Архив рубрики: Mobile

Serialized fiction startup Radish raises $63.2M from SoftBank and Kakao

Radish is announcing that it has raised $63.2 million in new funding.
Breaking up book-length stories into smaller chapters that are released over days or weeks is an idea that was popularized in the 19th century, and startups have been trying to revive it for at least the past decade. Still, this round represents a major step up in funding, not just for Radish (which only raised around $5 million previously), but also compared to other startups in a relatively nascent market. (Digital fiction startup Wattpad is the notable exception.)
When I first wrote about Radish at the beginning of 2017, the startup was focused on user-generated content. Last year, however, the company launched the Radish Originals program, where Radish is able to produce more content using teams of writers lead by a “showrunner,” and where the startup owns the resulting intellectual property.
“Instead of becoming YouTube or Wattpad for serial fiction, we want to be more like Netflix and create our own originals,” founder and CEO Seungyoon Lee told me. “I got a lot of inspiration from platforms in Korea, China and Japan, where serial fiction is huge and established on mobile.”
One of the ideas Radish took from the Asian markets is rapidly updating its stories. For example, its most popular title, “Torn Between Alphas” (a romance story with werewolves) has released 10 seasons in less than a year, with each season consisting of more than 50 chapters — later seasons have more than 100 chapters — that are released multiple times a day.

Digital publisher Serial Box raises $4.5M

“On Netflix, you can binge-watch three seasons of a show at once,” Lee said. “On Radish, you can binge-read a thousand episodes.”
While Radish borrowed the writing room model from TV — and hired Emmy-winning TV writers, particularly those with a background in soap operas — Lee said it’s also taken inspiration from gaming. For one thing, it relies on micro-payments to make money, with users buying coins that allow them to unlock later chapters of a story (chapters usually cost 20 or 30 cents, and more chapters get moved out from behind the paywall over time). In addition, the company can allow reader taste to determine the direction of stories by A/B testing different versions of the same chapter.
Lee pointed to the fall of 2019 as Radish’s “inflection point,” where the model really started to work. Now, the company says its most popular story has made more than $4 million and has received more than 50 million “reads.” Radish stories are mostly in the genres of romance, paranormal/sci-fi, LGBTQ, young adult, horror, mystery and thriller, and Lee said the audience is largely female and based in the United States.
By raising a big round led by SoftBank Ventures Asia (the early-stage investment arm of troubled SoftBank Group) and Kakao Pages (which publishes webtoons, web novels and more, and is part of Korean internet giant Kakao), Lee said he can take advantage of their expertise in the Asian market to grow Radish’s audience in the U.S. That will mean accelerating content production in the hopes of creating more hit titles, and also spending more on performance marketing.
“With its own fast-paced original content production, Radish is best positioned to become a leading player in the global online fiction market,” said SoftBank Ventures Asia CEO JP Lee in a statement. “Radish has proven that its serialized novel platform can change the way people consume online content, and we are excited to support the company’s continued disruption in the mobile fiction space. Leveraging our global SoftBank ecosystem, we hope to support and accelerate Radish’s expansion across different regions worldwide.”

Backed by author Amy Tan, mobile fiction startup Radish raises $3M

Serialized fiction startup Radish raises $63.2M from SoftBank and Kakao

Daily Crunch: Microsoft-TikTok acquisition inches closer to reality

A possible Microsoft -TikTok acquisition is causing plenty of drama, we review Google’s new budget Pixel and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon returns to Earth. Here’s your Daily Crunch for August 3, 2020.
Microsoft-TikTok acquisition inches closer to reality
This weekend, Microsoft confirmed reports that it’s in talks to acquire TikTok, the popular mobile video app currently owned by Chinese company ByteDance. It sounds like the outcome of those talks may ultimately have less to do with Microsoft and more with President Donald Trump.
“Following a conversation between Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and President Donald J. Trump, Microsoft is prepared to continue discussions to explore a purchase of TikTok in the United States,” the company said in a statement. “Microsoft fully appreciates the importance of addressing the President’s concerns. It is committed to acquiring TikTok subject to a complete security review and providing proper economic benefits to the United States, including the United States Treasury.”
And indeed, Trump said today that he’s not opposed to an acquisition, but that “a very substantial portion of that price is going to have to come into the Treasury of the United States.” Meanwhile, Chinese internet users are calling ByteDance’s CEO a traitor.
The tech giants
Google’s budget Pixel 4a addresses its premium predecessor’s biggest problem — Brian Heater reviews the new $349 handset.
Facebook launches commerce and connectivity-focused accelerator programs — Facebook’s Commerce Accelerator will select 60 startups from the EMEA and LATAM regions, while Connectivity will feature 30 startups from LATAM and North America.
Adobe’s plans for an online content attribution standard could have big implications for misinformation — The project was first announced last November, and now the team has a whitepaper going into the nuts and bolts about how its system would work.
Startups, funding and venture capital
YC-backed Artifact looks to make podcasts more personal — Using professionally contracted interviewers, Artifact conducts short interviews with a person’s closest friends or family and turns them into a personal podcast.
Founded by a lifelong house-flipper, Inspectify is a marketplace for home inspections and repairs — Through the platform, buyers can instantly book inspections and receive repair estimates.
Mobile banking startup Varo is becoming a real bank — The company announced that it has been granted a national bank charter from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and secured regulatory approvals from the FDIC and Federal Reserve to open Varo Bank, N.A.
Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch
The essential revenue software stack — Tim Porter and Elise La Cava of Madrona Ventures outline the set of services used by sales, marketing and growth teams across their portfolio to identify and manage their prospects and revenue.
Is the 2020 SPAC boom an echo of the 2017 ICO craze? — Alex Wilhelm looks at two new pieces of SPAC news.
After Shopify’s huge quarter, BigCommerce raises its IPO price range — BigCommerce now intends to price its IPO between $21 and $23 per share.
(Reminder: Extra Crunch is our subscription membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)
Everything else
SpaceX and NASA successfully return Crew Dragon spacecraft to Earth with astronauts on board — SpaceX’s Crew Dragon appears to have performed exactly as intended throughout the mission, handling the launch, ISS docking, undocking, de-orbit and splashdown in a fully automated process that kept the astronauts safe and secure throughout.
Original Content podcast: Netflix’s ‘Say I Do’ offers a wedding-focused twist on the ‘Queer Eye’ formula — I’m not someone who cares about weddings, but this show made me cry. Multiple times!
The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

Daily Crunch: Microsoft-TikTok acquisition inches closer to reality

Google is making autofill on Chrome for mobile more secure

Google today announced a new autofill experience for Chrome on mobile that will use biometric authentication for credit card transactions, as well as an updated built-in password manager that will make signing in to a site a bit more straightforward.
Image Credits: Google
Chrome already uses the W3C WebAuthn standard for biometric authentication on Windows and Mac. With this update, this feature is now also coming to Android .
If you’ve ever bought something through the browser on your Android phone, you know that Chrome always asks you to enter the CVC code from your credit card to ensure that it’s really you — even if you have the credit card number stored on your phone. That was always a bit of a hassle, especially when your credit card wasn’t close to you.
Now, you can use your phone’s biometric authentication to buy those new sneakers with just your fingerprint — no CVC needed. Or you can opt out, too, as you’re not required to enroll in this new system.
As for the password manager, the update here is the new touch-to-fill feature that shows you your saved accounts for a given site through a standard Android dialog. That’s something you’re probably used to from your desktop-based password manager already, but it’s definitely a major new built-in convenience feature for Chrome — and the more people opt to use password managers, the safer the web will be. This new feature is coming to Chrome on Android in the next few weeks, but Google says that “is only the start.”
Image Credits: Google
 

Google is making autofill on Chrome for mobile more secure

Where is voice tech going?

Mark Persaud
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Mark Persaud is digital product manager and practice lead at Moonshot by Pactera, a digital innovation company that leads global clients through the next era of digital products with a heavy emphasis on artificial intelligence, data and continuous software delivery.

2020 has been all but normal. For businesses and brands. For innovation. For people.
The trajectory of business growth strategies, travel plans and lives have been drastically altered due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a global economic downturn with supply chain and market issues, and a fight for equality in the Black Lives Matter movement — amongst all that complicated lives and businesses already.
One of the biggest stories in emerging technology is the growth of different types of voice assistants:
Niche assistants such as Aider that provide back-office support.
Branded in-house assistants such as those offered by BBC and Snapchat.
White-label solutions such as Houndify that provide lots of capabilities and configurable tool sets.
With so many assistants proliferating globally, voice will become a commodity like a website or an app. And that’s not a bad thing — at least in the name of progress. It will soon (read: over the next couple years) become table stakes for a business to have voice as an interaction channel for a lovable experience that users expect. Consider that feeling you get when you realize a business doesn’t have a website: It makes you question its validity and reputation for quality. Voice isn’t quite there yet, but it’s moving in that direction.
Voice assistant adoption and usage are still on the rise
Adoption of any new technology is key. A key inhibitor of technology is often distribution, but this has not been the case with voice. Apple, Google, and Baidu have reported hundreds of millions of devices using voice, and Amazon has 200 million users. Amazon has a slightly more difficult job since they’re not in the smartphone market, which allows for greater voice assistant distribution for Apple and Google.
Image Credits: Mark Persaud
But are people using devices? Google said recently there are 500 million monthly active users of Google Assistant. Not far behind are active Apple users with 375 million. Large numbers of people are using voice assistants, not just owning them. That’s a sign of technology gaining momentum — the technology is at a price point and within digital and personal ecosystems that make it right for user adoption. The pandemic has only exacerbated the use as Edison reported between March and April — a peak time for sheltering in place across the U.S.

Where is voice tech going?

Facetune maker Lightricks brings its popular selfie retouching features to video

Lightricks, the startup behind a suite of photo and video editing apps — including most notably, selfie editor Facetune 2 — is taking its retouching capabilities to video. Today, the company is launching Facetune Video, a selfie video editing app, that allows users to retouch and edit their selfie and portrait videos using a set of A.I.-powered tools.
While there are other selfie video editors on the market, most today are generally focused on edits involving filters and presets, virtually adding makeup, or using AR or stickers to decorate your video in some way. Facetune Video, meanwhile, is focused on creating a photorealistic video by offering a set of features similar to those found in Lightricks’ flagship app, Facetune .
That means users are able to retouch their face with tools for skin smoothing, teeth whitening, and face reshaping, plus eye color, makeup, conceal, glow, and matte features. In addition, users can tweak tools for general video edits, like adjusting the brightness, contrast, color, and more, like other video editing apps allow for. And these edits can be applied in real-time to see how they look as the video plays, instead of after the fact.
In addition, users can apply the effect to one frame only and Facetune Video’s post-processing technology and neural networks will simultaneously apply an effect to the same area of every frame throughout the entire video, making it easier to quickly retouch a problem area without having to go frame-by-frame to do so.
“In Facetune Video, the 3D face model plays a significant role; users edit only one video frame, but it’s on us, behind-the-scenes, to automatically project the location of their edits to 2D face mesh coordinates derived from the 3D face model, and then apply them consistently on all other frames in the video,” explains Lightricks co-founder and CEO Zeev Farbman. “A Lightricks app needs to be not only powerful, but fun to use, so it’s critical to us that this all happens quickly and seamlessly,” he says.
Users can also save their favorite editing functions as “presets” allowing them to quickly apply their preferred settings to any video automatically.
In a future version of the app, the company plans to introduce a “heal” function which, like Facetune, will allow users to easily remove blemishes.
Image Credits: Lightricks
The technology that makes these selfie video edits work involves Lightricks’ deep neural networks that utilize facial feature detection and geometry analysis for the app’s retouching capabilities. These processes work in real-time without having to transmit data to the cloud first. There’s also no lag or delay while files are rendering.
In addition, Facetune Video uses the facial feature detection along with 3D face modeling A.I. to ensure that every part of the user’s face is captured for editing and retouching, the company says.
“What we’re also doing is taking advantage of lightweight neural networks. Before the user has even begun to retouch their selfie video, A.I.-powered algorithms are already working so that the user experience is quick and interactive,” says Farbman.
The app also does automated segmentation of more complex parts of the face like the interior of the eye, hair, or the lips, which helps it achieve a more accurate end result.
“It’s finding a balance between accuracy in the strength of the face modeling we use, and speed,” Farbman adds.
One challenge here was overcoming the issue of jittering effects, which is when the applied effect shakes as the video plays. The company didn’t want its resulting videos to have this problem, which makes the end result look gimmicky, so it worked to eliminate any shake-like effects and other face tracking issues so videos would look more polished and professional in the end.
The app builds off the company’s existing success and brand recognition with Facetune. With the new app, for example, the retouch algorithms mimic the original Facetune 2 experience, so users familiar with Facetune 2 will be able to quickly get the hang of the retouch tools.
Image Credits: Lightricks
The launch of the new app expands Lightricks further in the direction of video, which has become a more popular way of expressing yourself across social media, thanks to the growing use of apps like TikTok and features like Instagram Stories, for example.
Before, Lightricks’ flagship video product, however, was Videoleap, which focused on more traditional video editing, and not selfie videos where face retouching could be used.
Facetune has become so widely used, its name has become a verb — as in, “she facetunes her photos.” But it has also been criticized at times for its unrealistic results. (Of course, that’s more on the app’s users sliding the smoothing bar all the way to end.)
Across its suite of apps, which includes the original Facetune app (Facetune Classic), Facetune 2, Seen (for Stories), Photofox, Video Leap, Enlight Quickshot, Pixaloop, Boosted, and others, including a newly launched artistic editor, Quickart, the company has generated over 350 million downloads.
Its apps also now reach nearly 200 million users worldwide. And through its subscription model, Lightricks is now seeing what Farbman describes as revenues that are “increasing exponentially year-over-year,” but that are being continually reinvested into new products.
Like its other apps, Facetune Video will monetize by way of subscriptions. The app is free to use by will offer a VIP subscription for more features, at a price point of $8 per month, $36 per year, or a one-time purchase of $70.
Facetune 2 subscribers will get a discount on annual subscriptions, as well. The company will also sell the app in its Social Media Kit bundle on the App Store, which includes Facetune Video, Facetune 2, Seen and soon, an undisclosed fourth app. However, the company isn’t yet offering a single subscription that provides access to all bundled apps.

Facetune maker Lightricks brings its popular selfie retouching features to video