All posts in “Apps”

Antescofo’s Metronaut adds an orchestra when you play music

Meet Metronaut, an app for smartphones and tablets that could change the way you play classical music. The startup behind the app, Antescofo, raised a $4.5 million funding round (€4 million) and has attracted 160,000 downloads.

Daphni and OneRagTime are leading the round, with Nobuyuki Idei, Yann LeCun, Sophie Gasperment and Thibault Viort also participating.

Metronaut lets you play a music instrument with a professional orchestra playing all the other instruments with you. It isn’t just an audio player — the app leverages your device microphone to listen to your music and adjust the tempo of the other instruments.

The startup has recorded professional musicians in a studio so that you can play the flute without hearing the flute coming out of your speakers or headphones.

And if you still need to practice, you can set your own tempo while you learn your part — nothing will be distorted. You can record your performance, annotate the score and track your progress.

The company is betting on a freemium model. You can download the app for free and play for 10 minutes per month. If you want to experience the app without any limit, you need to buy a monthly subscription for $10 per month.

While the app works with dozens of instruments, most people use it to play the piano, the violin or the flute. Singers can also use the app.

And content is key with this service. People will keep subscribing if there’s enough content for their own instruments in the catalog. So let’s see if Antescofo is going to use today’s funding round to record even more content and turn the app into an essential service for musicians.

Instagram’s fundraiser stickers could lure credit card numbers

Mark Zuckerberg recently revealed that commerce is a huge part of the 2019 roadmap for Facebook’s family of apps. But before people can easily buy things from Instagram etc, Facebook needs their credit card info on file. That’s a potentially lucrative side effect of Instagram’s plan to launch a Fundraiser sticker in 2019. Facebook’s own Donate buttons have raised $1 billion, and bringing them to Instagram’s 1 billion users could do a lot of good while furthering Facebook’s commerce strategy.

New code and imagery dug out of Instagram’s Android app reveals how the Fundraiser stickers will allow you to search for non-profits and add a Donate button for them to your Instagram Story. After you’ve donated to something once, Instagram could offer instant checkout on stuff you want to buy using the same payment details.

Back in 2013 when Facebook launched its Donate button, I suggested that it could add a “remove credit card after checkout” option to its fundraisers if it wanted to make it clear that the feature was purely altruistic. Facebook never did that. You still need to go into your payment settings or click through the See Receipt option after donating and then edit your account settings to remove your credit card. We’ll see if Instagram is any different. We’ve also asked whether Instagrammers will be able to raise money for personal causes, which would make it more of a competitor to GoFundMe — which has sadly become the social safety net for many facing healthcare crises.

Facebook mentioned at its Communities Summit earlier this month that it’d be building Instagram Fundraiser stickers, but the announcement was largely overshadowed by the company’s reveal of new Groups features. This week, TechCrunch tipster Ishan Agarwal found code in the Instagram Android app detailing how users will be able search for non-profits or browse collections of Suggested charities and ones they follow. They can then overlay a Donate button sticker on their Instagram Story that their followers can click through to contribute.

We then asked reverse engineering specialist Jane Manchun Wong to take a look, and she was able to generate the screenshots seen above that show a green heart icon for the Fundraiser sticker plus the non-profit search engine. A Facebook’s spokespeople tell me that “We are in early stages and working hard to bring this experience to our community . . . Instagram is all about bringing you closer to the people and things you love, and a big part of that is showing support for and bringing awareness to meaningful communities and causes. Later this year, people will be able to raise money and help support nonprofits that are important to them through a donation sticker in Instagram Stories. We’re excited to bring this experience to our community and will share more updates in the coming months.”

Zuckerbeg said during the Q4 2018 earnings call last month that “In Instagram, one of the areas I’m most excited about this year is commerce and shopping . . . there’s also a very big opportunity in basically enabling the transactions and making it so that the buying experience is good”. Streamlining those transactions through saved payment details means more people will complete their purchase rather than abandoning their cart. Facebook CFO David Wehner noted on the call that “Continuing to build good advertising products for our e-commerce clients on the advertising side will be a more important contributor to revenue in the foreseeable future”. Even though Facebook isn’t charging a fee on transactions, powering higher commerce conversion rates convinces merchants to buy more ads on the platform.

With all the talk of envy spiraling, phone addiction, bullying, and political propaganda, enabling donations is at least one way Instagram can prove it’s beneficial to the world. Snapchat lacks formal charity features, and Twitter appears to have ended its experiment allowing non-profits to tweet donate buttons. Despite all the flack Facebook rightfully takes, the company has shown a strong track record with philanthropy that mirrors Zuckerberg’s own $47 billion commitment through the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. And if having some relatively benign secondary business benefit speeds companies towards assisting non-profits, that’s a trade-off we should be willing to embrace.

Apple acquires talking Barbie voicetech startup PullString

Apple has just bought up the talent it needs to make talking toys a part of Siri, HomePod, and its voice strategy. Apple has acquired PullString, also known as ToyTalk, according to Axios’ Dan Primack and Ina Fried. The company makes voice experience design tools, artificial intelligence to power those experiences, and toys like talking Barbie and Thomas The Tank Engine toys in partnership with Mattel. Founded in 2011 by former Pixar executives, PullString went on to raise $44 million.

Apple’s Siri is seen as lagging far behind Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, not only in voice recognition and utility, but also in terms of developer ecosystem. Google and Amazon has built platforms to distribute Skills from tons of voice app makers, including storytelling, quizzes, and other games for kids. If Apple wants to take a real shot at becoming the center of your connected living room with Siri and HomePod, it will need to play nice with the children who spend their time there. Buying PullString could jumpstart Apple’s in-house catalog of speech-activated toys for kids as well as beef up its tools for voice developers.

PullString did catch some flack for being a “child surveillance device” back in 2015, but countered by detailing the security built intoHello Barbie product and saying it’d never been hacked to steal childrens’ voice recordings or other sensitive info. Privacy norms have changed since with so many people readily buying always-listening Echos and Google Homes.

We’ve reached out to Apple and PullString for more details about whether PullString and ToyTalk’s products will remain available. .

The startup raised its cash from investors including Khosla Ventures, CRV, Greylock, First Round, and True Ventures, with a Series D in 2016 as its last raise that PitchBook says valued the startup at $160 million. While the voicetech space has since exploded, it can still be difficult for voice experience developers to earn money without accompanying physical products, and many enterprises still aren’t sure what to build with tools like those offered by PullString. That might have led the startup to see a brighter future with Apple, strengthening one of the most ubiquitous though also most detested voice assistants.

Even years later, Twitter doesn’t delete your direct messages

When does “delete” really mean delete? Not always or even at all if you’re Twitter .

Twitter retains direct messages for years, including messages you and others have deleted, but also data sent to and from accounts that have been deactivated and suspended, according to security researcher Karan Saini.

Saini found years-old messages found in a file from an archive of his data obtained through the website from accounts that were no longer on Twitter. He also filed a similar bug, found a year earlier but not disclosed until now, that allowed him to use a since-deprecated API to retrieve direct messages even after a message was deleted from both the sender and the recipient — though, the bug wasn’t able to retrieve messages from suspended accounts.

Saini told TechCrunch that he had “concerns” that the data was retained by Twitter for so long.

Direct messages once let users to “unsend” messages from someone else’s inbox, simply by deleting it from their own. Twitter changed this years ago, and now only allows a user to delete messages from their account. “Others in the conversation will still be able to see direct messages or conversations that you have deleted,” Twitter says in a help page. Twitter also says in its privacy policy that anyone wanting to leave the service can have their account “deactivated and then deleted.” After a 30-day grace period, the account disappears and along with its data.

But, in our tests, we could recover direct messages from years ago — including old messages that had since been lost to suspended or deleted accounts. By downloading your account’s data, it’s possible to download all of the data Twitter stores on you.

A conversation, dated March 2016, with a suspended Twitter account was still retrievable today. (Image: TechCrunch

Saini says this is a “functional bug” rather than a security flaw, but argued that the bug allows anyone a “clear bypass” of Twitter mechanisms to prevent accessed to suspended or deactivated accounts.

But it’s also a privacy matter, and a reminder that “delete” doesn’t mean delete — especially with your direct messages. That can open up users, particularly high-risk accounts like journalist and activists, to government data demands that call for data from years earlier.

That’s despite Twitter’s claim that once an account has been deactivated, there is “a very brief period in which we may be able to access account information, including tweets,” to law enforcement.

A Twitter spokesperson said the company was “looking into this further to ensure we have considered the entire scope of the issue.”

Retaining direct messages for years may put the company in a legal grey area ground amid Europe’s new data protection laws, which allows users to demand that a company deletes their data.

Neil Brown, a telecoms, tech and internet lawyer at U.K. law firm Decoded Legal, said there’s “no formality at all” to how a user can ask for their data to be deleted. Any request from a user to delete their data that’s directly communicated to the company “is a valid exercise” of a user’s rights, he said.

Companies can be fined up to four percent of their annual turnover for violating GDPR rules.

“A delete button is perhaps a different matter, as it is not obvious that ‘delete’ means the same as ‘exercise my right of erasure’,” said Brown. Given that there’s no case law yet under the new General Data Protection Regulation regime, it will be up to the courts to decide, he said.

When asked if Twitter thinks that consent to retain direct messages is withdrawn when a message or account is deleted, Twitter’s spokesperson had “nothing further” to add.

3DEN raises $2M to create pay-as-you-go urban spaces

3DEN is building spaces for what it calls the “in-between moments” of your day.

The name (pronounced “Eden”) comes from the idea of the “third place” — a space that’s neither home nor work. Founder and CEO Ben Silver told me the idea is to create a space that people can use if, say, they’ve got 45 minutes to fill between meetings, or if they’ve just gotten off a red eye flight and need somewhere to freshen up.

Coffee shops, coworking spaces, gyms or hotels might serve some of those functions, but Silver said 3DEN is “aggregating many different services” and bringing them together into “a very reliable space.” He suggested that the closest analogue might be a members-only clubhouse — except that instead of charging a steep membership fee, 3den requires no commitment, with pricing start at $6 for each 30 minutes of your visit.

Earlier this week, I dropped by the site of the first 3den, located in the shopping area of New York City’s Hudson Yards development. The space is still being built, but I saw booths for phone calls, private showers and even swings for relaxing.

Silver said there will be a meditation space and Casper nap pods, too. He emphasized the nature-inspired design, with plenty of trees and plants, as well as the space’s “acoustic zoning,” with some areas designated for socializing and others designed to be quieter and more restful.

So if you want to catch up on some work, make some calls or even host a meeting (you can invite and pay for up to two guests), you can do that. If you just want to chill out and relax, you can do that, too.

Silver said that while the space will be staffed with a few hosts, technology will be key to the experience, with most transactions being handled via smartphone app. If you’re interested in visiting an 3den space, you check-in via the app (which will tell you the current crowd level, and put you on the waiting list if the space is at capacity) and you can also reserve a shower and make purchases.

3DEN’s core services will be included in that $6-per-half-hour price, but Silver said there will be a retail element as well, with visitors able to buy products in categories like food and health/beauty. He also said he’s exploring additional pricing models (such as corporate memberships) for regular guests, but he emphasized the importance of “no commitments” pricing that makes the space accessible to a wide swath of visitors.

The seed round was led by b8ta and Graphene Ventures, with participation from Colle Capital Partners, The Stable, JTRE, InVision CEO Clark Valberg, Target’s former Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer Casey Carl and Firebase founder Andrew Lee.

The first 3DEN location has a planned opening of March 15, and Silver said the company is also negotiating for four additional locations across New York City.