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2018-05-22T13:54:27.818Z
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Fortnite is finally coming to Android…in a matter of months. After dominating the iOS gaming charts since March, the wildly popular sandbox survival game will be hitting the world’s top mobile operating system at some point this summer.

Creator Epic Games buried the news in the middle of a larger blog post titled, “The State of Mobile,” noting, vaguely, “We know many of you are excited for this release, and we promise that when we have more information to share, you’ll hear it from us first.”

That news comes amid a flurry of other Fortnite-related announcements this week. Earlier this morning, Epic unveiled a Battle Royale competition with a large in-game cash prize. This morning, the company also laid out plans to bring voice chat and improved gameplay and controls to the mobile side of things. Stats are coming to mobile, as well, along with a reduced install size.

Not that any of those issues have hampered the game’s success, of course. Earlier this year, the game was reportedly bringing in $126 million in monthly revenue — even before it arrived on iOS. With its imminent release on Android, that number’s likely to get a whole lot larger. 

What’s worse than companies selling the real-time locations of cell phones wholesale? Failing to take security precautions that prevent people from abusing the service. LocationSmart did both, as numerous sources indicated this week.

The company is adjacent to a hack of Securus, a company in the lucrative business of prison inmate communication; LocationSmart was the partner that allowed the former to provide mobile device locations in real time to law enforcement and others. There are perfectly good reasons and methods for establishing customer location, but this isn’t one of them.

Police and FBI and the like are supposed to go directly to carriers for this kind of information. But paperwork is such a hassle! If carriers let LocationSmart, a separate company, access that data, and LocationSmart sells it to someone else (Securus), and that someone else sells it to law enforcement, much less paperwork required! That’s what Securus told Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) it was doing: acting as a middle man between the government and carriers, with help from LocationSmart.

LocationSmart’s service appears to locate phones by which towers they have recently connected to, giving a location within seconds to as close as within a few hundred feet. To prove the service worked, the company (until recently) provided a free trial of its service where a prospective customer could put in a phone number and, once that number replied yes to a consent text, the location would be returned.

The bizarre recent tale of ZTE is getting another wrinkle. Earlier today, a bipartisan House Appropriations Committee unanimously voted to accept an amendment to uphold sanctions against the company.

The amendment to the 2019 Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations bill is, of course, being viewed as a rebuke of the president, whose tweets over the weekend appeared to suggest a softening on the seven-year ban imposed by the Department of Commerce last month.

In fact, the amendment’s author, Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, called out Trump by name on social media, adding in a press release tied to the news, “This amendment, which passed with the unanimous support of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, shows that, when the United States enacts sanctions, we stand behind them.”

Been sounding the alarm bells on #ZTE since 2012. Total loss to explain @realDonaldTrump decision. What is our country getting in return? And why is the "American First" President so concerned about job losses in #China? More of my thoughts here: https://t.co/9RQZoAkOMo — Dutch Ruppersberger (@Call_Me_Dutch) May 14, 2018

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the release name checks not just the sanctions violations that led to the export ban, but also claims of spying that have put the company in the crosshairs of U.S. intelligence agencies. It’s a complicated series of events that I went into a bit more detail over here....

After 14 months of silence since launching, Facebook Stories has finally announced a 150 million daily active user count for its Snapchat Stories clone. And now it’s time to earn some money off it. Facebook Stories will start testing its first ads today in the U.S., Mexico and Brazil.

They’re 5- to 15-second video ads users can skip, and while there’s no click-through or call to action now, Facebook plans to add that in the coming months. Advertisers can easily extend their Instagram Stories ads to this new surface, or have Facebook automatically reformat their News Feed ads with color-matched borders and text at the bottom. Facebook also plans to give businesses more metrics on their Stories performance to convince them the feature is worth their ad dollars.

Advertisers can extend their Instagram Stories ads to Facebook Stories (left), or have Facebook reformat their News Feed ads with color-matched image borders and ad copy text shown at the bottom

Facebook has to nail Stories ads to preserve its business, as CPO Chris Cox said this month that Stories sometime next year will surpass feed posts as the top way to share. CEO Mark Zuckerberg warned that Facebook must ensure “that ads are as good in Stories as they are in feeds. If we don’t do this well, then as more sharing shifts to Stories, that could hurt our business.” Despite...

The worst thing about Spectacles is how closely tied they are to Snapchat. The proprietary circular photo and video format looks great inside Snapchat where you can tip your phone around while always staying full screen, but it gets reduced to a small circle with a big white border when you export it to your phone for sharing elsewhere.

Luckily, Snapchat has started beta testing new export formats for Spectacles through the beta version of its app. This lets you choose a black border instead of a white one, but importantly, also a horizontal 16:9 rectangular format that would fit well on YouTube and other traditional video players. The test was first spotted by Erik Johnson, and, when asked, a Snapchat spokesperson told TechCrunch “I can confirm we’re testing it, yes.”

Allowing Spectacles to be more compatible with other services could make the v2 of its $150 photo and video-recording sunglasses much more convenient and popular. I actually ran into the Snapchat Spectacles team this weekend at the FORM Arcosanti music festival in Arizona where they were testing the new Specs and looking for ideas for their next camera. I suggested open sourcing the circular format or partnering so other apps could show it natively with the swivel effect, and Snap declined to comment about that. But now it looks like they’re embracing compatibility by just letting you ditch the proprietary format.

Breaking away from purely vertical or circular formats is also...

RED’s Hydrogen One handset is one of those devices we’ll believe when we actually see it. The company’s been promising up the $1,200 smartphone for a while now, only to be hit with delays and outright admitting, “We have no idea whatsoever what we are doing.”

Consider this some small vote of confidence, however. AT&T announced today that it will be carrying the 5.7-inch “holographic display device.” That, of course, shouldn’t be taken as a tacit approval of the device, so much as a confirmation of the fact that it does, in fact, exist.

Though in a press release tied to the announcement, a market SVP says, “This revolutionary smartphone will provide you with significant advancements in the way you create and view content on the leading network for entertainment.” So, take that as you will. Personally, I’m holding off any sort of judgement until I can hold the thing in my hands. 

The carrier mentions “later this summer” in the press release, which lines up with RED’s most recent mention of an August launch date. As for price, your guess is as good as ours. We reached out to AT&T to see whether the company will be subsidizing the product on contract, or simply offering up the $1,200 phone as is through its retail channel. The carrier won’t comment on that, yet, though its Next subsidy plan might make sense, cushioning the cost by stretching it out over a longer...

Monzo, the U.K. challenger bank, has finally added Apple Pay to its mobile-only current account. The just over three year-old fintech says it has been one of the most requested features for its banking app, with over 2,000 mentions of Apple Pay on Monzo’s forum, whilst its customer support team have been asked about the functionality more than 13,000 times. In other words, the rollout can’t come soon enough. Noteworthy, Monzo was able to add Google Pay all the way back in October 2017.

Meanwhile, many of its passionate and vocal users will be wondering what took Monzo so long (as an aside, rival challenger Starling was able to add Apple Pay in July 2017). The upstart bank, which usually makes a virtue of its community-driven approach and transparency hasn’t been able to say (or even fully acknowledge that the feature was coming), likely because Apple imposes strict rules on the ways its partners communicate working with the tech giant. And when you sign an NDA with Apple it’s not atypical for it to stipulate that you don’t talk about said NDA.

What we do know is that — similar to Apple’s iOS App Store when submitting an app — the Apple Pay approval process for a new bank partner is not for the faint-hearted. Industry insiders tell me that Google Pay has fewer hurdles to jump in comparison.

Now that the feature is live, Monzo is talking up the security and...

HMD Global has been one of the mobile world’s biggest surprise hits in recent years. Founded by former Nokia execs, the Finnish company has made a name for itself reviving the dearly departed brand on Android smartphones to great effect. And it just managed to raise another $100 million, led by Ginko Ventures’ Alpha Ginko VC branch.

The new round puts the company’s valuation at over $1 billion, according to a HMD. It’s set to use this latest round to push even more “aggressively” into the mobile category with its branded devices, “doubl[ing] down on expanding channel reach in strategic markets while continuing to deliver innovation where it matters most to consumers.”

Not that the company’s been cautious in its push thus far, of course. HMD already has A LOT of options out there for a business that’s essentially been in existence for a year and a half. At MWC back in February, it announced five new phones sporting the legacy brand, including a reboot of the 8110. The company has also been positioning itself in developing markets, where the Nokia name still has a fair amount of cache, by wholeheartedly adopting Google’s Android One program.

It’s a tricky line to walk, between an embrace of retro appreciation and an attempt to offer innovation. Continuing its successful run is going to require more than just playing upon user nostalgia for a bygone brand.

The question moving forward...

Here in the States, ZTE has been content with a kind of quiet success. The Chinese smartphone maker has landed in the top five quarter after quarter (sometimes breaking the top three, according to some analysts), behind household names like Apple, Samsung and LG. Suddenly, however, the company is on everyone’s lips, from cable news to the president’s Twitter account.

It’s the kind of publicity money can’t buy — but it’s happening for one of the worst reasons imaginable. ZTE suddenly finds itself in the eye of a looming trade war between superpowers. Iranian sanctions were violated, fines levied and seven-year international bans were instated.

It’s like a story ripped from the pages of some Cold War thriller, though instead of Jason Bourne, it’s that one budget smartphone company that you’ve maybe heard of, who maybe makes that weird Android phone with two screens.

So, how did we get here?

ZTE began U.S. operations in 1998, a little over a decade after forming in Shenzhen (and a year after going public in China) as Zhongxing Semiconductor Co., Ltd. The change of name to Zhongxing Telecommunications Equipment reflects the newfound focus for the company, which employees around 75,000 and operates in 160 countries.

While ZTE has flirted with premium and sometimes bizarre devices, in the smartphone world, the company is primarily known for its budget hardware. It’s no coincidence that the company was tapped by google...

Facebook’s future rests on convincing the developing world to adopt Stories. But just because the slideshow format will soon surpass feed sharing doesn’t mean people use them the same way everywhere. So late last year, Facebook sent a team to India to learn what features they’d need to embrace Stories across a variety of local languages on phones without much storage.

Today, Facebook will start rolling out three big Stories features in India, which will come to the rest of the world shortly after. First, to lure posts from users who don’t want to type or have a non-native language keyboard, as well as micropodcasters, Facebook Stories will allow audio posts combining a voice message with a colored background or photo.

Facebook Stories will get an Archive similar to Instagram Stories that automatically saves your clips privately after they expire so you can go back to check them out or re-share the content to the News Feed. And finally, Facebook will let Stories users privately Save their clips from the Facebook Camera directly to the social network instead of their phone in case they don’t have enough space.

Facebook Stories Archive

“We know that the performance and reliability of viewing and posting Stories is extremely important to people around the world, especially those with slower connections” Facebook’s director of Stories Connor Hayes tells me. “We are always...

As we increasingly hear about automation, artificial intelligence and robots taking away industrial jobs, Parsable, a San Francisco-based startup sees a different reality, one with millions of workers who for the most part have been left behind when it comes to bringing digital transformation to their jobs.

Parsable has developed a Connected Worker platform to help bring high tech solutions to deskless industrial workers who have been working mostly with paper-based processes. Today, it announced a $40 million Series C cash injection to keep building on that idea.

The round was led by Future Fund with help from B37 and existing investors Lightspeed Venture Partners, Airbus Ventures and Aramco Ventures. Today’s investment brings the total to nearly $70 million.

The Parsable solution works on almost any smartphone or tablet and is designed to enter information while walking around in environments where a desktop PC or laptop simply wouldn’t be practical. That means being able to tap, swipe and select easily in a mobile context.

Photo: Parsable

The challenge the company faced was the perception these workers didn’t deal well with technology. Parsable CEO Lawrence Whittle says the company, which launched in 2013, took its time building its first product because it wanted to give industrial workers something they actually needed, not what engineers thought they needed. This meant a long period of primary research.

The company learned, it had to be dead simple to allow the industry vets who had been...

GIFs offer a way to compress a ton of information into a small amount of space, and while Gfycat has positioned itself as more of a short-form video centric platform, it’s going to take a step further to see what a step beyond a standard GIF looks like.

The company today said it would be rolling out 360 degree GIF-like short form videos, which will allow users to plant themselves in the middle of what is effectively a looping video like a GIF. While that presents much more of a challenge to users for generating content, CEO Richard Rabbat said the proliferation of tools like 3D cameras and content from the actual producers like video studios would make it an increasingly popular way to interact with short-form content in a compact form factor.

“We’ve always thought that GIFs are amazing from many perspectives,” Rabbat said. “That goes beyond whether you’re looking at the content to use it in messaging, or you’re consuming it for entertainment value, or you’re using it for decoration in the case of the augmented reality effort we’re working on. We want people to really get excited about how they consume the content to the point where they can see the subjects of the content in a much more lifelike way, and really get excited about that.”

It’s not going to be all that unfamiliar from 360 degree videos you might find on Facebook or other platforms. Users on desktop can use...

Teatime Games, a new Icelandic “social games” startup from the same team behind the hugely popular QuizUp (acquired in by Glu Mobile), is disclosing $9 million in funding, made up of seed and Series A rounds.

Index Ventures led both, but have been joined by Atomico, the European VC fund founded by Skype’s Niklas Zennström, for the $7.5 million Series A round. I understand this is the first time the two VC firms have done a Series A deal together in over a decade.

Both VCs have a decent track record in gaming. Index counts King, Roblox and Supercell as previous gaming investments, whilst Atomico also backed Supercell, along with Rovio, and most recently Bossa Studios.

As part of the round, Guzman Diaz of Index Ventures, Mattias Ljungman of Atomico, and David Helgason, founder of Unity, have joined the Teatime Games board of directors.

Meanwhile, Teatime Games is keeping shtum publicly on exactly what the stealthy startup is working on, except that it plays broadly in the social and mobile gaming space. In a call with co-founder and CEO Thor Fridriksson yesterday, he said a little more off the record and on condition that I don’t write about it yet.

What he was willing to describe publicly, however, is the general problem the company has set out to solve, which is how to make mobile games more social and personalised. Specifically, in a way that any social features — including communicating with friends and other...

A few weeks ahead of its latest flagship announcement, HTC just revealed another piece of hardware. While the Taiwanese company has consolidated much of its mobile offerings in recent years, it announced today at the Consensus 2018 blockchain conference in New York that its upcoming Exodus handset is embracing everyone’s favorite tech buzzword.

So, what makes a phone a blockchain phone, exactly? Security and cryptocurrency support, mostly. According to HTC’s Exodus landing page, “Our vision is to expand the blockchain ecosystem by creating the world’s first phone dedicated to decentralized applications and security. With the release of the HTC Exodus we can now make this a reality.”

The Exodus will support Bitcoin and Ethereum, among others, courtesy of a universal wallet, secure hardware and decentralized apps. According to The Next Web, HTC has also outlined plans to create a native blockchain network, whereby cryptocurrency can be traded amongst Exodus users. Naturally, users will also be able to purchase the phone itself using cryptocurrency. That price and the release date, however, have yet to be revealed.

There’s not really a lot of information beyond that and the above drawing, but HTC is clearly gunning to make a splash as its numbers have shrunk in overall proportion to a declining smartphone market. Even with rapidly increasing awareness and interest in the cryptocurrency space, however, it’s hard to imagine Exodus making much of a splash....

Facebook just installed its VP of Internet.org as the new head of WhatsApp after its CEO Jan Koum left the company. And now Facebook is expanding its mission to get people into “meaningful” groups to WhatsApp. Today, WhatsApp launched a slew of new features for Groups on iOS and Android that let admins set a description for their community and decide who can change the Groups settings. Meanwhile, users will be able to get a Group catch up that shows messages they were mentioned in, and search for people in the group.

WhatsApp’s new Group descriptions WhatsApp Group participant search

Group improvements will help WhatsApp better compete with Telegram, which has recently emerged as an insanely popular platform for chat groups, especially around cryptocurrency. Telegram has plenty of admin controls of its own, but the two apps will be competing over who can make it easiest to digest these fast-moving chat forums.

“These are features are based on user requests. We develop the product based on what our users want and need” a WhatsApp spokesperson told me when asked why it’s making this update. “There are also people coming together in groups on WhatsApp like new parents looking for support, students organizing study sessions, and even...

23andMe, Color, and other genomic sequencing startups have exposed demand from consumers for cheap ways to test for potential problems they may have — and Amir Trabelsi hopes to bring that mentality to medical institutions around the world.

That’s the hope for Genoox, a genomic analysis startup that’s geared toward doctors, clinicians and researchers that hopes to lower the cost of getting data from gene sequencing, and speed that process up, in the same ways that 23andMe and Color have done for consumers. Genoox at its heart is a data science company, taking the raw data from a genome sequencing and figuring out how to convey actionable information to medical professionals — and, hopefully, on a more complete scale than just consumer startups targeting specific health problems. The company said it has raised a $6 million funding round led by Triventures, a healthcare-focused venture firm.

“We want to bring [medical institutions] the ability to run clinical applications and use genomic data part of the clinical routine,” Genoox co-founder Trabelsi said. “We understand the direct-to-consumer market is growing and the demand is growing, but there is a gap in clinical applications. Genomic data is complicated especially when it comes to clinical outcomes — how can you make things more actionable for [professionals], how can you reduce the cost and overhead, and how can you filter out what is relevant and not relevant.”

Trabelsi said the goal is not to just...

When Apple introduced its completely redesigned App Store last fall, one of its goals was to improve app discovery by placing a larger emphasis on editorial content – including things like “app of the day” picks, lists, how-to’s and even interviews with app developers, among other things. Now, a new study from Sensor Tower reveals those changes appear to have been working.

According to Sensor Tower’s findings, more apps are being discovered by way of browsing the App Store following the redesign launched in September.

Before, browse-driven downloads accounted for around 10 percent of all downloads. With the new App Store, they’ve grown to more than 15 percent. And that increase has held steady into 2018, even as the initial excitement around the App Store revamp has worn off.

Despite the growth in app discovery by browsing, searching for app by typing keywords into the search box is still, by far, the primary way consumers are finding and downloading new apps. Today, search accounts for 65 percent of downloads – well ahead of browse, referrals, or other methods.

Sensor Tower based its findings on data collected on app downloads between May 2017 and April 2018, it says.

The report also delved into the differences between how consumers discover apps and games.

As it turns out, browsing plays a much more significant role...

“Last year was pretty hard, I’m not gonna lie,” says Peter Deng, Uber’s head of rider experience. But as part of new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi’s push to rebrand Uber around safety, Deng says, “we’ve seen the company shift to more listening.”

That focus on hearing users’ concerns prompted today’s change. Have a bad Uber ride when you’re busy and you might neglect to rate the driver or accidentally rush through giving them 5 stars. Forcing users to wait until a ride ends to provide feedback deprives them of a sense of control, while decreasing the number of accurate data points Uber has to optimize its service.

I had just this experience last month, leading me to tweet that Uber should let us rate trips mid-ride:

Uber & Lyft could let us rate drivers mid-ride, but only apply the ratings 5 minutes after a ride ends in case something goes better/worse before the end of the trip. — Josh Constine (@JoshConstine) April 25, 2018

Uber apparently felt similarly, so it’s making an update. Starting today, Uber users can rate their trip mid-ride, providing a star rating with categorized and written feedback, plus a compliment or tip at any time instead of having to wait for the trip to end. “Every day 15 million people take a ride on Uber. If you can capture incrementally more and better feedback . . . we’re going to use that...

Lenovo has teased a new arrival that might top Apple’s iPhone X in a bid to deliver a true all-screen smartphone.

Apple’s iPhone X goes very close but for a tiny bezel and its distinctive notch, but Lenovo’s Z5 seems like it might go a step further, according to a teaser sketch (above) shared by Lenovo VP Chang Cheng on Weibo that was first noted by CNET.

The device is due in June and Cheng claimed it is the result of “four technological breakthroughs” and “18 patented technologies,” but he didn’t provide further details.

The executive previously shared a slice of the design — see right — on Weibo, with a claim that it boasts a 95 percent screen-to-body ratio.

Indeed, the image appears to show a device without a top screen notch à la the iPhone X. Where Lenovo will put the front-facing camera, mic, sensors and other components isn’t clear right now.

A number of Android phone-makers have copied Apple’s design fairly shamelessly. That’s ironic given that Apple was widely derided when it first unveiled the phone.

Nonetheless, the device has sold well and that’s captured the attention of Huawei, Andy Rubin’s Essential, Asus and others who have embraced the notch. The design is so common now that Google even moved the clock in Android P to make space for the notch.

Time will tell what...

Snap screwed it all up jumbling messages and Stories, banishing creators to Discover and wrecking auto-advance. Prideful of his gut instincts, Snap CEO Evan Spiegel refused to listen to the awful user reviews and declining usage. Now a YouGov study shows a 73 percent drop in user sentiment toward Snapchat, the app’s user count shrank in March and its share price is way down.

Yet the re-redesign Snapchat is finally rolling out today in response won’t fix the problems. The company still fails to understand that people want a predictable app that’s convenient to lay back and watch, and social media stars are more similar to you and me than they are to news outlets producing mobile magazine-style Discover content.

There’s a much better path for Snapchat, but it will require an ego adjustment and a bigger reversal of the changes — philosophy be damned.

Snapchat’s impression amongst US users fell off a cliff when the redesign was rolled out early this year

Here’s what Snapchat was, is becoming and should be.

The old Snapchat

Snapchat’s best design was in September 2016. It lacked sensible Stories sorting, and got some questionable changes before the big January 2018 redesign, but the fundamentals were there:

  • Left: Messages in reverse chronological order
  • Right: Stories from everyone in reverse chronological order with a carousel of...