Apps

Mobile developer Tru Luv enlists investors to help build a more inclusive alternative to gaming

Posted by | App, Apps, Developer, Gaming, Mobile, self-care, selfcare, Social, Startups, TC, tru luv | No Comments

Developer and programmer Brie Code has worked at the peak of the video game industry — she was responsible for many of the AI systems that powered non-player character (NPC) behavior in the extremely popular Assassin’s Creed series created by Ubisoft. It’s obvious that gaming isn’t for everyone, but Code became more and more interested in why that maxim seemed to play out along predictable gender lines, leading her ultimately to develop and launch #SelfCare through her own independent development studio TRU LUV.

#SelfCare went on to win accolades, including a spot of Apple’s App Store Best of 2018 list, and Code and TRU LUV was also the first Canadian startup to attend Apple’s Entrepreneur Camp program. Now, with more than 2 million downloads of #SelfCare (without any advertising at all), Code and TRU LUV have brought on a number of investors for their first outside funding, including Real Ventures, Evolve Ventures, Bridge Builders Collaborative and Artesian Venture Partners.

I spoke to Code about how she came up with and created #SelfCare, what’s next for TRU LUV and how the current COVID-19 crisis actually emphasizes the need for an alternative to gaming that serves many similar functions, but for previously underserved groups of people for whom the challenges and rewards structures of traditional gaming just don’t prove very satisfying.

“I became very, very interested in why video games don’t interest about half of people, including all of my friends,” Code told me. “And at that point, tablets were becoming popular, and everyone had a phone. So if there was something universal about this medium, it should be being more widely adopted, yet I was seeing really clear patterns that it wasn’t. The last time I checked, which was maybe a couple years ago, there were 5 billion mobile users and around 2.2 billion mobile gamers.”

Her curiosity piqued by the discrepancy, especially as an industry insider herself, Code began to do her own research to figure out potential causes of the divide — the reason why games only seemed to consistently appeal to about half of the general computer user population, at best.

“I started doing a lot of focus groups and research and I saw really clear patterns, and I knew that if there is a clear pattern, there must be an explanation,” Code said. “What I discovered after I read Sheri Graner Ray’s book ‘Gender Inclusive Game Design,’ which she wrote in 2004, in a chapter on stimulation was how, and these are admittedly gross generalizations, but men tend to be stimulated by the sense of danger and things flashing on screen. And women, in her research, tended to be stimulated by something mentioned called a ‘mutually-beneficial outcome to a socially significant situation.’ That’s when you help an NPC and they help you, for instance. In some way, that’s more significant, in the rules of the world than just the score going up.”

TRU LUV founder and CEO Brie Code (Image Credits: Brie Code)

Code then dug in further, using consumer research and further study, and found a potential cause behind this divide that then provided a way forward for developing a new alternative to a traditional gaming paradigm that might prove more appealing to the large group of people who weren’t served by what the industry has traditionally produced.

“I started to read about the psychology of stimulation, and from there I was reading about the psychology of defense, and I found a very simple and clear explanation for this divide, which is that there are two human stress responses,” she said. “One of them, which is much more commonly known, is called the ‘fight-or-flight’ response. When we experience the fight-or-flight response, in the face of challenge or pressure or danger, you have adrenaline released in your body, and that makes you instinctively want to win. So what a game designer does is create these situations of challenge, and then give you opportunities to win and that leverages the fight-or-flight response to stress: That’s the gamification curve. But there is another human stress response discovered at the UCLA Social Cognitive Neuroscience lab in 2000, by Dr. Shelly Taylor and her colleagues. It’s very prevalent, probably about half of stress responses that humans experience, and it’s called tend-and-befriend.”

Instead of generating an adrenaline surge, it releases oxytocin in the brain, and instead of seeking a victory over a rival, people who experience this want to take care of those who are more vulnerable, connect with friends and allies and find mutually beneficial solutions to problems jointly faced. Seeking to generate that kind of response led to what Code and TRU LUV call AI companions, a gaming alternative that is non-zero sum and based on the tend-and-befriend principal. Code’s background as an AI programmer working on some of the most sophisticated virtual character interactions available in modern games obviously came in handy here.

Code thought she might be on to something, but didn’t anticipate the level of #SelfCare’s success, which included 500,00 downloads in just six weeks, and more than 2 million today. And most of the feedback she received from users backed up her hypotheses about what the experience provided, and what users were looking for in an alternative to a mobile gaming experience.

Fast forward to now, and TRU LUV is growing its team, and focused on iterating and developing new products to capitalize on the clear vein of interest they’ve tapped among that underserved half of mobile users. Code and her team have brought on investors whose views and portfolios align with their product vision and company ethos, including Evolve Ventures, which has backed a number of socially progressive ventures, and whose managing director, Julius Mokrauer, actually teaches a course on the subject at Columbia Business School.

#SelfCare was already showing a promising new path forward for mobile experience development before COVID-19 struck, but the product and TRU LUV are focused on “resilience and psychological development,” so it proved well-suited to a market in which mobile users were looking for ways to make sustained isolation more pleasant. Obviously we’re just at the beginning of feeling whatever impacts come out of the COVID-19 crisis, but it seems reasonable to expect that different kinds of mobile apps that trigger responses more aligned with personal well-being will be sought after.

Code says that COVID-19 hasn’t really changed TRU LUV’s vision or approach, but that it has led to the team moving more quickly on in-progress feature production, and on some parts of their roadmap, including building social features that allow players to connect with one another as well as with virtual companions.

“We want to move our production forward a bit faster than planned in order to respond to the need,” Code said.”Also we’re looking at being able to create social experiences a little bit earlier than planned, and also to attend to the need of people to be able to connect, above and beyond people who connect through video games.”

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Four perspectives: Will Apple trim App Store fees?

Posted by | Apple, Apps, Developer, Extra Crunch, iOS, iPhone, Market Analysis, Mobile, TC, wwdc 2020 | No Comments

The fact that Apple takes a 30% cut of subscriptions purchased via the App Store isn’t news. But since the company threatened to boot email app Hey from the platform last week unless its developers paid the customary tribute, the tech world and lawmakers are giving Apple’s revenue share a harder look.

Although Apple’s Senior Vice President of worldwide marketing Phil Schiller denied the company was making any changes, a new policy will let developers challenge the very rules by which they were rejected from the platform, which suggests that change is in the air.

According to its own numbers, the App Store facilitated more than $500 billion in e-commerce transactions in 2019. For reference, the federal government has given out about $529 billion in loans to U.S. businesses as part of the Paycheck Protection Program.

Given its massive reach, is it time for Apple to change its terms? Will it allow its revenue share to go gently into that good night, or does it have enough resources to keep new legislation at bay and mollify an increasingly vocal community of software developers? To examine these questions, four TechCrunch staffers weighed in:

Devin Coldewey: The App Store fee structure “seems positively extortionate”

Apple is starting to see that its simplistic and paternalistic approach to cultivating the app economy may be doing more harm than good. That wasn’t always the case: In earlier days it was worth paying Apple simply for the privilege of taking part in its fast-expanding marketplace.

But the digital economy has moved on from the conditions that drove growth before: Novelty at first, then a burgeoning ad market supercharged by social media. The pendulum is swinging back to more traditional modes of payment: one-time and subscription payments for no-nonsense services. Imagine that!

Combined with the emergence of mobile platforms not just as tools for simple consumption and communication but for serious work and productivity, the stakes have risen. People have started asking, what value is Apple really providing in return for the rent it seeks from anyone who wants to use its platform?

Surely Apple is due something for its troubles, but just over a quarter of a company’s revenue? What seemed merely excessive for a 99-cent app that a pair of developers were just happy to sell a few thousand copies of now seems positively extortionate.

Apple is in a position of strength and could continue shaking down the industry, but it is wary of losing partners in the effort to make its platform truly conducive to productivity. The market is larger and more complicated, with cross-platform and cross-device complications of which the App Store and iOS may only be a small part — but demanding an incredibly outsized share.

It will loosen the grip, but there’s no hurry. It would be a costly indignity to be too permissive and have its new rules be gamed and hastily revised. Allowing developers to push back on rules they don’t like gives Apple a lot to work with but no commitment. Big players will get a big voice, no doubt, and the new normal for the App Store will reflect a detente between moneyed interests, not a generous change of heart by Apple.

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Apple Maps to tell you to refine location by scanning the skyline

Posted by | Apple, Apple Maps, Apps, Mobile, wwdc, wwdc 2020 | No Comments

With iOS 14, Apple is going to update Apple Maps with some important new features, such as cycling directions, electric vehicle routing and curated guides. But the app is also going to learn one neat trick.

In dense areas where you can’t get a precise location, Apple Maps will prompt you to raise your phone and scan buildings across the street to refine your location.

As you may have guessed, this feature is based on Look Around, a Google Street View-inspired feature that lets you … look around as if you were walking down the street. It’s a bit more refined than Street View as everything is in 3D so you can notice the foreground and the background.

Look Around is only available in a handful of U.S. cities for now, such as San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Washington, DC, and Las Vegas. But the company is still expanding it with Seattle coming on Monday and major Japanese cities this fall. Some areas that are only accessible on foot will also be available in the future.

When you scan the skyline to refine your location, Apple doesn’t send any data to its servers. Matching is done on your device.

When it comes to guides, Apple has partnered with AllTrails, Lonely Planet, The Infatuation, Washington Post, Louis Vuitton and others to add curated lists of places to Apple Maps. When you tap on the search bar and scroll down on the search card, you can see guides of nearby places.

When you open a guide, you can see all the places on the map or you can browse the guide itself to see those places in a list view. You can share places and save them in a user-made guide — Apple calls it a collection in the current version of Apple Maps.

You can also save a curated guide altogether if you want to check it out regularly. Places get automatically updated.

Image Credits: Apple

As for EV routing, Apple Maps will let add your car, name it and choose a charger type — Apple has partnered with BMW and Ford for now. When you’re planning a route, you can now select the car you’re going to be using. If you select your electric car, Apple Maps will add charging spots on the way. You can tap on spots to see if they are free or paid and the connector type.

Waze users will also be happy to learn that Apple Maps will be able to warn you if you’re exceeding the speed limit. You can also view speed and red light cameras on the map.

In some cities with congestion zones and license plate access, you’ll be able to add your license plate. The information is kept on the device. It’ll refine directions for those cities.

Image Credits: Apple

Finally, my favorite new feature is cycling directions. It’s only going to be available in New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Shanghai and Beijing at first. Apple ticks all the right boxes, such as taking into consideration cycling paths and elevation. Turn-by-turn directions look slightly different from driving directions with a different framing and a more vertical view.

Google Maps also features cycling directions, but they suck. I can’t wait to try it out to see whether cycling directions actually make sense in Apple Maps. The new version of Apple Maps will ship with iOS 14 this fall.

Image Credits: Apple

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Google to offer loans to merchants in India

Posted by | Android, Apps, Asia, BharatPe, Flipkart, Google, Google India, india, Online lending, payments, Paytm, PhonePe, Softbank, TC, Walmart | No Comments

Google said on Thursday it plans to offer credit to millions of merchants in India through its Google Pay app starting later this year as the American technology group looks to help small businesses in the country steer through the pandemic and also find a business model for its mobile payments service.

The company said it is working with financial institutions to offer loans to merchants from within Google Pay for Business app. The Google Pay’s business app, which the Android giant launched late last year, has already amassed 3 million merchants, it said.

Google’s announcement today comes as part of its effort to share its broader initiatives for small and micro-businesses in India.

The company said Google My Business, an app it launched in India in the second half of 2017 to help mom and pop stores and other small merchants build online presence, has been used by more than 26 million businesses in the country to list themselves on Google search and Maps. India has about 60 million small and micro-sized businesses in the nation, according to government estimates.

“Every month we drive over 150 million direct connections between these businesses and customers including calls, online reservations and direction requests,” company executives said.

New Delhi ordered a nationwide lockdown in late March in a bid to contain the spread of COVID-19. The move forced most businesses to suspend their operations. In recent weeks, the Indian government has rushed to relax some of its restrictions and many stores have resumed their businesses.

Last year Google launched the Spot feature in India that allows businesses to easily create their own branded commercial fronts that are accessible to customers through the Google Pay app.

Image Credits: Google

In May, Google introduced Nearby Stores as a Spot feature on the Google Pay app that allowed local businesses in select parts of the country get discovered by customers in their neighborhood. The company said it is expanding this offering across India starting today.

Thursday’s announcement also outlines the grip Google assumes on small businesses in India, and how its scale — and resources — could pose additional challenges for scores of local startups that are already attempting to serve businesses.

SoftBank -backed Paytm, Walmart’s PhonePe and New Delhi-based BharatPe have in recent years onboarded millions of merchants and offer them a range of services, including loans.

Paytm, which works with more than 16 million merchants, earlier this year launched a range of gadgets, including a device that displays QR check-out codes that comes with a calculator and USB charger, a jukebox that provides voice confirmations of transactions and services to streamline inventory management for merchants.

For some of these players, Google’s increasingly growing interest in targeting merchants means they will be facing off the search giant on two fronts. TechCrunch reported earlier this month that Google Pay had about 75 million transacting users in India, more than any of its competitors. But despite the scale, Google Pay and most other payments services in India are struggling to find a business model for their services.

Facebook, Google’s global rival, has courted more than 1 million merchants in India on its WhatsApp’s business app. WhatsApp, which is the most popular app in India, is informally used by countless additional merchants in the country.

For merchants, the more players the merrier. Small businesses in India continue to struggle to secure working capital from financial institutions, such as banks.

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Privacy assistant Jumbo raises $8 million and releases major update

Posted by | Apps, Balderton Capital, Fundings & Exits, Jumbo Privacy, Mobile, privacy, Recent Funding, Startups | No Comments

A year after its initial release, Jumbo has two important pieces of news to announce. First, the company has released a major update of its app that protects your privacy on online services. Second, the company has raised an $8 million Series A funding round.

If you’re not familiar with Jumbo, the app wants to fix what’s broken with online privacy today. Complicated terms of services combined with customer-hostile default settings have made it really hard to understand what personal information is out there. Due to recent regulatory changes, it’s now possible to change privacy settings on many services.

While it is possible, it doesn’t mean it is easy. If you’ve tried to adjust your privacy settings on Facebook or LinkedIn, you know that it’s a convoluted process with a lot of sub-menus and non-descriptive text.

Similarly, social networks have been around for more than a decade. While you were comfortable sharing photos and public messages with a small group of friends 10 years ago, you don’t necessarily want to leave this content accessible to hundreds or even thousands of “friends” today.

The result is an iPhone and Android app that puts you in charge of your privacy. It’s essentially a dashboard that lets you control your privacy on the web. You first connect the app to various online services and you can then control those services from Jumbo. Jumbo doesn’t limit itself to what you can do with APIs, as it can mimic JavaScript calls on web pages that are unaccessible to the APIs.

For instance, if you connect your Facebook account, you can remove your profile from advertising lists, delete past searches, change the visibility of posts you’re tagged in and more. On Google, you can delete your history across multiple services — web searches, Chrome history, YouTube searches, Google Map activities, location history, etc.

More fundamentally, Jumbo challenges the fact that everything should remain online forever. Conversations you had six months ago might not be relevant today, so why can’t you delete those conversations?

Jumbo lets you delete and archive old tweets, Messenger conversations and old Facebook posts. The app can regularly scan your accounts and delete everything that is older than a certain threshold — it can be a month, a year or whatever you want.

While your friends will no longer be able to see that content, Jumbo archives everything in a tab called Vault.

With today’s update, everything has been refined. The main tab has been redesigned to inform you of what Jumbo has been doing over the past week. The company now uses background notifications to perform some tasks even if you’re not launching the app every day.

The data-breach monitoring has been improved. Jumbo now uses SpyCloud to tell you exactly what has been leaked in a data breach — your phone number, your email address, your password, your address, etc.

It’s also much easier to understand the settings you can change for each service thanks to simple toggles and recommendations that you can accept or ignore.

Image Credits: Jumbo

A clear business model

Jumbo’s basic features are free, but you’ll need to buy a subscription to access the most advanced features. Jumbo Plus lets you scan and archive your Instagram account, delete your Alexa voice recordings, manage your Reddit and Dropbox accounts and track more than one email address for data breaches.

Jumbo Pro lets you manage your LinkedIn account (and you know that LinkedIn’s privacy settings are a mess). You can also track more information as part of the data breach feature — your ID, your credit card number and your Social Security number. It also lets you activate a tracker blocker.

This new feature in the second version of Jumbo replaces default DNS settings on your phone. All DNS requests are routed through a Jumbo-managed networking profile on your phone. If you’re trying to access a tracker, the request is blocked; if you’re trying to access some legit content, the request goes through. It works in the browser and in native apps.

You can pay what you want for Jumbo Plus, from $3 per month to $8 per month. Similarly, you can pick what you want to pay for Jumbo Pro, between $9 per month and $15 per month.

You might think that you’re giving a ton of personal information to a small startup. Jumbo is well aware of that and tries to reassure its user base with radical design choices, transparency and a clear business model.

Jumbo doesn’t want to mine your data. Your archived data isn’t stored on Jumbo’s servers. It remains on your phone and optionally on your iCloud or Dropbox account as a backup.

Jumbo doesn’t even have user accounts. When you first open the app, the app assigns you a unique ID in order to send you push notifications, but that’s about it. The company has also hired companies for security audits.

“We don’t store email addresses so we don’t know why people subscribe,” Jumbo CEO Pierre Valade told me.

Profitable by 2022

Jumbo has raised an $8 million funding round. It had previously raised a $3.5 million seed round. This time, Balderton Capital is leading the round. The firm had already invested in Valade’s previous startup, Sunrise.

A lot of business angels participated in the round as well, and Jumbo is listing them all on its website. This is all about being transparent again.

Interestingly, Jumbo isn’t betting on explosive growth and eyeballs. The company says it has enough funding until February 2022. By then, the startup hopes it can attract 100,000 subscribers to reach profitability.

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iOS 14’s App Clips will save you from always needing ‘an app for that’

Posted by | Apple, Apps, events, iOS 14, Mobile, wwdc 2020 | No Comments

The App Store ecosystem today is home to nearly 2 million apps. That means finding new apps to download is now more challenging than ever. This, in turn, leads app developers to funnel more money into App Store Search ads, traditional SEO and digital advertising in an effort to acquire new users. A new feature called App Clips, arriving in iOS 14 later this year, will give developers another option to introduce their app to users. With App Clips, users can instead load just a small part of an app on demand, when required. And when they’re done, the App Clip disappears.

The concept behind App Clips isn’t new. Google’s Android platform has for several years offered tiny app-on-demand downloads called “Instant Apps.”

Like Instant Apps, Apple’s App Clips are about making apps as seamless to use as the web. They are fast, ephemeral and eliminate the barrier to entry that is downloading an app from the App Store.

Today, many users don’t want to bother with a full app download when they’re in a hurry. For example, if a user is trying to pay for parking, they’re more likely to swipe their credit card in the meter to save time, instead of downloading the city’s parking app.

A customer waiting in line to place a food or drink order also doesn’t want to bother downloading the restaurant’s app to browse a menu and pay — they’ll just speak their order at the counter. And a customer wanting to rent a scooter just wants to tap, pay and be on their way.

Image Credits: Apple

An App Clip would work in any of of these scenarios, and many others, by making it as easy to use apps as it is to tap to check out with Apple Pay or launch a website.

While Apple will allow users to launch clips by way of a QR code, a new “App Clip Code” arriving later this year will offer an upgraded experience to kicking off these apps you find suggested to you out in the real world. App Clip Codes will combine both NFC and a visual code, so users can either tap or scan the code to access the App Clip experience.

Image Credits: Apple

For example, an App Clip Code placed on a parking meter would allow a user to quickly load just the part of the app where they pay for their time. They can even skip manual credit card entry by using Apple Pay, if included in a given App Clip.

The App Clips themselves are less than 10 MB in size and ship bundled with the app on the App Store. They’re built using the same UI technologies developers use today to build apps, like UIKit or SwiftUI. But using an App Clip doesn’t trigger the app to download to the user’s device.

A key advantage App Clips offer is how they address concerns over data privacy. Because App Clips are essentially a way to run app code on demand, they’re restricted from tapping into iPhone’s more sensitive data — like health and fitness information, for example. Plus, the App Clip and all its data will automatically disappear if it’s not used again within some period of time.

However, if a user begins to launch a particular App Clip more regularly — perhaps one for their favorite coffee order at their local shop, for instance — the App Clip’s lifetime is extended and it can get smarter. In this example, the App Clip could cache the customer’s last order and present it as a recommendation, to speed up the ordering process. Eventually, this repeat user may decide to download the full app.

In that case, the hand-off is seamless as well — iOS will automatically migrate the authorizations for things like Camera, Microphone and Bluetooth access, which the App Clip had already requested. Select data can also be migrated.

Image Credits: Apple

There are other ways for users to encounter App Clips besides out in the real world, though that may be a primary use case.

Apple says App Clips can be sent as links in iMessage, popped up as a suggestion when you’re browsing a mobile site in Safari, shown on a business’s details page in Apple Maps or may appear in Siri’s Nearby suggestions.

The idea is that wherever a user may be on their device — or out in the world — the App Clip can be there, too.

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Fandango adds new features to highlight health precautions and distancing in movie theaters

Posted by | Apps, coronavirus, COVID-19, Fandango, Health, Media, Mobile, movie theaters | No Comments

As movie theaters reopen across the United States and the world, there are lingering questions about what kinds of measures those theaters will be taking to keep staff and moviegoers safe in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

These concerns were illustrated last week, when AMC CEO Adam Aron said in an interview that the theater chain would not be requiring that patrons wear masks except in locations where they’re legally required to do so — because the company “did not want to be drawn into a political controversy.” Naturally, those comments prompted a controversy of their own, leading AMC to reverse its decision.

So it makes sense for NBCUniversal-owned movie ticketing app Fandango to highlight the different safety measures that theaters are taking.

It’s useful from an informational perspective, so that moviegoers understand and prepare for the experience in theaters, and perhaps choose theaters based on how serious they seem about safety. But it’s also a savvy marketing move, as those theaters will need to convince moviegoers that it’s safe to return.

Fandango social distance seating

Image Credits: Fandango

The new features include what Fandango is pitching as a “one-stop shop” to view the safety measures announced by more than 100 theater chains, with information about auditorium occupancy, social distance seating, mask/protective equipment policies, enhanced cleaning measures and special concession arrangements. There will also be instructional videos, social distance seating maps and a way to search for reopened theaters by location.

Because movie theaters have been closed for the past few months, Fandango also says it will be extending for another 60 days expired rewards from its Fandango VIP+ loyalty programs.

“We are working closely with our friends in exhibition to help get their ticketing back online and film fans back in seats with peace of mind,” said Melissa Heller, Fandango’s vice president of domestic ticketing, in a statement. “In addition to our new product features, Fandango’s mobile ticketing will be an added benefit, helping moviegoers and cinema employees reduce the number of contact points at the box office and throughout the theater.”

Update: In response to my question about whether moviegoers should feel safe going back to theaters, the company sent me the following statement from Fandango managing editor Erik Davis:

Let’s face it, there’s nothing like watching a movie on the big screen, and some movies like ‘Tenet’ and ‘Mulan’ beg to be seen on the biggest screen available, so there’s definitely a demand. Moviegoing decisions are personal: which movie, which format, which theater are you going to see it in. And now with health & safety protocols different for each state, county or theater chain, it’s useful to know what the theaters are offering before you go. Fandango is gathering all the info in one place to help fans return to the movies with peace of mind, and at the right time that is best for them.

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Facebook tests Forecast, an app for making predictions about world events, like COVID-19

Posted by | Apps, Facebook, Mobile, Social | No Comments

Forecast, a new project from Facebook’s internal R&D group, NPE Team, is launching today to build a community around predictions. The iOS app will allow users to ask questions and then use in-app points to make predictions about what might happen in the future. Users can also create, discuss and view these crowdsourced predictions.

At launch, only invited participants in the U.S. and Canada will be allowed to make predictions and engage in conversations while the app is in beta testing. But these predictions and related discussions will be publicly accessible on the Forecast website, and made shareable.

Before today, Facebook tested the product internally with a small set of employees. Their initial forecasts will form the initial core content in the app at launch.

Starting now, Facebook will invite members of the health, research and academic communities to make predictions about the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the world.

Image Credits: Facebook

At a time when Facebook and other major tech platforms are under fire for their role in aiding the spread of misinformation, fake news, propaganda, conspiracy theories and other non-factual content presented as truth, an app focused on making “guesses” about the future seems ill-advised — however educated those guesses may be. This is particularly concerning because much of the app’s content will focus on guesses about COVID-19.

Forecast’s predictions may help show what people are thinking, but COVID-19 isn’t a game. To understand the world, scientists form a hypothesis, which is essentially an expanded form of an educated guess. But they don’t then crowdsource voting to determine if a hypothesis is true — they test, experiment, gather supporting data, try to prove and disprove the hypothesis and ultimately aim to publish their findings and have them peer-reviewed.

The Forecast app turns the hypothesis into the end result, in a way. The app lets users make a forecast and explain their reasoning — in other words, form a hypothesis. But instead of doing the work to test the forecast, through the application of the scientific method, Forecast will track the votes a given question receives.

For example: “When will the first COVID-19 vaccine candidate begin phase 3 trials?” or “When will most U.S. residents be treated with a COVID-19 vaccine?” In non-COVID questions, you may come across something like “Will the US Presidential Election be fully or partially postponed?” 

Questions will be reviewed by the Forecast team and edited for clarity, if needed. Users will be notified if their question is published.

At some point, the question will be determined as “settled,” based on an elapsed time period or because an event has occurred. For instance, if users were guessing when a vaccine would be released, and then it’s actually released, the questions around that topics would be “settled.”

Forecast’s polls are given aesthetically pleasing charts and graphs, which can be shared outside the app. That means users could start posting these guesses and the crowdsourced responses to sites like Facebook, where the line between fact and fiction has already blurred. That could further complicate people’s understanding of what is already a complex topic: the COVID-19 pandemic.

Facebook users who see these shared “forecasts” may believe they have some basis in science and research, when instead, they are the result of a social polling app.

Of course, there is some fun in betting on world events and seeing if they turn out to be true, and there is even some value in organizing a wider community’s collective “best guesses” about a future event to gain an understanding of what people are thinking at a given time. Crowdsourced predictions have their place, as well. But spreading out specific, COVID-19 predictions to Facebook seems like an idea that’s fraught with potential problems and complications.

And Facebook’s goal here is only to test its own hypothesis — that a standalone, community-based predictions app that rewards a participatory audience with social credit will surface insightful voices and thoughtful discussions.

In the end, however, it seems like Facebook is looking for some angle that could prompt thought leaders to engage in meaningful discussions about subjects they know best on a Facebook platform. These sorts of discussions are difficult to have in Facebook’s comments section around a post — as comments, more often than not, are a place people go to troll, argue, threaten and otherwise derail a conversation. Forecast organizes these experts around a topic and allows them to debate. As a self-contained space with a vetted crowd of participants, that could be interesting. Making the data broadly shareable is an issue, however.

Facebook says the questions in Forecast will be moderated for clarity using Forecast’s own moderation guidelines and Facebook’s Community Standards. That means questions can’t mention death, or sexual or violent assault of any individual, including public figures. (This isn’t meant to be some sort of new internet Death Clock, for example.) Hate speech isn’t allowed. Questions around illegal content or those involving personal information also aren’t permitted, along with other guidelines detailed here.

The Forecast app is live on the iOS App Store here.

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Apple’s new Translate app works offline with 11 languages

Posted by | Apple, Apps, artificial intelligence, Developer, events, Mobile, translate, Translation, wwdc 2020 | No Comments

Translation is an everyday smartphone task for millions of people, but outside a few minor features, Apple has generally ceded the capability to its rivals. That changes today with a new first-party iOS app called, naturally, Translate, which works with 11 languages, no internet connection required.

The app is intended for use with speech or short written sentences, not to translate whole web pages or documents. The interface is simple, with a language selector, text field and record button as well as a few extra widgets like favorites and a dictionary.

At launch Translate will support English, Mandarin Chinese, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Arabic, Portuguese and Russian, with others to come. You simply select a pair of languages and paste or record a snippet of text or audio. The translation should show up immediately.

There’s also a landscape mode that further simplifies the interface:

Image Credits: Apple

The best part is that unlike many translation apps out there, Apple’s is entirely offline, meaning you can use it whether you have a good or bad signal, if you’re out in the middle of nowhere in a country where you don’t get service or if you’re just trying to save data.

There were no specific release details, so the app will probably appear when you upgrade to iOS 14.

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Apple unveils iOS 14 with home screen widgets

Posted by | Apple, Apps, iOS, iOS 14, Mobile, wwdc, wwdc 2020 | No Comments

During the virtual keynote of WWDC, Apple shared the first details about iOS 14, the next major version of iOS that is going to be released later this year. The most visual change is that the home screen is getting widgets.

“This year, we spent time rethinking the iconic experience of the iPhone,” SVP of Software Engineering Craig Federighi said. “We’ve rethought some of the core elements of iOS.”

As you know, iOS already comes with widgets in the Today view — swipe left on the home screen to access widgets. Widgets have been completely redesigned. Some of them take the full width of the device, others can be limited to a small square. You can now have two columns of widgets.

But widgets are no longer limited to the Today view. You can drag them out of the Today view and drop them on your home screen. There’s also a new widget gallery that lets you add widgets when you’re moving icons around on the home screen.

Image Credits: Apple

As for home screen organization, Apple knows that a lot of people have an endless list of icons, making the home screen harder to use. Apple is adding some smart organization features.

“Today’s home screen is great but as we get more apps we end up with this — lots and lots of pages,” Federighi said.

At the end of the home screen pages, there’s a new page called the App Library. All the apps that aren’t on your home screen are sorted in automatic categories, such as Apple Arcade.

The other feature that is going to have an impact on multitasking and the home screen is that you can use picture in picture on the iPhone just like on the iPad. You can keep a video in a corner of the screen and do something else on your phone.

Image Credits: Apple

Better group conversations in Messages

Messages is getting a much-needed update to compete with WhatsApp, Telegram and other popular messaging apps. You can now pin conversations at the top to access them more easily.

Conversations themselves are getting an upgrade as you can reply to individual messages. You can then tap on the reply to see the conversation as a separate thread. People can mention you and you can filter your notifications to mentions only.

Each conversation is now more customizable. You can set a photo or an emoji for a conversation. Apple also shows the icons of your contacts in a specific conversation. The most active people get a bigger icon.

Memoji is getting some new options, such as new hair options, new age options and face covers. There are new Memoji stickers as well, such as a hug sticker, a fist bump sticker and a blushing sticker.

Other apps

Apple is also adding new features to Maps. While the U.S. has received updated data, Apple is going to roll out better maps in other countries, based on its own data set. Up next, the U.K., Ireland and Canada will get much more detailed maps. And this is just the first step as the new data set opens up more possibilities.

“In iOS 14, the Maps team will be working with some of the most trusted brands to bring you guides,” Meg Frost, director Product Design of Apple Maps, said. You’ll soon be able to browse information from AllTrails, Zagat and more sources.

In some cities, Apple is going to roll out cycling as a transportation mode. It’ll take into consideration elevation. Cycling will be available in New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Shanghai and Beijing at first. For walking directions, you can now say to avoid steps and steep hills.

For drivers, there will be more features as well, such as EV routing and more information about restricted city centers. And if your car supports CarPlay, there will be more types of apps in the future, such as parking apps, EV charging apps and food-ordering apps.

Car manufacturers will also be able to let you use your iPhone as a car key. It leverages the U1 chip on the most recent iPhone models. Interestingly, you’ll be able to share your key with a friend by sending it over iMessage.

Image Credits: Apple

Redesigned Siri and new Translate app

While Siri can be hit or miss, Apple is still iterating on the voice assistant. Siri will no longer take over the entire screen when you trigger it. It’ll be a small bubble at the bottom of the screen, which doesn’t obstruct the rest of the screen. Results appear at the top of the screen and appear like a notification.

You can now ask Siri to send audio messages using iMessage. And if you hate audio messages like me, keyboard dictation has been improved. Your voice is now processed on device, which should help when it comes to speed.

Siri lets you translate words already, but Apple is going one step further by releasing a Translate app. Like Google Translate, you can have a conversation in two different languages. You can translate from voice-to-text-to-voice. If you rotate your iPhone in landscape mode, each person has one side of the screen.

App fatigue

You know that feeling. When your friends ask you to download another app, you don’t want to open the App Store. That’s why Apple is launching App Clips. They are sort of mini apps that you can launch without installing an app. It’s a small part of an app that you can easily share.

There are many ways to share App Clips. You can launch those apps from the web, from Messages, from Maps, from NFC tags or from QR codes. Get ready to see stickers at cafés, on scooters or in museums. Scan a code or tap your phone on it and you get an app-like experience. If you want to dive deeper, you can download the full app from the App Library.

More focus on privacy

Apple is adding a slew of new privacy-centric features. For instance, there’ll be a new dot in the top-right corner to indicate that an app is using or has recently used your microphone or camera. There will be new privacy cards in the App Store description pages to tell you how your data is used before you download an app. Apps will also have to ask before they track you across other apps and websites.

As always, iOS 14 will be tested over the summer and should be available to everyone in September.

Image Credits: Apple

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