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Main article: Apps

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Google’s parental control software Family Link gains much-needed features

20:00 | 18 September

Google’s parental control software, Family Link, is getting a noteworthy update today with the addition of new features that will allow parents to limit screen time per app, instead of the device as a whole, as well as let them more easily extend screen time as needed. The features were first announced at Google’s I/O developer conference this spring, and help to make Family Link a more complete parental control and screen time solution.

While the simplest way to manage screen time is to just not give kids a device in the first place, it’s not the most realistic. As parents, we need to teach our kids to navigate the world — and that means we have to show them how to establish a healthy, non-addictive relationship with technology, too. Certain apps make that more difficult as they’ve been intentionally designed to steal our focus for long periods of time. And even as adults, many of us struggle with this same problem.

For years, platform makers like Apple and Google were complicit with regard to users’ app addictions. They were thrilled about the success of the third-party developers and the money they brought in. Only more recently, have these companies realized that their popular devices are starting to be seen as the digital equivalent of junk food — sure, it fuels you. But it’s bad for your health and should be limited. And that, of course, is bad for business. Hence, the arrival screen time and digital well-being features.

Family Link is not a perfect system, but it now comes built-in to Android devices with Android 10 and up, and can be downloaded as a standalone app from Google Play if you don’t have it available. It’s to Google’s credit that it has integrated it now into the core mobile OS, where it’s easier to find and use.

family link

Already, it’s able to do things like setting device “bedtimes,” track activity per app, set daily limits, view the device’s location on the map and ring it (you’ll need Family Link for this feature alone), and more.

But what was sorely lacking was the ability to more narrowly define how a child’s screen time should be used.

Today, there are plenty of educational apps — from flashcards to study guides to Kindle books — that kids don’t deserve to be locked out from, just because they’ve used their phone over a certain number of hours per day. And as a parent myself, I was hesitant to enforce daily limits in Family Link because it locked my child out of her phone entirely, except for the ability to make calls. She just as often uses texting to reach me, so I didn’t want to cut her off from that ability.

With the new per-app limits, you’ll be able to limit how long each, individual app on the device can be used.

That means I can drastically trim the number of hours per week she spends on TikTok and YouTube (sorry, not sorry, Google!), or in mobile games. It also now means that chores around the house aren’t tied to “screen time” as a whole, but time in a favorite app, like Roblox. (Oh, the motivation!)

However, per-app limits will require a lot of manual labor on parents’ part. I don’t mind the extra work, because I appreciate the granular control, but a lot of parents would be better-served by category-based limits. (e.g. “mobile gaming.”) This could be something Google addresses in a future update.

bonus time

The other update rolling out today is Bonus Time, which lets you up the amount of screen time in sort of a one-off situation.

For example, if the child is in the middle of something and just needs a few more minutes, you can now grant this extra time without having to disable the screen time setting. You’ll know screen time is running out because the child gets warnings at 15 minutes, 5 minutes and 1 minute. And they’ll be sure to tell you about this.

These updates are rolling out today to the cross-platform Family Link service. Parents can control Family Link settings from their Android or iOS device, and the child can use an Android or Chrome device.

 

 

 


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Podcast app Pocket Casts is now available for free, with an optional $0.99 subscription

15:53 | 18 September

Anyone who wants to download the podcast app Pocket Casts can now do so for free.

Previously, you had to pay a one-time fee of $3.99 to access the Android or iOS apps, but CEO Owen Grover said this approach seemed increasingly at odds with Pocket Casts’ goals, and with the vision of the public radio organizations (NPR, WNYC Studios and WBEZ Chicago) that acquired it last year.

“We understood pretty clearly that we were limiting our reach and limiting the number of users that could enjoy the quality and power of the app and the platform,” Grover said. “It felt penny wise and pound foolish to continue to collect a few dollars at the top … We have the benefit of these owners who are supporting us in a way that allows us to grow our audience, habituate new listeners and deliver a pretty terrific user experience.”

So moving forward, he said the core features of the Pocket Casts app — including audio effects and cross-platform sync — will be available for free.

At the same time, Pocket Casts is launching a monthly subscription called Pocket Casts Plus, where he said “power users and super users” can pay 99 cents a month or $10 a year for access the desktop apps, cloud storage of their own audio and video files and exclusive app icons and themes.

Shifting from a one-time fee to a subscription model might seem like a move to make more money, but Grover said the company is really just charging a fee to cover the costs of the Plus features, particularly cloud storage.

“In the short term, we will make less money. It’s not about that,” he said. “It’s not about maximizing app revenue for us, it’s about maximizing the unique quality of the partnership [with] our wonderful public media partners.”

That doesn’t mean Pocket Casts isn’t interested in making money. In fact, Grover said the team will have “more to share about how we think about sensible, sane, scalable business models moving forward.” (He also assured me that the model won’t focus on advertising.)

He painted this change as part of a broader strategy after last year’s acquisition, which was followed by upgrades to Pocket Casts’ backend and frontend.

“This is really the third pillar — now we’re off to the races,” Grover said.

 


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Facebook launches Portal TV, a $149 video chat set-top box

15:01 | 18 September

Facebook wants to take over your television with a clip-on camera for video calling, AR gaming, and content co-watching. If you can get past the creepiness, the new Portal TV let you hang out with friends on your home’s biggest screen. It’s a fresh product category that could give the social network a unique foothold in the living room where unlike on phones where it’s beholden to Apple and Google, Facebook owns the hardware and operating system.

Today Facebook unveiled a new line of Portal devices that bring its auto-zooming AI camera, in-house voice assistant speaker, Alexa, apps like Spotify and newly added  Amazon Prime Video, Messenger video chat, and now end-to-end encrypted WhatsApp video calls to smaller form factors.

The $149 Portal TV is the star of the show, turning most televisions with an HDMI connection into a video chat smart screen. And if you video call between two Portal TVs, you can use the new Watch Together feature to co-view Facebook Watch videos simultaneously while chilling together over picture-in-picture. The Portal TV is genius way for Facebook to make its hardware both cheaper yet more immersive by co-opting a screen you already own and have given a space in your life, thereby leapfrogging smart speakers like Amazon Echo and Google Home.

There’s also the new pint-size 8-inch Portal Mini for just $129, which makes counter-top video chat exceedingly cheap. The 10-inch Portal that launched a year ago now has a sleeker, minimal bezel look with a price drop for $199 to $179. Both look more like digital picture frames, which they are, and can be stood on their side or end for optimal full-screen chatting. Lastly, the giant 15.6-inch Portal+ swivel screen falls to $279 instead of $349, and you still get $50 off if you buy any two Portal devices.

Facebook Portal Lineup

“The TV has been a staple of living rooms around the world, but to date it’s been primarily about people who are physically interacting with the device” says  Facebook’s VP of consumer hardware Andrew ‘Boz’ Bosworth. “We see the opportunity for people to use their TVs not just to do that but also to interact with other people.”

The new Portals all go on pre-sale today from Portal.facebook.com, Amazon, and Best Buy in the US and Canada plus new markets like the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Italy, and France (though the Hey Portal assistant only works in English). Portal and Portal Mini ship October 15th and Portal TV ships November 5th.

The whole Portal gang lack essential video apps like Netflix and HBO, and Boz claims he’s not trying to compete directly with Roku, Fire TV etc. Instead, Facebook is trying to compete where it’s strongest, on communication and video chat where rivals lack a scaled social network.

“You’re kind of more hanging out. It isn’t as transactional. It’s not as urgent as when you sacrifice your left arm to the cause” explains Boz. Like how Fortnite created a way for people to just chill together while gaming remotely, Portal TV could do the same for watching television together, apart.

Battling The Creepiness

The original Portal launched a year ago to favorable reviews except for one sticking point: journalists all thought it was too sketchy to bring Facebook surveillance tech inside their homes. Whether the mainstream consumer feels the same way is still a mystery as the company has refused to share sales numbers. Though Boz told me “The engagement, the retention numbers are all really positive”, we haven’t seen developers like Netflix rush to bring their apps to the Portal platform.

To that end, privacy on Portal no longer feels clipped on like the old plastic removeable camera covers. “We have to always do more work to grow the number of people who have that level of comfort, and bring that technology into their home” says Boz. “We’ve done what we can in this latest generation of products, now with integrated camera covers that are hardware, indicator lights when the microphone is off, and form factors that are less obtrusive and blend more into the background of the home.”

Portal TV Closeup

One major change stems from a scandal that spread across the tech sector, with Apple, Google, Amazon, and Facebook all being criticized for quietly sending voice clips to human reviewers to improve speech recognition in what felt like a privacy violation. “Part of the Portal out-of-box experience is going to be a splash screen on data storage and it will literally walk through how . . . when we hear ‘hey Portal’ a voice recording and transcription is sent, it may be reviewed by humans, and people have the ability to opt out.”

But if Portal if battling the perception of creepiness, why make human reviews the default? Boz defended the call from the perspective of accessibility. “We say ‘oh they’re good enough” but for a lot of people that might have a mild speech impedentment, a subtle accent, who might use different words because they’re from a different region, these assistants aren’t inclusive.” He claims more voice data reviewed by humans means better products for everyone, though better sales for Facebook wouldn’t hurt.

Instead, Facebook is leaning on the evolution of the smart screen market in general to help its camera blend in. “The more value we can create, not just any one player but as an entire industry, that allows consumers to feel – ‘yeah, I both am comfortable with how the data is being used and why’.”

Hands-On With The New Portals

If you can get past Facebook’s toxic brand, the new Portals are quite pleasing. They’re remarkably polished products for a company just a year into selling consumer hardware. They all feel sturdy and elegant enough to place in your kitchen or living room. The Portal and Portal Mini work just like last year’s models, but without the big speaker bezel, they can be flipped on their side and look much more like picture frames while running Portal’s Smart Frame showing your Facebook, Instagram, or Camera roll photos.

Portal TV’s flexible form factor is a clever innovation. It has an integrated stand for placing on your TV console, but that stand also squeezes onto a front wing to let it clip onto both wide and extremely thin new flatscreen televisions. With just an HDMI connection it brings a 12.5 megapixel, 120-degree camera and 8 mic array to any tube. It also ships with a stubby remote control for basic browsing without having to shout across the room. TechCrunch

Portal TV includes an integrated smart speaker that can be used even when the TV is off or on a different input, and offers HDMI CEC for control through other remotes. The built-in camera cover gives users piece of mind and a switch conjures a red light to signal that all sensors are disabled. Overall, control felt a tad sluggish but passable.

Portal’s software is largely the same as before with a few key improvements, the addition of WhatsApp, and one big bonus feature for Portal TVs. The AI Smart Camera is the best part, automatically tracking multiple people to keep everyone in frame as zoomed in as possible. Improved adaptive background modeling and human pose estimation lets it keep faces in view without facial recognition, and all video processing is done locally on the device. A sharper Spotlight feature lets you select one person, like a child running around the room so you don’t miss the gymnastics routines.

Now in addition to Messenger video calling, the app platform with Spotify and more, and AR Storytime where you don related AR masks as you read aloud a children’s book, there AR games like Cats Catching Donuts With Their Mouths. Designed for kids and casual players, the games had some trouble with motion tracking and felt too thin for more than a few seconds of play. But if Facebook gave Portal TV a real controller or bought a better AR games studio, it could dive deeper into gaming as a selling point.

WhatsApp is the top new feature for all the Portals. Though you can’t use the voice assistant to call people, you can now WhatsApp video chat friends with end-to-end encryption rather than just Messenger’s encryption in transit. The two messaging apps combined give Portal a big advantage over Google and Amazon’s devices since their parents have screwed up or ignored chat over the years. Still, there’s no way to send text messages which would be exceedingly helpful.

Reserved for Portal TV-to-Portal TV Messenger chats is the new Watch Together feature we broke the news of a year ago after Ananay Arora spotted it in Messenger’s code. This lets you do a picture-in-picture video chat with friends while you simultaneously view a Facebook Watch video. It even smartly ducks down the video’s audio while friends are talking so you can share reactions. While it doesn’t work with other Portal content apps like Prime Video, Watch Together shows the true potential of the device: passive hang out time.

“Have you ever thought about how weird bowling is, Josh? Bowling is a weird thing to go do. I enjoy bowling, I don’t enjoy bowling by myself that much. I enjoy going with other people” Boz tells me. “It’s just a pretext, it’s some  reason for us to get together and have some beers and to have time and have conversation. Whether it’s video calling or the AR games . . . those are a pre-text, to have an excuse to go be together.”

 


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Get the word on product-market fit from leads at Instagram, Tinder, Uber, and Okta at Disrupt SF

22:00 | 15 September

Every founder knows you gotta find market fit.  Almost no one gets it right on the first try, which means iterating quickly and decisively is the difference between greatness and the void.

On the Extra Crunch stage at TechCrunch Disrupt SF, we have a jam-packed panel filled with leading product builders  to discuss just how founders should think about launching and iterating their products.

First, we have Ravi Mehta, chief product officer at dating app Tinder . Before Tinder, he was a product director at Facebook and a vice president of product at TripAdvisor, in addition to a host of other product-related roles. Mehta brings years of consumer products experience to the panel, and will talk about the specific needs of social and network-based products.

Second, we have Manik Gupta, chief product officer at transportation and delivery company Uber . Before becoming product chief, he led Uber’s Marketplace and Maps products, and spent years at Google as a leading PM for Google Maps. He brings a deep background on building popular consumer apps, and also instrumenting those apps with location and consumer data.

Third, we have Diya Jolly, chief product officer of identity management platform Okta . Before Okta, she led product for Google’s home products like Nest as well as YouTube’s monetization efforts, and also held product roles at Microsoft and Motorola. She brings a hybrid background in enterprise and consumer product design, and will be able to speak about the varying challenges different types of users bring to bear on a product.

Finally, we have Robby Stein, a director of product management at Instagram where he leads the consumer team in charge of Stories, Feed, Messaging, Camera, and Profile. Before Facebook/Instagram, he held a senior product role at Yahoo, which acquired his startup Stamped, and was also a PM at Google. He brings a cross-over product perspective between startups and larger tech companies that will enrich our conversation.

We’re amped for this conversation, and we can’t wait to see you there! Buy tickets to Disrupt SF here at an early-bird rate!

Did you know Extra Crunch annual members get 20% off all TechCrunch event tickets? Head over here to get your annual pass, and then email extracrunch@techcrunch.com to get your 20% discount. Please note that it can take up to 24 hours to issue the discount code.

 


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Apple introduces a ‘grace period’ for lapsed App Store subscriptions

17:22 | 13 September

Apple is changing how subscriptions work on its App Store. Before, any lapse in payment could cut off the customer from being able to use the app’s subscription-based features — and make it more difficult for the developer to reacquire that customer’s business in the future. Now, Apple says developers will have the option to instead offer a “grace period” for auto-renewable subscriptions which gives Apple more time to collect payment on the developer’s behalf.

Lapsed payments can occur for many reasons — like expired credit cards, changes in addresses requiring an update of the billing zip, corporate cards getting shut off because your company’s expense program is ridiculous (ahem), credit cards that get disabled by the bank, and so on. This sort of involuntary churn means developers were losing out on revenue not because the customer had wanted to end their subscription, but because of a simple billing issue.

The new Grace Period — which is opt-in, not opt-out on the developer’s part — is enabled from App Store Connect, where developers manage their apps. Here, you can navigate to “My Apps,” then in the toolbar click Features –> In-App Purchases, and in the new Billing Grace Period section, click “Turn On.”

Screen Shot 2019 09 13 at 10.06.52 AM

Of course, there’s a bit more to it than that when it comes to actually integrating support in the app itself but for many developers, it will be worth the extra effort to more easily retain their customers going forward.

Once enabled, Apple’s documentation says it will attempt to collect payment for either 6 or 16 days, depending on whether the subscription duration is weekly or monthly or longer, respectively. Meanwhile, the customer retains full access to the app’s paid content.

If the subscription is renewed within this period, there won’t be any interruption to the days of paid service or to the developer’s revenue.

If the user resubscribes after 60 days, the days of paid service will reset and the developer will receive 70% of the subscription price until one year of paid service passes. (After the first year, Apple cuts its revenue share, allowing developers to retain 85% of the subscription.)

Subscription revenue is critical to developers, as the App Store has shifted away from paid downloads towards recurring revenue streams. For developers, subscriptions mean a more sustainable business. And for Apple, subscriptions are a huge part of its growing “services” business which including App Store revenues, along with its own subscriptions like Apple Card, iCloud, Apple Music, Apple News+, Apple TV+, and its Apple Pay business.

In Q3, services revenue increased 13% to $11.46 billion from $10.17 billion a year earlier, and now accounts for a fifth of Apple’s revenue. As Apple now has a growing line of subscription products of its own, it makes sense that it would want to better design the overall subscription offering to make it easier to handle common billing problems, too.

 

 

 


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Apple tweaks App Store rule changes for children’s apps and sign in services

18:01 | 12 September

Originally announced in June, changes to Apple’s App Store policies on its Sign in with Apple service and the rules around children’s app categories are being tweaked. New apps must comply right away with the tweaked terms, but existing apps will have until early 2020 to comply with the new rules.

The changes announced at Apple’s developer conference in the summer were significant, and raised concerns among developers that the rules could handicap their ability to do business in a universe that, frankly, offers tough alternatives to ad-based revenue for children’s apps.

In a short interview with TechCrunch, Apple’s Phil Schiller said that they had spent time with developers, analytics companies and advertising services to hear what they had to say about the proposals and have made some updates.

The changes are garnering some strong statements of support from advocacy groups and advertising providers for children’s apps that were pre-briefed on the tweaks. The changes will show up as of this morning in Apple’s developer guidelines.

“As we got closer to implementation we spent more time with developers, analytics companies and advertising companies,” said Schiller. “Some of them are really forward thinking and have good ideas and are trying to be leaders in this space too.”

With their feedback, Schiller said, they’ve updated the guidelines to allow them to be more applicable to a broader number of scenarios. The goal, he said, was to make the guidelines easy enough for developers to adopt while being supportive of sensible policies that parents could buy into. These additional guidelines, especially around the Kids app category, says Schiller, outline scenarios that may not be addressed by the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) or GDPR regulations.

There are two main updates.

Kids changes

The first area that is getting further tweaking is the Kids terms. Rule sections 1.3 and 5.1.4 specifically are being adjusted after Apple spoke with developers and providers of ad and analytics services about their concerns over the past few months.

Both of those rules are being updated to add more nuance to their language around third-party services like ads and analytics. In June, Apple announced a very hard-line version of these rule updates that essentially outlawed any third-party ads or analytics software and prohibited any data transmission to third-parties. The new rules offer some opportunities for developers to continue to integrate these into their apps, but also sets out explicit constraints for them.

The big changes come in section 1.3 surrounding data safety in the Kids category. Apple has removed the explicit restriction on including any third-party advertising or analytics. This was the huge hammer that developers saw heading towards their business models.

Instead, Apple has laid out a much more nuanced proposal for app developers. Specifically, it says these apps should not include analytics or ads from third parties, which implicitly acknowledging that there are ways to provide these services while also practicing data safety on the App Store.

Apple says that in limited cases, third-party analytics may be permitted as long as apps in the Kids category do not send personal identifiable information or any device fingerprinting information to third parties. This includes transmitting the IDFA (the device ID for advertisers), name, date of birth, email address, location or any other personally identifiable information.

Third-party contextual ads may be allowed but only if those companies providing the ads have publicly documented practices and policies and also offer human review of ad creatives. That certainly limits the options, including most offerings from programmatic services.

Rule 5.1.4 centers on data handling in kids apps. In addition to complying with COPPA, GDPR and other local regulations, Apple sets out some explicit guard rails.

First, the language on third-party ads and analytics has been changed from may not to should not. Apple is discouraging their use, but acknowledges that “in limited cases” third-party analytics and advertising may be permitted if it adheres to the new rules set out in guideline 1.3.

The explicit prohibition on transmitting any data to third parties from apps in the Kids category has been removed. Once again, this was the big bad bullet that every children’s app maker was paying attention to.

An additional clause reminds developers not to use terms like “for kids” and “for children” in app metadata for apps outside of the Kids category on the App Store.

SuperAwesome is a company that provides services like safe ad serving to kids apps. CEO Dylan Collins was initially critical of Apple’s proposed changes, noting that killing off all third-party apps could decimate the kids app category.

“Apple are clearly very serious about setting the standard for kids apps and digital services,” Collins said in a statement to TechCrunch after reviewing the new rules Apple is publishing. “They’ve spent a lot of time working with developers and kidtech providers to ensure that policies and tools are set to create great kids digital experiences while also ensuring their digital privacy and safety. This is the model for all other technology platforms to follow.”

All new apps must adhere to the guidelines. Existing apps have been given an additional six months to live in their current form but must comply by March 3, 2020.

“We commend Apple for taking real steps to protect children’s privacy and ensure that kids will not be targets for data-driven, personalized marketing,” said Josh Golin, Executive Director of Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood. “Apple rightly recognizes that a child’s personal identifiable information should never be shared with marketers or other third parties. We also appreciate that Apple made these changes on its own accord, without being dragged to the table by regulators.”

The CCFC had a major win recently when the FTC announced a $170M fine against YouTube for violations of COPPA.

Sign in with Apple

The second set of updates has to do with Apple’s Sign in with Apple service.

Sign in with Apple is a sign-in service that can be offered by an app developer to instantly create an account that is handled by Apple with additional privacy for the user. We’ve gone over the offering extensively here, but there are some clarifications and policy additions in the new guidelines.

Sign in with Apple is being required to be offered by Apple if your app exclusively offers third-party or social log ins like those from Twitter, Google, LinkedIn, Amazon or Facebook. It is not required if users sign in with a unique account created in the app, with say an email and password.

But some additional clarifications have been added for additional scenarios. Sign in with Apple will not be required in the following conditions:

  • Your app exclusively uses your company’s own account setup and sign-in systems.
  • Your app is an education, enterprise or business app that requires the user to sign in with an existing education or enterprise account.
  • Your app uses a government or industry-backed citizen identification system or electronic ID to authenticate users.
  • Your app is a client for specific third-party service and users are required to sign in to their mail, social media or other third-party account directly to access their content.

Most of these were sort of assumed to be true but were not initially clear in June. The last one, especially, was one that I was interested in seeing play out. This scenario applies to, for instance, the Gmail app for iOS, as well as apps like Tweetbot, which log in via Twitter because all they do is display Twitter.

Starting today, new apps submitted to the store that don’t meet any of the above requirements must offer Sign in with Apple to users. Current apps and app updates have until April 2020 to comply.

Both of these tweaks come after developers and other app makers expressed concern and reports noted the abruptness and strictness of the changes in the context of the ever-swirling anti-trust debate surrounding big tech. Apple continues to walk a tightrope with the App Store where they flex muscles in an effort to enhance data protections for users while simultaneously trying to appear as egalitarian as possible in order to avoid regulatory scrutiny.

 


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Yelp adds predictive wait times and a new way for restaurants to share updates

16:08 | 12 September

With a new feature called Yelp Connect, Yelp is allowing users to go beyond customer reviews and see “what the restaurants have to say for themselves.”

That’s according to Devon Wright, Yelp’s general manager of restaurant marketplaces. He explained that with Yelp Connect, restaurants will be able to post updates about things like recent additions to the menu, happy hour specials and upcoming events. These updates are then shown on the Yelp homepage (which is already becoming more personalized), in a weekly email and on the restaurant’s profile page.

Consumers, meanwhile, can follow restaurants to see these updates, but Yelp also shows them to users who have indicated interest in a restaurant by making a reservation, joining its waitlist or bookmarking its profile.

Of course, restaurants are already posting this kind of information on social media, but Wright said Yelp allows them to reach “a high-intent audience” — people who aren’t just browsing for updates from their friends, but are actually looking to go out for a meal.

Guang Yang, the group product manager for Yelp Reservations and Waitlist, also noted that restaurants can set end dates for their Yelp posts, which could make them more comfortable sharing things like limited-time menus.

Yelp Connect will cost $199 per month for U.S. restaurants, but is available for a limited time at a price of $99 per month.

Wright described this is part of a broader evolution at Yelp, where “you don’t just want to discover a great restaurant, you want to transact [with] that restaurant.” So the company has added things like reservations, with Connect serving as “the final piece of that journey,” allowing restaurants to continue reaching out to consumers after their visit.

Yelp Waitlist Predictive

In addition to launching Connect, Yelp is also announcing an upgrade to its Waitlist feature, which allows consumers to see the current estimated wait time at a restaurant, and to join the queue directly from the Yelp app.

Yang said Yelp can now use real wait time data from a restaurant to predict the average wait at a given time — so if you want to get dinner tonight at 7pm, Yelp can tell how long you’ll probably have to wait. (These estimates are based on a party size of two; you’ll enter your real party size and get an updated estimate when you actually join the waitlist.)

Yelp is also using these predictions to power an additional feature called Notify Me. If you want to get seated a certain restaurant at a certain time, you can hit a button to get a notification that will prompt you to join the waitlist at right time — if you want to eat at 7pm, and the average wait time at 7 is an hour, then you’ll get a notification at 6.

Yang said the algorithm is “pretty sophisticated,” and even incorporates some of the common situations that can confound these estimates, like kitchen closing times, or popular restaurants that have long waitlist as soon as they open.

Still, he acknowledged that there will be times where the actual is different from what’s predicted, which may be challenging when you’ve told all your friends to meet you somewhere at a given time. But in those cases, he said most restaurants “acknowledge and understand, ‘Oh, something happened, wait time changed,'” and they’ll make accommodations if you show up later.

 


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Apple is releasing macOS Catalina in October

21:53 | 10 September

After a summer of beta test, Apple is about to release the next major version of macOS, macOS Catalina. But not so fast, the new version will arrive in October, according to Apple’s updated website.

As always, this update will be available as a free download in the Mac App Store.

This version completely rethinks the way you interact with media. Instead of using iTunes for everything, there are a handful of new apps specifically designed for each task — Music, Podcasts and TV.

Mac users will also notice a huge update to Photos. It borrows many of the new features that you can see in iOS 13, such as the ability to view photos by days, months or years with a curated selection of shots. The company tries to identify the best photos using artificial intelligence.

If you’ve been using Duet Display or Luna Display, macOS Catalina lets you use your iPad as a second Mac display. It’s as easy as opening the AirPlay menu and selecting your iPad to extend your desktop. The feature is called Sidecar.

Apple is also adding new accessibility features. For instance, you can open apps, click on dropdown menus and navigate apps much more easily with your voice.

More interestingly, this new version of macOS opens up the ability to port iPad apps to the desktop using Project Catalyst. Some developers already said that they plan on taking advantage of that feature, such as Twitter, Gameloft and Atlassian.

 


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Twenty and Mappen merge to help users hang out IRL

17:27 | 10 September

Today, social networks Twenty and Mappen are joining together in a merger under the Twenty brand.

From the beginning, Twenty’s goal has been to get young people off of their phones and out in the real world with their friends. Twenty connects users with their friend groups and lets them browse fun experiences, from concerts to sports games to movies, with an easy UI for coordinating a group and making it happen. In fact, Twenty has forged relationships with orgs like Live Nation, Endeavor, Roc Nation, and Tao, which collectively produce 10,000+ events a year with an audience of over 100 million fans.

Mappen, on the other hand, is a location-based social network that let users share what they were doing (and where they were doing it) with their friends. For example, users could give a status update using a Fortnite emoji tagged to their house, inviting friends to come over and play a few games.

The two companies have been in talks, and collaborating, for the past nine months looking for ways to bring the experiences together. Where Twenty has relationships with experience providers, Mappen had the audience of young people looking to connect with each other.

The end result is an all-stock deal that unifies the user experience under the Twenty brand name.

twenty

Though the announcement of the merged app didn’t go down until today, the two apps have been combined for a while and CEO Diesel Peltz says the new app has seen 33 percent month over month growth in new users. Hangouts have increased 50 percent from July to August. Peltz will lead the combined company as CEO.

For now, the new Twenty does not have a business model in place. However, the plan is to use the event partnerships to generate revenue as opposed to ads, which relies on eyeballs on screens.

“If the model is solely based on ads, you want the users to spend as much time on the platform as possible,” said Peltz. “We’re looking to create a different opportunity for people to access these experiences.”

Thus far, the combined Twenty has raised approximately $40 million from partners including Accel, Maveron, 500 Startups, Sound Ventures, as well as Roc Nation, Live Nation and Endeavor.

 


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Watch Apple unveil the new iPhone live right here

10:00 | 10 September

Apple is set to announce new iPhone models today. The company is holding a keynote on its campus at 10 AM PT (1 PM in New York, 6 PM in London, 7 PM in Paris). And you’ll be able to watch the event right here as the company is streaming it live.

Rumor has it that the company plans to unveil three new smartphones. The iPhone 11 should replace the iPhone XR in the lineup, while the iPhone 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max should replace the iPhone XS and XS Max respectively.

Apple could also update the Apple Watch with a new titanium version. You can also expect to get the release date of iOS 13, iPadOS 13, tvOS 13, macOS Catalina and watchOS 6. Let’s see if Apple announces the launch dates of Apple TV+ and Apple Arcade as well.

When it comes to less likely announcements that could still happen, Apple has been working on new MacBooks, a new Apple TV with a more powerful system-on-a-chip and new iPads. All eyes are on the new iPhone, but Apple could use today’s conference to announce those other products.

You can watch the live stream directly on this page. For the first time, Apple is streaming its conference on YouTube.

If you have an Apple TV, you can download the Apple Events app in the App Store. It lets you stream today’s event and rewatch old ones. The app icon was updated a few days ago for the event.

And if you don’t have an Apple TV and don’t want to use YouTube, the company also lets you live-stream the event from the Apple Events section on its website. This video feed now works in all major browsers — Safari, Microsoft Edge, Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox.

Of course, you also can read TechCrunch’s live blog if you’re stuck at work and really need our entertaining commentary track to help you get through your day. We have a team in the room.

 


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