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Sean Parker’s Brigade/Causes acquired by govtech app Countable – TechCrunch

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Causes grew to a jaw-dropping 200 million users as one of the first 10 Facebook platform apps. Started by Facebook co-founder Sean Parker, it was meant to turn a generation into activists and philanthropists. Causes acquired Votizen to augment shallow clicktivism with a way to remind friends to vote. But after Facebook went mobile and the web platform waned, Parker arranged Causes’ sale to his newer civic tech effort Brigade, for which he’d led a $9.3 million Series A and later fed more money. Brigade’s ballot guide was used by 250,000 people in the 2016 election, leading to 5 million Get Out The Vote messages sent, but the startup’s apps for connecting with campaigns or debating political issues never went viral like Causes.

Now both Causes’ and Brigade’s stories are coming to an end. In February, we caught wind of Brigade selling off its high-grade engineering team to Pinterest in an acqui-hire while it sought a home for its IP. Today, Brigade announces its technology and data have been acquired by politician-tracking service Countable. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but it’s unlikely that Brigade’s Series A investors earned a return.

“While we didn’t reach the ultimate mountaintop, I think we moved the entire civic tech space forward,” Brigade CEO Matt Mahan tells me. “Countable offers a unique opportunity to bring greater scale to some of our best ideas, and our previous work will in turn accelerate their already impressive progress.”

Brigade’s features

Countable lets people view summaries of upcoming legislation, contact their representatives about their opinion and track the officials’ votes. “Brigade was founded with the non-partisan mission to reinvent how Americans participate in politics. When they decided to bring their journey to a close, Matt and Brigade’s leadership team sought a mission-aligned company to acquire their technology, and a responsible place to point any members of their community who were eager to remain civically active and engaged,” says Countable CEO Bart Myers, whose tech has powered 35 million civic actions. “They approached Countable — an obvious fit for our commitment to lowering barriers to civic entry and empowering meaningful action, and we’re excited to provide a home for their technology moving forward.”

Brigade CEO Matt Mahan

Mahan admits that a potentially fatal wrong turn for Brigade was pivoting its product to “debates” in 2016. “We quickly learned that this level of openness resulted in less substantive discussion, more personal attacks and fewer participants willing to add their voices: the opposite of our goals. By removing too many barriers, debates empowered the loudest and most aggressive voices in the room,” he tells me. The startup course-corrected to focus on making real political impact with petitions and tools for contacting representatives.

By 2018, Mahan realized that “after two election cycles Brigade had not achieved the user scale we know is required to fundamentally transform our politics . . . For a company set up to be a civic moonshot, this was simply not good enough.” Parker’s team did not provide TechCrunch a statement or commentary on Brigade’s decline. The startup’s San Francisco-based engineering team was too pricey for civic tech companies to afford, but those that could pay the steep price didn’t need Brigade’s IP. So after approaching a half-dozen potential acquirers, Mahan split the company, selling the team to Pinterest and the tech to Countable. The cash and stock deal will make Brigade investors shareholders in Countable, and Mahan is taking an advisory role.

To further their contribution to the democracy innovation community, Countable agreed to let Brigade open-source its voter matching software before the sale. This allows apps to tie a user to their official voting record to offer personalized features, like reminders of upcoming elections, petitions for local issues and ways to contact their elected officials. Seth Flaxman, the CEO of civic tech software developer Democracy Works, which built TurboVote, says, “This is extremely difficult technology to build and can help TurboVote determine which of our 6 million users needs more help registering to vote. They are passing the baton, making it possible for nonprofits like ours to build off their progress.”

Countable

But there was one more loose end to tie up. Causes sucked in a ton of Facebook user data in the early days of the platform before restrictions were put in place (too late to stop Cambridge Analytica). So Mahan tells me, “Brigade proactively reached out to Facebook and worked with them and a third-party consultant to conduct a comprehensive review to identify and delete user data that was not essential for providing the existing app experience. In all, we deleted billions of rows of data that ethically we felt should not be transferred.”

As one of the most well-funded civic tech startups, Brigade’s breakup could cast a shadow on the space that includes MoveOn and Change.org. Consumer-focused apps for improving democracy are tough to monetize. It may fall to more sustainable democracy-focused startups like grassroots mass-texting app Hustle or nonprofits like Avaaz to arm the public with the equipment and knowledge necessary to participate in the political process. Given the deep polarization and animosity between nations’ political parties around the world, we need all the tools to amplify truth and civility we can get.

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Apple debuts a $4.99 per month Apple Music Voice plan, designed mainly for HomePod or AirPods use – TechCrunch

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In 2019, Amazon introduced a more affordable way to stream Amazon Music in their home with the launch of a free, ad-supported music service that streamed over its Echo speakers. Today, Apple is catching up with its debut of a new, lower-cost version of its Apple Music subscription it calls the “Voice plan.” Unlike Amazon’s service, the Voice plan is not free. Instead, it’s a more affordable, $4.99 per month ad-free subscription that limits consumers to only being able to access the Apple Music via Siri voice commands.

Explained the company at its October event today, the new Voice plan will allow customers, in 17 countries to start, to use Siri to play songs, playlists, and all stations in Apple Music when the service launches later this fall. This will also include access to a series of new playlists based on moods and activities, as well as personalized mixes and genre stations. That means you’ll now be able to ask Siri to play you music for a dinner party or something that would help you to wind down at the end of the day, for example. Hundreds of new playlists will be available, said Apple.

Apple Music rivals, including Spotify, Amazon Music, and Pandora already offer such a feature — and have for years. So this is a matter of Apple playing catch up in the space with its own expanded set of editorially crafted mood and activity playlists. Currently, its editorial selections are more limited to its “Made for You” lineup which includes personalized playlists like your Favorites Mix, Chill Mix, New Music Mix and Get Up Mix.

While Apple says the new Voice plan can be used to access Apple Music across “all your Apple devices,” it’s clearly been designed with HomePod in mind — similar to Amazon’s free music streaming for Echo. If using a phone, tablet or computer, it wouldn’t necessarily make sense to speak to Siri to play music when you have a device with a screen. However, the service could possibly be interesting to those who primarily listen to Apple Music via their AirPods — and don’t mind speaking all their commands.

Apple says the service will also work via CarPlay, in addition to iPhone and other devices like iPad, Mac, Apple TV, and Apple Watch.

Subscribers will see a customized app interface that displays suggestions based on their music preferences and a queue of their recently played music through Siri. There will also be a section called “Just Ask Siri,” which teaches users how to optimize Siri for Apple Music.

The new plan joins the other Apple Music subscriptions, the Individual plan and Family plan, at $9.99 per month or $14.99 per month respectively. Like the Individual plan, the new Voice Plan is also limited to just 1 person per subscription, Apple said. It provides access to the full Apple Music catalog of over 90 million songs.

Image Credits: Apple

At launch, it will be available in Australia, Austria, Canada, China mainland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Spain, Taiwan, the U.K. and the U.S. The company didn’t offer an exact launch date besides “later this fall.”

Apple said it will market the service to non-subscribers who ask for music through Siri. They’ll be able trial the service for 7 days for free, with no auto-renewal.

To complement the launch of the new service, Apple also announced new, third-gen AirPods and more colorful lineup of HomePod mini smart speakers.

Apple October Event 2021

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Uber tests shared rides in Africa as UberPool stays shut in US, Canada – TechCrunch

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Uber is testing Pool Chance, a feature that lets riders heading in the same direction share the cost of the journey, in Kenya, with plans to roll out the low-cost service to Ghana and Nigeria. TechCrunch discovered the option when booking a car in Nairobi, Kenya. An Uber spokesperson later confirmed it was part of a pilot (beta version) of the service that it plans to roll out more widely, pending the outcome of this.

The new service, being introduced for the first time in Africa, is similar to UberPool launched in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2014 and later introduced in multiple cities across the world. The low-cost popular service remains suspended in many regions including the US and Canada due to Covid-19 restrictions, but it seems the technology firm is slowly bringing it back in some markets and introducing it where it was unavailable before. Uber said the two products share a similar concept but are not identical, without offering further details.

The Pool Chance trip option is available on the budget service, Chap Chap in Nairobi, while it will be accessible on the UberX category, in the populous Nigerian city of Lagos and Ghana’s capital Accra

“We are currently trialling a new Uber ride, Pool Chance, which will cut costs for riders in Nairobi (Kenya) when they share their ride with others heading in the same direction,” Uber’s head of communications for East & West Africa, Lorraine Ondoru, told TechCrunch.

“We use this approach when introducing something new and we want to ensure the marketplace remains healthy and balanced. We will share more details once this has been officially launched,” she said.

In April, Uber launched Pool Chance in Auckland, New Zealand after introducing it in Kyiv, Ukraine in October last year. They also switched back on the low-cost rideshare service in Australia’s Sydney and Perth cities earlier in the year, and thereafter launched Pool Chance in Adelaide.

Uber says on the app that Pool Chance will bring the cost of rides down by up to 30%, further making its trips more affordable to riders.

Affordable shared rides can mean more riders using the app, which can lead to more trips, less downtime, and more overall earnings for you,” Uber said about the new service, in a message to its drivers, in the three African countries.

Uber is available in eight markets across Africa including Egypt, South Africa, Uganda, Tanzania, and Morocco.

Across the continent, it has over the last few months expanded and introduced new products in its new strategy to retain its customers and attract new ones amidst growing competition from rivals like Bolt, the Estonian-based ride hailing firm.

Earlier this month, Uber expanded to two additional cities in Nigeria – Ibadan and Port Harcourt – bringing into the regions a service that is already available in three other cities.

In South Africa, it also expanded its reach by nine cities this year and introduced its premium service dubbed Uber Comfort to be offered alongside UberX, UberBlack and the budget service, UberGo. It also added a feature that allows booking of a trip a month in advance in August, a service that was already available in other markets across the world. 

Uber’s plan to introduce the fare-splitting service in markets across Africa comes after it said in a recent report that “ride-sharing will likely play an increasingly important role within the public transportation mix in the next 3-5 years.”

The company added that while bus and rail transportation will remain core to public transportation due to their ability to transport large numbers of people, they will be complemented by microtransit, ride-sharing and micro-mobility means. 

“The addition of new modes with a variable cost structure like ride-sharing and the proliferation of on-demand services will unlock new optimums of efficiency and lower cost structures for public transportation agencies,” said Uber.

This, it said, will go towards ensuring and improving “the equity, accessibility, resilience, and flexibility of their networks.”

Through Uber Transit, a division serving public transportation, and Routematch, a company they bought last year that provides software to transit agencies, it said in the report that it’s providing new tools to help agencies to operate more efficiently and offer support to its riders too.

Since the establishment of Uber Transit in 2015, the tech firm has rolled out services in regions across the world that go towards making public transport seamless.

In early 2019, it launched an Uber in-app service that enables riders in Denver to plan their journeys and purchase tickets, and offered software to power public transportation after partnering with Marin Transit, in California.

In September last year it launched in some markets “Uber and Transit”, an in-app feature that makes it possible for riders to use the ride-hailing service to combine trips with other public transportation means like trains and buses. 

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Smartphone sales down 6% as chip shortages begin to impact market – TechCrunch

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Canalys reported this morning that global smartphone sales are off 6% this quarter, and it’s not because of lack of demand. It’s due to the worldwide chip shortage.

The pandemic has had a negative impact across supply chains, and chips have been particularly hard hit. Canalys principal analyst Ben Stanton says that manufacturers are trying to keep up as best they can, but the chip shortage is a legitimate roadblock right now. “On the supply side, chipset manufacturers are increasing prices to disincentivize over-ordering in an attempt to close the gap between demand and supply. But despite this, shortages will not ease until well into 2022,” he said in a statement.

What did the market look like this past quarter as a result of these supply chain issues? Well, the usual suspects maintained their market share positions with Samsung holding steady year over year at 23%. Meanwhile Apple saw YoY sales increase 3% to 15% this quarter. Xiaomi held steady in third place at 10% with no change YoY.

Canalys Smartphone marketshare chart for Q32021.

Image Credits: Canalys

Manufacturers have to be concerned at this turn of events, especially as we head into the crucial holiday shopping season. Apple released the new iPhone 13 at the end of September, too late for this quarterly report, but no doubt timed for the shopping season. The chip shortage issues could put a damper on its plans. Even though both Samsung and Apple make their own chipsets for their mobile devices, each company is still feeling the impact of the chip component shortage.

As a result, Stanton says it will be unlikely consumers will see any cost cutting this year, as manufacturing costs continue to spiral upward. Instead, he anticipates that we may see more bundling of phones with other devices as a buying incentive. “Customers should expect smartphone discounting this year to be less aggressive. But to avoid customer disappointment, smartphone brands which are constrained on margin should look to bundle other devices, such as wearables and IoT to create good incentives for customers.”

CNBC reported just yesterday that the consumer chip shortage could persist even longer than Stanton is predicting, perhaps as long as two to three years, according to president of Hisense, Jia Shaoqian, whose company makes devices like home appliances and consumer goods.

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