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This Week in Apps: Protests impact app stores, FTC fines app developer, kids’ app trends

6 de juny, per  Sarah Perez[ —]

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the Extra Crunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support and the money that flows through it all.

The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 204 billion downloads and $120 billion in consumer spending in 2019. People are now spending three hours and 40 minutes per day using apps, rivaling TV. Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus.

In this Extra Crunch series, we help you keep up with the latest news from the world of apps, delivered on a weekly basis.

This week, we’re taking a look at how the civil unrest and George Floyd protests played out across the app stores. The events led some apps — including private messaging apps, police scanners and alerting apps, and other social communication apps — to surge, and even break records. Google decided to delay the launch of Android 11 beta 1 in light of the recent events.

We’re also keeping up with COVID-19 apps and how the pandemic is changing app usage and consumer behavior. Plus, the FTC fined an app developer over privacy violations in a warning shot for the app industry; Zoom faced criticism for its encryption plans; Apple launched an open-source resource for password managers; and more.

How the George Floyd protests impacted the app stores

Protests drive downloads of police scanners 

Downloads of police scanner apps, tools for private communication and mobile safety apps hit record numbers last weekend in the U.S., amid the nationwide protests over the police killing of George Floyd, as well as the systemic problems of racial prejudice that plague the American justice system. According to data from app store intelligence firm Apptopia, top U.S. police scanner apps were downloaded a combined 213,000 times last weekend, including Friday — a 125% increase from the weekend prior and a record number for this group of apps.

The group of top apps included those with similar, if somewhat generic, titles, such as Scanner Radio – Fire and Police Scanner, Police Scanner, 5-0 Radio Police Scanner, Police Scanner Radio & Fire and Police Scanner +.

Citizen, Signal and others spike during protests

In addition to tracking police movements with scanners, protestors organized and communicated on secure messaging app Signal. Meanwhile, community safety app Citizen, which sends out police alerts, also saw a jump in usage. According to Apptopia, Citizen and Signal both set daily download records, Vox noted earlier this week.

Citizen

Citizen’s app lets users see “incidents,” based on radio communications with 911 dispatchers, police, fire departments and other emergency responders. The app uses high-powered scanners to tune into public radio channels, then digitizes and transcribes the audio, and turns those into incidents placed on the map. But the app is popular because it’s more than a police scanner; it includes a social networking layer where users can react and comment. 

Based on more recent data provided to TechCrunch by Sensor Tower, Citizen was installed around 620,000 times by first-time users in the U.S. during the past week, an increase of about 916% compared to the week prior. First-time installs reached a record 150,000 on June 2, nearly 12x the app’s average of 13,000 daily first-time installs during May. On average, the app was downloaded close to 86,000 times per day, or 6.6x larger than May’s daily average. The app grew to be as high as No. 4 on Tuesday, June 2 on the U.S. App Store, and is now No. 32 Overall on the top free charts.

Signal

Image Credits: Signal

The firm also estimated that Signal had been installed by approximately 135,000 first-time users in the U.S. during the past week across the app stores. This figure represented growth of 165% from the preceding seven days, or about 2.6x that total of approximately 51,000 new installs. Signal averaged about 19,000 installs per day over the past seven days.

For comparison’s sake, Signal was downloaded around 269,000 times in all of May and its average daily number of installs was 9,000. That makes the average for the past week about 2x higher.

Signal is currently ranked at No. 137 among the top free iPhone apps on the U.S. App Store. Earlier, it was ranked at No. 107 on Tuesday, June 2.

This week, Signal also added built-in face blurring for photos, to help better secure the sharing of sensitive information across its network.

Nextdoor and Neighbors by Ring

The civil unrest also impacted neighborhood networking app installs, as communities looked to share information about the protests with one another. Social networking app for neighbors Nextdoor was installed by 185,000 first-time users in the U.S. over the past week, an increase of 26% from 147,000 installs in the week prior. The app also jumped up nearly 50 places in the U.S. App Store rankings, moving from No. 2,014 to No. 156 in the top free iPhone apps chart.

Amazon-owned Neighbors by Ring, where neighbors share alerts, including security camera footage, was installed by 36,000 first-time users in the past week, an increase of 89% from its approximately 19,000 installs the week prior.

Twitter has a record-breaking week as users looked for news of protests and COVID-19

Civil unrest due to the nationwide George Floyd protests drove Twitter to see a record number of new installs this week, according to data from two app store intelligence firms, Apptopia and Sensor Tower. While the firms’ exact findings differed in terms of the total number of new downloads or when records were broken, the firms agreed that Twitter’s app had its largest-ever week, globally.

The app saw at least 677,000 installs at its highest point, Apptopia said. Sensor Tower said it topped 1 million. Twitter also broke a record for daily active users on Twitter in the U.S., when some 40 million people in the U.S. logged into the app on June 3, Apptopia noted. For comparison’s sake, Twitter reported its app had 31 million “monetizable” daily active users (mDAUs) in the U.S. in Q4 2019, which grew to 33 million in Q1 2020.

The spike in installs was attributed to the protests, which were being watched by a global audience, and COVID-19, which continued to spread in worldwide markets.

Apps turn their icons black in support of George Floyd protests 

A small handful of apps did the equivalent of the Instagram black square by turning their icons black this week as a gesture of support toward the protests and civil rights. Participating apps included Reddit, Joss & Main and Shop Avani, for instance. Moves like this can be criticized as being merely performative, but one of the companies involved — Reddit — later followed up with real action. Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanion on Friday announced he was resigning as a member of the Reddit board, and is now urging them to fill his seat with a black candidate. He also said he would use his future gains from Reddit stock to serve the black community, starting with a $1 million pledge to Colin Kaepernick’s Know Your Rights Camp.

COVID-19 app updates and news


PhotoRoom automagically removes background from your photo

5 de juny, per  Romain Dillet[ —]

Meet PhotoRoom, a French startup that has been working on a utility photography mobile app. The concept is extremely simple, which is probably the reason why it has attracted a ton of downloads over the past few months.

After selecting a photo, PhotoRoom removes the background from that photo and lets you select another background. When you’re done tweaking your photo, you can save the photo and open it in another app.

“My original vision comes from my time when I was working at GoPro,” co-founder and CEO Matthieu Rouif told me. “I often had to remove the background from images and when the designer was out of office, I would spend a ton of time doing it manually.”

And it turns out many people have been looking for a simple app that lets them go in and out as quickly as possible with an edited photo in their camera roll.

For instance, people selling clothes and other items on peer-to-peer e-commerce platforms have been using PhotoRoom to improve their photos. PhotoRoom is often recommended in online discussions or YouTube tutorials about optimizing your Poshmark or Depop listings.

Downloads really started to take off around February. PhotoRoom now has 300,000 monthly active users. The app is only available on iOS for now. And if you’re a professional using it regularly, you can pay for a subscription ($9.49 per month or $46.99 per year) to remove the watermark and unlock more features.

“Subscriptions are what works best on mobile for photo and video apps,” Rouif said.

Behind the scene, PhotoRoom uses machine learning models to identify objects on a photo. And the vision goes beyond removing backgrounds.

Photoshop, the clear leader in photo editing, was designed decades ago. There’s a steep learning curve if you want to use it professionally. It’s hard to understand layers, layer masks, channels, etc.

PhotoRoom wants to build a mobile-first photo-editing app that doesn’t lazily borrow Photoshop’s metaphors and interface elements. “What would be Photoshop if you could understand what’s on the photo,” Rouif said.

While the app relies heavily on templates, you can tweak your images by adding objects, moving them around, adding some shadow and editing elements individually. Image composition is 100% up to the user.

Like VSCO, Darkroom, PicsArt, Filmic Pro and Halide, PhotoRoom belongs to a group of prosumer apps that are tackling photo and video editing from different ways. A generation of users who grew up using visual social networks are now pushing the limits of those apps — they look simple when you first use them, but they offer a ton of depth when you learn what you can do with them. And they prove that smartphones can be great computers, beyond content consumption.

Rouif was the head of product at Stupeflix, a powerful video editing app that was acquired by GoPro back in 2016. PhotoRoom is just getting started as there are only four people working on the app, including two interns.


Signal now has built-in face blurring for photos

4 de juny, per  Devin Coldewey[ —]

Apps like Signal are proving invaluable in these days of unrest, and anything we can do to simplify and secure the way we share sensitive information is welcome. To that end Signal has added the ability to blur faces in photos sent via the app, making it easy to protect someone’s identity without leaving any trace on other, less secure apps.

After noting Signal’s support of the protests occurring all over the world right now against police brutality, the company’s founder Moxie Marlinspike writes in a blog post that “We’ve also been working to figure out additional ways we can support everyone in the street right now. One immediate thing seems clear: 2020 is a pretty good year to cover your face.”

Fortunately there are perfectly good tools out there both to find faces in photographs and to blur imagery (presumably irreversibly, given Signal’s past attention to detail in these matters, but the company has not returned a request for comment). Put them together and boom, a new feature that lets you blur all the faces in a photo with a single tap.

Image Credits: Signal

This is helpful for the many users of Signal who use it to send sensitive information, including photos where someone might rather not be identifiable. Normally one would blur the face in another photo editor app, which is simple enough but not necessarily secure. Some editing apps, for instance, host computation-intensive processes on cloud infrastructure and may retain a copy of a photo being edited there — and who knows what their privacy or law enforcement policy may be?

If it’s sensitive at all, it’s better to keep everything on your phone and in apps you trust. And Signal is among the few apps trusted by the justifiably paranoid.

All face detection and blurring takes place on your phone, Marlinspike wrote. But he warned that the face detection isn’t 100% reliable, so be ready to manually draw or expand blur regions in case someone isn’t detected.

The new feature should appear in the latest versions of the app as soon as those are approved by Google and Apple.

Lastly Marlinspike wrote that the company is planning on “distributing versatile face coverings to the community free of charge.” The picture shows a neck gaiter like those sold for warmth and face protection. Something to look forward to then.


Watchful is a mobile product intelligence startup that surfaces unreleased features

3 de juny, per  Romain Dillet[ —]

Meet Watchful, a Tel Aviv-based startup coming out of stealth that wants to help you learn more about what your competitors are doing when it comes to mobile app development. The company tries to identify features that are being tested before getting rolled out to everyone, giving you an advantage if you’re competing with those apps.

Mobile app development has become a complex task, especially for the biggest consumer apps, from social to e-commerce. Usually, mobile development teams work on a new feature and try it out on a small subset of users. That process is called A/B testing as you separate your customers in two buckets — bucket A or bucket B.

For instance, Twitter is trying out its own version of Stories called Fleets. The company first rolled it out in Brazil to track the reaction and get some data from its user base. If you live anywhere else in the world, you’re not going to see that feature.

There are other ways to select a group of users to try out a new feature — you could even take part in a test because you’ve been randomly picked.

“When you open the app, you’ll probably see a different version from the app I see. You’re in a different region, you have a different device,” co-founder and CEO Itay Kahana told me. He previously founded popular to-do app Any.do.

For product designers, it has become a nightmare as you can’t simply open an app and look at what your competitors are doing. At any point in time, there are as many different versions of the same app as there are multiple A/B tests going on at the same time.

Watchful lets you learn from the competition by analyzing all those different versions and annotating changes in user flows, flagging unreleased features and uncovering design changes.

It is different from other mobile intelligence startups, such as App Annie or Sensor Tower. Those services mostly let you track downloads and rankings on the App Store and Play store to uncover products that are doing well.

“We’re focused on everything that is open and visible to the users,” Kahana said.

Like other intelligence startups, Watchful needs data. App Annie acquired a VPN app called Distimo and a data usage monitoring app called Mobidia. When you activate those apps, App Annie captures data about your phone usage, such as the number of times you open an app and how much time you spend in those apps.

According to a BuzzFeed News report, Sensor Tower has operated at least 20 apps on iOS and Android to capture data, such as Free and Unlimited VPN, Luna VPN, Mobile Data and Adblock Focus. Some of those apps have been removed from the stores following BuzzFeed’s story.

I asked a lot of questions about Watchful’s source of data. “It’s all real users that give us access to this information. It’s all running on real devices, real users. We extract videos and screenshots from them,” Kahana said.

“It’s more like a panel of users that we have access to their devices. It’s not an SDK that is hidden in some app and collects information and do shady stuff,” he added.

You’ll have to trust him as the company didn’t want to elaborate further. Kahana also said that data is anonymized in order to remove all user information.

Images are then analyzed by a computer vision algorithm focused on differential analysis. The startup has a team in the Philippines that goes through all that data and annotates it. It is then sent to human analysts so that they can track apps and write reports.

Watchful shared one of those reports with TechCrunch earlier this year. Thanks to this process, the startup discovered that TikTok parent company ByteDance has been working on a deepfake maker. The feature was spotted in both TikTok and its Chinese sister app Douyin.

But Watchful’s customers aren’t news organizations. The company sells access to its service to big companies working in the mobile space. Kahana didn’t want to name them, but it said it is already working with “the biggest social network players and the biggest e-commerce players, mainly in the U.S.”

The startup sells annual contracts based on the number of apps that you want to track. It has raised a $3 million seed round led by Vertex Ventures .


Podcast app Majelan pivots to premium audio content around personal growth

2 de juny, per  Romain Dillet[ —]

French startup Majelan is pivoting a year after launching a podcast player and service. The company, created by former Radio France CEO Mathieu Gallet and Arthur Perticoz, is ditching the podcast aggregation side of its business and focusing on premium audio content going forward.

Like many podcast startups, Majelan faced some criticism shortly after its launch. Aggregating free podcasts with premium content next to them à la Luminary is a controversial topic in the podcast community. Spotify has been going down the same path, but Spotify is also an order of magnitude bigger than any other podcast startup out there.

Some podcast creators have decided to remove their podcast feeds from Majelan to protest against that business model.

Podcasts remain an open format. Creators can create a feed, users can subscribe to that feed in their favorite podcast app. You don’t have to sign up to a particular service to access a particular podcast — everything is open.

“We have decided to stop aggregating free podcasts — free podcasts mean podcasts, period. For us, podcasts are RSS feeds, it’s an open world,” Perticoz said in a podcast episode. “We need an app that is more focused on payment. We can’t aggregate free podcasts given that our strategy is paid content.”

The result is a more focused service that is going to launch on July 7th in France. After a free trial, you have to subscribe for €5 to €7 per month, depending on the length of your subscription. You can then access a library of premium audio content — Majelan rightfully doesn’t call them podcasts.

“Going forward, we’re going to focus on original content, we’re going to focus 100% on paid content,” Gallet said in the same podcast episode.

And in order to be even more specific, Majelan will focus on personal growth, such as creativity, activism, mindfulness, innovation, entrepreneurship and health. According to the co-founders, some content will be produced in house, some content will be co-produced with other companies, and the startup will also acquire existing podcasts and repackage them for Majelan.

That move has been in the works for a while. The startup pitched it to its board of investors back in December. Premium subscriptions have worked well for movies, TV and music. Now let’s see if subscriptions will also take off with spoken-word audio.


Decrypted: iOS 13.5 jailbreak, FBI slams Apple, VCs talk cybersecurity

2 de juny, per  Zack Whittaker[ —]

It was a busy week in security.

Newly released documents shown exclusively to TechCrunch show that U.S. immigration authorities used a controversial cell phone snooping technology known as a “stingray” hundreds of times in the past three years. Also, if you haven’t updated your Android phone in a while, now would be a good time to check. That’s because a brand-new security vulnerability was found — and patched. The bug, if exploited, could let a malicious app trick a user into thinking they’re using a legitimate app that can be used to steal passwords.

Here’s more from the week.


THE BIG PICTURE

Every iPhone now has a working jailbreak


Android update delivers new ‘Bedtime’ features focused on improving sleep

1 de juny, per  Sarah Perez[ —]

At Google’s 2018 I/O developer conference, the company debuted a new suite of “digital well-being” aimed at helping Android users better manage their screen time. At its 2019 event, it expanded its tools’ capabilities and improved the related parental controls. Although Google I/O isn’t taking place this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the company is once again refreshing its well-being toolset. This year, the focus is a timely one, as Google will roll out new bedtime tools to help people get better sleep.

Google reports seeing a rise in sleep-related search queries like “insomnia” and “can’t sleep” in April and May, as the coronavirus crisis led to increased stress and anxiety, which can disrupt sleep.

Android’s “Bedtime” mode, previously known as “Wind Down,” uses Do Not Disturb to silence calls, texts and notifications, while grayscale fades the colors on your phone to black and white, to reduce the draw to your screen. With the updates to this feature, Google is making it easier to customize when and how Bedtime mode is enabled.

Based on your bedtime schedule, you can now opt to have it automatically turn on after your phone is plugged into its charger. You can also add Bedtime mode to your Android phone’s Quick Settings, to instantly turn it on or off with a single tap. And if you need a few more minutes, you can choose to pause Bedtime mode without needing to adjust your schedule.

The update to Digital Wellbeing, which included the ability to automatically enable Bedtime mode when the phone is charging and add it to Quick Settings, actually rolled out earlier in May. But Google is announcing the features today as part of its other Bedtime mode changes.

The Clock app on Android is also being updated with a new Bedtime tab.

Here, you can set daily sleep and wake times. In the app, you’ll be able to see a preview of your calendar for the next day, and then tally the total number of hours of sleep you’d get. This way, you can adjust your bedtime if needed to sync up with tomorrow’s schedule — even if that means diverting from your typical bedtime schedule.

In addition, users will receive a reminder before bedtime and have the option to play calming sounds from Calm, Spotify, YouTube Music and other sources. If they have Digital Wellbeing installed, they can pair with Bedtime mode to limit the interruptions during sleep.

The app will also display how much time you’re spending and which apps you’ve used after your set bedtime.

Google additionally suggested users looking for better sleep can try the “Sunrise Alarm” option that gradually brightens your screen to help you wake up more gently. This visual alarm system will begin 15 minutes prior to your audio alarm. Users can also set their favorite songs as an alarm to make the alarm less jarring, Google recommends.

The sunrise alarm was first introduced with the Pixel 3 and Pixel Stand in 2018. But with the update, you will no longer need the stand to use the feature — it’s a part of the new Bedtime tab in the Clock app.

Related to today’s launch of new bedtime features, Google noted it recently added new YouTube bedtime reminders. It also supports a daily bedtime schedule in Android’s parental controls feature, Family Link.

The updated Bedtime experience is launching first on Pixel devices starting today, and will roll out to the Clock app and on other Android devices later this summer. Pixel devices will be getting a handful of other updates, as well, including Adaptive Battery.

Pixel 2 devices and newer will notify the user when the battery is set to run out, while throttling background usage to save on life. The excellent Recorder app can now be triggered with a “Hey Google” and transcripts can be saved directly to Google Docs.

The Personal Safety app introduced on the Pixel 4 is now coming to all devices, while the Pixel 3 will get car crash detection. There’s also a new Safety Check feature designed to send out alerts in potentially dangerous situations. Per Google:

For example if you’re about to go on a run or hike alone, safety check will make sure you made it back safely. If you don’t respond to the scheduled check-in, the app will alert your emergency contacts. In the event that you need immediate help or are in a dangerous situation, emergency sharing notifies all of your emergency contacts and shares your real-time location through Google Maps so they can send help or find you.

The Personal Safety app will also let users set notifications for crises, including natural disasters and other public safety concerns.


Global smartphone sales plummeted 20% in Q1, thanks to COVID-19

1 de juny, per  Brian Heater[ —]

More dismal numbers confirm what we already knew: Q1 2020 was real rough for an already struggling smartphone category. Gartner’s latest report puts the global market at a 20.2% slide versus the same time last year, thanks in large part to fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Every single one of the global top-five manufactures saw large declines for the quarter, save for Xiaomi, which saw a slight uptick of 1.4%. The Chinese handset maker got a surprise bump, courtesy of international sales. Samsung and Huawei and Oppo all saw double-digit drop-offs at 22.7%, 27.3% and 19.1%, while Apple declined 8.2%. Other companies combined for a sizable 24.2% loss for Q1.

The reasons are ones we’ve gone over several times before, nearly all pertaining to the global pandemic. Chief among them are global stay at home orders and general economic uncertainly. Issues with the global supply chain have no doubt been a factor, as well, as Asia was the first to get hit with the virus.

All of this comes in addition to an already plateauing/declining smartphone market. Analysts had expected that the arrival of 5G would help stem the tide a bit — but, well, some stuff happened in there. Notably, Apple’s slide wasn’t as bad as it might have been thanks to a strong start to the year.

“If COVID-19 did not happen, the vendor would have likely seen its iPhone sales reached record level in the quarter. Supply chain disruptions and declining consumer spending put a halt to this positive trend in February,” Gartner’s Annette Zimmermann said in a release. “Apple’s ability to serve clients via its online stores and its production returning to near normal levels at the end of March helped recover some of the early positive momentum.”

Overall, I suspect that recovery won’t be instantaneous for the market. The future of COVID-19 still feels largely uncertain as countries have begun the process of reopening, and a pricey investment still may not be in the cards for many who are struggling to make ends meet. 


5G, AI, cybersecurity and renewable energy set for investment boost under EU coronavirus recovery plan

27 de maig, per  Natasha Lomas[ —]

The European Commission is proposing to direct billions of euros of financial relief into high tech and green investments to help the bloc recover from the coronavirus crisis.

Technologies such as 5G, AI, cloud, cybersecurity, supercomputing and renewable energy look set to benefit from a €750BN pan-EU support package set out today — aligning with the Commission’s pre-existing policy priorities before the pandemic struck the region, causing thousands of deaths and major economic damage.

“Urgent action is needed to kick-start the economy and create the conditions for a recovery led by private investment in key sectors and technologies. This investment is particularly crucial to the success of Europe’s green and digital transitions,” it writes in a factsheet on its budget proposal set out today — which is being slated as a wider “recovery plan” for Europe.

“Investment in key sectors and technologies, from 5G to artificial intelligence and from clean hydrogen to offshore renewable energy, holds the key to Europe’s future,” it adds.

On the green deal front, it’s touting:

  • A massive renovation wave of our buildings and infrastructure and a more circular economy, bringing local jobs;
  • Rolling out renewable energy projects, especially wind, solar and kick-starting a clean hydrogen economy in Europe;
  • Cleaner transport and logistics, including the installation of one million charging points for electric vehicles and a boost for rail travel and clean mobility in our cities and regions;

It also plans to funnel more financial support into a Just Transition Fund to support re-skilling and help businesses tap into the economic opportunities offered by digitization and going green.

The Commission estimates that at least €1.5 trillion will be needed to reboot the EU’s economy as a result of the pandemic crisis in 2020-2021 alone — so the budget proposals include a revision of the 2014-2020 multiannual financial framework as well as a financial framework for the 2021-2027 period.

The Commission is proposing to borrow €750BN on the financial markets, through the issuance of bonds, for a ‘Next Generation EU’ fund which will be channelled through EU programs between 2021 and 2024 — with the loan to be repaid over “a long period of time throughout future EU budgets” (not before 2028 and not after 2058).

It’s proposing three investment pillars for this fund: One focused on support for EU Member States via direct investment and reforms; a second focused on kick starting the EU economy by incentivizing private investments; and a third aimed at learning lessons from the COVID-19 crisis, with a big focus on health, as well as civil contingencies and foreign aid.

Under the first pillar, digital and green technologies are set to benefit from a proposed €560BN Recovery and Resilience Facility that will offer EU Member States financial support for related investments and reforms, including a grant facility of up to €310BN and up to €250BN available in loans.

“Support will be available to all Member States but concentrated on the most affected and where resilience needs are the greatest,” the Commission said today.

It’s also proposing €15BN extra for the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development — to “support rural areas in making the structural changes necessary in line with the European Green Deal and achieving the ambitious targets in line with the new biodiversity and Farm to Fork strategies”.

Under the second pillar, a new Solvency Support Instrument is intended to mobilize private resources to support what the Commission bills as “viable” European companies in the sectors, regions and countries most affected. It wants this support to be operational from 2020, and is suggesting a budget of €31BN with the aim of aiming to unlock €300BN in solvency support for companies from all economic sectors (to “prepare them for a cleaner, digital and resilient future”, as it puts it).

There’s also more money for the InvestEU investment program which the Commission wants to see hitting €15.3BN over the budget period to spin up more private investment in projects across the EU.

It’s also proposing a new Strategic Investment Facility be built into InvestEU which it wants to generate investments of up to €150BN to boost the resilience of “strategic sectors”, again notably those linked to the green and digital transition — with €15BN set to be chipped in here from the Next Generation EU pot.

Under the third pillar, the Commission is earmarking €9.4BN for a new health programme, EU4Health, that’s intended to strengthen health security and prepare for future health crises.

While the Horizon Europe research program is set to get €94.4BN — including to support what it dubs “vital research” in health, resilience and the green and digital transitions.

Commenting in a statement, European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, said: “The recovery plan turns the immense challenge we face into an opportunity, not only by supporting the recovery but also by investing in our future: the European Green Deal and digitalization will boost jobs and growth, the resilience of our societies and the health of our environment. This is Europe’s moment. Our willingness to act must live up to the challenges we are all facing. With Next Generation EU we are providing an ambitious answer.”

In terms of next steps, the Commission’s budget proposals will need to gain political agreement from the European Council. It’s hoping will be achieved by July, with the EU’s executive keen to impress on Member States there’s no time to lose in financing coronavirus relief.

The EU parliament will also need to have its say but the Commission has penciled in early autumn for the adoption of the revised 2014-2020 framework and December 2020 for adoption of the revised Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027 (as well as Member States’ Own Resources Decision) — with the aim of implementing the latter framework in January 2021.


Scandit raises $80M as COVID-19 drives demand for contactless deliveries

26 de maig, per  Natasha Lomas[ —]

Enterprise barcode scanner company Scandit has closed an $80 million Series C round, led by Silicon Valley VC firm G2VP. Atomico, GV, Kreos, NGP Capital, Salesforce Ventures and Swisscom Ventures also participated in the round — which brings its total raised to date to $123M.

The Zurich-based firm offers a platform that combines computer vision and machine learning tech with barcode scanning, text recognition (OCR), object recognition and augmented reality which is designed for any camera-equipped smart device — from smartphones to drones, wearables (e.g. AR glasses for warehouse workers) and even robots.

Use-cases include mobile apps or websites for mobile shopping; self checkout; inventory management; proof of delivery; asset tracking and maintenance — including in healthcare where its tech can be used to power the scanning of patient IDs, samples, medication and supplies.

It bills its software as “unmatched” in terms of speed and accuracy, as well as the ability to scan in bad light; at any angle; and with damaged labels. Target industries include retail, healthcare, industrial/manufacturing, travel, transport & logistics and more.

The latest funding injection follows a $30M Series B round back in 2018. Since then Scandit says it’s tripled recurring revenues, more than doubling the number of blue-chip enterprise customers, and doubling the size of its global team.

Global customers for its tech include the likes of 7-Eleven, Alaska Airlines, Carrefour, DPD, FedEx, Instacart, Johns Hopkins Hospital, La Poste, Levi Strauss & Co, Mount Sinai Hospital and Toyota — with the company touting “tens of billions of scans” per year on 100+ million active devices at this stage of its business.

It says the new funding will go on further pressing on the gas to grow in new markets, including APAC and Latin America, as well as building out its footprint and ops in North America and Europe. Also on the slate: Funding more R&D to devise new ways for enterprises to transform their core business processes using computer vision and AR.

The need for social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic has also accelerated demand for mobile computer vision on personal smart devices, according to Scandit, which says customers are looking for ways to enable more contactless interactions.

Another demand spike it’s seeing is coming from the pandemic-related boom in ‘Click & Collect’ retail and “millions” of extra home deliveries — something its tech is well positioned to cater to because its scanning apps support BYOD (bring your own device), rather than requiring proprietary hardware.

“COVID-19 has shone a spotlight on the need for rapid digital transformation in these uncertain times, and the need to blend the physical and digital plays a crucial role,” said CEO Samuel Mueller in a statement. “Our new funding makes it possible for us to help even more enterprises to quickly adapt to the new demand for ‘contactless business’, and be better positioned to succeed, whatever the new normal is.”

Also commenting on the funding in a supporting statement, Ben Kortlang, general partner at G2VP, added: “Scandit’s platform puts an enterprise-grade scanning solution in the pocket of every employee and customer without requiring legacy hardware. This bridge between the physical and digital worlds will be increasingly critical as the world accelerates its shift to online purchasing and delivery, distributed supply chains and cashierless retail.”


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