Transportation

Simone Giertz’s converted Tesla Model 3 pickup truck is wonderful

Posted by | automotive, Elon Musk, Gadgets, GreenTech, hardware, pickup truck, simone giertz, TC, Tesla, tesla model 3, Transportation | No Comments

YouTuber Simone Giertz, celebrated DIY inventor, roboticist and general maker of cool stuff, decided not to wait for Tesla’s forthcoming pickup truck. Instead, she bought a Tesla Model 3 direct from the company new and then used elbow grease, ingenuity, some help from friends and power tools to turn it into a two-seater with a flatbed.

The amazing thing is, unlike some of the robots Giertz is famous for making, the final product looks terrific — both in terms of the detail work and in terms of its functionality. Giertz also installed a cage over the truck bed, and a tailgate that can double as a work bench. Plus, as you can see from this fake commercial for the so-called “Truckla,” the thing still rips both on and off-road.

Along with her crew, Giertz rented a dedicated workshop to do the build, which took around two weeks and a lot of sawing at the metal chassis. The team had to rebuild crucial components like the roll cage to ensure that the finished product was still safe.

There’s still work to be done in terms of waterproofing, lifting up the vehicle, giving it a paint makeover and more, per Giertz, but the finished product looks amazing, and potentially better than whatever sci-fi nightmare Elon Musk is putting together for the actual Tesla pickup.

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Helium launches $51M-funded ‘LongFi’ IoT alternative to cellular

Posted by | Apps, blockchain, Bluetooth, cryptocurrency, Enterprise, funding, Fundings & Exits, Gadgets, hardware, Helium, IoT, Mobile, Recent Funding, Shawn Fanning, Startups, TC, Transportation, Union Square Ventures, wifi | No Comments

With 200X the range of Wi-Fi at 1/1000th of the cost of a cellular modem, Helium’s “LongFi” wireless network debuts today. Its transmitters can help track stolen scooters, find missing dogs via IoT collars and collect data from infrastructure sensors. The catch is that Helium’s tiny, extremely low-power, low-data transmission chips rely on connecting to P2P Helium Hotspots people can now buy for $495. Operating those hotspots earns owners a cryptocurrency token Helium promises will be valuable in the future…

The potential of a new wireless standard has allowed Helium to raise $51 million over the past few years from GV, Khosla Ventures and Marc Benioff, including a new $15 million Series C round co-led by Union Square Ventures and Multicoin Capital. That’s in part because one of Helium’s co-founders is Napster inventor Shawn Fanning. Investors are betting that he can change the tech world again, this time with a wireless protocol that like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth before it could unlock unique business opportunities.

Helium already has some big partners lined up, including Lime, which will test it for tracking its lost and stolen scooters and bikes when they’re brought indoors, obscuring other connectivity, or their battery is pulled, out deactivating GPS. “It’s an ultra low-cost version of a LoJack” Helium CEO Amir Haleem says.

InvisiLeash will partner with it to build more trackable pet collars. Agulus will pull data from irrigation valves and pumps for its agriculture tech business. Nestle will track when it’s time to refill water in its ReadyRefresh coolers at offices, and Stay Alfred will use it to track occupancy status and air quality in buildings. Haleem also imagines the tech being useful for tracking wildfires or radiation.

Haleem met Fanning playing video games in the 2000s. They teamed up with Fanning and Sproutling baby monitor (sold to Mattel) founder Chris Bruce in 2013 to start work on Helium. They foresaw a version of Tile’s trackers that could function anywhere while replacing expensive cell connections for devices that don’t need high bandwith. Helium’s 5 kilobit per second connections will compete with SigFox, another lower-power IoT protocol, though Haleem claims its more centralized infrastructure costs are prohibitive. It’s also facing off against Nodle, which piggybacks on devices’ Bluetooth hardware. Lucky for Helium, on-demand rental bikes and scooters that are perfect for its network have reached mainstream popularity just as Helium launches six years after its start.

Helium says it already pre-sold 80% of its Helium Hotspots for its first market in Austin, Texas. People connect them to their Wi-Fi and put it in their window so the devices can pull in data from Helium’s IoT sensors over its open-source LongFi protocol. The hotspots then encrypt and send the data to the company’s cloud that clients can plug into to track and collect info from their devices. The Helium Hotspots only require as much energy as a 12-watt LED light bulb to run, but that $495 price tag is steep. The lack of a concrete return on investment could deter later adopters from buying the expensive device.

Only 150-200 hotspots are necessary to blanket a city in connectivity, Haleem tells me. But because they need to be distributed across the landscape, so a client can’t just fill their warehouse with the hotspots, and the upfront price is expensive for individuals, Helium might need to sign up some retail chains as partners for deployment. As Haleem admits, “The hard part is the education.” Making hotspot buyers understand the potential (and risks) while demonstrating the opportunities for clients will require a ton of outreach and slick marketing.

Without enough Helium Hotspots, the Helium network won’t function. That means this startup will have to simultaneously win at telecom technology, enterprise sales and cryptocurrency for the network to pan out. As if one of those wasn’t hard enough.

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Europe publishes common drone rules, giving operators a year to prepare

Posted by | drone, drone regulations, Emerging-Technologies, eu, Europe, european union, Gadgets, Gatwick Airport, robotics, Transportation, unmanned aerial vehicles | No Comments

Europe has today published common rules for the use of drones. The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) says the regulations, which will apply universally across the region, are intended to help drone operators of all stripes have a clear understanding of what is and is not allowed.

Having a common set of rules will also means drones can be operated across European borders without worrying about differences in regulations.

“Once drone operators have received an authorisation in the state of registration, they are allowed to freely circulate in the European Union. This means that they can operate their drones seamlessly when travelling across the EU or when developing a business involving drones around Europe,” writes EASA in a blog post.

Although published today and due to come into force within 20 days, the common rules won’t yet apply — with Member States getting another year, until June 2020, to prepare to implement the requirements.

Key among them is that starting from June 2020 the majority of drone operators will need to register themselves before using a drone, either where they reside or have their main place of business.

Some additional requirements have later deadlines as countries gradually switch over to the new regime.

The pan-EU framework creates three categories of operation for drones — open’ (for low-risk craft of up to 25kg), ‘specific’ (where drones will require authorization to be flown) or ‘certified’ (the highest risk category, such as operating delivery or passenger drones, or flying over large bodies of people) — each with their own set of regulations.

The rules also include privacy provisions, such as a requirement that owners of drones with sensors that could capture personal data should be registered to operate the craft (with an exception for toy drones).

The common rules will replace national regulations that may have already been implemented by individual EU countries. Although member states will retain the ability to set their own no-fly zones — such as covering sensitive installations/facilities and/or gatherings of people, with the regulation setting out the “possibility for Member States to lay down national rules to make subject to certain conditions the operations of unmanned aircraft for reasons falling outside the scope of this Regulation, including environmental protection, public security or protection of privacy and personal data in accordance with the Union law”.

The harmonization of drone rules is likely to be welcomed by operators in Europe who currently face having to do a lot of due diligence ahead of deciding whether or not to pack a drone in their suitcase before heading to another EU country.

EASA also suggests the common rules will reduce the likelihood of another major disruption — such as the unidentified drone sightings that ground flights at Gatwick Airport just before Christmas which stranded thousands of travellers — given the registration requirement, and a stipulation that new drones must be individually identifiable to make it easier to trace their owner.

“The new rules include technical as well as operational requirements for drones,” it writes. “On one hand they define the capabilities a drone must have to be flown safely. For instance, new drones will have to be individually identifiable, allowing the authorities to trace a particular drone if necessary. This will help to better prevent events similar to the ones which happened in 2018 at Gatwick and Heathrow airports. On the other hand the rules cover each operation type, from those not requiring prior authorisation, to those involving certified aircraft and operators, as well as minimum remote pilot training requirements.

“Europe will be the first region in the world to have a comprehensive set of rules ensuring safe, secure and sustainable operations of drones both, for commercial and leisure activities. Common rules will help foster investment, innovation and growth in this promising sector,” adds Patrick Ky, EASA’s executive director, in a statement.

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Google Assistant comes to Waze navigation app

Posted by | Android, Android Auto, Apps, Assistant, automotive, computing, Google, Google-Maps, Lyft, smartphones, Software, TC, Transportation, Uber, United States, waze | No Comments

Ever since Google acquired Waze back in 2013, features from each have been slowly making their way back and forth between it and Google Maps — and today Waze gets a big upgrade with Google Assistant integration, which means you can use the smart voice companion within the app.

Google Assistant in Waze will provide access to your usual Assistant features, like playback of music and podcasts, but it’ll also offer access to many Waze-specific abilities, including letting you ask it to report traffic conditions, or specifying that you want to avoid tolls when routing to your destination.

Google has done a good job of rolling out support for Assistant in its own Android Auto in-car software, and even brought it to Google Maps on Apple’s competing CarPlay system earlier this year. The benefits of having Assistant work natively within Waze are many, but the number one might be its potential to reduce distractions while on the road.

Waze remains a top choice among drivers, and anecdotally most Uber and Lyft drivers I encounter still swear by its supremacy over the competition, including Google’s other own-branded Maps solution.

Google Assistant will be available via a rollout starting today in the U.S., in English only to start and on Android smartphones. Expect that availability to expand over time.

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Uber eats Uber Eats, embedding it in the main app

Posted by | Apps, Collaborative Consumption, food, Mobile, Startups, TC, Transportation, Uber, Uber Eats | No Comments

Uber’s best hope to beat all its ride sharing and food delivery competitors is that it does both. Through cross-promotion, it can combine activities people might only do a few times per week or month into a product they open daily.

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said cryptically on the company’s first earnings call last month that “Suffice it to say we are starting to experiment in ways in which we can upsell our ride customers to Eats deals in a way that — you know, to be plain spoken — isn’t annoying . . . I will tell you that we are very, very early in the stages of exploring the many, many ways in which our Ride business can help continue to build our Eats business and vice versa by the way . . . I don’t want to give away too much.”

But TechCrunch has discovered that specifically, Uber is starting to make a web view of Uber Eats accessible from its main app. A tipster in Boston first clued us in to the feature and now Uber confirms that it’s merging a fully functional web version of Uber Eats into its ride-hailing product. Uber quietly began rolling out a pilot of the merged app in late April. Uber Eats app will remain available as a standalone app.

The move could give Uber a customer acquisition and retention edge on single-product competitors like Lyft or DoorDash, while helping it keep up with multi-product peers like Careem and Bolt (which recently added food delivery), and its biggest global foe Didi from China which just launched food delivery in Uber stronghold Mexico. Combining functionality means Uber’s ride hailing customers could see a promotion for Eats and instantly try it without downloading a new app as their tummy rumbles. It could also get the 50% of Eats customers who don’t ride in Ubers to try it for transportation.

“We’re rolling out a new way to order Eats directly in the Uber app on Android (we’ve already been experimenting on iOS)” an Uber spokesperson tells me. “This cross-promotion gives riders who are new to Eats a seamless way to order a meal via a webview instead of opening up the App Store for download.”

The merged app is now available to all iOS users in cities where Uber doesn’t offer bikes and scooters that already clutter the interface of its car service app such as SF, LA, and NYC. The Android version is out to 17% of riders in Uber Eats’ 500 other markets with the goal of the cross-promotional tool being available to all riders outside of micromobility cities soon.

“We believe our platform model allows us to acquire, engage and retain customers with the cost, as well as efficiency and effectiveness advantage over our rivals, typically monoline competitors” Khosrowshahi said on the earnings call. “What we found is that with Rides and Eats . . . we are seeing early signal where essentially you can have very little if any cannibalization of a Ride and throw a significant amount of potential demand onto the Eats side.”

The CEO also mentioned Uber’s loyalty and subscription programs are vital to cross-promotion. Its Uber Rewards that rolled out in January earns users points for both rides and food orders, and higher reward tiers score users free Eats deliveries that could get them hooked on the convenience. And last month, TechCrunch broke the news of Uber prototyping a $9.99 Uber Eats Pass subscription that offers unlimited free Eats deliveries.

“Really what we are looking to do is significantly increase the percentage of our MAPCs [monthly active platform consumers] that use both products [ride-hailing and Eats] and when we see customers using more than one product, their engagement with the platform more than doubles” Khosrowshahi concluded on the call. “So not only does engagement with Uber increase, but the engagement with our individual products increases as well, so it’s kind of a win, win, win.”

Uber’s market is all about lifetime value. If it can lock users in now, it could earn a fortune off them in the decades to come. That’s why it’s spending so much on marketing and expansion now even if it means racking up earnings losses. But its best (and cheapest) marketing channel is likely cross-promotion through the apps it’s already gotten people to install.

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Google Assistant gets NYC subway arrival times ahead of MTA Google Pay support

Posted by | Google, Google Pay, Google-Maps, Maps, Mobile, MTA, Subway, Transportation | No Comments

Next week, New York City’s Metro Transit Authority will be adding contactless payment support for Google Pay. In the meantime, Google’s getting ready by bringing a key new commuting feature to Android.

Starting today, NYC straphangers can use Google Assistant to find out the ETA of the next train. Saying, “Hey Google, when is the next 4 train arriving?” or “Hey Google, when is the next train?” Will pop up its estimated arrival in each direction, along with walking directions to the closet station. Something I could have used this morning, after narrowly missing the R train.

If you’re located in the New York City area, odds are you’ve already seen the contactless payments pop up in a handful of locations along the 4,5,6 line. Next week, those commuting between Grand Central in Manhattan and Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center in Brooklyn will be able to swipe their phone as part of a public pilot.

For now, at least, it seems the future is limited to single-ride payment (versus daily/weekly/monthly cards), as the MTA works on hammering out the finer details. Stations that accept Google Pay will be added to Maps in coming weeks. Android users will also be able to add a credit or debit card via the app. That feature is also arriving for riders in Melbourne and London.

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Leak reveals Uber’s $9.99 unlimited delivery Eats Pass

Posted by | Apps, food, food delivery, Mobile, payments, postmates unlimited, TC, Transportation, Uber, Uber Eats Pass | No Comments

What’s the cord-cutting equivalent to ditching your kitchen? Uber’s upcoming subscription to unlimited free food delivery. Uber is preparing to launch the $9.99 per month Uber Eats Pass, according to code hidden in Uber’s Android app.

The subscription would waive Uber’s service fee that’s typically 15% of your order cost. Given that’s often $5 or more, users stand to save a lot if they order in frequently. But Uber could still earn money on menu item markups, cover costs with a flat order fee that protects against someone ordering a single taco, and, most importantly, build loyalty and scale at a time of intense food delivery competition.

The Uber Eats Pass was first spotted by Jane Manchun Wong, the notorious reverse-engineering specialist who’s become a frequent TechCrunch tipster. She managed to generate screenshots from Uber’s Android app code that reveals a prototype of the feature. “Get free delivery, any restaurant, any time,” it says, showing the amount of money you could save or already saved.

An Uber spokesperson did not dispute the legitimacy of the findings and told TechCrunch, “We’re always thinking about new ways to enhance the Eats experience.” They declined to provide further details, which could hint that a launch is imminent but some details are still subject to change. For now we don’t know exactly which perks come with an Eats Pass or where it will be launching first.

At $9.99 per month, the Uber Eats Pass would cost the same and work similarly to Postmates Unlimited and DoorDash DashPass. If they all seem like good deals, you see why they’re less about immediate revenue and more about customer lock-in. You’re a lot less likely to order GrubHub or Caviar if you’ve already pre-paid to cover your Uber Eats delivery costs. And whichever apps emerge from this battle will have instituted the scale and steady behavior to raise prices or just enjoy large lifetime value from each subscriber.

Exploring new business opportunities could help perk up Uber’s share price, which closed at $41.50 today, two weeks after IPOing at an opening price of $42. There are fears that intense competition across both ridesharing and food delivery could make for an expensive road ahead for the newly public company. Any way it can gain an edge on its rivals’ users from straying to them is important. The logistics giant is already experimenting with allowing restaurants to offer discounts in exchange for promoted placement in the app, which is the first step to Uber becoming an ads company, where businesses pay for extra exposure.

If Uber combined Eats Pass with its car service subscription Ride Passes, you have the foundation for a sort of Uber Prime experience — one where you pay an upfront subscription fee that scores you perks and discounts but also makes you likely to spend a lot more on Uber. That bundle could be even more central to Uber than Amazon, which has few direct rivals in the west. People will need to eat and get around for the foreseeable future. Subsidizing loyalty now could be costly in the short-term, but poise Uber for years of lucrative business down the line.

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Amazon now sells flight tickets in India

Posted by | Amazon, amazon pay, Android, Asia, Booking.com, Google, india, MakeMyTrip, payments, Paytm, Transportation, zomato | No Comments

Indians can already use Amazon to pay for their mobile bills and borrow money to purchase items, but now there’s more. This week, the e-commerce giant quietly introduced an additional feature to its shopping site: flight tickets.

Amazon has partnered with local travel service ClearTrip to add a flight-booking option to its payment service — Amazon Pay — in India, according to an FAQ posted on its website. The feature, first spotted by news outlet Skift, is available on its Indian website and app.

The addition of plane ticketing underscores Amazon’s growing interest in expanding its payment service in India, which is both one of its fastest-growing markets and a country it uses to test new ideas.

Since launching Amazon Pay in India in late 2016, the company has added myriad features to the service. Amazon Pay today allows Indians to top up their phones, purchase cable TV subscriptions and pay for electricity and water bills. Last month, Amazon announced support for peer-to-peer (P2P) money transfers for users of its Android app. Amazon also plans to soon let users order food from its website, local media reported last month.

The company has also inked deals with other top firms such as movie ticketing site BookMyShow, food delivery startup Swiggy and bus-ticketing startup Redbus to embed Amazon Pay into many popular Indian services. To spur its adoption, the company has offered cashback incentives to those who checkout using Amazon Pay.

The flight ticketing option is not much different. The company is promising a one-time cashback of up to Rs 2,000 ($28.20) for each first booking.

The push comes as many local companies in India and those that operate in the nation begin to mold their apps into so-called super apps. Top mobile wallet service Paytm has expanded to add a number of financial services, including as of this week a credit card, in recent years. India’s ride-hailing service Ola also entered the credit card business this week.

Truecaller, an app that lets users screen for spam calls, has added messaging and payment features in India. The bundling often seems big names work together. For example, Paytm recently partnered with Zomato to test a food-ordering option on the mobile wallet app, a source with knowledge of the partner told TechCrunch.

Amazon’s interest in a flight-ticketing option in India should also help its partner ClearTrip gain a larger foothold in the nation. The company competes with giant MakeMyTrip, Booking.com and Paytm . Google also offers flights in India, though, at the moment, that is limited to search. When it comes to transactions, users are directed to ticketing websites to complete their purchase.

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India’s most popular services are becoming super apps

Posted by | Apps, Asia, China, Cloud, Developer, Facebook, Finance, Flipkart, food, Foodpanda, Gaana, Gaming, grab, haptik, hike, india, MakeMyTrip, Media, Microsoft, microsoft garage, Mobile, Mukesh Ambani, mx player, payments, Paytm, paytm mall, reliance jio, saavn, SnapDeal, Social, Startups, Tapzo, Tencent, Times Internet, Transportation, Truecaller, Uber, Vijay Shekhar Sharma, WeChat | No Comments

Truecaller, an app that helps users screen strangers and robocallers, will soon allow users in India, its largest market, to borrow up to a few hundred dollars.

The crediting option will be the fourth feature the nine-year-old app adds to its service in the last two years. So far it has added to the service the ability to text, record phone calls and mobile payment features, some of which are only available to users in India. Of the 140 million daily active users of Truecaller, 100 million live in India.

The story of the ever-growing ambition of Truecaller illustrates an interesting phase in India’s internet market that is seeing a number of companies mold their single-functioning app into multi-functioning so-called super apps.

Inspired by China

This may sound familiar. Truecaller and others are trying to replicate Tencent’s playbook. The Chinese tech giant’s WeChat, an app that began life as a messaging service, has become a one-stop solution for a range of features — gaming, payments, social commerce and publishing platform — in recent years.

WeChat has become such a dominant player in the Chinese internet ecosystem that it is effectively serving as an operating system and getting away with it. The service maintains its own “app store” that hosts mini apps. This has put it at odds with Apple, though the iPhone-maker has little choice but to make peace with it.

For all its dominance in China, WeChat has struggled to gain traction in India and elsewhere. But its model today is prominently on display in other markets. Grab and Go-Jek in Southeast Asian markets are best known for their ride-hailing services, but have begun to offer a range of other features, including food delivery, entertainment, digital payments, financial services and healthcare.

The proliferation of low-cost smartphones and mobile data in India, thanks in part to Google and Facebook, has helped tens of millions of Indians come online in recent years, with mobile the dominant platform. The number of internet users has already exceeded 500 million in India, up from some 350 million in mid-2015. According to some estimates, India may have north of 625 million users by year-end.

This has fueled the global image of India, which is both the fastest growing internet and smartphone market. Naturally, local apps in India, and those from international firms that operate here, are beginning to replicate WeChat’s model.

Founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of Paytm Vijay Shekhar Sharma speaks during the launch of Paytm payments Bank at a function in New Delhi on November 28, 2017 (AFP PHOTO / SAJJAD HUSSAIN)

Leading that pack is Paytm, the popular homegrown mobile wallet service that’s valued at $18 billion and has been heavily backed by Alibaba, the e-commerce giant that rivals Tencent and crucially missed the mobile messaging wave in China.

Commanding attention

In recent years, the Paytm app has taken a leaf from China with additions that include the ability to text merchants; book movie, flight and train tickets; and buy shoes, books and just about anything from its e-commerce arm Paytm Mall . It also has added a number of mini games to the app. The company said earlier this month that more than 30 million users are engaging with its games.

Why bother with diversifying your app’s offering? Well, for Vijay Shekhar Sharma, founder and CEO of Paytm, the question is why shouldn’t you? If your app serves a certain number of transactions (or engagements) in a day, you have a good shot at disrupting many businesses that generate fewer transactions, he told TechCrunch in an interview.

At the end of the day, companies want to garner as much attention of a user as they can, said Jayanth Kolla, founder and partner of research and advisory firm Convergence Catalyst.

“This is similar to how cable networks such as Fox and Star have built various channels with a wide range of programming to create enough hooks for users to stick around,” Kolla said.

“The agenda for these apps is to hold people’s attention and monopolize a user’s activities on their mobile devices,” he added, explaining that higher engagement in an app translates to higher revenue from advertising.

Paytm’s Sharma agrees. “Payment is the moat. You can offer a range of things including content, entertainment, lifestyle, commerce and financial services around it,” he told TechCrunch. “Now that’s a business model… payment itself can’t make you money.”

Big companies follow suit

Other businesses have taken note. Flipkart -owned payment app PhonePe, which claims to have 150 million active users, today hosts a number of mini apps. Some of those include services for ride-hailing service Ola, hotel booking service Oyo and travel booking service MakeMyTrip.

Paytm (the first two images from left) and PhonePe offer a range of services that are integrated into their payments apps

What works for PhonePe is that its core business — payments — has amassed enough users, Himanshu Gupta, former associate director of marketing and growth for WeChat in India, told TechCrunch. He added that unlike e-commerce giant Snapdeal, which attempted to offer similar offerings back in the day, PhonePe has tighter integration with other services, and is built using modern architecture that gives users almost native app experiences inside mini apps.

When you talk about strategy for Flipkart, the homegrown e-commerce giant acquired by Walmart last year for a cool $16 billion, chances are arch rival Amazon is also hatching similar plans, and that’s indeed the case for super apps.

In India, Amazon offers its customers a range of payment features such as the ability to pay phone bills and cable subscription through its Amazon Pay service. The company last year acquired Indian startup Tapzo, an app that offers integration with popular services such as Uber, Ola, Swiggy and Zomato, to boost Pay’s business in the nation.

Another U.S. giant, Microsoft, is also aboard the super train. The Redmond-based company has added a slew of new features to SMS Organizer, an app born out of its Microsoft Garage initiative in India. What began as a texting app that can screen spam messages and help users keep track of important SMSs recently partnered with education board CBSE in India to deliver exam results of 10th and 12th grade students.

This year, the SMS Organizer app added an option to track live train schedules through a partnership with Indian Railways, and there’s support for speech-to-text. It also offers personalized discount coupons from a range of companies, giving users an incentive to check the app more often.

Like in other markets, Google and Facebook hold a dominant position in India. More than 95% of smartphones sold in India run the Android operating system. There is no viable local — or otherwise — alternative to Search, Gmail and YouTube, which counts India as its fastest growing market. But Google hasn’t necessarily made any push to significantly expand the scope of any of its offerings in India.

India is the biggest market for WhatsApp, and Facebook’s marquee app too has more than 250 million users in the nation. WhatsApp launched a pilot payments program in India in early 2018, but is yet to get clearance from the government for a nationwide rollout. (It isn’t happening for at least another two months, a person familiar with the matter said.) In the meanwhile, Facebook appears to be hatching a WeChatization of Messenger, albeit that app is not so big in India.

Ride-hailing service Ola too, like Grab and Go-Jek, plans to add financial services such as credit to the platform this year, a source familiar with the company’s plans told TechCrunch.

“We have an abundance of data about our users. We know how much money they spend on rides, how often they frequent the city and how often they order from restaurants. It makes perfect sense to give them these valued-added features,” the person said. Ola has already branched out of transport after it acquired food delivery startup Foodpanda in late 2017, but it hasn’t yet made major waves in financial services despite giving its Ola Money service its own dedicated app.

The company positioned Ola Money as a super app, expanded its features through acquisition and tie ups with other players and offered discounts and cashbacks. But it remains behind Paytm, PhonePe and Google Pay, all of which are also offering discounts to customers.

Integrated entertainment

Super apps indeed come in all shapes and sizes, beyond core services like payment and transportation — the strategy is showing up in apps and services that entertain India’s internet population.

MX Player, a video playback app with more than 175 million users in India that was acquired by Times Internet for some $140 million last year, has big ambitions. Last year, it introduced a video streaming service to bolster its app to grow beyond merely being a repository. It has already commissioned the production of several original shows.

In recent months, it has also integrated Gaana, the largest local music streaming app that is also owned by Times Internet. Now its parent company, which rivals Google and Facebook on some fronts, is planning to add mini games to MX Player, a person familiar with the matter said, to give it additional reach and appeal.

Some of these apps, especially those that have amassed tens of millions of users, have a real shot at diversifying their offerings, analyst Kolla said. There is a bar of entry, though. A huge user base that engages with a product on a daily basis is a must for any company if it is to explore chasing the super app status, he added.

Indeed, there are examples of companies that had the vision to see the benefits of super apps but simply couldn’t muster the requisite user base. As mentioned, Snapdeal tried and failed at expanding its app’s offerings. Messaging service Hike, which was valued at more than $1 billion two years ago and includes WeChat parent Tencent among its investors, added games and other features to its app, but ultimately saw poor engagement. Its new strategy is the reverse: to break its app into multiple pieces.

“In 2019, we continue to double down on both social and content but we’re going to do it with an evolved approach. We’re going to do it across multiple apps. That means, in 2019 we’re going to go from building a super app that encompasses everything, to Multiple Apps solving one thing really well. Yes, we’re unbundling Hike,” Kavin Mittal, founder and CEO of Hike, wrote in an update published earlier this year.

It remains unclear how users are responding to the new features on their favorite apps. Some signs suggest, however, that at least some users are embracing the additional features. Truecaller said it is seeing tens of thousands of users try the payment feature for the first time each day. It’s also being used to send 3 billion texts a month.

And Reliance Jio, of course

Regardless, the race is still on, and there are big horses waiting to enter to add further competition.

Reliance Jio, a subsidiary of conglomerate Reliance Industry that is owned by India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani, is planning to introduce a super app that will host more than 100 features, according to a person familiar with the matter. Local media first reported the development.

It will be fascinating to see how that works out. Reliance Jio, which almost single-handedly disrupted the telecom industry in India with its low-cost data plans and free voice calls, has amassed tens of millions of users on the bouquet of apps that it offers at no additional cost to Jio subscribers.

Beyond that diverse selection of homespun apps, Reliance has also taken an M&A-based approach to assemble the pieces of its super app strategy.

It bought music streaming service Saavn last year and quickly integrated it with its own music app JioMusic. Last month, it acquired Haptik, a startup that develops “conversational” platforms and virtual assistants, in a deal worth more than $100 million. It already has the user bases required. JioTV, an app that offers access to over 500 TV channels; and JioNews, an app that additionally offers hundreds of magazines and newspapers, routinely appear among the top apps in Google Play Store.

India’s super app revolution is in its early days, but the trend is surely one to keep an eye on as the country moves into its next chapter of internet usage.

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Google refreshes Android Auto with new features and a darker look

Posted by | Android, Android Auto, Apple, automotive, CarPlay, Google, Google I/O 2019, linux, Polestar, smartphones, Transportation | No Comments

Android Auto — the in-car platform that brings the look and functions of a smartphone to the vehicle’s central screen — is getting a new look and improved navigation and communication features that will roll out this summer.

The improvements and new look were revealed Monday during Google I/O 2019, the annual developer conference.

The most noticeable change might be the overall look of Android Auto. It now has a dark theme, new fonts and color accents designed to make it easier for drivers to quickly and more easily see the content on the car’s central screen.

The new version of Android Auto has also improved its notifications. Drivers can choose to view, listen and respond to messages and calls more easily.

Engineers have updated the software to make it more seamless. The system, if properly enabled, would pop up on the car’s screen once the vehicle was turned on. However, the user would still have to restart their media or navigation option. Now, Android Auto will continue playing the media and navigation app of the driver’s choice. Drivers can tap on a suggested location or say “Hey Google” to navigate to a new place.

The navigation bar on Android Auto has changed, as well. Drivers will be able to see their turn-by-turn directions and control apps and phone on the same screen.

Finally, the platform has been adjusted so it will fit various sized-screens. Android Auto now maximizes the in-car display to show more information, like next-turn directions, playback controls and ongoing calls.

Android Auto is not an operating system. It’s a secondary interface — or HMI layer — that sits on top of an operating system. Google released Android Auto in 2015. Rival Apple introduced its own in-car platform, Apple CarPlay, that same year.

Automakers that wanted to give consumers a better in-car experience without giving Google or Apple total access quickly adopted the platform. Even some holdouts, such as Toyota, have come around. Today, Android Auto is available in more than 500 car models from 50 different brands, according to Android Auto product manager Rod Lopez.

Google has since developed an operating system called Android Automotive OS that’s modeled after its open-source mobile operating system that runs on Linux. Instead of running smartphones and tablets, Google modified it so it could be used in cars. Polestar, Volvo’s standalone performance electric car brand, is going to produce a new vehicle, the Polestar 2, that has an infotainment system powered by Android Automotive OS.

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