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PicsArt hits 130 million MAUs as Chinese flock to its photo editing app – TechCrunch

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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.”

PicsArt wants to help users stand out on social media, for instance, by virtually applying this rainbow makeup look on them. / Image: PicsArt via Weibo

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.

Screenshot: TikTok-related stickers from PicsArt’s library

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.

Screenshot: PicsArts lets users easily apply the Avengers dispersion effect to their own photos

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.

picsart 1

PicsArt lets users do all sorts of creative work, including virtually posing with their idol. / Image: PicsArt via Weibo

“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.”

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2021 iPad Pro is worth the wait: Here’s why

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Apple iPad turf is overly saturated. If you are in the market for an iPad this holiday season, there are a few options you can instantly close on. For a certain set of users, there is the A12Z Bionic chip-powered 2020 iPad Pro. Then is the recently introduced iPad Air that dishes out ruthless performance and is high on substance. For the budgeted buyer, the fifth-generation iPad Mini is a suggested option. To add to choices, Apple is already working on the next edition of the iPad Pro with improved display, power, and 5G connectivity, and it is slated for an early 2021 release.

Information of likely improvements is bound to put all those looking for an Apple tablet in a fix – should they upgrade now or wait on. Of course, there are many options already out there and holiday season is a good reason to shop, but if you want the new and fantastic – waiting for a few months sure will be painful but worth it.

The rumors

A new iPad Pro was initially tipped to launch toward the end of this year, reports now have it that the unveiling is pushed back to sometime in spring of next year. Reliable Apple analyst, Ming-Chi Kuo has also validated the delay suggesting, a brand new iPad Pro launch may have been pushed for the first quarter of 2021. Kio had initially predicted that multiple iPads could debut in fall 2020.
Easily referenced as the 2021 iPad Pro, the forthcoming flagship will reportedly share a lot of traits with its siblings, which means we should not be expecting major design changes. LiDAR scanners, dual-lens camera setups are here to stay since nothing is heard about any alterations in this department.

Maybe the storage tiers and RAM options are beefed up. But this is also just an assumption for now. What is more certain is that the new iPad Pro will be 5G enabled (just like the iPhone 12 line-up this year), will feature a powerful processor, and a brighter, energy-efficient mini-LED display. This will send Apple on a new display tech journey – it’ll be for the first time an iPad will roll out with a LED screen.

Several rumors suggest Apple will launch two iPad Pro variants next year. While the higher-end 12.9-inch model with mini-LED screen is very likely – rumors have hinted at a possibility of an 11-inch iPad Pro, with a similar display, but there is no substantial detail to back the early claims.

New display technology

Although Apple is not going to bring about a radical change to the next-generation iPad Pro in terms of design – a new display technology is on the cards. Multiple rumors suggest 12.9-inch 2021 iPad Pro may feature mini-LED display. This type of display basically is a replacement for the cheaper and unfashionable backlight screen (yet an affordable alternative to OLED – used in iPhone 12 series). It can greatly increase color, contrast, and brightness and give the iPad Pro improved local dimming – possibility to brighten or dim lights at specific areas of the display.

Reportedly, these screens in the upcoming iPad Pros will likely be produced and supplied by LG. It may eventually find itself as a replacement for LCDs on almost all products in Cupertino’s lineup – including the MacBook. Mini-LED may not be as bright as OLEDs, but they are by no means slacks – these super bright displays look beautiful and are energy-efficient, thus offering better battery life too.

The iPad is already a brilliant device – a brighter display is only going to do more good to its image as a designer’s/artist’s daily driver. LED display will make everyone awaiting a new iPad Pro anxious as it sets the supposed 2021 iPad Pro apart from the other major siblings in the Apple lineup, which are equally capable. Currently, there is no information on whether Apple will continue selling iPad Pros with LCD displays.

Newer processor

The 2020 iPad Pro comes with A12Z Bionic chip, which in its own right is powerful enough for most set of users. The newer iPad Air however comes with A14 Bionic chipset in the body, which certainly makes it a better option for the power-hungry consumer base.

If you’re still not satisfied, Apple is expected to launch the new iPad Pro in 2021 with an upgraded 5-nanometer-based processor – perhaps called the A14X Bionic chip. If this is true, then undoubtedly the iPad performance is going to shoot through the roof – leaving not only its siblings but the completion high and dry. The new processor will mean more power and better performance, of course, it will also enhance battery life and prove more beneficial for gaming and multitasking.

5G is biggest reason to wait

iPhone 12 lineup announced a few months back, is the first set of Apple devices launched with 5G support, and now this prowess is only going to grow. Apple will be extending 5G connectivity to other devices and 2021 iPad Pro will, most likely, be the first outside of iPhones to get it. Now, it’s one of the biggest reasons to hold back and wait for the new iPad Pro.

According to the latest report, Apple’s next-generation iPad Pro will be 5G enabled with mmWave support. mmWave or millimeter wave is 5G band that promises ultra-fast speeds in short distances – it is available in this year’s iPhone 12 models but supported exclusively in the US for now.

Even more existing are rumors suggesting, the 2021 iPad Pro will be first to test Apple’s own in-house mmWave Antenna in Package (AiP) module. The AiP modules were initially tipped to be included in the next year’s iPhones, but Apple’s self-sufficiency in developing its own 5G mmWave modules has increased likelihood of new high-end iPad Pro being the first to include the antenna in the package. AiP modules will provide the 2021 iPad Pro with support for the mmWave 5G.

Wrap-up

What we have detailed are only rumors and the final product could land with or without the abovementioned features. If you’re still interested in the new iPad Pro, you should wait around for more information to roll out as we inch closer to the supposed launch next year. If reports of the 2021 iPad Pro launching in first quarter next year are believed, we will hear a lot more about the forthcoming device along the way before the imminent official launch.

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This holiday, check your old phone for a fat battery

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I found something in a junk drawer this week that was at first exciting, then alarming. In the drawer was an old smartphone that I’d not powered on for several years, at least. Cool, I’ll just start it up and time travel back to the point at which I last turned it off, right? But wait a moment here… this phone is significantly thicker than it was when I last saw it. This is not good.

Why did this phone get thick?

The thickness came from a chemical failure of the device’s lithium ion battery. I’d never opened this device before – I never had a reason. The only reason a person might open up a device like this would be to fix a component inside, or replace a component inside.

We’ve seen this sort of thing happen in a bunch of phones over the past decade, from all sorts of manufacturers. Most of the time we see this sort of thing happen, it’s because new phone users are working with off-brand plugs and such.

With a phone that’s been left in a drawer for several years, there’s a chance the chemical-based setup within will… fail. If you see this sort of thing happen, you have a few options and at least one NON-OPTION.

What to avoid

One NON-OPTION is charging the device. Do not charge the device. Do not plug your phone in to any sort of wire, nor set your device on any sort of wireless charger. You absolutely do NOT want to agitate the battery package if at all possible.

Can I fix a swollen battery? No, you can not fix a swollen battery. The deed is done. The only thing left to do is isolate the battery and/or the phone with the battery inside before you contact a professional.

Do NOT put your phone in the fridge or make any attempt to “cool it down.” The expansion is not temperature-dependent. The expansion cannot simply be reversed.

Do not do ANYTHING that may result in you piercing the battery’s protective layer. If you do that, the battery may explode and start a fire. See our feature Where to put your old phone batteries to see some explosions, courtesy of batteries that’ve been disposed of incorrectly.

What needs doing

It is not easy to open most smartphones not meant to be opened – especially one like this, held together with glue AND clips, with no easily accessible screws. The manufacturer of this phone, Samsung, did not build this phone with the intent that it be easily opened or its hardware replaced (or even removed) by the average user.

As such, you’ll more than likely want to seek the assistance of a professional. Gadget repair specialists are used to seeing this sort of thing – it happens far more often than you’d think. They’ll know how to safely remove the battery and potentially replace the battery IF that is possible.

There’s a real possibility that your phone will need to be brought to your city’s official landfill. You may want to call ahead, as your city’s waste management specialists will want to take special care of the battery and the phone to avoid an explosion and/or fire.

What if today is a holiday?

If you find an expanded battery in a smartphone and it is a holiday, chances are your local battery-handling professional won’t be available to dispose of your fire hazard of a phone. The LEAST you can do is place the battery (or the phone with the battery inside) in a safe place. Isolate the phone and/or the battery – away from paper, away from anything flammable.

Get the device outside as quick as possible if you can. Put the device in a fireproof container, like a metal bucket with a layer of sand inside. Above all else – get this thing isolated so WHEN it starts on fire, it’ll cause minimal damage.

This advice was as good a decade ago as it is today. New smartphones, tablets, laptops, wearables, etcetera, still use lithium ion batteries, and lithium ion batteries still fail.

Take caution, and don’t take a risk. This one’s full of fire.

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Nokia 9.3 PureView might be a no-show this year

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HMD Global has flooded the market with affordable Android phones but its track record on higher tiers has been less impressive. To date, only the Nokia 8 Sirocco and Nokia 9 PureView can be considered top-tier, at least based on the premium Snapdragon chips they’re carrying. The latter’s successor would have not been on par, at least based on the earliest information we had, but it would have given the PureView brand yet another stab at the market. Unfortunately, that won’t be happening any time soon, as the Nokia 9.3 PureView has reportedly been delayed to 2021.

The Nokia 9 PureView was quite the oddity, though it wasn’t surprising considering HMD Global partnered with mobile camera company Light. It utilized five co-equal cameras to independently take shots of the same scene and stitch them together into a single hi-res image. It mostly delivered on that promise but left plenty of room for a version 2.

By late 2019, Qualcomm seemed to be quite excited for a Nokia 9 PureView successor that would showcase its Snapdragon 765’s capabilities despite not being an 8-series processor. It might have disappointed some who were hoping for a true Nokia premium flagship. For better or worse that successor never came, which ironically leaves the door open for a better device.

Twitter user @Nokia_anew now claims that the Nokia 9.3 PureView has been pushed back to 2021. When that will be is still unknown but it might be sometime in the first half of the year. That potentially means HMD could switch to using a Snapdragon 875 but, considering its preferences for mid-range to entry-level chips, we won’t be too optimistic about the chances.

Even more concerning, however, is the absence of a Nokia PureView in 2020, which could call into question HMD Global’s ability to even make one now that Light is out of the mobile market. The company still has to come out with a new high-end phone but, then again, Nokia was better known for flooding the market with innumerable phones anyway.

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