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CES 2020: Wireless charging is about to become a lot less finicky



The Nomad Base Station Pro.


The first time I attended the International Consumer Electronics Show, in 2010, I remember reaching the top of the escalator and seeing a giant display just outside the showroom for the Qi wireless charging standard. There were countless devices placed on wireless charging devices, and signs promising a future without wired charging.

The futuristic promise of wireless charging, at least when it was first unveiled, was the ability to place a device on a desk or table, and a couple of hours later, the battery would be fully charged.

In some ways, that promise has been realized, albeit in a more rudimentary form. We can’t simply place our phone on just any surface, but instead, we’re limited to small pads that handle one, two, or three devices at the same time.

But, the catch is, you have to line up the wireless charging coil in your phone with the wireless charging coil in the pad to charge your device. The process can be very finicky, especially when you start using wireless charging pads that offer multiple-device charging with multiple coils. I’ve woken up countless times with a phone that’s only partially charged because I bumped my dresser or my phone vibrated from an incoming alert and moved just enough that the charging coils lost their connection.

Apple’s now-canceled AirPower wireless charging pad looked to solve some of these problems by allowing users to place an iPhone, AirPods, and Apple Watch anywhere on the device to charge. Ultimately, Apple canceled AirPower in March 2019, over a year after it was announced, citing the product didn’t meet the company’s high standards. 

It’s a mystery as to why Apple wasn’t able to bring AirPower to market, with speculation running from the Apple Watch being too big of a hurdle, to heat management being the culprit.

However, a relatively new company with a small team is poised to change wireless charging starting this year. Actually, you may already know about Aira — founders Eric Goodchild and Jake Slatnick appeared on ABC’s Shark Tank in October 2019 and struck a deal with three sharks. (If you didn’t catch the episode, it’s 22 minutes into the third episode of season 11.) 

Aira also recently announced the addition of Shawn Dougherty as an investor and board member. Dougherty co-founded Mophie, a company known for its battery cases and wireless chargers.


Aira’s board has the honeycomb-like pattern on it. 


Nomad also recently announced its Base Station Pro wireless charging solution, which is the first device I know of to license Aira’s FreePower technology. 

That technology is two years in the making and leverages software and hardware to create a free position wireless charging surface. Meaning, you can place a Qi-compatible phone anywhere on a FreePower device, and it will begin charging. You don’t have to worry about lining up the coils or finding the sweet spot.

Just put your phone or wireless earbuds case on a FreePower device, and it will start charging. At launch, Aira’s first product will support charging up to three different devices all at the same time with a design that incorporates 18 coils managed by firmware and custom algorithms. Aira isn’t locked into a single size or design. The FreePower surface can be made bigger to accommodate more or larger devices, or smaller for charging a single device by adding or removing coils.

Aira plans to license its FreePower technology, with Nomad being just the first publicly announced partnership. Nomad hasn’t announced pricing for the Base Station Pro, but it did tell me that it expects the price to be over $150.

It’s expensive tech, but if it works as advertised, it will transform how we view wireless charging. And as phone makers continue to experiment with removing wired connections, like a charging port, wireless charging will become a daily routine that should be frustration-free.

I recently spoke to Aira’s Goodchild, Slatnick, and Dougherty, and asked the question on everyone’s mind: How did they solve a problem that Apple couldn’t? It’s an unfair question, I admit. Nobody outside of the team at Apple that worked on AirPower knows what went wrong. Nobody from Aira wanted to speculate about what went wrong, and I don’t blame them.

While it may be years before we have answers about AirPower, one thing is clear: Aira and Nomad are excited about the future of wireless charging thanks to FreePower. The two companies have been working together for over a year now, testing and refining the final product and ensuring FreePower can handle various edge cases.

There’s still some work to be done. Nomad isn’t ready to announce an availability date as both companies work together to finalize the Base Station Pro. Any potential delays will only cause disappointment and frustration, as well as rekindle disappointing AirPower memories.

I still long for the day when I can walk into my office, plop my pocket full of gadgets on my desk, and watch as each one lights up as it begins charging. And with Aira’s FreePower, it appears that reality is closer than ever.

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Facebook launches BARS, a TikTok-like app for creating and sharing raps – TechCrunch



Facebook’s internal R&D group, NPE Team, is today launching its next experimental app, called BARS. The app makes it possible for rappers to create and share their raps using professionally created beats, and is the NPE Team’s second launch in the music space following its recent public debut of music video app Collab.

While Collab focuses on making music with others online, BARS is instead aimed at would-be rappers looking to create and share their own videos. In the app, users will select from any of the hundreds of professionally created beats, then write their own lyrics and record a video. BARS can also automatically suggest rhymes as you’re writing out lyrics, and offers different audio and visual filters to accompany videos as well as an autotune feature.

There’s also a “Challenge mode” available, where you can freestyle with auto-suggested word cues, which has more of a game-like element to it. The experience is designed to be accommodating to people who just want to have fun with rap, similar to something like Smule’s AutoRap, perhaps, which also offers beats for users’ own recordings.

Image Credits: Facebook

The videos themselves can be up to 60 seconds in length and can then be saved to your Camera Roll or shared out on other social media platforms.

Like NPE’s Collab, the pandemic played a role in BARS’ creation. The pandemic shut down access to live music and places where rappers could experiment, explains NPE Team member DJ Iyler, who also ghostwrites hip-hop songs under the alias “D-Lucks.”

“I know access to high-priced recording studios and production equipment can be limited for aspiring rappers. On top of that, the global pandemic shut down live performances where we often create and share our work,” he says.

BARS was built with a team of aspiring rappers, and today launched into a closed beta.

Image Credits: Facebook

Despite the focus on music, and rap in particular, the new app in a way can be seen as yet another attempt by Facebook to develop a TikTok competitor — at least in this content category.

TikTok has already become a launchpad for up-and-coming musicians, including rappers; it has helped rappers test their verses, is favored by many beatmakers and is even influencing what sort of music is being made. Diss tracks have also become a hugely popular format on TikTok, mainly as a way for influencers to stir up drama and chase views. In other words, there’s already a large social community around rap on TikTok, and Facebook wants to shift some of that attention back its way.

The app also resembles TikTok in terms of its user interface. It’s a two-tabbed vertical video interface — in its case, it has  “Featured” and “New” feeds instead of TikTok’s “Following” and “For You.” And BARS places the engagement buttons on the lower-right corner of the screen with the creator name on the lower-left, just like TikTok.

However, in place of hearts for favoriting videos, your taps on a video give it “Fire” — a fire emoji keeps track. You can tap “Fire” as many times as you want, too. But because there’s (annoyingly) no tap-to-pause feature, you may accidentally “fire” a video when you were looking for a way to stop its playback. To advance in BARS, you swipe vertically, but the interface is lacking an obvious “Follow” button to track your favorite creators. It’s hidden under the top-right three-dot menu.

The app is seeded with content from NPE Team members, which includes other aspiring rappers, former music producers and publishers.

Currently, the BARS beta is live on the iOS App Store in the U.S., and is opening its waitlist. Facebook says it will open access to BARS invites in batches, starting in the U.S. Updates and news about invites, meanwhile, will be announced on Instagram.

Facebook’s recent launches from its experimental apps division include Collab and collage maker, among others. Not all apps stick around. If they fail to gain traction, Facebook shuts them down — as it did last year with the Pinterest-like video app Hobbi.

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Brandwatch is acquired by Cision for $450M, creating a PR, marketing and social listening giant – TechCrunch



Online consumer intelligence and social media listening platform Brandwatch has been acquired by Cision, best known for its media monitoring and media contact database services, for $450 million, in a combined cash and shares deal. TechCrunch understands Brandwatch’s key executive team will be staying on. The move combines two large players to offer a broad range of services, from PR to marketing and online customer engagement. The deal is expected to close in the second quarter of 2021.

Cision has a media contact database of approximately 1 million journalists and media outlets and claims to have over 75,000 customers. Brandwatch applies AI and machine learning to the practice known as “social listening”.

Along the way, Brandwatch raised a total of around $65 million. It was Series A-funded by Nauta Capital, followed by Highland Europe and then Partech.

In a statement, Giles Palmer, founder, and CEO of Brandwatch said: “We have always built Brandwatch with ambition… Now is the time to take the next step – joining a company of significant scale to create a business and a suite of products that can have an important global impact.”

Abel Clark, CEO of Cision said: “The continued digital shift and widespread adoption of social media is rapidly and fundamentally changing how brands and organizations engage with their customers. This is driving the imperative that PR, marketing, social, and customer care teams fully incorporate the unique insights now available into consumer-led strategies. Together, Cision and Brandwatch will help our clients to more deeply understand, connect and engage with their customers at scale across every channel.”

Brandwatch has been on an almost case-study of a journey from fundraising to acquisition to a merger, but less characteristically for a well-funded tech company, it did much of it from its hometown of Brighton, on the southern coast of England.

The financing journey began for Giles Palmer, with angel funding in 2006. In 2010 Brandwatch raised $1.5 million from Durrants, a marketing and PR firm, and a Series A round from Nauta Capital. In 2014 it raised $22 million in funding in a Series B round led by Highland Europe. That was followed by a $33 million Series C financing led by Partech Ventures in 2015.

With the war chest, it went on to acquire BuzzSumo in 2017, a content marketing and influencer identification platform, for an undisclosed sum. And in 2019 Brandwatch merged with a similar business, Crimson Hexagon, creating a business with around $100 million in ARR. It also acquired the London-based SaaS research platform Qriously.

Brandwatch was recently named a leader in Forrester’s guide for buyers of social listening solutions.

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Twitter announces ‘Super Follow’ subscriptions – TechCrunch



Twitter reveals its move into paid subscriptions, Australia passes its media bargaining law and Coinbase files its S-1. This is your Daily Crunch for February 25, 2021.

The big story: Twitter announces ‘Super Follow’ subscriptions

Twitter announced its first paid product at an investor event today, showing off screenshots of a feature that will allow users to subscribe to their favorite creators in exchange for things like exclusive content, subscriber-only newsletters and a supporter badge.

The company also announced a feature called Communities, which could compete with Facebook Groups and enable Super Follow networks to interact, plus a Safety Mode for auto-blocking and muting abusive accounts. On top of all that, Twitter said it plans to double revenue by 2023.

Not announced: launch dates for any of these features.

The tech giants

After Facebook’s news flex, Australia passes bargaining code for platforms and publishers — This requires platform giants like Facebook and Google to negotiate to remunerate local news publishers for their content.

New Facebook ad campaign extols the benefits of personalized ads — The sentiments are similar to a campaign that Facebook launched last year in opposition to Apple’s upcoming App Tracking Transparency feature.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Sergey Brin’s airship aims to use world’s biggest mobile hydrogen fuel cell — The Google co-founder’s secretive airship company LTA Research and Exploration is planning to power a huge disaster relief airship with an equally record-breaking hydrogen fuel cell.

Coinbase files to go public in a key listing for the cryptocurrency category — Coinbase’s financials show a company that grew rapidly from 2019 to 2020 while also crossing the threshold into unadjusted profitability.

Boosted by the pandemic, meeting transcription service raises $50M — With convenient timing, added Zoom integration back in April 2020.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

DigitalOcean’s IPO filing shows a two-class cloud market — The company intends to list on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol “DOCN.”

Pilot CEO Waseem Daher tears down his company’s $60M Series C pitch deck — For founders aiming to entice investors, the pitch deck remains the best way to communicate their startup’s progress and potential.

Five takeaways from Coinbase’s S-1 — We dig into Coinbase’s user numbers, its asset mix, its growing subscription incomes, its competitive landscape and who owns what in the company.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

Paramount+ will cost $4.99 per month with ads — The new streaming service launches on March 4.

Register for TC Sessions: Justice for a conversation on diversity, equity and inclusion in the startup world — This is just one week away!

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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