All posts in “Software”

Snapchat adds GIF stickers via Giphy, plus new Friends and Discover screen tabs


Snapchat is bringing one of the best recent features of Instagram Stories to its own app, with the ability to add GIF stickers from Giphy to your posts. This is a notable reversal of the typical pattern we’ve seen of Instagram cloning Snapchat features, but it’s a good one for users since GIF stickers for Stories are basically the greatest thing ever invented on social media.

The new GIF options, also powered by Giphy as mentioned, are loaded in the Sticker Picker alongside existing options from Snapchat. But that’s not the only change rolling out today: Snapchat is also adding tabs to both the Friends and the Discover screens within the app, which will make it easier for users on the platform to follow along with the Stories they want to see whenever they want to see them, letting you do things like viewing friends with active stories and Group Chats in one tab and subscriptions you maintain in the other.

Snapchat CEO and founder Evan Spiegel noted on the company’s recent quarterly earnings call that Snapchat remains convinced their recent redesigns has “made our application simpler and easier to use,” and also noted improved ad performance post-overhaul, despite vocal user complaints. Spiegel also noted, however, that Snapchat is “constantly monitoring the rollout of the redesign and making improvements based on what we learn from our community and their usage of Snapchat,” and this design tweak seems to fall into that category.

Spotify job listing hints the company’s ‘first physical products’ are coming


Spotify so far has been content to partner far and wide on hardware, via its Spotify Connect platform, which allows anyone building a connected speaker, mobile device or piece of AV equipment to turn their gadget into a Spotify speaker. But a new job listing suggests it will soon build hardware of its own, and it’s looking for people to help make that happen.

The job listing, spotted by The Guardian, seeks an ops manager for “hardware product,” and the first line of the description says outright that “Spotify is on its way to creating its first physical products,” though it doesn’t go into detail bout what those products might be. Chances are good that these will be smart, connected speakers of some kind, however, since it seems like a logical first step into the hardware world for software-focused Spotify.

A dedicated Spotify smart speaker could be a very good thing, especially if it integrates some kind of assistant tech, and could help the streaming leader translate its software success into an ecosystem of products with a bit more range in terms of diversifying their business. The question would be what Spotify could offer that devices from existing partners cannot, and whether Spotify would continue its strategy of embracing such an open ecosystem of hardware partners if it’s also making its own.

Another possibility is that Spotify explore dedicated streaming devices (a low-cost, Spotify-specific iPod-type media player seems like an idea with legs, for instance). But based on this listing, it seems like it’s still early days for any gadget strategy from the streaming music provider.

Featured Image: Denys Prykhodov/Shutterstock

Essential Phone’s new ‘Halo Gray’ color goes on sale exclusively at Amazon


The Essential Phone is currently in the midst of being rolled out in a range of new colors, including three that will be released excessively on Essential’s own website, with a staged release schedule that began Thursday. On Friday, however, Essential revealed a surprise fourth new color, “Halo Gray,” which will be exclusive to Amazon and which is now available to pre-purchase.

Amazon is a partner to Essential both as a sales channel, and as an investor. The distribution partnership with Amazon has been particularly fruitful, among all its sales channels, according to Essential President Niccolo de Masi, so it made sense to do something unique for Amazon with the ‘Halo Gray’ colorway.

With the Halo Gray Essential Phone, customers get the dark, matte finish of the ‘Stellar Gray’ color it released itself, along with the natural titanium, silver look of the band on the current white Essential model. The combination should be a good one, I can say from having seen both the matte finish and the titanium bands separately on other versions of Essential’s device.

The phone will also be unique in another way: It’ll include the Alexa app in the app drawer right from setup (though it’s still user removable, too, unlike pre-loaded stuff on most other Android devices). Given the popularity of Echo devices, and the gadget–buying audience Amazon is probably reaching anyway, it’s very likely that Essential buyers will appreciate saving a step with Alexa ready to go out of the box.

Amazon has been a solid partner for Essential, de Masi says, especially given its relative youth. The Essential Phone was one of the top-selling unlocked phones for Amazon on Cyber Monday last year, for instance, and also been an avenue for bringing the unlocked device to other markets via international shipping options.

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I asked De Masi about the recent IDC report that claims Essential sold just around 90,000 phones in its first six months of availability. Essential has always been upfront about the fact that it wouldn’t approach sales volumes of giants like Apple or Samsung in its first few years, but de Masi said he’s been pleasantly surprised by their performance, and called those estimates off-base relative to their actual sales volume thus far.

“I have yet to see any estimate throughout the life of this company that wasn’t low,” De Masi said. “Every single industry number has been low throughout the life of this product. I’m comfortable saying we sold in the six figures last year. We weren’t in the seven figures, but we certainly weren’t in the five figures.”

The Essential President also noted that Xiaomi’s first-year sales were in the same ballpark, so in general it’s happy with the company it’s keeping. De Masi also hinted about more to come, though he wouldn’t provide any specifics on any potential Essential Phone successors. New accessories are also in the pipeline, as are additional software improvements to build on the great work the company has done with the Essential Phone’s camera to date.

Like the other limited edition new colors from Essential, this Halo Gray version will be sold out once all the inventory is gone. de Masi acknowledged that Essential is taking cues from other limited release products in the lifestyle, including watches and sneakers, in pursuing this kind of strategy. Essential’s industrial design is unique and distinct enough that it seems like a good fit, but it’ll be interesting to see how it impacts overall sales numbers for the smartphone startup.

Amazon reportedly paid around $90 million for security camera maker Blink


Amazon acquired Blink late last year, a maker of affordable, easy to use security cameras powered by AA batteries. The acquisition was reportedly worth around $90 million to Amazon, according to a new report from Reuters, though the terms of the deal were not disclosed by Amazon and it hasn’t provided any comment on the specifics.

The Blink acquisition is something that could help Amazon further develop its connected home strategy, which includes its Cloud Cam and its Amazon Key program for allowing deliveries within their homes while they’re away. It’s not yet clear how the two product lines will integrate, however.

Blink’s cameras are still available on Amazon, and the company was planning a video doorbell for release in 2018, similarly powered by standard batteries.

Snapchat’s Snap Map comes to the web, including in embeddable form


The Snap Map is a feature that received a mixed response when it landed in the Snapchat app, since it basically let you see where all your friends on the platform were at any given time – provided they were okay with sharing that info. Now, there’s a version of Snap Map available for anyone to view on the web, but it’s less about checking out where your pals are at, and more about media companies using it as an interactive heatmap for real-time content.

The web-based map features public stories from Snap Map, for the first time accessible outside of the app itself in a web-based overhead map view. Users can browse the map, and click on any available bubble to view the public story posted from that place (of course, being in Canada the first one I clicked on was from a junior hockey game).

It’s a pretty neat way to check out any major events taking place nearby, including New York Fashion week, a host of sports games, and even the Monster Jam monster truck rally in Pittsburgh, apparently.

Snap is also hoping this will become a resource for media organizations hoping to drive engagement and provide real-time views of news viewers and readers care about. There’s an embed feature, letting you quickly and easily get a link or an actual embed code for inclusion in your own posts or website. You can see an example of what that looks like below, but basically it provides a vertical view as you’d get with Snap Map in the app, which you can expand to occupy the full screen.

The map also shows the weather-radar-like heat map Snap uses to show activity from users by relative volume, even if said content hasn’t yet been incorporated into a public story. Embeds created from the tool will continue to have live content, meaning that users viewing them will see current information, rather than a snapshot of what was going on at the time it was published.

This seems like a far better use of Snap Map than the friend-spotting tool from the app, to be honest. The web-based version doesn’t include individual user locations, either – just contributions to public stories, and Snap says it had user privacy top of mind when designing the implementation.