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Life with the Samsung Galaxy Fold – TechCrunch

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Avoid pressing hard on the screen.

Tap lightly to keep it safe.

Your Galaxy Fold isn’t water or dust resistant.

Don’t allow any liquids or foreign objects to enter it.

Don’t attach anything to the main screen, such as a screen protector.

So begins your journey. It’s the story of one of the most fascinating product releases in recent memory. It’s also the story of the most polarizing product I’ve ever reviewed…twice.

The Galaxy Fold is at once a hopeful glimpse into the future and a fascinating mess. It’s a product I can’t recommend anyone purchase, but it’s one I’m still glad Samsung had the guts to make.

What’s perhaps most frustrating are the glimpses you get using the device, those moments it transcends lovely and is legitimately useful. And when you leave the device at home, you actually start to miss the 7.3-inch display.

Two scenarios in particular have really highlighted the value of Samsung’s strong-headed approach to pushing boundaries.

First is the gym. Unfolding the device and propping it up on the control panel of a piece of exercise equipment is a beautiful thing. Full-screen Netflix, baseball games from MLB At Bat. Watch the minutes and the calories just fly away. The Fold also works great with the Galaxy Buds, which are legitimately one of the best hardware products Samsung has produced in ages.

Second is the subway. I’ve been prepping for interviews by reading Pocket stories on the train, with the Notes app open in a side window. This is great. Like a seriously awesome thing. And this is coming from someone who still has trouble embracing smartphones as serious productivity devices. There are just too many limitations to that small screen. When I want to get work done, the laptop comes out. I’m not suggesting the Fold completely changes the math here, but it does edge ever closer, blurring that line a bit in the process.

Samsung Galaxy Fold

So there you go. That’s two distinct examples, covering both entertainment and productivity. The fact is the same as ever: big screens are good. The question is how we get there. It’s a true fact, of course, that plenty mocked Samsung with the first Note device. It seems hard to believe, but in 2011, 5.3 inches seemed impossibly large for a phone. By 2018, however, 5.5 inches was the most popular screen size for handsets. And that number appears to still be growing.

Clearly Samsung was right on that one, and the Note played an outsized role in pushing those boundaries.

After years of teasing flexible and foldable displays, the tech world was understandably excited when the Galaxy Fold finally arrived. Honestly, there were long stretches of time when it felt like the handset would never arrive. As such, it feels strange to suggest that the product was somehow rushed to market.

It’s important to remember, of course, that part of the mainstreaming of big phones has been the technologies supporting the large screen. Samsung, Apple, Huawei, et al. have done a good job consistently increasing screen to body ratios. The new Notes may have bigger screens than ever, but other breakthroughs in manufacturing means we’re not walking around with bricks.

Similarly, this decidedly first-generation device is big and thick. Anecdotally, reactions have been…mixed. The two separate rounds of review devices I’ve received from the company (round two, for reasons we’ll get into in a second involved two devices) have coincided with big TechCrunch-hosted events in San Francisco. First TC Sessions: Robotics in April and then Disrupt last week.

Samsung Galaxy Fold

Take some of this with a grain of salt, because my co-workers can be pretty damn cynical about new technologies (and yes, I’ve been at this long enough to include myself in this). Reactions ranged from genuinely wowed to disappointed bafflement. There was also one co-worker who repeatedly threatened to eat the device because she said it looked like an ice cream sandwich, but that’s a story for another blog post.

There are plenty of things to be critical from a design standpoint. The “first-gen” feel runs very deep with the device. When closed it’s quite thick — like two phones stacked atop one another. The crease is visible, as has often been reported. And the front display isn’t particularly useful. I get why it’s there, of course. There are plenty of moments when you just want to check a quick notification, bit it’s incredibly narrow and sandwiched between two massive bezels.   

None of those really matter much compared to the device’s fragility. The Fold will forever be the device whose release date was pushed back after multiple reviewers sent back broken devices. Mine worked fine. The company went back to the drawing board for several months and came back with a more robust device that patched up some holes and reinforced the folding mechanism. Mine broke.

CMB 8200

After about 27 hours with the device, I opened it up in line at CVS and noticed something weird about the screen. Sitting between the butterfly wings was a mass of pixels I referred to as an “amorphous blob.” I’d been fairly gentle with the thing, but, as I put it in a followup, “a phone is not a Fabergé egg.” In other words, it’s understandable that the product isn’t designed to, say, survive a drop onto hard concrete or a dunk in the toilet.

While it’s true that many other modern phones have evolved over generations to withstand such accidental bumbles, it’s also understandable that the Fold is a little more fragile. We can’t say Samsung didn’t warn us, and I do appreciate that Samsung was able to go back to the drawing board before wide release, but there’s a pretty strong argument to be made that a smartphone that needs to literally ship with warnings like the ones stated up top isn’t fully ready for prime time.

CNET recently got its hands on a folding machine and found that the handset could withstand 120,000 fold. That’s a little more than half of the promised 200,000. Another third-party test found similar results. Not ideal, but not terrible. It’s about three years’ worth of folds. If you’re dropping $2,000+ on a phone, you may well want it to last closer to the promised five years — though if you have that sort of disposable income, who knows?

Samsung Galaxy Fold

I would honestly be more concerned with the kind of day to day issues that could potentially result in damage like what I saw. It’s possible that mine had a defect. I’ve been using a replacement that Samsung dropped off after collecting mine to send back to Korea for testing. Granted, I’ve been using it even more gingerly than its predecessor, but so far, so good.

This morning I saw a report of a user experiencing what appears to be the same defect in the same spot. A commenter astutely pointed out the placement of a screw discovered during a recent teardown that could be the source of these issues. As ever, it will be interesting to see how this all…unfolds.

I’m not going to get too far into the other specs here. I wrote thousands of words in my original review. Nothing about the underlying technology has changed between versions one and two. All of the big updates have been to the folding mechanism and keeping the device more robust.

It’s fitting, I think that my model had 5G built-in. Both technologies feel like a glimpse into the future, but there’s little to recommend plunking down the requisite money to purchase either in 2019. The clear difference is that slow saturation of next-generation cellular technology is a bit more understood at this point. Telling someone that their fingernails can damage their $2,000 phone is a different conversation entirely.

Samsung Galaxy Fold

I do think that Samsung’s committed to the Galaxy Fold long-term. And I do believe that there will eventually be a place for the products in the market.

The biggest short-term concern is all the negative press following the first wave of devices. The FlexPai felt more like a prototype than consumer device. The Fold feels like something of an extended public beta. And the Huawei Mate X, which, although incredibly promising, is still MIA, as the company does another pass on the product. Global availability is another question entirely — though, that’s due to…other issues…

Knowing Samsung, the company will return from all of this with a much stronger offering in generation 2. There are a LOT of learnings to be gleaned from the product. And while it offers a glimpse into the promise of foldable, you’re better off waiting until that vision is more fully realized.



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Oracle now monitoring TikTok’s algorithms and moderation system for manipulation by China’s government – TechCrunch

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Oracle has begun auditing TikTok’s algorithms and content moderation models, according to a new report from Axios out this morning. Those reviews began last week, and follow TikTok’s June announcement it had moved its U.S. traffic to Oracle servers amid claims its U.S. user data had been accessed by TikTok colleagues in China.

The new arrangement is meant to allow Oracle the ability to monitor TikTok’s systems to help the company in its efforts to assure U.S. lawmakers that its app is not being manipulated by Chinese government authorities. Oracle will audit how TikTok’s algorithm surfaces content to “ensure outcomes are in line with expectations,” and that those models have not been manipulated, the report said. In addition, TikTok will regularly audit TikTok’s content moderation practices, including both its automated systems and its moderation decisions where people are choosing how to enforce TikTok policy.

TikTok’s moderation policies have been controversial in years past. In 2019, The Washington Post reported TikTok’s U.S. employees had often been ordered to restrict some videos on its platform at the behest of Beijing-based teams, and that teams in China would sometimes block or penalize certain videos out of caution about Chinese government restrictions. That same year, The Guardian also reported TikTok had been telling its moderators to censor videos that mentioned things like Tiananmen Square, Tibetan independence, or the banned religious group Falun Gong, per a set of leaked documents. In 2020, The Intercept reported TikTok moderators were told to censor political speech in livestreams and to suppress posts from “undesirable users” — the unattractive, poor or disabled, its documents said.

All the while, TikTok disputed the various claims — calling leaked documents outdated, for instance, in the latter two scenarios. It also continued to insist that its U.S. arm didn’t take instructions from its Chinese parent, ByteDance.

But a damning June 2022 report by BuzzFeed News proved that TikTok’s connection to China was closer than it had said. The news outlet found that U.S. data had been repeatedly accessed by staff in China, citing recordings from 80 TikTok internal meetings.

Following BuzzFeed’s reporting, TikTok announced that it was moving all U.S. traffic to Oracle’s infrastructure cloud service — a move designed to keep TikTok’s U.S. user data from prying eyes.

That agreement, a part of a larger operation called “Project Texas,” had been in progress for over a year and was focused on further separating TikTok’s U.S. operations from China, and employing an outside firm to oversee its algorithms.

Now, it seems Oracle is in charge of keeping an eye on TikTok to help prevent data emanating from the U.S. from being directed to China. The deal steps up Oracle’s involvement with TikTok as not only the host for the user data, but an auditor who could later back up or dispute TikTok’s claims that its system is operating fairly and without China’s influence. 

Oracle and TikTok have an interesting history. Towards the end of the Trump administration, the former president tried to force a sale between the two companies, bringing in long-time supporter, Oracle founder and CTO Larry Ellison to help broker the deal for his company. That deal eventually fell apart in February 2021, but the story didn’t end there, as it turned out.

But while this new TikTok-Oracle agreement has significance in terms of the tech industry and in politics, Oracle’s deal with TikTok doesn’t necessarily make the firm a more powerful player in the cloud infrastructure market.

Even with TikTok’s business, Oracle’s cloud infrastructure service represents just a fraction of the cloud infrastructure market. In the most recent quarter, Synergy Research, a firm that tracks this data, reported the cloud infrastructure market reached almost $55 billion with Amazon leading the way with 34%, Microsoft in second with 21%, and Google in third place with 10%. Oracle remains under 2%, says John Dinsdale, who is a principal analyst at the firm.

“Oracle’s share of the worldwide cloud infrastructure services market remains at just below 2% and has shown no signs of meaningful increase. So Oracle’s cloud revenue growth is pretty much keeping pace with overall market growth,” Dinsdale told TechCrunch. Synergy defines “cloud infrastructure services” as Infrastructure as a Service, Platform as a Service and hosted private cloud services. Dinsdale points out that Oracle’s SaaS business is much stronger.”

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Spotify prompts some users to record reaction podcasts to playlists – TechCrunch

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After testing new in-app podcast recording tools for users in New Zealand, Spotify is now trialing a new audio feature in Vietnam, one that’s designed to encourage users to record voice reactions to playlists.

A Reddit user posted screenshots of the feature, showing how they received a prompt to react to a playlist with a voice clip that will be posted as a podcast episode. As per its previous test in New Zealand, it’s fair to assume that these reaction ‘podcasts’ will be published directly to creators’ personal profilers where followers will be able to listen.

The screenshots show that users included in the test are seeing a microphone icon on playlist screens, and upon tapping that, they see a new screen that prompts them to record a voice reaction to the playlist.

Users are seeing a mic icon to record a voice reaction to a playlist Image Credits: Reddit (opens in a new window)

Spotify recording prompt

Image Credits: Reddit (opens in a new window)

Once they hit the button, they can either record in one go or multiple clips by pausing. Later, they can edit the clip, add background music, and tag the playlist before publishing.

This workflow is similar to the test in New Zealand, except in that test, the starting point was a “Record Podcast” button on the home screen. So this test is more about giving a prompt to users who might not have a podcast idea in their mind.

Spotify podcast

Spotify shows some rules creators must follow for podcast recording for safety Image Credits: Reddit (opens in a new window)

Spotify has confirmed the test, but the company didn’t share any details about what locations the feature is available, and how it plans to moderate these voice reactions.

“At Spotify, we are always looking for ways to enhance our users’ experience on our platform, and we regularly test features that we believe will bring value to listeners and creators. We are currently running a limited test of in-app audio creation, but have no further details to share at this time,” the company said in a statement to TechCrunch.

As we noted in our story in June, a lot of these features are powered by Spotify-owned podcast creation app Anchor. These tests indicate that the streaming giant is trying to convert listeners to creators by providing them with easy in-app tools to make and publish podcasts.

In its Q2 2022 earnings last month, Spotify said it now has 4.4 million podcasts on the platform, and users engaging with them have grown at a “substantial double digits year-on-year.” Spotify has invested more than $1 billion in podcasting in the last few years with €83 million ($84.3 million) invested this year alone to acquire podcast analytics companies Podsights and Chartable.

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Bumble experiments with group chats, polls and video calls for its new social networking feature, ‘Hive’ – TechCrunch

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Dating app maker Bumble revealed more of its plans to strengthen its social networking features during last week’s Q2 earnings, which saw the company’s shares slump over its lowered financial outlook despite delivering a revenue beat. Now, new images show what Bumble has been developing as part of the larger revamp of its “Bumble BFF” friend-finding feature — a change that could help the app attract a new audience beyond just young singles. Specifically, Bumble BFF has been testing a new “communities” offering it’s calling “Hive,” which, the images show, may include support for features like group chat, polls and video calls.

Bumble briefly referenced its plans for Hive on its Q2 2022 earnings call with investors, noting Hive was a “next-generation offering” focused on helping people find “platonic connections through small communities.” In other words, a groups product.

“As we have shared before, our approach is built on the insight that people want to find friends, acquaintances and connections through shared struggles and common joys: moving to a new city, navigating parenthood, finding a partner for hiking, or really anything else in between,” founder and CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd told investors.

She noted Bumble had recently expanded its alpha tests of the new Bumble BFF feature to the Greater Toronto area where Bumble users have since created thousands of these online communities known as “Hives.”

Image Credits: Bumble Hives via Watchful

The promise of platonic social networking is one the company believes could help it find engagement beyond the world of online dating. During its tests, Bumble said the weekly average number of sessions for BFF members increased by two-thirds, and their weekly time spent in-app was up 16%.

According to new images released by product intelligence firm Watchful, Bumble’s Hive includes a variety of now-standard social networking features. It shows BFF members can create profiles, join interest groups led by admins, publish posts, engage in group chats, create and respond to polls and more. There’s also an option for group video calls within the “Hives.”

Image Credits: Bumble Hives via Watchful

Video is not entirely new to Bumble, however.

The company also told investors it has been testing both video and audio in select markets as a way to enhance member profiles with “richer and more dynamic” content. This could additionally help Bumble better compete against a growing number of video-focused dating apps, like Snack, S’More, Desti and others.

Image Credits: Bumble Hives via Watchful

More broadly, Bumble’s latest updates aim to address the shift among younger, Gen Z users who are inclined to embrace apps that allow them to socially “hang out” online — like livestreaming app Yubo and various friend-finders, including those that help them make new friends on Snapchat and elsewhere, such as Hoop, Wink, Wizz, Qudo, Wave, LMK, Swipr and Vibe, among others. Dating giant Match also embraced this trend with its $1.73 billion deal for Hyperconnect, a company that had been more focused on social networking than dating. However, that investment has not yet paid off beyond bringing audio and video technologies to various Match dating apps.

Bumble was unable to provide a statement on the new Hive features, when reached for comment.

In Q2, Bumble reported $220.5 million in revenue in its most recent quarter, ahead of Wall Street estimates, but saw a loss of 3 cents per share versus the 1 cent loss expected. It also lowered its full-year revenue forecast citing increased competition with Match, the war in Ukraine, inflation and foreign exchange headwinds.

In addition to Bumble BFF’s Hive, the company is working on new astrology features, product enhancements for LGBTQIA+ users, tests of “messaging before match” features, audio and video features, and other monetization products.

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