Telegram cuts subscription fee by more than half in India

Telegram has cut the monthly subscription fee for its premium tier by more than half in India, just months after introducing the offering as it attempts to aggressively cash in on a large user base in one of its biggest markets.

In a message to users in India on Saturday, Telegram said it was making the subscription available in the country at a discount. The monthly subscription now costs customers 179 Indian rupees ($2.2), down from 469 Indian rupees ($5.74) earlier. The app’s monthly subscription, called Telegram Premium, costs between $4.99 to $6 in every other market.

Users who have not received the message are also seeing the new price in the settings section of the app, they said and TechCrunch independently verified.

India is one of the largest markets for Telegram. The instant messaging app has amassed over 120 million monthly active users in the country, according to analytics firm data.ai. (An industry executive shared the figures with TechCrunch.) That figure makes the app the second most popular in its category in the country, only second to WhatsApp, which has courted over half a billion users in the South Asian market.

Telegram, which claims to have amassed over 700 million monthly active users globally, introduced the optional subscription offering in June this year in a move it hopes will improve its finances and continuing to support a free tier. Premium customers gain access to a wide-range of additional features such as the ability to follow up to 1,000 channels, send larger files (4GB) and faster download speeds.

The Dubai-headquartered firm joins a list of global tech firms that offer their services for lower cost in India. Apple’s music app charges $1.2 for the individual monthly plan in the country, whereas Netflix’s offerings starts at as low as $1.83 in the country.

Telegram cuts subscription fee by more than half in India by Manish Singh originally published on TechCrunch

Meta plans hiring freeze, NASA shoots an asteroid, and Elon’s texts about Twitter are made public

Hi all! Welcome back to Week in Review, the newsletter where we quickly sum up some of the most read TechCrunch stories from the past seven days. The goal? Even when you’re swamped, a quick skim of WiR on Saturday morning should give you a pretty good understanding of what happened in tech this week.

Want it in your inbox? Get it here.

most read

  • Elon’s texts: As part of the ongoing Musk vs. Twitter trial, a big ol’ trove of Twitter-related texts between Elon and various key figures/executives/celebrities has been made public. Amanda and Taylor look at some of the most interesting bits, with appearances from people like Gayle King, Joe Rogan, and Twitter founder Jack Dorsey (or, as he seems to be named in Elon’s contacts, “jack jack”.)
  • Instagram bans PornHub’s account: “After a weeks-long suspension,” writes Amanda, “Pornhub’s account has been permanently removed from Instagram.” Why? PH says they don’t know, as they insist everything they put on Instagram was totally “PG” while calling for “full transparency and clear explanations.”
  • Interpol issues a red notice for Terra’s founder: “Interpol has issued a red notice for Do Kwon,” write Manish and Kate, “requesting law enforcement agencies worldwide to search for and arrest the Terraform Labs founder whose blockchain startup collapsed earlier this year.”
  • Google Maps’ new features: A bunch of new stuff is coming to Google Maps, and Aisha has the roundup. There’s a new view style meant to help you “immerse” yourself in a city before you visit, a “Neighborhood vibe” feature that aims to capture an area’s highlights, and augmented reality features that use the view from your camera to show exactly where ATMs and coffee shops are.
  • Meta’s hiring freeze: The era of explosive hiring at Meta/Facebook is over, it seems. The company will freeze hiring and “restructure some groups” internally, Zuckerberg reportedly announced during an internal all-hands this week.
  • Hacker hits Fast Company, sends awful push notifications: If you got a particularly vulgar push notification from Fast Company by way of Apple News this week, it’s because a hacker managed to breach the outlet’s content management system. The hacker also apparently published a (now pulled) post on Fast Company outlining how they got in.
  • NASA hits an asteroid: If we needed to hit an asteroid from millions of miles away — to, say, change its course and steer it away from Earth — could we do it? NASA proved they could do just that this week, smashing a purpose-built spacecraft into an asteroid at 14,700 mph. The asteroid in question was never believed to be a threat to Earth, but these are the kinds of things you want tested before they’re necessary.
  • Microsoft confirms Exchange vulnerabilities: “Microsoft has confirmed two unpatched Exchange Server zero-day vulnerabilities are being exploited by cybercriminals in real-world attacks,” writes Carly. Even worse? There’s no patch yet, though MSFT says one has been put on an “accelerated timeline” and offers temporary mitigation measures in the meantime.

audio roundup

Didn’t have time to tune in to all of TechCrunch’s podcasts this week? Here’s what you might’ve missed:

  • Evernote and mmhmm co-founder Phil Libin joined us on Found to share what he’s learned about remote work and why he’ll “never go to work in the metaverse.”
  • The Chain Reaction crew went deep on why crypto exchange FTX bid billions on a bankrupt company’s assets.
  • Amanda joined Darrell on the TechCrunch Podcast to explore whether Tumblr was reversing its controversial porn ban (spoiler: no), and Devin hopped on to talk all about NASA’s wild anti-asteroid test mission.

techcrunch+

What hides behind the TechCrunch+ paywall? Lots of really great stuff! It’s where we get to step away from the unrelenting news cycle and go a bit deeper on the stuff you tell us you like most. The most-read TC+ stuff this week?

  • Is Silicon Valley really losing its crown?: A provocative question, one asked all the more after COVID flipped the switch on widespread remote work pretty much overnight. Alex dives into the investor data to see where the money is going, and whether or not that’s changed.
  • Investors hit the brakes on productivity software: It’s an Alex Wilhelm double feature this week! After a few quarters of consistent investment growth, it seems investor interest in productivity tools might be waning. Why? Alex looks at why/how investment in the vertical has shifted.

Meta plans hiring freeze, NASA shoots an asteroid, and Elon’s texts about Twitter are made public by Greg Kumparak originally published on TechCrunch

This Week in Apps: Google goes visual, Twitter copies TikTok, OG app drama

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.

Global app spending reached $65 billion in the first half of 2022, up only slightly from the $64.4 billion during the same period in 2021, as hypergrowth fueled by the pandemic has diminished. But overall, the app economy is continuing to grow, having produced a record number of downloads and consumer spending across both the iOS and Google Play stores combined in 2021, according to the latest year-end reports. Global spending across iOS and Google Play last year was $133 billion, and consumers downloaded 143.6 billion apps.

This Week in Apps offers a way to keep up with this fast-moving industry in one place with the latest from the world of apps, including news, updates, startup fundings, mergers and acquisitions, and much more.

Do you want This Week in Apps in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here: techcrunch.com/newsletters.

Want to attend TechCrunch Disrupt? Click here for 15% off passes.

Top Stories

So we’re just TikTok-ing all the things now

The TikTok-ification of today’s web is nearly overwhelming. Already we’ve seen top social apps like Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube clone the vertical feed format in their own apps. And it seems not a day goes by when some other app announces its own TikTok-like feed has arrived. This week, it was the NBA app that added a vertical video feed of sports content, for some reason, while Twitter announced the introduction of a TikTok-inspired feed for watching videos on its app.

It’s all starting to get a little ridiculous, isn’t it?

Twitter video feed

Image Credits: Twitter

Still, there’s something more going on here, it seems.

This isn’t just about adopting a new format — as apps did when Stories became popular, for example. What’s really happening is that there’s a broader shift in how younger people are using the web, and apps are rushing to adapt. Younger users are looking for more immersive content, visual experiences and easy access to information through intuitive user interfaces that allow for fast scrolling or simple navigation.

Throwing a TikTok feed into an app is a quick way to address these users’ unique interests, but they’re certainly not the only way.

Google Goes Visual

Image Credits: Google

Google, to its credit, has identified this shift as a threat to its core business. It understands that the days when people taught themselves how to use Boolean operators to narrow search results, then clicked back and forth through dozens of blue links, are now behind us.

At an event this week, Google introduced how it’s revamping its products as a result of these behavioral changes, starting with Google Search and Maps.

One of the most notable updates is how Google now plans to redesign Google Search for the TikTok generation.

Instead of starting with a list of links, some Google searches will return highly visual results, where pieces of information are presented in colorful cards alongside other imagery and videos — including both YouTube content and TikToks. For instance, if you search for a place, you might see maps and directions, weather, photos and snippets from Wikipedia all placed in boxes at the top of the search results. And all this could be interspersed with creator-based content that shows off famous landmarks, sights, tourist attractions, places to dine and other ideas.

The changes follow Google’s recent acknowledgment that it had been losing younger users to apps like Instagram and TikTok for some types of searches. This is its attempt to bring those users back to its search engine instead.

The idea now is that you wouldn’t just come to Google to be informed, but to also discover and be inspired — much like you do on social video apps.

The company will cater to users’ interest in visual content in other ways as well, including with shopping searches, where it will integrate more 3D imagery, allow users to browse through “shoppable looks” where they can buy outfits, not locate individual pieces, and have their experiences customized to their own interests in terms of product categories and favorite brands.

Meanwhile, in Google Maps the company is allowing users to explore cities in an “Immersive View” that leverages a combination of computer vision and AI technology to fuse Street View and aerial imagery together. This gives users a way to more visually explore an area, like a bird in flight, then glide down to the street level. Here, users can even go inside places, like restaurants, to get a sense of what they look like inside, layered with “busy-ness” data — so you know if the restaurant would be likely to have a table for you at that time.

Google Maps is also updating its new Live View feature — the AR experience that overlays information atop the real world in Maps just by holding up your phone’s camera. With Live View, you can find places like shops, restaurants or ATMs highlighted over the view of the street your camera displays. And now, you can search within Live View, too.

Another interesting feature is Neighborhood Vibe — a way for Google Maps users to get a sense of the most popular and trendy places in a given neighborhood by adding reviews, photos and videos directly atop Google Maps. (Why turn to TikTok, after all, if you can open a real maps app and watch videos there, attached to exact locations?)

Then there’s the feature that seemingly sets the stage for an AR future — multisearch near me.

This allows you to view items in the real world and find out where to find them nearby. For instance, you could point your phone’s camera (and maybe one day, your AR glasses) toward a dress, then find out which shops in your town carry it. This is a step beyond video-based e-commerce experiences, as seen on TikTok or YouTube, because you’re instead shopping from the real world — not a recorded version of it.

Now, whether Google’s investments will pay off in the long term remain to be seen, of course. These are broader bets on the future of search and discovery. But at least we can say this for it — it’s not ignoring the market shifts or thinking that simply cramming a TikTok-like feed into its apps will keep it relevant.

OG Drama

Instagram on mobile

Image Credits: Un1feed

Hoping to cater to user demand for a more classic version of Instagram without the clutter from ads and suggested posts, a pair of developers built a customized app for viewing Instagram content, called OG App. While users may have briefly appreciated the experience of what felt like the old Instagram experience, the app’s existence was short-lived and filled with drama.

Apparently, the company didn’t exactly have permission to use Instagram’s API the way it was doing. Because soon after the app launched, Meta took enforcement actions against the app, confirming it was in violation of its policies. Apple also then removed the app from its App Store as a result of its behavior, noting that its rules state that apps displaying content from third-party services must do so in accordance with the service’s own terms of use.

OG App had already racked up nearly 10,000 downloads by the time of its removal, after just a couple of days of availability.

While this particular app is no more, it does serve as a test case for consumer interest in an algorithm-free photo-sharing experience that looks and feels more like Instagram once did.

Of course, a number of apps have entered the market hoping to capture users’ interest on that front, but have failed to gain significant traction. Among those were apps like Poparazzi, Later Cam and the ill-fated Dispo, which offer some sort of spin on analog photo-sharing — like replicating the disposable camera experience or only allowing friends to post pics of you. Then there were the apps that try to elevate photo-sharing, like Glass.

But many users either churned out of these experiences or never joined to begin with. Instead, users found a variation on casual, social photo-sharing with the app BeReal. But its notification-based “time to post” trick still needs to prove it can be a successful draw in the long term — and that’s not a given.

That’s why, as we said last week, now is a great time for developers to test the waters by building other privacy-focused social networking experiences — including those centered around photos.

Weekly News

Platforms: Apple

  • Apple’s latest iOS 16 developer beta allows Stage Manager to work with older iPad Pro models, but that support doesn’t allow extending the display to an external monitor. The feature was previously only compatible with the M1-powered iPad Air and the 11-inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pro models released last year.
  • Apple pulled from its App Store apps owned by the Russian tech giant VK, including the music service VK Music. Apple said the apps have been removed due to new U.K. sanctions on Russian-owned companies. Apple also terminated the developer accounts associated with these apps.
  • References to Apple Music Classical, a new Apple Music service, were spotted in the latest iOS beta.
  • Apple rolled out iOS 16.1 beta 3, iPadOS 16.1 beta 4, watchOS 9.1 beta 3, tvOS 16.1 and macOS Ventura beta 9. It appears that iOS 16.1 could bring Adaptive Transparency to the original AirPods Pro, reports said.
  • Apple launched a new App Store Foundations Program in the U.K., with a focus on supporting women developers. The program will feature both one-on-one and group sessions with App Store leaders across the U.K. and Europe.
  • Apple News partner Fast Company’s account was hacked, leading the Apple News app to send offensive news notifications to users.

Platforms: Google

Image Credits: Google

  • Google officially announced the Play Store reorg that has been rolling out for some days. The changes make it easier to filter for and remotely install non-phone apps, including those for watches, tablets, cars and smart TVs.
  • Google upgraded its Speech Services by Google speech engine to provide “more natural voices.” The company says all 421 voices in 67 languages have been updated with a new voice model and synthesizer.

E-commerce and Food Delivery

Image Credits: Walmart

  • Walmart updated its AR feature, View in Your Home, to all users to view TV models to see if the set they liked looks good in their space.
  • Instagram began a new test in its app that ditches the Shopping tab. In one version, Messages takes the place of Shopping on the app’s home screen, while others saw the Notifications tab in its place.
  • iFood in Brazil controls more than 80% of the delivery market. A new report by Rest of World analyzes the impact of the government’s own delivery app Valeu on the market.
  • Shopify announced new mobile hardware, POS Go, that allows merchants to take payments anywhere via their phone, including through tapping, swiping or an integrated reader for chip cards.

Fintech

  • Robinhood debuted a new non-custodial crypto wallet with Polygon, Robinhood Wallet. The crypto wallet, the company’s first international app, was initially rolled out to 10,000 beta testers on its waitlist. It expects to reach over a million users at the beta test’s end before the end of 2022.
  • Public.com added support for alternative asset investing, which includes contemporary art, high-end trading cards, luxury items, vintage comics and more. Users can manage these new investments alongside their portfolio of stocks, crypto and ETFs.
  • Square added support for Tap to Pay on iPhone, which allows users to accept contactless payments directly in the Square Point of Sale app for iOS.

Social

  • TikTok is said to be bleeding U.S. executives, Forbes reported, because China is still calling the shots. Ex-employees said their ability to lead departments was minimized in the U.S. because of corporate reorgs that had them reporting to ByteDance leadership in Beijing, rather than TikTok leadership.
  • TikTok said it removed 33.6 million fake accounts in the past quarter, a 61% increase from the 20.8 million accounts it removed in the prior quarter. TikTok’s fake account removal rate has grown by more than 2,000% over 12 months.
  • Meta is testing a new interface that allows users to more easily create, manage and switch between multiple Facebook and Instagram accounts. When logged into either Facebook or Instagram’s app, users will be able to toggle between the two apps now through the profile menu.
  • Meta said all Facebook and Instagram users in the U.S. can now share NFTs and cross-post between both apps, after announcing the start of the rollout last month.

Meta Instagram NFT

Image Credits: Meta

  • Snapchat is going to pay out $100,000 to creators across 12 Spotlight Challenges from October 3 through the end of the month. Most will focus on Halloween or fall themes and will be used to help promote Snapchat features.
  • Twitter said Elon Musk has failed to provide Signal messages, with Marc Andreessen, relevant to the case involving Musk’s attempt to exit the $44 billion acquisition. It also said Musk’s own data scientists had estimated Twitter spam at 5-11% of users. Meanwhile, other court filings provided insight into Musk’s conversations ahead of the deal, including exchanges with former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, revealing that Dorsey had wanted to give Musk a board seat.
  • Twitter rolled out a redesigned DM experience on Android, catching up to iOS with an improved composer, better forwarding, clearer read receipts and more.

Photos

Messaging

Image Credits: WhatsApp

  • WhatsApp rolled out a way to share links for video calls, similar to apps like FaceTime or Zoom. The new link is found under the calls tab and can be sent to family and friends so they can tap to join the call. The company additionally confirmed it’s now testing 32-person encrypted video calls as well.
  • Intel announced the Unison app that allows Intel PC users to text, take calls and send files to their iOS and Android devices. The app will launch with 12th-gen PCs this fall.
  • The U.S. SEC and CFTC fined 16 financial firms $1.1 billion and $710 million in penalties, respectively, for employees’ use of unauthorized messaging apps. Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley and Bank of America were among those fined.

Dating

  • The NYT examined the dating market in China, where the number of apps with over 1,000 downloads grew to 275 in 2022, up from 81 in 2017 and have received $5.3 billion in funding in 2021, up from $300 million in 2019. Despite a nationwide crackdown on tech, the dating app market has been allowed to flourish, the report found.
  • Dating app Inner Circle launched a new group of anti-ghosting features called “The Date Conscious Suite.” The toolset includes things like anti-ghosting reminders, end conversation options, closure messages, pinned conversations and decision prompts.

Streaming & Entertainment

  • An iOS 16 bug appears to be impacting videos recorded in Cinematic Mode, which are no longer recognized by iMovie and Final Cut Pro, users are reporting.
  • YouTube added support for narration voiceovers for Shorts on iOS, copying another popular feature from TikTok’s app.
  • Even the NBA app is copying TikTok. The updated app includes a “For You” vertical video feed that offers highlights from NBA games and behind-the-scenes footage, content from influencers, NBA clips and more.
  • Deezer launched a new technology called SongCatcher music ID, which can search for songs based on humming, whistling and singing.
  • Twitter rolled out podcasts to its Twitter Blue subscribers on Android after first launching the feature on iOS a few weeks ago.

Gaming

  • Google is shutting down its cloud-based game streaming service Stadia. The service allowed users to stream games across platforms, including Chromecast Ultra, Android TV, computers, Google Chrome’s browser, Chromebook and Chrome OS tablets, the Stadia app for Android phones and on iOS via a progressive web app. Subscribers will have access to their games library through January 18 and refunds will be issued. The company says it will apply Stadia’s technology to other areas, including Google Play, YouTube and AR in the future.
  • Netflix is establishing an internal games studio based in Helsinki, Finland, led by the former co-founder and general manager of the Zygna Helsinki game development studio, Marko Lastikka. The studio will be the fourth for Netflix, joining others including Next Games, Night School Studio and Boss Fight Entertainment, each designed to develop games catering to different tastes.
  • India’s financial crimes agency searched the premises of Coda Payments India, the distributor of Sea’s Free Fire — a game banned by the government earlier this year over its China ties. The Enforcement Directorate said it searched three premises as part of an “ongoing investigation” into the distributor.
  • Android’s share of hypercasual game advertising spending reached a record high of 57%, according to a report from Tenjin.
  • Walmart launched metaverse experiences in Roblox, including Walmart Land and Walmart’s Universe of Play, designed to reach younger shoppers. The virtual worlds let Roblox players collect new virtual merchandise, play games featuring toys and characters, earn toys from a blimp, attend live concerts, win fashion competitions and more.

Image Credits: Walmart

Health & Fitness

  • YouTube announced a new feature called “Personal Stories” that will appear in search results when users enter health-related queries. When people now search for certain health conditions on the app, YouTube will display a panel featuring videos from people who are diagnosed with those disorders.

Utilities

  • Microsoft says it will end support for the predictive keyboard app SwiftKey on iOS and remove it from the App Store on October 5 but will continue to support the app on Android.
  • Apple’s Dark Sky weather app has been removed from the App Store. The app was supposed to be available through January 1, 2023, according to a prior notification display in the app, making its removal ahead of schedule. The app’s technology had been merged into Apple’s own Weather app following the acquisition.

Government & Policy

  • South Korean antitrust officials raided Apple’s offices in the country to investigate allegations raised by mobile game developers that Apple is actually taking a 33% cut of their business, due to the way it handles the local sales tax — or VAT (value added tax).
  • TikTok is facing a $29 million fine in the U.K. for “failing to protect children’s privacy.” The U.K.’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) provisionally said the company breached child data protection laws for a two-year period by processing data for kids under 13 without parental consent, among other things.
  • The North London Coroner’s Court has concluded that social media, including content on Instagram and Pinterest, played a role in the death of a 14-year-old British girl, who died by suicide in November 2017. The coroner will now compile a report laying out the concerns, which will be shared with the government and Ofcom, which will be responsible for regulating content under the Online Safety Bill.

Security & Privacy

  • Researchers found 75 apps on Google Play and 10 on the App Store that were engaging in ad fraud. The apps collectively had 13 million installs before their removal by the app stores.
  • WhatsApp warned users of a critical vulnerability, now patched, that could impact users on older versions of the app that haven’t been updated. The bug could allow an attacker to execute their own code on a victim’s phone.

Funding and M&A

💰 Milan-based developer Bending Spoons, makers of apps like Splice and Remini, raised $340 million from Italian banks Intesa Sanpaolo and Banco BPM, plus Ryan Reynolds’ Maximum Effort Holdings, the former CEO of Vimeo Kerry Trainor, and others.

💰 Scout, a mobile app that helps Gen Z invest in cars, food, games and other “themes,” raised $2.6 million in seed funding led by Chingona Ventures. The app is iOS only for now. It doesn’t charge transaction fees, but rather a subscription of $1/mo. for users with less than $1,000 AUM or 1% of AUM for larger accounts.

💰 Solvo, a new fintech app allowing users to invest in cryptocurrencies and cryptocurrency-related financial products, raised $3.5 million in seed funding from Index Ventures and others. The app, launching in October, was founded by two former Revolut employees and will feature 10 cryptocurriences to start.

💰 A new group camcorder app, Studio, raised $3.3 million in seed funding led by GV for an app that allows groups of friends to privately share everyday videos in albums.

💰 Triller said it raised $310 million from Luxembourg-based investment group Global Emerging Markets ahead of its IPO. The company, however, is not obligated to draw the entire amount — it can issue stock to investors on each draw, as needed.

 

This Week in Apps: Google goes visual, Twitter copies TikTok, OG app drama by Sarah Perez originally published on TechCrunch

It’s unclear what will happen in VC in Q4, but it definitely won’t be boring

Venture capital has been on a roller coaster this year. It came into 2022 riding the wave of the strongest year for venture deployment on record, just before the stock market plummeted and dragged venture down with it.

As the third quarter comes to a close, things have started to get really interesting — again. Venture deals are back! Adam Neumann is the head of a billion-dollar company! Figma sold itself for $20 billion in what multiple data sources believe is the largest venture-backed acquisition ever!

In a year that has proven time and again to be unpredictable, what will 2022 bring to its final episode?

It’s unclear what will happen in VC in Q4, but it definitely won’t be boring by Rebecca Szkutak originally published on TechCrunch

The rise of product-led growth is creating opportunities for startups

Welcome to The TechCrunch Exchange, a weekly startups-and-markets newsletter. It’s inspired by the daily TechCrunch+ column where it gets its name. Want it in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here.

More companies are adopting product-led growth (PLG), in which the product itself does most of the selling, and usage-based pricing (UBP) — meaning users are charged based on consumption, not seats — than ever before. A new wave of startups is helping them succeed at it. Let’s explore. — Anna

Enabling product-led growth

SaaS companies that adopt product-led growth — as more and more do — often have a problem: They know that droves of people are signing up for their product, but they don’t know which of these users their customer success team should reach out to in order to pitch a paid tier or upsell features.

Uncovering the right leads is one of the key challenges of freemium models: Some customers will never convert out of the free tier, while others could bring very valuable revenue into the fold, as long as they get pitched the right offer at the right time. But knowing who’s who requires connecting the dots between product usage and the tools that marketing and sales teams use in their day-to-day.

The rise of product-led growth is creating opportunities for startups by Anna Heim originally published on TechCrunch

Stadia died because no one trusts Google

There’s a lot of chatter right now about the “surprise” shutdown of Stadia, Google’s game-streaming service. While it’s true that rivals like Geforce Now and Xbox Cloud Gaming presented entrenched competition, and that Google knows next to nothing about gaming, the main trouble — as with most of its products these days — is that no one trusted them to keep it alive longer than a year or two.

It really is that simple: No one trusts Google. It has exhibited such poor understanding of what people want, need, and will pay for that at this point, people are wary of investing in even its more popular products.

The technical implementation certainly wasn’t to be faulted. I will admit to being a skeptic when they said they could hit the framerates and response times they advertised, but by Jove they did it. At its best, Stadia was better than its competitors and almost magical in how it fulfilled the promise of going from zero to in-game in one second.

The business side of things was never quite so inspiring. There is now a great remembering of the much-mocked pre-launch hype display for Stadia: the doomed Dreamcast, pointless Power Glove, and E.T. for Atari, the game so bad they buried it in a shallow grave, followed by an empty pedestal on which Stadia would soon sit.

Though it’s clear this was a hilarious misunderstanding of… just about everything, it turned out to be quite apropos. Stadia was doomed, pointless, and destined for an undignified death.

The last first; it was only two months ago that Stadia’s Twitter account assured a concerned user that the service was not in fact shutting down.

Image Credits: Google / Twitter

In fact the wheels were probably already in motion, but the higher-ups just hadn’t yet told their social team, or developers, or pretty much anybody this was the plan. It has been reported that a lot of people close to the service were blindsided by the decision — and who wouldn’t be, after the company publicly declared that everything was fine?

For some the writing was on the wall earlier, when the first-party development team put together by Google to create exclusive games was shut down before it got a chance to do just about anything. The company may have miscalculated how long it takes to develop a game from scratch. At least as long as a Google Doodle.

Still, it could have succeeded even without exclusives if it offered a compelling product. Unfortunately Google Stadia was as pointless and showy as the Power Glove. “It’s so bad,” as the meme has it.

As impressive as its execution was, I couldn’t quite figure out who it was for. A huge, huge proportion of gamers who want to play the latest hit, say Deathloop, will already have either a console, a gaming PC, or both. Why would I buy Deathloop for Stadia instead of for my PS5 or on Steam? It will play and look better natively (though Stadia did look surprisingly good), and of course they’ve already invested hundreds into those platforms.

Sure, you could play on the go, or on your laptop or something. But… not only do services to do that already exist, but the experience isn’t really great. Full-price games these days are immersive, major affairs where you sit down for an hour or two on the couch and get into it with the surround sound system blasting. Sure, I wouldn’t mind doing a little inventory management on my laptop during a coffee break at the office, but beyond that, having persistent access to AAA games isn’t much of an advantage.

Meanwhile games like Genshin Impact hit AAA levels and are natively portable — played by millions on phones. Again, why was Stadia a better deal?

It might have made sense if the proposal was you pay $20 a month and some Google sorcery let you play your PlayStation, Xbox, Switch, or PC games all wherever you want. A real platform-agnostic bridge builder type thing, and Google would probably be paying millions behind the scenes for the privilege. Kind of like what Samsung is attempting:

But no. You couldn’t access your existing games — couldn’t even use your own controller! It cost you a bill to get in the door, plus the monthly fee, then you had to buy games on top of that, full price.

And here’s where it was really doomed. Because while people will happily drop a couple bucks here and there for a Google service, no one is going to pay hundreds for something they have a sneaking feeling is going to be completely worthless in short order.

Google’s legacy of killing products is infamous. Its twists and turns on priorities, branding, standards, and everything else have made it clear to everyone that they cannot be trusted with anything beyond their core services, and they even like to screw those up now and then.

I still have my original Super Nintendo, which plays as well as it did the day I brought it home. My Mario Kart and Super Metroid cartridges have been working for… my god, 30 years now. I have games on Steam I bought a decade and more ago that I can load up and play as easily as I did then. There are digital copies of games on my PS3 that would boot right up if I felt like digging it out of storage. These companies and services have built trust over decades to show that they either can’t or won’t pull the rug out from under their customers.

Why do you think the whole P.T. drama was so disturbing? It was truly unexpected: an aggressive and unnecessary destruction of a digital product that people thought they owned. Gamers felt a betrayal.

But with Google the shoe is on the other foot. Google has built nothing but mistrust, outside a handful of products no one wants or needs to change. For me (and dozens more of us) the turning point was the assassination of Google Reader — for which I will never forgive them, and try to regularly exert a small vengeance by mentioning it like so — but plenty of other products have been extended, embraced, and then extinguished (to repurpose the idiom).

Google couldn’t betray me now if they tried — because there’s nothing to betray. To be honest I would be relieved if they screwed up Gmail so badly that I had no choice but to switch — I can’t work up the volition otherwise.

And although there is no doubt that the people for whom Stadia did make sense for whatever reason (and I was happy for them) do feel betrayed, the millions more who squinted and smiled and said “not this time, big G!” are feeling validated. I will say that I’m surprised Google is doing the right thing by offering a truly robust refund. It’s the least they could do, and god knows they have the money.

I don’t think Stadia could ever really have been a success. Its entire model was probably doomed to failure from the start. But even a long shot can be molded into a successful product with a few pivots if the core is solid and it develops a large, invested community. That was never, ever going to be the case for Stadia. Google has built a case against itself so strong that, whether it’s creators on YouTube, coders and scientists on Colab, or media and advertisers in Search, no community will ever truly trust it again.

Stadia died because no one trusts Google by Devin Coldewey originally published on TechCrunch

Build for the future now with Mammoth Biosciences and Mayfield

Trevor Martin’s Mammoth Biosciences aims to use CRISPR technology to democratize disease detection. Join this TechCrunch Live event to hear from Trevor Martin and Mayfield investor Ursheet Parikh on how Mammoth Biosciences positioned itself to achieve the lofty goal. Spoiler: Trevor Martin spent time putting the basics in place to ensure future success.

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Build for the future now with Mammoth Biosciences and Mayfield by Matt Burns originally published on TechCrunch

Web3 banking platform Juno raises $18 million, launches tokenized loyalty program

Juno, a startup that provides checking accounts to crypto enthusiasts and allows them to take their paychecks in digital tokens, has raised a new funding round as it expands its offerings to include a tokenized loyalty program.

The one-and-a-half-year old startup has amassed over 75,000 customers in the U.S. who take their salaries (some in entirety, rest in portions) in crypto and invest consistently in digital assets each month.

Customers are able to spend their crypto or cash using the startup’s Mastercard-powered debit card, make bill payments and easily move funds to and from traditional banks if they so desire. Juno also offers direct onramps to customers from a checking account to layer 2 blockchains such as Polygon, Arbitrum, and Optimism for zero fees.

The eponymous platform integrates with all popular payroll platforms in the U.S., making it easier for customers who are long term believers in crypto to keep doubling down on their bets without having to worry about manually moving funds to different exchanges. It also offers customers automated tax reporting through form 1099, freeing them from having to manually sift through their transactions and calculate gains.

On Saturday, Juno announced it has raised $18 million in a Series A financing round. The funding was led by ParaFi Capital’s Growth Fund and saw participation from scores of backers including Greycroft, Antler Global, Hashed, Jump Crypto, Mithril, 6th Man Ventures, Abstract Ventures and Uncorrelated Fund.

Juno – which also counts Sequoia India’s Surge, Dragonfly Capital, Polychain Capital, Consensys Ventures, Balaji Srinivasan, Surojit Chatterjee, Sandeep Nailwal and Ryan Selkis among its backers – has reached $1 billion in annualized transaction volume processing, Varun Deshpande, co-founder and chief executive of Juno, said in an interview.

“Crypto natives in the US are finding existing banks completely inadequate for everyday use of crypto. We are rebuilding a checking account from the ground up with crypto and web3 at its core. Juno empowers members to earn part of their paycheck in crypto and use crypto for everyday transactions like bill payments or buying coffee,” he said.

Juno’s eponymous app (Image credits: Juno)

Tokenized loyalty program

Juno, which raised a $3 million seed funding last year, is now ready for a new offering: an optional loyalty program. The startup is introducing an ERC20 token, called JCOIN, which will be rewarded to customers, if they so choose, based on their usage. Remarkably, Juno co-founders, employees and investors are not taking any allocation in the tokens to avoid conflict of interest in a move that is in contrast with how a significant number of industry players operate.

“We feel distributing tokens to founders, investors and team members creates misaligned incentives. Being market participants with privileged information creates distrust with community in the long term,” said Deshpande.

“The exit path for our company’s success remains developing successful products, and the path for our investors and team remains an IPO,” he said.

Juno took a snapshot of customers’ usage on Friday and has generated 150 million tokens that they are eligible for. Each dollar spent using the platform gives customers access to a token. Overtime, customers will have to spend more to receive the same amount of tokens as rewards, he said.

The startup, based in India, is part of a growing wave of fintech and software firms in the South Asian nation that are increasingly building for the global markets. Prior to starting Juno, Deshpande and other co-founders — Ratnesh Ray and Siddharth Verma — worked on Nuo protocol in 2019. They discontinued the protocol two years later to build something that is compliant with the growing regulatory environment.

Juno has a team that “deeply understand both fintech and crypto. Seamlessly integrating crypto and web3 in a checking account which is a trusted and familiar interface for millions of Americans can help onboard new users to web3,” said Ryan Navi, Principal at ParaFi Capital, in a statement.

“Their empathy towards users new to web3 and passion for creating beautiful crypto-native products with compliance at its core sets them apart. They are creating an entirely new category in neo banking and we are excited to back them.”

Web3 banking platform Juno raises $18 million, launches tokenized loyalty program by Manish Singh originally published on TechCrunch