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Daily Crunch: Judge delays TikTok ban

29 September, by Anthony Ha[ —]

Americans can continue using TikTok for now, Google updates its developer policies and Uber gets approval to resume operations in London. This is your Daily Crunch for September 28, 2020.

The big story: Judge delays TikTok ban

The saga continues! The Trump administration’s ban on TikTok was scheduled to take effect today — but over the weekend, a federal court ruled that Americans can continue using the app while a legal challenge over the ban’s legality moves forward.

A federal judge had already put a similar injunction in place to prevent a ban on WeChat from moving forward.

Meanwhile, Oracle, Walmart and TikTok’s owner ByteDance have also reached a deal that’s been approved by the U.S. government and would allow the app to continue operating here. However, it seems like the various companies and governments involved in the deal aren’t exactly on the same page.

The tech giants

Google to better enforce Play Store in-app purchase policies, ease use of third-party app stores — Under threat of regulation, Google announced that it’s updating its Google Play billing policies to better clarify which types of transactions will be subject to Google’s commissions on in-app purchases.

Uber wins latest London licence appeal, but renewal is only for 18 months — The ride-sharing giant has faced a multi-year battle to have its license reinstated after the city’s transport regulator decided not to issue a renewal in 2017.

Roku introduces a new Ultra player, a 2-in-1 ‘Streambar’ and a new OS with support for AirPlay 2 — The Streambar combines 4K HDR streaming and premium audio into one product.

Startups, funding and venture capital

SoftBank will bring Bear’s serving robots to Japan, amid restaurant labor shortages — The investor detailed plans to bring Bear’s Servi robot to Japan in an effort to address restaurant labor issues.

GV bets on young team behind high school social app HAGS — The team is building an old-school social play focused on Gen Z high school socialization.

N26 hires Adrienne Gormley as its new chief operating officer — Gormley has spent the last six years working for Dropbox in Dublin.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

2 strategies for creating top-of-funnel marketing content — Even when you’re excellent at making the sale, you still need people to know you exist in the first place.

Deep Science: Robot perception, acoustic monitoring, using ML to detect arthritis — Devin Coldewey rounds up the latest research and discoveries.

(Reminder: Extra Crunch is our subscription membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

Healthcare giant UHS hit by ransomware attack, sources say — The attack hit UHS systems early on Sunday morning, according to two people with direct knowledge of the incident.

Cannabis vape companies are experiencing a sales boom during the pandemic — From startups to major players, several leading manufacturers told TechCrunch that their companies are seeing a boom in sales since the start of the crisis.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

Postmates cuts losses in Q2 as it heads towards tie-up with Uber

26 September, by Danny Crichton[ —]

Popular food delivery service Postmates is in the process of merging with Uber in a blockbuster $2.65 billion deal that would see it join forces with its food delivery competitor, Uber Eats. The deal remains under antitrust scrutiny, and has not yet been approved for closing. The deal is expected to close in the first half of 2021.

However, a new SEC filing posted after hours this Friday gives us a glimpse into how Postmates is faring in the new world of global pandemics and sit-in dining closures across the United States.

Postmates posted a loss of just $32.2 million in Q2, compared to a loss of $73 million in Q1, nearly cutting its cash burning in half. That compares to Uber Eats’ results, which showed a loss of $286 million in the first quarter of 2020 and a loss of $232 million in the second quarter — an improvement of roughly 20%, according to Uber’s most recent financial reports.

Altogether, Postmates lost $105.2 million in the first half of 2020, compared to a loss of $239 million in the same period of 2019.

Uber through its filing today also disclosed the cap table for Postmates in full detail for the first time. On a fully diluted basis, the largest shareholder in Postmates is Tiger Global, which owns 27.2% of the company. Following up is Founders Fund with 11.4%, Spark Capital with 6.9% and GPI Capital with 5.3%. At Uber’s $2.65 billion all-stock deal, that nets Tiger Global roughly $720 million and Founders Fund roughly $302 million, not including some stock preferences and dividends that certain owners of the company hold.

While Postmates and Uber continue to go through the antitrust review process at the federal level, the companies also face legal pressure in their own backyards. Uber noted in its filing today that it and Postmates face headwinds due to California’s AB 5 bill, which is designed to give additional employment protections to freelance workers. However, the company notes that such litigation “may not, in and of itself, give rise to a right of either party to terminate the transaction.”

Apple is (temporarily) waiving its App Store fee for Facebook’s online events

25 September, by Anthony Ha[ —]

Last month, Facebook introduced support for paid online events — and because many of the businesses offering those events have struggled during the coronavirus pandemic, the company also said it would not collect fees for the next year. At the same time, it complained that Apple had “dismissed” its requests to waive the App Store’s customary 30% fee on in-app purchases.

Today, Facebook is announcing a reversal on Apple’s part: Online event fees will be processed through Facebook Pay, without Apple collecting its 30% cut, meaning businesses will receive all of the earnings from their online events, minus taxes. This arrangement will last until December 31 and will not apply to gaming creators.

The news comes after Facebook publicly pressured Apple to change its stance. It even submitted an iOS app update stating that “Apple takes 30% of this purchase” in the events payments flow. (Facebook said Apple rejected the update for including information that’s “irrelevant” to users.)

And while the two companies appear to have come to an agreement, today’s statements from Facebook are still a bit barbed.

“This is a difficult time for small businesses and creators, which is why we are not collecting any fees from paid online events while communities remain closed for the pandemic,” said Facebook spokesperson Joe Osborne. “Apple has agreed to provide a brief, three-month respite after which struggling businesses will have to, yet again, pay Apple the full 30% App Store tax.”

Similarly, in discussing the exception for gaming creators, Facebook Gaming Vice President Vivek Sharma said, “We unfortunately had to make this concession to get the temporary reprieve for other businesses.”

When asked about the change, Apple provided the following statement: “The App Store provides a great business opportunity for all developers, who use it to reach half a billion visitors each week across 175 countries. To ensure every developer can create and grow a successful business, Apple maintains a clear, consistent set of guidelines that apply equally to everyone.”

More specifically, Apple said it’s giving Facebook until the end of the year to implement in-app payments for these events and bring them into compliance with App Store rules.

This also comes as Fortnite-maker Epic Games is waging a legal battle and publicity campaign against Apple’s App Store fees, with Fortnite removed from the iOS App Store. Epic is also part of a just-announced group of publishers called the Coalition for App Fairness, which is pushing for app store changes or regulation.

Launch Center Pro lets you build custom icons to customize your iOS 14 home screen

25 September, by Sarah Perez[ —]

Launch Center Pro, an iOS utility that offered widgets and custom icons long before they were allowed on the iPhone’s home screen, is bringing its design tools to iOS 14. The app aims to capitalize on the recent trend toward home screen personalization by offering a set of over 7,000 glyphs and emoji that can be used to create custom icons for use with Apple’s Shortcuts app.

In addition, the app offers over 13 icon background styles with 15 colors each, along with other tools to build a customized experience like glyph styling and badges, for example. In total, it has the capability of producing 13 trillion possible icons using its built-in tools — and even more if you choose to use your own photos when creating your icons.

Image Credits: Contrast/Launch Center Pro

Much of the work to make this possible had already been done last year for iOS 13, says Launch Center Pro’s developer David Barnard. But iPhone home screen customization never really took off until this month, thanks to the launch of iOS 14. With the OS update, developers have finally been able to ship widgets of different sizes alongside their apps to offer a more engaging experience directly on users’ home screens.

While the original intention was focused on bringing informational updates from existing apps to the home screen, a handful of developers leveraged the new capabilities to build specialized widget design tools. These widget-making apps have allowed users to create widgets of many sorts and sizes, using a variety of colors and styles. Widgetsmith, for example, has been topping the App Store charts as users began to customize their home screens.

In addition, a number of users figured out how to use Apple’s Shortcuts to replace the icons associated with their favorite apps in order to create entirely unique, themed home screen experiences. Tutorials popped up on TikTok and the hashtag #iOS14homescreen began trending on Twitter as people shared the end results of their iPhone makeovers.

But one obstacle to redesigning the home screen was that you either needed to find a set of custom icons to use or design your own using an app like PicsArt or Photoshop, for example. And this could be challenging for those who don’t regularly work with creative tools. That’s where Launch Center Pro comes in:

@launchcenterproBuild your own custom icons for iOs 14! More tips to come! ##ios14homescreen ##ios14 ##homescreen♬ original sound – Launch Center Pro

The app offers simple tools that let you build your own icons without needing to be a design expert. Instead, you simply pick the icon shape, the color and the glyph, then optionally add a frame or badge. Apple’s Shortcuts app offers a similar set of tools, but with far fewer options.

The icons you make can then either be used with the Shortcuts app by exporting the icon to your Camera Roll or they can be used inside Launch Center Pro’s classic Today View widgets. These widgets can include not just favorite apps, but specific actions or tasks — like messaging a favorite friend, getting directions or anything else you commonly do on your phone.

Unfortunately, Launch Center Pro hasn’t yet released iOS 14-compatible home screen widgets at this time.

However, the team expects to have those ready later this fall, along with other big updates. In the meantime, the company hopes its icon designer will come in handy in these early days of iOS 14 customizations. They also plan on releasing smaller updates focused on improving the icon design experience in the weeks ahead.

Launch Center Pro is available as a free download on the App Store.

Airship acquires SMS commerce company ReplyBuy

24 September, by Anthony Ha[ —]

Airship is announcing that it has acquired mobile commerce startup ReplyBuy.

The startup (which was a finalist at TechCrunch’s 1st and Future competition in 2016) works with customers like entertainment venues and professional and college sports teams to send messages and sell tickets to fans via SMS. It raised $4 million in funding from Sand Hill Angels, Kosinski Ventures, SEAG Ventures, Enspire Capital, MRTNZ Ventures and others, according to Crunchbase.

Airship, meanwhile, has been expanding its platform beyond push notifications to cover customer communication across SMS, email, mobile wallets and more. But CEO Brett Caine said this is the first time the company is moving into commerce.

While sports and concerts tickets might not be a booming market right now, Caine suggested that the company is actually seeing increased purchasing activity “in and around the Airship platform” as businesses try to drive more in-app purchases. He also suggested that both the COVID-19 pandemic and increased restrictions on mobile data collection and ad targeting are going to “accelerate direct-to-consumer motion by large brands.”

Airship isn’t disclosing the deal price, but Caine said the seven-person ReplyBuy team will be joining the company, with CEO Brandon O’Halloran becoming Airship’s general manager of commerce and CTO Anthony Saia leading the commerce engineering team.

“Nobody directly connects more brands to mobile consumers than Airship,” O’Halloran said in a statement. “Joining Airship offers ReplyBuy the opportunity to serve the global market with a more comprehensive solution across more industries, and provide more valuable mobile customer experiences.”

Caine added, “These are really key roles, demonstrating the importance, in our view, of extending commerce to the customer engagement experience.”

He also said that Airship will continue to support ReplyBuy as a standalone product, while also integrating and extending its capabilities to other areas of the Airship platform.

“This one-to-one commerce at scale is a key part of the ReplyBuy solution,” he said. “We’re going to bring it into all the digital channels that Airship powers [to create] a seamless, fast, easy experience around commerce.”

Top 20 iOS homescreen customization apps reach 5.7M installs in days after iOS 14 release

23 September, by Sarah Perez[ —]

The iOS 14 home screen customization trend is driving a new set of apps to the top of the App Store charts, and delivering record downloads for sources of inspiration, like Pinterest. According to new data from app store market intelligence firm Sensor Tower, installs of the top 20 home screen customization apps reached 5.7 million total downloads worldwide in the first four days following the release of iOS 14 on September 16.

[Update: While the original estimates focused on Sept. 17-20, the figures were calculated again in the days that followed. Sensor Tower then updated its report with the latest figures from September 17 to September 23. In the seven days following iOS 14’s launch, the top 20 home screen customization apps reached at least 13.7 million installs and more than $1 million in consumer spending from the App Store globally, it estimates. Widgetsmith, Color Widgets, and Photo Widget remained the top three apps, collectively generating more than 12.6 million installs in that period.]

Original article follows: 

Remarkably, the three most-downloaded apps — Widgetsmith, Color Widgets and Photo Widget — account for 95% of these 5.7 million downloads. That indicates that the rest of the app customization market today is much smaller. But this could still change over time if more apps embrace the trend and expand to include innovative and unique features.

Sensor Tower’s study on the home screen customization market only focused on those apps that were used to create home screen widgets or existed primarily to service them, like calendars, clocks, memos and others.

To determine if the app offered home screen customization tools, Sensor Tower analyzed the app metadata of all the apps that ranked at any point on the App Store after September 16, then manually reviewed those apps to confirm their functionality was home-screen-customization related.

The report’s focus was also more on widget apps, rather than apps that helped users make custom icons or existing apps that added widget functionality, as Sensor Tower decided it wouldn’t be able to determine how many had done so based on their metadata. It’s also difficult to determine, in some cases, if an app with a larger purpose beyond widgets is moving up the charts simply because it has now added widgets.

The top 20 list, in order, includes the following:

Widgetsmith, Color Widgets, Photo Widget, Photobox Widget, MemoWidget, Home Photo Widget, Motivation Widget, Ermine, Date Today, Hey Weather, TimeDeck, Widgeridoo, Glimpse 2, Widget Wizard, Widget Web, Locket, ItemMemo, OMDZ, Clock Widget for Home Screen and Photo Widgets.

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

Combined, the group has generated a collective $400,000 in consumer spending in four days — from September 17 through September 20. Widgetsmith dominated the group, accounting for $370,000 of that total, followed by an app called Date Today with close to $20,000, per Sensor Tower estimates. (We should note Widgetsmith’s figure comes in a bit lower than some of the other estimates that were floating around.)

Though Sensor Tower’s study had a narrower focus, there are signals that plenty of apps have benefitted from the customization craze beyond the widget makers themselves.

Design inspiration resource Pinterest, as noted above, saw record daily downloads. TuneTrack, now the No. 18 free (nongame) app on the U.S. App Store appears to be gathering steam in the absence of an official Spotify widget. Its app offers both Apple Music and Spotify widgets for showing off favorite music on your home screen.

Sensor Tower says TuneTrack saw 552,000 installs between Sept. 17 and 20, for example — a figure up 1,840% from the prior week (9/10-9/13). The Motivation widget saw 431,000 installs, up 798%.

Meanwhile, design tool Procreate Pocket is now the No. 2 paid (nongame) app in the U.S., and PicsArt is the No. 31 free app. An app that simplifies icon changing, Icon Changer+, is No. 40 on the Top Free Apps charts in the U.S., followed by an app called Shortcuts, which is not the same Shortcuts app from Apple . (And surprisingly being allowed to use the same name!)

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

Because there’s not a specific category for home screen customization tools, some of the new apps can be found in the Productivity category, while others categorized themselves as Utility apps or something else entirely. This makes it more difficult for a consumer who wants to compare the rankings of all top apps offering home screen customization functionality in one place.

Given that iOS 14 has effectively created an entire new category of apps, it’s possible that Apple would consider adding a customization category to the App Store in the future, if the trend continues long term.

For now, however, Apple is addressing the discoverability issues with new App Store editorial content. A featured story on the App Store’s “Today” page, for example, is titled “How to Set Up Widgets,” and recommends a number of apps that have added widgets — like Todoist, Carrot Weather, Timepage, Apollo, Spark Mail and others, in addition to Widgetsmith.

There are new widgets still arriving, as well, as developers roll out their iOS 14 updates. Fantastical, for example, just launched 12 home screen widgets today.

What’s unfortunate is that Apple didn’t give its developer community enough time to prepare for launch day. The company announced iOS 14’s release with less than 24 hours’ notice and without the final version of Xcode available to developers. As a result, when users began to customize their home screens, they may not have found all the widgets they would have wanted.





The Galaxy S20 FE is Samsung’s new $699 budget flagship

23 September, by Brian Heater[ —]

One thing Samsung knows for certain: it’s interested in budget flagships. The category makes sense these days, as users are increasingly unwilling to spend north of $1,000 on new phones. That’s doubly the case during the COVID-19 pandemic, with people leaving the house far less often and simply not possessing the same sort of disposable income they once had, amid economic slowdowns and widespread unemployment.

What’s less certain is how to position such a device. Samsung’s been through a lot of different names, including, most recently, the “Lite” line. That name made sense from a utility perspective. The S10 Lite was simply a lower-spec’d version of the flagship of similar name. Ultimately, however, I suspect that Samsung decided that pointing to the device’s shortcomings wasn’t ideal from a branding perspective, which is why we’re currently looking at the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE — or “Fan Edition.”

Image Credits: Samsung

The name implies that the product is an update to the S20 aimed firmly at Samsung’s fans. Here’s what Mobile head TM Roh had to say about the new device: “We are constantly speaking to our fans and taking feedback, and we heard what they loved about our Galaxy S20 series, what features they used most often and what they would want new smartphone. The S20 FE is an extension of the Galaxy S20 family and is the start of a new way to bring meaningful innovation to even more people to let them do the things they love with the best of Galaxy.”

That’s true from a certain perspective. Samsung says it did some focus grouping to come up with the right combination for the FE, which I believe. It’s also probably true that “cheaper” was a big feature many folks have been looking for in their handsets in recent years, so from that standpoint, Samsung’s got fans’ numbers here — $699 for something approaching a flagship isn’t that bad, these days.

And Samsung’s made a point to be mindful of the comprises it made here in the name of keeping the prices down. The biggest changes from the rest of the S20 series are a downgrade in materials, from a glass and metal to plastic (polycarbonate) design, display and camera specs. At 6.5 inches, the screen size actually falls between the S20 and S20+, but it’s been reduced from a QuadHD+ resolution to FHD+ — similar to what you’ll find on the Galaxy A71. The refresh rate stays at 120Hz, though the curved screen is gone.

Image Credits: Samsung

The S20’s 8GB of RAM has been reduced to 6GB, though the 128GB of standard storage remains the same. You’ll find the same Snapdragon 865 on board and, interestingly, the battery has actually been upgraded from 4,000mAh to 4,500mAh, owing to a larger device footprint. There are three rear-facing cameras, with the telephoto dropping from 64-megapixels down to eight — though the front-facing selfie cam has been upgraded from 10 megapixels to 32.

Not the latest and greatest, but in all, pretty reasonable compromises made in the name of shaving $300 off the device’s starting price. Pre-orders start today. The device starts shipping October 2.

Adobe’s ‘Liquid Mode’ uses AI to automatically redesign PDFs for mobile devices

23 September, by Greg Kumparak[ —]

We’ve probably all been there: You’ve been poking around your phone for an hour, deep in some sort of Google research rabbit hole. You finally find a link that almost certainly has the info you’ve been looking for. You tap it… aaaand it’s a 50-page PDF. Now you get to pinch and zoom your way through a document that’s clearly not meant for a screen that fits in your hand.

Given that the file format is approaching its 30th birthday, it makes sense that PDFs aren’t exactly built for modern mobile devices. But neither PDFs nor smartphones are going away anytime soon, so Adobe has been working on a way to make them play nicely together.

This morning Adobe is launching a feature it calls “Liquid Mode.” Liquid Mode taps Adobe’s AI engine, Sensei, to analyze a PDF and automatically rebuild it for mobile devices. It uses machine learning to chew through the PDF and try to work out what’s what — like the font changes that indicate a new section is starting, or how data is being displayed in a table — and reflow it all for smaller screens.

After a few months of quiet testing, Liquid Mode is being publicly rolled out in Adobe’s Acrobat Reader app for iOS and Android today, with plans to bring it to desktops later. Adobe CTO Abhay Parasnis also tells me they’ve been working on an API that’ll allow similar functionality to be rolled into non-Adobe apps down the road.

When you open a PDF in Acrobat Reader, the app will try to determine if it’ll work with Liquid Mode; if so, the Liquid Mode button lights up. Tap the button and the file is sent to Adobe’s Document Cloud for processing. Once complete, users can tweak to their liking things like the font size and line spacing. Liquid Mode will use the headers/structure it detects to build a tappable table of contents where none existed before, allowing you to quickly hop from section to section. The whole thing is non-destructive, so nothing actually changes about the original PDF. Step back out of Liquid Mode and you’re back at the original, unmodified PDF. 

Image Credits: Adobe

We first heard about Adobe’s efforts here earlier this year; in an Extra Crunch interview back in January, Parasnis outlined Adobe’s plans to bring AI and machine learning into just about everything the company does. Parasnis tells me that Liquid Mode is just the first step in giving Sensei an understanding of documents. Later, he notes, they want users to be able to hand Sensei a 30-page PDF and have it return a summary just a few pages long.

Endel raises $5M to create personalized ‘sound environments’ that improve productivity and sleep

23 September, by Anthony Ha[ —]

The pitch for Berlin-based Endel is pretty straightforward, according to its co-founder and CEO Oleg Stavitsky.

“The way I usually describe Endel is: This is a technology that is built to help you focus, relax and sleep,” Stavitsky told me. “Of course, the way we do that is a little more complicated than that.”

The startup is announcing today that it has raised $5 million in Series A funding led by Kevin Rose of True Ventures, with participation from SleepScore Ventures, Techstars Ventures (Endel was part of the Techstars Music Accelerator), Impulse Ventures, Plus 8 Equity Partners, Waverley Capital, Amazon Alexa Fund, Target Global and various angel investors.

Stavitsky said that the team previously worked together on children’s app company Bubl. After selling Bubl, Stavitsky said they began to explore the opportunities around sound — after all, he noticed the growth of playlists designed to help with things like sleep and focus, as well as the growth in mindfulness apps.

“When we started, we said, ‘Let’s just build this machine that can generate ambient music,’ ” he recalled. But he said that as the team did more research, they realized, “It has to be personalized. It cannot just be one song or one playlist or one soundscape. It really depends on the space you’re in.”

So that’s essentially what Endel has built. The startup says its Endel Pacific technology creates “sound environments” designed for your needs — whether that’s focusing, sleeping, relaxing or just when you’re on-the-go. Those environments are shaped, in part, by things like the time of day and the weather, as well as the user’s heart rate and motion.

Endel ecosystem

Image Credits: Endel

Rose said he was excited by “this idea of the closed-loop system that uses real-time feedback to manipulate and change the body in a very positive way.” And he emphasized that Endel is “backed by science.”

Stavitsky said Endel’s approach draws on several areas of science, including research around circadian rhythms (so that it complements where you are in your daily sleep cycle), the pentatonic scale (so that its sounds are pleasant) and sound masking (so that you’re less likely to hear anything distracting).

The company is working with partners to do more to validate the science behind its approach, but it says it’s already applied the experience sampling a method developed by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (who developed and wrote the book on the concept of flow) to show that its sound environments can lead to a 6.3x increase in concentration and a 3.6x decrease in anxiety.

I tried it out myself, listening to Endel’s mix of soothing music and white noise as I worked yesterday (including, of course, as I was writing this post). I won’t claim that I felt an immediate or dramatic increase in energy or focus — but as time went on, I noticed I was working for longer than I normally do without getting distracted or tired.

Oleg Stavitsky

Endel CEO Oleg Stavitsky

The startup has released apps for iOS, Apple Watch, macOS, Amazon Alexa and Android, and it has been downloaded nearly 2 million times. A subscription costs $49.99 per year.

Stavitsky said Endel is also building a significant business around partnerships, for example by working with Japan’s ANA Airlines to feature its technology on planes, and there are supposedly partnerships in the works with automakers and smart speaker manufacturers as well.

The startup has also signed a deal with Warner Music to algorithmically create songs and albums. Stavitsky said he’s hoping to do more work with musicians, so that when they release new music, there can be both a traditional album and also “a functional, adaptive album that is available to you as a soundscape when you have to work, when you want to go to sleep.”

“The big vision is to ultimately go beyond sound,” he added — starting with an Apple TV app due later this year that incorporates video.

Endel has now raised a total of $7.1 million.

Royole returns with another foldable

22 September, by Brian Heater[ —]

I first spent time with the Royole Flexpai at a TechCrunch event in China back in 2018. The device was exciting. It was the first commercially released foldable, after all, before Samsung and Huawei offered their respective takes on the form factor. But ultimately it felt like, at best, a proof of concept. It was a shot across the bow from a little-known Shenzhen-based hardware maker, and ultimately little else.

The last two years have been — let’s say “complicated” for the category. I don’t think anyone was anticipating that $2,000 foldable phones were going to disrupt the industry right out of the gate or anything — especially in a time when more people are spending less money on their mobile devices. But to say foldables got off to a rocky start is something of an understatement. Royole has announced a few more products here and there, but the Flexpai continues to be the company’s most engaging from a consumer perspective.

At an event in Beijing this morning, the company announced the Flexpai 2. The device is similar in design to the first model, which is to say it folds with the screen facing outward. The design makes sense from the standpoint of offering up notifications while closed (there’s a reason the Galaxy Fold 2 got a larger front-facing screen), but now you’ve got two screens to scuff up when the big old device is in your pocket.

The device itself got a bit of screen time during the press conference, though not a ton. For now we mostly have press shots to rely on, which is going to continue to be one of the pain points of covering hardware in the COVID-19 era. Fittingly, the company spent a lot of time talking hinges here — that, after all, was a high profile point of failure for Samsung’s first-gen device.

Here’s how Royole describes it in the press material:

The structure of the hinge is stable and shockproof, providing the great protection for the screen. It has more than 200 precision components with 0.01 mm processing accuracy. The hinge technology holds around 200 patents and solved many issues seen in other foldable smartphones.

Image Credits: Royole

Having had limited time with the Flexpai, I’ll say that robustness didn’t seem like one of the primary issues with a product that had some other first-gen bugs. The thing was pretty massively thick, though — which Royole has addressed with a design here that’s around 40% thinner than the first gen. The display is a generous 7.8 inches — though no mention of whether there’s glass reinforcement, which could be an issue.

There’s 5G support, a healthy 4450mAh battery and a Snapdragon 865 processor. The company updated its waterOS, which is built on top of Android 10 to offer a more seamless foldable experience. It arrives in China this week priced at around $1,427, which is wildly expensive for a standard smartphone, but actually pretty good for a foldable.

U.S. availability is, once again, a big question mark.

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