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5 features I’d love to see come to every smartphone in 2019

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Over the course of any given year, I have the benefit of using a lot of smartphones. Most of the time, my memories of using a particular phone blurs into one black, rectangular blob of glass and metal.

Also: Phones and more: The best of everything mobile in 2018

But sometimes there are features that stand out. As I reflect back on the year and look forward to 2019, it’s clear to me there are five features I would love to see come to every smartphone in the near future.

In-display fingerprint reader


(Image: CNET)

After using the OnePlus 6T’s fingerprint reader, it’s evident having a physical location, commonly on the back of a phone, is no longer the best option for smartphone makers.

Also: In-screen fingerprint sensors coming to 100 million phones CNET

Using a series of sensors and lights, the OnePlus 6T’s fingerprint sensor is located just below the display and is capable of reading a fingerprint through the display.

The benefit I appreciate the most about a fingerprint sensor under the display is that I’m already touching and interacting with the screen when I need to unlock the phone, so it eliminates the extra step of finding the sensor on the back of the phone — as routine as that has become.

With the OnePlus 6T, I pick up the phone, wake the screen, leaving my finger on the display, and continue using the phone.

I think I like this unlock method as much as I like Face ID, if not a little bit more.

With Qualcomm’s newly announced Snapdragon 855 SoC, which includes the components for OEMs to implement in-display fingerprint sensors in next year’s crop of smartphones, we will presumably see an uptick in phones with this technology.

Call Screen

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(Screenshot: Jason Cipriani/ZDNet)

The sheer number of scam and spam calls we receive on our phones is staggering. Even with the help of third-party apps or carrier services, I answer a robocall telling me there’s an issue with my non-existent credit card at least once a week.

Also: Pixel 3 Call Screen and Now Playing are my favorite features CNET

Google’s Pixel Call Screen feature — and its subsequent update that added transcripts — means you don’t have to actually talk to someone who is trying to upsell you on internet service or ask you to take a political survey.

Google’s Call Screen feature, at a minimum, should be released to more Android phones through the Google Phone app.

Night Sight

Google’s Night Sight feature isn’t a gimmick, but a truly useful feature. There’s nothing more frustrating than having a photo of a special moment ruined by a dark environment.

Low light photography is a task that nearly all smartphones struggle with, and the fact that Google has figured out the magic blend of AI and machine learning to make low light photos something you look forward to taking isn’t a small feat.

Also: Google’s Night Sight camera mode is pretty darn impressive

Every smartphone manufacturer should have teams dedicated to figuring out how Google pulled off Night Sight and implementing it in their respective products.

speck-presidio-iphone-xs-2.jpg

A physical mute switch

Apple uses one, as does OnePlus, and it’s seriously underrated. A physical mute switch provides the benefit of being able to quickly feel if a phone is on silent, or sounds are active, without the need to wake the phone. It’s easy enough to move while your phone is in your pocket as you walk into the movies or a meeting, and move back as you walk out.

Also: OnePlus 6T review: Outstanding reception, solid battery life

Most Android phones require the phone to be awake, unlocked, and press the volume buttons multiple times — or using a tile in the quick settings dropdown — both methods, however, take longer are more interaction than simply moving a switch on the side of a phone.

Shortcuts-like app

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Siri gets better in iOS 12 by allowing you to create and run shortcuts for tasks that you might want to do at certain times of the day, as a result of an event, or when at a certain location.

Apple’s Shortcuts app is one iOS feature I simply can’t live without on a daily basis. Sure, iMessage is fantastic. FaceTime, often times, magical when I’m traveling.

Also: Best iOS 12 features: What’s new and what’s still missing

But Shortcuts and the workflows that it holds within ensures I keep an iOS device of some sort on me at all times. On Tuesday, I shared a handful of shortcuts I use on a regular basis with CNET’s Scott Stein, and afterward, I realized just how much I rely on Shortcuts to efficiently handle repetitive work tasks.

For example, the Combine Screenshots shortcut is something I use nearly every single day and saves me countless minutes by combining several screenshots into one image with a few taps on my iPhone or iPad’s screen. Without it, I would have to import the screenshots to my Mac, open a program like Pixelmator or Photoshop, create a canvas, and then space out the images and export the end result.

I have searched for and tried many similar Android apps, only to find poorly designed apps lacking the same overall capabilities.

Previous and related coverage:

The 10 best smartphones of 2018

All significant smartphone launches have now passed and as we approach the end of the year, the ten best shake out after more extended usage of each. All ten phones are excellent and certain aspects make each a possible contender for the top spot.

Top 12 Raspberry Pi alternatives (Best of 2018)

Here is a selection of single board computers for homebrew projects and automation, with prices starting at only $5.

Best tech gadgets of 2018

Time to take a tour of what I consider to be the best tech gadgets of 2018. There are some that you’ll no doubt expect to find in this list, and others that will probably come as a surprise. All have been personally tested for quality, performance, and durability.



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F3, a Stories-style Q&A app for Gen Z teens, raises $3.9M – TechCrunch

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F3, an anonymous Q&A app targeting Gen Z teens which blends a Tinder-style swipe-to-friend gamification mechanic, Stories-esque rich media responses and eye-wateringly expensive subscriptions to unlock a ‘Plus’ version that actually lets you see who wants to friend you — has raised a $3.9M seed round, including for a planned push on the US market.

The Latvian team behind F3 are not new to the viral teen app game having founded the anonymous teen Q&A app Ask.fm — which faced huge controversy back in 2013 over bullying and safety concerns after being linked to a number of suicides of users who’d received abusive messages. Not that they’ve let that put them off the viral teen app space, clearly.

Investors in F3’s seed round hail from the Russian dating network Mamba (including the latter’s investor, Mail.ru Group) and a co-investor VC firm with a marketing focus, called AdFirst.

Alex Hofmann (former musical.ly president) and Marat Kichikov (GP at Bitfury Capital) are also named as being among those joining the round as angel investors.

F3, which launched its apps in 2018, has 25M registered users at this point — 85% of whom are younger than 25.

The typical user is a (bored) teenager, with the user base being reported as 65% female and 60% Europe / 20% LatAm / 20% Rest of World at this point. (They’re not breaking out any active user metrics but claim 80% of users have been on the app for more than three months at this point.)

On the safety front, F3 is using both automated tools and people for content moderation — with the founders claiming to have learnt lessons from their past experience with Ask.fm (which got acquired by IAC’s Ask.com back in 2014, given them the funds to plough into F3’s development up to now).

“We’ve been solving problem of violating content in our previous company (Ask.fm), and now at F3 we’ve used all our knowledge of solving this problem from day one. Automation tools include text analysis in all major languages with database of 250k+ patterns that is continuously being improved, and AI based image recognition algorithms for detecting violating content in photos and videos,” says the founding team — which includes CEO Ilja Terebin.

“Our 24/7 content moderation team (8 in-house safety experts and 30+ outsourced contractors) manually reviews user reports and items flagged by automation tools,” they add.

However reviews of the app that we saw included complaints from users who said they’ve being pestered by ‘pedophiles’ asking for nudes — so claims of safety risks being “solved” seem riskily overblown.

Why do teens need yet another social discovery/messaging app? On that Terebin & team say the app has been tailored for Gen Z from the get-go — “focusing on their needs to socialize and make new friends online, ‘quick’ content in the form of photos and short videos, which is true and personal”.

“Raw & real” is another of their teen-friendly product market fit claims.

F3 users get a personalized URL that they can share to other social networks to solicit questions from their friends — which can be asked anonymously or not. (F3 users can also choose not to accept anonymous questions if they prefer.)

Instead of plain text answers users snap a photo or grab a short video, add filters, fancy fonts and backgrounds, and so on to reply in a rich-media Stories-style that’s infiltrated all social networking apps (most recently infecting Twitter, where it’s called Fleets).

These rich media responses get made public on their feed — so if an F3 user chooses to answer a question they’re also engaging with the wider community by default (though they can choose not to respond as questions remain private until responded to).

Asked how F3 stands out in a very packed and competitive social media landscape, they argue the app’s “uniqueness” is that the Q&A is photo and video based — “so the format is familiar and close to other social networks (‘stories’ or ‘snaps’) but in a Q&A style back-and-forth communication”, as they put it, adding that for their Gen Z target “the outdated text-based Q&A just was too boring”.

“We compete for eyeballs of Gen Z with Snapchat, TikTok and Instagram. Our key strength is that through the Q&A format one can make new friends and truly get to know other people on a personal level through the prism of ‘raw and real’ content, which is not central on any of those platforms,” they also claim.

In terms of most similar competitors, they note Yolo has seen “some traction” and concede there are a bunch of others also offering Q&A. But here they argue F3 is more fully featured than rivals — suggesting the Q&A feature is just the viral hook to get users into a wider community net.

“[F3] is a fully functional social platform, built around visual communication — users have content feed where they can view posts by people they follow, they can create photo/video content using editing tools in the app itself, there’s a messenger functionality for direct chats, follow-ships, content and user discovery. So for us, the anonymous messaging/Q&A format is just an entry point which allows us to grow quickly and get the users on our platform, but then they make new connections and keep engaging with their unique social circle they have only on F3, making it a sustainable stand-alone social network.”

Again, though, user reviews tell more of a raw (and real?) story — with plenty of complaints that there’s little value in the free version of the app (while F3 Plus costs $3.99 for 7 days; $8.99 for 1 month or $19.99 for 3 months), and questions over the authenticity of some anonymous questions, as well as complaints that other users they’re able to meet aren’t nearby and/or don’t speak the same language. Other reviews aren’t wowed by more of the  same Q&A format. Others complain the app just feels like a data grab. (And the F3 ‘privacy policy‘ definitely has a detailed story to unfold vis-a-vis the tracking users are agreeing to, for anyone who bothers to dig in and read it.)

“This whole app is literally just like all the other apps. Just another copy cat that you still have to pay for,” runs one review from July 2020. “Don’t download.”

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Snapchat adds Spotlight – TechCrunch

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Snapchat introduces a TikTok-style feed, Amazon Echo Buds add fitness tracking and Vettery acquires Hired. This is your Daily Crunch for November 23, 2020.

The big story: Snapchat adds Spotlight

Snapchat has introduced a dedicated feed where users can watch short, entertaining videos — pretty similar to TikTok. This comes after the app also added TikTok-like music features last month.

Starting today, users will be able to send their Snaps to the new Spotlight feed. Viewers will be able to send direct messages to creators with public profiles (Spotlight will also include anonymous content from private accounts), but there will be no public commentary on these videos.

To encourage creators to post to Spotlight, Snapchat says it will be distributing more than $1 million every day who create the top videos on Spotlight.

The tech giants

Amazon’s Echo Buds get new fitness tracking features — Say “Alexa, start my workout” with the buds in, and they’ll begin logging steps, calories, distance, pace and duration of runs.

Uber refused permission to dismiss 11 staff at its EMEA HQ —The Dutch Employee Insurance Agency has refused to give Uber permission to dismiss 11 people at the company’s EMEA headquarters.

Facebook launches ‘Drives,’ a US-only feature for collecting food, clothing and other necessities for people in need — The feature is being made available through Facebook’s existing Community Help hub.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Relativity Space raises $500M as it sets sights on the industrialization of Mars — LA-based rocket startup Relativity had a big 2020, completing work on a new 120,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Long Beach.

Resilience raises over $800M to transform pharmaceutical manufacturing in response to COVID-19 — The company will invest heavily in developing new manufacturing technologies across cell and gene therapies, viral vectors, vaccines and proteins.

Video mentoring platform Superpeer raises $8M and launches paid channels — The Superpeer platform allows experts to promote, schedule and charge for one-on-one video calls with anyone who might want to ask for their advice.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Seven things we just learned about Sequoia’s European expansion plans — Steve O’Hear interviews Luciana Lixandru and Matt Miller about the firm’s plans.

Founders seeking their first check need a fundraising sales funnel — Start digging the well before you’re thirsty.

Will Brazil’s Roaring 20s see the rise of early-stage startups? — In September, homegrown startups raised a record $843 million.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. And until November 30, you can get 25% off an annual membership.)

Everything else

Vettery acquires Hired to create a ‘unified’ job search platform — Vettery CEO Josh Brenner said the two platforms are largely complementary.

Gift Guide: Which next-gen console is the one your kid wants? — This holiday season, the next generation of gamers will be hoping to receive the next generation of gaming consoles.

Original Content podcast: ‘The Crown’ introduces its Princess Diana — The new season focuses on Queen Elizabeth’s relationship with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and on Prince Charles’ troubled marriage to Diana, Princess of Wales.

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

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The downfall of ad tech means the trust economy is here – TechCrunch

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2020 has brought about much-needed social movements. In June, activists launched the Stop Hate for Profit campaign, a call to hold social media companies like Facebook accountable for the hate happening on their platforms.

The idea was to pull advertising spending to wake these social platforms up. More than 1,200 businesses and nonprofits joined the movement, including brands such as The North Face, Patagonia and Verizon. I led my company, Cheetah Digital, to join alongside some of our clients like Starbucks and VF Corp.

Stop Hate for Profit highlighted social media hitting its tipping point. Twitter and Snapchat chose to stand up against hate speech, banning political ads and taking action to flag misinformation. Facebook, unfortunately, has not yet been as proactive, or at best it’s been sporadic in its response.

While many thought the movement would come and go, the reality is it has only just begun. With America conducting arguably its most divisive election in history, these problems won’t just go away. For marketers, Stop Hate for Profit is more than a social movement — it is pointing to an issue with ad tech as a whole.

I believe we are seeing the downfall of ad tech as we know it with social media boycotts and data privacy leading the charge.

The social media quagmire

In May, Forrester released a report titled “It’s OK to Break Up with Social Media” that contained statistics indicating that consumers are fed up with social media: 70% of respondents said they don’t trust social media platforms with their data. Only 14% of consumers believe the information they read on social media is trustworthy. 37% of online adults in the U.S. believe social media does more harm than good.

Here is the reality we need to get back to: Social media isn’t built for marketers to reach consumers. In the beginning of the social media craze, brands rushed to get on board and join the conversations. What many brands discovered is these channels became a platform for customer complaints not for building positive brand perception. Furthermore, the social platforms marketers flocked to as an avenue to reach customers began charging marketers just to get to the customers.

The algorithms that define what content you see unfortunately make it harder for people to see opposing views, and this more than anything else polarizes society further. If you start looking at QAnon content, very soon that’s all the algorithms feed you. You might spend more time on social platforms fueling their ad dollars, but you have also lost a grip on reality. Marketers must admit things have gone too far on social media and it is okay to move on.

Privacy matters

Imagine you are in need of a minor surgery. Perhaps you take an Uber ride to the specialist for a consultation. Next, you go get the surgery and it is successful. Soon you find yourself at home recovering and all is well. That is, until you start scrolling Facebook. Suddenly advertisements pop up for medical malpractice lawyers, but you haven’t told anyone about the surgery and you certainly didn’t post about it on social media.

Here you are, just wanting to rest and recover at home, but instead you are being bombarded by advertisements. So how did those ads get there? You left a digital footprint, your data was sold and now you’re being hit with intrusive ads. To me, this story crystallizes the abuse ad tech has been fostering in the world around us. There’s an utter invasion of privacy and consumers aren’t blind to it.

Data privacy has been a focus of conversation for marketers for several years now. Just this year, America saw the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) go into effect and become enforceable. This legislation gives back control of data to the consumer. In June, Apple announced updates to make it harder for apps and publishers to track location data and use it for ad targeting. At the beginning of August, Meredith and Kroger announced a partnership to provide first-party sales data for advertising efforts in an attempt to move off of cookies. It is clear data privacy is not a fad going away anytime soon.

Where do marketers go from here?

I believe the future of marketing is the trust economy. The Stop Hate for Profit campaign, the invasion of privacy and shifting attitudes and behaviors of consumers point to the end of an era where marketers relied upon third-party data. Trust is now the most impactful economic power, not data. We conducted research earlier this year with eConsultancy, and our findings revealed that 39% of U.S. consumers don’t like personal ads driven from cookie data. People don’t want to be tracked and targeted as they click around the web. Ad tech’s roof is caving in and marketers must adjust.

The old methods of marketing won’t carry you through into the era of the trust economy. It is time to look to new channels and revisit old channels. We have to shift back to the channels where we own what is being said. Advertising on social platforms should be focused on driving consumers to owned channels where you can capture their permissions and data to connect with them directly. Consider email as a channel to focus on.

Don’t worry — it works. That same eConsultancy report found nearly three out of four consumers made a purchase in the last 12 months from an email sent by a brand or retailer and massively outperformed social ads when it came to driving sales. Similarly nine times as many U.S. consumers want to increase their participation in loyalty programs in 2020 than those that want to reduce their involvement. You have to ensure you are owning your data and loyalty programs are a treasure trove of consumer data you own. Emily Collins from Forrester does a good job of explaining why you can achieve this with a true loyalty strategy, not just a rewards program.

Your goal should be to build direct connections to consumers. Building trust means offering a value exchange for data and engagement, not going and buying it from a third-party. Fatemah Khatibloo, a principal analyst for Forrester wrote, “Zero-party data is that which a customer intentionally and proactively shares with a brand. It can include purchase intentions, personal context, and how the individual wants the brand to recognize her.” This zero-party data is foundational for the trust economy and you should check out her advice on how it helps you navigate privacy and personalization.

Take responsibility

The trust economy is really about asking yourself, as a marketer, what you stand for. How do you view your relationship with consumers? Do you care? What kind of relationship do you want? Privacy has to be part of this. Accountability is crucial. We must be accountable to where we are putting our money. It’s time to stop supporting hate, propping up the worst of society and fueling division. Start taking responsibility, caring about social issues and building meaningful relationships with consumers built on trust.

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