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Apple needs a feature like Google’s Call Screen – TechCrunch

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Google just one-upped Apple in a significant way by addressing a problem that’s plaguing U.S. cellphone owners: spam calls. The company’s new Pixel 3 flagship Android smartphone is first to introduce a new call screening feature that leverages the built-in Google Assistant. The screening service transcribes the caller’s request in real-time, allowing you to decide whether or not to pick up, and gives you a way to respond.

Despite the numerous leaks about Google’s new hardware, Call Screen and the launch of Duplex for restaurant reservations were big surprises coming from Google’s hardware event yesterday.

Arguably, they’re even more important developments than fancy new camera features  – even if Group Selfie and Top Shot are cool additions to Google’s new phone.

Apple has nothing like this call screening feature, only third-party call blocking apps – which are also available on Android, of course.

Siri today simply isn’t capable of answering phones on your behalf, politely asking the caller what they want, and transcribing their response instantly. It needs to catch up, and fast.

Half of calls will be spam in 2019

Call Screen, based on Google’s Duplex technology, is a big step for our smart devices. One where we’re not just querying our Assistant for help with various tasks, or to learn the day’s news and weather, but one where the phone’s assistant is helping with real-world problems.

In addition to calling restaurants to inquire about tables, Assistant will now help save us from the increasing barrage of spam calls.

This is a massive problem that every smartphone owner can relate to, and one the larger mobile industry has so far failed to solve.

Nearly half of all cellphone calls next year will be from scammers. And their tactics have gotten much worse in recent months.

They now often trick people by claiming to be the IRS, a bank, government representatives, and more. They pretend you’re in some sort of legal trouble. They say someone has stolen your bank card. They claim you owe taxes. Plus, they often use phone number spoofing tricks to make their calls appear local in order to get recipients to pick up.

The national Do-Not-Call registry hasn’t solved the problem. And despite large FCC fines, the epidemic continues.

A.I. handles the spammers 

In light of an industry solution, Google has turned to A.I.

The system has been designed to sound more natural, stepping in to do the sort of tasks we don’t want to – like calling for bookings, or screening our calls by first asking “who is this, please?” 

With Call Screen, as Google explained yesterday, Pixel device owners will be able to tap a button when a call comes in to send it to the new service. Google Assistant will answer the call for you, saying: “Hi, the person you’re calling is using a screening service from Google, and will get a copy of this conversation. Go ahead and say your name and why you’re calling.

The caller’s response is then transcribed in real-time on your screen.

These transcripts aren’t currently being saved, but Google says they could be stored in your Call History in the future.

To handle the caller, you can tap a variety of buttons to continue or end the conversation. Based on the demo and support documentation, these include things like: “Who is this?,” “I’ll call you back,” “Tell me more,” “I can’t understand,” or “Is it urgent?”

You can also use the Assistant to say things like, “Please remove the number from your contact list. Thanks and goodbye,” the demo showed, after the recipient hit the “Report as spam” button.

While Google’s own Google Voice technology has been able to screen incoming calls, this involved little more than asking for the caller’s name. Call Screen is next-level stuff, to put it mildly.

And it’s all taking place on the device, using A.I. – it doesn’t need to use your Wi-Fi connection or your mobile data, Google says.

As Call Screen is adopted at scale, Google will have effectively built out its own database of scammers. It could then feasibly block spam calls or telemarketers on your behalf as an OS-level feature at some point in the future.

“You’ll never have to talk to another telemarketer,” said Google PM Liza Ma at the event yesterday, followed by cheers and applause – one of the few times the audience even clapped during this otherwise low-key press conference.

Google has the better A.I. Phone

The news of Call Screen, and of Duplex more broadly, is another shot fired across Apple’s bow.

Smartphone hardware is basically good enough, and has been for some time. Apple and Google’s modern smartphones take great photos, too. New developments on the camera front matter more to photography enthusiasts than to the average user. The phones are fine. The cameras are fine. So what else can the phones do?

The next battle for smartphones is going to be about A.I. technology.

Apple is aware that’s the case.

In June, the company introduced what we called its “A.I. phone” – an iPhone infused with Siri smarts to personalize the device and better assist. It allows users to create A.I.-powered workflows to automate tasks, to speak with Siri more naturally with commands they invent, and to allow apps to make suggestions instead sending interruptive notifications.

But much of Siri’s capabilities still involve manual tweaking on users’ parts.

You record custom Siri voice commands to control apps (and then have to remember what your Siri catch phrase is in order to use them). Workflows have to be pinned together in a separate Siri Shortcuts app that’s over the heads of anyone but power users.

These are great features for iPhone owners, to be sure, but they’re not exactly automating A.I. technology in a seamless way. They’re Apple’s first steps towards making A.I. a bigger part of what it means to use an iPhone.

Call Screen, meanwhile, is a use case for A.I. that doesn’t require a ton of user education or manual labor. Even if you didn’t know it existed, pushing a “screen call” button when the phone rings is fairly straightforward stuff.

And it’s not just going to be just a Pixel 3 feature.

Said Google, Pixel 3 owners in the U.S. are just getting it first. It will also roll out to older Pixel devices next month (in English). Presumably, however, it will come to Android itself in time, when these early tests wrap.

After all, if the mobile OS battle is going to be over A.I. going forward, there’s no reason to keep A.I. advancements tied to only Google’s own hardware devices.

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Google winds down feature that put playable podcasts directly in search results • TechCrunch

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Google confirmed it’s putting an end to a feature that allowed users to access playable podcasts directly from the Google Search results in favor of offering podcast recommendations. Officially launched in 2019, the feature surfaced podcasts when they matched a user’s query, including in those cases where a user specifically included the word “podcast” in their search terms. But a few weeks ago, some creators began noticing the podcast carousels had disappeared from Google Search results — and now the company is explaining why that’s the case.

The disappearance was first spotted by Podnews.net, which noted in January that searches for podcasts no longer returned any play buttons or links to Google Podcasts itself. When they tested the feature by searching for “history podcasts” they were only provided with a list of shows alongside links to podcast reviews, Apple Podcast pages, and other places to stream.

At the time, Google simply told the site the feature was working “as intended.”

But a new announcement in Google Podcasts Manager indicates the feature is officially being shut down as of February 13.

“Google Search will stop showing podcast carousels by February 13. As a result, clicks and impressions in How people find your show will drop to zero after that date,” the message states. Podcasters are also being instructed to download any historical data they want to keep in advance of this final closure.

Of course, as many podcasters already discovered, their metrics had already declined as the feature was being wound down.

To be fair, playable podcasts in search wasn’t a remarkably well-executed product as it didn’t offer a way to do much more than click to play an episode. On YouTube’s Podcasts vertical, by comparison, podcast creators can create an index to the various parts of an episode, allowing users to jump directly to the section they wanted to hear. Plus, users can watch a video of the podcast, if the creator chooses to film.

YouTube has also proven to be more popular than Google Podcasts and other competitors. In a 2022 market survey of podcast listeners, for example, YouTube came out ahead of Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Google Podcasts as users’ preferred podcast platform. Though many podcast market analysis reports don’t consider YouTube when comparing the popularity of various podcast apps, one recent report by Buzzsprout at least suggests that using web browser as a listening app had a very small market share of just 3.5%. And that share had barely increased over the years, despite Google’s indexing of shows.

Reached for comment, Google explained its decision to wind down playable podcasts in Search will allow it to focus on a new addition instead.

“Our existing podcast features will gradually be replaced with a new, single feature, What to Podcast,” a spokesperson told us. They noted the feature is currently live on mobile for English users in the U.S. “This feature provides detailed information about podcasts, links to listen to shows on different platforms, and links to podcasters’ own websites, where available,” the spokesperson added.

According to the help documentation, these recommendations will be personalized to the user if they’re signed into their Google account and will factor in things like the user’s past searches and browsing history, saved podcasts and other podcast preferences. The personalized results can be turned off, however, if the user wants more generic suggestions, Google says.

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Roku partners with DoorDash to give users 6 months of free DashPass and shoppable ads • TechCrunch

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Today, Roku and DoorDash announced a multi-year partnership in the U.S., Canada and Mexico to give Roku users six months of complimentary DashPass, as well as interactive shoppable ads for DoorDash businesses in the U.S.

Now, new and existing Roku members with linked streaming or smart home devices can get $0 delivery fees on DoorDash orders. DoorDash’s membership program also provides exclusive access to DashPass-only promotions and priority customer support on both DoorDash and the Caviar app, a delivery platform for higher-end restaurants that DoorDash acquired in 2019. After the free six-month trial ends for Roku customers, DashPass costs $9.99 per month.

Plus, for the first time, DoorDash merchants can buy interactive shoppable ads and place click-to-order offers within the ad, the companies claim. This is also the first time that restaurant advertisers can partner with both the streaming company and the food delivery platform to target, measure and attribute TV streaming ads on Roku, the companies added.

Once a user clicks on a TV ad offer, they are sent an SMS message or email directing them to the DoorDash app to redeem the promotion. For instance, if Roku customers see this Wendy’s ad (in the picture below), they get $5 off with any Wendy’s purchase of $15 or more. Wendy’s is the first restaurant brand to partner with DoorDash for this new Roku partnership. The offer ends on March 12.

Image Credits: Roku

“We are thrilled to partner with Roku on this unique partnership. While this offer unlocks DashPass benefits and perks for Roku users everywhere, it also provides our merchant partners with an opportunity to promote DoorDash offers through TV streaming. Consumers can conveniently and affordably get the best of their neighborhood delivered to their door, while brands can reach diners at the right time and drive instant conversion from the comfort of the living room,” Rob Edell, GM and head of Consumer Engagement at DoorDash, said in a statement.

The partnership was a smart move for both companies. According to Roku’s internal research, one in three Roku users orders take-out or food delivery weekly. Also, 36% of Roku users have an interest in shoppable components like scannable QR codes or text messages.

“Streaming and delivery just go together, which is why we’re making it easier than ever for Roku users to order their favorite food right from their TV,” Gidon Katz, president, Consumer Experience at Roku, said in a statement.

Roku and Walmart announced a similar partnership in June 2022, which allowed viewers to purchase Walmart items while streaming on Roku devices. The biggest difference is that Roku users can buy products directly on the screen instead of being redirected to Walmart.com.

Roku recently reached a new milestone, surpassing 70 million active accounts globally.

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TikTok is crushing YouTube in annual study of kids’ and teens’ app usage • TechCrunch

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For another year in a row, TikTok has found itself as the social app kids and teens are spending the most time using throughout the day, even outpacing YouTube. According to an ongoing annual review of kids’ and teens’ app usage and behavior globally, the younger demographic — minors ranging in ages from 4 through 18 —  began to watch more TikTok than YouTube on an average daily basis starting in June 2020 and TikTok’s numbers have continued to grow ever since.

In June 2020, TikTok overtook YouTube for the first time, with kids watching an average of 82 minutes per day on TikTok versus an average of 75 minutes per day on YouTube, according to new data from parental control software maker Qustodio.

This past year, the gulf between the two widened, it said, as kids in 2022 saw their average daily use of TikTok climb to a whopping 107 minutes, or 60% longer than the time they spent watching video content on YouTube (67 minutes).

TikTok not only topped the average daily usage of other video apps, like Netflix (48 mins.) and Disney+ (40 mins.), it also came out ahead of other social apps, including Snapchat (72 mins.), Instagram (45 mins.), Facebook (20 mins.), Pinterest (16 mins.) and Twitter (10 mins.) among the under-18 crowd.

Image Credits: Qustodio

Meanwhile, as the U.S. grapples with TikTok bans across college campuses and in the government, the app’s addictive video content was viewed, on average, 113 minutes per day in this market, compared with 77 minutes per day on YouTube, 52 minutes for Netflix, 90 minutes on Snapchat, and 20 minutes on Pinterest.

There is still some good news for YouTube, though. The study found that the average daily time spent on YouTube was up by 20% year-over-year, to reach 67 minutes — the highest number since Qustodio began reporting on annual trends in 2019. YouTube also gained sizable global market share and mindshare last year, as 63% of kids worldwide were using the service in 2022. The report additionally broke down a few top markets in more detail, noting that 60% of U.S. kids watch YouTube, compared with 67% in the U.K., 73% in Spain, and 58% in Australia. The second most popular video service was Netflix, with 39% popularity among kids worldwide.

Overall, kids under 18 managed to increase their video content viewing by 18% in 2022, watching 45 minutes daily, on average, across long-form video services like YouTube, Netflix, Disney+, Prime Videos, and others.

Other winners for the year included Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, which saw 7% and 10% gains in popularity, respectively — meaning if they were used at some point by these under-18 years. But in terms of average daily minutes spent, Prime Video dropped 15% year-over-year to 34 minutes. Disney+ declined by the same percentage, dropping from a 47-minute average daily to 40 minutes in 2022. Twitch also suffered last year with only 11% of under-18-year-olds tuning in compared with 16% in 2021.

Image Credits: Qustodio

TikTok’s growth among the younger demographic has forced big tech giants to combat the threat with short-form video of their own. YouTube Shorts is YouTube’s solution to the problem. Google this month reported Shorts crossed 50 billion daily views. Instagram, of course, has been cramming Reels into its experience — and receiving some backlash over the changes. Instagram head Adam Mosseri even admitted earlier this year, the platform has been pushing “too many videos” on users.

It’s not clear this shoehorning of Reels into Instagram has paid off with the younger crowd. In Qustodio’s analysis, the app fell out of the top 5 most popular social media apps in the U.S., U.K., and Australia with users under 18. It still ranked No. 5 globally, however, behind TikTok, Facebook (38% of kids used it globally!), Snapchat, and Pinterest.

Though the software firm chose to analyze Roblox among other video games, it’s worth also noting the game is a social network of sorts — and an extremely popular destination among kids worldwide. The gaming platform was popular with 59% of kids globally, and average daily time spent grew 4% year-over-year to 180 minutes. That’s larger than any other games, including the No. 2 game Minecraft (up 37% to 48 mins.), Clash Royale, Brawl Stars, Clash of Clans and What Would You Choose?

Qustodio’s full report digs into other app trends as well, including Twitter’s 7% growth in popularity worldwide, which also led to it appearing in the list of most-blocked apps by parents in 2022 for the first time. It also delved into educational app usage where Google Classroom ruled on school devices, and Duolingo remained a top app on personal devices. And it looked at communication, where WhatsApp and Discord edged out Messages as the most popular way to chat with friends, though Zoom saw more minutes spent daily.

While the report’s data is limited to the app usage Quostido tracks on its own platform, it’s a sizable group that includes over 400,000 global families with children in the Gen Z and/or Gen Alpha demographic. It additionally sureveyed 1,617 parents directly to ask them about how they manage their children’s access to technology.

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