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CES 2019: Jabra challenges Bose and Sony for the ultimate noise-canceling cans with the Elite 85h



When you read reviews or discuss the best noise-canceling headphones with others, Bose and Sony are commonly the most discussed and they both have awesome headphones with the QuietComfort 35 II and WH1000XM3. Jabra is known for making some of the most advanced headsets for professionals in the enterprise world and today announced its new Elite 85h headphones that look to take on others in the noise-canceling space.

While I have tried using over-the-ear and on-the-ear headphones in the past, my ears always experienced pain after an hour or two of use so I relied on earbuds for listening to audio content. After convincing from my oldest daughter, testing hers for a couple of days, and an Amazon $50 price drop, I picked up the Bose QuietComfort 35 II for myself last month and have been living a great audio life on the train, on the plane, and in my office.

I’ve tested many fully wireless earbuds over the past few years, a few in the last year after the Apple AirPods raised awareness of this market, but always go back to using the Jabra Elite Active 65t as they offer long battery life, excellent audio quality, perfect fit and form, and can be worn in nearly any environment.

Also: Jabra Elite Active 65t review: Better than the AirPods and designed for active users

So after realizing that modern over-the-ear headphones can be comfortable and after using the fantastic Jabra Elite Active 65t, I am very excited about the upcoming Jabra Elite 85h headphones. The new Elite 85h support Jabra SmartSound, based on exclusive AI technology from audEERING, that goes beyond current Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) solutions available in the market to include environmental adaptation – automatically adjusting to your surroundings from traffic, to trains, planes, the office, wind, rain and more.

Image: Jabra

Jabra stated that the key features of the Jabra Elite 85h include:

  • SmartSound: Audio that automatically adapts to your surroundings
  • 100 percent hands-free: Voice Assistant access without pushing a button
  • Four color variations: Black, Titanium Black, Gold Beige and Navy
  • Battery: Up to 32-hours of battery with ANC activated and 35 hours without ANC
  • Microphones: Eight microphones in total. Six dedicated for calls, four for ANC and two hybrid mics for both calls and ANC
  • Speakers: 40mm custom-engineered speakers
  • Durability: Unique IP52 dust and rain resistance, backed by a two-year warranty against water and dust
  • Personalize: Jabra Sound+ app for SmartSound features, including customized settings

The intelligence provided through Jabra SmartSound look pretty amazing with the ability to detect sounds and adapt the audio output based on your changing surroundings. It is also useful to have hands-free virtual assistant support so you can continue to work with your hands while controlling other aspects of your work experience.

Given my experiences with the Jabra Elite Active 65t, I look forward to testing out these headphones when they are released in April 2019. The headset is priced less than competitors at $299 and can be pre-ordered in March.

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Kenya’s fintech Kwara lands $4 Million in seed round from Breega, SoftBank to build neobank for credit unions – TechCrunch



The Kenyan fintech Kwara was launched in 2019 to help credit unions (savings and credit cooperatives societies, SACCOs) in the East African country shift to digital platforms by providing them with its proprietary Back-end-as-a-service (BaaS) software.

The startup’s trajectory has been steep, as its clientele shot up from two to 50 in just over two years. This is as it became clearer to the country’s cooperative credit-unions that they needed more technology to remain competitive.

Kwara is now moving a step further to build the next-generation neobank that will give credit-union members access to instant loans and third-party services such as insurance, as the start-up moves to offer end-to-end solutions to its clients.

The startup has raised $4 million in a seed round to build a neobank app that will enable individuals to sign-up with their preferred credit unions to access various financial services.

“We want to make credit unions as efficient as they can be by giving their members the kind of neobank experiences they wish to have,” Kwara co-founder and CEO, Cynthia Wandia told TechCrunch.

This is expected to open up new borderless avenues for the lending institutions to sign up new members and help credit-unions shift away from tedious paper-based systems and the need for elaborate brick-and-mortar branches. Members using the app, which is set for launch mid next year, will be able to track their personal financial flows from the app too.

The beta version of the app has been tested for feasibility, with an uptake of between 60% and 90%, Kwara co-founder and COO, David Hwan said.

“The app gives power to the members, who have the ability to view and download their financial statements, apply for loans and make repayments. By giving power to the members, we are extending the freedom that credit unions need to focus on their core business or more value-added tasks,” said Hwan.

Kwara is building a neobank for credit unions.

Kwara said that its existing clients have experienced a membership growth of over 19% year on year, three times the global average, as the loan base of credit unions using its technologies went up 46%, about five times the national average. On its platform, Kwara supported $40 million in transactions between credit unions and their members.

Credit unions leveraging technology also boast member confidence and trust, which, in turn, yield new sign-ups. Wandia said that Kwara is helping them to run a modern banking business since with the right support they are banks waiting to happen.

“Right from the start, we decided to give our clients something that they could use to become a bank.”

“I think that’s made a big difference in a short amount of time in terms of building up the credibility on the product side because we were able to come to the table with a product that just out of the gate could run a bank, which is unusual, because normally that type of stuff is completely out of their price range,” she said.

Kwara has over the last year entered South Africa and Philippines, as the demand for its services grew beyond Kenya. It hopes to triple the number of credit unions using its software to 150 by the end of 2022. The startup currently serves 60,000 Sacco members but is also looking to cross the 100,000 mark by the end of next year. The startup’s goal is to serve 1 billion people by 2030.

Wandia said that from the onset, it was clear that Kwara would expand beyond Kenya as they quickly discovered that most credit unions, especially those in emerging markets, had not caught the wave of technology.

Kwara has also started forging alliances with companies, to offer third party services on its app. The startup recently partnered with Lami Technologies, a Kenyan-based digital insurance company, to make accessible a wide range of insurance products including health, property, business and life covers on the app. This is as the startup continues to perfect its app in readiness for a full launch next year.

The seed round was led by Breega VC firm, with participation of SoftBank Vision Fund Emerge, Finca Ventures, New General Market Partners, Globivest and Do Good Invest. Other investors include Rabacap, Launch Africa, Norrsken Impact Accelerator, Future Africa, Samurai Incubate, DOB Equity and fintech angels.

“Over the years, we’ve seen an increasing interest in how to build wealth through community, as well as a shift in consumer preferences towards digital-first banking. Kwara’s unique approach is a catalyst for a new way of retail banking through digital-first credit unions,” said Breega’s founding partner, Ben Marrel.

Credit unions are usually formed by people with a common interest or members of an industry, like farmers or teachers, who buy shares in the institution, save money and take loans. They are popular in Kenya owing to their low-interest rate loans and ease in accessing credit when compared to conventional banks. About 175 credit unions are licensed in Kenya to serve nearly 4.1 million members countrywide — a vast majority remain unlicensed.

According to Kenya’s monetary authority, the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK), the total assets of licensed credit unions grew 13.5% last year to reach $5.6 billion. Member deposits and the appetite for loans also continued to grow but they also became vulnerable to cyber attacks due to their weak technology. The regulator recommended that they shift to better technologies to protect member deposits, solutions that Kwara is now providing.

“We are building the infrastructure and rails for the credit unions and their members to connect to everything that’s already out there,” Hwan said.

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Instagram head Adam Mosseri says the app will offer a chronological feed option early next year – TechCrunch



Instagram is bringing back a chronological feed, according to statements made by Instagram head Adam Mosseri during his testimony today before a Senate panel over the harms to young people using the app. Mosseri was asked if he believed consumers should be able to use the Instagram app without “being manipulated by algorithms,” and the executive said he would support giving people the option to have a chronological feed. He then added that the company was developing that option now, in fact.

“We believe in more transparency and accountability and we believe in more control. That’s why we’re currently working on a version of a chronological feed that we hope to launch next year,” said Mosseri.

Pressed for more details on the company’s plans on this front, Mosseri noted that Instagram has been for a few years experimenting with different ways to offer users more control over their experience. One idea it tested publicly was called “Favorites,” which allowed users to pick a subset of people whose accounts they wanted to see at the top of their feeds. The other idea the company had been working on is a chronological version of Instagram, Mosseri said.

“I wish I had a specific month to tell you right now, but right now we’re targeting the first quarter of next year,” Mosseri noted as to when the chronological option would be introduced to the public.

Instagram’s switch to an algorithmic feed back in 2016 was a decision that had been fraught with controversy. Although filtered feeds were becoming the norm across social media at the time, as they improved engagement metrics, many users were unhappy with the changes. Instagram even went so far as to agree to add more recent posts to its algorithmic feed due to the user backlash in subsequent years after the new feed’s launch.

In 2020, the company had been spotted building an internal prototype of a “Latest Posts” feature that would allow users to get caught up on recent updates through a special section in the app, but it was not a full-fledged return to a reverse-chronological feed — like the one Facebook offers today as a News Feed option. The feature also never rolled out publicly to Instagram’s global user base.

Now, under oath, Mosseri is promising that users may actually get a chronological feed option once again. But it’s highly unlikely that Instagram would make this a default setting or even an obvious choice, given the benefits that an algorithmic feed brings in terms of keeping users engaged with the app.

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Instagram’s Adam Mosseri defends the app’s teen safety track record to Congress – TechCrunch



Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri testified before Congress for the first time Wednesday, defending the app’s impacts on teens and its aspirations to bring younger children formally into the fold.

In September, leaked documents from Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen painted a picture of a company that knows it takes a toll on the mental health of some of its most vulnerable users.

“Thirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse,” researchers said in an internal presentation, reported by the Journal. Internal research also found that within a group of teen Instagram users who said they experienced suicidal thoughts, 13% of British users and 6% of American users connected their desire to commit suicide to Instagram.

The company now known as Meta conducted that research internally and it was only brought to light through a revelatory series of reports in The Wall Street Journal. The leaked documents came up repeatedly in Wednesday’s hearing, with lawmakers on the Senate’s consumer protection subcommittee citing the revelations and pressing unsuccessfully for access to more of Instagram’s internal findings on its impacts on kids and teens.

Disturbing findings

In his opening statement, subcommittee chair Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) said that just prior to the hearing, his staff again made a test to explore dangerous content on Instagram and easily found algorithmic recommendations serving dangerous content. “…Within an hour, all of our recommendations promoted pro anorexia and eating disorder content.”

Ranking member Marsha Blackburn’s own office also made a test account for a teen and noted that it defaulted to “public” rather than private, as Instagram says that accounts for users under 16 do. Mosseri admitted that Instagram failed to enable the safety step for accounts create on the web.

“This is now the fourth time in the past two years that we have spoken with someone from Meta and I feel like the conversation repeats itself ad nauseam,” Blackburn (R-TN) said during opening statements. “Nothing changes — nothing.”

In the hearing, Mosseri followed Meta’s approach to recent damning reporting, dismissing some of the findings outright — even intuitive ones. In response to a question on concerns about Instagram’s addictive nature — a phenomenon that most Instagram users could attest to — Mosseri asserted that “Respectfully, I don’t believe that research suggests that our products are addictive.”

Prior to Mosseri’s testimony, Facebook’s Global Head of Safety Antigone Davis appeared before the Senate subcommittee to address teen safety concerns. “We have put in place multiple protections to create safe and age-appropriate experiences for people between the ages of 13 and 17,” Davis argued, defending the company’s efforts.

Meta doubled down, defending its practices in light of the reports and Haugen’s subsequent testimony to U.S. lawmakers. The company argued that the precautions it takes on Instagram are adequate and that the research was taken out of context. “It is simply not accurate that this research demonstrates Instagram is ‘toxic’ for teen girls,” Facebook Head of Research Pratiti Raychoudhury wrote in a blog post slamming The Wall Street Journal’s reporting.

In late September, facing the firestorm of criticism, Mosseri announced that Instagram would pause its plans to develop Instagram Kids, a version of the app specifically for children under 13. The company faces ongoing criticism from the mental health community and lawmakers in the U.S. and abroad who believe that Instagram is not a responsible custodian for the well-being of children and teens.

In the hearing, Mosseri repeated the company’s argument that kids are already using the platform in spite of its age requirements and building a kid-specific app would create a layer of safety that doesn’t currently exist. “We know that 10- to 12-year-olds are online… we know that they want to be on platforms like Instagram,” Mosseri said. “And Instagram quite frankly wasn’t designed for them.”

Meta still wants to regulate itself

Mosseri also used the hearing to propose a new “industry body” that would create tech-wise best practices on issues like age verification, parental controls and product design for kids and teens. Mosseri also took the notable step of stating that Instagram would be willing to follow rules from this theoretical pseudo-regulatory agency in order to “earn some of our Section 230 protections.”

Blumenthal slammed Mosseri’s proposal for self regulation, pressing the Instagram head on what enforcement would look like in that scenario. Mosseri wasn’t eager to agree with Blumenthal’s suggestion that the U.S. Attorney General should be able to oversee enforcement if tech companies failed to meet their own standards. “Self policing based on trust is no longer a viable solution,” Blumenthal said, concluding the hearing.

Policy leads from YouTube, Snap and TikTok testified before Congress in October on the same issues, largely spending their time contrasting their own policies on kids and teens to those of rival Facebook. “Being different from Facebook is not a defense,” Blumenthal said during that hearing. “That bar is in the gutter. It’s not a defense to say that you are different.”

Last month, Instagram began testing an opt-in feature called “Take a Break” that would remind users to take up to a 30 minute break from the famously addictive app, if enabled. A day prior to Mosseri’s testimony, that feature launched alongside the announcement that Instagram would roll out its first set of parental controls in March of 2022. Those controls will allow parents to monitor and limit time spent on the app but fall short of the powerful controls offered by rivals like TikTok.

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