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.”
Apple Q1 2022 winners & losers: iPhone up, iPad down in bumper holiday
Apple has released the earnings report for its first fiscal quarter of 2022, announcing yet another all-time record with revenue hitting $123.9 billion. The company credits a “very strong customer response” toward its latest and greatest products for the growth, noting its earnings ultimately jumped 11-percent compared to the previous year.
Apple’s most recent fiscal quarter ended on December 25, 2021, raking in growth across the services, wearables, Mac, and iPhone products lines. The iPad was the only notable exception to the records, with the overall trend hinting at a bright future despite pandemic-related disruptions.
The company hasn’t provided forward guidance since the start of the pandemic and the most recent quarterly earnings report is no exception. Despite that, Apple CEO Tim Cook did offer some insight into the company’s expectations for the next quarter in a statement to CNBC, revealing Apple expects to see “solid year-over-year revenue growth” during its March quarter.
As with many other companies in the industry, Apple has been hit hard by supply chain disruptions. Though this issue won’t disappear overnight, Cook said Apple expects these “constraints” to be less of a problem in its next quarter compared to the December quarter.
Apple introduced its iPhone 13 series in September 2021, paving the way for typically high sales over the holiday period. As of October, the company warned that supply shortages may end up hitting the iPhone and iPad lines, potentially impacting holiday sales. This reality was reflected in consumers’ struggle to find the iPhone 13 Pro, at least in their desired configurations, for weeks after its launch.
Though the December quarter ended up exceeding analysts’ expectations, the struggle isn’t quite over. Cook explained that Apple’s “biggest issue” involves supply chain constraints related to legacy nodes, a problem we’ve heard before. However, Apple’s CEO did reveal the company is “doing okay” when it comes to acquiring leading-edge chips, which refers to the powerful hardware powering many of the smart devices used in everyday life.
The constraints aside, Cook also mentioned Apple’s ongoing environmental and social efforts as part of the company’s earnings announcement, stating:
We are gratified to see the response from customers around the world at a time when staying connected has never been more important. We are doing all we can to help build a better world — making progress toward our goal of becoming carbon neutral across our supply chain and products by 2030, and pushing forward with our work in education and racial equity and justice.
Facebook Messenger will tell you if someone screenshots your disappearing message
Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced a major new feature for Facebook Messenger, one that will significantly improve privacy on the platform: Notifications when someone screenshots your disappearing messages in a Secret Conversation secured with end-to-end encryption.
“New update for end-to-end encrypted Messenger chats so you get a notification if someone screenshots a disappearing message,” Zuckerberg wrote on January 27, 2022. “We’re also adding GIFs, stickers, and reactions to encrypted chats too.”
Facebook first introduced disappearing messages in November 2020, in both Messenger and Instagram. The move was part of a larger effort to provide additional protection across the company’s messaging platforms, with WhatsApp receiving a similar feature just weeks before.
From the very beginning, Messenger would notify users when someone took a screenshot of a disappearing message, making this latest announcement seem redundant. There’s one very important difference, however.
Facebook’s end-to-end encryption push
Facebook has been working to roll out end-to-end encryption (E2EE) across its messaging platforms. E2EE is a significant upgrade from server-side encryption and is considered the gold standard of privacy and security. In the case of server-side encryption, the service provider has the key that can be used to decrypt your data. As a result, you can never truly be sure who is accessing your data and messages.
With E2EE, however, your data is encrypted in such a way that only you and the person you’re communicating with can read your message. Not even the provider, whose service you’re using, can intercept and read your messages. Needless to say, while E2EE offers unrivaled security, it can be more difficult to add features that are commonplace in non-E2EE services.
That distinction is what makes Zuckerberg’s latest announcement different. Facebook is now providing screenshot notifications within E2EE chats, adding an additional layer of privacy and security to such messages. The addition of reactions, GIFs, and stickers to these chats, meanwhile, will make private conversations a bit more exciting. The new features are rolling out now.
Your iPhone could accept contactless payments in the future
Apple is working on a service that will let you accept payments directly through your iPhone, according to a new report from Mark Gurman at Bloomberg. Gurman’s sources say that the tech giant has been working on the feature since 2020, when it purchased Mobeewave, the Canadian startup behind new tech for smartphones that lets them accept contactless payments from credit cards.
Gurman reports that the payment system will probably rely on the iPhone’s near field communications chip (NFC). The iPhone already uses the NFC chip to process payments using Apple Pay, so it would make sense to build off of that usage with the new service.
Currently, users accepting payments via their iPhone have to rely on third-party hardware from companies like Square. With this new tech, though, businesses would be able to accept card payments by simply letting the customer tap their card against their iPhone. It’s an interesting concept, and one that could turn the world of handheld sales on its head depending on how Apple pushes it.
Apple could announce a new iPhone SE, too
While Apple hasn’t shared any real details about the plan, or indeed any official news at all, it is something to keep an eye on. Additionally, Gurman says that the tech may debut later this year, alongside some other announcements that people are expecting from Apple. Chief among these other announcements is a new iPhone SE model, as well as an iPad Air that offers 5G connectivity. Gurman says those devices are expected to debut in March or April, and we’ve already seen previous reports about a new Mac that uses Apple’s custom-built processors, too.
Apple pushing towards accepting payments directly on its devices isn’t exactly a surprise. The company has slowly been expanding its payment options in the past, with the launch of the Apple Card, as well as a push to get Apple Pay in more stores around the world. The company also launched the Apple Cash Card, which allows you to send payments directly peer-to-peer, similarly to services like PayPal or Venmo. All we need to do now is wait and see how Apple pushes this new service, and exactly what it means for current payment providers like Square.
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