Visible is a digital-only wireless carrier that ditches brick and mortar stores for a smartphone app that lets you “order service from your couch.” Backed by Verizon Wireless, Visible isn’t an MVNO because it’s not buying network access from Verizon. Instead, Visible has direct access to Verizon’s network as if it were its own.
For $40 a month, Visible users get unlimited talk, text, data, and mobile hotspot. That price includes taxes and fees — it’s just $40 a month. There’s a small catch in that your data speeds are limited to just 5Mbps.
At launch, Visible only supported Apple’s iPhone, but starting Thursday, the company is launching Android support in beta with Samsung’s Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus.
Additionally, Visible will also begin selling devices directly to users who can take advantage of free overnight shipping, zero down, and familiar monthly payment plans on 11 iPhone models and the Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus. Lastly, Visible is launching Visible Protect, a device protection service that costs $10 a month in partnership with Assurant.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been using an iPhone 8 with a Visible SIM card. And, despite my reservations, I have to admit that the 5Mbps speed cap hasn’t been as big of an issue as I expected.
In fact, on one occasion I used the iPhone’s hotspot as my lone internet connection for a morning. I streamed music, watched YouTube videos, and went about a typical day’s worth of work and not once did I feel like I was using a slow connection. Granted, if I needed to manage large files stored in the cloud, the speed cap would have had more of an impact.
But for browsing the web, streaming video and music, and managing my email, the speed was a non-issue.
Prior to Thursday’s announcement, I had the chance to talk with Visible CEO Miguel Quiroga and learn more about why Visible exists, how the company plans to tackle customer service, and opening up the service to Android users. Below is the conversation, edited and condensed for clarity.
ZDNet: What was the thinking behind Visible?
Quiroga: Over 60 million customers in the US switch carriers on an annual basis. One of the questions the team came up with was, Why do customers do that? Is it is a store experience? Is it the price point? Is it coverage? Maybe it’s the complexity or perhaps the lack of transparency and the hidden costs?
I think that where we arrived was that there’s an opportunity and a premise that all the different complexities don’t have to exist in this particular category, there’s a different way to do business. What we landed on here was that if you have a simple, easy to use, easy to understand offering — something that’s a high-quality product experience, and great customer service — it’s ultimately going to bring a lot of value to a customer. The idea of Visible being an all-digital carrier, that’s easier and simpler and more accessible way to both sign up and manager service from the comfort of your couch, without having any of the kind of complexity that customers often struggle with, such as what exactly is on the bill, and what does it mean — we think that’s pretty compelling. We offer a $40 unlimited data, voice minutes, and hotspot on Verizon’s 4G LTE network.
ZDNet: Can explain why Visible started with iPhone first? Why not Android? It’s the opposite direction that most prepaid carriers go.
Quiroga: For us, it was really about how we were trying to launch the business and focus on the customer experience we wanted to have because the iPhone kind of category of products is much more kind of systemic as versus in the Android environment. While it’s a great ecosystem is also a little more fragmented, there are a lot more manufacturers in play. The iPhone allows us to really put much more attention on the experience. So the thinking was: focus on iOS, which allows us to do the things we need to do in parallel, we’ve been working on the Android experience as well, in addition to the type of testing and device range, and that’s required to do so. So that’s really why we focus on the iOS experience first.
ZDNet: One thing I noticed when reading about Visible is it’s almost as if you go out of your way to make sure to say you’re not an MVNO of Verizon. The exact wording is “Visible is backed by Verizon, but operates independently.” Why is it important for you to make that distinction?
Quiroga: I think a couple of things. So let’s talk about the MVNO topic real quick. From an MVNO perspective, MVNO has a very specific meaning in the industry. It’s really about the wholesale type of relationship that a company will use to buy network access in bulk. Our relationship is completely different. We’re a full facility carrier because we are directly using Verizon’s network. It’s a different offering, it allows us to prepare a type of offering that gives more value to consumers. So the fact we don’t have stores, the fact that we have that type of relationship, it allows us to essentially tap value directly to the consumer. So that’s why we make that distinction. And that’s why we’ve been really kind of focused on differentiating between what an MVNO is versus what we are.
The concept around why we talk about not being an MVNO and that Visible operates independently is because it’s a way that we look at the way we built this company and the business model. I know, it sounds like an obvious thing. But the culture that we’re building here, the types of employees, the fact that our headquarters is actually in Denver is something that’s unique, and we think it’s something that we want to make sure is clear, because the way we operate, the way we approach things with a customer-centric lens is something that’s uniquely Visible.
ZDNet: Visible’s data plans are truly unlimited, right? There’s not an arbitrary cap or slowdown at some point?
Quiroga: That’s correct, our data is unlimited.
ZDNet: Okay, but it’s capped at 5 megabits-per-second?
Quiroga: That’s right. The speed cap of 5MB was based on a lot of the research we did from a network analysis perspective around doing all the traditional things most consumers do, including streaming video, streaming of audio, as well as all the day to day activities from browsing and email. The thinking is that that gives the broad spectrum of customers that type of access they want.
ZDNet: Why launch with the Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus as the first devices in the Android beta?
Quiroga: With the focus on the S9 and S9 Plus, we wanted to make sure had the right type of device availability that was very popular in the US. The S9 is a very popular phone, it’s a high-quality build, and we felt that the two sizes gave customers the type of choices they’re looking for. It’s where we decided to start the Android offering, but we’ll quickly follow along with additional products that we’ll make available to customers. One of the things we didn’t want to do is wait until we had a vast catalog, then deploy to customers. We said, “You know what? Let’s get this in customers hands right away.”
ZDNet: If I was to take the SIM card and put it in a Note 9, would I be able to do change the API settings, or is there something on the network side that’s going to prevent other Android devices from working?
Quiroga: There is a concept of essentially having device certification against the network, as I’m sure you’re familiar with. So what we have currently have completed testing on for the Samsung family of products is the assignment of time. Plus. It’s not because we don’t want customers to do that. It’s just simply that we wanted to make sure the appropriate testing was done, and it would work seamlessly.
ZDNet How long do you expect the Android part of your service to be in beta? I know the iPhone beta wasn’t just a month or two, it was longer than that. How do you see the Android beta proceeding from here as you certify more devices?
Quiroga: I think it becomes a little bit of our mindset of leadership team here is that beta means different things to different industries. I often talk about the term beta, when it looks like it’s something like Google was taken to the extreme, I think of Google Maps, it was like 12 years or something crazy. We’re not gonna do that. That doesn’t work for us. Beta for us means that it’s consumer available and it works for the consumer. We’re just trying to get customer feedback to essentially improve the product line as we go. We don’t have the exact window of time, but I would say fairly quickly we would move beyond that. But for us, it’s really about focusing the beta as a way to explain to customers, please give us more feedback, because it allows us to continue to improve the product.
ZDNet: One of the biggest differences for Visible, when compared to traditional carriers, is that there’s not a place for me to go if I’m having issues with my phone and get help with it. Customer support is a big part of, I guess, a huge problem you have to solve as an online-only carrier. What kind of approaches are you taking to troubleshooting handset issues and customer support overall?
Quiroga: Our mindset here is just because we’re online doesn’t mean that there aren’t people to help and whether that’s through chat, or if we absolutely need to we can get on the phone and work through an issue. That’s one option. In addition, Visible Protect offers a type of live support, either in an Apple Care environment for iOS or from an Android perspective, there’s a network of stores which will also perform Apple Care-like support.
ZDNet: For the past few weeks I’ve been going back and forth with Google’s Fi service trying to get picture messaging to work on an iPhone XR. The customer service aspect of it has been horrible. It takes several days to get an answer through email and the entire experience just hasn’t been smooth. How does Visible get over this stigma that online-only carriers can’t provide customer support?
Quiroga: I would propose there are two scenarios. You have the online environment and you have the store environment. I’ve had similar issues with a physical store, and the downside of that is now you’re meeting the person — this is their fifth time in here and it’s still not working. To me, this is a standard customer service problem across the industry, and I’ll tell you with Visible what we’re trying to do to make it better.
What we’re trying to do is two things. One, operationally orient ourselves so that those kinds of issues with our ability to resolve, close, or at least address it, more specifically, we’re going to be in a better position. Two, there’s a mindset towards how we close these issues. Chat is one thing, but I’m a huge believer that whenever you have someone on the phone, then fix the problem. You do it, period.
ZDNet I didn’t mean to turn this into a personal thing. For me, it’s just I’ve seen this issue with Mint, and Republic — with all the other carriers that take a similar approach.
Quiroga: Here’s one other little nuance that might be interesting. All the examples you’ve provided are MVNOs, We actually own our own network and that allows us to have a type of level of network focus, intelligent insight, and trouble resolution that is unmatched in this category. That’s why we think we can ultimately solve those challenges for customers and make the type of experience you had be something that is not common.
Snap had its best quarter in four years – TechCrunch
If you’ve started using Snapchat more regularly this year, you’re not alone. At yesterday’s Q2 earnings call, Snap CEO Evan Spiegel announced that the platform grew both revenue and daily active users at the highest rates it has achieved in the last four years. Snapchat now has 293 million daily active users, growing 23% since last year.
Snap went public in 2017 with a $24 billion valuation, but not long before then, the ephemeral photo sharing app experienced a massive hiccup: Instagram cloned their then-unique Stories feature. After Instagram Stories launched, Snapchat’s growth slowed by 82%. Then, when Snapchat redesigned its app’s interface, Kylie Jenner tweeted that she didn’t use the app anymore, causing the company’s valuation to drop by $1.2 billion.
But Snapchat held on and made a comeback. Its revenue reached an all-time high of $911 million in Q4 of 2020, then went down to $770 million the following quarter. Now, Snapchat’s revenue in Q2 of 2021 surpasses its previous high to reach $982 million.
The app’s Q2 growth could be attributed to the return of advertisers who scaled back their spending during the height of the pandemic, as well as the retention of users that flocked to the app while in lockdown. Like many social media platforms, Snapchat grew its revenue and user base during the pandemic, but this isn’t just a matter of re-engaging users with an app that they grew out of. As TikTok exploded on the scene and the creator economy boomed, Snapchat kept up by creating Spotlight, a TikTok clone, and investing in the applications of augmented reality.
“We made significant progress with our augmented reality platform this quarter,” Spiegel said. “More than 200 million Snapchatters engage with AR every day on average, and over 200,000 creators use Lens Studio to build AR Lenses for our community.”
Last month, Snapchat went viral for its Cartoon 3D Style Lens, which makes you look like a character in a Pixar movie. Spiegel specifically mentioned this lens as a feature that “highlighted the power of Lenses to go viral both inside and outside of Snapchat.” But beyond fun face filters, Snapchat has been using AR to woo e-commerce partners. The app has developed AR experiences for Walt Disney World, Smile Direct Club, Zenni Optical, e.l.f. Cosmetics, Ralph Lauren and more. This includes try-on capabilities for watches, jewelry, eyewear, handbags, makeup and even clothing. At its Partner Summit in May, Snapchat revealed an update that lets users scan friends’ outfits to find shopping recommendations for similar styles.
“We have a lot more work ahead to build out our technology and increase AR adoption, but we are thrilled with the results that our partners are seeing as we invest in our long-term camera opportunity,” said Jeremi Gorman, Snap’s chief business officer. “We are confident in our long-term opportunity, and are excited to double down on shopping and commerce via augmented reality.”
In March, Snap acquired Fit Analytics, a Berlin-based startup that helps shoppers find the right-sized apparel and footwear when shopping online. Combined with Snap’s investment in AR, could we eventually use AR to see which size of clothing to order? The application of that sort of technology would need to be handled sensitively, especially as the rates of eating disorders in teens are on the rise.
Beyond e-commerce, Snapchat has sought out strategic partnerships with entertainment companies like HBO Max and Universal Music Group and doubled down on its Spectacles, glasses that create AR experiences. Of course, Facebook is working on AR glasses too. But for both companies, Snap’s recent successes show the rising adoption and value of AR experiences.
Jack Dorsey says bitcoin will be a big part of Twitter’s future – TechCrunch
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey confirmed to investors that bitcoin will be a “big part” of the company’s future, as he sees opportunities to integrate the cryptocurrency into existing Twitter products and services, including commerce, subscriptions and other new additions like the Twitter Tip Jar and Super Follows.
Dorsey has been a staunch bitcoin advocate for years, but how it would be put into action on Twitter’s platform had not yet been spelled out in detail. However, Dorsey has often publicly touted the cryptocurrency, saying it reminds him of the “early days of the internet” and that there wasn’t “anything more important” in his lifetime for him to work on.
More recently, Dorsey launched a $23.6 million bitcoin fund with Jay Z and announced plans to lead his other company Square into the decentralized financial services market by way of bitcoin. Square also this year acquired a majority stake in Jay-Z’s TIDAL music service with an eye toward how blockchain technologies and cryptocurrencies could change the music business.
Today, Dorsey also dubbed bitcoin one of three key trends for Twitter’s future, along with AI and decentralization — the latter which Twitter is pursuing through its “Bluesky” initiative.
He touted bitcoin to investors on Twitter’s second quarter earnings call, saying it could help the company move faster in terms of its product expansions, while explaining that it was the “best candidate” to become the “native currency” of the internet. (Incidentally, Square’s $50 million in bitcoin purchased in 2020 was worth $253 million by February 2021, and it purchased $170 million more earlier this year.)
“If the internet has a native currency, a global currency, we are able to able to move so much faster with products such as Super Follows, Commerce, Subscriptions, Tip Jar, and we can reach every single person on the planet because of that instead of going down a market-by-market-by-market approach,” Dorsey explained. “I think this is a big part of our future. I think there is a lot of innovation above just currency to be had, especially as we think about decentralizing social media more and providing more economic incentive. So I think it’s hugely important to Twitter and to Twitter shareholders that we continue to look at the space and invest aggressively in it,” he added.
A Twitter rep confirmed this is the first time that Dorsey has spoken publicly about how Twitter could integrate bitcoin into its product lineup.
Dorsey also pointed out Twitter would not be alone in pursuing a crypto strategy, noting that Facebook was backing the digital currency Diem.
“There’s an obvious need for this, and appreciation for it. And I think that an open standard that’s native to the internet is the right way to go, which is why my focus and our focus eventually will be on bitcoin,” he noted.
Overall, Twitter delivered strong earnings in a pandemic rebound, which saw the company posting its fastest revenue growth since 2014, according to CNBC, which drove Twitter shares 9% higher in extended trading. The company pulled in Q2 revenue of $1.19 billion versus the $1.07 billion Wall Street expected, a majority ($1.05 billion) from its advertising business. It also saw earnings per share of 20 cents versus the 7 cents expected.
However, monetizable daily active users (mDAUs) — Twitter’s own invented metric meant to fluff up often flat monthly user growth — were only at 206 million, an 11% year-over-year increase, while analysts were counting on 206.2 million. The company blamed the decline on a slower news cycle and end of shelter-in-place in many U.S. communities, which may have impacted Twitter usage during the quarter.
Tumblr users lash out against its beta subscription feature – TechCrunch
The Tumblr community often refers to itself as the Wild West of the internet, and they’re not wrong. A text post with over 70,000 notes puts it best: “Tumblr is my favorite social media site because this place is literally uninhabitable for celebrities. No verification system, no algorithm that boosts their posts, it’s a completely lawless wasteland for them.”
But like any social media company, Tumblr needs to keep itself afloat in order for its users to continue sharing esoteric fan art, incomprehensible shitposts, and overly personal diary entries hidden beneath a “Read More” button. Yesterday, Tumblr announced the limited beta test of its Post+ subscription feature, which — if all goes as planned — will eventually let Tumblr users post paywalled content to subscribers that pay them $3.99, $5.99 or $9.99 per month.
Tumblr is far from the first social media platform to seek revenue this way — Twitter is rolling out Super Follows and a Tip Jar feature, and this week, YouTube announced a tipping feature too. Even Instagram is working on its own version of Twitter’s Super Follows that would let users create “exclusive stories.” But on a website with a community that prides itself as being a “completely lawless wasteland” for anyone with a platform (save for Wil Wheaton and Neil Gaiman, who are simply just vibing), the move toward paywalled content was not welcomed with open arms.
Monetization is a double-edged sword. It’s not considered uncool for a Tumblr artist to link to a third-party Patreon or Ko-fi site on their blog, where their most enthusiastic followers can access paywalled content or send them tips. So Post+ seems like an obvious way for Tumblr to generate revenue — instead of directing followers to other websites, they could build a way for fans to support creators on their own platform while taking a 5% cut. This isn’t unreasonable, considering that Twitter will take 3% revenue from its new monetization tools, while video-centric platforms like YouTube and Twitch take 30% and 50%, respectively. But Tumblr isn’t Twitter, or YouTube, or Twitch. Unlike other platforms, Tumblr doesn’t allow you to see other people’s follower counts, and no accounts are verified. It’s not as easy to tell whether the person behind a popular post has 100 followers or 100,000 followers, and the users prefer it that way. But Post+ changes that, giving bloggers an icon next to their username that resembles a Twitter blue check.
Tumblr rolled out Post+ this week to a select group of hand-picked creators, including Kaijuno, a writer and astrophysicist. The platform announced Post+ on a new blog specific to this product, rather than its established staff blog, which users know to check for big announcements. So, as the most public user who was granted access, the 24-year-old blogger was the target of violent backlash from angry Tumblrites who didn’t want to see their favorite social media site turn into a hypercapitalist hellscape. When Kaijuno received death threats for beta testing Post+, Tumblr’s staff intervened and condemned harassment against Post+ users.
“We want to hear about what you like, what you love, and what concerns you. Even if it’s not very nice. Tell us. We can take it,” Tumblr wrote on its staff blog. “What we won’t ever accept is the targeted harassment and threats these creators have endured since this afternoon. […] all they’re doing is testing out a feature.”
Before making their post, a representative from Tumblr’s staff reached out to Kaijuno directly to check in on them regarding the backlash, but there’s only so much that Tumblr can do after a user has already been threatened for using their product.
“I felt like the sacrificial lamb, because they didn’t announce Post+ beforehand and only gave it to a few people, which landed me in the crosshairs of a very pissed-off user base when I’m just trying to pay off medical bills by giving people the option to pay for content,” Kaijuno told TechCrunch. “I knew there’d be some backlash because users hate any sort of change to Tumblr, but I thought that the brunt of the backlash would be at the staff, and that the beta testers would be spared from most of it.”
Why do Tumblr users perceive monetization as such a threat? It’s not a question of whether or not it’s valuable to support creators, but rather, whether Tumblr is capable of hosting such a service. Multiple long-time, avid Tumblr users that spoke to TechCrunch referenced an incident in late 2020 when people’s blogs were being hacked by spam bots that posted incessant advertisements for a Ray-Ban Summer Sale.
“Tumblr is not the most well-coded website. It’s easy to break features,” Kaijuno added. “I think anything involving trusting Tumblr with your financial information would have gotten backlash.”
Tumblr users also worried about the implications Post+ could have on privacy — in the limited beta, Post+ users only have the ability to block people who are subscribed to their blog if they contact Tumblr support. In cases of harassment by a subscriber, this could leave a blogger vulnerable in a potentially dangerous situation.
“Ahead of our launch to all U.S.-based creators this fall, Post+ will allow creators to block subscribers directly,” a Tumblr spokesperson told TechCrunch.
Still, the Extremely Online Gen Z-ers who now make up 48% of Tumblr know that they can’t expect the platform to continue existing if it doesn’t pull in enough money to pay for its staff and server fees. In 2018, Tumblr lost almost one-third of its monthly page views after all NSFW content was banned — since then, the platform’s monthly traffic has remained relatively stagnant.
A former Tumblr employee told TechCrunch that the feature that became Post+ started out as a Tip Jar. But higher-ups at Tumblr — who do not work directly with the community — redirected the project to create a paywalled subscription product.
“I think a Tip Jar would be a massive improvement,” said the creator behind the Tumblr blog normal-horoscopes. Through the core audience they developed on Tumblr, they make a living via Patreon, but they don’t find Post+ compelling for their business. “External services [like Patreon] have more options, more benefits, better price points, and as a creator I get to choose how I present them to my audience.”
But a paywalled subscription service is different in the collective eyes of Tumblr. For a site that thrives on fandom, creators that make fan art and fanfiction worry that placing this derivative work behind a paywall — which Post+ encourages them to do — will land them in legal trouble. Even Archive of Our Own, a major fanfiction site, prohibits its users from linking to sites like Patreon or Ko-Fi.
“Built-in monetization attracts businesses, corporate accounts, people who are generally there to make money first and provide content second,” said normal-horoscopes. “It changes the culture of a platform.”
Across Tumblr, upset users are rallying for their followers to take Post+’s feedback survey to express their frustrations. The staff welcomes this.
“As with any new product launch, we expect our users to have a healthy discussion about how the feature will change the dynamics of how people use Tumblr,” a Tumblr spokesperson told TechCrunch. “Not all of this feedback will be positive, and that’s OK. Constructive criticism fuels how we create products and ultimately makes Tumblr a better place.”
Tumblr’s vocal community has been empowered over the years to question whether it’s possible for a platform to establish new revenue streams in a way that feels organic. The protectiveness that Tumblr’s user base feels for the site — despite their lack of faith in staff — sets it apart from social media juggernauts like Facebook, which can put e-commerce front and center without much scrutiny. But even three years after the catastrophic porn ban, it seems hard for Tumblr to grow without alienating the people that make the social network unique.
Platforms like Reddit and Discord have remained afloat by selling digital goods, like coins to reward top posters, or special emojis. Each company’s financial needs are different, but Tumblr’s choice to monetize with Post+ highlights the company’s lack of insight into its own community’s wishes.
Intel details ambitious roadmap with big plans for the next few years
Intel has detailed what it says is one of its most detailed roadmaps for its process and packaging technology ever...
Spiral shark intestines work like Nikola Tesla’s water valve, study finds
Enlarge / A CT scan image of the spiral intestine of a Pacific spiny dogfish shark (Squalus suckleyi). The beginning...
No new Galaxy Note this year as Samsung’s foldables gain S Pen functionality – TechCrunch
Samsung sent out invites for its August 11 Unpacked event last week. While it’s clear this is going to be...
Internal Activision Blizzard petition rebukes “abhorrent, insulting” leadership
In the wake of a sexual harassment and pay-disparity lawsuit filed against Activision Blizzard, an internal petition has begun circulating...
VPN servers seized by Ukrainian authorities weren’t encrypted
Privacy-tools-seller Windscribe said it failed to encrypt company VPN servers that were recently confiscated by authorities in Ukraine, a lapse...
Social1 year ago
CrashPlan for Small Business Review
Gadgets3 years ago
A fictional Facebook Portal videochat with Mark Zuckerberg – TechCrunch
Cars3 years ago
What’s the best cloud storage for you?
Mobile3 years ago
Memory raises $5M to bring AI to time tracking – TechCrunch
Social3 years ago
iPhone XS priciest yet in South Korea
Security3 years ago
Google latest cloud to be Australian government certified
Cars3 years ago
SK Telecom and Samsung to collaborate on 5G for enterprise
Social3 years ago
Apple’s new iPad Pro aims to keep enterprise momentum