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New tech to prevent Li-ion battery fires

Materials scientists from Nanyang Technological University Singapore have found a way to prevent internal short-circuits, the main cause of fires in Li-ion batteries.

Billions of Li-ion batteries are produced annually for use in mobile phones, laptops, personal mobile devices, and the huge battery packs of electric vehicles and aircraft.

This global battery demand is set to grow, with electric vehicles alone requiring up to 2,700 GWh worth of Li-ion batteries a year by 2030, equivalent to some 225 billion mobile phone batteries.

Even with an estimated failure rate of less than one-in-a-million, in 2020 there were 26 power-assisted bicycle (PAB) fires and 42 cases of personal mobility device fires in Singapore.


In most Li-ion battery fires, the cause is due to a build-up of lithium deposits known as dendrites (tiny wire-like tendrils) that cross the separator between the positive (cathode) and negative (anode) electrodes of the battery when it is being charged, causing a short-circuit leading to an uncontrolled chemical fire.

To prevent such battery fires, NTU scientists invented a patent-pending “anti-short layer” that can be easily added inside a Li-ion battery, preventing any future short-circuits from occurring during the charging process.

This concept is akin to adding a slice of cheese to a hamburger’s meat patty in between the buns, thus the new “anti-short layer” can be rapidly adopted in current battery manufacturing.

The post New tech to prevent Li-ion battery fires appeared first on ARY NEWS.

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PayPal launches its ‘super app’ combining payments, savings, bill pay, crypto, shopping and more

PayPal has been talking about its “super app” plans for some time, having recently told investors its upcoming digital wallet and payments app had been given a go for launch. Today, the first version of that app is officially being introduced, offering a combination of financial tools including direct deposit, bill pay, a digital wallet, peer-to-peer payments, shopping tools, crypto capabilities and more. The company is also announcing its partnership with Synchrony Bank for its new high-yield savings account, PayPal Savings.

These changes shift PayPal from being largely a payments utility that’s tacked on other offerings here and there, to being a more fully fleshed out finance app. Though PayPal itself doesn’t aim to be a “bank,” the new app offers a range of competitive features for those considering shifting their finances to neobanks, like Chime or Varo, as it will now also include support for paycheck Direct Deposits through PayPal’s bank partners, bill pay and more.

By enabling direct deposit, PayPal users can get paid up to two days earlier, which is one of the bigger draws among those considering digital banking apps over traditional banks.

In addition to shifting their paychecks to Payal, customers’ PayPal funds can then be used for things that are a part of daily life, like paying their bills, saving or shopping, for example.

The enhanced bill pay feature lets customers track, view and pay bills from thousands of companies, including utilities, TV and internet, insurance, credit cards, phone and more, PayPal says. When bill pay first arrived earlier this year, it offered access to (single-digit) thousands of billers. Now, it will support around 17,000 billers. Customers can also discover billers through an improved, intelligent search feature, set reminders to be notified of upcoming bills and schedule automatic payments for bills they have to pay on a regular basis. The bills don’t have to only be paid from funds currently in the PayPal account, but can be paid through any eligible funding source that’s already linked to their PayPal account.

Via a Synchrony Bank partnership, PayPal Savings will offer a high-yield savings account with a 0.40% Annual Percentage Yield (APY), which is more than six times the national average of 0.06%, the company says. However, that’s lower than top rivals in the digital banking market offer, like Chime (0.50%), Varo (starts at 0.20%, but users can qualify to get 3.00% APY), Marcus (0.50%), Ally (0.50%), ONE (1.00% or 3.00% on Auto-Save transactions), and others. However, the rate may appeal to those who are switching from a traditional bank, where rates tend to be lower.

PayPal believes its high-yield offering will be able to compete not based on the APY alone, but on the strength of its combined offerings.

Image Credits: PayPal

“We know that about half of customers in the United States don’t even have a savings account, much less one with a very competitive rate,” notes PayPal SVP of Consumer, Julian King. “So all in all, we think that by bringing together the full set of solutions on the platform, it’s a really competitive offering for an individual.”

The app has also been reorganized to accommodate the new features and those yet to come.

It now features a personalized dashboard offering an overview of the customer’s account. The wallet tab lets users manage Direct Deposits and connect funding sources like bank accounts and debit and credit cards alongside the ability to enroll in PayPal’s own debit, credit and cash cards. And a finance tab provides access to the high-yield savings and the previously available crypto capabilities, which allows users to buy, hold and sell Bitcoin, Ethereum, Bitcoin Cash and Litecoin.

The payments tab, meanwhile, will hold much of PayPal’s traditional feature set, including peer-to-peer payments, international remittances, charitable and nonprofit giving, plus now bill pay and a two-way messaging feature that allows users to request payments or say thank you after receiving a payment — whether that’s between friends and family or between merchants and customers. This addition could bring PayPal more in line with PayPal-owned Venmo, which already offers the ability to add notes to payments and make comments.

Messaging also ties into PayPal’s new Shopping hub, which is where the company is finally putting to good use its 2019 $4 billion Honey acquisition. Honey’s core features are now becoming a part of the PayPal mobile experience, including personalized deals and exclusive rewards.

Image Credits: PayPal

PayPal users will be able to browse the discounts and offers inside the app, then shop and transact through the in-app browser. The deals can be saved to the wallet for future use, so they can be applied if shopping later in the app or online. Customers will also be able to join a loyalty program, where they can earn cashback and PayPal shopping credit on their purchases. The company says these personalized deals will improve over time.

“We’ll use AI and [machine learning] capabilities to understand what kind of shopping deals are most interesting to customers and continue to develop that over time. They’ll just get smarter and smarter as the product gets more usage,” notes King. This will include using the data about the deals a customer likes, then bringing similar deals to them in the future.

Also new in the updated mobile app is the addition of PayPal’s crowdsourced fundraising platform, the Generosity Network, first launched late last year. The network is PayPal’s answer to GoFundMe or Facebook Fundraisers, by offering tools that allow individuals to raise money for themselves, others in need, or organizations like small businesses or charities. The network is also now expanding to international markets with Germany and the U.K. to start, with more countries to come.

As PayPal has said, the new app is laying the groundwork for other new products in the quarters to come. The biggest initiative on its roadmap is a plan to enter the investment space, to rival other mobile investing apps, like Robinhood. When this arrives, it will support the ability to buy stocks, fractional stocks and ETFs, PayPal says.

It will also later add support for paying with QR codes, like Venmo, and tools for using PayPal to save while in stores.

The updated app is rolling out starting today in the U.S. as a staggered release that will complete in the weeks ahead. However, PayPal Savings won’t be available immediately — it will arrive in the U.S. in the “coming months,” as will some of the shopping and rewards tools.

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Microsoft is discontinuing its Office apps for Chromebook users in favor of web versions 


Since 2017, Microsoft has offered its Office suite to Chromebook users via the Google Play store, but that is set to come to an end in a few short weeks.

As of September 18, Microsoft is discontinuing support for Office (which includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote and Outlook) on Chromebook. Microsoft is not, however, abandoning the popular mobile device altogether. Instead of an app that is downloaded, Microsoft is encouraging users to go to the web instead.

“In an effort to provide the most optimized experience for Chromebook customers, Microsoft apps (Office and Outlook) will be transitioned to web experiences ( and on September 18, 2021,” Microsoft wrote in a statement emailed to TechCrunch. 

Microsoft’s statement also noted that “this transition brings Chromebook customers access to additional and premium features.” 

The Microsoft web experience will serve to transition its base of Chromebook users to the Microsoft 365 service, which provides more Office templates and generally more functionality than what the app-based approach provides. The web approach is also more optimized for larger screens than the app.

In terms of how Microsoft wants Chromebook users to get access to Office and Outlook, the plan is for customers to, “…sign in with their personal Microsoft Account or account associated with their Microsoft 365 subscription,” according to the statement. Microsoft has also provided online documentation to show users how to run Office on a Chromebook.

Chromebooks run on Google’s Chrome OS, which is a Linux-based operating system. Chromebooks also enable Android apps to run, as Android is also Linux based, with apps downloaded from Google Play. It’s important to note that while support for Chromebooks is going away, Microsoft is not abandoning other Android-based mobile devices, such as tablets and smartphones.

For those Chromebook users that have already downloaded the Microsoft Office apps, the apps will continue to function after September 18, though they will not receive any support or future updates.

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This Week in Apps: Google, TikTok add protections for minors, app store bill proposes big changes, what’s new with Samsung

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch 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 offers a way to keep up with this fast-moving industry in one place with the latest from the world of apps, including news, updates, startup fundings, mergers and acquisitions, and suggestions about new apps and games to try, too.

Do you want This Week in Apps in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here:

A new Senate bill could put an end to app stores’ dominance

Apple app store iOS

Image Credits: TechCrunch

A bipartisan group of three U.S. senators — Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) — introduced a new piece of legislation called the Open Markets Act, could change the way mobile software is distributed. The bill would give developers the right to tell their customers about lower prices outside the app stores (without fear of punishment), and permit alternative payment mechanisms, sideloading and third-party app stores where developers could avoid platform fees. It would also bar platform makers like Apple and Google from using non-public information they collect via app stores to build out competing products, or rank those products more favorably.

The bill is being applauded by Apple critics, including the Coalition for App Fairness and its members, Epic Games, Spotify, Tile and others, who are now urging Congress to swiftly pass the legislation to level the playing field.

As regulatory pressure on platform makers has intensified, the companies looked for ways to better cater to smaller developers with drops in commission rates, as well as increased privacy and security measures — the latter which could help boost their arguments that the app store model is favorable to consumer interests.

Such a bill is a notable first step toward some sort of market changes, but it’s still too early to know if or when the bill will gain traction, much less be passed into law.

Tech giants Google, YouTube and TikTok follow Instagram with increased protections for minors

Google and YouTube (as well as TikTok) this week rolled out a series of changes to their products and services to increase the privacy and security of accounts belonging to teenaged users under the age of 18. The specific changes vary a bit from service to service, but are largely focused on making younger people’s accounts more private by default, ensuring they’re making an intentional choice when shifting accounts or content to become public, and limiting to what extent advertisers can target them. TikTok went a bit further to restrict push notifications after “bedtime” hours for its teen users, while YouTube chose to turn on its “take a break” and “bedtime” reminders by default instead.

Image Credits: TikTok

The changes follow similar moves announced just weeks ago by Instagram, and follow increased pressure from the U.S. Congress to do more to protect younger users from the harmful impacts of using technology.

One piece of legislation, which tech companies may be trying to get ahead of, is an update to COPPA that would expand some protections to children under the age of 18, instead of just under 13. What’s missing from all these initiatives, however, is any plan to more strictly verify children’s ages on an app. Since many kids already know to lie about their birth year at sign-up, it’s unclear how effective these measures will be in the long term.

Samsung Unpacked Wrap-Up

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Samsung this week hosted its Unpacked event, where it debuted the company’s latest mobile products. This time, the smartphone maker showed off a new crop of foldables, including the Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Galaxy Z Flip 3 (clamshell, woo!), which will give app makers even more device styles and formats to consider when designing their apps. Well, if these foldables ever gain market traction that is, instead of existing in consumers’ minds as a gimmick. (For what it’s worth, Microsoft hopped on the bandwagon.)

Samsung also introduced a new smartwatch powered by Google’s WearOS (if you can’t beat ’em…), the Galaxy Watch 4, and entry-level wireless earbuds, the Galaxy Buds 2.

Platforms: Apple

  • Apple released the fifth betas of iOS 15 and iPadOS 15 to developers, which offer some more minor tweaks and stability improvements as the platforms head toward a fall release. New additions include an updated weather icon, shading around the tab interface in Safari on iPad, an option to use larger icons on iPad, a new warning pop-up that reminds you the iPhone is still findable when off, new splash screens for Apple’s apps, the integration of TestFlight info in the App Store and more.
  • Apple released a new developer tool that allows app makers to test how their app behaves when the device is connected to 5G instead of Wi-Fi. The tool is necessary because iOS 15/iPadOS 15 devices can automatically prioritize 5G over Wi-Fi when the latter’s performance is slow.
  • Apple settled a 2019 lawsuit with Corellium, a company that builds virtual iOS devices used by security researchers. Apple had said Corellium was infringing on its copyright, selling its product indiscriminately and compromising platform security. A judge dismissed Apple’s claims as “puzzling,” noting Corellium established “fair use.” The settlement terms were not disclosed.
  • Apple’s Find My app in iOS 15 will use Bluetooth technology to precisely locate AirPods (Pro and Max) devices, and will tie AirPods to users’ Apple ID.

Platforms: Google

wall of phones - Android 12 Google I/O 2021

Image Credits: Google

  • Google launched Android 12 beta 4, whose biggest new feature is that the platform has now reached stability. Developers can now test apps before the public release, without having to worry about future breaking changes. Android 12 offers a big redesign, with a more personalized “Material You” design language and increased privacy protections.
  • Google banned the location data firm SafeGraph, funded by a former head of Saudi intelligence, which was paying developers to include their data collection tools in their apps so they could resell the data to other companies or government agencies. Any apps working with SafeGraph will have to remove the code.


  • DoorDash recently held talks to buy Instacart, according to a report from The Information. The $40 billion-$50 billion deal would have combined two top food delivery apps — one for restaurants, the other for groceries — but talks fell through.
  • Weedmaps added in-app cannabis purchasing for iPhone users. Thanks to looser App Store restrictions, Weedmaps users can now browse, select and purchase cannabis and have it delivered or set for pickup directly within the app.
  • Instagram is testing ads in its Shop tab, which allow brands to feature either an image or image carousel. The ads will launch with an auction-based model and will only appear on mobile devices.

Augmented Reality

  • Snap hired a Facebook AR executive, Joe Darko, The Information reported. The new AR leader, who previously launched the Spark AR Partner Network at Facebook, will now oversee Snap’s AR Developer Relations.


Image Credits: Venmo

  • Venmo announced it would allow its credit card holders to automatically buy cryptocurrency with their card’s cashback, through a new feature called Cash Back to Crypto. Cardholders can select between Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin and Bitcoin Cash, which will be purchased monthly with no transaction fees.


  • Some Snap creators have left for other platforms as the company’s creator bonuses dried up, CNBC found. Snap had been paying $1 million per day in prize money for creators posting to its TikTok competitor, Spotlight. Now, it’s paying “millions” per month — and creators are chasing bigger bonuses elsewhere.
  • Instagram’s TikTok competitor, Reels, added a new feature that allows users to search for audio to include in their short-form videos, and the pages for the tracks will show the other videos that used them — like TikTok offers.
  • A report circulating this week claims TikTok surpassed Facebook’s downloads in 2020, which um, we already knew many months ago? But yeah, it did.
  • Instagram rolled out new anti-abuse features after high-profile incidents of racism took place on its platform following the Euro 2020 final, where angry fans attacked players. New tools include Limits, which lets you restrict certain groups from DM’ing and commenting for a period of time; plus an expansion of Hidden Words to include new strings of emoji; and a more aggressive “Hide More Comments” feature.
  • Instagram took down a website, LikeUp.Me, selling fake likes and followers. The site, which was served a C&D from Facebook, had earned around $100K in the past year.
  • Reddit is rolling out a TikTok-like video feed button on its iOS app. The feature has reached “most” iOS users and drops them into a full screen experience where users can upvote, downvote, comment on, gift an award or share the video. You can also swipe up to see more videos, also like TikTok. Surprisingly, the company claims its acquired Dubsmash IP was not a part of this project.


Image Credits: WhatsApp

  • WhatsApp will gain the ability to transfer chat history between mobile operating systems. The feature is coming to Samsung devices first, followed by a broader Android rollout, then iOS. Samsung customers can use the company’s transfer tool, Smart Switch, which already copies other personal data between devices, to also now move their encrypted WhatsApp chat history, including voice notes, photos and conversations.
  • Google is pushing mobile Hangouts users to switch to Google Chat through an in-app message that reminds users that Hangouts will be discontinued. Disgruntled users took to Google Play to express their anger with dozens of one-star reviews. How’s that mess of a messaging app strategy looking now, Google?
  • Messenger delves into the design of its recently launched “Soundmojis,” which pair an emoji and sound together to create a new form of expression that would be universally understood and surprising.
  • Facebook is bringing end-to-end encryption to Messenger calls, noting that E2E was the industry standard and what people now expect. The company said also it would begin testing E2E for group chats and calls in Messenger and Instagram DMs.


  • Apple’s next iPhones will reportedly allow users to take “video portraits,Bloomberg reported. Other additions will offer the ability to record video in the higher-quality format called ProRes and a new filters system to improve the look of photos.
  • As Instagram’s photography community is getting increasingly frustrated by the app’s shift to video, a new app called Glass launched into beta to serve photographers of all sizes. As reported by Om Malik, who has been testing the app for nearly six months, subscription-based Glass is beautiful and fresh, and reminiscent of early Instagram, with support for comments and followers, but differentiates itself by not chasing clout though public likes.

Image Credits: Glass


  • Facebook Dating is gaining an “audio chat” feature, which will allow matches to have voice chats to get to know one another. It’s also adding a Lucky Pick, to suggest daters outside someone’s typical preferences, and Match Anywhere, which allows users to consider locations outside their current city.
  • A Match beta test is targeting users’ most common dating app complaints, like too much swiping and ghosting. Now, Match will offer weekly “Matched by Us” recommendations and will prompt users to unmatch or respond, instead of leaving conversations hanging. The company also hinted that it may roll out a human-led matchmaking feature in the future, as well.
  • Tinder’s interactive feature, “Swipe Night,” is coming back after a 20 million user turnout from its “season 1.” The new version won’t be a choose-your-own-adventure, but rather a “Gen Z whodunit,” the company said, and will use the quick chat feature that allows users to chat without having first matched.

Streaming & Entertainment

  • HBO Max added free episodes to its platform, including its app for mobile devices. Users can sample 13 episodes from top shows and originals without paying, including “Euphoria,” “Game of Thrones,” “Lovecraft Country,” “The Flight Attendant,” “Veneno,” “Warrior” and more, as well as browse the catalog to see what else is offered with a paid subscription.
  • A Spotify representative told users in the company’s forum that its work to add support for the nearly 3-year-old AirPlay 2 technology was being abandoned for the time being, citing “driver compatibility issues.” The post gained a lot of attention from disgruntled users and press, leading Spotify to clarify that it “will support AirPlay 2,” without offering a time frame. The company, a staunch Apple critic, has been hesitant to support other Apple products, including HomePod speakers, where native support isn’t available.
  • YouTube’s Android app is trying out a new gesture that will allow users to navigate its video “Chapters” by double-tapping with two fingers.
  • A new U.S. streaming report by Penthera found that 71% of viewers stream video on 2 devices per day, on average, including a connected TV device and mobile. And 80% said they watch videos at home. But now 92% (up from 88% last year) now say re-buffering is the biggest problem they face while streaming.


Image Credits: App Annie

  • App Annie released its 2021 gaming report, which estimates mobile gaming will reach $120 billion in consumer spending by year-end, or 3.1x more than consoles. Other highlights include:

    • 4 of the top 10 most downloaded subgenres across all games are in the hypercasual category. 
    • “Happy Glass” is the fastest ever hypercasual game to break 100 million downloads.
    • The pandemic pushed gaming to new levels. Weekly game downloads topped 1 billion in March 2020, and have stayed there ever since.
    • In H1 2021, there were over 810 games surpassing $1 million in consumer spending per month, up 25% from 2019.
    • In H1 2021, per week there were over 1 billion downloads, $1.7 billion spent and 5 billion hours spent on mobile games globally.
    • The U.S. topped the mobile games market by App Store consumer spending. 
    • AppLovin topped the charts for worldwide downloads, while Tencent dominated consumer spend.
    • U.S. mobile game usage skews female (64% of gamers are female). That’s not the same in other markets, where more mobile gamers are men — like Japan (56% male) and South Korea (53% male). 
  • U.S. mobile tabletop game spending rose by 40% to $704 million over the past 12 months, a Sensor Tower report found. The top grossing game was Solitaire Grand Harvest from Supertreat, followed by Solitaire TriPeaks from GSN, then Yahtzee with Buddies Dice from Scopely. Downloads, however, declined by 12% YoY, with 202.7 million installs over the past 12 months, versus 230.7 million in the year-ago period.
  • Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney discovered a surprise in a set of recently unsealed court documents in the Epic Games v. Google antitrust case. He learned that Google had once mulled acquiring his company at some point — which Sweeney said was related to Epic’s decision to compete with Google Play. The documents also refer to the “frankly abysmal” sideloading experience on Android.


  • Google-owned navigation app Waze announced a partnership with Too Good To Go, an organization that works with small businesses and organizations to decrease food waste. The partnership will highlight independent restaurants and grocery stores in select U.S. cities that are taking steps to reduce food waste by showcasing them on the Waze map. These businesses also sell “surprise” bags of food that contain three times more food than the cost of the bag at the end of the day. The food is perfectly good, but can’t be sold the second day, so would otherwise be thrown out.
  • OpenTable’s app added a new Direct Messaging feature that lets diners and restaurants communicate directly after a reservation is made, instead of having to place a phone call. The feature can be used to clarify a diner’s requests, or other changes, or even message after the reservation has ended in case of items that were left behind, or other needs.

Image Credits: OpenTable


  • Tapjoy launched MobileVoice, a market research solution for surveying mobile-first consumers where researchers bid for each response. Higher bids will give users more virtual currency for their game, which motivates consumers to share their opinions.

Government & Policy

  • WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and Twitter were restricted in Zambia amidst ongoing general elections on Thursday, polling day, through Sunday, when votes counts are expected to have ended.
  • Facebook’s acquisition of GIF database Giphy has come under fire from U.K. regulator, the Competition and Markets Authority, which announced a preliminary finding that the deal “will harm competition.”
  • India’s government says Twitter is now in compliance with the country’s new IT laws, which required the company to appoint a chief compliance officer, a nodal contact person and a resident grievance officer in the country.

Security & Privacy

  • Recommended Reading: TechCrunch Editor-in-Chief Matthew Panzarino interviewed Apple Privacy head Erik Neuenschwander about the company’s plans to detect CSAM and Apple’s new Messages app safety features. Apple’s announcement stirred controversy in the security community because of how the company is implementing the technology, which some have argued could leave the door open for other governments or agencies to compromise for their own ends. Neuenschwander explains the system’s protections that make it less useful for doing so — meaning that its technology itself, and not just Apple’s word, could prevent this type of abuse. And in terms of user privacy, there is an opt-out — you just turn off iCloud Photos.

💰 Privacy-oriented search app Xayn raised $12 million in Series A funding led by Japanese investors Global Brain and KDDI (a Japanese telecommunications operator) for its app that fuses together search, a discovery feed and a mobile browser. The app will focus on Asian markets and Europe.

💰 Social banking app Kroo raised $24.5 million in Series A funding led by Rudy Karsan, a high-net-worth tech entrepreneur and founder of Karlani Capital. The London-based fintech offers a prepaid card service but is moving toward offering expanded banking services in its mobile app.

🤝 Pokémon GO developer Niantic acquired the iPhone and iPad app Scaniverse for an undisclosed sum. The Scaniverse app allows users to scan objects and environments into high-res 3D, and will remain live on the App Store, and the founder will join Niantic’s AR team.

💰 Car ownership “super app” Jerry raised $75 million in Series C funding led by existing backer Goodwater Capital, valuing its business at $450 million. The app uses automation to give consumers customized quotes from more than 45 insurance carriers, but is expanding into areas like financing, repair, warranties, parking, maintenance and more.

💰 Mobile field service startup Youreka Labs raised $8.5 million in Series A funding co-led by  Boulder Ventures and Grotech Ventures. The company simplifies development of mobile service applications with a no-code authoring studio and one-click deployment to Apple, Android and Windows.

💰 Reddit confirmed it has raised $410 million of a planned $700 million Series F funding round, led by Fidelity, valuing the business at $10 billion. The funds will be used to further build out community and advertising efforts, as well as increase headcount.

🤝  U.S. grocery delivery service Gopuff acquired U.K. competitor Dija, which was only eight months old, to expand into Europe. Gopuff had previously acquired a similar startup, Fancy, just three months ago.

💰 India’s VerSe Innovation, makers of Dailyhunt and Josh apps, raised over $450 million in a Series I funding round led by Siguler Guff, Baillie Gifford, affiliates of Carlyle Asia Partners Growth II and others. The company’s new valuation is now “nearing $3 billion.” Dailyhunt now has over 300 million MAUs and Josh has 115 million MAUs.

💰 Social calendar app Saturn raised $35 million led by General Catalyst, Insight Partners and Coatue, bringing its total raise to date to $44 million. The app allows high school students to manage their schedule, track assignments, chat with friends and more across web and mobile devices.

🤝  Fintech Robinhood acquired Say Technologies, a company offering a communications platform that allows smaller shareholders to pose questions to companies in which they invest. The $140 million all-cash deal is Robinhood’s first major purchase since going public in late July.

🤝, a short-form video clipping service and social network for gamers, entered the livestreaming market with the acquisition of, a Twitch rival based in Dubai. Deal terms were not revealed, but the deal was in the seven figures.

💰 Turkey’s Trendyol, an e-commerce website and app serving over 30 million shoppers, raised $1.5 billion in a round that valued the company at $16.5 billion. General Atlantic, SoftBank Vision Fund 2, Princeville Capital and sovereign wealth funds, ADQ (UAE) and Qatar Investment Authority, co-led.

💰 Argentine fintech Ualá raised $350 million in Series D funding, valuing its business at $2.45 billion. The company offers a Mastercard and app, where users can access bill pay solutions, investment products, personal loans, BNPL installments and insurance. To date, the startup has issued more than 3.5 million cards in Mexico and Argentina.

💰 Fintech Chime Financial raised $750 million in a round that values the business at $25 billion, ahead of a planned IPO next year. The round was led by new investor Sequoia Capital Global Equities. Chime today offers credit cards and no-fees banking services through a mobile app.

💰 Mexico’s Orchata, a mobile app for getting groceries delivered via micro-fulfillment centers, raised $4 million in seed funding from investors including Y Combinator, JAM Fund, FJ Labs, Venture Friends, Investo and Foundation Capital, and angel investors Ross Lipson, Mike Hennessey, Brian Requarth and Javier Mata.

Krafton, the South Korean maker of PUBG, closed 9% down on its first day of trading on Tuesday after first debuting at $432 per share. Analysts said the company tried to go out with a valuation that was too high. At closing, the valuation was $19.32 billion. To date, PUBG Mobile has generated $6.3 billion in player spending across the app stores.

Crypto app Coinbase’s stock jumped 7% on Wednesday after better-than-expected earnings, where the company reported $1.6 billion in net profit for the quarter (earnings per share of $3.45), beating analyst estimates. Coinbase trading volumes were also up 38% to $462 billion in Q2.

TikTok owner ByteDance is considering a Hong Kong IPO, The FT reported. The Beijing-based tech company may list in either Q4 2021 or early 2022. As of its last fundraise of $5 billion in December 2020, the company was valued at $180 billion.

Mobile marketer and game provider AppLovin’s stock jumped 4.2% in after-hours trading Wednesday after the company reported 123% revenue growth to $669 million year-over-year from $299 million, beating analyst estimates. EPS was 4 cents versus a loss of 10 cents in the year-ago period.

The Disney+ streaming service beat analyst expectations to reach 116 million subscribers in Disney’s fiscal Q3. Disney now has nearly 174 million subscribers across Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+.

Reelgood (update)

Streaming guide Reelgood has historically offered a great service for discovering new things to watch, and keeping track of where you’ve left off with favorite shows. Now, the company is introducing a new feature called Search Party, which makes it easier for two or more people to find something to watch that they all agree on. Using a familiar swipe left or right mechanism, users try to find a “match.” The feature also lets you set other filters, like release year, IMDb rating, genre and more, to narrow its suggestions. When one or more matches is detected, Reelgood notifies the group and displays the matches in a new tab where they’re organized by the total number of “Likes.” Reelgood is a free download on iOS and Android.


PairPlay is a clever new app from Jonathan Wegener, previously co-founder of Timehop and product designer at Snap, which turns a pair of AirPods into a two-person adventure game. You and one other player will split the pair, with one person taking the left AirPod and the other taking the right, to start the audio challenge. The players will hear different sides of the audio adventure story at the same time, which they can then play out together. Storylines may have you playing as secret agents, ghost hunters, robots and more. The game is family-friendly and can be played with kids as young as 7, though arguably some adults will have fun with this one, too. The app is a free download and requires AirPods.

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Reddit is quietly rolling out a TikTok-like video feed button on iOS

From Instagram’s Reels to Snapchat’s Spotlight, most social media platforms are looking toward the TikTok boom for inspiration. Now, even Reddit, a discussion-based forum, is making short-form video more pronounced on its iOS app.

According to Reddit, most iOS users should have a button on their app directly to the right of the search bar — when tapped, it will show a stream of videos in a TikTok-like configuration. When presented with a video, (which shows the poster who uploaded it and the subreddit it’s from), users can upvote or downvote, comment, gift an award, or share it. Like TikTok, users can swipe up to see another video, feeding content from subreddits the user is subscribed to, as well as related ones. For instance, if you’re subscribed to r/printmaking, you might see content from r/pottery or r/bookbinding.

The user interface of the videos isn’t new — Reddit has been experimenting with this format over the last year. But before, this manner of watching Reddit videos was only accessible by tapping on a video while scrolling through your feed — rather than promoting discovery of other communities, the first several videos recommended would be from the same subreddit.

Images of new Reddit features

Image Credits: Reddit, screenshots by TechCrunch

“Reddit’s mission is to bring community and belonging to everyone in the world, and subsequently, Reddit’s video team’s mission is to bring community through video,” a Reddit spokesperson told TechCrunch, about the new addition. “Over the course of the last year, our goal was to build a unified video player, and re-envision the player interface to match what users (new and old) expect when it comes to an in-app video player — especially commenting, viewing, engaging, and discovering new content and communities through video,” they noted.

Reddit doesn’t yet have a timeline for when the feature will roll out to everyone, but confirmed that this icon first appeared for some users in late July and has continued to roll out to almost all iOS users. But by placing a broader, yet still personalized video feed on the home screen, Reddit is signaling a growing curiosity in short form video. In December 2020, Reddit acquired Dubsmash, a Brooklyn-via-Berlin-based TikTok competitor. The terms of the deals were undisclosed, but Facebook and Snap also reportedly showed interest in the platform, which hit 1 billion monthly views in January 2020.

Reddit declined to comment on whether or not its new video player is using an algorithm to promote discovery of new subreddits based on user activity. However, a Reddit spokesperson confirmed that the company will use Dubsmash’s technology to develop other features down the road, though not for this particular product, they said.

Reddit first launched its native video platform in 2017, which allows users to upload MP4 and MOV files to the site. Then, in August 2019, it launched RPAN (Reddit Public Access Network), which lets people livestream to the r/pan subreddit — the most popular live streams are promoted across the platform. Reddit currently attracts 50 million daily active visitors and hosts 100,000 active subreddits.

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All the tech that went into turning Columbus, Ohio into a ‘Smart City’


The U.S. Department of Transportation launched a Smart City Challenge in 2015, which asked mid-sized cities across the country to come up with ideas for novel smart transportation systems that would use data and tech to improve mobility. Out of 78 applicants, Columbus, Ohio emerged as the winner.

In 2016, the city of just under a million residents was then awarded a $50 million grant to turn its proposal into a reality. $40 million came from the DOT, and $10 million from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. 

In mid-June, the program ended, but Columbus said the city would continue to work as a “collaborative innovation lab,” using city funds to integrate technology to address societal problems. But what does that mean in reality? 

Columbus’s ‘Smart City’ looks nothing like the rapidly developing prototype Toyota is developing, Woven City, at the base of Mount Fuji in Japan, but it’s not supposed to. 

“We really focus on not just demonstrating technology for technology’s sake, but to look at the challenges we are facing in our city around mobility and transportation and use our award to focus on some of those challenges,” Mandy Bishop, Smart Columbus program manager, told TechCrunch. 

Those challenges involve lack of accessibility to mobility options, areas underserved by public transit, parking challenges, and terrible drivers with high collision rates. As you might expect, a lot of startups are involved in solving those challenges; Here’s who’s involved and what they bring to the table. 

The Pivot app, built by Etch

Etch is a Columbus-based geospatial solutions startup. Founded in 2018, the company cut its teeth with Smart Columbus, creating a multi-modal transport app that helps users plan trips throughout central Ohio using buses, ride hailing, carpool, micromobility or personal vehicle. 

“The mobility problem in Columbus is access to mobility and people not understanding or knowing what options are available to them,” Darlene Magold, CEO and co-founder of Etch, told TechCrunch. “Part of our mission was to show the community what was available and give them options to sort those options based on cost or other information.”

The app is based on open source tools like OpenStreetMap and OpenTripPlanner. Etch uses the former to get up-to-date crowdsourced information from the community about what’s happening in a given area, similar to Waze. The latter is used to find itineraries for different forms of mobility.

“Because we are open source, the integration with Uber, Lyft and other mobility providers really gives users a lot of options so they can actually see what mobility options are available, other than their own vehicle if they have one. It takes away that anxiety of traveling and using that mixed mode of travel, knowing in real time where the bus is or where to find a scooter, and  like using Uber or renting a bike or scooter.”

$1.25 million of the total federal funds went to the Pivot app, which has 3,849 downloads to date, and the city will continue to fund the development and use of Pivot.

Smart Columbus Operating System, made by Pillar Technology

Columbus hired local smart embedded software company Pillar Technology, which was acquired by Accenture in 2018, to further develop the existing Smart Columbus operating system. The $15.9 million open source platform that hosts the city’s mobility data, including over 2,000 datasets and 209 visualizations, launched in April 2019. 

“The program will continue through at least January 2022 as Columbus works to develop mobility and transportation use cases and further define the value and use of the operating system,” said Bishop.

The Smart Columbus OS invites others to add their data to the set while also calling for crowdsourced solutions to problems like how to bring down crash rates or how to optimize city parking. 

Park Columbus, made with ParkMobile

ParkMobile is an Atlanta-based provider of smart parking solutions. For Smart Columbus, the startup created Park Columbus, an event parking management app, to help free up traffic and pollution from cars circling around looking for parking. Users can find, reserve and pay for parking all on the app. 

Smart Columbus’s event parking management program built enhancements within ParkMobile’s existing offering, according to a spokesperson for the city. The $1.3 million project had over 30,000 downloads from October 2020 to March 2021. The city will continue to fund the app which will also display on-street parking via predictive analytic technology. 

Smart Mobility Hubs, built by Orange Barrel Media

The Smart Mobility Hubs are interactive digital kiosks designed by Orange Barrel Media, a company that builds media displays to integrate into urban landscapes. The hubs bring the city’s transportation options together at a single location, like a physical manifestation of the Pivot app, which can actually also be accessed via the kiosks. The kiosks, which took another $1.3 million chunk out of the total federal grant pool, also have free WiFI and listings of restaurants, shops and activities. 

Orange Barrel’s media displays can vary from something community oriented like its kiosks to advertising to art. According to Smart Columbus, the kiosks, placed at six key locations, had over 65,000 interactions from July 2020 to March 2021, but the city hopes that number will drastically increase in the post-pandemic era. The hubs also include the city’s bike share program, CoGo, which offers both pedal and e-bikes, bike racks, designated dockless scooter share and bike share parking, rideshare pickup and drop off zones, car sharing parking and EV charging stations.

Connected vehicle environment, in partnership with Siemens

Ohio has some of the worst drivers in the nation. This year, the state highway patrol released details about distracted driving in the state, and found 70,000 crashes attributed to distracted driving since 2016, with more than 2,000 involving serious injuries or fatalities. In 2019, an insurance agency rated Columbus the fourth worst driving in the country.

This might explain why the city wanted to experiment with connected vehicles. From October 2020 to March 2021, Columbus partnered with Siemens who provided both onboard and roadside units in creating a Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I) and Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) environment. Connected vehicles would “talk” to each other and to 85 intersections, seven of which have the highest crash rates in central Ohio. The project cost about $11.3 million. 

“We were looking at 11 different applications including red light signal warning, school zone notifications, intersection collision warning, freight signal priority and transit signal priority, using the connected vehicle technology,” said Bishop. 

“We deployed about 1,100 vehicles in a region that has about a million residents, so we did not anticipate seeing a decreased crash rate, but we did see drivers using the signals coming from the connected vehicle environment to not run traffic signals, so we’re really seeing improvements in driver behavior, which ultimately we would anticipate long term to effectively improve safety.”

Linden LEAP, made by Easy Mile

Smart Columbus’s autonomous shuttle service, the Linden LEAP, cost about $2.3 million and ran from February 2020 until March 2021, with some breaks in between. Initially, two shuttles hitting four stops operated in the Linden neighborhood to provide transportation to underserved communities. That only lasted about two weeks before a passenger was somehow thrust from their seat when the vehicle, going no more than 25 miles per hour, stopped short. Then the pandemic happened, and it was a human shuttle service no longer. From July until the end of the program, the Linden LEAP pivoted to deliver 3,598 food pantry boxes or almost 130,000 meals. 

The city will not continue to pay for the autonomous shuttle service now that federal funding has ended. 

“The city is not historically a transit operator, so we’re really staying close to how CoTa looks to incorporate connected and autonomous and electric technology into their fleets moving forward,” said Bishop. “Our anticipation is that the next demonstrations would be private sector led or ultimately led by our transit authority.”

French startup Easy Mile ran the Level 3 autonomous technology behind the shuttle, according to a spokesperson for the company. The Society of Automobile Engineers describes Level 3 as still requiring a human operator in the driver’s seat. 

Columbus’s dalliance with autonomy initially began in late 2018 when Smart Columbus partnered with DriveOhio and May Mobility to launch the Smart Circuit, the city’s OG self-driving shuttle. The shuttle ran a 1.5 mile route circling the Scioto Mile downtown, giving out over 16,000 free rides to certain cultural landmarks until September 2019. 

Smart Circuit only cost about $500,000, but the city spent another $400,000 on general development for the entire autonomous shuttle program.

Prenatal Trip Assistance, built by Kaizen Health

Kaizen Health, a woman-owned technology firm, built its initial application after being dissatisfied with transportation options available to people undergoing health treatments. The Chicago-based company applied its model of streamlining the experience of ordering non-emergency, multimodal medical transportation for pregnant women and families.  

The program got $1.3 million in Smart Columbus funds from June 2019 to January 2021, but only had about 143 participants due to the pandemic, but that includes over 800 medical care trips and over 300 pharmacy, grocery or other service-related trips. In a state that averaged 6.9 deaths for every 1,000 babies the year this program began, it’s a good thing the participating Medicaid managed care organizations are now modernizing how they deliver non-emergency transportation services, including access to such a mobile application.

Mobility assistance for people with cognitive disabilities, in partnership with Wayfinder

The tech partner for the final project was Wayfinder, a navigation app that was acquired by Vodafone in 2019. The Mobility Assistance for People with Cognitive Disabilities (MAPCD) study worked with Wayfinder to create a highly detailed, turn-by-turn navigation app specifically built for those who have cognitive disabilities, making it safer for those people to be more independent. 

The pilot cost nearly $500,000 and lasted from April 2019 to April 2020. Thirty-one participants used the app to get more comfortable using public transport. According to a spokesperson for the city, Columbus is working with potential partners to find a way to sustain the program. 

Looking towards the future

One of the focuses of Smart Columbus was also electric vehicle adoption and charging infrastructure. The money from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation and AEP Ohio, the state’s utility provider, helped incentivize and encourage multi-unit dwellings, workplaces and public sites to install charging stations. Smart Columbus exceeded its goal of 900 EV charging stations, as well as its goal for 1.8% of new car sales to be electric, reaching 2.34% in November, 2019.

“In the future I think something that’s here to stay is really ensuring that we’re solving resident challenges in a way that makes sense for our community,” said Bishop.

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Psychedelic VR meditation startup Tripp raises $11 million Series A

As an increasing number of startups sell investors on mobile apps that help consumers prioritize well-being and mindfulness, other startups are looking for a more immersive take that allow users to fully disconnect from the world around them.

Tripp has been building immersive relaxation exercises that seek to blend some of the experiences users may find in guided meditation apps with more free-form experiences that allow users to unplug from their day and explore their thoughts inside a virtual reality headset while watching fractal shapes, glowing trees and planets whir past them. As the name implies, there have been some efforts by the startup to create visuals and audio experiences that mimic the feelings people may have during a psychedelic trip — though doing so sans hallucinogens.

“Many people that will never feel comfortable taking a psychedelic, this is a low friction alternative that can deliver some of that experience in a more benign way,” CEO Nanea Reeves tells TechCrunch. “The idea is to take mindfulness structures and video game mechanics together to see if we can actually hack the way that you feel.”

The startup tells TechCrunch they’ve closed a $11 Million in funding led by Vine Ventures and Mayfield with participation from Integrated, among others. Tripp has raised some $15 million in total funding to date.

Image via Tripp

VR startups have largely struggled to earn investor fervor in recent years as major tech platforms have sunsetted their virtual reality efforts one-by-one leaving Facebook and Sony as the sole benefactors of a space that they are still struggling to monetize at times. While plenty of VR startups are continuing to see engagement, many investors which backed companies in the space five years ago have turned their attention to gaming and computer vision startups with more broad applications.

Reeves says that the pandemic has helped consumers dial into the importance of mindfulness and mental health awareness, something that has also pushed investors to get bolder in what projects in the space that they’re backing.

Tripp has apps on both the Oculus and PlayStation VR stores and subscription experiences that can be accessed for a $4.99 per month subscription.

The company provides a variety of guided experiences, but users can also use the company’s “Tripp composer” to build their own visual flows. Beyond customization, one of Tripp’s major sells is giving consumers deeper, quicker meditative experiences, claiming that users can get alleviate stress with sessions as short as 8 minutes inside their headset. Tripp is currently in the midst of clinical trials to study the software platform’s effectiveness as a therapeutic device.

The company says that users have gone through over 2 million sessions inside the app so far.

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Facebook and Instagram will now allow users to hide ‘Like’ counts on posts

Facebook this week will begin to publicly roll out the option to hide Likes on posts across both Facebook and Instagram, following earlier tests beginning in 2019. The project, which puts the decision about Likes in the hands of the company’s global user base, had been in development for years, but was deprioritized due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the response work required on Facebook’s part, the company says.

Originally, the idea to hide Like counts on Facebook’s social networks was focused on depressurizing the experience for users. Often, users faced anxiety and embarrassment around their posts if they didn’t receive enough Likes to be considered “popular.” This problem was particularly difficult for younger users who highly value what peers think of them — so much so that they would take down posts that didn’t receive enough Likes.

Like-chasing on Instagram, especially, also helped create an environment where people posted to gain clout and notoriety, which can be a less authentic experience. On Facebook, gaining Likes or other forms of engagement could also be associated with posting polarizing content that required a reaction.

As a result of this pressure to perform, some users grew hungry for a “Like-free” safer space, where they could engage with friends or the wider public without trying to earn these popularity points. That, in turn, gave rise to a new crop of social networking and photo-sharing apps such as MinutiaeVeroDayflashOggl and, now, newcomers like Dispo and newly viral Poparazzi.

Though Facebook and Instagram could have chosen to remove Likes entirely and take its social networks in a new direction, the company soon found that the metric was too deeply integrated into the product experience to be fully removed. One key issue was how the influencer community today trades on Likes as a form of currency that allows them to exchange their online popularity for brand deals and job opportunities. Removing Likes, then, is not necessarily an option for these users.

Instagram realized that if it made a decision for its users, it would anger one side or the other — even if the move in either direction didn’t really impact other core metrics, like app usage.

Image Credits: Instagram

“How many likes [users] got, or other people got — it turned out that it didn’t actually change nearly as much about the experience, in terms of how people felt or how much they use experience, as we thought it would. But it did end up being pretty polarizing,” admitted Instagram head, Adam Mosseri. “Some people really liked it and some people really didn’t.”

“For those who liked it, it was mostly what we had hoped — which is that it depressurized the experience. And, for those who didn’t, they used Likes to get a sense for what was trending or was relevant on Instagram and on Facebook. And they were just super annoyed that we took it away,” he added. This latter group sometimes included smaller creators still working on establishing a presence across social media, though larger influencers were sometimes in favor of Like removals. (Mosseri name-checked Katy Perry as being pro Like removals, in fact.)

Ultimately, the company decided to split the difference. Instead of making a hard choice about the future of its online communities, it’s rolling out the “no Likes” option as a user-controlled setting on both platforms.

On Instagram, both content consumers and content producers can turn on or off Like and View counts on posts — which means you can choose to not see these metrics when scrolling your own Feed and you can choose whether to allow Likes to be viewed by others when you’re posting. These are configured as two different settings, which provides for more flexibility and control.

Image Credits: Instagram

On Facebook, meanwhile, users access the new setting from the “Settings & Privacy” area under News Feed Settings (or News Feed Preferences on desktop). From here, you’ll find an option to “Hide number of reactions” to turn this setting off for both your own posts and for posts from others in News Feed, groups and Pages.

The feature will be made available to both public and private profiles, Facebook tells us, and will include posts you’ve published previously.

Image Credits: Facebook

Instagram last month restarted its tests on this feature in order to work out any final bugs before making the new settings live for global users, and said a Facebook test would come soon. But it’s now forging ahead with making the feature available publicly. When asked why such a short test, Instagram told TechCrunch it had been testing various iterations on this experience since 2019, so it felt it had enough data to proceed with a global launch.

Mosseri also pushed back at the idea that a decision on Likes would have majorly impacted the network. While removal of Likes on Instagram had some impact on user behavior, he said, it was not enough to be concerning. In some groups, users posted more — signaling that they felt less pressure to perform, perhaps. But others engaged less, Mosseri said.

Image Credits: Facebook

“Often people say, ‘oh, this has a bunch of Likes. I’m gonna go check it out,’ ” the exec explained. “Then they read the comments, or go deeper, or swipe to the carousel. There’s been some small effects — some positive, some negative — but they’ve all been small,” he noted. Instagram also believes users may toggle on and off the feature at various times, based on how they’re feeling.

In addition, Mosseri pointed out, “there’s no rigorous research that suggests Likes are bad for people’s well-being” — a statement that pushes back over the growing concerns that a gamified social media space is bad for users’ mental health. Instead, he argued that Instagram is still a small part of people’s day, so how Likes function doesn’t affect people’s overall well-being.

“As big as we are, we have to be careful not to overestimate our influence,” Mosseri said.

He also dismissed some of the current research pointing to negative impacts of social media use as being overly reliant on methodologies that ask users to self-report their use, rather than measure it directly.

In other words, this is not a company that feels motivated to remove Likes entirely due to the negative mental health outcomes attributed to its popularity metrics.

It’s worth mentioning that another factor that could have come into play here is Instagram’s plan to make a version of its app available to children under the age of 13, as competitor TikTok did following its FTC settlement. In that case, hiding Likes by default — or perhaps adding a parental control option — would necessitate such a setting. Instagram tells TechCrunch that, while it’s too soon to know what it would do with a kids app, it will “definitely explore” a no Likes by default option.

Facebook and Instagram both told TechCrunch the feature will roll out starting on Wednesday but will reach global users over time. On Instagram, that may take a matter of days.

Facebook, meanwhile, says a small percentage of users will have the feature Wednesday — notified through an alert on News Feed — but it will reach Facebook’s global audience “over the next few weeks.”

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Taking Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 4 for a spin

These days, the path of least resistance in laptop design is straight-up knocking off the MacBook. We’ve certainly seen our share of egregious cases over the years. Microsoft, however, has defiantly forged its own path with industrial design across the board. Its products are largely interesting and innovative — something not every hardware manufacturer can say these days.

The company doesn’t always get it right. It swung for the fences with the Surface Duo, for example. While certainly innovative, the product came up short in enough categories that made it extremely hard to recommend. The Surface Laptop, on the other hand, while not the most groundbreaking product in the line, has pretty consistently been one of the best, marrying a Windows-ready touchscreen with a more standardized notebook design.

The last few models have been solid, and this year’s — perhaps predictably — doesn’t present a big change. The big upgrades after about a year and a half are new chips (your choice of AMD Ryzen or an Intel Core i5 or i7) and enhanced battery life that offers a beefy additional 8.5 hours. Essentially, it’s the sort of thing you’d expect — or hope for — from a regular system refresh.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

The design language remains largely unchanged. The Surface Laptop is nothing if not unique on that front, with its tapered sides and felt-covered palm rests. The material has a nice feel to it — one that bests just straight-up metal on a cold day, though I’ve already noticed a bit of wear after some light use.

The keyboard remains on the soft side, with a surprising amount of give to it. Not the best keyboard I’ve seen on a laptop, but certainly not the worst (who can forget that rough run for Apple?), and like anything else, it takes a bit of getting used to.

You’d think I’d have learned my lesson by now. Maybe it’s the fact that Microsoft’s Surface Laptops keep coming out when the weather is nice that I always feel inclined to take them outside. But jeez is that display reflective. Almost distractingly so. Plenty of laptop screens are glossy, of course, but Microsoft’s really leaned in here, to the point I wouldn’t recommend using it in any sort of sunshine — even at full brightness, the screen can’t counteract that reflection.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

When you can see it, the display looks great. Microsoft sent along the smaller of the two. At 13.5-inches, the screen clocks in at 2256 x 1504 at 201 ppi (you get the same pixel density on the 15-inch version, as well). Ours was the new Ice Blue color. It’s subtle, though. Honestly, I read it more as a silver/gray. The speakers sound great, and the webcam is just fine, but it’s safe to say it’s probably time to upgrade to 1080p across the board as teleconferencing remains front of mind.

The 13.5-inch system starts at $1,000, which gets you 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, along with the AMD Ryzen 5 4680U process. As configured, our system runs $1,700, which doubles the RAM and storage and swaps the AMD in for an Intel Core i7. Another $600 will double the RAM and storage yet again (same processor). Geekbench scored the processor at a solid 1378 on single-core and 4876 on multi-core. Performance was solid throughout — though after spending a fair amount of time using Apple’s M1, it’s clear that Intel has its work cut out for it.

Microsoft is still hanging onto its magnetic proprietary charging port here. I know it still has its diehard fans, but I’d much prefer to see the company go with something more universal, like adding another USB-C port — though that impacts the system’s compatibility with a slew of different Surface accessories. Around the other side you get USB-A, USB-C and a headphone jack. It’s a nice mix, but more ports would certainly be a step up.

I was fairly disappointed with the various corners the company cut on the Surface Laptop Go last year. Of course, the entry-level 13.5-inch Laptop is $300 more than the 12-inch Laptop Go. But if you’re looking to do more than just the basics, this is probably is a wise investment.

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TikTok rolls out tools to bulk delete and report comments, block users

TikTok today is introducing a feature that will allow creators to deal with online abuse in an easier way. The company is launching new tools that will allow creators to bulk delete comments and block users, instead of having to moderate comments one-by-one. The update may be somewhat controversial, as it allows creators to curate a persona where the content they’ve posted is seemingly well-received, when in reality, it had a lot of pushback or correction from the broader TikTok community.

Twitter had faced this same issue in the past, and ultimately split the difference between giving the original poster control over the conversation or ceding that control to the Twitter user base at large. With Twitter’s “Hidden Replies” feature, it allow users to tuck all the unhelpful and rude comments behind an extra click — that way, the replies themselves were not removed entirely, but they weren’t allowed to derail a conversation.

TikTok, on the other hand, is putting full control in the hands of the creator. That’s a more Facebook-like approach, where users can delete anything they want from appearing on their own user profile — including comments on their posts that they don’t like.

Image Credits: TikTok; image shows the bulk delete tool (why is the user deleting nice comments, though?)

This may be the right choice for TikTok, since its social network is mainly designed to have conversations through videos. Video formats like duets and stitches allow TikTok users to react and reply to other content on the site, while also creating new content that raises a creator’s own profile. Some creators use this to their advantage. They single out others who’ve posted something they disagree with — often content that toes the line between being a “bad opinion” and one that violates rules around misinformation. They then duet or stitch (or green screen duet) that content to share their own thoughts on the subject.

However, this process can send a brigade of angry fans over to the other video, where they proceed to troll and harass the original poster. (To what extent that’s a warranted reaction may depend on your own stance on the post and the politics in question.)

TikTok says such abuse can be “discouraging.” It certainly has been for some of TikTok’s early stars, like Charli D’Amelio, a teenage girl who somehow rocketed to TikTok stardom, where she now has nearly 116 million followers. D’Amelio has begun to speak more publicly about the downsides of her online fame, saying she now finds it difficult to find enjoyment on TikTok due the mounting criticism she receives there. This includes the abusive remarks she received, the body shaming, and dealing with the competitive, dishonest nature of the influencer set, among other things.

The new bulk delete feature doesn’t solve these problems, but it may allow creators to clean up their comment section and block trolls quickly enough that they can re-establish some semblance of control over their profile.

To use the new feature, users can long-press on a comment or tap the pencil icon in the upper-left corner to open a window of options. From here, they can select up to 100 comments or accounts instead of going one-by-one, making it easier to delete or report multiple comments or block users in bulk.

TikTok says the new feature is rolling out first to Great Britain, South Korea, Spain, United Arab Emirates, Vietnam and Thailand, and will continue to expand to other markets globally in the weeks to come, including the U.S.

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