Siempo’s new app will break your smartphone addiction

A new app called Siempo wants to un-addict you from your smartphone and its numerous attention-stealing apps. To do so, Siempo replaces an Android device’s homescreen, while also taking advantage of a number of design principles to push distractions further away, and give you more control over your notifications. The startup, which launched a few weeks ago on Google Play, actually began as a hardware company. 

A hardware startup shifts to software

In 2015, the original co-founders Andreas Gala and Jorge Selva began developing a minimalist feature phone device called Minium, in response to their concerns with today’s always-on culture. But designing hardware from scratch is hard, so they pivoted to making a mindful smartphone called Siempo using an existing handset from China. The following year, Siempo brought on Mayank Saxena (CTO), who previously ran data storage engineering teams at NetApp, and Andrew Dunn (now CEO), who was previously
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La Belle Vie wants to compete with Amazon Prime Now in Paris

French startup La Belle Vie announced a new funding round of $6.5 million earlier this week (€5.5 million). Julien Mangeard, Thibaut Faurès Fustel de Coulanges, Louis Duclert, Kima Ventures and Shake-Up Factory participated in the founding round. Online grocery shopping is becoming quite competitive in Paris. You can order groceries from Amazon using Amazon Prime Now. And all the traditional supermarkets are launching or relaunching services to order and receive groceries within a couple of hours — Carrefour Livraison Express, Franprix’s mobile app, etc. But all those services aren’t necessarily designed for this kind of offering. With Franprix’s app for instance, a rider is going to pick up your groceries in the nearest store and bring them to you. With Amazon Prime Now, Amazon has a big warehouse in the North of Paris filled with Kindles, books and tomatoes. La Belle Vie wants to focus exclusively on
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Vota turns your credit card transactions into recommendations, helps you spot fraud

Oh my god, someone’s doing Blippy again. If you’ve been around the internet as long as I have (too long), you’ll probably remember the meteoric rise of the social network for sharing your purchases, Blippy, which was hyped up to a $46.2 million valuation back in 2010 before the world realized that almost nobody wanted a dedicated network for sharing and viewing each others’ purchases. Well, guess what? Someone’s trying a Blippy-like thing again — this time, in the form of a new app called Vota, which automatically records your credit card purchases and the places you visit so you can share them with friends or family, or view them privately for your own reference. As a byproduct of this data collection, you may spot credit card fraud or other errant charges, too, or just get a handle on your spending. But why revisit this concept now, when
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A leaked look at Facebook’s search engine for influencer marketing

Facebook’s next money-maker could be this tool for connecting marketers to social media creators so they can team up on sponsored content Facebook ad campaigns. The Branded Content Matching search engine lets advertisers select the biographical characteristics of creators’ fans they want to reach, see stats about these audiences, and contact them to hammer out deals. Leaked screenshots of Facebook’s promotional materials for the tool were first attained and published in german by AllFacebook.de. TechCrunch has now confirmed with Facebook the existence of the test of the search engine. Facebook first vaguely noted it would build a creator-brand tool in March, but now we know what it looks like and exactly how it works. Even though Facebook will not actually broker or initially take a cut of the deals, the tool could equip brands with much more compelling and original marketing content. That could in turn encourage them to
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WARD is an app for placing fantasy bets on eSports games

Prediction markets, such as those that exist in the realm of fantasy sports, have taken off amongst consumers in the last few years. But fantasy sports have yet to make much of a play in one of the hottest areas online right now, namely eSports. And it’s a big market. Fantasy eSports have been thriving across international markets. In 2017 over 360 million viewers watched League of Legends alone, significantly overtaking the SuperBowl viewership. By 2020 eSports industry is estimated to be worth over $1.5B, with the target audience being 21-35 years old. But quite how to take advantage of this arena has been a conundrum. Now a new startup thinks it has the answer. What if you could create a live predictions market around eSports as it happens? That’s the aim of WARD, a startup out of Berlin which has created a “pick and predict” real-time prediction
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Facebook Stories reveals 150M daily viewers and here come ads

After 14 months of silence since launching, Facebook Stories has finally announced a 150 million daily active user count for its Snapchat Stories clone. And now it’s time to earn some money off it. Facebook Stories will start testing its first ads today in the U.S., Mexico and Brazil. They’re 5- to 15-second video ads users can skip, and while there’s no click-through or call to action now, Facebook plans to add that in the coming months. Advertisers can easily extend their Instagram Stories ads to this new surface, or have Facebook automatically reformat their News Feed ads with color-matched borders and text at the bottom. Facebook also plans to give businesses more metrics on their Stories performance to convince them the feature is worth their ad dollars.

Advertisers can extend their Instagram Stories ads to Facebook Stories (left), or have Facebook reformat their News Feed ads

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Snapchat Spectacles tests non-circular landscape exports

The worst thing about Spectacles is how closely tied they are to Snapchat. The proprietary circular photo and video format looks great inside Snapchat where you can tip your phone around while always staying full screen, but it gets reduced to a small circle with a big white border when you export it to your phone for sharing elsewhere. Luckily, Snapchat has started beta testing new export formats for Spectacles through the beta version of its app. This lets you choose a black border instead of a white one, but importantly, also a horizontal 16:9 rectangular format that would fit well on YouTube and other traditional video players. The test was first spotted by Eric Johnson, and when asked, a Snapchat spokesperson told TechCrunch “I can confirm we’re testing it, yes.” Allowing Spectacles to be more compatible with other services could make the v2 of its $150 photo
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Instagram officially launches re-sharing of posts to Stories

No, it’s not a “regram” option. Sorry!  But today, Instagram is officially launching a new feature that will allow users to re-share someone’s Instagram post with their friends via Instagram Stories – something it confirmed was in testing earlier this year. The idea with the new re-sharing option is to give users a way to add their own commentary or react to a post, without repurposing it as their own – the way a regram (reposting to feed) feature would have permitted. For example, you can now re-share something you saw posted by a brand or influencer on Instagram that you like, or add your own comments on top of a funny meme, or even tag a friend on a post you want them to see. In fact, tagging friends through Instagram comments had become so common on the social network over the years, that it rolled out a
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Headspace gets a new CTO and head of data analytics

Headspace might just be considered an app that plays back a soothing voice to help you meditate, but the company says it is increasingly carries a more difficult technology problem as it continues to grow — and it’s hiring on a few people today to tackle it. Headspace said it has brought on both a head of data science and a new chief technology officer today as it tries to figure out how to continue scaling across new geographies without any hiccups, in addition to making sure it grows in its core markets. Paddy Hannon and Punnoose Isaac, previously at Edmunds.com as the chief technology officer and head of data and analytics respectively, will be joining Headspace to reprise similar roles for the startup that’s trying to become a daily habit for users. “You can go through the dot-com bubble of the 90s, over all those years, and look
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YouTube revamps its Red subscription service to offer standalone music streaming

Like Google’s messaging focus, YouTube’s efforts to spin out successful streaming and music products has felt confusing and haphazard. Now the company is simplifying and consolidating that play by decoupling the music and film components with the launch of a new service. YouTube Music is, as the name suggests, a music streaming service that will launch on May 22. Aimed squarely at competing with Apple Music and Spotify, it’ll cost $9.99 per month following a free trial period as is standard in the industry. An ad-supported version will be available for free also, but it won’t include premium features such as background listening, song downloads and music discovery features. (It’s worth noting that this new service will replace the existing Google Play Music service.) YouTube Music was originally part of YouTube Red, the company’s subscription video streaming service, and though it is being decoupled, customers will be
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Coinbase’s first investment, Compound, earns you interest on crypto

Compound wants to let you borrow cryptocurrency, or lend it and earn an interest rate. Most cryptocurrency is shoved in a wallet or metaphorically hidden under a mattress, failing to generate interest the way traditionally banked assets do. But Compound wants to create liquid money markets for cryptocurrency by algorithmically setting interest rates, and letting you gamble by borrowing and then short-selling coins you think will sink. It plans to launch its first five for Ether, a stable coin, and a few others, by October. Today, Compound is announcing some ridiculously powerful allies for that quest. It’s just become the first-ever investment by crypto exchange juggernaut Coinbase’s new venture fund. It’s part of an $8.2 million seed round led by top-tier VC Andreessen Horowitz, crypto hedge fund Polychain Capital and Bain Capital Ventures — the startup arm of the big investment bank. While right now Compound deals in cryptocurrency
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To make Stories global, Facebook adds Archive and audio posts

Facebook’s future rests on convincing the developing world to adopt Stories. But just because the slideshow format will soon surpass feed sharing doesn’t mean people use them the same way everywhere. So late last year, Facebook sent a team to India to learn what features they’d need to embrace Stories across a variety of local languages on phones without much storage. Today, Facebook will start rolling out three big Stories features in India, which will come to the rest of the world shortly after. First, to lure posts from users who don’t want to type or have a non-native language keyboard, as well as micropodcasters, Facebook Stories will allow audio posts combining a voice message with a colored background or photo. Facebook Stories will get an Archive similar to Instagram Stories that automatically saves your clips privately after they expire so you can go back to check them out or re-share
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Gfycat starts rolling out 360 degree GIF content

GIFs offer a way to compress a ton of information into a small amount of space, and while Gfycat has positioned itself as more of a short-form video centric platform, it’s going to take a step further to see what a step beyond a standard GIF looks like. The company today said it would be rolling out 360 degree GIF-like short form videos, which will allow users to plant themselves in the middle of what is effectively a looping video like a GIF. While that presents much more of a challenge to users for generating content, CEO Richard Rabbat said the proliferation of tools like 3D cameras and content from the actual producers like video studios would make it an increasingly popular way to interact with short-form content in a compact form factor. “We’ve always thought that GIFs are amazing from many perspectives,” Rabbat said. “That goes beyond whether you’re
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Lemonade wants to rewrite the insurance policy itself

Lemonade has made some big moves in the world of insurance. The company uses AI and bots to sell insurance, and has flipped the business model to ensure that Lemonade is never in conflict with customers filing insurance claims. But the product itself, the actual insurance policy, hasn’t changed much at all. For decades, insurance companies have been held to long, tedious legalese in their insurance contracts. In Lemonade’s case, the document is more than 40 pages long and incredibly difficult to understand. For a company that wants to make buying insurance as easy and as consumer-centric as possible, the very product they sell is in complete opposition to that. Which is why Lemonade is re-writing the policy from scratch. “I’m a recovering attorney, and I’ve been clean for 20 years,” said Lemonade CEO and cofounder Daniel Schreiber. “I think my English is pretty good, and I have a passing
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Dashdash, a platform to create web apps using only spreadsheet skills, nabs $8M led by Accel

Sometimes I think of spreadsheets as the dirty secret of the IT world today. We’ve seen a huge explosion in the number of productivity tools on the market tailored to help workers with different aspects of doing their job and organising their information, in part to keep them from simply dumping lots of information into Excel or whatever program they happen to use. And yet, spreadsheets are still one of the very, very most common pieces of software in use today to organise and share information: Excel alone now has around 1 billion users, and for those who are devotees, spreadsheets are not going to go away soon. So it’s interesting that there are now startups — and larger companies like Microsoft — emerging that are tapping into that, creating new services that still appear like spreadsheets in the front end, while doing something completely different in the back. One
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The new AI-powered Google News app is now available for iOS

Google teased a new version of its News app with AI smarts at its I/O event last week, and today that revamped app landed for iOS and Android devices in 127 countries. The redesigned app replaces the previous Google Play Newsstand app. The idea is to make finding and consuming news easier than ever, whilst providing an experience that’s customized to each reader and supportive of media publications. The AI element is designed to learn from what you read to help serve you a better selection of content over time, while the app is presented with a clear and clean layout. Opening the app brings up the tailored ‘For You’ tab which acts as a quick briefing, serving up the top five stories “of the moment” and a tailored selection of opinion articles and longer reads below it. The next section — ‘Headlines’ — dives more deeply into the latest
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Canal+ gives up on its cable box, switches to Apple TV

French premium cable television company Canal+ is slowly moving away from building its own set top boxes. As Next INpact spotted, you can now subscribe to Canal+ and get an Apple TV 4K with Canal+’s myCanal app already preloaded. Canal+ has been around for decades and was the first premium TV channel in France. Over the years, the company started distributing all sorts of premium channels through satellite, cable and partnerships with internet service providers. While you had to get your own Canal+ set top box to receive Canal+ 15 years ago, the company’s own box has slowly become irrelevant. As all the main French internet service providers give you a set top box, Canal+ has partnered with them to offer multiple add-ons to receive Canal+’s content. When Canal+ announced its most recent device, Canal+ already said that you’d get a better experience with the myCanal app on the
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BRD crowdraises $32 million to build financial services into a mobile crypto wallet

Crypto wallets can’t remain crypto wallets for long. There is so much competition and so many scammers that value-added features like financial services are de rigueur. BRD knows this quite well and is putting $32 million behind the platform to grow out the features and cryptocurrencies supported on their popular app. Founded by Aaron Voisine, Adam Traidman, and Aaron Lasher, the company started out as a side product called Bread Wallet. BRD, say the founders, was the first iOS bitcoin wallet in the App Store. The team has 1.1 million users in 170 countries and 76% of those are iOS. They’ve received 71% of their customers in the past year, a fact that attests to the recent popularity of cryptocurrencies. They have $6 billion of crypto assets under protection. The team has also partnered with Changelly to help transfer more tokens than Bitcoin and Ethereum – including their own
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WhatsApp revamps Groups to fight Telegram

Facebook just installed its VP of Internet.org as the new head of WhatsApp after its CEO Jan Koum left the company. And now Facebook is expanding its mission to get people into “meaningful” groups to WhatsApp. Today, WhatsApp launched a slew of new features for Groups on iOS and Android that let admins set a description for their community and decide who can change the Groups settings. Meanwhile, users will be able to get a Group catch up that shows messages they were mentioned in, and search for people in the group.

WhatsApp’s new Group descriptions

WhatsApp Group participant search

Group improvements will help WhatsApp better compete with Telegram, which has recently emerged as an insanely popular platform for chat groups, especially around cryptocurrency. Telegram has plenty of admin controls of its own, but the two apps will be competing over who can make it easiest to digest these
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Instagram has an unlaunched “time spent” Usage Insights dashboard

Instagram may be jumping into the time well spent movement, following the unveiling of Google’s new time management controls last week. Code buried in Instagram’s Android app reveals a “Usage Insights” feature that will show users their “time spent”. It’s not exactly clear whether that will be your total time spent in Instagram ever, which could be a pretty scary number to some users, or within some shorter time frame like a day, week, or month. By being upfront with users about how much of their lives they’re investing in their favorite apps, tech giants could encourage people to adopt healthier habits and avoid the long, passive, anti-social browsing sessions that can harm their well-being. These features could also help parents keep track of what their kids are doing online. Both might lead people to spend less time on apps like Instagram, but they could be happier with companies like
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