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Dorian raises $3.1M for its no-code, interactive storytelling platform – TechCrunch

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With Dorian, co-founder and CEO Julia Palatovska said she’s hoping to empower fiction writers and other storytellers to create their own games.

The startup is announcing that it has raised $3.15 million in seed funding led by March Capital Partners, with participation from VGames, Konvoy Ventures, London Venture Partners, Michael Chow (co-creator of the Twitch series “Artificial”), Andover Ventures and talent management company Night Media.

Palatskova previously worked in gaming as the head of business development at G5 Entertainment, and she said she’d also become entranced by narrative games and interactive fiction. And while there are existing interactive fiction platforms, she saw “an opportunity that I felt was missing,” particularly in the fact that those platforms are “entirely single player, with no opportunity to play and collaborate with other people.”

So she gave me a quick tour of the Dorian platform, showing me how, without coding, a writer can essentially design characters and backgrounds by choosing from a variety of visual assets (and they’ll eventually be able to upload assets of their own), while using a flowchart-style interface to allow the writer to connect different scenes in the story and create player choices. And as Palatskova noted, you can also collaborate on a story in real-time with other writers.

“In terms of writer productivity, I would say there is almost no difference between creating interactive fiction on our engine and just writing fiction,” she said.

Image Credits: Dorian

From what I could see, the resulting games look similar to what you’d find on platforms like Pocket Gems’ Episode, where there aren’t a lot of technical bells and whistles, so the story, dialogue and character choices move to the forefront.

When I brought up the open-source game creation software Twine, Palatskova said Twine is “just a tool.”

“We want to be more like Roblox, both the tools and the distribution,” she said.

In other words, writers use Dorian to create interactive stories, but they also publish those stories using the Dorian app. (The writer still owns the resulting intellectual property.) Palatskova noted that Dorian also provides detailed analytics on how readers are responding, which is helpful not just for creating stories, but also for monetizing via premium story choices.

In fact, Dorian says that in early tests involving around 50,000 players, writers were able to improve monetization by 70% after only one or two iterations. And Palatskova noted that with Dorian’s games — unlike an interactive film such as “Black Mirror: Bandersnatch” —”It’s fast and easy to test multiple branches.”

Dorian is currently invite-only, but the plan is to launch more broadly later this year. Palatskova is recruiting writers with and without gaming experience, but she also expects plenty of successful contributions to come from complete novices. She wants Dorian to be “a completely open platform, like Roblox or Twitch for writers.”

“Dorian’s success in creating an interactive platform that values storytelling while prioritizing monetization for its writers is a game-changer,” said March Capital’s Gregory Milken in a statement. “Julia and her team are creating a community that is primed to capture the attention of today’s influential but underrepresented audiences of diverse content creators.”

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One man’s quest to bring back the small phone – TechCrunch

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In 2017, we noted that smartphone screen sizes had settled into a sweet spot between five and six inches. In hindsight, that may well have been wishful thinking. A brief respite aside, it seems that phones have only continued to embiggen, driven by a continued spec war and panel manufacturers like Samsung.

Heck, even Steve Jobs famously missed the boat when he declared the 3.5-inch a platonic ideal a dozen years ago. “You can’t get your hand around it,” he noted about the four- to five-inch being manufactured by Samsung, “no one’s going to buy that.”

Now, the comparison isn’t entirely Apples to apples, as it were. For one thing, hardware makers have gotten much better at shrinking the phone around the screen in the intervening decade. That is to say that a five-inch phone in 2010 is a very different beast than a 2022 version. Even so, big phones are big. They’re so big, in fact, that folding the screen in half seems like the only reasonable exit ramp.

Where, Eric Migicovsky wonders, did all the small phones go? The man behind Pebble and Beeper (who also serves as a Y Combinator partner), is talking things into his own (self-described large) hands. Or, perhaps more accurately, he’s nudging it in someone’s direction in hopes that he doesn’t have to do the famously hard work of launching yet another hardware startup.

Noting that the dream of a premium, sub-six-inch Android handset is dying or dead, Migicovsky launched Small Android Phone. “My hope is that we can gather support from the community and convince Google (ideally) or another Android manufacturer to build this phone,” he writes on the site. Google may well have been the tipping point here, as the company notably abandoned smaller phones with hardware restructuring that gave us the Pixel 6.

He noted in an email to TechCrunch that he’s already had conversations with hardware companies and launched the site/petition in hopes of getting them to see things his way. “I am busy and happy running Beeper. My goal is to encourage someone else [to] make one.”

The petition cites the following bullets as driving factors in returning to a simpler, smaller, safer time:

  • Fits nicely in pocket
  • Are much lighter
  • Are easy to use one-handed without dropping
  • Won’t fall out of my pocket while bicycling

Currently around 20,000, Migicovsky believes 50,000 is the sweet spot for convincing a manufacture to go all in on small. “Just back-of-the-napkin math, but it feels right,” he says. “Probably ~$10 million [non-recurring engineering], means 50K units makes a decent profit at [an] $800 selling price.”

One wonders, ultimately, why the proliferation of the smartphone and increased competition have seemingly resulted in homogeneity. Certainly it’s not for lack of trying. When I mention the Palm Phone, he retorts, “I love that they tried! Also the Light Phone 2 is really interesting, but not great as primary phones.” He adds that — at the very least — he needs a good camera. That certainly doesn’t seem like too much to ask for these days.

Launching a new phone company isn’t an impossibility. We’ve got a close eye on Nothing and OSOM’s efforts. But one certainly questions the soundness of doing so in 2022, based entirely on a potentially niche corner of the market. On his site, Migicovsky makes it clear that he’d rather someone else do it.

“If no one else makes one I guess I will be forced to make it myself,” he writes, “but I really, really don’t want it to come to that.”

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WhatsApp ramps up revenue with global launch of Cloud API and soon, a paid tier for its Business App – TechCrunch

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WhatsApp is continuing its push into the business market with today’s news it’s launching the WhatsApp Cloud API to all businesses worldwide. Introduced into beta testing last November, the new developer tool is a cloud-based version of the WhatsApp Business API — WhatsApp’s first revenue-generating enterprise product — but hosted on parent company Meta’s infrastructure.

The company had been building out its Business API platform over the past several years as one of the key ways the otherwise free messaging app would make money. Businesses pay WhatsApp on a per-message basis, with rates that vary based on the region and number of messages sent. As of late last year, tens of thousands of businesses were set up on the non-cloud-based version of the Business API including brands like Vodafone, Coppel, Sears Mexico, BMW, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Iberia Airlines, Itau Brazil, iFood, and Bank Mandiri, and others. This on-premise version of the API is free to use.

The cloud-based version, however, aims to attract a market of smaller businesses, and reduces the integration time from weeks to only minutes, the company had said. It is also free.

Businesses integrate the API with their backend systems, where WhatsApp communication is usually just one part of their messaging and communication strategy. They may also want to direct their communications to SMS, other messaging apps, emails, and more. Typically, businesses would work with a solutions provider like Zendeks or Twilio to help facilitate these integrations. Providers during the cloud API beta tests had included Zendesk in the U.S., Take in Brazil, and MessageBird in the E.U.

During Meta’s messaging-focused “Conversations” live event today, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the global, public availability of the cloud-based platform, now called the WhatsApp Cloud API.

“The best business experiences meet people where they are. Already more than 1 billion users connect with a business account across our messaging services every week. They’re reaching out for help, to find products and services, and to buy anything from big-ticket items to everyday goods. And today, I am excited to announce that we’re opening WhatsApp to any business of any size around the world with WhatsApp Cloud API,” he said.

He said the company believes the new API will help businesses, both big and small, be able to connect with more people.

In addition to helping businesses and developers get set up faster than with the on-premise version, Meta says the Cloud API will help partners to eliminate costly server expenses and help them provide customers with quick access to new features as they arrive.

Some businesses may choose to forgo the API and use the dedicated WhatsApp Business app instead. Launched in 2018, the WhatsApp Business App is aimed at smaller businesses that want to establish an official presence on WhatsApp’s service and connect with customers. It provides a set of features that wouldn’t be available to users of the free WhatsApp messaging app, like support automated quick replies, greeting messages, FAQs, away messaging, statistics, and more.

Today, Meta is also introducing new power features for its WhatsApp Business app that will be offered for a fee — like the ability to manage chats across up to 10 devices. The company will also provide new customizable WhatsApp click-to-chat links that help businesses attract customers across their online presence, including of course, Meta’s other applications like Facebook and Instagram.

These will be a part of a forthcoming Premium service for WhatsApp Business app users. Further details, including pricing, will be announced at a later date.

 

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Apple nabs half of North American smartphone shipments in Q1 – TechCrunch

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A little bright spot in a market that was already struggling with declining sales well before a global pandemic, supply chain crisis and inflation concerns struck. The North American market saw a small – but hopeful – 4% increase in shipments over the same time last year, per new numbers from Canalys.

The primary driver – once again – is Apple. Sales of the iPhone 13 propelled the company to 51% of the total market, with 19.9 million units shipped. That’s up 45% from Q1 2021. The firm cites a renewed focus on the company’s home market, as demand uncertainty grows abroad. The new iPhone SE also helped the company capture more of the mid-range market.

Samsung saw an increase of one percentage point to 28% of the total market. What’s happening lower down in the top five, however, may be the most interesting story of the North American smartphones sales right now. That includes Motorola’s continued surprise comeback and a reinvigorated Google cracking the top five.

Image Credits: Canalys

LG and HTC’s exits from the market (both planned and unplanned) have transformed the market below the top two spots. It’s not quite a profound a change as China has undergone throughout Huawei’s struggles to regain relevance, but it’s always nice to see new names in the mix for a category that’s long been dominated by the same handful of companies.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Motorola (listed as parent company Lenovo here) maintains the number three spot, on the strength of solid phones at budget prices, coupled with a fair bit of legacy name recognition. The company jumped 56% from the same time last year. It’s quite a success story from a brand that’s been in the rearview for all but a few select markets. Its ranking is bolstered by a big 21% drop by fellow Chinese manufacturing giant, TCL.

Google’s newfound focus on consumer hardware, meanwhile, seems to be paying off. The Pixel 6 helped propel the company into the top five, with a (proportionally) massive 380% growth. The company shipped 1.2 million phones for the quarter, versus TCL’s 1.4 million. The recently announced Pixel 6A and upcoming Pixel 7 could give the company a decent hot at taking fourth place before the year is up.

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