Smartphones


More good news from a smartphone market currently rebounding from the far reaching impacts of the pandemic. New numbers from Canalys put global shipments for Q1 2021 at 27% above where they were the same time last year.

The industry was hit early and hit hard by Covid-19. The first quarter saw company running into serious supply chain issues as the pandemic first hit China and parts of Asia where most manufacturing occurs. Following that, demand began to slow, as fewer people were interested in buying mobile devices, coupled with broader economic and job impacts.

Image Credits: Canalys

Samsung continued to lead the way globally, with 76.5 million, up from 59.6 million, representing a 28% jump, year-over-year. In all, the company controls around 22% of global shipments (same as a year prior).

In second place, Apple represented the biggest jump of the quarter, with a 41% increase from 37.1 million to 52.4 million. That no doubt owes substantially to the big upgrades that arrived toward to the end of last year. Huawei’s struggles, meanwhile, have knocked the company out of the top five.

“Xiaomi is in pole position to be the new Huawei,” said Canalys’ Ben Stanton said in a release. “Its competitors offer superior channel margin, but Xiaomi’s sheer volume actually gives distributors a better opportunity to make money than rival brands. But the race is not over. Oppo and Vivo are hot on its heels, and are positioning in the mid-range in many regions to box Xiaomi in at the low end.”

The study also notes that LG’s exit from the category should mix things up a bit, as well, particularly in the Americas region, which accounted for 80% of the company’s sales last year.



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Uber unveils half a dozen new features, Samsung announces a new flagship laptop and Zomato files to go public. This is your Daily Crunch for April 28, 2021.

The big story: Uber adds vaccine booking

Uber announced a half dozen new features today, including the ability to make a vaccine appointment at Walgreens and then reserve a ride to get there.

Other additions include a valet service to drop off rental cars, reserved rides at airports and the ability to pick up food during a ride. In an interview, CPO Sundeep Jain suggested that these features are part of the company’s key focus for the past year, namely “helping users ‘go’ and helping users ‘get.’”

The tech giants

Here’s Samsung’s new flagship laptop series, the Galaxy Book Pro — These Windows machines continue the company’s push to blur some of the productivity lines between its Galaxy PC and mobile offerings.

Facebook hides posts calling for PM Modi’s resignation in India — Facebook temporarily hid all posts with the hashtag “ResignModi” in India, although a spokesperson said those posts have now been restored.

Netflix launches its shuffle feature, now called ‘Play Something,’ to users worldwide — This should make it easier to find something to watch when you can’t make a decision on your own.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Alchemy raises $80M at a $505M valuation to be the ‘AWS for blockchain’ — The company describes itself as the backend technology behind the blockchain industry.

MessageBird acquires SparkPost for $600M using $800M Series C extension — The acquisition enables MessageBird to get a stronger foothold in the U.S. market.

Splitwise raises $20M Series A to help everyone in the world divvy expenses — Splitwise aims to reduce the stress and awkwardness that money puts on relationships of all sorts.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Zomato juice: Indian unicorn’s proposed IPO could drive regional startup liquidity — Zomato’s debut could lead to a liquidity rush in India.

Dear Sophie: What’s the latest on DACA? — The latest edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

Fund managers can leverage ESG-related data to generate insights — Apex Group’s Georges Archibald argues that environmental, social and governance insights can yield treasure in the form of alternative data.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

CES will return to Las Vegas in 2022 — Per a press release, roughly 1,000 companies have committed to returning.

India’s entrepreneurs and investors are mobilizing to help the nation fight COVID-19, and you can too — For a week straight, India has reported more than 300,000 daily new infections, about half of all the cases across the globe.

Porsche makes its case for an all-electric Taycan wagon — The Porsche Taycan 4 Cross Turismo offers a blend of practicality with a whole lot of power and speed for under $100,000.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.



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ZenGo, a mobile app to manage your cryptocurrencies, has raised a $20 million Series A funding round led by Insight Partners. ZenGo is a non-custodial wallet, which means that the company doesn’t manage your crypto assets for you — you remain in control.

Other investors include Distributed Global and Austin Rief Ventures. Existing investors Benson Oak, Samsung Next, Elron, Collider Ventures, FJ Labs and others also participated in today’s funding round.

What makes ZenGo different from other wallet apps is that the company is trying to build something that is more secure than your average crypto wallet while remaining simple to use and understand. It competes with other non-custodial wallets, such as Coinbase Wallet (not Coinbase.com), Argent, etc.

In particular, ZenGo is based on multiparty computation (MPC). When you first create your wallet, ZenGo generates multiple secrets that are stored and encrypted in different ways. It means that the company can’t access your tokens directly and you can recover your wallet if you lose your phone.

Other crypto companies focused on infrastructure and enterprise clients have also opted for MPC as their security model. Fireblocks, a company that has recently raised $133 million, is one example.

But ZenGo is building a consumer app. In 2020, the company has processed over $100 million in crypto transactions from 100,000 users. ZenGo has reached the same milestone in the first three months of 2021 and added another 100,000 users.

You can browse DeFi projects through ZenGo and access savings pools. The startup takes a cut on these investments.

With today’s funding round, ZenGo plans to expand with the same philosophy in mind. You can expect support for more chains and assets, more partnerships and options to buy cryptocurrencies and convert them to fiat money, etc.

The company recently announced plans to launch a debit card. This way, users will be able to convert their crypto assets and then spend them wherever Visa cards are accepted. In other words, ZenGo is building a crypto super app with a focus on security.

Image Credits: ZenGo



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Samsung announced Galaxy Upcycling a few years back, but has largely been quiet on that front, aside from some stage time at CES back in January. Today the company announced that Upcycling at Home is being opened to beta today for users in the U.S., Korea and the U.K.

It’s a pretty novel program, in a world where consumers are encouraged to scrap their old devices every two to three years for something shiny and new. The program is designed to breathe new life into handsets that might otherwise be tossed in a landfill or stashed away in a drawer.

Image Credits: Samsung

“We are rethinking how we use existing resources, and we believe the key to upcycling is to enable solutions that transform old technology into something new by adding value,” VP Sung-Koo Kim said in a release tied to the news. “We are committed to integrating sustainable practices into our day-to-day lives, and through Galaxy Upcycling at Home, users can join our journey toward a more sustainable future.”

Specifically, the products can be revamped into smart home devices, like childcare and pet monitors.

The feature can be accessed within the SmartThings Labs feature found in Samsung’s SmartThings App. When enabled, the product can send alerts when things like a crying baby or barking dog are detected. The recorded sound will be sent as part of the alert. Another feature uses built-in sensors to turn on a room’s lights when things get dark. The service will optimize device battery so it can operate for an extended period while detecting these inputs.

 



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Smartphones will be included in the scope of a planned “security by design” U.K. law aimed at beefing up the security of consumer devices, the government said today.

It made the announcement in its response to a consultation on legislative plans aimed at tackling some of the most lax security practices long-associated with the Internet of Things (IoT).

The government introduced a security code of practice for IoT device manufacturers back in 2018 — but the forthcoming legislation is intended to build on that with a set of legally binding requirements.

A draft law was aired by ministers in 2019 — with the government focused on IoT devices, such as webcams and baby monitors, which have often been associated with the most egregious device security practices.

Its plan now is for virtually all smart devices to be covered by legally binding security requirements, with the government pointing to research from consumer group “Which?” that found that a third of people kept their last phone for four years, while some brands only offer security updates for just over two years.

The forthcoming legislation will require smartphone and device makers like Apple and Samsung to inform customers of the duration of time for which a device will receive software updates at the point of sale.

It will also ban manufacturers from using universal default passwords (such as “password” or “admin”), which are often preset in a device’s factory settings and easily guessable — making them meaningless in security terms.

California already passed legislation banning such passwords in 2018 with the law coming into force last year.

Under the incoming U.K. law, manufacturers will additionally be required to provide a public point of contact to make it simpler for anyone to report a vulnerability.

The government said it will introduce legislation as soon as parliamentary time allows.

Commenting in a statement, digital infrastructure minister Matt Warman added: “Our phones and smart devices can be a gold mine for hackers looking to steal data, yet a great number still run older software with holes in their security systems.

“We are changing the law to ensure shoppers know how long products are supported with vital security updates before they buy and are making devices harder to break into by banning easily guessable default passwords.

“The reforms, backed by tech associations around the world, will torpedo the efforts of online criminals and boost our mission to build back safer from the pandemic.”

A DCMS spokesman confirmed that laptops, PCs and tablets with no cellular connection will not be covered by the law, nor will secondhand products. Although he added that the intention is for the scope to be adaptive, to ensure the law can keep pace with new threats that may emerge around devices.



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For those who follow the space, LG will be remembered fondly as a smartphone trailblazer. For a decade-and-a-half, the company was a major player in the Android category and a driving force behind a number of innovations that have since become standard.

Perhaps the most notable story is that of the LG Prada. Announced a month before the first iPhone, the device helped pioneer the touchscreen form factor that has come to define virtually every smartphone since. At the time, the company openly accused Apple of ripping off its design, noting, “We consider that Apple copycat Prada phone after the design was unveiled when it was presented in the iF Design Award and won the prize in September 2006.”

LG has continued pushing envelopes – albeit to mixed effect. In the end, however, the company just couldn’t keep up. This week, the South Korean electronics giant announced it will be getting out of the “incredibly competitive” category, choosing instead to focus on its myriad other departments.

The news comes as little surprise following months of rumors that the company was actively looking for a buyer for the smartphone unit. In the end, it seems, none were forthcoming. This July, the company will stop selling phones beyond what remains of its existing inventory.

The smartphone category is, indeed, a competitive one. And frankly, LG’s numbers have pretty consistently fallen into the “Others” category of global smartphone market share figures ruled by names like Samsung, Apple, Huawei and Xiaomi. The other names clustered beneath the top five have been, more often than not, other Chinese manufacturers like Vivo.



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Cameras have long been the battleground on which the smartphone wars have been fought. Short of any left-field innovation like folding screens or strange form factors, that looks likely to continue to be the case for the foreseeable future. Year after year and generation after generation, companies tout imaging breakthroughs to set themselves apart.

It makes sense. Smartphones have improved to a point where flagship devices are, as a rule, pretty good. And while cameras have been a part of those improvements, there’s still a lot of room for improvement, both in terms of hardware and the software/AI that augments it. Recently, OnePlus announced that it would be recruiting a big name to help it in that fight.

Earlier this month, the Chinese smartphone maker unveiled a three-year deal with Hasselblad, one of the most iconic names in the photography space. Announced at an event today, the company’s new OnePlus 9 series will be the first handset to sport the early fruits of the $150 million deal.

The deal makes sense from a strategic standpoint. After all, OnePlus’s transformation from a high-end budget device to flagship competitor has put companies like Apple and Samsung in its sights. Both of those companies have established and long-standing imaging departments for their hardware, so in addition to a clear branding partnership, this does seem to be an earnest attempt to level the playing field.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

It’s worth noting, up top, that the days of being the budget alternative are, to a degree, gone. The OnePlus 9 starts at $729 and the Pro starts at $969. As smartphone pricing goes, that’s toward the lower-end of premium devices, but after the introduction of the Nord, it seems safe to say that budget will no longer be a primary differentiator for OnePlus’s primary line.

Naturally, the OnePlus 9 Pro gets the most benefit from these early stages of the Hasselblad deal. The primary camera sports a 48-megapixel Sony sensor, coupled with improved focus speeds and increased color accuracy. The ultrawide camera has a 50-megapixel sensor (also Sony), with a lens designed to reduce distortion. Interestingly, the company says it’s also effective for shooting close macro shots with distances as close as 4cm.

The third primary camera is an eight-megapixel telephoto capable of up to 30x digital zoom (though you’re going to lose a fair bit of information). There’s a fourth monochrome camera, as well, which primarily serves to help improve black and white shots. The standard OnePlus 9 has a similar setup, though you’ll drop that telephoto lens.

Here’s OnePlus on what Hasselblad is bringing to the table this time out:

The new Hasselblad Pro Mode offers incredibly accurate and natural color for a solid foundation for post-editing. It has been revamped with a new user interface based on Hasselblad’s image processing software to give professional-level users a unique Hasselblad look and feel. It also allows for an unprecedented amount of control for expert photographers to fine-tune their photos, with the ability to adjust ISO, focus, exposure time, white balance and more. Users can also shoot in 12- bit RAW format for 64-times the color compared with 10-bit RAW traditionally found in other smartphones.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Keep in mind, the partnership is still in its early stages, and much of the money is going toward R&D, so we’ll probably be seeing more integration down the road.

The display is the same as the one found in the OnePlus 8T. That’s a 6.55-inch AMOLED with a 120Hz refresh rate. Brightness maxes out at 1,100 nits, and the screen sports HDR10+ certification. There’s a Snapdragon 888 inside, coupled with 8 or 12GB of RAM and 128 or 256GB of storage. Both models feature a solid 4,500 mAh battery that goes from empty to 100% charge in 29 minutes.

Pre-orders start March 26. The handsets will ship April 2.



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Imaging has long been the primary battlefield on which the smartphone battles are waged. It makes sense. The thing about smartphones in 2021 is that they’re mostly very good. Sure, there are differentiators, but if you spend a decent amount on a device from any major manufacturer, you’re probably going to get a pretty good device.

But there’s still plenty of opportunity to continually bridge the gap between smartphone imaging and devoted camera systems. And today OnePlus takes a potentially key step in that direction by announcing a partnership with Hasselblad. The DJI-owned Swedish camera maker has signed onto a three-year partnership with OnePlus.

According to a release tied to the news, the pair plan to spend $150 million over the course of the deal, in an attempt to vault OnePlus to the front of the pack. Hasselblad has dipped its toes in the mobile market, including a Moto Z attachment, and has created cameras for DJI drones, but this represents a pretty big move for the 180-year-old camera company.

The first fruits of the partnership will arrive on the OnePlus 9, a new handset set to launch on March 23. The companies promise a “revamped camera system.” The phone will feature a Sony IMX789 sensor, coupled with HDR video and the ability capture 4K at 120FPS and 8K at 30FPS.

Per the release:

The partnership will continuously develop over the next three years, starting with software improvements including color tuning and sensor calibration, and extending to more dimensions in the future. The two parties will jointly define the technology standards of the mobile camera experience and develop innovative imaging technologies, continuing to improve the Hasselblad Camera for Mobile. Both companies are committed to delivering immediate benefit for OnePlus users, while continuously collaborating to further improve the user experience and quality for the long-term.

The deal includes the development of four global labs, including U.S. and Japan locations and:

Pioneering new areas of smartphone imaging technology for future OnePlus camera systems, such as a panoramic camera with a 140-degree field of view, T-lens technology for lightning-fast focus in the front-facing camera, and a freeform lens – to be first introduced on the OnePlus 9 Series – that practically eliminates edge distortion in ultrawide photos.

It will be interesting to see how a company like Hasselblad will take to mobile imaging, though such a deal could be a secret weapon as OnePlus looks to keep on the flagship end of the mobile spectrum against the likes of Apple and Samsung.



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Over the past year, the coronavirus crisis has spurred app usage in the United States as people stay indoors to limit contact with others. Mobile games particularly have enjoyed a boom, and among them, games from Chinese studios are gaining popularity.

Games released on the U.S. App Store and Google Play Store raked in a total of $5.8 billion in revenue during the fourth quarter, jumping 34.3% from a year before and accounting for over a quarter of the world’s mobile gaming revenues, according to a new report from market research firm Sensor Tower.

In the quarter, Chinese titles contributed as much as 20% of the mobile gaming revenues in the U.S. That effectively made China the largest importer of mobile games in the U.S., thanks to a few blockbuster titles. Chinese publishers claimed 21 spots among the 100 top-grossing games in the period and collectively generated $780 million in revenues in the U.S., the world’s largest mobile gaming market, more than triple the amount from two years before.

Occupying the top rank are familiar Chinese titles such as the first-person shooter game Call of Duty, a collaboration between Tencent and Activision, as well as Tencent’s PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. But smaller Chinese studios are also quickly infiltrating the U.S. market.

Mihoyo, a little-known studio outside China, has been turning heads in the domestic gaming industry with its hit game Genshin Impact, a role-playing action game featuring anime-style characters. It was the sixth-most highest-grossing mobile game in the U.S. during Q4, racking up over $100 million in revenues in the period.

Most notable is that Mihoyo has been an independent studio since its inception in 2011. Unlike many gaming startups that covet fundings from industry titans like Tencent, Mihoyo has so far raised only a modest amount from its early days. It also stirred up controversy for skipping major distributors like Tencent and phone vendors Huawei and Xiaomi, releasing Genshin Impact on Bilibili, a popular video site amongst Chinese youngsters, and games downloading platform Taptap.

Magic Tavern, the developer behind the puzzle game Project Makeover, one of the most installed mobile games in the U.S. since late last year, is another lesser-known studio. Founded by a team of Tsinghua graduates with offices around the world, Magic Tavern is celebrated as one of the first studios with roots in China to have gained ground in the American casual gaming market. KKR-backed gaming company AppLovin is a strategic investor in Magic Tavern.

Other popular games in the U.S. also have links to China, if not directly owned by a Chinese company. Shortcut Run and Roof Nails are works from the French casual game maker Voodoo, which received a minority investment from Tencent last year. Tencent is also a strategic investor in Roblox, the gaming platform oriented to young gamers and slated for an IPO in the coming weeks.



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Google today announced the next set of features coming to Android, including a new password checkup tool, a way to schedule your texts, along with other improvements to products like its screen reader TalkBack, Maps, Assistant and Android Auto. This spring 2021 release is latest in a series of smaller update bundles, similar to iOS “point releases,” that add new functionality and features to Android outside of the larger update cycle.

One the security front, this update will integrate a feature called Password Checkup into devices running Android 9 and above to alert you to passwords you’re using that have been previously exposed.

The feature works with Autofill with Google, which lets you quickly sign in to apps and other services on Android. Now, when you use Autofill, Password Checkup will check your credentials against a list of known compromised passwords, then notify you if your credentials appear on that list and what to do about it.

Image Credits: Google

The prompt can also direct you to your Password Manager page on Google, where you can review all your other saved Autofill passwords for similar issues.

To use this feature, you’ll need to have Autofill enabled. (Settings > System > Languages & Input > Advanced, the tap Autofill. Tap Google to ensure the setting is enabled.)

The new Messages feature rolling out this update could see prolific texters considering a switch to Android, as it’s one of the most in-demand features since SMS was invented: the ability to schedule your texts.

Image Credits: Google

Android’s new scheduled send feature will allow you to compose a message ahead of time, whenever it’s convenient for you, then schedule it to be sent later when it’s a more appropriate time. This can be particularly helpful if you have friends, family or coworkers and colleagues in other timezones, and are hesitant to bother them when they could be sleeping or enjoying family time after work. It can also help those who often remember something they meant to text when it’s late at night and too late to send the message.

To use this feature, you’ll just write the text as usual, then press and hold the send button to select a date and time to deliver the message. You’ll need the latest version of the Android Messages app for this feature to work.

Another flagship feature arriving in this Android release is aimed at making Android’s screen reader, known as TalkBack, easier to use for those users who are blind or have low vision. TalkBack today allows users to navigate their device with their voice and gestures in order to read, write, send emails, share social media, order delivery and more.

Image Credits: Google

The updated version (TalkBack 9.1) will now include a dozen new multifinger gestures to interact with apps and perform common actions, like selecting and editing text, controlling media or getting help. This will work on Pixel and Samsung Galaxy devices from One UI 3 onwards, Google says.

Google is also responding to user feedback over TalkBack’s confusing multiple menu system and has returned to the single menu system users wanted. This single menu will adapt to context while also providing consistent access to the most common functions.

Other TalkBack improvements includes new gestures — like an up and right swipe to access over 25 voice commands — and new reading controls that let users either skim a page, read only headlines, listen word-by-word or even character-by-character.

Users can also now add or remove options from the TalkBack menu or the reading controls to further customize the interface to their needs. Plus, TalkBack’s braille keyboard added support for Arabic and Spanish.

The spring update also adds more minor improvements to Maps, Assistant and Android Auto.

Maps is getting a dark mode that you can enable as the default under Settings > Theme and then selecting “Always in Dark Theme.”

 

Image Credits: Google

Google Assistant’s update will let you use the feature when the phone is locked or further away from you, by turning on Lock Screen Personal Results in Assistant’s Settings then saying “Hey Google,” as needed.

The new cards that appear when the phone is locked are meant to be easier to read with just a glance, Google says.

And finally, Android Auto will now include custom wallpapers and voice-activated games like trivia and “Jeopardy!” that you can ask for via the “Hey Google” command.

Image Credits: Google

There are also now shortcuts on the launch screen for accessing your contacts, or using Assistant to complete tasks like checking the weather or adjusting the thermostat, for example. Cars with wider screens will gain access to a split screen view with Google Maps on one side and media controls on the other.

Android Auto’s features will roll out in the “coming days” on phones running Android 6.0 and higher and work with compatible cars, Google notes.



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