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Facebook Messenger to Get Faster iOS App, New Desktop Apps for Windows and macOS, and More

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Facebook Messenger was a major topic of discussion on Day 1 of the F8 2019 developer conference. Amongst the announcements, Messenger was said to receive a new version for iOS later this year that will rebuilt from the ground up to be faster and lighter. A new desktop app for Windows and macOS was also announced. Other new Messenger features include a way to discover and watch videos together, end-to-end encryption, a dedicated space for close friends, and finally, new ways businesses can connect with consumers.

Starting with the faster, lighter Facebook Messenger app, the company said it is using LightSpeed to achieve its aim of making Messenger for iOS the “fastest private communication app on the entire planet.” The new app will be more reliable, use less battery, the company claimed, as well as less storage. On this last front, Facebook said early tests showed it could reduce the size of the app from around 127MB to less than 30MB. In terms of speed, testing for the new app has shown cold start times of less than 1.3 seconds. The re-engineered app will be available later this year, and the company did not announce plans for a similar version on Android – which already has Facebook Lite.

The company added that it has “begun the journey” to make Facebook Messenger end-to-end encrypted by default. Messenger will get more ways to have ephemeral content. Carrying forward the aim for a unified messaging platform between Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, Facebook also said Messenger will in the future gain the ability to call and message users on Instagram and WhatsApp – not just Facebook.

messenger windows call Messenger

Facebook Messenger will also get a dedicated place for users’ “closest connections”, and this will find its place on the second tab in the Messenger app. This tab will is where users can discover Stories and messages from their closest friends and family, share snippets of their own day, and also choose exactly who sees what they post. This new feature will also roll out later this year.

Separately, the Watch Party feature Facebook had introduced on its main service last year will soon find its way to Messenger, letting friends discover and watch videos together. The feature is currently being tested, and will roll out globally later this year.

messenger appointment booking Messenger

Messenger will also get a desktop app on Windows and macOS platforms, and it will get all the features the mobile app has, including audio calls, group video calls, and more. The dedicated app will also allow users to “collaborate on projects or multi-task while chatting in Messenger.” Once again, the desktop apps are being tested, and will be rolled out later this year.

Finally, Facebook also said it is making it easier for businesses to connect with potential customers by adding lead generation templates to Ads Manager, where businesses will be able to create a Q&A experience in Messenger to learn more about them. It will also become easier to book an appointment with businesses, thanks to a new “appointment experience”.

Written with inputs from Reuters

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HBO Max is removing 36 titles and creators are not happy – TechCrunch

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HBO Max is continuing its content removal spree with 36 titles going off the service this week including 20 of its in-house productions. Other titles include originals from HBO and Cartoon Network along with a few acquired titles. The development first reported by Variety noted that this move was aligned with the big HBO Max-Discovery+ merger slotted to take place next year.

In order to prepare for the merger, the company has been silently removing titles for some weeks now. Earlier this month, during its quarterly earnings call, Warner Bros. Discovery said HBO Max will start showing Discovery+ reality shows from Chip and Joanna Gaines’ Magnolia Network starting September 30.

“As we work toward bringing our content catalogs together under one platform, we will be making changes to the content offering available on both HBO Max and discovery+. That will include the removal of some content from both platforms,” the firm said in a statement to Variety. We have reached out to HBO Max to learn when exactly these titles will be removed.

The company is likely removing titles to cut costs and make way for newer titles in the combined service. While it’s just a money-saving tactic for the streaming giants, creatives are worried that their hard work in creating shows will be wasted because of executive decisions.

Julia Pot, the creator the of animated show “Summer Camp Island” said on Twitter that the makers didn’t have much information about the reasons behind this move. We have asked HBO Max for a comment on its communication with creators, and we will update the story if we hear back.

Here is the full list of titles being removed from the service:

HBO Max and HBO Originals

  • 12 Dates of Christmas
  • About Last Night
  • Aquaman: King of Atlantis
  • Close Enough
  • Ellen’s Next Great Designer
  • Esme & Roy
  • The Fungies!
  • Generation Hustle
  • Generation
  • Infinity Train
  • Little Ellen
  • My Mom, Your Dad
  • My Dinner with Herve
  • Odo
  • Ravi Patel’s Pursuit of Happiness
  • Summer Camp Island
  • Share
  • The Not-Too-Late Show with Elmo
  • The Runaway Bunny
  • Theodosia
  • Tig n’ Seek
  • Yabba Dabba Dinosaurs

Cartoon Network

  • Dodo
  • Elliott From Earth
  • Mao Mao, Heroes of Pure Heart
  • Mighty Magiswords
  • OK K.O.! – Let’s Be Heroes
  • Uncle Grandpa
  • Victor and Valentino

Licensed Titles

  • Detention Adventure”
  • Messy Goes to Okido
  • Mia’s Magic Playground
  • The Ollie & Moon Show
  • Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures
  • Make It Big, Make It Small
  • Squish

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Tiger Global leads new funding in savings and investments app Jar – TechCrunch

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Tiger Global has led a new funding round in Jar, the Indian fintech that is helping millions of Indians save small amounts to invest in digital gold as the startup gears up to launch a host of new offerings including insurance, mutual funds and lending.

Jar said Thursday it has raised $22.6 million in its Series B financing round. The funding values the one-year-old startup at over $300 million, it said, and saw participation from Folius Ventures, Panthera Capital, Prophetic Ventures, Yes VC, WealthFront founder Adam Nash and Founders Fund principal Zachary Hargreaves as well as early-backers Arkam Ventures, Rocketship.vc and WEH.

TechCrunch previously reported the early deliberations of the round. The Bengaluru-headquartered startup has raised over $58 million to date.

Even as banks in India have opened a billion accounts for citizens in the South Asian market, a significant number of individuals don’t maintain any savings. In the event of an unplanned expense or emergency, many are forced to rely on friends and family or shark lenders for capital injection.

Part of the reason why so many Indians never save or invest is confusion, explained Nishchay AG, co-founder and chief executive of Jar, in an interview. “Should they invest in mutual funds, stock market, crypto, various schemes from banks? The choices are aplenty as the world around them is littered with ads,” he said.

Jar is removing the pressure by giving people an asset class that Indians can relate to: gold.

(To say Indians, who have a private stash worth $1.5 trillion of the precious metal, have a fascination with gold would be an understatement. For generations, Indians across the socio-economic spectrum have preferred to stash their savings — or at least a part of it — in the form of gold. In fact, such is the demand for gold in India — Indians stockpile more gold than citizens in any other country — that the South Asian nation is also one of the world’s largest importers of this precious metal.)

A familiar asset class is part of the solution. Jar’s other value proposition is just how easy it has made it for its users to save and invest. On its eponymous app, the startup allows users to choose from different savings options such as roundups – where the nearest round number after a transaction gets saved automatically, as well as setting recurring savings amounts and performing one-time execution, explained Misbah Ashraf, co-founder of Jar.

Jar has rapidly gained traction since launching the product a year ago. Its app has amassed over 9 million registered users and each day it is clocking over 220,000 transactions, it said. The startup, which is seeing an average monthly growth of 20%, is also spending far less on attracting new users: less than $1.5 per user, it said.

Jar’s eponymous app. The startup also lets users keep a track of who all they have lent money to, and send them reminders.

“By starting with digital gold, a well-understood and well-loved asset class in India, Jar’s savings app has quickly gained trust and traction with young earners interested in developing a saving and investment strategy,” said Alex Cook, Partner at Tiger Global, in a statement. “We are impressed with the company’s rapid growth and are excited to double down as they expand into new asset classes.”

The startup, which employs about 90 people, is now gearing up to broaden its offerings. “We are working on building the most ubiquitous and contextual platform to help people navigate the financial options without getting intimidated,” said Nishchay.

Jar, which is also looking to hire another 50 people, is developing and testing secured and unsecured lending, mutual funds, fixed deposits, peer-to-peer loans, and insurance, he said. The startup plans to roll out these new offerings in the coming quarters, he said.

Misbah, whose inspiration to starting Jar was his family’s personal struggle with finances, believes that Jar has been able to help people build a habit of financing savings. These customers, most of whom he said live in small cities and towns of the country, “are now ready to explore evaluating other instrument options,” he said.

India has become a key fintech hub in the past decade as scores of banks, startups, and other institutions have raced to tap what many believe is the last great growth market.

For years, local legacy banks and mutual funds have been trying to tap India masses with their products. But their non-personalized offerings and over-reliance on local credit bureau’s books have cut their customer base to just 30 million individuals.

“Manufacturing a product is one thing and being able to sell it is another. All these institutions are good at manufacturing. For selling, you have to be aligned with the individual’s persona, idiosyncrasies, insecurities, cognitive load and the cultural significance. That’s an art and science by itself,” said Nishchay in an earlier interview.

“Jar’s growth story would be incomplete without the mention of the guard rails that have preemptively been put in place to make growth a controllable output versus it an incomprehensible vector. The company has an equal measure of thoughtful execution as well as a high standard of transparency where stakeholders ranging from employees, partners, and investors are fully aware of key initiatives and priorities. We are sure this approach is helping create a sustainable company with a predictable growth trajectory,” said Rahul Chandra, Managing Director of Arkam Ventures, in a statement.

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Kenyan agtech iProcure raises $10.2M to grow its input supply network – TechCrunch

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The shortage of agricultural inputs like fertilizer, unpredictable prices, and the proliferation of substandard products into markets are some of the biggest challenges for Kenya’s agricultural sector. This impact is especially felt in the country because agriculture accounts for 23% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP), making it the single largest contributor to its economy, and its biggest employer – agriculture employs nearly 40% of the country’s population and 70% of its rural people.

It, therefore, is certain that difficulties in accessing the required resources for sustained production, not only threatens food security, but also family earnings and livelihoods. To bridge the input-access gap, iProcure, a B2B agtech, has since 2014 been connecting agricultural manufacturers and distributors to local retailers (agro-dealers), through its unique distribution infrastructure that interlinks agricultural supply chains.

Iprocure told TechCrunch it is now on a path to grow its presence in Kenya and Uganda, which are its current markets, and to enter Tanzania after securing $10.2 million in series B funding. The latest round includes $1.2 million debt, and was led by Investisseurs & Partenaires (I&P), and it brings the total funding raised by iProcure, so far, to $17.2 million. Novastar Ventures, Ceniarth, and British International Investment (BII), which recently took part in Apollo Agriculture’s $40 million Series B fundraising, also participated in the round.

“We have built out a Pan-African distribution infrastructure, and we are using these funds to scale our operations in our two markets and to enter Tanzania. We’re also going to be allocating some of the resources towards introducing higher quality cheaper products that we are sourcing from international players,” said iProcure co-founder and chief data and growth officer, Stefano Carcoforo – also the former CEO who since been replaced by ex-Novastar partner Niraj Varia.

Carcoforo co-founded iProcure with Nicole Galletta (head of innovation), Patrick Wanjohi (chief technical officer) and Bernard Maingi (chief commercial officer).

Iprocure currently connects 5,000 agro-dealers to different manufacturers but this number is set to grow as it onboards more partners and retailers across the three markets, and as it doubles its distribution hubs to 20, boosting its last-mile delivery.

Agro-dealers are the focal point for suppliers hoping to introduce new products into Kenya’s input markets, as they are trusted by millions of farmers to be sources of sound agricultural advice. They are also well-spread across the country, giving them a broad coverage of farmer communities. Through agro-dealers, iProcure targets to double the reach of farmers to 2 million in the next one year.

The agtech provides the agro-dealers with an end-to-end Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system that operates from mobile devices, helping them manage their sourcing and distribution.

This technology has introduced new efficiencies that control the penetration of sub-standard supplies as retailers are able to source directly from certified manufacturers and distributors. By helping manage stock-outs, the agtech ultimately helps stabilize product prices for the benefit of both the sellers and end-users.

“The agro-dealers use our technology to keep track of their sales, process sales, to manage inventory, to place orders, and build CRMs that can help deploy loyalty programs to the farmers. It does everything they need. We provide a completely transparent system from the factory all the way down to the point when the farmer purchases the product,” said Carcoforo.

For added reach, iProcure plans to extend zero-interest credit to agro-dealers, increasing their ability to purchase the hardware required to use its ERP system. By plugging in more retailers to its system, iProcure will additionally, get access to data required to inform its growth strategy, including a buy-now-pay-later (BNPL) service currently in the pipeline.

“Work capital is an issue facing these retailers, and we’ve demonstrated that if we provide supplies on a BNPL model, retailers buy 30% more. This shows that retailers themselves are cash constrained and can’t buy all the inventory they can sell; meaning that farmers aren’t able to access all the inputs they need. The BNPL service we are introducing will sort this problem,” said Varia.

According to Varia, iProcure has grown 16 times over the last four years, doubling its revenue every year, except for 2020 due to Covid. In the short term, he expects further expansion through the onboarding of more retailers and the introduction of the BNPL offering.

 

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