Snapchat loses 2M more users in Q3 as shares sink to new low

Snapchat loses 2M more users in Q3 as shares sink to new low

Snapchat continued to shrink in Q3 2018 but its business is steadily improving. Snapchat’s daily active user count dropped again, this time by 1 percent to 186 million, down from 188M and a negative 1.5 percent growth rate in Q2. User count is still up 5 percent year-over-year, though. Snapchat earned $298 million in revenue with an EPS loss of $0.12, beating Wall Street’s expectations of $283 million in revenue and EPS loss of $0.14, plus a loss of a half a million users.

Snap entered earnings with a $6.99 share price, close to its $6.46 all-time low and way down from its $24 IPO opening price. Snap lost $325 million this quarter compared to $353 million in Q2, so it’s making some progress with its cost cutting. That briefly emboldened Wall Street, which pushed the share price up 8.3 percent to around $7.57 right after earnings were announced.

But then Snap’s share price came crashing down to -9.3 percent to $6.31 in after-hours trading. The stock had been so heavily shorted by investors that it only needed modest growth in its business for shares to perk up, but the fear that Snap might shrink into nothing has investors weary. Projections that Snap will lose users again next quarter further scared off investors.

Worringly, Snapchat’s average revenue per user dropped 12.5 percent in the developing world this quarter. But strong gains in the US and Europe markets grew global ARPU by 14 percent. Snap projects $355 million to $380 million in holiday Q4 revenue, in line with analyst estimates.

In his prepared remarks, CEO Evan Spiegel admitted that “While we have incredible reach among our core demographic of 13- to 34-year-olds in the US and Europe, there are billions of people worldwide who do not yet use Snapchat.” He explained that the 2 million user loss was mostly on Android where Snapchat doesn’t run as well as on iOS. Noticibly absent was an update on monthly active users in the US and Canada. Snap said that was over 100 million monthly users last quarter, probably in an effort to distract from the daily user shrinkage. The company didn’t update that stat, but did say the “over 100 million” stat was still accurate.

Snap CEO Evan Spiegel

Spiegel had said in a memo that his stretch goal was break-even this year and full-year profitability in 2019. But CFO Tim Stone said that “Looking forward to 2019, our internal stretch output goal will be an acceleration of revenue growth and full year free cash flow and profitability. Bear in mind that an internal stretch goal is not a forecast, and it’s not guidance.”

During the call, Spiegel responded to questions about the Android overhaul’s schedule saying, “Quality takes time. We’re going wait until we get it right”. But analysts piled on with inquiries about how Snap would turn things around in 2019. He admitted Snaps created per day had dropped from 3.5 billion to 3 billion per day, but tried to reassure investors by saying over 60% of our users are still creating snaps every day.

Spiegel said that expanding beyond the 13 to 34-year-old age group in the US and Europe, plus scoring more users in the developing world via the improved Android app would be how it restores momentum. But the problem is that courting older users could sour the perception of its younger users who don’t want their parents, teachers, or bosses on the app.

Now down to $1.4 billion in cash and securities, Snap will need to start reaching more of those international users or improving monetization of those it still has to keep afloat without outside capital.

An Uphill Battle

Q3 saw Snapchat’s launch its first in-house augmented reality Snappable games, while plans for an third-party gaming platform leak.  The Snappable Tic-Tac-Toe game saw 80 million unique users, suggesting gaming could be the right direction for Snap to move towards.

It launched Lens Explorer to draw more attention to developer and creator-built augmented reality experiences, plus its Storyteller program to connect social media stars to brands to earn sponsorship money. It also shut down its Venmo-like Snapcash feature. But the biggest news came from its Q2 earnings report where it announced it’d lost 3 million users. That scored it a short-lived stock price pop, but competition and user shrinkage has pushed Snap’s shares to new lows.

Snapchat is depending on the Project Mushroom engineering overhaul of its Android app to speed up performance, and thereby accelerate user growth and retention. Snap neglected the developing world’s Android market for years as it focused on iPhone-toting US teens. Given Snapchat is all about quick videos, slow load times made it nearly unusable, especially in markets with slower network connections and older phones.

Looking at the competitive landscape, WhatsApp’s Snapchat Stories clone Status has grown to 450 million daily users while Instagram Stories has reached 400 million dailies — much of that coming in the developing world, thereby blocking Snap’s growth abroad as I predicted when Insta Stories launched.. Snap Map hasn’t become ubiquitous, Snap’s Original Shows still aren’t premium enough to drag in tons of new users, Discover is a clickbait-overloaded mess, and Instagram has already copied the best parts of its ephemeral messaging. Snap could be vulnerable in the developing world if WhatsApp similarly copies its disappearing chats.

At this rate, Snap will run out of money before it’s projected to become profitable in 2020 or 2021. That means the company will likely need to sell new shares in exchange for outside investment or get acquired to survive.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

White House belatedly begins planning for 5G with memo asking for policy recommendations

White House belatedly begins planning for 5G with memo asking for policy recommendations

The White House has issued a memorandum outlining the need for a new national wireless connectivity strategy; the document doesn’t really establish anything new, but does request lots of reports on how things are going. Strangely, what it proposes sounds a lot like what the FCC already does.

The memorandum, heralded by a separate post announcing that “America Will Win the Global Race to 5G,” is not exactly a statement of policy, though it does put a few things out there. It’s actually more of a request for information on which to base a future policy — apparently one that will win us a global race that began years ago.

In fact, the U.S. has been pursuing a broad 5G policy for quite a while now, and under President Obama we were the first country to allocate spectrum to the nascent standard. But since then progress has stalled and we have been overtaken by the likes of South Korea and Spain in policy steps like spectrum auctions.

After some talk about the “insatiable demand” for wireless spectrum and the economic importance of wireless communications, the memo gets to business. Reports are requested within 180 days from various Executive branch departments and agencies on “their anticipated future spectrum requirements,” as well as reviews of their current spectrum usage.

The Office of Science and Technology Policy is asked to report in the same time period on how emerging tech (smart homes and grids, for instance) could affect spectrum demand, and how research and development spending should be guided to improve spectrum access.

Another report from the Secretary of Commerce will explain “existing efforts and planned near- to mid-term spectrum repurposing initiatives.”

Then, 270 days from today the various entities involved here, including the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the FCC, will deliver a “long-term National Spectrum Strategy” that hits a number of targets:

  • Increase spectrum access, security and transparency
  • Create flexible spectrum management models, including standards, incentives and enforcement mechanisms
  • “Develop advanced technologies” to improve spectrum access and sharing
  • Improve the global competitiveness of U.S. “terrestrial and space-related industries” (which seems to encompass all of them)

It’s not exactly ambitious; the terms are vague enough that one would expect any new legislation or rules to accomplish or accommodate these things. One would hardly want a spectrum policy that decreased access and transparency. In fact, the previous administration issued spectrum memos much like these, years ago.

Meanwhile, this fresh start may frustrate those in government who are already doing this work. The FCC has been pursuing 5G and new spectrum policy for years, and it’s been a particular focus of Chairman Ajit Pai. He proposed a bunch of rules months ago, and just yesterday there was a proposal to bring Wi-Fi up to a more compatible and future-proof state.

It’s entirely possible that the agency may have to justify and re-propose things it’s already doing, or see those actions and rules questioned or altered by committees over the next year. From what I heard this whole effort from the White House was pursued without much participation from the FCC. I’ve contacted the Chairman’s office for details (he’s out of the country presently and had no prepared statement, which may give you an idea of his level of involvement).

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel was not enthusiastic about the memo.

“We are ripping up what came before and starting with a new wireless policy sometime late next year. But the world isn’t going to wait for us,” she said in a statement provided to TechCrunch. “Other nations are moving ahead with strategies they are implementing now while we’re headed to study hall — and in the interim we’re slapping big tariffs on the most essential elements of 5G networks. If you stand back and survey what is happening, you see that we’re not expediting our 5G wireless leadership, we’re making choices that slow us down.”

Whether this new effort will yield worthwhile results, we’ll know in 270 days. Until then the authorities already attempting to make the U.S. the leader in 5G will continue doing what they’re doing.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Fleksy’s keyboard grabs $800k+ via equity crowdfunding

Fleksy’s keyboard grabs 0k+ via equity crowdfunding

The dev team that’s now engineering the Fleksy keyboard app has raised more than $800,000 via an equity crowdfunding route.

As we reported a year ago, the development of Fleksy’s keyboard has been taken over by the Barcelona-based startup behind an earlier keyboard app called ThingThing.

The team says their new funding raise — described as a pre-Series A round — will be put towards continued product development of the Fleksy keyboard, including the core AI engine used for next word and content prediction, plus additional features being requested by users — such as swipe to type. 

Support for more languages is also planned. (Fleksy’s Android and iOS apps are currently available in 45+ languages.)

Their other big push will be for growth: Scaling the user-base via a licensing route to market in which the team pitches Android OEMs on the benefits of baking Fleksy in as the default keyboard — offering a high degree of customization, alongside a feature-set that boasts not just speedy typing but apps within apps and extensions. 

The Fleksy keyboard can offer direct access to web search within the keyboard, for example, as well as access to third party apps (in an apps within apps play) — to reduce the need for full app switching.

This was the original concept behind ThingThing’s eponymous keyboard app, though the team has refocused efforts on Fleksy. And bagged their first OEMs as licensing partners.

They’ve just revealed Palm as an early partner. The veteran brand unveiled a dinky palm-sized ‘ultra-mobile’ last week. The tiny extra detail is that the device runs a custom version of the Fleksy keyboard out of the box.

With just 3.3 inches of screen to play with, the keyboard on the Palm risks being a source of stressful friction. Ergo enter Fleksy, with gesture based tricks to speed up cramped typing, plus tried and tested next-word prediction.

ThingThing CEO Olivier Plante says Palm was looking for an “out of the box optimized input method” — and more than that “high customization”.

“We’re excited to team up with ThingThing to design a custom keyboard that delivers a full keyboard typing experience for Palm’s ultra mobile form factor,” adds Dennis Miloseski, co-founder of Palm, in a statement. “Fleksy enables gestures and voice-to-text which makes typing simple and convenient for our users on the go.”

Plante says Fleksy has more OEM partnerships up its sleeve too. “We’re pending to announce new partnerships very soon and grow our user base to more than 25 million users while bringing more revenue to the medium and small OEMs desperately looking to increase their profit margins — software is the cure,” he tells TechCrunch.

ThingThing is pitching itself as a neutral player in the keyboard space, offering OEMs a highly tweakable layer where the Qwerty sits as its strategy to compete with Android’s keyboard giants: Google’s Gboard and Microsoft-owned SwiftKey. 

“We changed a lot of things in Fleksy so it feels native,” says Plante, discussing the Palm integration. “We love when the keyboard feels like the brand and with Palm it’s completely a Palm keyboard to the end-user — and with stellar performance on a small screen.”

“We’ve beaten our competitor to the punch,” he adds. 

That said, the tiny Palm (pictured in the feature image at the top of this post) is unlikely to pack much of a punch in marketshare terms. While Palm is a veteran — and, to nerds, almost cult — brand it’s not even a mobile tiddler in smartphone marketshare terms.

Palm’s cute micro phone is also an experimental attempt to create a new mobile device category — a sort of netbook-esque concept of an extra mobile that’s extra portable — which looks unlikely to be anything other than extremely niche. (Added to its petite size, the Palm is a Verizon exclusive.)

Even so ThingThing is talking bullishly of targeting 550M devices using its keyboard by 2020.

At this stage its user-base from pure downloads is also niche: Just over 1M active users. But Plante says it has already closed “several phone brands partnerships” — saying three are signed, with three more in the works — claiming this will make Fleksy the default input method in more than 20-30 million active users in the coming months. 

He doesn’t name any names but describes these other partners as “other major phone brands”.

The plan to grow Fleksy’s user-base via licensing has attracted wider investor backing now, via the equity crowdfunding route. The team had initially been targeting ($300k). In all they’ve secured $815,119 from 446 investors.

Plante says they went down the equity crowdfunding route to spread their pitch more widely, and get more ambassadors on board — as well as to demonstrate “that we’re a user-centric/people/independent company aiming big”.

“We are keen to work and fully customize the keyboard to the OEM tastes. We know this is key for them so they can better compete against the others on more than simply the hardware,” he says, making the ‘Fleksy for OEMs’ pitch. “Today, the market is saturated with yet another box, better camera and better screen…. the missing piece in Android ecosystem is software differences.”

Given how tight margins remain for Android makers it remains to be seen how many will bite. Though there’s a revenue share arrangement that sweetens the deal.

It is also certainly true that differentiation in the Android space is a big problem. That’s why Palm is trying its hand at a smaller form factor — in a leftfield attempt to stand out by going small.

The European Union’s recent antitrust ruling against Google’s Android OS has also opened up an opportunity for additional software customization, via unbundled Google apps. So there’s at least a chance for some new thinking and ideas to emerge in the regional Android smartphone space. And that could be good for Spain-based ThingThing.

Aside from the licensing fee, the team’s business model relies on generating revenue via affiliate links and its fleksyapps platform. ThingThing then shares revenue with OEM partners, so that’s another carrot for them — offering a services topper on their hardware margin.

Though that piece will need scale to really spin up. Hence ThingThing’s user target for Fleksy being so big and bold.

“We’re working with brands in order to bring them into any apps where you type, which unlocks brand new use cases and enables the user to share conveniently and the brand to drive mobile traffic to their service,” says Plante. “On this note, we monetize via affiliate/deep linking and operating a fleksyapps Store.”

ThingThing has also made privacy by design a major focus — which is a key way it’s hoping to make the keyboard app stand out against data-mining big tech rivals.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Google Maps takes on Facebook Pages with new ‘Follow’ feature for tracking businesses

Google Maps takes on Facebook Pages with new ‘Follow’ feature for tracking businesses

Google Maps has been steadily rolling out new features to make its app more than just a way to find places and navigate to them. In recent months, it’s added things like group trip planningmusic controls, commuter tools, ETA sharing, personalized recommendations, and more. Now, it’s introducing a new way for users to follow their favorite businesses, as well – like restaurants, bars, or stores, for example – in order to stay on top of their news and updates.

If that sounds a lot like Google Maps’ own version of Facebook Pages, you’re right.

Explains the company, once you tap the new “follow” to track a business, you’ll then be able to see news from those places like their upcoming events, their offers, and other updates right in the “For You” tab on Google Maps.

Events, deals and photo-filled posts designed to encourage foot traffic? That definitely sounds like a Facebook Page competitor aimed at the brick-and-mortar crowd.

Businesses can also use the Google Maps platform to start reaching potential customers before they open to the public, Google notes.

After building a Business Profile using Google My Business which includes their opening date, the business will then be surfaced in users’ searches on mobile web and in the app, up to three months before their opening.

This profile will display the opening date in orange just below the business name, and users can save the business to one of their lists, if they choose. Users can also view all the other usual business information, like address, phone, website and photos.

The new “follow” feature will be accessible to the over 150 million places already on Google Maps, as well as the millions of users who are seeking them out.

The feature has been spotted in the wild for some time before Google’s official announcement this week, and is rolling out over the next few weeks, initially on Android.

The “For You” tab is currently available in limited markets, with more countries coming soon, says Google.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Xiaomi opts for sliding camera and no notch for new bezel-less Mi Mix phone

Xiaomi opts for sliding camera and no notch for new bezel-less Mi Mix phone

Xiaomi has announced the newest version of its bezel-less Mi Mix family, and it doesn’t sport a notch like its Mi 8 flagship. Indeed, unlike the Mi 8 — which I called one of Xiaomi’s most brazen Apple clones — there’s a lot more to get excited about.

The Mi Mix 3 was unveiled at an event in Beijing and, like its predecessor, Xiaomi boasts that it offers a full front screen. Rather than opting for the near-industry standard notch, Xiaomi has developed a slider that houses its front-facing camera. Vivo and Oppo have done similar using a motorized approach, but Xiaomi’s is magnetic while it can also be programmed for functions such as answering calls.

That array gives it a claimed 93.4 percent screen-to-body ratio and a full 6.4-inch 1080p AMOLED display. The slider, by the way, is good for 300,000 cycles, according to Xiaomi’s lab testing.

The device itself follows the much-lauded Mi Mix aesthetic with a Snapdragon 845 processor and up to 10GB in RAM (!) in the highest-end model. Xiaomi puts plenty of emphasis on cameras. The Mi Mix 3 includes four of them: a 24-megapixel front camera paired with a two-megapixel sensor and on the back, like the Mi 8, a dual camera array with two 12-megapixel cameras.

Xiaomi has also snuck an ‘AI button’ on the left side of the phone, a first for the company. That awakens its Xiao Ai voice assistant, but since it only supports Chinese don’t expect to see that on worldwide models.

The 10GB version — made in partnership with Palace Museum, located at the Forbidden City where the device was launched — also packs 256GB of onboard storage and is priced at RMB 4,999, or $720. That’s in addition to a ceramic design that Xiaomi says is inspired by the museum… better that than a fruity-sounding U.S. company.

That’s the special model, and the more affordable options include 6GB + 128GB for RMB 3,299 ($475), 8GB +128G for RMB 3,599 ($520) and 8GB + 256GB for RMB 3,999 ($575). The company also plans to introduce a 5G version in Europe sometime early next year.

Xiaomi said the phones will go on sale in China from 1 November, there’s no word on international availability or pricing right now.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

LG retains confidence in its mobile business despite continued losses

LG retains confidence in its mobile business despite continued losses

LG remains confident that it can turn the corner for its serially unprofitable mobile business despite the division racking up a loss of over $400 million this year so far.

The Korean company as a whole is having a good year. Following a record six months of profit and revenue in the first half of 2018, the group saw Q3 revenue jump 2.7 percent sequentially to reach 15.43 trillion KRW, or $13.76 billion. Operating profit rose by 45 percent year-on-year to reach 748.8 billion KRW, that’s $667.7 million.

The company’s home entertainment business is the standout performer generating total sales of 3.71 trillion RKW ($3.31 billion) and a 325.1 billion KRW ($289.9 million) profit, with LG Mobile second in terms of revenue. But, the mobile division continues to bleed cash. This time around in Q3, its losses were 146.3 billion RKW, that’s $130.5 million.

That betters large losses for Q3 2016 and 2017 — 436.4 billion KRW and 436.4 billion KRW, respectively — but it means that LG’s mobile division has lost the company $410 million in 2018 so far. But, as the chart below shows, LG has a long way to go before its mobile business stops hurting the group’s overall bottom line and restricting its otherwise impressive growth as a company.

The company played up its performance with a claim that it had weathered challenging global markets — where Chinese brands are competing hard and mobile saturation is weakening consumer demand — by “significantly reduced its operating deficit as a direct result of its business plan and its stronger focus on mid-range products.”

LG recently outed its new V40 ThinQ, a flagship smartphone that packs no fewer than five cameras, and it is optimistic that its launch will boost sales in the final quarter of the year. More widely, it said that the cost-cutting strategy implemented with the appointment of new LG Mobile CEO Hwang Jeong-hwan last November will see it continue to “consolidate and implement a more profitable foundation.”

That strategy has focused around mid-range devices and emerging markets, where LG believes it can offer strong value for money that’ll appeal to consumers in the market for a deal. That explains why mobile division sales are down this year but, crucially, the division is bleeding less capital. Whilst that strategy has helped stem losses, it remains to be seen whether it is the right one to turn the unit profitable.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Facebook launches Candidate Info where politicians pitch on camera

Facebook launches Candidate Info where politicians pitch on camera

Facebook wants to make YouTube-style monologue videos the new way for politicians to talk straight with their constituency. Today, Facebook launches Candidate Info, featuring thousands of direct-to-camera vertical videos where federal, state and local candidates introduce themselves and explain their top policy priority, qualifications and biggest goal if they win office. Elizabeth Warren (D – MA Senate), Scott Walker (R – WI Governor) and Beto O’Rourke (D – TX Senate) have already posted, and Facebook expects more candidates to jump in shortly.

These videos will soon be available as part of an Election 2018 bookmark in the Facebook mobile app’s navigation drawer. And starting next week, the clips will begin appearing to potential constituents in the News Feed.

Facebook tells me these videos will make it easier for people to learn about and compare different candidates. The effort extends the Town Hall feature Facebook launched in 2017 that offers a personalized directory of candidates they could vote for. Candidate Info will similarly only show videos from politicians running in elections relevant to a given user, so if you’re in California you won’t see videos from the Texas senate race between O’Rourke and Ted Cruz. But you can still find their videos on their Facebook Pages.

With the mid-terms fast approaching, Facebook is trying to do everything it can to protect against election interference by foreign and domestic attackers, offer transparency about who bought campaign adsconnect users to candidates and encourage people to register and vote. With fake news that spread through the social network thought to have influenced the 2016 election, and ill-gotten Facebook user data from Cambridge Analytica applied to Donald Trump’s campaign ad targeting, Facebook is hoping to avoid similar problematic narratives this time around.

You can see some examples of Candidate Info videos below from O’Rourke and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

( function() {
var func = function() {
var iframe = document.getElementById(‘wpcom-iframe-38b713b97adbd67aae02c9bd976e1c04’)
if ( iframe ) {
iframe.onload = function() {
iframe.contentWindow.postMessage( {
‘msg_type’: ‘poll_size’,
‘frame_id’: ‘wpcom-iframe-38b713b97adbd67aae02c9bd976e1c04’
}, “https://tcprotectedembed.com” );
}
}

// Autosize iframe
var funcSizeResponse = function( e ) {

var origin = document.createElement( ‘a’ );
origin.href = e.origin;

// Verify message origin
if ( ‘tcprotectedembed.com’ !== origin.host )
return;

// Verify message is in a format we expect
if ( ‘object’ !== typeof e.data || undefined === e.data.msg_type )
return;

switch ( e.data.msg_type ) {
case ‘poll_size:response’:
var iframe = document.getElementById( e.data._request.frame_id );

if ( iframe && ” === iframe.width )
iframe.width = ‘100%’;
if ( iframe && ” === iframe.height )
iframe.height = parseInt( e.data.height );

return;
default:
return;
}
}

if ( ‘function’ === typeof window.addEventListener ) {
window.addEventListener( ‘message’, funcSizeResponse, false );
} else if ( ‘function’ === typeof window.attachEvent ) {
window.attachEvent( ‘onmessage’, funcSizeResponse );
}
}
if (document.readyState === ‘complete’) { func.apply(); /* compat for infinite scroll */ }
else if ( document.addEventListener ) { document.addEventListener( ‘DOMContentLoaded’, func, false ); }
else if ( document.attachEvent ) { document.attachEvent( ‘onreadystatechange’, func ); }
} )();

( function() {
var func = function() {
var iframe = document.getElementById(‘wpcom-iframe-7d0089af380fb55367d7b9b39ba0f114’)
if ( iframe ) {
iframe.onload = function() {
iframe.contentWindow.postMessage( {
‘msg_type’: ‘poll_size’,
‘frame_id’: ‘wpcom-iframe-7d0089af380fb55367d7b9b39ba0f114’
}, “https://tcprotectedembed.com” );
}
}

// Autosize iframe
var funcSizeResponse = function( e ) {

var origin = document.createElement( ‘a’ );
origin.href = e.origin;

// Verify message origin
if ( ‘tcprotectedembed.com’ !== origin.host )
return;

// Verify message is in a format we expect
if ( ‘object’ !== typeof e.data || undefined === e.data.msg_type )
return;

switch ( e.data.msg_type ) {
case ‘poll_size:response’:
var iframe = document.getElementById( e.data._request.frame_id );

if ( iframe && ” === iframe.width )
iframe.width = ‘100%’;
if ( iframe && ” === iframe.height )
iframe.height = parseInt( e.data.height );

return;
default:
return;
}
}

if ( ‘function’ === typeof window.addEventListener ) {
window.addEventListener( ‘message’, funcSizeResponse, false );
} else if ( ‘function’ === typeof window.attachEvent ) {
window.attachEvent( ‘onmessage’, funcSizeResponse );
}
}
if (document.readyState === ‘complete’) { func.apply(); /* compat for infinite scroll */ }
else if ( document.addEventListener ) { document.addEventListener( ‘DOMContentLoaded’, func, false ); }
else if ( document.attachEvent ) { document.attachEvent( ‘onreadystatechange’, func ); }
} )();

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Facebook confirms it’s building augmented reality glasses

Facebook confirms it’s building augmented reality glasses
“Yeah! Well of course we’re working on it,” Facebook’s head of augmented reality Ficus Kirkpatrick told me when I asked him at TechCrunch’s AR/VR event in LA if Facebook was building AR glasses. “We are building hardware products. We’re going forward on this . . . We want to see those glasses come into reality, and I think we want to play our part in helping to bring them there.”
This is the clearest confirmation we’ve received yet from Facebook about its plans for AR glasses. The product could be Facebook’s opportunity to own a mainstream computing device on which its software could run after a decade of being beholden to smartphones built, controlled and taxed by Apple and Google.

Fresh off the heels of its first hardware launch, Facebook's Fiscus Kirkpatrick says the company is also working on an AR headset https://t.co/AS8IMIO56b #TCARVR pic.twitter.com/eWW6JX22yc
— TechCrunch (@TechCrunch) October 24, 2018

This month, Facebook launched its first self-branded gadget out of its Building 8 lab, the Portal smart display, and now it’s revving up hardware efforts. For AR, Kirkpatrick told me, “We have no product to announce right now. But we have a lot of very talented people doing really, really compelling cutting-edge research that we hope plays a part in the future of headsets.”
There’s a war brewing here. AR startups like Magic Leap and Thalmic Labs are starting to release their first headsets and glasses. Microsoft is considered a leader thanks to its early HoloLens product, while Google Glass is still being developed for the enterprise. And Apple has acquired AR hardware developers like Akonia Holographics and Vrvana to accelerate development of its own headsets.
Mark Zuckerberg said at F8 2017 that AR glasses were 5 to 7 years away
Technological progress and competition seems to have sped up Facebook’s timetable. Back in April 2017, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said, “We all know where we want this to get eventually, we want glasses,” but explained that “we do not have the science or technology today to build the AR glasses that we want. We may in five years, or seven years.” He explained that “We can’t build the AR product that we want today, so building VR is the path to getting to those AR glasses.” The company’s Oculus division had talked extensively about the potential of AR glasses, yet similarly characterized them as far off.
But a few months later, a Facebook patent application for AR glasses was spotted by Business Insider that detailed using “waveguide display with two-dimensional scanner” to project media onto the lenses. Cheddar’s Alex Heath reports that Facebook is working on Project Sequoia that uses projectors to display AR experiences on top of physical objects like a chess board on a table or a person’s likeness on something for teleconferencing. These indicate Facebook was moving past AR research.
Facebook AR glasses patent application
Last month, The Information spotted four Facebook job listings seeking engineers with experience building custom AR computer chips to join the Facebook Reality Lab (formerly known as Oculus research). And a week later, Oculus’ Chief Scientist Michael Abrash briefly mentioned amidst a half-hour technical keynote at the company’s VR conference that “No off the shelf display technology is good enough for AR, so we had no choice but to develop a new display system. And that system also has the potential to bring VR to a different level.”
But Kirkpatrick clarified that he sees Facebook’s AR efforts not just as a mixed reality feature of VR headsets. “I don’t think we converge to one single device . . . I don’t think we’re going to end up in a Ready Player One future where everyone is just hanging out in VR all the time,” he tells me. “I think we’re still going to have the lives that we have today where you stay at home and you have maybe an escapist, immersive experience or you use VR to transport yourself somewhere else. But I think those things like the people you connect with, the things you’re doing, the state of your apps and everything needs to be carried and portable on-the-go with you as well, and I think that’s going to look more like how we think about AR.”
Oculus Chief Scientist Michael Abrash makes predictions about the future of AR and VR at the Oculus Connect 5 conference
Oculus virtual reality headsets and Facebook augmented reality glasses could share an underlying software layer, though, which might speed up engineering efforts while making the interface more familiar for users. “I think that all this stuff will converge in some way maybe at the software level,” Kirkpatrick said.
The problem for Facebook AR is that it may run into the same privacy concerns that people had about putting a Portal camera inside their homes. While VR headsets generate a fictional world, AR must collect data about your real-world surroundings. That could raise fears about Facebook surveilling not just our homes but everything we do, and using that data to power ad targeting and content recommendations. This brand tax haunts Facebook’s every move.
Startups with a cleaner slate like Magic Leap and giants with a better track record on privacy like Apple could have an easier time getting users to put a camera on their heads. Facebook would likely need a best-in-class gadget that does much that others can’t in order to convince people it deserves to augment their reality.
You can watch our full interview with Facebook’s director of camera and head of augmented reality engineering Ficus Kirkpatrick from our TechCrunch Sessions: AR/VR event in LA:

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

Mobvoi launches new $200 smartwatch and $130 AirPods alternative

Mobvoi launches new 0 smartwatch and 0 AirPods alternative
Chinese AI company Mobvoi has consistently been one of the best also-rans in the smartwatch game, which remains dominated by Apple. Today, it launched a sequel to its 2016 TicWatch, which was a viral hit raising over $2 million on Kickstarter, and it unveiled a cheaper take on Apple’s AirPods.
The new TicWatch C2 was outed at a London event and is priced at $199.99. Unlike its predecessor, it has shifted from Mobvoi’s own OS to Google’s Wear OS. That isn’t a huge surprise, though, since Mobvoi’s newer budget watches and ‘pro’ watch have both already made that jump.
The C2 — which stands for classic 2 — packs NFC, Bluetooth, NFC and a voice assistant. It comes in black, platinum and rose gold. The latter color option — shown below — is thinner so presumably it is designed for female wrists.

However, there’s a compromise since the watch isn’t shipping with Qualcomm’s newest Snapdragon Wear 3100 chip. Mobvoi has instead picked the older 2100 processor. That might explain the price, but it will mean that newer Android Wear watches shipping in the company months have better performance, particularly around battery life. As it stands, the TicWatch C2 claims a day-two life but the processor should be a consideration for would-be buyers.
Mobvoi also outed TicPods Free, its take on Apple’s wireless AirPods. They are priced at $129.99 and available in red, white and blue.
The earbuds already raised over $2.8 million from Indiegogo — Mobvoi typically uses crowdfunding to gather feedback and assess customer interest — and early reviews have been positive.

They work on Android and iOS and include support for Alex and Google Assistant. They also include gesture-based controls beyond the Apple-style taps for skipping music, etc. Battery life without the case, which doubles as a charger, is estimated at 18 hours, or four hours of listening time.
The TicPods are available to buy online now. The TicWatch C2 is up for pre-sale ahead of a “wide” launch that’s planned for December 6.
Mobvoi specializes in AI and it includes Google among its investors. It also has a joint venture with VW that is focused on bringing Ai into the automotive industry. In China it is best known for AI services but globally, in the consumer space, it also offers a Google Assistant speaker called TicHome Mini.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch