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TCL leaks foretell a weird future for foldable phones – TechCrunch

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Foldables are going to get weird. And I’m here for it. Just check out these leaked TCL renders from CNET. All manner of strange and wonderful folding devices — two tablets and three smartphones, including one that flips all the way around into a Futurama-style bracelet. There are renders for tablets and phones that fold both in and out.

Granted, few if any will actually come to fruition, but if this first wave of foldables opens up smartphone design in new and interesting ways like these, the industry will be all the better for it. Of course, we’re still in the early stages of all of this — and the first wave of foldables have yet to prove themselves of interest to the smartphone-buying audience beyond simple novelties.

We’ll be seeing a fair bit more of the space week at Mobile World Congress, along with Wednesday’s Samsung event, which is expected to give us another peek at the upcoming Galaxy foldable. For now, however, the Royale FlexPai is the only device that’s actually come to market, and that one still feels like little more than a developer product.

However, while TCL’s not a household name here in the space, the Chinese company certainly has experience in the display department, both through its TV business of the same name and smartphone brands like Alcatel, Palm and BlackBerry.

These sorts of renders are probably pretty standard for all companies currently experimenting with a flexible form factor. If there’s one thing all of the announced devices have proven, it’s that the industry is still a ways away from settling on a consistent design language for these devices. And it’s certainly possible that the industry will never settle on a consistent form factor.

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AIOps startup BigPanda raises Series E extension, bringing its total capital to $340M – TechCrunch

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BigPanda, a startup developing AI to audit changes in IT environments and recommend how to fix them, has raised $20 million in an extension of its Series E round. UBS Next and Wells Fargo Strategic Capital contributed to the tranche, bringing BigPanda’s total raised to $340 million. The company’s valuation remains unchanged at $1.2 billion.

As my colleague Christine Hall recently reported, BigPanda works to prevent corporate network outages by analyzing data from observability and monitoring services. The platform can automate aspects of incident response, like ticketing, and optionally connect to third-party runbook automation tools to run automated workflows. BigPanda also provides analytics to track incident trends and metrics and to enable teams to measure progress toward company goals.

BigPanda was founded in 2012 by Assaf Resnick and Elik Eizenberg. Resnick was an analyst at Moody’s before becoming a principal at Sequoia Capital and a member at Jibe Ventures. Eizenberg, formerly head of IT operations at IDF, worked on algorithms and software at stock-trading startup MarketWindows prior to joining BigPanda.

“In 2011, Eizenberg and I had launched an adtech company built on a very modern and sophisticated cloud infrastructure,” Resnick told TechCrunch via email. “However, like many companies, we started running into issues keeping services running in that complex environment. With more monitoring data than we could humanly process, and yet no insights as to what was causing performance issues or outages, we quickly built a tool to help them identify incidents as they were happening. That’s when we realized there was a bigger unmet need we wanted to solve.”

Resnick believes the capital infusion — particularly during this tough economic climate — highlights the demand for BigPanda and AIOps, or software that correlates events in IT systems. To his point, the AIOps market grew rapidly during the pandemic, particularly as the worker shortage in IT worsened. Gartner predicts 40% of companies will be using AIOps for app and infrastructure monitoring by 2023.

BigPanda competes for AIOps dominance with startups like ScienceLogic, Coiled and OpsRamp. And in recent months, larger vendors have entered the ring. New Relic expanded its AIOps services with the launch of an anomaly detection service last March, and ServiceNow — signaling its ambitions — acquired AIOps vendor Loom Systems in January 2020.

“COVID-19 forced organizations to modernize or suffer the consequences. This economic recession will force companies to do more with less,” Resnick said. “While we sit in the broad category of AIOps with a dozen other vendors, there is no competitor singularly focused on delivering vendor-agnostic event correlation and automation to improve incident management.”

BigPanda claims to have 100 customers, including strategic clients like UBS and Wells Fargo. Revenue remains “under $100 million” with an 80% gross margin profile, in line with the figures Resnick gave TechCrunch in January.

Part of the new cash will go toward hiring, Resnick says. BigPanda plans to exit 2022 with over 350 employees, up from its current headcount of 330.

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HyperTrack, which provides last-mile routing software, raises $25M – TechCrunch

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In a sign that the market for logistics and transportation tech isn’t cooling (economic downturn be damned), HyperTrack, a startup offering APIs for freight order planning, assignment and tracking, today closed a $25 million Series A funding round. Led by Westbridge Capital with participation from Nexus Venture Partners, the round will be put toward expanding HyperTrack’s engineering team and “doubling down” on broader growth, CEO Kashyap Deorah told TechCrunch in an interview this month.

As supply chain challenges endure, VCs view logistics startups — including HyperTrack — as a safe bet in choppy market waters. While investment slowed in early 2022 compared to 2021, startups developing transportation and logistics technologies still collected $14 billion in Q1 alone, according to PitchBook.

“The pandemic significantly accelerated on-demand delivery, the growth of the gig economy and software automation. All three factors have served as tailwinds for HyperTrack’s growth,” Deorah told TechCrunch via email. “Two of the toughest challenges for technology leaders are hiring talent and optimizing cloud bills. Business demands speed-to-market while development roadmaps continue becoming delayed. APIs help technology teams to build their apps their own way with predictable time and cost.”

Prior to launching HyperTrack, Deorah co-founded blogging platform RightHalf.com and restaurant payments app Chalo (among other startups), which were acquired by Stratify and OpenTable, respectively. After spending a little over a year at OpenTable as GM of payments after the Chalo acquisition, Deorah says he was inspired to found HyperTrack due to the growing demand in the “on-demand” economy (e.g., food and goods delivery services) for location and mapping tech.

Image Credits: HyperTrack

“In the early days of DoorDash, Instacart and Postmates, then called ‘Uber-for-X,’ I recognized the on-demand economy as the convergence of physical and digital commerce across multiple industries and regions,” Deorah said. “HyperTrack has witnessed too many enterprises building their own logistics tech solutions, especially for on-demand fulfillment by gig workers. Our APIs deliver a better solution, support and price predictability than hyperscalers.”

As Deorah explains, traditionally, companies making on-demand deliveries have taken a “linear approach” to geocoding customers’ addresses. (“Geocoding” refers to transforming a description of a location, like an address or place name, to geographic coordinates.) But the addresses aren’t always accurate. A recent study found that the coordinates vary widely across commercial vendors, with one vendor accurately mapping addresses only 30% of the time.

HyperTrack, by contrast, claims to use “ground truth” delivery data — data from orders fulfilled and routes taken to destinations, for example — to compute address accuracy in addition to metrics like service time, route deviations and live driver locations. The platform loops this data back into AI systems to “continuously” improve delivery order planning and assignment, Deorah says — ideally preventing delayed orders, lowballed payments to drivers and wrong ETAs.

To customers, HyperTrack offers software development kits and APIs specifically for logistics around the last mile, or the last leg of an order’s journey. The toolkit allows companies to build workflows that help predict things like capacity utilization and per-order costs, plus capabilities like nearby search, geotags, geofences and “flex routes” in consumer and delivery driver apps.

HyperTrack tackles a logistics roadblock that other vendors, including Google and Amazon, have long aimed to address, too, with their own solutions. For example, AWS’ Amazon Location Service lets developers add location functionality like maps, routing and tracking to their apps, while Google’s Last Mile Fleet Solution ships with APIs, SDKs and a backend service for mapping and routing functionality.

But Deorah asserts that HyperTrack is one of the few offerings on the market that bridges mobile, cloud and maps for a per-order price. He takes aim at startups like Onfleet, Bringg (which became a unicorn last June) and Locus as well, which he says only provide proprietary packaged apps as opposed to unbundled APIs and development kits.

Cost is indeed a major challenge for logistics providers in last-mile delivery. According to Statista, more than half cite increasing delivery costs as their main challenge, followed by reliable order fulfillment and a lack of workers. Eighty-two percent of brands feel they need to improve their customers’ last-mile experiences, a separate survey showed — in part by increasing delivery options and promoting sustainability.

The stakes can be high. In 2021, a Florida trucking contractor contended that the U.S. Postal Service’s reliance on dynamic route optimization software shorted it $110 million, forcing it to slash hundreds of jobs and opening it up to lawsuits. Amazon’s cost-saving routing algorithm reportedly had drivers walking into traffic.

HyperTrack

Image Credits: HyperTrack

“Builders of logistics technology can often become confused by the various route solvers, mapping platforms, cloud technologies and smartphone APIs they need to stitch together to build simple use cases — not to mention inflexible fleet management applications that confuse developers with their APIs,” Deorah said. “[Using HyperTrack,] logistics tech builders no longer need to develop for months with a team of engineers to build out the consumer and driver apps for mobile, live location tracking, operations dashboard and cloud infrastructure.”

Up against the formidable competition, HyperTrack appears to have fared well, with 3,000 apps using the platform, including technician firm Jobox and home services company Spiritzone. Deorah — who declined to reveal revenue numbers — claims that the platform is now coordinating 10 million orders per month across a fleet of 150,000 drivers.

“In 2022 alone, HyperTrack has grown from 15 to 30 employees and we plan to grow to 40 within the next few months.” Deorah said. “[HyperTrack] has been a complex product to build, yet here we are with a great product and many production users, and it is time to now double down on growth.”

The Series A tranche brings HyperTrack’s total raised capital to $32 million.

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Spotify and Samsung expand their partnership in 2022, with more pre-installs, integrations and free trials – TechCrunch

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Spotify is again expanding its 2018 partnership with Samsung in 2022, the company announced. This year, Samsung and Spotify are working together on a number of cross-platform integrations involving Samsung phones, earbuds, watches, TVs and more. The deal will again include pre-installations of Spotify’s app on Samsung Galaxy phones and Smart TVs, the streamer also noted.

The original partnership was meant to give Samsung a better means of competing with Apple after the failure of its own music streaming service, Milk Music, in 2016. Instead of trying to operate its own music business, it now points users to Spotify, offering deep integrations, as well as subscription deals and discounts along the way. Picking Spotify as a key partner made sense as it’s a clear frontrunner in the streaming space.

This week, Spotify announced a continuation of its pre-install agreement, which will see anyone who purchases a 2022 Samsung Smart TV or Samsung Galaxy phone receiving the Spotify app already installed on the device. In addition, new Spotify users will be able to access a free three-month offer to Spotify Premium. Spotify and Samsung have previously done pre-installations with various devices, including Galaxy S10, S10+, S10e, S10 5G and Galaxy Fold, among other Galaxy A devices.

In addition, Samsung users with Android devices will be able to play Spotify Group Sessions during video calls on Google Meet. Galaxy Watch5 Pro users can use Spotify with Google Assistant on WearOS. And Galaxy Buds2 Pro will be enabled with Spotify Tap, allowing users to play a song when they tap and hold.

Plus, Spotify is offering three free months of Spotify Premium to Samsung users in 85 markets — a list that now includes some newer markets like Austria, Czech Republic, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Kosovo, Luxembourg, Slovakia, South Korea, Vietnam and parts of Ukraine. (Spotify is excluding the Republic of Crimea, the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic.)

Since the August 2018 unveiling of the partnership between Spotify and Samsung, the deal has allowed users to switch between devices and carry on listening to a Spotify song or podcast. It’s a win-win for both companies as Spotify has the opportunity to reach new listeners and customers continue using Samsung devices.

A free trial to more markets is Spotify’s way of trying to gain more premium subscribers in its battle with rivals like Apple Music, YouTube Music and Amazon Music. Spotify’s subscriber growth exceeded expectations in the recent quarter, with an added 11 million net new listeners and six million premium subscribers, bringing the total to 188 million premium subscribers and 433 million monthly active users.

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