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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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OnePlus recruits Hasselblad for three-year smartphone imaging deal – TechCrunch

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Imaging has long been the primary battlefield on which the smartphone battles are waged. It makes sense. The thing about smartphones in 2021 is that they’re mostly very good. Sure, there are differentiators, but if you spend a decent amount on a device from any major manufacturer, you’re probably going to get a pretty good device.

But there’s still plenty of opportunity to continually bridge the gap between smartphone imaging and devoted camera systems. And today OnePlus takes a potentially key step in that direction by announcing a partnership with Hasselblad. The DJI-owned Swedish camera maker has signed onto a three-year partnership with OnePlus.

According to a release tied to the news, the pair plan to spend $150 million over the course of the deal, in an attempt to vault OnePlus to the front of the pack. Hasselblad has dipped its toes in the mobile market, including a Moto Z attachment, and has created cameras for DJI drones, but this represents a pretty big move for the 180-year-old camera company.

The first fruits of the partnership will arrive on the OnePlus 9, a new handset set to launch on March 23. The companies promise a “revamped camera system.” The phone will feature a Sony IMX789 sensor, coupled with HDR video and the ability capture 4K at 120FPS and 8K at 30FPS.

Per the release:

The partnership will continuously develop over the next three years, starting with software improvements including color tuning and sensor calibration, and extending to more dimensions in the future. The two parties will jointly define the technology standards of the mobile camera experience and develop innovative imaging technologies, continuing to improve the Hasselblad Camera for Mobile. Both companies are committed to delivering immediate benefit for OnePlus users, while continuously collaborating to further improve the user experience and quality for the long-term.

The deal includes the development of four global labs, including U.S. and Japan locations and:

Pioneering new areas of smartphone imaging technology for future OnePlus camera systems, such as a panoramic camera with a 140-degree field of view, T-lens technology for lightning-fast focus in the front-facing camera, and a freeform lens – to be first introduced on the OnePlus 9 Series – that practically eliminates edge distortion in ultrawide photos.

It will be interesting to see how a company like Hasselblad will take to mobile imaging, though such a deal could be a secret weapon as OnePlus looks to keep on the flagship end of the mobile spectrum against the likes of Apple and Samsung.

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Snapcommerce raises $85M to make over your mobile shopping experience – TechCrunch

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People are not only shopping digitally more than ever. They’re also shopping using their mobile phones more than ever.

And for mobile-first companies like Snapcommerce, this is good news.

Snapcommerce, formerly known as SnapTravel, has raised $85 million in what the company is describing as a “Pre-IPO” growth round to help further its mission of “changing the way people shop on their phones.”

The Toronto, Ontario-based startup has built out an AI-driven, vertical-agnostic platform that uses messaging in an effort to personalize the mobile shopping experience and “deliver the best promotional prices.” While it was initially focused on the travel industry, the company is now branching out into other consumer verticals – hence its name change.

Inovia Capital and Lion Capital co-led the new growth round, which included participation from Acrew DCF, Thayer Ventures, Full In Partners as well as existing backers Telstra Ventures and Bee Partners. The financing brings Snapcommerce’s total raised since its 2016 inception to over $100 million. Its last raise — a $7.2 million round from Telstra and NBA star Steph Curry — took place in 2019.

The startup was founded by tech entrepreneurs Hussein Fazal, whose prior company AdParlor grew to $100+ million in revenue, then sold to AdKnowledge back in 2011; and Henry Shi, who previously built uMentioned and worked at Google, where he helped launch YouTube Music Insights, according to previous TechCrunch reporting.

Snapcommerce co-founders Henry Shi and Hussein Fazal, Image courtesy of Snapcommerce

Snapcommerce launched its first, travel-focused product in 2017. It works by using chatbots to interact with customers via messaging apps such as SMS, Facebook and Whatsapp. But the company also has human agents ready to help if people need more assistance, in the past essentially serving as on-demand travel agents.

Its service is not just for hotels and flights, but also to help people book restaurants and activities too.

“Our focus has been on building that personal relationship,” Fazal said. “Many people end up coming back to us when they travel again.” In fact, over 40% of its sales in 2020 came from repeat customers.

Over the years, the company claims to have helped more than 10 million users globally save over $75 million. It expects to cross over $1 billion in total mobile sales this year.

And now it’s ready to branch out into helping consumers save money on goods.

“When shopping, it’s hard to find the right product and even if you do, it’s hard to find a good deal,” he said. “On a desktop, there’s ways around it. But on mobile, it’s virtually impossible.”

The company turned the corner to profitability three months into the pandemic in 2020, seeing a 60% spike in sales in the second half of the year compared to H2 2019, according to CEO Fazal.

It then decided to re-invest its profits to continue growing the business.

“The profitability during the pandemic gave us confidence that we could turn to profitability whenever we needed to and gave us control of our own destiny, which enabled this fundraise,” Fazal told TechCrunch. “The third quarter of 2020 ended up being our greatest quarter ever.”

The COVID-19 pandemic, naturally, only accelerated its growth as more consumers turned to mobile.

“We believe the next wave of power purchasers will be via mobile,” Fazal said. “Some of the new generation don’t even have desktops or laptops, and they spend all their time on their mobile phone and messaging. So we’re able to be at the forefront.” 

Snapcommerce has an IPO in its sights although no specific timeline. The company did not reveal its current valuation or hard revenue figures. The company makes money by either marking up prices provided by a merchant or charging the merchant a commission.

Chris Arsenault, partner at Inovia and Snapcommerce lead investor, said his firm “tripled up” on its investment in the startup after witnessing its success in the travel space.

“Other companies out there only care about the transaction, and force consumers to look through several services to see if they got the best price, all the while telling them ‘there’s only 2 seats left,’ ” he told TechCrunch. “We believe that consumers aren’t going to accept that type of pressure-selling in the future. And Snapcommerce’s ability to build trust with its customers and service providers has attracted us to them as they are defining what the future of commerce is going to be like.”

Ultimately, the company plans to use its fresh capital to continue to scale with the goal of streamlining the entire mobile search, purchase and fulfillment process and make finding “the right item at the right price as sending a message to a trusted friend.”


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Square buys majority of Tidal, adds Jay Z to its board in bid to shake up the artist economy – TechCrunch

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This morning Square, a fintech company that serves both individuals and companies, announced that it has purchased a majority stake in Tidal, a music streaming service. The deal, worth some $297 million, will Tidal allow artist-partners to keep their ownership in the music company.

Square CEO Jack Dorsey used his other company, Twitter, this morning to explain the deal. Dorsey seemed to expect the transaction to generate skepticism – which it definitely has. In his opening message, he asked a rhetorical question: “Why would a music streaming company and a financial services company join forces?!”

Why indeed. Dorsey’s expectation is that his company can replicate the success of Cash App and other Square products in the world of music. Noting that “new ideas are found at the intersection,” Dorsey argued that the confluence of “music and the economy” is one such point of convergence.

The deal also installs musician and businessperson Jay Z on Square’s board.

Some early reaction to the deal has proved negative. It’s not hard to riff on the seeming-strangeness of Square and Tidal as a pair. And Square has made acquisitions in the past that appeared adjacent and failed to stick. The company bought food-delivery service Caviar in 2014 before selling it to DoorDash in 2019, for example; that Square appears to have made a venture-level return on the transaction is immaterial to the focus argument.

But the bull-case for the Square-Tidal tie-up is easy to make as well. The American fintech just spent a minute fraction of a single percent of its market capitalization on the smaller company, and through its choice to let artists keep their stake, has effectively onboarded a host of ambassadors for its brand.

And Dorsey is not wrong that Square did shake up the commerce game for many offline businesses with its original card reader. Why not take a swing at a part of the economy — music — that has migrated from the physical world to the digital in the past few years, much like small businesses in recent quarters?

Square’s business users, it’s “seller ecosystem,” as it likes to call it, are increasingly digital. In its most recent quarterly earnings report, “in-person only” usage is falling as a percentage of seller gross payment volume (GPV), while “online only” and “omnichannel” GPV are taking up the slack.

Square has a known win in its consumer-focused Cash App service, which reached 36 million monthly actives in December of 2020, up from 24 million in the same period one year prior. You can imagine tie-ups between the music company and the youth-skewing Cash App audience. And having Jay Z at the Square boardroom table will hardly make the company less innovative; he may bring fresh perspective.

And then there’s the question of NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, a new form of digital asset that have recently become the cause célèbre of the cryptocurrency community. Given that Square has a growing cryptocurrency business via Cash App, and has invested hundreds of millions of dollars into bitcoin itself. If there is space in the market for Square to bring music-based NFTs to its larger consumer user base is an interesting question. If the answer is yes, Square could now be in a leading position to create that market.

Perhaps the Square-Tidal deal won’t generate the future growth that Square imagines. But the deal is cheap, snagging Jay Z as a leader is a win, and it’s hard to win by only playing corporate defense.

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