Just swipe to swap out that cloudy sky for a sunset in latest Snapchat update

Why it matters to you

Snapchat isn’t the first to consider switching out boring skies — but its new app might be the simplest way to swap skies yet.

Snapchat is reaching for the sky — err, make that replacing the sky. The social media app has launched a new tool that allows users to swap the sky in their photo for an entirely different one, trading clouds for stars, sunsets, or even rainbows. The Snapchat sky filters update for both iOS and Android began rolling out on Monday, September 25, on the eve of Snap Inc.’s sixth anniversary.

Snapchat will now automatically recognize when the photo contains a sky and include sky filter options inside the filter carousel. No sky in the photo means no filters to sift through. The filter options rotate daily, but Snapchat says the option to add in a starry night, stormy clouds, sunset, rainbow, and more are part of the new feature.

After taking a photo while in Snapchat’s camera mode, just swipe to the right to bring up the different filter options. If the program determines that there’s a sky in the image, sky filters will come up under options, allowing users to swipe to choose which option to apply to the image.

The idea of replacing the sky in a photo isn’t anything new — Adobe has already demonstrated a sneak peek of an upcoming program for replacing the sky, aptly named Sky Replace. Snapchat’s latest update, however, brings the feature not only to a mobile platform, but makes the edit as simple as a swipe, no manual clipping of the sky required.

The feature joins a list of more than 25 updates that the social media platform has added over the last year — a list the company is looking back at while celebrating its sixth anniversary. September also marks one year since Snapchat rebranded to Snap Inc., launched its Spectacles camera glasses, and later went public on the New York Stock Exchange.

The new sky filters join the option of adding a web link inside snaps, which arrived on the platform with Backdrops in July. Unlike the sky filters, Backdrops requires users to use their finger to outline objects that shouldn’t be part of the pattern.

The summer also brought Snap Maps, which allows users to share and see Snap Stories nearby if location sharing is switched on.

ProsperWorks raises $53M for its G Suite-centric CRM service


ProsperWorks, a service that offers a set of Google-centric CRM tools, today announced that it has raised a $53 million Series C round led by Norwest Venture Partners, with participation from GV (the fund you probably still remember as Google Ventures). This new round brings the company’s total funding to $87 million, which, in ProsperWorks’ own words, makes t the “#1 funded CRM company in the last decade.”

Exactly a year ago, ProsperWorks announced its $24 million Series B round, so investors are clearly very excited about the service. Asthe company’s CEO Jon Lee told me, he wants ProsperWorks to be the #1 challenger to Salesforce. “We’re solving a huge problem that has massive implications for global productivity,” he told me in an email. “CRM is a $40 billion market that drives over $1 trillion in sales or 5.5 precent of the US GDP.  However, according to Forrester, 47 percent of CRMs fail because people don’t want to use it.”

ProsperWorks has long seen it as its mission to make CRM systems easy to use and to help the companies that adopt its system to get value out of its service. The general idea here is to integrate deeply with Google’s G Suite and to make the service look and feel like a Google product. This also means that its users don’t feel like they are constantly switching context as they move between their different productivity applications.

ProsperWorks plans to use the new funding to double its engineering team to accelerate its product development and to enhance its service with new solutions for specific verticals. In addition, the team is also looking at expanding internationally.

What’s maybe most important for current users, though, is that the company plans a full redesign. “We want to do for CRM what Apple did for mobility, reinventing user interface to be so intuitive that you realize value right away,” Lee writes in today’s announcement and also notes that the company plans to automate more of the standard CRM workflow by using the data it’s gathering from its users to power its machine learning algorithms to make life easier for its users.

Kano’s next learn-to-code kit is a build-it-yourself laptop


London-based Kano has another code kit in the works to add to its STEM targeting gamified educational line of build-it-yourself kids’ products ahead of the present-buying holiday season.

The kit is being priced at $249.99/£229.99, and is up for pre-order from today — through the Kano website and via “select retailers and e-tailers” — with shipping due to start on November 1.

The Computer Kit Complete takes the next obvious step of combining two prior Kano products: its original (screenless) Kano computer kit and the expansion Screen Kit that followed, in a new all-in-one computer kit Kano it’s billing as a “laptop”.

“First, you assemble your own laptop with a step-by-step storybook, learning how batteries, sensors, speakers, and USB boards work. Then you begin making art, games and apps in real programming languages like Javascript and Python, leveling up slowly from blocks to typed text,” it writes of the new product.

As with its prior Kano kits, the new computer kit runs its Kano OS — which it describes as a “family friendly educational operating system”, noting that it includes parental controls and a content-blocker to filter what kids can see when they’re using the device to browse the Internet.

Though it also claims the kit computer “works as a powerful DIY PC too”, flagging the presence of apps like YouTube, WhatsApp, Google Maps and Wikipedia, as well as its own range of “creative computing applications”, which are aimed at encouraging kids to learn coding principles and even write lines of code while they play around with digital content. Its apps include Hack Minecraft, Make Art, Terminal Quest and Story Mode.

Ahead of the holiday season last year Kano outed a series of connected device kits — such as a programmable LED array and a gesture controller. But this year it looks to be doubling back down on its core computer kit concept.

The startup, which was founded in 2013 and counts Saul Klein (formerly a partner at Index Ventures) as a co-founder and an investor in a personal capacity, has raised around $15M in VC funding to date, plus further funding via a crowdfunding route which was how it kickstarted the business.

I’ll never use Apple’s Face ID

The first batch of shiny new iPhone Xs is slated to ship on November 3, and shortly thereafter the lucky few around the country will excitedly tear into their white Apple-branded boxes. And while many of those early adopters will immediately set up Face ID, they may want to slow their roll just the teeniest of bits. 

Since Apple unveiled the face-scanning technology earlier this month, privacy advocates and security researchers have expressed concerns about both the tool itself and what happens to the data it gathers. In response, the Cupertino-based company has assured everyone that the system is mostly secure and that it presents no real privacy concerns. Unfortunately, the arguments aren’t all that convincing — at least not in the way Apple hoped. Instead, the tech giant has managed to scare me off Face ID for good.

My aversion to what is billed as the latest and greatest is not some random knee-jerk response to Apple — I happily own an iPhone — but rather a decision based on the pieces of information the company has been willing to release. Looking at what we know, it’s clear that Face ID makes a device less secure, opens you up in new ways to coercion, and sticks you with an unchangeable password that everyone knows. 

It’s a recipe for disaster, and one that I am all too happy to pass on.  

Security

First, a look at the basic security of the thing. Apple claims that a random person has only a one-in-a million chance of being able to unlock your phone with his or her face. That statistic, however, has absolutely nothing to do with a hacker or criminal actively trying to trick the device. The company says it trained Face ID to be able to discern between mask replicas, photographs, and the flesh-and-blood real deal, but the supporting data has yet to be made available to the public. 

Face-scanning tech is notoriously insecure, and even Apple’s Phil Schiller copped to the fact that a password is better suited to protecting the sensitive stuff. 

“There’s no perfect system, not even biometric ones,” he noted at the September 12 Apple event. “If you happen to have an evil twin, you really need to protect your […] sensitive data with a passcode.”

Essentially, Schiller is admitting Face ID can be tricked. This is not news to hackers. As soon as the phone hits the scene later this fall, you can bet security professionals will start ripping the tech apart. Time will tell if they’re able to crack it, but the long arc of history bends toward vulnerabilities being found and exploited. Just ask Samsung

When it comes to hackers versus smartphone manufacturers, my money will forever be on the former. 

Law enforcement

The entire reason to lock a device is to keep other people out — whether those people are creeping family members, identity thieves, or (yes) the police. The thing about biometrics, however, is that courts can force you to unlock your phone with your thumbprint (and likely faceprint). That same logic doesn’t apply to a numeric password, however.  

Sure, according to Apple it’s easy to quickly disable Face ID if you’re made to give up your device. “If you don’t stare at the phone, it won’t unlock,” Senior VP Craig Federighi wrote in an email to an interested developer. “Also, if you grip the buttons on both sides of the phone when you hand it over, it will temporarily disable FaceID.”

Pretty neat, right? Simply disable Face ID before politely handing your smartphone over to the authorities and you’re good to go! Yeah, that doesn’t work in the real world. In actuality, phones are not politely requested by authority figures. Instead, they are frequently snatched out the hands of protesters, swiped from bedside tables in raids, and pulled out of the pockets of handcuffed marchers pinned facedown on the pavement. 

Temporarily disabling a feature on your iPhone X likely won’t be an option right when you need to do so the most. 

Your face as your password

Let’s face it: Passwords get leaked. It’s often that we read about some huge breach that exposes databases of login credentials. But here’s the thing: You can change your alphanumeric password. Changing your face, on the other hand, is significantly more difficult.

Why does this matter? Apple has assured us that Face ID only keeps a mathematical representation of your face on the device itself, not in some leaky cloud somewhere. Even so, with Face ID everyone will know exactly what your password is — there’s no need for it to be exposed in the first place. If (or when) the security of the system does get compromised, there’s not much you’ll be able to do about it. You can of course shut off your phone’s face-scanning tech, but then you — like me — will not be using Face ID.

The same argument could be made against Touch ID as well, but there’s an important distinction between that tech and its soon-to-be replacement: It’s a lot harder for bad actors to capture thumbprints from a distance (and you probably shouldn’t be using Touch ID anyway). 

Newer isn’t always better

The executives at Apple would have you believe that Face ID is a revolutionary technology that perfectly blends ease of use and security. But we know that not to be true. First of all, the company reportedly isn’t even sure Face ID is here to stay — it may return to Touch ID for future devices. That doesn’t project confidence.

What’s more, the demo failed on stage. While an Apple spokesperson has argued that the fact the iPhone X didn’t unlock as intended was a good thing, it’s a little difficult to take that point seriously. 

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“People were handling the device for the stage demo ahead of time and didn’t realize Face ID was trying to authenticate their face,” the rep told Yahoo. “After failing a number of times, because they weren’t Craig [Federighi], the iPhone did what it was designed to do, which was to require his passcode.” 

Theres’s a few things to unpack in that statement. The spokesperson is copping to the fact that the iPhone X frequently scans faces in search of a match. This semi “always on” nature of Face ID is a huge red flag for privacy experts. What’s more, if even Apple employees can’t figure out how to handle the phone without locking out their boss on the company’s biggest day of the year then clearly there’s a usability issue.

This, combined with the security and privacy one must forfeit in order to use the technology, is more than enough to turn me off to the supposed revolution that Face ID represents. A password, at its core, is supposed to protect your data from a wide range of threats while still being practical. The latest offering from Apple just doesn’t cut it.  

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Fairphone takes $7.7M to push for change across the electronics value chain


European mobile device maker Fairphone, which designs modular smartphones with the aim of supporting repairability and encouraging sustainability, has taken in new investment of €6.5 million ($7.7M). It says it’s hoping to use the financing to build wider support for a push towards a circular economy for consumer electronics.

Specifically it says it intends to use the money to scale up its proposition to try to have that wider impact. Point is, it isn’t easy building electronics with a longer than average lifespan. Consumer upgrade cycles are embedded into the entire supplier system, from hardware parts to software patches.

That’s why Fairphone had to end support for its first repairable-by-design handset this summer. Owners of the device would only have had between two and 3.5 years’ support in all, and the company took some flak for bowing out on the device given their mission is intended to support the opposite: electronics with longevity.

Co-founder Bas van Abel explained the decision as a consequence of Fairphone being unable to source hardware spare parts for the handset after suppliers shifted their business to keep up with industry cycles and retired the necessary spare parts.

Another problem is that chipset manufacturers stop releasing software updates after a while — and Fairphone said the expense and difficulty of writing the necessary updates itself was not something it could afford to take on for the first handset.

“There is very little set up by the industry for sustainable production in its current state and we are working to change that,” van Abel said at the time.

The company had used a crowdfunding route to help them build that first device. But the realization they’ve clearly come to is you can’t just be a sustainable device maker on your own; you need to inspire an entire ecosystem to work towards the same goal.

The new investment is therefore aimed at trying to scale its approach to building sustainable electronics “throughout the entire electronics value chain, including material sourcing, production, distribution and recycling”. In short, creating a viable market “for fairer electronics” means bringing along suppliers, as well as spiking enough consumer demand.

The funding is coming from Pymwymic Impact Investing Cooperative, which invests in companies with an environmental or social purpose and has two decades of experience doing so; along with another social impact investor, DOEN Participaties, the investment arm of the Dutch Postcode Lottery (and also an investor in Fairphone from the beginning); plus some unnamed others.

“In line with our ambitions to raise the bar in the electronics industry, we aim to increase our leverage with electronics suppliers to negotiate a healthier, more future-proof supply chain. This touches on a variety of issues, including the availability and lifespan of electronic components, the sourcing of Fairtrade gold and improving working conditions. By bringing these principles to the table, we can inspire an entire system change,” said van Abel in a statement.

The company has also brought on a new managing director, Eva Gouwens, and touts her experience in growing a social enterprise — “both in terms of organization as well as value chain impact”.

In terms of the size of its own community, Fairphone says it’s sold its smartphones to more than 135,000 individuals over four years.

Transit raises another $5M from Accel to become a hub for public transportation


Transit started off as a slick app that helped you get in a complex metro area with public transportation, but now CEO Jake Sion has higher ambitions than that: being the go-to spot for getting from point A to point B, regardless of method.

WIth bike-sharing, ridesharing, carsharing, and plenty of other methods of transportation that you can plant “sharing-” at the front, Sion says Transit now has “millions” of users after starting off from the hope of having a better public transit app in Montreal. Today, the company said it has raised $5 million in new venture financing in a round led by Accel Partners in order to fuel that growth.

“So the big thing for Transit is to help people live in cities without cars,” Sion said. “Building an awesome experience for public transit was the obvious first step. But public transit isn’t the best option for every trip. Adding deep integrations for complementary modes, like bike sharing, helps users more easily compare and combine different transport services. Plus, since so many people already have our app on their phone, our integration makes it simple for them to take that first, magical bike-share trip without downloading a new app or using a clunky kiosk.”

Transit — and other apps like it — emerged from the need of having the ability to just pop open an app and see the fastest way to get from point A to point B without a whole lot of tapping and typing. The natural start was with public transportation, where Transit would pull data from various data sources and crowdsourced information to just give you a simple screen with nearby busses and subways. You’d get the name, number, arrival time, and other information you might need right when you open the app.

Plenty of apps gunned for the opportunity like Moovit and Transit, the former of which has raised tens of millions of dollars in venture financing (and makes it kind of difficult to get rid of that notification badge on your home screen). Instead of opening up Google Maps, typing in a destination and then demanding a route before you can get to the nearby times for your preferred route, Transit looked to streamline that process as much as possible. After that, Sion wanted to broaden the efforts to just be the home base for how to get from A to B regardless of transport medium.

The question for Transit — from both investors and from a logical standpoint — is how big it gets outside of urban areas where the need for public transportation is obvious. People, to be sure, are using alternative methods of transportation like scooter rental in the form of Scoot or bike-sharing within cities, but if Transit wants to get beyond just major metropolitan areas, it’ll have to offer some kind of value proposition beyond that.

“I think the most fundamental question or debate is what emerges as people in cities move away from car ownership,” Sion said. “Will there be continued fracturing or consolidation?… In the past year or so, I’d argue that we’ve seen continued fracturing.”

Sion said that the company is trying to internally build a system that allows the company to quickly integrate new forms of transportation, like bike-sharing, at a technical and product level. The tools are designed to set up sign-up methods, payment, and booking without needing to update the app, Sion said, looking to capitalize on its existing user base that might want to broaden to new forms of transportation. Though to be sure, that, too, represents a potential risk.

“We’re investing a disproportionate amount of resources into transport verticals that represent orders of magnitude fewer trips than public transit today,” Sion said. “We believe that nobody has been able to build a product that stitches together various modes in a compelling way, and given our existing footprint among commuters in North America, we think we’re well positioned to pull it off.”

Transit will, of course, face a lot of competition. Its other investors in the round include Real Ventures, Accomplice, and BDC, and Accel’s Ryan Sweeney is joining the board of directs. But it will have to go up against the thoroughly-funded Moovit and other apps like Citymapper (which actually just partnered with Gett to launch a shared taxi commuter route in London) as it tries to win the hearts — and habits — of users.

BMW produces giant wireless charging pad for your car

Just when you were getting used to the idea of wirelessly charging your iPhone 8, BMW’s jumped on the bandwagon with a giant wireless charging pad for your car.

The German auto maker explains in a blog post that it’s planning on making a wireless inductive charger available in 2018.

The charging pad — essentially a giant version of the Qi chargers you put your smartphones on — will first come to the BMW 530e iPerformance plug-in hybrid, before other electric models.

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As BMW shows in this video, you’ll need to carefully drive your car over the plate, aligning the charging plate under your car with the pad on the ground.

The car maker says the 530e’s battery can be charged fully within 3.5 hours, comparable to how long it’d take if you plugged in your car the old-fashioned way with the wall cord.

You'll have to align the battery with the green lines.

You’ll have to align the battery with the green lines.

Image: bmw

Now, if you’ve already got an iPhone 8 (or you’ve been using Androids that’ve supported wireless charging for at least two years now), you’ll know that charging pads can be finicky. You need to carefully place your phone more or less dead centre of the plate, before it’ll start charging.

So, if it’s that difficult with a phone, imagine how much harder it’ll be with a car.

Image: bmw

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AI startup Appier hires Sean Chu from Microsoft to head its Asia growth strategy


Appier, the artificial intelligence startup that recently raised a $33 million Series C from three of Asia’s biggest Internet companies, has hired former Microsoft Japan marketing senior director Sean Chu to oversee its growth strategy. As Appier’s new chief strategy officer, Chu will be based in Tokyo and helm Appier’s operations in Japan and Korea.

Last month Appier announced its Series C, which brought its total funding so far to $82 million, from SoftBank Group, Line Corp., Naver Corp., EDBI (the Singapore Economic Development Board’s corporate investment arm) and AMTD Group. Appier’s goal is to strengthen in presence in the markets its new investors represent, which include Japan, Korea, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia, before expanding into other regions. The company’s main products, the CrossX Programmatic Platform and Aixon, help brands use artificial intelligence to predict consumer behavior and make marketing decisions.

Appier’s new chief strategy officer Sean Chu

Prior to joining Appier, Chu served as senior director of Microsoft Japan’s central marketing group. Before that, he held executive positions at Sony Pictures Entertainment. He told TechCrunch in an email that in the short- to mid-term, Appier’s goal is to make sure that it sustains its current momentum in Japan and Korea.

“In the long-term, we plan to identify areas where our AI platforms can help busin

esses. For example, we’re currently working with a real estate company to identify ways in which they can use AI to optimize occupancy in their properties,” he said.

Right now, Appier’s clients come from three main categories: consumer brands, e-commerce companies and mobile game developers. Chu says Appier’s goal is to attract more sectors. CrossX, which helps companies plan their digital marketing campaigns, will target growth in the industries it already serves, while its data intelligence platform, Aixon, will expand into more verticals.

“We’re really excited about Aixon as it opens our business up to potentially any sector that is looking at AI,” Chu said. “If you speak to the industry analysts, they will tell you that AI, along with IoT, is at the top of the to-do list for most enterprises, particularly those in financial services, healthcare and manufacturing, but every company is definitely looking hard at AI.”