For the last ten days, I’ve been an Apple Card member. I’ve used it for just about every single brick and mortar purchase — restaurants, gas stations, doctors appointments, concert and movie ticket bookings, and also Uber trips.
I realize that ultimately, we are talking about a credit card here. Any credit card can be added to Apple Pay within Apple Wallet, but the Apple Card user experience within Apple Wallet is unique to that product. And it is genuinely an excellent user experience which enhances one’s sense of financial management with a credit card.
Dare I call it insanely great? I think so. It’s now my default payment for virtually everything. And while I don’t pull out the physical card as much as using Apple Pay on my Watch or my iPhone, some joy does come from using it and seeing the expression of curiosity in the person it’s being handed to.
This novelty, I admit, is likely to wear off as more customers start using the physical card, but it makes for an interesting topic of discussion when someone else examines it. The Apple Card is an elegant object, a white credit card made out of titanium.
Have you been user experienced?
The user experience in Apple Wallet for Apple Card is just so much better than what my other four major credit cards offer, Chase Sapphire/Amazon Prime, Costco Citibank and USAA provide it’s stunning.
Arguably what Chase offers in terms of a fully consolidated view of financial services, which in addition to the regular stuff like savings, checking, mortgages and loans is very good — especially if we are talking about the full-blown desktop web site.
For credit cards, it has categorization on spending — 15 separate ones to be exact, but it only does it on a billable period or year to date basis. Apple Card’s user experience is better because it shows it to you on a day to day, at the moment of charge basis. It’s easy to understand, and it’s not cluttered.
I’d show you the page where it has charges from Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen and my electrophysiologist within hours of each other, but I’m kind of embarrassed by that.
The security aspects should not be understated, either. In addition to the end-to-end tokenization of Apple Pay which makes the Apple Card financial transactions highly secure (and also works with the physical card) the credit card number that Apple Card uses is virtual — that means you can easily revoke it at any time, and it have instantly you issue a new one — without having to replace your titanium card.
Ideally I would like to see the virtual card numbers be something you can issue on a vendor per vendor basis, such as for online merchants. But the fact I can have control over my card without waiting for a new one to be FedExed overnight is fantastic.
While anyone with a credit card can use Apple Pay, it would seem that Mastercard and Goldman Sachs have added additional “digital first” features specifically for Apple Card, much of which is behind the scenes and has to do with the payment infrastructure the banking partners have created.
The president of Mastercard North America, Craig Vosburg, recently explained on CNBC that this product is more secure because users get a one-time use number in the Wallet app. “The real key to the enhanced security here is happening behind the scenes where we’re tokenizing the card credentials.”
He added, “We’re taking the digital representation of that 16-digit number and scrambling [it] into a code that only we and Goldman Sachs can recognize. We know where it’s meant to be used. We know it’s meant to be used with that Apple device and if it shows up somewhere else, we know it’s been compromised and we can kill it.”
Cash is king but I want more
You also cannot downplay the direct cashback from purchases to Apple Cash — which increasingly as Apple Pay is accepted a payment mechanism is going to be a substitute for legal tender itself. I see this also as a strong competitor to fly-by-night cryptocurrency outfits and also, services like PayPal/Venmo and Square’s Cash App.
Right now, if you want to spend that Apple Cash directly, it has to be done via a merchant that accepts Apple Pay or with another person with an iOS device. Otherwise, you need to dump it into your bank account. For Apple to completely replace legal tender with Apple Cash, Apple needs to bring Apple Wallet and Apple Pay to Android.
Arguably, Apple Card’s primary benefits today lie mostly in the user experience in Wallet and the cashback to Apple Cash in purchases, and the unique card security features that include transaction tokenization and automatic credit card number revocation and renewal.
For some people, this might be enough. But frankly, I want more. And there should be more. I remember when American Express had “Membership Has Its Privileges” as its marketing slogan back in the 1990s. Indeed, being an AMEX cardholder was definitely something that had significant perks, even for the base level green card holders. The company had field offices worldwide you could go to for concierge and financial services, for example. Today, you can still get more advanced perks with AMEX, but you have to be a Gold or Platinum cardholder to take advantage of them, such as airport lounge access.
Hey big spender
I was an AMEX cardmember for over 20 years, but I got rid of my last one about a year ago. I downgraded from a Platinum to a Gold, then to a Green. I then spent all my points and canceled it — because finding merchants that were friendly to AMEX became increasingly difficult. And my various corporate jobs stopped using company-issued AMEX altogether, opting instead to direct reimburse personal cards instead.
I believe that Apple has an opportunity, with its loyal cadre of customers — to create the same kind of brick and mortar benefits and perks that AMEX once had.
Unlike AMEX, or with other companies like Chase, I don’t know if the company truly needs more than one version of the card, since it’s mostly virtual and benefits could be upgraded on the fly.
I would expect that over time; it would work similarly to an airline loyalty program that with the more you spend, the higher your privileges. So the notion of “Silver,” “Gold,” “Platinum,” or “Diamond” Apple Card might exist based on how you spend and which boxes you tick off in specific categories.
One of the things I miss from being a frequent traveler was having access to airport executive travel lounges. Back in the day, to take advantage of these, you needed a premium credit card associated with the airline that ran a lounge, such as Delta or American. Or you needed a premium AMEX card that was associated with the points and lounge networks these airlines were in. As I discovered, when those relationships deteriorated, you then had to switch credit cards (and deal with the points and mileage qualifications hassles).
Apple could forge the same kinds of lounge relationships for its highest spenders as AMEX has. Or it could do something different: Create and run its lounges.
Think of it: Serene, high-tech environments with decor designed by the same folks that built the retail stores, with the same friendly staff. Apple already disrupted the entire retail experience; think of the kind of things they could do with technology and customer service in America’s airport terminals. They would make the network of AMEX’s own Centurion lounges look like a joke — and I am sure Apple could create more of them, for more people.
But why stop at airports? How about putting these lounges everywhere? I would like to see Apple disrupt the coffee shop as well. I’d love an Apple Lounge that I could use as a quiet, temporary contemplative space where I could have a hot or a cold beverage, a healthy snack, and access to a resident Genius or two.
I’d also like to see Apple disrupt Uber and other ridesharing services — which I believe is already part of their overall plan. But do you know who I would really like them to wipe off this planet? Yelp.
Food for thought
Yelp is a useful service, but the reliability of its restaurant recommendations is questionable, given how Yelp’s local sales and marketing teams muscle restaurants into buying advertising. Restaurants hate them because of their mismanaged and sophomoric “Elite Yelp” culture, while diners get exasperated at having to sift through dozens or hundreds of poorly written accounts to identify the few good nuggets of information about a restaurant.
An Apple-run food and entertainment listing and review service — Apple Dine (remember Diner’s Club?) would be a vast improvement over Yelp because they would bring the same rigorous methodology they use in running the App Store. But instead of developers, you’d have food service businesses, and instead of apps, you’d have restaurants.
In becoming a listed food service business, you’d have to conform to whatever rigorous standards for food and beverage that Apple would require. That may include going through training programs, implementing standard operating procedures, and whatever rigidity the company wishes to impose to be allowed on this system. That would consist of Apple Pay and Apple Card as required payment methods, with servers using iOS devices at the table to place orders and accept payments. Apple could corner point-of-sale (POS) in a restaurant setting for eateries that wanted to be part of this exclusive club.
Dining on data
Think of the technological benefits as well. Apple Watch could be used to report on restaurant audio volume levels in real-time to inform the diner about loudness level. Wi-Fi access points could be used to generate statistical data from client iOS and WatchOS devices for marketing and other purposes, benefiting both restaurant and diner.
The analytics spin on this for a restaurant would be massive. Apple could have more rigorous control over the way ratings, reviews, food photography (disrupt Instagram’s food porn while we are at it) and feedback would be handled, and unlike Yelp, it could be a two way street for diner and restaurant.
Of course, Apple could do this for food delivery services as well, disrupting GrubHub, UberEats, and Doordash. The more retail and real-world experiences Apple is able to capture as part of its UX on iOS, iPadOS, and WatchOS, the more loyal their Apple Card customers will be.
I don’t know if Apple is thinking about any of these things yet. But if they do, be prepared for some significant industry disruption in the premium credit card space.
Do you want Apple lounges, cafes, and restaurants? Talk Back and Let Me Know.
Facebook launches BARS, a TikTok-like app for creating and sharing raps – TechCrunch
Facebook’s internal R&D group, NPE Team, is today launching its next experimental app, called BARS. The app makes it possible for rappers to create and share their raps using professionally created beats, and is the NPE Team’s second launch in the music space following its recent public debut of music video app Collab.
While Collab focuses on making music with others online, BARS is instead aimed at would-be rappers looking to create and share their own videos. In the app, users will select from any of the hundreds of professionally created beats, then write their own lyrics and record a video. BARS can also automatically suggest rhymes as you’re writing out lyrics, and offers different audio and visual filters to accompany videos as well as an autotune feature.
There’s also a “Challenge mode” available, where you can freestyle with auto-suggested word cues, which has more of a game-like element to it. The experience is designed to be accommodating to people who just want to have fun with rap, similar to something like Smule’s AutoRap, perhaps, which also offers beats for users’ own recordings.
The videos themselves can be up to 60 seconds in length and can then be saved to your Camera Roll or shared out on other social media platforms.
Like NPE’s Collab, the pandemic played a role in BARS’ creation. The pandemic shut down access to live music and places where rappers could experiment, explains NPE Team member DJ Iyler, who also ghostwrites hip-hop songs under the alias “D-Lucks.”
“I know access to high-priced recording studios and production equipment can be limited for aspiring rappers. On top of that, the global pandemic shut down live performances where we often create and share our work,” he says.
BARS was built with a team of aspiring rappers, and today launched into a closed beta.
Despite the focus on music, and rap in particular, the new app in a way can be seen as yet another attempt by Facebook to develop a TikTok competitor — at least in this content category.
TikTok has already become a launchpad for up-and-coming musicians, including rappers; it has helped rappers test their verses, is favored by many beatmakers and is even influencing what sort of music is being made. Diss tracks have also become a hugely popular format on TikTok, mainly as a way for influencers to stir up drama and chase views. In other words, there’s already a large social community around rap on TikTok, and Facebook wants to shift some of that attention back its way.
The app also resembles TikTok in terms of its user interface. It’s a two-tabbed vertical video interface — in its case, it has “Featured” and “New” feeds instead of TikTok’s “Following” and “For You.” And BARS places the engagement buttons on the lower-right corner of the screen with the creator name on the lower-left, just like TikTok.
However, in place of hearts for favoriting videos, your taps on a video give it “Fire” — a fire emoji keeps track. You can tap “Fire” as many times as you want, too. But because there’s (annoyingly) no tap-to-pause feature, you may accidentally “fire” a video when you were looking for a way to stop its playback. To advance in BARS, you swipe vertically, but the interface is lacking an obvious “Follow” button to track your favorite creators. It’s hidden under the top-right three-dot menu.
The app is seeded with content from NPE Team members, which includes other aspiring rappers, former music producers and publishers.
Currently, the BARS beta is live on the iOS App Store in the U.S., and is opening its waitlist. Facebook says it will open access to BARS invites in batches, starting in the U.S. Updates and news about invites, meanwhile, will be announced on Instagram.
Facebook’s recent launches from its experimental apps division include Collab and collage maker E.gg, among others. Not all apps stick around. If they fail to gain traction, Facebook shuts them down — as it did last year with the Pinterest-like video app Hobbi.
Brandwatch is acquired by Cision for $450M, creating a PR, marketing and social listening giant – TechCrunch
Online consumer intelligence and social media listening platform Brandwatch has been acquired by Cision, best known for its media monitoring and media contact database services, for $450 million, in a combined cash and shares deal. TechCrunch understands Brandwatch’s key executive team will be staying on. The move combines two large players to offer a broad range of services, from PR to marketing and online customer engagement. The deal is expected to close in the second quarter of 2021.
Cision has a media contact database of approximately 1 million journalists and media outlets and claims to have over 75,000 customers. Brandwatch applies AI and machine learning to the practice known as “social listening”.
Along the way, Brandwatch raised a total of around $65 million. It was Series A-funded by Nauta Capital, followed by Highland Europe and then Partech.
In a statement, Giles Palmer, founder, and CEO of Brandwatch said: “We have always built Brandwatch with ambition… Now is the time to take the next step – joining a company of significant scale to create a business and a suite of products that can have an important global impact.”
Abel Clark, CEO of Cision said: “The continued digital shift and widespread adoption of social media is rapidly and fundamentally changing how brands and organizations engage with their customers. This is driving the imperative that PR, marketing, social, and customer care teams fully incorporate the unique insights now available into consumer-led strategies. Together, Cision and Brandwatch will help our clients to more deeply understand, connect and engage with their customers at scale across every channel.”
Brandwatch has been on an almost case-study of a journey from fundraising to acquisition to a merger, but less characteristically for a well-funded tech company, it did much of it from its hometown of Brighton, on the southern coast of England.
The financing journey began for Giles Palmer, with angel funding in 2006. In 2010 Brandwatch raised $1.5 million from Durrants, a marketing and PR firm, and a Series A round from Nauta Capital. In 2014 it raised $22 million in funding in a Series B round led by Highland Europe. That was followed by a $33 million Series C financing led by Partech Ventures in 2015.
With the war chest, it went on to acquire BuzzSumo in 2017, a content marketing and influencer identification platform, for an undisclosed sum. And in 2019 Brandwatch merged with a similar business, Crimson Hexagon, creating a business with around $100 million in ARR. It also acquired the London-based SaaS research platform Qriously.
Brandwatch was recently named a leader in Forrester’s guide for buyers of social listening solutions.
Twitter announces ‘Super Follow’ subscriptions – TechCrunch
Twitter reveals its move into paid subscriptions, Australia passes its media bargaining law and Coinbase files its S-1. This is your Daily Crunch for February 25, 2021.
The big story: Twitter announces ‘Super Follow’ subscriptions
Twitter announced its first paid product at an investor event today, showing off screenshots of a feature that will allow users to subscribe to their favorite creators in exchange for things like exclusive content, subscriber-only newsletters and a supporter badge.
The company also announced a feature called Communities, which could compete with Facebook Groups and enable Super Follow networks to interact, plus a Safety Mode for auto-blocking and muting abusive accounts. On top of all that, Twitter said it plans to double revenue by 2023.
Not announced: launch dates for any of these features.
The tech giants
After Facebook’s news flex, Australia passes bargaining code for platforms and publishers — This requires platform giants like Facebook and Google to negotiate to remunerate local news publishers for their content.
New Facebook ad campaign extols the benefits of personalized ads — The sentiments are similar to a campaign that Facebook launched last year in opposition to Apple’s upcoming App Tracking Transparency feature.
Startups, funding and venture capital
Sergey Brin’s airship aims to use world’s biggest mobile hydrogen fuel cell — The Google co-founder’s secretive airship company LTA Research and Exploration is planning to power a huge disaster relief airship with an equally record-breaking hydrogen fuel cell.
Coinbase files to go public in a key listing for the cryptocurrency category — Coinbase’s financials show a company that grew rapidly from 2019 to 2020 while also crossing the threshold into unadjusted profitability.
Boosted by the pandemic, meeting transcription service Otter.ai raises $50M — With convenient timing, Otter.ai added Zoom integration back in April 2020.
Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch
DigitalOcean’s IPO filing shows a two-class cloud market — The company intends to list on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol “DOCN.”
Pilot CEO Waseem Daher tears down his company’s $60M Series C pitch deck — For founders aiming to entice investors, the pitch deck remains the best way to communicate their startup’s progress and potential.
Five takeaways from Coinbase’s S-1 — We dig into Coinbase’s user numbers, its asset mix, its growing subscription incomes, its competitive landscape and who owns what in the company.
(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)
Paramount+ will cost $4.99 per month with ads — The new streaming service launches on March 4.
Register for TC Sessions: Justice for a conversation on diversity, equity and inclusion in the startup world — This is just one week away!
The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.
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