Less than a day after the revelation that it is planning a censored search engine for China, so comes another: the U.S. firm is said to be developing a government-friendly news app for the country, where its search engine and other services remain blocked.

That’s according to The Information which reports that Google is essentially cloning Toutiao, the hugely popular app from new media startup ByteDance, in a bid to get back into the country and the minds of its 700 million mobile internet users. Like Toutiao, the app would apparently use AI and algorithms to serve stories to readers — as opposed to real-life human editors — while it too would be designed to work within the bounds of Chinese internet censorship.

That last part is interesting because ByteDance and other news apps have gotten into trouble from the government for failing to adequately police the content shared on their platforms. That’s resulted in some app store suspensions, but the saga itself is a rite of passage for any internet service that has gained mainstream option, so there’s a silver lining in there. But the point for Google is that policing this content is not as easy as it may seem.

The Information said the news app is slated for release before the search app, the existence of which was revealed yesterday, but sources told the publication that the ongoing U.S.-China trade war has made things complicated. Specifically, Google executives have “struggled to further engage” China’s internet censor, a key component for the release of an app in China from an overseas company.

There’s plenty of context to this, as I wrote yesterday:

The Intercept’s report comes less than a week after Facebook briefly received approval to operate a subsidiary on Chinese soil. Its license was, however, revoked as news of the approval broke. The company said it had planned to open an innovation center, but it isn’t clear whether that will be possible now.

Facebook previously built a censorship-friendly tool that could be deployed in China.

While its U.S. peer has struggled to get a read on China, Google has been noticeably increasing its presence in the country over the past year or so.

The company has opened an AI lab in Beijing, been part of investment rounds for Chinese companies, including a $550 million deal with JD.com, and inked a partnership with Tencent. It has also launched products, with a file management service for Android distributed via third-party app stores and, most recently, its first mini program for Tencent’s popular WeChat messaging app.

As for Google, the company pointed us to the same statement it issued yesterday:

We provide a number of mobile apps in China, such as Google Translate and Files Go, help Chinese developers, and have made significant investments in Chinese companies like JD.com. But we don’t comment on speculation about future plans.

Despite two-for-one value on that PR message, this is a disaster. Plotting to collude with governments to censor the internet never goes down well, especially in double helpings.

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Google’s Clock app can now wake you up with music from Spotify

Posted by | Android, Apps, computing, Google, Google Allo, Google Play, music services, Software, Spotify, TC, YouTube Music | No Comments

You probably never think about the Google Clock app on your Android phone. And unless you are one of those happy early risers, it’s not exactly an app that brings you joy. But every day, it wakes you right on time, with either some annoying chirps or other sounds that, over time, will stress you out. But stress no more. Google today launched an update to the Clock app that now lets you choose any song or playlist from Spotify to wake you up.

This works for any Android phone running Android 5.0 (Lollipop and up) and you don’t even need a premium Spotify account to use it. A free one will do just fine. This new feature will roll out globally over the course of this week. So if everything goes to plan, you’ll be able to wake up to the soothing sounds of your favorite metal band by next Monday, if not before.

Now, you may think that it’s a bit weird that Google is using Spotify here. Doesn’t the company have its own music service? Or maybe even two, in the form of Google Play Music and YouTube Music? And, of course, you would be correct, because it’s a bit odd to see that Google is supporting a competitor here. But then, Google’s plans for its music services feel about as coherent as those for its messaging services (remember Allo?).

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