I am a freak when it comes to cases for smartphones.
If I see a family member or a friend running around with an unprotected device, my first instinct, after recovering from a panic attack, is to fit that person’s device with a case.
I usually have a few models sitting in my “case box,” and if the case fits, it’s going on the phone if you show up at my house without one.
I used to say that any case on a smartphone is better than no case at all. The main thing you need to be concerned with is bezel elevation to prevent the phone from falling flat on the screen and taking a direct impact.
Secondary to that concern, you want edge rigidity and shock absorption to buffer against hits on the side and corners.
Before the introduction of edge screen designs — first seen in devices like the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, followed by 2017’s iPhone X and 2018’s iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max — I would have maintained that, yes, put on a case, any case.
But given how fragile the design is of this particular phone, and how much this thing dents your wallet when you buy it, and god forbid have to repair it after drop damage, I’m going to have to change my mind on that one.
You want the most protective design money can buy.
There are a few companies that specialize in extreme device protection. One is UAG, and it is an excellent company with great case products. The Pathfinder, as well as the Monarch, are excellent choices for protecting your new $1,000+ device.
Otter Products is the other major player in this market, and I am a massive fan of its offerings. When I am asked by friends and family which case to get, an Otter case is always my first answer.
Otter traditionally had one ultra-protective design, which is the Defender. And, for years, I only used Defenders no matter which device I had. I still only use Defender on the iPad Pro, because it’s the only case I trust on that device right now.
You could get a Defender Series Pro (or the original Defender) for your iPhone 11, iPhone Pro, or iPhone Pro Max. You would be very safe with that decision, and my work would be done. It’s a rugged, proven design, so it’s practically a no-brainer.
But over the past few years, Otter has expanded its line of case designs not just in its own branded offerings but also with its acquisition of LifeProof, which was once a fierce competitor.
LifeProof cases once distinguished themselves from OtterBox cases in that it was targeting sporty lifestyle customers, with an emphasis on waterproofing. So, its cases were always a little bit more expensive than the OtterBox designs. The Fre, in particular, is the LifeProof flagship.
Let’s go through the LifeProof lineup since it is a relatively easy decision matrix.
In 2018, For iPhone X, iPhone XS, and iPhone XS Max, LifeProof introduced two new case designs: the Slam and Next Based on closer examination, they appeared to be very similar two-piece clamshell designs. From the samples I received at the time, I noticed that the Next had considerably more bumper material on it.
Both are very tight fitting designs and provide ample bezel elevation and side/corner impact protection. However, neither are waterproof or provide additional screen protection for scratches or frontal impacts. I have not yet received a sample of Next or Slam for an iPhone 11 Pro Max again, but my wife is using a Next on her iPhone 11, and I would say the design is identical to last year’s models except the camera cutout.
I used both cases for about a day, and I would say that the Next felt thicker, but it’s not enough of a difference for me to sacrifice shock absorption with the Slam — although both the Next and the Slam can accommodate Amplify glass like the OtterBox Defender, which we will get to momentarily.
Personally, if I were inclined to get one of these two cases, I would get Next.
For 2019, LifeProof has also introduced Flip, which is a rather exciting design; it incorporates heavy shock protection along with an integrated credit card wallet and billfold pocket.
Unlike the regular shock-proof cases from LifeProof, this is a single piece rather than a clamshell design — the phone slides into it, snugly. The bottom part of the case has a flip-open wallet that has room for a few credit cards as well as a bunch of bills.
As you can see, there is a rather large indentation at the bottom of the case to accommodate the flip-out wallet. This makes the case considerably thicker than the Defender, although it adds a bit of rigidity and shock protection. I tried using this case for a day, and it felt bulky. If I wanted to do away with a wallet, this might not be a bad option if I only carried two or three credit cards. I am guessing that LifeProof was targeting Apple Card users with this product.
The iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro/iPhone 11 Max are already IP68 water-resistant and can survive 30 minutes of immersion at depths of two meters, so if the primary concern is being dropped with occasionally being rained on, Next is what I would go with.
However, nothing is so simple when it comes to making case recommendations for iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro/iPhone 11Max.
I have not yet received the iPhone 11 Pro Max version of Fre, as the company didn’t have a production sample ready yet, but I do have Fre installed on my Pixel 3, and I had one on my iPhone XS Max and my Samsung Galaxy S8. So, we can infer that the overall design is going to be similar.
Fre is LifeProof’s tried and true waterproof case design, which also incorporates a permanent scratch protector that is a flexible film. This is the case that traditionally provided brand differentiation from OtterBox and the Defender.
Now, with iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro/iPhone 11 Max already being somewhat water-resistant, to begin with, it would seem that Fre is overkill.
Perhaps, I would tend to agree with this — if we weren’t talking about a $1,000+ device that costs $275 to $400 to replace the screen regardless of whether you bought the thing outright or you are making lease payments on the Upgrade Program.
On iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro/iPhone 11 Max, Fre has a watertight lightning charge connector door latch in addition to a permanent screen/scratch protector. I’m not sure how necessary this is, but if you spend time near the water or on the beach, it might be a good idea to have this feature.
Additionally, given the fact that you are now constantly rubbing your finger with nails on the screen itself instead of pushing a physical home button, I am inclined to say that a screen protector on an iPhone 11 or iPhone 11 Pro/iPhone 11 Max is a requirement.
All the new OtterBox cases (and the LifeProof Slam and Flip) for iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro/iPhone 11 Max can accommodate the Amplify glass accessory, which provides additional scratch and impact protection for $49 more ($39 if you use last year’s glass, the Alpha).
Can you buy a third-party scratch resistant film to put on a Defender or a Flip? Sure. But then you should get a Fre. It’s cheaper.
Would you rather have an additional glass protector instead? In terms of aesthetic, it looks better and is easier to clean, and I think the few extra microns of glass gives me more peace of mind.
I see no point in using either Defender, Next, Slam or Flip without Amplify glass. So, really, in terms of overall decision matrix of which case to buy, in my opinion, it comes down to:
- You want a holster and full rubberization and the tried and true Otter design (Defender/Pro + Amplify glass)
- You want it to be highly protective but transparent (Slam + Amplify glass, or Next + Amplify glass )
- You want it to be more waterproof than what the device provides out of the box, and you want scratch protection but not additional screen impact protection (Fre)
- You want it to be highly protective but have a wallet built-in (Flip + Amplify glass)
By the way, did you notice anything different about this year’s version of the Otter/LifeProof roundup? The OtterBox Pursuit case is missing. Otter chose not to produce it for the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro/iPhone 11 Max. I guess it didn’t sell very well. That’s a shame because I liked it, but I understand the business decision.
I think the company could have easily made a Fre that can use Amplify glass as opposed to the integrated film, and then it could just put different branding on it for the OtterBox version along with a holster and an optional rubber shell. This is what I would have done, personally.
I have to assume Otter has done its market research and determined that not everyone wants a true glass protector and that a certain amount of customers, particularly in the vertical market space (construction, military, etc.), want the additional psychological protection of full rubberization with the traditional Defender design.
With any of these four case designs, you’re in good hands. Which one are you planning to use? Talk Back and Let Me Know.
Disclosure: ZDNet may earn a commission from some of the products featured on this page. Neither the author nor ZDNet were compensated for this independent review.
Stream raises $38M as its chat and activity feed APIs power communications for 1B users – TechCrunch
A lot of our communication these days with each other is digital, and today one of the companies enabling that — with APIs to build chat experiences into apps — is announcing a round of funding on the back of some very strong growth.
Stream, which lets developers build chat and activity streams into apps and other services by way of a few lines of code, has raised $38 million, funding that it will be using to continue building out its existing business as well as to work on new features.
Stream started out with APIs for activity feeds, and then it expanded to chat, which today can be integrated into apps built on a variety of platforms. Currently, its customers integrate third-party chatbots and use Dolby for video and audio within Stream, but over time, these are all areas where Stream itself would like to do more.
“End-to-end cryption, chatbots: we want to take as many components as we can,” said Thierry Schellenbach, the CEO who co-founded the startup with the startup’s CTO Tommaso Barbugli in Amsterdam in 2015 (the startup still has a substantial team in Amsterdam headed by Barbugli, but its headquarters is now in Boulder, Colorado, where Schellenbach eventually moved).
The company already has amassed a list of notable customers, including Ikea-owned TaskRabbit, NBC Sports, Unilever, Delivery Hero, Gojek, eToro and Stanford University, as well as a number of others that it’s not disclosing across healthcare, education, finance, virtual events, dating, gaming and social. Together, the apps Stream powers cover more than 1 billion users.
This Series B round is being led by Felicis Ventures’ Aydin Senkut, with previous backers GGV Capital and 01 Advisors (the fund co-founded by Twitter’s former CEO and COO, Dick Costolo and Adam Bain) also participating.
Alongside them, a mix of previous and new individual and smaller investors also participated: Olivier Pomel, CEO of Datadog; Tom Preston-Werner, co-founder of GitHub; Amsterdam-based Knight Capital; Johnny Boufarhat, founder and CEO of Hopin; and Selcuk Atli, co-founder and CEO of social gaming app Bunch (itself having raised a notable round of $20 million led by General Catalyst not long ago).
That list is a notable indicator of what kinds of startups are also quietly working with Stream.
The company is not disclosing its valuation but Schellenbach hints that it is “6x its chat revenues.”
Indeed, the Series B speaks of a moment of opportunity: it is coming only about six months after the startup raised a Series A of $15 million, and in fact Stream wasn’t looking to raise right now.
“We were not planning to raise funding until later this year but then Aydin reached out to us and made it hard to say no,” Schellenbach said.
“More than anything else, they are building on the platforms in the tech that matters,” Senkut added in an interview, noting that its users were attesting to a strong return on investment. “It’s rare to see a product so critical to customers and scaling well. It’s just uncapped capability… and we want to be a part of the story.”
That moment of opportunity is not one that Stream is pursuing on its own.
Some of the more significant of the many players in the world of API-based communications services like messaging, activity streams — those consolidated updates you get in apps that tell you when people have responded to a post of yours or new content has landed that is relevant to you, or that you have a message, and so on — and chat include SendBird, Agora, PubNub, Twilio and Sinch, all of which have variously raised substantial funding, found a lot of traction with customers, or are positioning themselves as consolidators.
That may speak of competition, but it also points to the vast market there for the tapping.
Indeed, one of the reasons companies like Stream are doing so well right now is because of what they have built and the market demand for it.
Communications services like Stream’s might be best compared to what companies like Adyen (another major tech force out of Amsterdam), Stripe, Rapyd, Mambu and others are doing in the world of fintech.
As with something like payments, the mechanics of building, for example, chat functionality can be complex, usually requiring the knitting together of an array of services and platforms that do not naturally speak to each other.
At the same time, something like an activity feed or a messaging feature is central to how a lot of apps work, even if they are not the core feature of the product itself. One good example of how that works are food ordering and delivery apps: they are not by their nature “chat apps” but they need to have a chat option in them for when you do need to communicate with a driver or a restaurant.
Putting those forces together, it’s pretty logical that we’d see the emergence of a range of tech companies that both have done the hard work of building the mechanics of, say, a chat service, and making that accessible by way of an API to those who want to use it, with APIs being one of the more central and standard building blocks in apps today; and a surge of developers keen to get their hands on those APIs to build that functionality into their apps.
What Stream is working on is not to be confused with the customer-service focused services that companies like Zendesk or Intercom are building when they talk about chat for apps. Those can be specialized features in themselves that link in with CRM systems and customer services teams and other products for marketing analytics and so on. Instead, Stream’s focus are services for consumers to talk to other consumers.
What is a trend worth watching is whether easy-to-integrate services like Stream’s might signal the proliferation of more social apps over time.
There is already at least one key customer — which I am now allowed to name — that is a steadily growing, still young social app, which has built the core of its service on Stream’s API.
With just a handful of companies — led by Facebook, but also including ByteDance/TikTok, Tencent, Twitter, Snap, Google (via YouTube) and some others depending on the region — holding an outsized grip on social interactions, easier, platform-agnostic access to core communications tools like chat could potentially help more of these, with different takes on “social” business models, find their way into the world.
“Stream’s technology addresses a common problem in product development by offering an easy-to-integrate and scalable messaging solution,” said Dick Costolo of 01 Advisors, and the former Twitter CEO, in a statement. “Beyond that, their team and clear vision set them apart, and we ardently back their mission.”
TikTok launches ‘TikTok Q&A,’ a new feature for creators to engage with viewers’ questions – TechCrunch
Earlier this year, TikTok was spotted testing a new Q&A feature that would allow creators to more directly respond to their audience’s questions using either text or video. Today, the company has announced the feature is now available to all users globally. With the release of TikTok Q&A, as the feature is officially called, creators will be able to designate their comments as Q&A questions, respond to questions with either text comments or video replies, and add a Q&A profile link to their bios, among other things. The feature also works with live videos.
TikTok Q&A grew out of a way that creators were already using the video platform to interact with viewers. Often, after posting a video, viewers would have follow-up questions about the content. Creators would then either respond to those questions in the comments section or, if the response was more involved, they might post a second video instead.
The Q&A feature essentially formalizes this process by making it easier for creators — particularly those with a lot of fans — to identify and answer the most interesting questions.
To use Q&A, viewers will first designate their comment as a Q&A question using a new commenting option. To do so, they’ll tap the Q&A icon to the right side of the text entry field in comments. This will also label their comment with the icon and text that says “Asked by” followed by the username of the person asking the question. This makes it easier for creators to see when scanning through a long list of comments on their video.
The feature will also feed the question into the creator’s new Q&A page where all questions and answers are aggregated. Users can browse this page to see all the earlier questions and answers that have already been posted or add a new question of their own.
Creators will respond to a Q&A question with either text or video replies, just as they did before — so there isn’t much new to learn here, in terms of process.
They can also add Q&A comments as stickers in their responses where the new video will link back to the original, where the question was first asked, similar to how they’re using comment stickers today.
The feature will also be available in TikTok LIVE, making it easier for creators to see the incoming questions in the stream’s chat from a separate panel.
As a part of this launch, a Q&A profile link can be added to creators’ Profile bios, which directs users to the Q&A page where everything is organized.
During tests, the feature was only made available to creators with public accounts that had more than 10,000 followers and who opted in. Today, TikTok says its available to all users with Creator Accounts.
To enable the feature on your own profile, you’ll go to the privacy page under Settings, then select “Creator,” tap “Q&A” and then “Turn on Q&A.” (If users don’t already have a Creator account, they can enable it for themselves under settings.)
The feature is rolling out to users worldwide in the latest version of the TikTok app now, the company says.
@tiktokYou can now ask and answer any questions on LIVE with the new Q&A feature. Check it out now!
♬ original sound – TikTok
WhatsApp rolls out voice and video calls to desktop app – TechCrunch
WhatsApp is rolling out support for voice and video calling to its desktop app, the Facebook-owned messaging service said Thursday, providing relief to countless people sitting in front of computers who have had to reach for their phone every time their WhatsApp rang.
For now, WhatsApp said its nearly five-year-old desktop app for Mac and Windows will only support one-to-one calls for now, but that it will be expanding this feature to include group voice and video calls “in the future.”
Video calls work “seamlessly” for both portrait and landscape orientation, and the desktop client is “set to be always on top so you never lose your video chats in a browser tab or stack of open windows,” it said.
Speaking of which, support for voice and video calls is not being extended to WhatsApp Web, the browser version of the service, at the moment, a spokesperson told TechCrunch. (Facebook launched dedicated desktop app for its Messenger service last year, which supports group video calls.)
The new feature support should come in handy to millions of people who use WhatsApp’s desktop client everyday and have had to use Zoom or Google Meet for one-to-one video calls on desktop partly because of convenience.
WhatsApp, used by over 2 billion people, hasn’t shared how popular video and voice calls are on its platform, but said it processed over 1.4 billion calls on New Year’s Eve — the day usage tends to peak on the Facebook-owned platform.
Like the 100 billion messages WhatsApp processes on its platform each day, voice and video calls are also end-to-end encrypted, it said.
Once known for taking quarters to push a feature improvement to its app, WhatsApp has visibly grown more aggressive with adding new features in the past year. In late January, Facebook added opt-in biometric fingerprint, face, or iris scan authentication for WhatsApp on desktop and the web, an additional protection layer that makes more sense after today’s update.
It rolled out ephemeral messages, photos, and videos that disappear after seven days late last year, and also rolled out its payments service in India, its biggest market by users.
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