Insta360, one of the pioneers in making 360-degree cameras, just raised $30 million in a Series C+ funding round from Chinese investors, including Everest Venture Capital, MG Holdings and Huajin Capital.
The Shenzhen-based camera maker declined to disclose its latest valuation. It plans to use the fresh proceeds in research and development, marketing and after-sales services in its key international markets, including the United States and Japan, which are the company’s second and third-largest markets behind China.
Some of its past backers include IDG Capital, Qiming Ventures, home appliance maker Suning Holdings Group and file-sharing service Xunlei.
The company started making 360-degree cameras — thus the brand name — in 2014 when founder Liu Jingkang saw a gap in the market for compact, easy-to-use cameras shooting high-definition 360-degree footage. Over the years it has evolved into a four-pronged business covering all sorts of needs: 360-degree cameras for professionals and amateur users creating virtual reality content, action cameras for sports lovers and smartphone accessories for average consumers.
In stark contrast to loss-making GoPro, which Insta360 rivals in the action camera vertical, the Chinese firm has been profitable since 2017 and is planning to file for an initial public offering in China next year, Liu told TechCrunch in an interview. The company declined to provide more details of the planned flotation but said the success of its action camera line has helped it achieve five-times revenue growth in two years and reach profitability.
From professionals to amateurs
Though the VR sector remains in its infant stage, Liu is optimistic that 360 content will become a much sought-after media form in the years to come.
“Many families will be consuming virtual reality content for entertainment in the future, so we have a huge market for 360 content. That’s why we make a 360 camera each year to keep our top-tier position,” said Liu.
The Insta360 One X / Photo: Insta360
The action-camera market, by comparison, is more mature. Insta360 is riding a larger social trend of live blogging and short-form videos that has generated a huge demand for quality video content. Dozens of camera options, from Snap Spectacles to Tencent’s clone of the Snap glasses, are available to help people churn out content for video-sharing apps, but Liu saw problems in many of these products.
“[Video-shooting] spectacles, for examples, are quite offensive. Not everyone wants to wear them,” said the founder. “Many cameras do a bad job at video stabilization, so people end up with unusable footage. Lastly, and this is the key issue, users don’t know how to handle their footage.”
To that end, Insta360’s latest answer to documenting sports events and traveling is a camera that can easily be held by hand or slipped into a pocket. Called the One X, the gadget shoots in 5.7K resolution at 30 frames per second, delivering pleasingly smooth stabilization even when thrown around. The camera also comes with a software toolkit that automatically selects and stitches together users’ footage, which makes sharing to TikTok and Instagram a cinch. Check out TechCrunch’s review of One X below:
Insta360 has also been chasing after the masses, and its latest bid is an add-on lens that can instantly turn an iPhone into a 360-degree camera. The idea is that as users get a taste of the basic 360-degree experience, they may want to upgrade to a higher-end model.
“Insta360 has a rare ability to take cutting-edge imaging tech and put it into products that consumers want to use today,” said Gavin Li, senior director at Huajin Capital. “They’re moving faster and innovating more than their competitors, and they’re taking bold new approaches to the defining communication tool of our time: the camera.”
Here’s a fun new use for your Android phone: A PC webcam! In the latest Android beta, plugging a phone into a PC will reveal a new option in the USB Preferences menu for webcam functionality. Just pick that option instead of the default “file transfer,” and the phone camera will register itself as a webcam. Then you can fire up Zoom and start video calling.
The Android build with this feature is “Android 14 QPR1 Beta 1.” Android’s getting confusing with all these overlapping betas, but the current stable version is still Android 13. Android 14, currently on its 10th beta/developer preview, will most likely be out alongside the Pixel 8 in October. Android 14 QPR1 is the quarterly release after the first stable build of Android 14, and it should be out around December. (QPR stands for quarterly platform release.) These happen between major releases, often marketed as “feature drops.” Right now, Android 13 is technically “Android 13 QPR3.”
Android is technically copying this feature from iOS. In Apple land, this is called the “Continuity Camera,” and will work wirelessly between an iPhone and a Mac, which is pretty cool. As usual, the Android version is much more flexible since the feature presents as a generic USB webcam. It should work on almost everything, like Windows, Mac, Chrome OS, and probably Linux. You can even plug an Android phone into another Android phone and use the first phone’s camera as the webcam for the second phone.
A phone has a lot more thickness to work with than the top half of a laptop, so most phone cameras will outclass any camera that has been crammed into the paper-thin screen portion of a laptop. The hard part is coming up with a viable phone mount that puts the camera in the right location. You’ll also still need some kind of microphone, as you can’t use the phone’s mic yet. Hopefully that gets fixed in time for the stable releases.
Today marks the in-store launch of the iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Pro, plus the likely delivery date for at least the earliest preorders. Preorders went live a week ago, on September 15.
You’ll be waiting for a while if you want the Pro model and didn’t preorder, though.
In Chicago, delivery dates for new orders of the iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max from the online Apple store are currently estimated to be between October 23 and 30—more than a month from now. Next-day in-store pickup is still a possibility for most configurations, except for the 1TB iPhone 15 Pro Max.
The regular iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Plus don’t seem to have the same problem, though. I was offered immediate shipping or pick-up for every configuration I tried. All these estimates could be different not long after this is published, of course.
It’s tempting to look at that information and conclude that the Pro models will be more popular during this year’s cycle, but that’s not necessarily the case. It depends on how many units of each model Apple has produced, of course, and it stands to reason that early adopters who jumped right on preorders last week are enthusiasts who might be more interested in the Pro models.
A handful of companion products to the iPhone 15 lineup are also available today, including USB-C AirPods Pro and MagSafe chargers.
We currently have the iPhone 15, iPhone 15 Plus, iPhone 15 Pro, and iPhone 15 Pro Max in hand and are working on a review that will go live next week.
In case you missed the announcement a couple of weeks ago, the iPhone 15 brings several of the “Pro” features from the iPhone 14 Pro to the current base iPhone, including the Dynamic Island to replace the notch, Apple’s A16 chip, and a 48-megapixel camera sensor that is used to facilitate 2x zoom, among other things. It also ditches the long-standing proprietary Lightning connection in favor of the industry-standard USB-C.
The iPhone 15 Pro distinguishes itself from the base model with a new configurable “Action Button” to replace the mute switch, a faster USB-C port, a more robust camera system, a faster A17 chip, which claims notably improved graphics performance, and a new titanium enclosure. The phones’ general sizes, designs, and shapes are very similar to what we saw last year.
Next year, watching TV shows and movies on Amazon Prime Video without ads will cost more than it does now. In early 2024, Amazon will show ads with Prime Video content unless you pay $2.99 extra.
Amazon announced today that Prime Video users in the US, Canada, Germany, and the UK will automatically start seeing advertisements “in early 2024.” Subscribers will receive a notification email “several weeks” in advance, at which point they can opt to pay $2.99 extra for ad-free Prime Video, Amazon said.
That takes the price of ad-free Prime Video from $8.99/month alone to $11.98/month and from $14.99/month with Prime to $17.98/month.
Here’s how that compares against other ad-free streaming service tiers:
Apple TV+: $6.99
Disney+: $13.99 (starting October 12)
Hulu: $17.99 (starting October 12)
Amazon said it’s making this change “to continue investing in compelling content and keep increasing that investment over a long period of time.” Prime Video is an expensive endeavor, costing Amazon $16.6 billion in 2022, with $7 billion of that spent on original content.
The Wall Street Journal reported in June that Amazon was considering introducing an ad-supported Prime Video tier amid high interest from advertisers. The company is already heavily invested in advertising, with its second-quarter earnings reporting advertising services growing 22 percent year over year to $10.9 billion. Amazon follows only Google and Meta in terms of digital ad revenue, according to Insider Intelligence.
Some Prime Video content already has product placement, and sports programming on Prime Video has ads. But bringing ads to the entire service gives Amazon the ability to generate more revenue from ads and from people who decide to cough up the extra cash to avoid seeing commercials.
Prime Video subscribers who don’t pay the extra $2.99 (and don’t just cancel their subscription altogether) are promised “meaningfully fewer ads than linear TV and other streaming TV providers.”
Amazon did not provide further details about the upcoming change. However, Max says it shows “about 4 minutes of ads per hour,” and Peacock shows up to 5 minutes per hour. A May report from Insider Intelligence citing data from advertising analyst MediaRadar said Disney+ shows 5.3 minutes of ads per hour, Netflix four minutes, and Hulu 7.3 minutes.
With current prices starting at $9.99 per month, Prime Video was one of the cheapest ways to get streaming TV without ads. While the changes put pricing for ad-free Prime Video more on par with its competitors, it may still disappoint budget-minded cord-cutters. Streaming services started off as a cheaper, simpler alternative to cable TV. But as an influx in services, changes in pricing, confusing bundles, and scattered content have proven, we haven’t gotten that far from cable after all.