Like some of the best consumer tech from the last decade, I didn’t know I needed an e-bike until I was on one, breezing down the bike lane contemplating my newfound freedom.
Before buying a Nintendo Switch, I would have never guessed how much a candy-colored gaming console that I could pop out of a dock and into my backpack for long flight would fill me with joy. An e-bike, particularly this e-bike, the VanMoof X3, feels like that.
I live in Portland, Oregon, land of ample bike lanes and naked bike rides. When I first moved here, I biked everywhere, but that habit slowly dissolved over the years. First, I bought a car for weekend camping trips, which slowly became weekday errand running.
A few years later, I got diagnosed with a chronic illness and suddenly found myself much less confident in what my body could do and where it could comfortably take me. Over time, my bike would only see a handful of rides a season on beautiful days, when I’d always sigh and think I wish I biked more — it makes me feel good!
Before testing the X3, I’d find excuses to drive short distances instead of riding my bike. What if I got tired and didn’t feel like biking home? What if it starts pouring rain? What’s if it’s too hot? What if I’m too sweaty when I get to the office? Riding an e-bike erases most of those concerns outright.
The X3 is an effortless enough ride that I can still zoom to work if it’s 95+ degrees out. It’s fast enough that I can get out of a surprise rainstorm quickly if need be. If I don’t want to be sweaty at the start of the day, I can lean on sweet, sweet electricity to whisk me away, rolling up to my office without breaking a sweat.
And it can’t go unstated that going fast on a bike — the whole time, with as much or little effort as you feel like putting in — is really, really fun. If you haven’t had a chance to try an e-bike, know that the sensation of effortlessly zipping around, electricity near-imperceptibly humming beneath you, is difficult to describe and best experienced first-hand.
VanMoof’s handsome pair of high tech bikes, the X3 and its larger cousin the S3, are far from the only options on the market, so some of their pluses would hold true for any electric bike. But that doesn’t make the VanMoof interchangeable either. The VanMoof X3 has a very specific look, feel and feature set that will perfectly suit a certain kind of rider (myself included) but other e-bike shoppers will still want to play the field. We’ll get into that — here goes!
I tested the VanMoof X3 over the S3 not by choice — its geometry is a little wacky looking in pictures — but because I’m 5’4″. The X3, which fits anybody from 5′-6’5″, is a little smaller and less traditional looking than the S3, which suits anyone taller than 5’8″. The X3 has 24″ wheels rather than the S3’s 28″ wheels and it has a little bungee-corded platform in the front where presumably you could carry something, but I still have no idea what (You can also buy an add-on front basket that slots in there and looks very cute.)
Like most e-bikes, the X3 is much, much heavier than a normal road or commuter bike. The listed weight is 45.8 lbs and you’ll feel every pound of it if you ever need to carry it very far. I live in a standalone house in Portland, Oregon and had to carry the X3 down a very short front step to ride it — totally fine!
I used to live in a fifth floor walkup in Brooklyn and carrying it up or down that would have been impossible. If you can’t store the X3 (or most any e-bike) around ground level with access to a charger, it might not be a good fit for you. (Note that in our pictures, the small platform above the chain area is where an optional external battery pack, discussed later, sits. The platform is removable.)
Though on paper I’d prefer the look of the S3, the X3 doesn’t look strange at all IRL, whether parked or with somebody riding it. It’s cute, futuristic but not conspicuous and gets plenty of compliments. My wife described its aesthetic as “Death Star chic” and while I don’t totally know what that means, she’s not wrong. On the way to my office a sanitation truck driver rolled down his window to bellow “HEY—THAT’S A REALLY COOL BIKE.” Thanks, my dude!
The current generation of VanMoof e-bikes are coated in matte paint and you can choose between a classic, sexy matte black or a pleasantly cheery matte light blue. A previous version of the bikes used glossy coating, but apparently the matte is supposed to be more scratch resistant. The paint does seem pretty tough though it’s not totally bombproof. Somehow the handlebars picked up a little nick in the paint, though I still have no idea where it came from or what did it (owls?).
Something important to note is that neither the VanMoof X3 or S3 look like e-bikes. They don’t have an ugly bulge jutting out from the frame and the top tube and down tube are both thick but uniform — and not so thick you’d think twice about it.
The electronic components are nestled away in the frame and even the drivetrain is tucked away and enclosed. And while there’s a deeply cool LED matrix display embedded in the top tube, only the rider really sees it. For anyone looking for an e-bike that doesn’t scream e-bike!!!! the VanMoof is one of the best choices if not the best choice you could make. It’s an awesome looking bike — not just an awesome looking e-bike.
The VanMoof X3 is a nice-looking bike — you get it. But what about, you know, the biking? I can confidently report that from the first time you hop on it to your twentieth commute to work, the X3 is an absolute joy to ride.
As an e-bike newcomer I had reservations. Would the electric assistance cheapen the magic of riding a bike? Do I really want a bike doing the shifting for me? As it turns out, quite the opposite and yes, absolutely.
The VanMoof X3 (and its sibling the S3) give you an electric boost while pedaling — you’ll still be pedaling but it feels enticingly easy and you’ll go faster with less effort. The bike also features a Turbo Boost button on the right-side handlebar that gives you a big boost on top of the smoother normal electronic assistance, up to 20 miles per hour in the U.S.
You can choose the amount of help that you want. Using the VanMoof app, which we’ll get to, or a physical button, you can select what level of power assist you’d like from zero to four. Zero is you pedaling a heavy-ass bike alone with no help (it sucks) and four makes everything feel so easy there’s almost no way to break a sweat.
In my time testing the bike, I’d use “two” when I felt like getting a bit of a workout with extra pep in my pedal, four when I was in a hurry to get to my co-working space in the mornings and three the rest of the time, like riding to brunch on a weekend. Being able to choose the level of pedal assistance is a huge perk and it makes the bike feel flexible for different uses.
Whatever mode you’re on, the turbo boost button is a killer feature. It flattens steep hills and makes it feel way safer to zip across busy intersections where you’re not sure drivers are paying attention. It’s fun and awesome for safe, defensive city riding.
It takes a little bit to get used to the automatic electronic shifting but that’s silky smooth too. I initially assumed that, like many things that worked perfectly well before having some extraneous “smart” high-tech nonsense draped over them (fridges! lamps! vibrators!) the technology would fail just often enough to be a nuisance.
After a long period of testing, I can report that the X3 rides as smooth and seamless as ever. Every once in a while I’d crunch down on the pedal or a gear won’t catch right away but it’s super rare. You can even use the app to customize when the bike shifts up and down and it’s worth playing around with that to find something that feels just right.
What else? The X3’s maximum assisted speed is in the U.S. is 20 mph (32km/hr), but anyone in Europe will be limited to 15.5 mph (25km/hr). The U.S. speed feels great and it’s painless to get up to 20mph and maintain that speed with the X3 in a way I’d have to destroy my quads to manage otherwise, even on my zippy non-electric road bike.
Beyond that, the seat is very comfy and the ride is pleasantly upright and natural. After riding the X3 for a while I had a hard time going back to hunching over on my (adorable) little Bianchi and pined for the comfy ride I’d gotten so used to.
The VanMoof X3 is an excellent value, all things considered. The company has a weird habit of tinkering with its pricing, but after a redesign and a colossal price drop in 2020 ($3,398 to $1,998 at the time) the bikes feel very well priced. Now they’re retailing for $2,298 — $300 more than the previous price but still a fine deal for anyone looking for a very full-featured e-bike without spending more than around $2,000.
That’s not very much more than you’d spend on a regular bike, sans electricity and many, many cool bells and whistles. And if you’re into higher end bikes, it could even be a lot less. It’s also substantially less than the high end of e-bike competition, which the VanMoof bikes feel like they compete with, even with the wallet-friendlier price tag.
Still, it’s kind of stressful that VanMoof is quietly messing around with the pricing with the bikes already out in the wild. It would suck to plan to buy one only to see the price shoot up before you’d pulled the trigger.
The company should be more transparent about this, giving set future dates for planned price changes. There also seem to be updates within generations of the bikes, so an X3 you buy now might differ from an X3 you could buy in 2020. That’s confusing and all of it should be made clearer somewhere obvious on the website.
One of the biggest considerations with an e-bike (or an e-anything!) is range. VanMoof says the X3’s range is 37 miles using “full power” and up to 93 miles in economy mode. If you’re getting 93 miles out of the battery, you probably aren’t even using the pedal assistance at all, so you can just toss that number out. The low end estimate of 37 miles might be a little generous for someone who’s using the bike on the fourth power assistance level and smashing the turbo boost regularly, but 35-45 miles feels about right from my testing (usually mode 3 or 4, occasionally 2, light use of turbo button).
The range feels good. Even using the X3 most days out of the week, charging is infrequent enough to never feel annoying. In my case, that meant daily short rides (2.5-5 miles, usually) and the occasional longer ride (10-20 miles). If you’re using the X3 or S3 to commute to work somewhere that’s farther away, you’re going to find yourself plugging in more. Even so, I never got into a situation where I was concerned that I’d run out of battery far from home. And even if you do, you can still pedal the bike — it’s just really heavy. Most people will probably charge up overnight, but you can fill up the battery in four hours if you need to.
Something to note is that you’ll plug in a wall charger directly to the bike to charge it. For anyone who can’t charge and store the X3 on ground level, know you’ll have to carry the whole dang bike to an outlet. The lack of a removable battery might be a strike against the VanMoof bikes for folks who live in walk-ups or small apartments, but for people with somewhere easy to store it, this wasn’t something I thought twice about.
While the built-in range is totally adequate for a lot of use cases, VanMoof just introduced an external add-on battery pack for both the X3 and S3. The battery slots into a little platform, pictured below and mounted on our test bike, and it extends the X3’s range considerably. VanMoof sells the PowerBank accessory for $348. The thing isn’t small — it weighs six pounds — but VanMoof says it’ll give you anywhere from 28 to 62 miles of extra range. Again, almost nobody is going to hit the high end of this, but even at the low end it almost doubles the bike’s existing range.
The PowerBank is big and pretty clunky. It doesn’t look awful, but it definitely makes the X3 look like an e-bike. It’s not elegant like the removable battery on the Cowboy, another extremely handsome e-bike, but it’s ok. If everything else about a VanMoof suits you perfectly but you need more range, it’s great to have the option, even if you’ll be shelling out for it.
The tech bells and whistles are something that really makes the VanMoof X3 and S3 stand out from the crowd. The X3’s price feels reasonable for a reliable, great-looking e-bike, but on top of that you’ll be getting an electric steed with some pretty sweet tricks:
- Matrix display: On the bike’s top tube an array of LED lights built into the metal displays your speed, battery life and other useful info. This is a killer feature, it’s extremely cool!
- Alarm. You can activate an alarm that will *literally growl* at anyone who jostles your bike. It’s intense and really loud.
- Kick lock. You can kick a small physical button to alarm the bike and lock the back wheel. If you live in a city with bike theft, someone could still toss the bike in a truck easily so this isn’t a single security solution (I used a normal mini Kryptonite lock and that worked great.)
- Find My on iOS. If you’re an iOS user you can track your bike’s whereabouts easily. It’s a nice feature, though ideally if your bike is well-locked you aren’t going to be messing with this much.
- Lights. The VanMoof X3 has great built-in lights, front and back.
- App: Surprisingly, the app is actually pretty good. You can customize lots of small things (bell noise, alarm on or off, shifting preferences), use it to track your rides and more. You also don’t have to be connected to the bike with the app to do the most essential stuff, liking riding it, unlocking it and changing your level of electric assistance. I had an occasional connectivity problem with the app (usually on Android) but this was easily resolved and never kept me from biking anywhere, though it did mean some rides weren’t automatically tracked. Importantly, you can also track your bike’s whereabouts through the app and VanMoof touts this feature combined with its alarm system and recovery team for helping people get their bikes back.
Overall, something great about the X3 is that the tech features aren’t just fancy tricks — they really enhance the experience. And even so, they’re optional. You can ride the bike and benefit from the power assistance without using the app. You can use a regular lock and skip the alarm system if you choose to, or use a physical button code to disable it manually. You can change the power assistance mode with the same button. This is all huge and lets you use the e-bike how you want to. Personally, I’d never buy an e-bike that required connectivity, a phone or an app to operate it; that’s just asking for trouble.
Shipping and Assembly: The VanMoof X3 and S3 come in the mail in a big box. The assembly process was almost painless — except for this one really fiddly bit you have to slide into another fiddly bit which took me the better part of an hour and some searching on the VanMoof subreddit (not the only one with this problem!)
Extra Support: VanMoof offers three paid plans to keep your bike in working order and in your possession. You can buy a three-year maintenance plan for $348, a three-year theft recovery plan for $398 or a combined plan for $690 (broken down via VanMoof below).
Maintenance: Where you live should be a major consideration when thinking about buying a VanMoof. In my time testing it for reliability over an extended period, I was surprised by how few problems came up. I had to mess around with re-centering the front wheel at some point because a brake pad was rubbing, but aside from occasional app connectivity issues, that was pretty much it. Of course, significant wear and tear means any bike could benefit from a pro tune up from someone who knows the model.
VanMoof has full-fledged stores in Amsterdam, London, Paris, Berlin, New York, San Francisco, Seattle and Tokyo. Beyond its flagship stores, the company relies on an expanding network of service centers and “certified workshops” to maintain its bikes, so be sure to check what’s near you. Personally, I’d want to be near enough to a VanMoof store or at least a service center to guarantee my $2,000+ investment and its many, many technological bits could be maintained in perfect health. Nobody wants to ship a bike back for repairs, especially a heavy, technologically complex one.
Prior to testing out the X3, e-bikes aren’t something I’d thought a lot about and I wasn’t really sure who they were for. I first heard of VanMoof a couple of years ago when a close friend and much more serious biker than me bought one for towing her dog (the goodest girl) on a long work commute. We rode to the farmer’s market together and her bike looked very cool, but I was skeptical that something with so much technology under the hood could prove reliable over time.
Bikes are mechanical and simple — that’s something wonderful about them! Could an e-bike really translate the joyful simplicity of biking into something much more high tech? As it turns out, yes. After test riding the VanMoof X3 to get a sense of its reliability over time and how its features hold up in normal day-to-day use, I regret my early skepticism.
I don’t know if I can overstate how much riding an e-bike, specifically this e-bike, enhanced my life in small ways for the better while I tried it out. Biking more — and e-bikes do get people biking more — makes me happier and healthier. Biking more has helped me ease out of the intensely sedentary pandemic period into new habits that make me feel more connected to the world around me. I’m seeing my city with fresh eyes, biking to new neighborhoods I’ve never explored and appreciating all of the little things I took for granted. My only e-bike regret is not hopping on one sooner.
The pandemic effect is slowing – | #Tech
Welcome back to The TC Exchange, a weekly startups-and-markets newsletter. It’s inspired by what the weekday Exchange column digs into, but free, and made for your weekend reading. Want it in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here.
Our work this week kicked off in China, dug into African startup activity, dealt with China once again, took a very deep dive into the Latin American startup ecosystem and wrapped with a second look at the Robinhood IPO. In other words, not much was really going on at all!
You may have been surprised to see Amazon’s stock fall off a cliff Friday. After all, the company posted huge revenue gains to just over $113 billion during the quarter. And AWS, its public cloud business, seemed to tick along nicely.
But investors had expected more growth and had priced the Seattle-based e-commerce player accordingly. When Amazon missed revenue expectations and projected Q3 2021 growth of “between 10% and 16% compared with third quarter 2020,” investors let go of its stock.
But as some in the financial press are noting, it’s not just Amazon that’s taking stick from investors. Etsy and eBay also fell this week. It appears that investors are anticipating that a period of turbocharged growth in e-commerce thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic is slowing at least, and may in fact be over. That means valuations are going to get reset at a host of companies, startups included.
Not that every company slowing down after the pandemic’s early phases is suffering, Duolingo managed a strong opening week as a public company despite slowing growth. But delta variant or not, the investing classes are changing their market framing. We’d be smart to keep that in mind.
It’s the products, stupid
Something that is stuck in my teeth this week is how much Robinhood has changed the game regarding consumer investing. Sure, this week was mostly about the company’s IPO and its somewhat relaxed early trading performance. But, buried in its final S-1/A filings is new evidence of Robinhood’s cultural impact.
At the top of the U.S. consumer investing unicorn’s filings is a pair of statistics. They look like this:
Dang, you are thinking, that’s a lot of funded accounts and monthly active users. But then again, those are March 31, 2021, numbers. They are out of date. In the same filing, Robinhood indicated that its June 30 quarter saw its funded accounts tally grow to 22.5 million. That’s 25% growth in a single quarter!
Naturally, there were a few things going on in the second quarter of this year that won’t happen again, but it’s still a bonkers result.
Early Robinhood investor Jan Hammer of Index sent over a comment in the wake of his investment’s public offering, arguing that the company is part of work being done by tech companies to shake up financial services. Companies like Robinhood, he wrote, are “not just a fresh coat of paint for the same old financial products.”
I think that is correct. And the point is pretty damning of incumbent players still in the market with dated websites and medium-grade mobile experiences. Can you imagine getting a Gen Zer to swap out Robinhood or eToro or M1 Finance for, I don’t know, John Hancock? The toothpaste, as they say, is not going back into the tube.
How might Fidelity and Vanguard convince Robinhood users to move to their services? Will they be able to, or has an entire generation of investors skipped the traditional finance players entirely? Robinhood bulls must think so, and I can’t really find it in me to fight the perspective.
I do not know how Robinhood will perform in the coming quarters, but it does feel — given the MAU numbers from Robinhood, AUM figures from M1 and so forth — that fintech startups stole several marches on your trusty 401(k) provider. A market that I am sure the fintechs will soon dig more deeply into.
More about Africa
Circling back to Africa, how about some July data? Our exploration of the continent’s strong H1 2021 performance stopped in June, so let’s add some data. Per Africa-watching publication The Big Deal, African startups raised $308 million across 71 deals in the quarter. That’s a run rate of around $3.7 billion. Or in simpler terms, African startups are still on pace for their best year ever when it comes to raising venture capital.
Hugs, and get vaccinated.
Instagram restricts teens’ accounts, Elon Musk criticizes App Store fees, Google Play’s new policies – | #Tech
Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TC series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.
The app industry continues to grow, with a record 218 billion downloads and $143 billion in global consumer spend in 2020. Consumers last year also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone. And in the U.S., app usage surged ahead of the time spent watching live TV. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day, but now spends four hours per day on their mobile devices.
Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re also a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus. In 2020, investors poured $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year over year.
This Week in Apps will finally be a newsletter! It will launch on August 7. Sign up now!
Google Play updates its policies
Did you hear the one about Google Play banning sugar daddy dating apps? Google this week updated its terms to clarify that apps where users offer sex acts in exchange for money, or “sugar dating,” as the new terms state, are no longer allowed as of September 1, 2021.
Developers will have to disclose to users whether their app uses security practices like data encryption, whether it follows Google Play’s Families policy for apps aimed at kids, whether users have a choice in data sharing, whether the app’s safety section had been verified by a third party, and if the app allowed users to request data deletion at the time of uninstalling, among other things.
Apps that don’t disclose won’t be able to list or update until the problems are fixed.
The safety section wasn’t the only Google Play policy news to be announced this week.
Google also reminded developers that it was making a technical change to how advertising IDs work. Now, when users opt out of interest-based advertising or ads personalization, their advertising ID is removed and replaced with a string of zeros. The change, however, is a phased rollout, affecting apps running on Android 12 devices starting late 2021 and expanding to all apps running on devices that support Google Play in early 2022.
Google also said it will test a new feature that notifies developers and ad/analytics service providers of user opt-out preferences and is prohibiting linking persistent device identifiers to personal and sensitive user data or resettable device identifiers. Kids apps will also not be able to transmit an ad ID.
Another policy update includes a plan to close dormant accounts. Google says if the account is inactive or abandoned after a year, it will be closed. This will include accounts where the developer has never uploaded an app or accessed Google Play Console in a year.
Apple tries to fix the Safari mess
In response to feedback and complaints, Apple is clearly trying to fix some of the issues that arose from this change. It re-added a Share button to the tab bar and put additional controls under that menu. There’s also once again a reload button in the tab bar next to the domain name, though it’s a bit smaller, and a Reader Mode button will appear in the tab bar when Reader is available
On iPad, Safari also reverted back to the traditional separate row of tabs, instead of the new compact experience.
Elon Musk sides with Epic Games
Elon Musk sided with Fortnite maker Epic Games in the Apple App Store antitrust lawsuit, as the Tesla CEO tweeted on Friday that Apple’s App Store fees were “a de facto global tax on the Internet.” The lawsuit alleges Apple is abusing its platform power with how it commissions apps and in-app purchases on its App Store platform — fees that add up to big numbers for a game like Fortnite, which arguably doesn’t need an App Store for discovery, marketing, payments and distribution. But there’s no other way to sell to iOS users today. On Android, apps can at least be sideloaded. It’s not currently clear why Musk has decided to take a stand on the issue, as none of his companies’ apps are dramatically impacted by Apple’s fees at present.
Other Platform News (Apple & Google)
Apple announced plans to end support for a number of SiriKit intents and commands, including those that could impact major apps — like ride-sharing app Uber. In total, there are over 20 SiriKit intent domains that will be deprecated and no longer supported in new and existing OS releases, Apple says.
Apple tweaked the controversial iOS 15 Safari changes in the latest betas (iOS 15 and iPadOS 15, beta 4). The new Safari design had moved the tab bar (URL bar) to the bottom of the screen — a fairly radical change for one of the iPhone’s most used apps. It was meant to make the controls easier to reach but critics said that the change made other often used features — like the reload button or Reader Mode — harder to find and use, impacting the overall usability of the browser itself.
Google this week launched version 1.0 of Jetpack Compose, Android’s new, native UI toolkit aimed at helping developers build better apps faster. The tool had been in beta since March. The new production release is built to integrate with the Jetpack libraries developers already use, and offers an implementation of Material Design components and theming. New features include Compose Preview and Deploy Preview, which require Android Studio Arctic Fox, which is also out now in a stable release.
Google also announced the availability of the CarHardwareManager API via the Android for Cars App Library as part of Jetpack.
Twitter launched a U.S. e-commerce pilot test that will help determine the current appetite for online shopping on its platform. The test allows brands and businesses to feature a “Shop Module” with various products for sale at the top of their Professional Profile, a business-friendly version of a profile page with support for things like an address, hours, phone number and more. Users can click on the Shop Module to go to a retail website and transact. Early testers include Game Stop and Arden Cove. The feature itself is somewhat bare bones for now, as it’s really just an image that launches an in-app browser. That’s not enough to really compete with something like Instagram Shop or Shopify’s Shop and the integrated, native checkout experience those types of app offers.
Fintech giant Robinhood raised $2.1 billion in its IPO this week. The IPO valued the trading app at $31.8 billion, making it larger that traditional rivals like Charles Schwab, even though the offering priced at the bottom of its range. The stock dropped 8% during its first day’s trading, however. Robinhood now has 21.3 million MAUs.
PayPal during its second-quarter earnings call announced its new “super app” is now code-complete and ready to roll out. The app will feature early direct deposit, check cashing, high yield savings, budgeting tools, improved bill pay, crypto support, subscription management, buy now, pay later functionality, mobile commerce, and person-to-person messaging features. The latter hadn’t yet been announced and would allow users to chat outside of the payments process.
Code found in Apple’s Wallet app indicates that iOS 15 will require users to verify their identities by taking a selfie when they add their driver’s license or other state identification card to the iPhone.
Instagram announced a series of significant changes to how it handles the accounts of younger teens. The company says it will now default users to private accounts at sign-up if they’re under the age of 16 — or under 18 in certain locales, including in the EU. It will also push existing users under 16 to switch their account to private if they have not already done so. In addition, Instagram is rolling out new technology aimed at reducing unwanted contact from adults — like those who have already been blocked or reported by other teens — and it will change how advertisers can reach its teenage audience. The changes give the company a way to argue to regulators that it’s capable of self-policing as it attempts to roll out a version of Instagram to younger users under the age of 13.
Twitter rolls out an update to its live audio platform, Twitter Spaces, that will make it easier to share the audio room with others. Users will be able to compose a tweet right from the Space that links to the room and includes any accompanying hashtags. iOS users also received new guest management controls for hosts.
Snapchat resolved an outage that was stopping people from logging in on Thursday. Unlike other app blips, which fix themselves often without users’ awareness, Snap told users to manually update their app if the issues continued.
Snapchat also this week added a “My Places” feature to Snap Map, which allows users to log their favorite spots, share them with friends and find recommendations. The feature supports over 30 million businesses and allows Snap to differentiate its map from a utility like Google Maps or Apple Maps, because it’s about personal recommendations from people you know and trust: your friends.
Instagram added support for 60-second videos to its TikTok clone, Reels. Previously, only Reels of up to 30 seconds were supported. Sixty seconds is in line with other platforms like YouTube Shorts and Snapchat’s Spotlight. But TikTok is now inching into YouTube territory, as it recently expanded to support three-minute videos.
TikTok expanded its LIVE platform with a huge lineup of new features including the ability to go live with others, host Q&As, use moderators and improved keyword filters, and more. For viewers, TikTok is adding new discovery and viewing tools, including picture-in-picture mode and ways to jump to LIVE streams from the For You and Following feeds. Some markets, including the U.S. already had access to LIVE Events, but the feature is now expanding. Meanwhile, the co-host feature currently supports going live with one other creator, but TikTok says it’s now testing multiple hosts.
Discord launched a new feature, Threads, which will make it easier to read through longer conversations on busy servers. Now, any server with “Community” features enabled will be able to transform their messages into threaded conversations across mobile and desktop. The threads will be designated by their own subject name and can be created by selecting a new hashtag symbol that appears in the menu when hovering over messages or by pressing the + sign in the chat bar.
Pinterest shares dropped by more than 12% after the company reported its second-quarter earnings on Thursday. Despite beating on estimates with revenue of $613.2 million and earnings per share of 25 cents, investors were disappointed by the miss on user growth. The company reported monthly active user growth of just 9% to reach 454 million, when analysts were expecting 482 million. Pinterest blamed COVID impacts for the slowdown. The news follows Pinterest’s launch of new tools for creators to monetize their content, with Ideas Pins — the recently launched video-first format that lets creators show off their work. Now, creators can make their pins “shoppable” and take commissions on those purchases.
WhatsApp is testing support for higher image upload quality on iOS devices. The feature was discovered on WhatsApp’s TestFlight version for iOS but is not yet public and offers three options: auto, best quality or data saver.
Streaming & Entertainment
Spotify’s Clubhouse clone, Greenroom, is off to a slow start. The app has only been downloaded 140,000+ times on iOS and 100,000+ on Android, including installs from its earlier life as Locker Room, an app that Spotify acquired to move into live audio. Meanwhile, Spotify has 365 million monthly active users on its flagship streaming app.
Spotify also reported its Q2 earnings this week, where it posted a $23.6 million loss and failed to reach its forecast for total MAUs, despite growing MAUs 22% YOY to 365 million. It now has 165 million paying subscribers, which is up 20% YOY.
In a change to its app, Spotify added an attention-grabbing “What’s New” feed that offers personalized updates about new releases and new podcast episodes. The feature is available through a notification bell icon and uses a blue dot to indicate when there’s something new to see. Dots like this are a psychological hacks popularized by social apps like Facebook and Instagram to addict users, which could impact user engagement time on Spotify’s app.
Apple’s GarageBand app for iOS and iPadOS now lets you remix tracks from top artists and producers like Dua Lipa and Lady Gaga. There are also new Producer Packs with beats, loops and instruments created for GarageBand by top producers, including Boys Noize, Mark Lettieri, Oak Felder, Soulection, Take A Daytrip, Tom Misch and TRAKGIRL.
Google TV’s mobile app was updated with new services and personalized recommendations, following last fall’s launch of the Google TV user experience for Chromecast devices. The app now sports 16:9 widescreen movie and show posters, and added new providers Discovery+, Viki, Cartoon Network, PBS Kids, Boomerang, plus on-demand content from live TV services, including YouTube TV, Philo and fuboTV.
Epic Games announced that Fortnite will host another in-game event it’s calling the “Rift Tour,” which kicks off Friday, August 6 and runs through Sunday, August 8. What it hasn’t yet said is what the Rift Tour is, beyond a “musical journey into magical new realities” that will feature a “record-breaking superstar.”
Health & Fitness
Facebook’s Oculus division is exploring an integration of Oculus Workouts with Apple’s Health app, according to the app’s code. An integration would allow users to store their workout data in Health.
Usage of mobile video conferencing apps like Zoom grew by 150% in the first half of 2021, according to a report from Sensor Tower. Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Meet saw a surge in usage, collectively climbing to nearly 21x higher than in H1 2019, the firm found.
Google Voice’s app was updated with a few refinements, including a way to see the reason for a missed call or dropped call, and an easy way to redial. iOS users can now show their Google Voice number as their caller ID when they get a calling through a forwarding number. Another change will allow users to delete multiple SMS messages at once.
Language learning app Duolingo raised $521 million in its U.S. IPO, priced above the marketed range. The company priced 5.1 million shared at $102, after first marketing them at $95 to $100.
Amazon this week rolled out an update to its Alexa iOS app that allows users to add an Alexa widget to their iOS homescreen. The widget lets you tap on a button to speak to the virtual assistant and issue commands. Watch out Siri! (Ha, just kidding.)
Google Maps also updated its iOS app this week to add support for a homescreen widget. There are two different widgets sizes to choose from — one that gives info like weather and traffic, while another is more of a shortcut to nearby places like gas stations, restaurants, work and home.
Google is working on a”Switch to Android” app for iOS users that will copy over data and apps from an iPhone to bring them to a new Android device. Apple already offers a similar app, called “Move to iOS” for Android users.
Parking app usage has popped to pre-pandemic levels, Apptopia reported. Apps in this space help users find availability in lots and garages nearby and facilitate payments. Browsing time in apps was up 57% YOY in July, and overall parking app usage is now 6.2% above Jan. 2020 pre-pandemic levels.
Moovit integrated Lime’s electric scooters, bikes and mopeds into its transit-planning app that’s live in 117 cities across 20 countries and continents, including the United States, South America, Australia and Europe.
Government & Policy
Tencent’s WeChat suspended new user registrations in China to comply with “relevant laws and regulations.” The move comes amid a broad crackdown on tech companies by Chinese regulators, related to data collection and other harmful practices.
Recently, China ordered Tencent and 13 other developers to fix problems related to pop-ups inside their apps, as part of the tech crackdown. The regulator also said it would tighten controls on misleading and explicit content used for marketing, and issued fines for offensive content to Tencent, Kuaishou and Alibaba.
Security & Privacy
Apple released patches for iOS, iPadOS and macOS to address a zero-day vulnerability that had been exploited in the wild. Apple said the exploit could exploit the vulnerability known as CVE-2021-30807 to execute arbitrary code with kernel privileges on a vulnerable and unpatched device.
Google Play Protect failed an Android security test, according to a report from Bleeping Computer. The mobile threat protection solution ranked last out of 15 Android security apps tested over a span of six months, between January to June 2021.
💰 Product insights and analytics startup Pendo raised $150 million at a $2.6 billion valuation, ahead of its expected IPO. The round was led by B Capital, the firm from Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin, and included new investor Silver Lake Waterman, alongside existing backers. Pendo’s platform helps companies gather data on how customers use their apps, including clients like Okta, Toast and others.
🤝 Twitter “acqui-hired” the team from subscription news app, Brief, who will now join Twitter’s Experience.org group, which works on Twitter Spaces and Explore. Brief had offered a non-biased news app that allowed you to get both sides of a story and all the necessary facts. Deal terms weren’t disclosed.
💰 Delivery app Gopuff confirmed its $1 billion fundraise at a $15 billion valuation, aimed at expanding its instant delivery service. TC previously reported the news when the Series H was still being closed.
💰 Indian travel app Ixigo raised $53 million (Rs 395 crore), prepping the business for a valuation of $750 million-$800 million for its upcoming IPO. The round was led by Singapore sovereign wealth fund GIC.
💰 Mobile-first digital wallet Valora native to the Celo network raised $20 million in Series A funding led by Andreessen Horowitz (a16z), a Celo backer, to become a global gateway to crypto.
💰 Crypto wallet company Eco, backed by a16z, raised $60 million in new funding led by Activant Capital and L Catterton. Eco offers a digital wallet with rewards and no fees, and has average deposits of around $6,000.
💰 Search API startup Algolia, which lets developers integrate real-time search in apps or websites, raised $150 million in Series D funding, valuing the business at $2.25 billion, post-money. The round was led by Lone Pine Capital. Algolia now has over 10,000 customers, including Slack, Stripe, Medium, Zendesk and Lacoste.
💰 Brain Technologies raised $50+ million for Natural, a natural language search engine and super app for iOS, which wants users to stop switching between apps to order food, groceries or go shopping. Backers include Laurene Powell Jobs’ Emerson Collective, Goodwater Capital, Scott Cook and WTT Investment.
💰 Messaging app Element, built on the decentralized Matrix protocol, raised $30 million in a Series B round of funding. Investors include open-source R&D lab Protocol Labs and Metaplanet. a fund from Skype co-founder Jaan Tallinn, as well as past investors Automattic and Notion.
💰 Indonesia-based grocery app HappyFresh raised $65 million in Series D funding in a round led by Naver Financial Corporation and Gafina B.V. The app offers an Instacart-like grocery delivery service for parts of Asia, which today operates in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.
💰 Indian D2C beauty brand MyGlamm, which sells products through an app and website, raised $71.3 million in Series C financing, from Amazon, Ascent Capital and Wipro.
Developer Kosta Eleftheriou may have taken on Apple in legal battles and on Twitter, as he points out the numerous app scams on the App Store, but that hasn’t stopped him from building new apps.
This week, Eleftheriou introduced Nanogram, a Telegram client app that works on the Apple Watch without needing an iPhone connection. Eleftheriou said he was inspired to build Nanogram because he wanted a Telegram app for his LTE Apple Watch and didn’t like the official version that didn’t provide “basic and reliable messaging functionality.” So he built his own app from scratch using the Telegram SDK, which allows you to send, receive and view all your messages and notifications right from your wrist — even if you don’t have your phone nearby. The app also supports Eleftheriou’s FlickType Swipe Keyboard for faster replies while on the go.
Eleftheriou notes the app doesn’t collect any personal information and requires an Apple Watch Series 3 or later, running watchOS 7 or later.
Lightricks’ Videoleap for Android
After seeing a 70% yearly increase for its iOS version, Lightricks brought its Videoleap app to the Google Play Store. The app has grown popular with online creators for offering professional quality editing tools on mobile, including those that let you apply artistic effects, mix videos with images, add text and layer transformations and more. The company says Videoleap users are now creating 35 million pieces of content per month, and 47% of users are exporting their creations to TikTok in pursuit of monetizing their content further. The app, like others from Lightricks (which also makes FaceTune and others), monetizes by way of in-app subscriptions.
Pittsburgh Google contractors ratify deal with HCL – | #Tech
Nearly two years ago, contractors for Google’s Pittsburgh operations voted to join the United Steelworkers union in a bid to secure more labor rights representation. It was an early example of a building union movement for tech workers across the spectrum. But as other hard-fought battles have been waged among blue and white collar workers alike, both sides have continued hashing out negotiations. This week, those have finally resulted in something more concrete.
The contract workers held out for what they believed to be similar treatment as others in the tech industry. At the time, it seemed Google was hoping to stay out of the fray with HCL Technologies, the consulting company that staffed the workers.
“We work with lots of partners, many of which have unionized workforces, and many of which don’t,” Google said following the initial union vote. “As with all our partners, whether HCL’s employees unionize or not is between them and their employer. We’ll continue to partner with HCL.”
According to the USW, the 65 Pittsburgh-based workers have ratified the contract with HCL. It’s a three-year-deal that covers working conditions, job security and wages, per a note from the union.
“After close to two years of hard work, patience and solidarity from our members at HCL, we are proud of what we achieved in this agreement,” USW President Tom Conway said in a release tied to the news. “More than ever, our struggle with HCL shows that all workers deserve the protections and benefits of a union contract.”
Last week, with the deal nearing completion, HCL said in a statement provided to The Verge, “Throughout this process, HCL has been actively engaged in meaningful and fair discussions with the USW in good faith. We have been steadfast in our commitment to respect our employees’ right to pursue unionization should they choose to do so.”
In a release issued by USW, however, bargaining committee member Renata Nelson notes some clear tension in the process. “After ignoring our concerns, HCL tried to prevent us from forming a union, and when it failed, the company dragged out the negotiating process while sending our jobs overseas in retaliation,” Parks said in the release. “Now, with a strong union and contract in place, we’re confident that our voices will be heard.”
We’ve reached out to Google for comment.
TuSimple’s self-driving truck network takes shape with Ryder partnership – | #Tech
TuSimple, the self-driving truck company that went public earlier this year, has partnered with Ryder as part of its plan to build out a freight network that will support its autonomous trucking operations.
Under the deal announced this week, Ryder’s fleet maintenance facilities will act as terminals for TuSimple’s freight network. TuSimple’s so-called AFN, or autonomous freight network, is a collection of shipping routes and terminals designed for autonomous trucking operations that will extend across the United States by 2024. UPS, which took a minority stake in TuSimple before it went public, carrier U.S. Xpress, Penske Truck Leasing and Berkshire Hathaway’s grocery and food service supply chain company McLane Inc. were the inaugural partners in the network.
TuSimple’s AFN involves four pieces that includes its self-driving trucks, digital mapped routes, freight terminals and a system that will let customers monitor autonomous trucking operations and track their shipments in real time.
Ryder’s facilities will primarily serve as strategic terminals where TuSimple trucks can receive maintenance and have sensors used in the self-driving system calibrated, if needed. In some cases, the terminals might be used as a transfer hub for a smaller operator that might want to pick up cargo. But this is not meant to be a hub-to-hub system where its customers would come and pick up freight, according to TuSimple President and CEO Cheng Lu.
“These trucks need to be serviceable and maintainable and they need to have higher uptime, which is what every carrier cares about regardless of whether it is autonomous or not,” Lu said.
Small shippers and carriers might use these terminals to pick up and drop off freight. However, Lu stressed that in most cases, especially for large-scale operators like UPS, TuSimple will take the freight directly to the customer’s distribution centers. The Ryder facilities work as nodes, or stops, on its network to allow TuSimple to reach more customers over a larger geographic area, Lu added.
The partnership will start gradually. TuSimple has 50 autonomous trucks in its fleet that — along with a human safety operator behind the wheel — transport freight for customers in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. The partnership will initially use Ryder’s facilities in these areas and eventually expand to the company’s 500 maintenance facilities in the United States.
TuSimple said it expects to expand operations to the East Coast, carrying freight between Phoenix and Orlando later this year. TuSimple has about 25 new trucks on order, which will be added to the fleet once they become available.
Deliveroo could leave Spanish market ahead of on-demand labor reclassification – | #Tech
Deliveroo announced today that it is considering leaving the Spanish market, citing limited market share and a long road of investment with “highly uncertain long-term potential returns” on the horizon.
The company, an on-demand outfit based in the U.K., went public earlier in 2021. Its shares initially sagged, drawing concern about both the value of on-demand companies and tech concerns listing in London more broadly. However, shares of Deliveroo have since recovered, and the company’s second-quarter earnings report saw it raise its expected gross order volume growth expectations “from between 30% to 40% to between 50% to 60%.”
Given its rising growth expectations and improving public-market valuation, you may be surprised that Deliveroo is willing to leave any of the 12 markets in which it currently operates. In the case of Spain, it appears that Deliveroo is concerned that changes to local labor laws will make its operations more expensive in the country, which, given its modest market share, is not palatable.
Recall that Spain adopted a law in May — a law generally agreed to in March — requiring on-demand companies to hire their couriers. This is the sort of arrangement that on-demand companies in food delivery and ride-hailing have long fought; many on-demand companies are unprofitable without hiring couriers, and doing so could raise their costs. The possibility of worsened economics makes such changes to labor laws in any market a worry for startups and public companies alike that lean on freelance delivery workers.
Let’s parse the Deliveroo statement to better understand the company’s perspective. Here’s the introductory paragraph:
Deliveroo today announces that it proposes to consult on ending its operations in Spain. Deliveroo currently operates across 12 markets worldwide, with the vast majority of the Company’s gross transaction value (GTV) coming from markets where Deliveroo holds a #1 or #2 market position.
Translation: We’re probably leaving Spain. Most of our order volume comes from markets where we are in a leading position (the company competes with Uber Eats, Glovo and Just Eat in different markets). We are not in a leading position in Spain.
Spain represents less than 2% of Deliveroo’s GTV in H1 2021. The Company has determined that achieving and sustaining a top-tier market position in Spain would require a disproportionate level of investment with highly uncertain long-term potential returns that could impact the economic viability of the market for the Company.
Translation: Spain is a very small market for Deliveroo. To gain lots of market share in Spain would be very costly, and the company isn’t sure about the long-term profitability of the country’s business. This is where labor issues like this come into play — investing to gain market share in a country where your business is less profitable is hard to pencil out.
And according to El Pais, the decision by Deliveroo comes as it was up against a deadline regarding worker reclassification. That may have contributed to the timing of the announcement.
From this juncture, Deliveroo spends three paragraphs discussing how it will support workers in case it does leave the Spanish market. It closes with the following:
This proposal does not impact previously communicated full-year guidance on Group annual GTV growth and gross profit margin.
On-demand companies have made arguments over the years that changes to labor laws that would push more costs onto their plates in the form of hiring couriers — or simply paying them more — would make certain markets uneconomic and drive them away. Here, Deliveroo can follow through with an exit at essentially no cost, given how small its order volume is compared to its other 11 markets.
Robinhood’s CFO says it was ready to go public – | #Tech
But the company’s debut is not burning up the stock charts. What happened?
Robinhood priced at $38 per share this week, opened flat and closed its first day’s trading yesterday worth $34.82 per share, or a bit more than 8% underwater. The company posted a mixed picture today, falling early before recovering to breakeven in late-morning trading.
It wasn’t the debut that some expected Robinhood to have.
The Exchange explores startups, markets and money.
To close out the week, we’re not going to noodle on banned Chinese IPOs or do a full-week mega-round discussion. Instead, let’s parse some notes from a chat The Exchange had with Robinhood’s CFO about his company’s IPO and go over a few reasonable guesses as to why we’re not wondering how much money Robinhood left on the table by pricing its public offering lower than it closed on its first day.
Let’s not be dicks about it. The time for Twitter jokes was yesterday. We’ll put our thinking caps on this morning.
Why Robinhood went public when it did
Chatting with Robinhood CFO Jason Warnick earlier this week, we wanted to know why this was the right time for Robinhood to go public.
Now, no public company CEO or CFO will come out and directly say that they are going public because they think that they can defend — or extend — their most recent private valuation thanks to current market conditions.
Instead, execs on IPO day tend to deflect the question, pivoting to a well-oiled bon mot about how their public offering is a mere milestone on their company’s long-term trajectory. For some reason in our capitalist society, during an arch-capitalist event, by a for-profit company, leaders find it critical to downplay their IPO’s importance.1
With that in mind, Warnick did not say Robinhood went public because the IPO market has recently rewarded big-brand consumer tech companies like Airbnb and DoorDash with strong debuts. And he didn’t say that with tech shares near all-time highs and a taste for high-growth concerns, the company was likely set to enter a market that would be willing to price it at a valuation that it found attractive.
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