Hike Sticker Chat, the dedicated app that was launched back in April to deliver a sticker-centric chat experience, has been updated with an Auto Backup feature. The new feature is designed to let users easily switch from one device to another — without manually backing up or restoring their data. The New Delhi-based firm that was once competing strongly against the likes of WhatsApp and WeChat has also brought Hike Web that is designed to enable instant messaging on a Web browser.
With the Auto Backup feature, users of the Hike Sticker Chat app can seamlessly back up and restore their data from one device to another. The latest development is touted to be the only current alternative to the existing Backup and Restore process that’s available on many popular instant messaging apps, including WhatsApp.
“Why in 2019 do we still have this notion of backup and restore?” says Kavin Bharti Mittal, founder and CEO, Hike, in a conversation with Gadgets 360. “It makes no sense. We’ve just made this completely seamless.”
The Auto Backup feature initiates data transfer just after you provide your existing phone number and then enter the four-digit PIN you’ve received on your new device. The Hike app also automatically logs out from the original device once your data becomes available on the new hardware.
The data transfer process doesn’t take more than a couple of minutes to restore all the data, including conversations as well as media content. Also, users don’t need to manually back up their data every single time. Mittal tells Gadgets 360 that the backup process works automatically in the background and doesn’t consume any additional data.
“There’s no need to backup and restore data, upload the data on the cloud and come back, and spend an hour waiting for your chats to restore,” the executive says.
He also highlights that the Hike team has optimised the entire architecture to make sure that the new feature will not only provide a seamless experience for data restore but will also work across multiple platforms. This means that you can transfer your data from an Android device to an iPhone or vice-versa.
“In India, you’ll find a lot of this returning user behaviour,” says Mittal. “People install apps, use them, uninstall them, and come back. So there is a really massive returning user behaviour.”
The architecture-level changes that brought the Auto Backup feature have also enabled Hike to bring the Hike Web client. “Our goal is to make Hike Web as seamless as possible so that let’s say if you don’t have your phone with you, you can just go to the cafe laptop, log in, and start chatting with your friends,” states Mittal.
Unlike WhatsApp Web that requires users to sign in by scanning a QR code, Hike Web asks users to enter their phone number and then type the four-digit PIN that they’ve received on their phone to get started with the new experience.
The Web client, which is initially available in beta, provides a seamless chatting experience on Web browsers. It initially doesn’t offer all the features that are available on the Hike Sticker Chat mobile app. However, Hike is set to roll out bi-weekly updates to bring new features on a regular basis.
“One thing what we’ve done is that we’ve worked extremely hard in reliability and performance — that’s been the key,” notes Mittal. “So instead of adding a lot of fancy features, we’ve just said let’s go [and] focus on the performance because at least we would be able to get the client out.”
Hike Web presently continues with the signed-in account even if you’ve closed the tab on your Web browser. Mittal, however, points out that the team has implemented a system that logs out users after detecting certain kinds of activities. A TTL (Time to Live) mechanism is also available at the backend that enables the Web client to reset the cache and token after a certain period of time. Similarly, an option to force logout is available on the Hike Sticker Chat app.
“We don’t want people to get pester all the time,” asserts Mittal. “So if you’re phone is active, you’ll receive notifications on your phone’s screen, but if you’re not active, notifications will come on the Web.”
The Web client is specifically optimised for Google Chrome. However, Mittal says that it also works smoothly on other browsers, including Firefox and Safari.
Alongside the Auto Backup feature and Hike Web, Hike engineers have bumped up the security of the app by adding 128-bit AES and 2048-bit RSA encryption. Mittal tells Gadgets 360 that the new update isn’t just securing the data available in Hike’s servers but it also implements encryption on the channel through which the user data is being transmitted.
“It’s close to end-to-end encrypted,” he says. “But the definition of end-to-end has become very blurry these days because if WhatsApp can provide traceability with end-to-end encryption, it is questionable in itself.”
Hike has also added SSL pinning and deployed a randomised key management system to enhance the security of the Hike Sticker Chat app.
“We also make sure that machine learning can work with the fact that data is encrypted,” Mittal continues.
Already serves over a million weekly active users
Hike Sticker Chat was launched as a spin-off of the original Hike app earlier this year. Mittal reveals that the new app has over a million weekly active users, on an average spending 33 minutes inside the app. There are also over 50,000 stickers that are aimed to be expanded to 100,000 by the end of the year, he added.
“People are liking this simplified app and loving the fact that there’s no bells and whistles in that,” the founder tells Gadgets 360. “It’s a very simple app focussed on two things — expressions through stickers and close friends.”
Just ahead of launching Hike Sticker Chat earlier this year, Hike decided to completely stop working on the original app, which it calls the “super app.” The company also transitioned all its existing resources of over 135 people to start working on the sticker-focussed app. The team, which consists of designers, product managers, artists, and content developers, is expected to grow further to 185-190 people by the end of the year.
“One of the things about Hike is we’re a company that works at the intersection of product, design, engineering, and art,” says Mittal. “We create all this content by ourselves. It’s not an easy process.”
Aside from stickers, Hike is currently considering gaming as its next area of focus. The company led by Mittal acquired a minority stake in e-sports vernacular gaming platform WinZO just last month. The deal has helped the company offer a standalone gaming app to mobile users.
“Our focus is how do we unbundle Sticker Chat, gaming, and content into three different applications. So far we’ve done two (Sticker Chat and gaming), and we’ve planned to stick to the two in 2019,” Mittal concludes.
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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