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The top smartphone trends to watch in 2019 – TechCrunch

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This was a bad year for the smartphone. For the first time, its seemingly unstoppable growth began to slow.

Things started off on a bad note in February, when Gartner recorded its first year-over-year decline since it began tracking the category. Not even the mighty Apple was immune from the trend. Last week, stocks took a hit as influential analyst Ming-Chi Kuo downgraded sales expectations for 2019.

People simply aren’t upgrading as fast as they used to. This is due in part to the fact that flagship phones are pretty good across the board. Manufacturers have painted themselves into a corner as they’ve battled it out over specs. There just aren’t as many compelling reasons to continually upgrade.

Of course, that’s not going to stop them from trying. Along with the standard upgrades to things like cameras, you can expect some radical rethinks of smartphone form factors, along with the first few pushes into 5G in the next calendar year.

If we’re lucky, there will be a few surprises along the way as well, but the following trends all look like no-brainers for 2019.

5G

GUANGZHOU, CHINA – DECEMBER 06: Attendees look at 5G mobile phones at the Qualcomm stand during China Mobile Global Partner Conference 2018 at Poly World Trade Center Exhibition Hall on December 6, 2018 in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province of China. The three-day conference opened on Thursday, with the theme of 5G network. (Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images)

Let’s get this one out of the way, shall we? It’s a bit tricky — after all, plenty of publications are going to claim 2019 as “The Year of 5G,” but they’re all jumping the gun. It’s true that we’re going to see the first wave of 5G handsets appearing next year.

OnePlus and LG have committed to a handset and Samsung, being Samsung, has since committed to two. We’ve also seen promises of a Verizon 5G MiFi and whatever the hell this thing is from HTC and Sprint.

Others, most notably Apple, are absent from the list. The company is not expected to release a 5G handset until 2020. While that’s going to put it behind the curve, the truth of the matter is that 5G will arrive into this world as a marketing gimmick. When it does fully roll out, 5G has the potential to be a great, gaming-changing technology for smartphones and beyond. And while carriers have promised to begin rolling out the technology in the States early next year (AT&T even got a jump start), the fact of the matter is that your handset will likely spend a lot more time using 4G.

That is to say, until 5G becomes more ubiquitous, you’re going to be paying a hefty premium for a feature you barely use. Of course, that’s not going to stop hardware makers, component manufacturers and their carrier partners from rushing these devices to market as quickly as possible. Just be aware of your chosen carrier’s coverage map before shelling out that extra cash.

Foldables

We’ve already seen two — well, one-and-a-half, really. And you can be sure we’ll see even more as smartphone manufacturers scramble to figure out the next big thing. After years of waiting, we’ve been pretty unimpressed with the foldable smartphone we’ve seen so far.

The Royole is fascinating, but its execution leaves something to be desired. Samsung’s prototype, meanwhile, is just that. The company made it the centerpiece of its recent developer conference, but didn’t really step out of the shadows with the product — almost certainly because they’re not ready to show off the full product.

Now that the long-promised technology is ready in consumer form, it’s a safe bet we’ll be seeing a number of companies exploring the form factor. That will no doubt be helped along by the fact that Google partnered with Samsung to create a version of Android tailored to the form factor — similar to its embrace of the top notch with Android Pie.

Of course, like 5G, these designs are going to come at a major premium. Once the initial novelty has worn off, the hardest task of all will be convincing consumers they need one in their life.

Pinholes

Bezels be damned. For better or worse, the notch has been a mainstay of flagship smartphones. Practically everyone (save for Samsung) has embraced the cutout in an attempt to go edge to edge. Even Google made it a part of Android (while giving the world a notch you can see from space with the Pixel 3 XL).

We’ve already seen (and will continue to see) a number of clever workarounds like Oppo’s pop-up. The pin hole/hole punch design found on the Huawei Nova 4 seems like a more reasonable route for a majority of camera manufacturers.

Embedded Fingerprint Readers

The flip side of the race to infinite displays is what to do with the fingerprint reader. Some moved it to the rear, while others, like Apple, did away with it in favor of face scanning. Of course, for those unable to register a full 3D face scan, that tech is pretty easy to spoof. For that reason, fingerprint scanners aren’t going away any time soon.

OnePlus’ 6T was among the first to bring the in-display fingerprint scanner to market, and it works like a charm. Here’s how the tech works (quoting from my own writeup from a few months ago):

When the screen is locked, a fingerprint icon pops up, showing you where to press. When the finger is in the right spot, the AMOLED display flashes a bright light to capture a scan of the surface from the reflected light. The company says it takes around a third of a second, though in my own testing, that number was closer to one second or sometimes longer as I negotiated my thumb into the right spot.

Samsung’s S10 is expected to bring that technology when it arrives around the February time frame, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a lot of other manufacturers follow suit.

Cameras, cameras, cameras (also, cameras)

What’s the reasonable limit for rear-facing cameras? Two? Three? What about the five cameras on that leaked Nokia from a few months back? When does it stop being a phone back and start being a camera front? These are the sorts of existential crises we’ll have to grapple with as manufacturers continue to attempt differentiation through imagining.

Smartphone cameras are pretty good across the board these days, so one of the simple solutions has been simply adding more to the equation. LG’s latest offers a pretty reasonable example of how this will play out for many. The V40 ThinQ has two front and three rear-facing cameras. The three on the back are standard, super wide-angle and 2x optical zoom, offering a way to capture different types of images when a smartphone camera isn’t really capable of that kind of optical zoom in a thin form factor.

On the flip side, companies will also be investing a fair deal in software to help bring better shots to existing components. Apple and Google both demonstrated how a little AI and ML can go a long way toward improving image capture on their last handsets. Expect much of that to be focused on ultra-low light and zoom.

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Samsung will announce new foldables on August 11 – TechCrunch

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Samsung just sent out invites for its next Unpacked event. There are those companies that like to sneak hints into their invites — and then there’s Samsung. The note leads with the big, bold words “Get ready to unfold” and features a pair of flat-colored objects that can reasonably be said to resemble the form factors of the Galaxy Z Fold and Flip, respectively.

In keeping with…the general state of the world over the past year-and-a-half, the event will be held virtually on Wednesday, August 11. Interestingly, the company is also opening up preorders on its “next flagship,” sights and specs unseen. Perks for early preorders include “12 free months of Samsung Care+, up to an extra $200 trade-in credit and a special pre-order offer.”

But honestly, it’s generally best to wait until you actually see the thing and maybe even read a review or two.

There’s a lot to unpack (so to speak) ahead of the event. First, I’m probably not alone in expecting that the company would focus its next big event on the upcoming Galaxy Watch. The big event at MWC was a bit of a dud (not unlike MWC itself), offering up more information on the upcoming wearable partnership with Google, in lieu of announcing any hardware.

As the company noted at the time, “The upcoming One UI Watch will debut at an upcoming Unpacked event later this summer, sporting the new UI, as well as the forthcoming joint Samsung/Google platform.”

It seems reasonably likely that this will be the event where that will occur, even if the new watch doesn’t get top billing. For one thing we’re running out of summer. For another, rumors have the new Galaxy Watch set for a late-August (the 27th) release.

All told, this could well be a pretty huge summer event for the company, bucking last year’s trend of meting out devices one by one at virtual invents. Word on the street is we could be seeing a Galaxy Watch 4, Galaxy Z Fold 3, Galaxy Z Flip 3, Galaxy S21 FE (“Fan Edition” — basically the latest version of the company’s budget flagship) and even the Galaxy Buds Pro, which will more directly take on the AirPods Pro (which are getting a bit long in the tooth).

What’s missing in all of this? No points if you said the Note. Samsung’s well-loved phablet is reportedly not coming this year, as chip shortages continue to plague the industry. That would be a big hit to Samsung’s six-month cycle, though we’ll see how that all plays out soon enough.

The August 11th event kicks off at 10AM ET / 7AM PT.

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Kdan Mobile gets $16M Series B for its cloud-based content and productivity tools – TechCrunch

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Kdan Mobile founder and CEO Kenny Su. Image Credits: Kdan Mobile

Kdan Mobile, a company that provides a wide range of cloud-based software, including AI-based tech for organizing documents, has raised a $16 million Series B. The round was led by South Korea-based Dattoz Partners, which will also take a seat on Kdan Mobile, and included participation from WI Harper Group, Taiwania Capital and Golden Asia Fund Mitsubishi UFJ Capital.

Launched in 2009, Kdan Mobile has focused on developing content creation and productivity software for mobile devices from the start, founder and chief executive officer Kenny Su told TechCrunch. “We’ve observed more and more industries embracing remote or hybrid work for years now, even before 2020,” he said. “We always sensed that trend would continue.”

Kdan Mobile has now raised $21 million in total. Since announcing its Series A in April 2018, Kdan Mobile has grown from 70 employees to 200 in Taiwan, China, Japan and the United States. It also passed 200 million downloads and now has more than 100 million members on its platform. More than half of Kdan Mobile’s users are in the U.S. and Europe, 30% from Asia and 15% from Africa and Australia.

Part of the funding will be used to develop Kdan Mobile’s enterprise products, including Document AI, its data processing and filtering technology, and SaaS products like e-signature service DottedSign, PDF software Document 365 and Creativity 365 for multimedia content creation, including animations and video editing.

After focusing primarily on individual users, Kdan Mobile decided to start working with more enterprise clients in 2018 and its software is now used by more than 40,000 businesses and educational organizations. Su said the company’s focus on enterprise was validated with the 2019 launch of DottedSign, which now has more than 300,000 users. During the past year and a half, the number of signatures processed by DottedSign increase by 30 times as companies switched to remote work because of the pandemic. Kdan Mobile also began offering a set of APIs and SDKs so internal developers at large enterprises can integrate and customize its technology.

“We use a lot of what’s called B2C2B approach, or business to consumer to business, meaning that we still try to connect with users at the individual level, but do so in a way that we hope they’ll adopt our solutions at the company level,” said Su.

Document AI was launched in 2021 after Kdan Mobile found that many of its users wanted to reduce the amount of time they spend managing documents. Its features include optical character recognition, smart tagging and search, and protection for sensitive data. Some examples of how Document AI can be used include automating data-entry tasks and creating summaries of research documents.

When asked how its products differentiate from those offered by Google, Microsoft and Adobe, Su said one way is that Kdan Mobile has always created products for mobile first, before designing the user experience for other devices, with the idea of serving professionals who are on the move a lot.

On the other hand, Kdan Mobile doesn’t necessarily see itself as a competitor with those companies. Instead, its solutions are complementary. For example, it creates files that are compatible with Adobe products and is integrated with Google Workspace, Zapier and, in the near future, Microsoft Teams.

“In that regard, it’s about helping users where they are, rather than trying to sway them away from existing products or services,” Su said.

In statement, Dattoz Partner CEO Yeon Su Kim said, “We see tremendous growth in the market for software and solutions that empower the post-pandemic hybrid workforce. Kdan’s powerful product suite and the leadership team’s ability to executive have led to its strong momentum in several key markets, including the U.S. and Asia markets.”

 

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Yummy raises $4M, aims to be ‘super app of Venezuela’ – TechCrunch

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Yummy, a Venezuela-based delivery app on a mission to create the super app for the country, announced Friday it raised $4 million in funding to expand its dark store delivery operations across Latin America.

Funding backers included Y Combinator, Tinder co-founder Justin Mateen, Canary, Hustle Fund, Necessary Ventures and the co-founders of TaskUs. The total investment includes pre-seeding capital raised in 2020.

“This appears to be a contrarian bet, but Yummy has quickly become the No. 1 super app in Venezuela and proven that the team can scale the business in a difficult territory,” Mateen said in a statement. “Now Vicente and the rest of the Yummy team will expand into more traditional markets with the necessary experience and support to overcome inevitable challenges that they will face.”

Vicente Zavarce, Yummy’s founder and CEO, launched the company in 2020 and is currently part of Y Combinator’s summer 2021 cohort. Born in Venezuela, Zavarce came to the U.S. for school and stayed to work in growth marketing at Postmates, Wayfair and Getaround before starting Yummy. Zavarce was a remote CEO over the past year, stuck in the U.S. due to travel restrictions, but said he is making the most of it.

Yummy’s app can be downloaded for free, and the company charges a delivery fee or merchant fee. In contrast to some of his food delivery competitors, Zavarce told TechCrunch Yummy’s fees are “the lowest in the market” so they do not affect the merchant’s ability to use the app.

Yummy order heat map. Image Credits: Yummy

The company is pulling together additional key components for its super app strategy, which includes launching a ridesharing vertical this year. Yummy has already connected more than 1,200 merchants with hundreds of thousands of customers.

And, over the past year the company completed more than 600,000 deliveries of food, groceries, alcohol and shopping. It reached $1 million in monthly gross merchandise volume while also growing 38% in revenue month over month.

Over the past eight years, the political and economic challenges faced by the country have led to its recent adoption of the U.S. dollar, Zavarce said. In some cases up to 70% of transactions are happening in dollars on the ground. He said this has protected the business against hyperinflation and ultimately created the opportunity for startups to begin operating in Venezuela.

Because of that, combined with more consumer technology innovation over the past decade, Zavarce said there is no reason why Venezuela should not have the best last-mile logistics. It’s there that Yummy has an opportunity to connect multiple vertices into a super app with little to no competition.

“Eventually, other players will enter, but because we have a super app, we already have an amazing frequency of usage,” he added. “We also already have exclusivity with 60% of the food delivery marketplace, which has enabled us to build a moat around the market. We believe we are the right people to execute on this and feel it is our responsibility to do it.”

Plans for the new funding include user acquisition — the company has close to 200,000 registered users already — and to expand in Peru and Chile by August. At the same time, Zavarce will spend some of that capital to attract more users across Venezuela. He also expects to be in Ecuador and Bolivia by the end of the year.

 

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