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Chat app Line is adding Snap-style disappearing stories – TechCrunch

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Facebook cloning Snap to death may be old news, but others are only just following suit. Line, the Japanese messaging app that’s popular in Asia, just became the latest to clone Snap’s ephemeral story concept.

The company announced today that it is adding stories that disappear after 24-hours to its timeline feature, a social network like feed that sits in its app, and user profiles. The update is rolling out to users now and the concept is very much identical to Snap, Instagram and others that have embraced time-limited content.

“As posts vanish after 24 hours, there is no need to worry about overposting or having posts remain in the feed,” Line, which is listed in the U.S. and Japan, wrote in an update. “Stories allows friends to discover real-time information on Timeline that is available only for that moment.”

Snap pioneered self-destructed content in its app, and the concept has now become present across most of the most popular internet services in the world.

In particular, Facebook added stories to across the board: to its core app, Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp, the world’s most popular chat app with over 1.5 billion monthly users. Indeed, Facebook claims that WhatsApp stories are used by 500 million people, while the company has built Instagram into a service that has long had more users than Snap — currently over one billion.

The approach doesn’t always work, though — Facebook is shuttering its most brazen Snap copy, a camera app built around Instagram direct messages.

China’s top chat app WeChat added its own version earlier this year, and while it said in its earnings this week that users upload “hundreds of millions of videos each day” to its social platforms, it didn’t give numbers on its Snap-inspired feature.

Line doesn’t have anything like the reach of Facebook’s constellation of social apps or WeChat, but it is Japan’s dominant messaging platform and is popular in Thailand, Taiwan and Indonesia.

The Japanese company doesn’t give out global user numbers but it reported 164 million monthly users in its four key markets as of Q1 2019, that’s down one million year-on-year. Japan accounts for 80 million of that figure, ahead of Thailand (44 million), Taiwan (21 million) and Indonesia (19 million.)

While user growth has stagnated, Line has been able to extract increase revenue. In addition to a foray into services — in Japan its range covers ride-hailing, food delivery, music streaming and payments — it has increased advertising in the app’s timeline tab, and that is likely a big reason for the release of stories. The new feature may help timeline get more eyeballs, while the company could follow the lead of Snap and Instagram to monetize stories by allowing businesses in.

In Line’s case, that could work reasonably well — for advertising — since users can opt to follow business accounts already. It would make sense, then, to let companies push stories to users that opted in follow their account. But that’s a long way in the future and it will depend on how the new feature is received by users.

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Android 12 might finally have native support for app cloning

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There was a time when it was almost normal to find out that people had two phones in their possession. The need to keep personal and professional lives separate on that level still exists in this age of dual SIM phones, especially since apps don’t always support handling multiple accounts. Different manufacturers have applied different and inconsistent implementations, but it seems that Google is laying the groundwork for having multiple copies of some apps installed on the same Android user profile.

There are times when you want to use the same app or service but for different accounts or use cases. Some apps like Twitter, Gmail, and Telegram support the ability to log into and switch between different accounts. Most, however, don’t, and sometimes users have to look for workarounds to get what they want, often by installing a third-party and sometimes potentially harmful app.

Manufacturers like Samsung, OnePlus, and Xiaomi have “Dual Messenger” features that are limited to a specific set of messaging apps. Some have a sort of secure mode or folder, where they can run separate copies of any installed app, but they have to authenticate each and every time they switch between apps. Finally, Android itself has support for a separate “work profile,” which is complicated to set up and use.

XDA’s Mishaal Rahman discovered hints about a “Clone profile” in Android 12, something that could enable app cloning on an OS level rather than resorting to workarounds. Even better than existing solutions, it might even support having three instances of the same app rather than just two. This could finally put an end to one OEM modification and make those custom Android experiences a bit lighter and easier to upgrade.

Unfortunately, a lot of this Clone profile functionality is still shrouded in mystery and isn’t even working properly. It could simply be the foundation for a future Android future that will hopefully make it easier for users to juggle their digital personas and roles on the same phone.

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Pixel Pass introduces Google’s new way to buy its phones

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Many consumers, especially in the US, prefer to buy their phones from their mobile carriers, not really out of loyalty to the network. More often than not, it’s the subsidies and financing options that soften the blow when buying a new and more expensive smartphone. Manufacturers have, of course, started offering such options to convince people to buy phones directly for them, and Google’s new Pixel Pass takes that idea a bit further by putting Pixel 6 buyers knee-deep in its services for a long time.

As leaked before, Pixel Pass is Google’s answer to Apple One, but it comes with a unique twist. Both subscription programs revolve around each company’s services covering music streaming, gaming, and cloud storage. The difference is that Google is throwing in a Pixel 6 or Pixel 6 Pro with that subscription.

Of course, another way of seeing it is that Google is offering its services as a bundle for buying a Pixel phone under a financing option. Pixel Pass lets you get a Pixel 6 for $45 a month or a Pixel 6 Pro for $55 per month, with an option to upgrade to a new phone after two years. In a way, this mirrors Apple’s own iPhone upgrade program, though, for 24 months instead of Apple’s 12.

The services that are included in Pixel Pass pretty much bundle Google’s most notable subscription offerings. There’s a 200GB Google One tier, both YouTube Premium and YouTube Music Premium, and Google Play Pass (which might be too easy to confuse with Pixel Pass). There’s also device protection courtesy of Preferred Care coverage.

Pixel Pass is available on Google Store, where you can get an unlocked Pixel 6 to use on any network. Alternatively, buyers can also get it through Google Fi with a phone plan and get a $5 discount on the monthly fee. Pixel Pass subscribers can cancel anytime, but they will have to pay the remaining value of the Pixel phone at its regular price.

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Pixel 6 Magic Eraser removes uninvited people from photos

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A few years ago, Google teased the almost magical ability that would allow people to remove “distracting objects” from photos, whether they be a fence or innocent bystanders. While that functionality has been available on some photo editing software like Photoshop, it was far from automatic nor convenient for mere mortals. It took more than four years for that moment to finally come, and Pixel 6 owners can now confidently take photos even when they know there are people or things lurking in the background.

Almost everyone who has tried to take a photo with a smartphone or a digital camera will have experienced the photobombing phenomenon at one point or another. It doesn’t even have to be people, even, as power lines and animals can sometimes get in the way of a perfect shot. A lot of the time, we’re unable to move these objects or wait for them to step out of the frame, but a Pixel 6 can now let you magically remove those after the fact.

It couldn’t be easier than simply loading up the photo in Google Photos and letting the app suggest what objects to remove from the background. You could also manually select the Magic Eraser tool and circle or brush over specific objects you want to be exorcised from the photo. All it takes is a few taps and doesn’t require any photo editing skills at all.

Of course, the secret sauce is Google’s favorite machine learning, which predicts what pixels would have looked like without those obstacles. It then tries to fill those in and erase distracting objects and people to produce what should have been the perfect moment. This seemingly magical ability does require some heavy ML and AI processing, which is why Google had to wait for its Tensor chip to become a reality in order to bring it to its Pixel phones.

That is also why Google Photos’ Magic Eraser is available only the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro starting October 28. The good news is that it will work on any photo you give it, including old ones taken using non-Pixel phones.

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