If you’re like me, who isn’t big on social media, you’d think that the image filters that come inside most apps will do the job. But for many others, especially the younger crowd, making their photos stand out is a huge deal.
The demand is big enough that PicsArt, a rival to filtering companies VSCO and Snapseed, recently hit 130 million monthly active users worldwide, roughly a year after it amassed 100 million MAUs. Like VSCO, PicsArt now offers video overlays though images are still its focus.
Nearly 80 percent of PicsArt’s users are under the age of 35 and those under 18 are driving most of its growth. The “Gen Z” (the generation after millennials) users aren’t obsessed with the next big, big thing. Rather, they pride themselves on having niche interests, be it K-pop, celebrities, anime, sci-fi or space science, topics that come in the form of filters, effects, stickers and GIFs in PicsArt’s content library.
“PicsArt is helping to drive a trend I call visual storytelling. There’s a generation of young people who communicate through memes, short-form videos, images and stickers, and they rarely use words,” Tammy Nam, who joined PicsArt as its chief operating officer in July, told TechCrunch in an interview.
PicsArt has so far raised $45 million, according to data collected by Crunchbase. It picked up $20 million from a Series B round in 2016 to grow its Asia focus and told TechCrunch that it’s “actively considering fundraising to fuel [its] rapid growth even more.”
The app doubles as a social platform, although the use case is much smaller compared to the size of Instagram, Facebook and other mainstream social media products. About 40 percent of PicsArt’s users post on the app, putting it in a unique position where it competes with the social media juggernauts on one hand, and serving as a platform-agnostic app to facilitate content creation for its rivals on the other.
What separates PicsArt from the giants, according to Nam, is that people who do share there tend to be content creators rather than passive consumers.
“On TikTok and Instagram, the majority of the people there are consumers. Almost 100 percent of the people on PicsArt are creating or editing something. For many users, coming on PicsArt is a built-in habit. They come in every week, and find the editing process Zen-like and peaceful.”
Trending in China
Most of PicsArt’s users live in the United States, but the app owes much of its recent success to China, its fastest growing market with more than 15 million MAUs. The regional growth, which has been 10-30 percent month-over-month recently, appears more remarkable when factoring in PicsArt’s zero user acquisition expense in a crowded market where pay-to-play is a norm for emerging startups.
“Many larger companies [in China] are spending a lot of money on advertising to gain market share. PicsArt has done zero paid marketing in China,” noted Nam.
When people catch sight of an impressive image filtering effect online, many will inquire about the toolset behind it. Chinese users find out about the Armenian startup from photos and videos hashtagged #PicsArt, not different from how VSCO gets discovered from #vscocam on Instagram. It’s through such word of mouth that PicsArt broke into China, where users flocked to its Avengers-inspired disappearing superhero effect last May when the film was screening. China is now the company’s second largest market by revenue after the U.S.
A hurdle that all media apps see in China is the country’s opaque guidelines on digital content. Companies in the business of disseminating information, from WeChat to TikTok, hire armies of content moderators to root out what the government deems inappropriate or illegal. PicsArt says it uses artificial intelligence to sterilize content and keeps a global moderator team that also keeps an eye on its China content.
Despite being headquartered in Silicon Valley, PicsArt has placed its research and development center in Armenia, home to founder Hovhannes Avoyan. This gives the startup access to much cheaper engineering talents in the country and neighboring Russia compared to what it can hire in the U.S. To date, 70 percent of the company’s 360 employees are working in engineering and product development (50 percent of whom are female), an investment it believes helps keep its creative tools up to date.
Most of PicsArt’s features are free to use, but the firm has also looked into getting paid. It rolled out a premium program last March that gives users more sophisticated functions and exclusive content. This segment has already leapfrogged advertising to be PicsArt’s largest revenue source, although in China, its budding market, paid subscriptions have been slow to come.
“In China, people don’t want to pay because they don’t believe in the products. But if they understand your value, they are willing to pay, for example, they pay a lot for mobile games,” said Jennifer Liu, PicsArt China’s country manager.
And Nam is positive that Chinese users will come to appreciate the app’s value. “In order for this new generation to create really differentiated content, become influencers, or be more relevant on social media, they have to do edit their content. It’s just a natural way for them to do that.”
Amazon sets a date for its big 2021 Echo and Ring devices event
Amazon has set the date for its next big devices and services event, and if previous years are anything to go by we can expect new Echo and Ring hardware along with potentially a few surprises. The event will kick off at 9am PT (12pm ET) on Tuesday, September 28, and as with last year’s it’ll be online-only.
Last year Amazon didn’t hold back on new smart home hardware. Along with the new Echo Show 10, which could rotate under its own power to face the person interacting with it, Amazon also had a new, spherical Echo smart speaker.
The smaller Echo Dot – and its Echo Dot with Clock sibling – offered a lower price point, and the new Echo Dot Kids Edition dressed that up in more playful designs. As for Ring, we saw the Ring Car Alarm debut, plus the promise of end-to-end video encryption. Amazon also announced a collaboration with Tesla, with the Ring Car Connect for the automaker’s EVs.
Elsewhere, the Eero Pro 6 and Eero 6 added WiFi 6 to the familiar mesh networking, while the Fire TV Stick and Fire TV Stick Lite kicked off pricing at under $30. Amazon also introduced Luna, its cloud gaming service, complete with a dedicated wireless controller.
Just as much a showcase for hardware, though, Amazon’s events have become demonstrations for its software changes. Alexa typically plays a key part in that – last year we saw group calling support, Netflix on Echo Show, and interactive teaching tools – but it’s also an opportunity to see what developer tools and improvements have been introduced.
Finally, it’s a chance for Amazon to surprise. Last year, that meant the Ring Always Home Cam – a flying camera drone that promised automated patrols of your house – though the gadget is still yet to actually launch commercially.
For 2021, it’s likely we’ll see refreshes of Amazon’s core Echo range. After all, with the holidays approaching, that’s a key opportunity for Amazon to put more smart speakers in users’ homes – and double-down on their commitment to Alexa as a platform, rather than the Google Assistant or Apple’s Siri. The new Amazon-branded Fire TV range could also be expanded.
We’ll probably also hear more about the controversial Amazon Sidewalk, the shared neighborhood network that Amazon opted to enable by default earlier in the year.
On the “weird tech” side, that could well be the rumored wall-mounted Echo touchscreen. Billed as being an in-wall smart home hub, it would help position Alexa as a key way of interacting with the connected home and IoT, if the rumors are to be believed.
After iPhone 13: The new tech coming in 2022, 2023, and 2024
Over the next few years, the iPhone will see some significant changes. This year’s iPhone 13 didn’t exactly make major waves when it came to upgrades VS last year’s model lineup. According to high-level Apple product predictions released this week, the changes will come in the years 2022, 2023, and 2024 in the form of punch hole front-facing cameras, under-display Touch ID, and foldable smartphones from Apple.
Notes from Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo relayed by 9to5Mac suggested that the iPhone line released in the year 2022 would include two higher-end devices with a punch-hole display. Kuo also suggested that these devices would include a new 48MP wide camera, and would be joined by a new and “more affordable” 6.7-inch iPhone.
Kuo also noted the addition of an under-display fingerprint reader for the year 2023. This technology began to appear in Android devices over the last few years, but hasn’t yet matured to the point at which Apple has been comfortable releasing it on a release-level iPhone. The iPhone under-display Touch ID system is predicted to be a part of the iPhone 15 (or whatever it’ll be called) released in the year 2023 – or later.
The most massive change to the iPhone line comes in the prediction of a foldable device. Ming-Chi Kuo suggested that the “foldable iPhone” won’t be released until the year 2024. It is not yet known whether this foldable iPhone will be released at the same time as the traditional iPhone, what it’s price will be, or if it’ll actually truly ever be released at all!
ALSO NOTE: There’ll likely be a new iPhone SE coming in the year 2022 with expanded mobile data radio coverage. This means 5G support for said iPhone SE, likely appearing in the first half of the year 2022.
If you’re currently preparing to purchase an iPhone and want to wait for the newest possible device – you’re in luck, since the iPhone 13 will be available in stores on September 24, 2021. The release date is the same for iPhone 13, iPhone 13 Mini, iPhone 13 Pro, and iPhone 13 Pro Max, all coming on September 24th, 2021. Take a peek at comparisons between the iPhone 13 models and iPhone 12 and see what you make of them. Then stick around as we prepare to release our review of the iPhone 13 and beyond!
IKEA Sjomake makes DIY hidden wireless charging a $40 upgrade
IKEA is making it easy to hide wireless charging in your nightstand, desk, or coffee table, with the new Sjömäke wireless pad keeping its Qi out of sight. Unlike IKEA’s earlier charging pads, which slot into circular cut-outs in the tabletop, this new high-power pad is intended to hide underneath yet still allow for wireless charging through the surface.
In fact, IKEA claims, it should work just fine through tables and other worktops that are 3/8″ to 7/8″ thick, just as long as they’re not metal. The Swedish retailer includes double-sided tape for mounting it underneath, though there’s also support for screws or other fixings if you prefer.
Plug in the six foot long power cable, meanwhile, and then you have a discreetly hidden Qi charging pad. IKEA includes some stickers that you can optionally use on the top of the table or nightstand, so that you know whereabouts to position your phone or other device for best charging results. Or, you can leave them off altogether, and have the whole thing seem a little more magical.
The pad is a fairly uninspiring design, given it’s intended to be hidden from sight. It’s 1-inches thick, 7-inches long, and 3-inches wide. An indicator LED on the side shows whether or not it’s actively charging a device, though of course there’s a fair chance that you won’t be able to see that in day to day use.
Indeed, IKEA says that you really shouldn’t use the pad with a phone or other device without anything in-between. According to the user manual, there should be at least around 8mm between the two, presumably because IKEA has tuned the charging coils to take into account some sort of gap.
As for the charging rate, expect around 5W. Less, certainly, than you’d get from some of the other Qi pads on the market right now, but certainly sufficient if you’re leaving your phone to one side as you sleep or work.
Currently, the Sjömäke is listed at $39.99 on IKEA’s site, though it’s not yet available to order. The retailer confirmed to The Verge that it will be going on sale in October, both in the US and in other international stores, both at its physical locations and online.
This isn’t, of course, IKEA’s first flirtation with wireless charging. Back in 2018, the company ran a high-profile welcome campaign for the iPhone 8, highlighting how Apple’s addition of Qi support meant that the smartphone would now work with the Swedish company’s chargers that were build into tables, lamps, and more.
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