Category Archives: Mobile

Californians may get a break on their mobile bills after tax is struck down in court

Californians have a lot to enjoy — great weather, big waves, solid microbreweries, and of course extremely high taxes on prepaid mobile service. But this controversial last feature is being adjusted after a judge found at least part of the state’s Mobile Telephony Surcharge to be unconstitutional. As a result, bills could shrink by a couple bucks starting this month.

The tax, which funds various local services like 911 and so on, was raised in 2016 and depending on various factors could be around 20 percent of the bill. That turns a $50 bill into a $60 bill, which is especially rough when you consider that lower prepaid plans are often preferred by people with limited incomes. So the tax was unpopular from the start — not that many are particularly liked.

In addition to making users angry, it attracted the attention of wireless carriers: MetroPCS filed a lawsuit alleging that the way the tax was calculated conflicted with federal rules set by the FCC. The details are buried in a mound of legalese, but essentially the problem was that California was effectively taxing inter-state services as well as within-state ones, which is not allowed either by state or federal law.

The challenge took its course and although the California government argued that its tax was compliant with the FCC’s rules, the judge ultimately decided otherwise.

“The California Prepaid Mobile Telephony Services Surcharge Collection Act [i.e. the tax increase passed in 2014 and instituted in 2016], in its entirety, conflicts with federal law and therefore is preempted and unconstitutional,” she wrote in the order concluding the case.

Example bills from T-Mobile show how fees could change. The amounts will differ based on region and bill total.

Although California is appealing the case, the judge’s order prevents it from collecting the tax in the meantime. So as long as that injunction remains in place, mobile bills should see a small break.

It won’t be a lot — an example provided by T-Mobile showed total taxes and fees reduced by about $3. But hey, every little bit counts.

The actual amount you pay your carrier shouldn’t change, though. Your $40 or $75 plan will remain the same; it’s only the associated taxes that are effected. The way they’re listed may also change; for instance, AT&T is replacing the “Prepaid MTS Surcharge” line item with “CA Surcharges, Fees & Taxes.” Its announcement doesn’t explicitly mention a change in amount, but unless it adds a fee of its own to make up the difference, it seems that users there and at other carriers will see similarly lowered taxes.

If you’re curious how much your bill will drop, if at all, your best bet is to call customer service and ask them to check.

Facebook cuts down annoying “now connected on Messenger” alerts

“‘You Are Now Connected On Messenger’ Is The Worst Thing On Facebook’ Buzzfeed’s Katie Notopoulos correctly pointed out in a story yesterday. When you friend someone on Facebook or Messenger, or an old friend joins Messenger, you often get one of these annoying notifications. They fool you into thinking someone actually wants to chat with you while burying your real message threads.

Luckily, it turns out Facebook was already feeling guilty about this shameless growth hack. When I asked why, amidst its big push around Time Well Spent, it was sending these alerts, the company told me it’s already in the process of scaling them back.

A Facebook spokesperson gave TechCrunch this statement:

We’ve found that many people have appreciated getting a notification when a friend joins Messenger. That said, we are working to make these notifications even more useful by employing machine learning to send fewer of them over time to people who enjoy getting them less. We appreciate all and any feedback that people send our way, so please keep it coming because it helps us make the product better.

So basically, if Messenger notices you never open those spammy alerts to start a chat thread, it will skip sending some of them.

Personally, I think these alerts should only be sent when users connect on Messenger specifically, which you can do with non-friends outside of Facebook. The company forced everyone to switch from Facebook Chat to Messenger years ago, but some people are only now relenting and actually downloading the app. I don’t think that should ever generate these alerts, since they have nothing to do with your own actions. Similarly, if I confirm a Facebook friend request from someone else, I know I’m now connected on Messenger too so no need to pester me with a notification.

But for now, if you hate these alerts, be sure not to open them so you send a signal to Facebook that you don’t want more.

Facebook does all sorts of this annoying growth hacking, like notifications about friends adding to their Story, “X, Y, and 86 other friends responded to events near you tomorrow”, and all the emails it sends if you stop visiting. If we can properly shame tech giants for the specifics of their most intrusive and distracting behavior, rather than just griping more vaguely about over use, we may be able to make swifter progress towards them respecting our attention.

Apple introduces the A.I. phone

At Apple’s WWDC 2018 – an event some said would be boring this year with its software-only focus and lack of new MacBooks and iPads – the company announced what may be its most important operating system update to date, with the introduction of iOS 12. Through a series of Siri enhancements and features, Apple is turning its iPhone into a highly personalized device, powered by its Siri A.I.

This “new A.I. iPhone” – which, to be clear, is your same ol’ iPhone running a new mobile OS – will understand where you are, what you’re doing, and what you need to know right then and there.

The question now is will users embrace the usefulness of Siri’s forthcoming smarts, or will they find its sudden insights creepy and invasive?

Siri Suggestions

 

After the installation of iOS 12, Siri’s Suggestions will be everywhere.

In the same place on the iPhone Search screen where you today see those Siri suggested apps to launch, you’ll begin to see other things Siri thinks you may need to know, too.

For example, Siri may suggest that you:

  • Call your grandma for her birthday.
  • Tell someone you’re running late to the meeting via a text.
  • Start your workout playlist because you’re at the gym.
  • Turn your phone on Do Not Disturb at the movies.

And so on.

These will be useful in some cases, and perhaps annoying in others. (It would be great if you could swipe on the suggestions to further train the system to not show certain ones again. After all, not all your contacts deserve a birthday phone call.)

Siri Suggestions will also appear on the Lock Screen when it thinks it can help you perform an action of some kind. For example,  placing your morning coffee order – something you regularly do around a particular time of day – or launching your preferred workout app, because you’ve arrived at the gym.

These suggestions even show up on Apple Watch’s Siri watch face screen.

Apple says the relevance of its suggestions will improve over time, based on how you engage.

If you don’t take an action by tapping on these items, they’ll move down on the watch face’s list of suggestions, for instance.

A.I.-powered workflows

These improvements to Siri would have been enough for iOS 12, but Apple went even further.

The company also showed off a new app called Siri Shortcuts.

The app is based on technology Apple acquired from Workflow, a clever – if somewhat advanced – task automation app that allows iOS users to combine actions into routines that can be launched with just a tap. Now, thanks to the Siri Shortcuts app, those routines can be launched by voice.

On stage at the developer event, the app was demoed by Kim Beverett from the Siri Shortcuts team, who showed off a “heading home” shortcut she had built.

When she tells Siri she’s “heading home,” her iPhone simultaneously launched directions for her commute in Apple Maps, set her home thermostat to 70 degrees, turned on her fan, messaged an ETA to her roommate, and launched her favorite NPR station.

That’s arguably very cool – and it got a big cheer from the technically-minded developer crowd – but it’s most certainly a power user feature. Launching an app to build custom workflows is not something everyday iPhone users will do right off the bat – or in some cases, ever.

Developers to push users to Siri

But even if users hide away this new app in their Apple “junk” folder, or toggle off all the Siri Suggestions in Settings, they won’t be able to entirely escape Siri’s presence in iOS 12 and going forward.

That’s because Apple also launched new developer tools that will allow app creators to build integrations with Siri directly into their own apps.

Developers will update their apps’ code so that every time a user take a particular action – for example, placing their coffee order, streaming a favorite podcast, starting their evening jog with a running app, or anything else – the app will let Siri know. Over time, Siri will learn users’ routines – like, on many weekday mornings, around 8 to 8:30 AM, the user places a particular coffee order through an coffee shop app’s order ahead system.

These will inform those Siri Suggestions that appear all over your iPhone, but developers will also be able to just directly prod the user to add this routine to Siri right in their own apps.

 

In your favorite apps, you’ll start seeing an “Add to Siri” link or button in various places – like when you perform a particular action – such as looking for your keys in Tile’s app, viewing travel plans in Kayak, ordering groceries with Instacart, and so on.

Many people will probably tap this button out of curiosity – after all, most don’t watch and rewatch the WWDC keynote like the tech crowd does.

The “Add to Siri” screen will then pop up, offering a suggestion of voice prompt that can be used as your personalized phase for talking to Siri about this task.

In the coffee ordering example, you might be prompted to try the phrase “coffee time.” In the Kayak example, it could be “travel plans.”

You record this phrase with the big, red record button at the bottom of the screen. When finished, you have a custom Siri shortcut.

You don’t have to use the suggested phrase the developer has written. The screen explains you can make up your own phrase instead.

In addition to being able to “use” apps via Siri voice commands, Siri can also talk back after the initial request.

It can confirm your request has been acted upon – for example, Siri may respond, “OK. Ordering. Your coffee will be ready in 5 minutes,” after you said “Coffee time” or whatever your trigger phrase was.

Or it can tell you if something didn’t work – maybe the restaurant is out of a food item on the order you placed – and help you figure out what to do next (like continue your order in the iOS app.)

It can even introduce some personality, as it responds. In the demo, Tile’s app jokes back that it hopes your missing keys aren’t “under a couch cushion.”

There are a number of things you could do beyond these limited examples – the App Store has over 2 million apps whose developers can hook into Siri.

And you don’t have to ask Siri only on your phone – you can talk to Siri on your Apple Watch and HomePod, too.

Yes, this will all rely on developer adoption, but it seems Apple has figured out how to give developers a nudge.

Siri Suggestions are the new Notifications

You see, as Siri’s smart suggestions spin up, traditional notifications will wind down.

In iOS 12, Siri will take note of your behavior around notifications, and then push you to turn those you don’t engage with off, or move them into a new silent mode Apple calls “Delivered Quietly.” This middle ground for notifications will allow apps to send their updates to the Notification Center, but not the Lock Screen. They also can’t buzz your phone or wrist.

At the same time, iOS 12’s new set of digital well-being features will hide notifications from users at particular times  – like when you’ve enabled Do Not Disturb at Bedtime, for example. This mode will not allow notifications to display when you check your phone at night or first thing upon waking.

Combined, these changes will encourage more developers to adopt the Siri integrations, because they’ll be losing a touchpoint with their users as their ability to grab attention through notifications fades.

Machine Learning in Photos

A.I. will further infiltrate other parts of the iPhone, too, in iOS 12.

A new “For You” tab in the Photos app will prompt users to share photos taken with other people, thanks to facial recognition and machine learning.  And those people, upon receiving your photos, will then be prompted to share their own back with you.

The tab will also pull out your best photos and feature them, and prompt you to try different lighting and photo effects. A smart search feature will make suggestions and allow you to pull up photos from specific places or events.

Smart or Creepy?

Overall, iOS 12’s A.I.-powered features will make Apple’s devices more personalized to you, but they could also rub some people the wrong way.

Maybe people won’t want their habits noticed by their iPhone, and will find Siri prompts annoying – or, at worst, creepy, because they don’t understand how Siri knows these things about them.

Apple is banking hard on the fact that it’s earned users’ trust through its stance on data privacy over the years.

And while not everyone knows that Siri is does a lot of its processing on your device, not in cloud, many do seem to understand that Apple doesn’t sell user data to advertisers to make money.

That could help sell this new “A.I. phone” concept to consumers, and pave the way for more advancements later on.

But on the flip side, if Siri Suggestions become overbearing or get things wrong too often, it could lead users to just switch them off entirely through iOS Settings. And with that, Apple’s big chance to dominate in the A.I.-powered device market, too.

Instagram plans to launch Snapchat Discover-style video hub

Instagram is preparing to unveil a home for longer-form video — a YouTube competitor and its take on Snapchat Discover. Instagram will offer a dedicated space featuring scripted shows, music videos, and more in vertically oriented, full-screen, high-def 4K resolution according to multiple sources. Instagram has been meeting with popular social media stars and content publishers to find out how their video channels elsewhere would work within its app. It’s also lining up launch partners for an announcement of the long-form video effort tentatively scheduled for June 20th.

The public shouldn’t expect Netflix Originals or HBO-level quality. This is not “InstaGame Of Thrones”.  Instead, the feature is more focused on the kind of videos you see from YouTube creators. These often range from five to fifteen minutes in length, shot with nice cameras and lighting but not some massive Hollywood movie production crew. Average users will be able to upload longer videos too, beyond the current 60-second limit.

Instagram intends to eventually let creators and publishers earn money off the longer videos, though it hasn’t finalized how accompanying ads like pre-rolls and mid-breaks or revenue splits would work. It is not paying creators up front for shows like Facebook Watch either. But the videos will each feature a swipe-up option to open a link, which creators can use to drive traffic to their websites, ecommerce stores, or event ticketing. Thanks to Instagram’s 800 million-plus users, the video section could be a powerful marketing tool beyond generating cash for creators directly.

The long-form video section will spotlight a collection of popular videos, and provide a ‘continue watching’ option since users might view long clips over the course of several sessions. Users will also see the long-form clips featured on authors’ profiles near the Stories Highlights bubbles. Creators won’t be able to shoot and post long-form videos, as the section will only allow pre-made video uploads.

Instagram has previously offered Spotlight Collections that assemble multiple videos into a non-stop viewing experience

This new information from TechCrunch’s sources comes after a brief initial report by The Wall Street Journal yesterday that Instagram was talking to content publishers about a vertical video feature. The WSJ’s article focused on the ability for average users to post up to hour-long clips, but the real story here is Instagram launching a professionally produced video entertainment hub. Instagram declined our request for comment.

It’s unclear what the new video feature will be named, or where it will appear. It could possibly live in the Explore tab, get its own tab, or even be spun out into a separate app. Our sources didn’t know how the videos would work with the main Instagram feed, where they could appear full-length or show up as previews to alert a publisher’s fans to their newest long-form clip. The announcement date or feature details could still potentially change.

Facebook’s Watch section of long-form video hasn’t proven popular

Facebook hasn’t had much luck with its own original long-form video section it launched in August 2017, Facebook Watch. Mediocre, unscripted reality shows and documentary clips haven’t proven a draw for the social network, which is now expanding into scripted programs and news shows. Instagram may prove a more natural home for lean-back entertainment content.

InstaTube

The Instagram long-form video section will be Facebook’s answer to two competing social video destinations it’s yet to successfully clone.

Snapchat’s Discover section offers exclusive, professionally produced vertical video shows from an array of publishers as an alternative to shaky user-generated Stories. But with sagging user growth endangering viewership, backlash to the redesign that buries Discover, and a policy shift to stop paying Discover publishers up front, Instagram and its massive user count may be able to seduce publishers to bring longer videos to its app instead.

YouTube is the stronger foe. Its ad revenue sharing agreements and massive engagement have made it the go-to platform for video makers. Still, creators are always looking to build their fanbases, earn more money, and promote their other online presences. Instagram’s wildfire growth and the familiarity of following people there could make the long-form video section worth embracing.

The feature has big potential as long as it’s not too interruptive of people’s entrenched feed-scrolling and Story-tapping behavior patterns. Instagram will also have to convince creators to shoot their content vertically or find ways to gracefully crop it, and some may be apprehensive if they typically shoot in landscape for traditional video players.

The Facebook family of apps might never be able to match the breadth and depth of YouTube’s video catalog. But Instagram has an opportunity here to skim the best content off the top of the sprawling creator/publisher ecosystem and curate it coherently for casual audiences. That could get us spending more time with Instagram, even if our friends are boring.

Apple Design Award winner Florence breaks new ground in mobile gaming

Designer Ken Wong’s app Florence isn’t exactly a game. Or a comic. It’s a little bit of both — a new experience in storytelling using a mobile device.

The app — or game, if you prefer — comes from the mind of Ken Wong, best known before Florence’s release as Monument Valley’s designer — another app which broke new ground in mobile gaming by creating a visually stunning world that ended up winning the title of Apple’s Game of the Year in 2014, as well an Apple Design Award.

Now Wong has won for his work again on his first venture post-Monument Valley with an Apple Design Award for Florence.

We sat down with the designer on the sidelines of Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference in San Jose this week to talk about how Florence came to be, and what Wong has planned next.

Wong had left ustwo Games (Monument Valley’s publisher) before its sequel, Monument Valley II, because he wanted to try something new.

“I kind of said what I wanted to. The best thing for Monument Valley would be to have other people take over and expression their vision for it,” he says.

Wong moved back to his home country, Australia, from London, to Melbourne, where there’s a thriving indie gaming scene, to launch his new company Mountains.

The team at Mountains is small — just a programmer, producer and artist in addition to Wong.

The company partnered with Annapurna, a film studio behind hits like “Her” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” that now runs its own games division. The studio backed Mountains on the Florence project, but also gave the team advice and input along the way.

As part of this arrangement, Annapurna shares in Florence’s revenue. (Florence sells for $2.99.)

Unlike traditional games, you don’t play the “game” Florence with a goal of getting a high score or achieving goals of some kind.

Instead, you tap your way through the interactive story where a young woman, Florence, meets someone, falls in love and has a relationship. You live through it with her, dealing with everything from parental pressure over her single status, to then first dates and moving in together.

Music is a key part of the experience, and helps the game invoke an emotional response.

When the relationship ends, you’ve been invested in this story and characters, and probably will feel sad.

That’s the point, says Wong.

“A lot of people think of games as things you can win — things that involve luck or skill. But…in video games — or, largely, the digital interactive space — there’s so much that you can do,” he says.

“It seems like we’re surrounded by stories of love and romance and relationships…but it felt like that was a blind spot for mobile games. We wanted to tap into that and see how far we could take a romance game on mobile,” Wong explains.

Wong says he was inspired by stories from friends, as well as his own personal experience, when building Florence, as well as movies about relationships like “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” and “500 Days of Summer.”

Like those, Florence is also a portrait of a relationship that’s both light and dark, both joyful and painful.

“It’s my job to provide stimulating material. I just want to move people. And I think moving people in itself can be a goal. What they take out of it is really up to the individual,” he says.

Now that Florence is out there, on both iOS and Android, Wong says he hopes it will inspire other developers to take what the team introduced in terms of the app’s interface design, and use that to tell their own stories.

As for Mountains, however, the team is now considering what stories they want to tell next. They’re not announcing the details of those discussions, but they have some ideas around telling other types of stories that aren’t represented today through mobile gaming.

We might not see those come to life for some time — it took Florence 15 months to go from idea to launch, and the next title will likely take just as long.

But Wong knows what kind of stories they probably won’t do, he says.

“There are so many other studios out there exploring your traditional power fantasies, like combat and fighting and such,” he says.

“I think where we can really contribute is telling stories that are less explored — human experiences that have to do with family or identity. I think that’s who we are.”

Facebook finally monetizes Marketplace with ads from users and brands

20 months after launching its Craigslist competitor Marketplace and relentlessly promoting it with placement in the main navigation bar, Facebook will start earning money off its classifieds section. Facebook today begins testing Marketplace ads in the U.S. that let average users pay to “Boost” their listing to more people through the News Feed. While they’re easy for novices, requiring buyers to only to set a budget and how long the ads will run, there are no additional targeting options beyond being shown to age 18+ users in nearby zip codes.

Meanwhile, yesterday Facebook announced that it’s launching product ads from businesses that appear within Marketplace. After quietly opening in the U.S. in January and testing in Canada in May, Marketplace ads are now official, and can be bought in those two countries plus New Zealand and Australia. Businesses can extend their existing News Feed, video, Instagram, Messenger and other ad campaigns to Marketplace, and more types of objective-based campaigns will open to the classifieds section soon.

Facebook lets brands show ads within Marketplace

The Boost ads could be a big help if you need to rapidly liquidate your furniture before moving out, or if you’re trying to sell something big a high price, like Marketplace’s new car, housing, jobs, and home services offerings. Yet they seem inefficient, since the lack of targeting means your listing for men’s jewelry might show up to women, or your rock climbing gears ads could show up to senior citizens.

Facebook’s new Boost ads let average users pay to show their Marketplace listings to more people

But Facebook does tell me that ads will but auto-optimized for clicks, so when people start to click your ads, Facebook will show them to people of similar demographics. It will also immediately pause your ad campaign if you mark your item as sold. Boost ads get entered in alongside traditional bids in Facebook’s auction system which then display what it predicts will be the most appealing ads.

“Many Marketplace sellers have told us that they want the ability to show a listing to more people in their local area, especially if they’re trying to sell it quickly” Facebook Product Manager Harshit Agarwal tells TechCrunch. “We’re starting to test a simple way for sellers to boost their listings and help them find a buyer.” For comparison, Craiglist doesn’t run any ads, but charges sellers $5 to $10 for certain product listings cars and brokered apartments.

One interesting quirk is that Facebook says it won’t allow boosting of listings of political products such as a Bernie Sanders For President t-shirt, as its political advertiser verification and labeling system only works with Pages and not individuals right now.

The Boost ads will only appear to a small percentage of U.S. users and Facebook says it’s too early to know if it will roll them out futher. But as the company seems bent on swallowing up every other essential part of the internet, anything that makes Marketplace more useful to sellers and lucrative for the tech giant seems like a good bet for an official launch.

Together, the two formats could unlock new revenue streams for Facebook at a time when it’s starting to run out of ad inventory in the News Feed. The company either needs to open new surfaces like Marketplace to ads, or get people and businesses to pay more to fill its dwindling feed space if it wants to keep Wall Street happy.

Facebook introduces new bidding support for in-app ads

Facebook is expanding its support for header bidding, a technology that allows publishers to auction off ad impressions through real-time bidding between ad networks.

The company announced its support for header bidding on the mobile web last year. Today, it’s adding something similar for in-app advertising.

That means app publishers who use header bidding can include ads from Facebook’s Audience Network in their auctions. To enable this, Facebook is partnering with Fyber, MAX and Twitter’s MoPub.

Here’s how Facebook’s Vijay Balan laid out the benefits of the new approach:

Currently, ad networks are called one-by-one until an app ad is filled, determined by historical average CPMs rather than which buyer is willing to pay the most. This method often overlooks a network willing to pay more for an impression because it is lower in the chain.

App bidding enables app publishers and developers to establish an impartial and open auction over their ad inventory. All advertising networks are called simultaneously and the highest bidder for the placement wins, thereby providing publishers with opportunities to earn more. Publishers can maximize their access to high value advertisers, fueling the creation of sustainable ad businesses that help ensure people continue to enjoy access to high quality free content.

Balan said Facebook has already been testing this with publishers who have their own ad-serving technology, including Rovio, Talefun and GameInsight. Those early tests have seen revenue gains of up to 20 percent.

Order-ahead app Ritual picks up $70M to rethink the social office lunch break

While DoorDash, Postmates and other apps are looking to reimagine what the food delivery experience looks like, Ray Reddy says he wants to figure out what the next generation of a food court looks like. Sort of.

Reddy’s startup, Ritual, aims to remake the whole process of leaving your office and walking around five minutes to a nearby deli or cafe to pick up food for lunch. But Reddy and his founders Larry Stinson and Robert Kim wanted to focus first on getting that experience right for a single building that leaves to go pick up coffee or food — and has that daily ritual of getting lunch with the team, or something along those lines. The whole process boils down to an app for consumers to order food or drinks as well as have coworkers piggyback onto that order to create a more socialized experience around getting up and going around the corner for a snack. Ritual said it has raised a new $70 million round led by Georgian Partners, with existing investors Greylock Partners, Insight Ventures, and Mistral Venture Partners all participating.

“If we [couldn’t] build something that is compelling for the 300 people who work at this single building, it’s not gonna work period,” Redddy said. “That helped us define the problem narrowly. We thought, here are the 12 or 14 spots within a five minute walk of this building, let’s focus on simulating what would happen. Let’s not worry about financials or economics, let’s prove this works. Just like Uber’s a remote control for the real world, we viewed this in a similar way where ultimately the app is a remote control for a real world experience.”

Ritual’s main flow is probably something the typical user is accustomed to at this point when it comes to food. They pick a place they like, place an order for food (or coffee), and then go pick it up. But the whole background process involves not only getting restaurants on board with the specific things they want while still trying to calibrate a consistent experience that users at this point expect when it comes to ordering something online after being trained on that simplicity for years by Postmates, DoorDash, or even apps by companies like Starbucks.

But over the past year or so, the company has increasingly tuned itself to employees jumping aboard the same order when considering what to pick up for a snack or a meal. The whole process aims at emulating that experience of figuring out where you want to eat in a Slack channel or arguing over a Seamless order, and in the end whoever has time to run out and grab something will be able to bring things back for teammates (or, of course, everyone can leave at the same time). That whole process is called “piggybacking,” a feature the company introduced around 18 months ago. The company has around 44,500 teams using the app, Reddy said.

 

All this is aimed to help restaurants adapt to the same changes in user behavior that retail has seen in the past decade, Reddy said. Amazon trained users to buy things online, forcing retailers to shift their strategies, just as Postmates and DoorDash have trained users to order food delivery through apps and immediately have access to a ton of options. With all that comes more and more data, which has helped those industries slowly tune their models over time and try to keep up with the increase in demand that has come with reducing friction around the whole experience.

“What restaurants are seeing are right now the same challenges retailers saw 10 years ago,” Reddy said. “What does it mean to become omni-channel, how do you go from one customer segment to dealing with walk-ins plus digital orders. Retailers faced a lot of those challenges 10 years ago, they faced challenges around pricing, fulfillment, and how do they build new capabilities. They are dealing with a new source of demand, and fundamentally the problem was a lot of stores weren’t designed for accepting multi-channel origins.”

While an order-ahead app might be one way to connect online users to a physical location, there’s still plenty of work to do as most restaurants, coffee shops or typical stores aren’t tuned for a digital-first experience, Reddy said. That extends to even not having enough counter space to hold coffee cups that customers have ordered ahead of time, much less including things like NFC readers or QR codes — the latter of which has proved wildly popular and effective throughout Asia thanks to services like Alipay and WeChat. And that’s largely a result of iOS and Android, the main platforms in North America, not really doing a lot with QR codes for a very long time. Reddy said that North America was making some progress, especially when it came to NFC, but for now the company still has to figure out unique ways to connect users to those restaurants.

That can take a lot of different forms. While Ritual has to figure out how to create a seamless experience that covers a lot of different restaurants or shops, Reddy said the startup still has to offer those same stores some kind of control over the experience. That means giving those customers some value proposition beyond just telling them to sign up for another order-ahead app. Ritual, for example, lets restaurants who onboard Ritual customers themselves keep the full transaction for a purchase, while it takes a small slice off other transactions. That, in addition to other marketing options, helps restaurants control their own destiny, he said.

Of course, at its heart, it’s an order-ahead app — even with that social experience on top of it. And if you’ve ever looked at where to eat nearby with coworkers, you’ve probably checked Yelp or a few other places, and possibly even settled the argument with a giant order on an online ordering platform like DoorDash or Seamless. All these have already tapped that user experience, and it’s not clear if Ritual would be able to clear enough room should any one of them go after a similar experience while already having that customer and user relationship, in addition to being the spot customers go already. In the end, Reddy says that it’ll come down to users having a few apps, and hopes that by offering restaurants flexibility and focusing on the hyper-local idea of just a single office building will help build up that moat.

“The way that things have played out in Asia [with platforms like WeChat] is exactly striking the right balance between a platform and giving stores control,” Reddy said. “When you think of the consumer view, people — for the same reason you don’t have 10 retail apps — don’t have 10 food apps. You’re not gonna download an app for every neighborhood spot. It’s not that these apps are bad or don’t work well, people are just not gonna download 10 apps. There’s gonna be a handful of platforms people are going to use to access their neighborhoods. We have to have a unified platform, but give restaurant partners enough control, not only over being able to speak with their customers, but control for the look and feel of their storefront. That’s the middle ground we’re looking to find, which we think is a win for customers and our storefronts.”

Scooter startup Lime is reportedly raising $250M led by Uber investor GV

It’s scooters all the way down this morning, with Lime also reportedly raising $250 million in a funding this morning after a new Delaware filing this morning indicated that competitor Bird authorized the sale of up to $200 million in shares.

GV (formerly Google Ventures) is leading this round, according to the report by Axios, as the massive land grab for a stake in the scooter wars continues to heat up — whether that’s funding or actual scooters piling up on the sidewalk. Both companies have faced pushback from some city regulators (probably on the basis of tripping over them and falling on your face), but it still means the venture community is still salivating over potentially the next major mode of metropolitan transportation. Most venture investors in the Valley argue scooters make sense for short trips throughout areas that are just too far to be considered a trek, but too close that it would be a waste of time and money to call a ride share like Uber or Lyft.

Given that Uber exposed a massive hole for easier transportation in major metropolitan areas — and potentially replacing cars in those areas — getting into the next big transportation revolution is more than tempting enough for firms like GV (which is also an investor in Uber). Lime was previously reported to be seeking up to $500 million in funding and was taking meetings with some major firms in Silicon Valley over the past few weeks. It might not get that, but a $250 million influx might be plenty to try to continue to ramp up its business and get more rides on board. Axios is reporting that Lime has told investors users have taken 4.2 million rides and each scooter gets 8 to 12 rides per day.

Still, while it’s not $500 million, there’s plenty of interest in the on-demand scooter business — challenges of keeping them charged and intact included — that Bird has authorized the sale of up to $200 million in new shares at a $1 billion valuation just months after its previous round. So it might not be surprising if this, too, ends up as kind of a rolling process where Lime eventually gets all the capital it sought.

iOS 12 will let users register another person to their Face ID

From advancements in AR to Memojis to group FaceTime, there is plenty to be excited about with iOS 12. But one of the more practical updates to Apple’s mobile operating system, coming this fall, went unmentioned during the keynote at WWDC.

According to 9to5Mac, iOS 12 will allow for two different faces to be registered to Face ID.

Up until now, Face ID has only allowed a single appearance to be registered to the iPhone X. 9to5Mac first noticed the update when combing through the iOS 12 beta, where one can find new settings for Face ID that allow users to “Set Up an Alternative Appearance.”

Here’s what the description says:

In addition to continuously learning how you look, Face ID can recognize an alternative appearance.

While that’s about as unclear as a description might be, 9to5Mac tested and confirmed the update, with the following caveat. Users who choose to register two faces to Face ID will not be able to remove that face without starting over from scratch with their own FaceID registration. In other words, if you choose to reset the alternate appearance, you’ll also have to clear out all existing data around your own face, too.

That small inconvenience aside, the ability to add a second face to Face ID makes total sense. Couples often pass their phones back and forth as a matter of practicality, and parents often let their children use their phones to play games and check out apps.

Plus, this may hint at Face ID on the next generation of iPads, which tend to be shared amongst multiple users more often than phones.

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