Over 13 million augmented reality apps built using Apple’s ARKit have been downloaded since the release of iOS 11 on September 19, 2017, according to new data from app intelligence firm, Sensor Tower, which took a look at the state of the AR app ecosystem, now that it’s had time to become more established. It found that – as with many new developments in the app world – games have been seeing the most traction, in terms of ARKit adoption.
Nearly half (47%) of the ARKit-only app downloads worldwide during the first six months were games, which has been leading the ARKit-only app installs since launch.
A month after iOS 11’s release, ARKit-only apps had then surpassed three million downloads, with games accounting for 35 percent of downloads. Six months later, games have grown to 47 percent of the now 13 million ARKit-only app downloads.
Games, of course, helped to popularize augmented reality before ARKit’s launch. Thanks to the worldwide craze that was Pokémon Go, mobile users became familiar with AR’s potential to enhance gaming as they tried to catch the animated Pokémon appearing in the real world, visible only through their smartphone camera’s viewfinder.
The app seeing the most free downloads is the virtual pet simulator AR Dragon from Australia’s PlaySide Studios. The top paid and top grossing ARKit-only app is CamToPlan Pro, a paid AR measuring tape app from Tasmanic Editions.
If you’re wondering why the top app isn’t Pokémon Go, it’s because Sensor Tower’s analysis focused on ARKit-only apps, not ARKit-compatible apps that added some AR functionality over the past six months. Pokémon Go is part of that latter group.
But if you were to combine all AR apps, including ARKit-only apps and those that added new AR functionality when ARKit was released, then there would be well over 2,000 AR apps on the App Store today, says Sensor Tower. This matches up with Apple’s officially released figures, too.
Other popular ARKit-only app categories include utilities (like AR measuring tapes or eBay’s tool for finding the right shipping box), entertainment apps (like the AR children’s book, My Very Hungry Caterpillar), lifestyle apps (like the now numerous apps for helping consumers shop furniture by placing items in their own rooms via AR), photo and video apps (like Holo), and educational apps.
In addition to games, ARKit-only lifestyle apps have seen sizable download growth, as well, more than doubling their share of AR app installs from 5 percent to 11 percent on the heels of releases from IKEA, Houzz, Wayfair, and others. Meanwhile, utilities have seen their share of downloads decline from 19 percent to 15 percent.
The ARKit-only gaming chart has remained largely the same as it was six months ago, however, save for a few additions like Shadows Remain from Halfbrick, the gaming studio behind Fruit Ninja and Jetpack Joyride. Other news entries include AR Smash Tanks!, Playground AR, and Orbu, all of which have benefited from Apple’s promotion.
AR Dragon has been at the top of the top free game chart for months, while The Machines has been the number one top paid and top grossing game.
In non-games, kid-friendly ARKit apps dominate. The number one free app is LEGO AR Studio, which is followed by Dr. Panda AR Christmas Tree (#3), Meow! (#4), Math Ninja AR (#9), and Follow Me Dragon (#10).
Other top apps include IKEA Place (#2) and GIPHY World (#5). The top paid and grossing app charts are instead cluttered with utilities, generally AR rulers and measuring tapes.
Apple has played a big role in pushing ARKit adoption, with everything from on-stage demos to App Store features, and even integration into Apple’s learn-to-code app for kids, Swift Playgrounds, as of late.
But the AR app industry is still in its early days, and as ARKit itself develops, there’s room for more types of AR apps to emerge, too.
One potentially interesting upgrade to ARKit 1.5, which rolled out in beta to developers back in January, is the added support for wall detection. With this feature, ARKit can now recognize vertical surfaces, and place objects on those surfaces. The kit was also improved with better horizontal plotting, 1080p video, and computer vision-based image recognition – meaning ARKit apps can now “see” things like 2D objects, such as posters or art on a wall, then place related objects nearby.
Apple is not alone in giving AR apps a boost. Google also released its answer to ARKit with ARCore earlier this year. In the months since, a number of the ARKit-only apps have rushed to make their Android versions ARCore-compatible as well. Last week, Google said there are now over 60 ARCore apps on the Play Store, many of them games.
The Tingles team has not done much in the way of promotion, but the app has already built a fairly sizable following in its community. That’s one of the nice things about a targeted product — it spreads fast.
In the year since Slovenian co-founders Gasper Kolenc and Miha Mlakar launched, the service has focused almost exclusively on ASMR — autonomous sensory meridian response — those whispered, pleasant-sounding videos that give listeners a sense of low-level euphoria. The service is about to get a big push, with help from Y Combinator.
“We were just trying to figure the best way to build it for artists and the community,” Mlakar, who also serves as the company’s CPO, tells TechCrunch. “We established all of these relationships. All of the features came from the community. We needed time to work on the product.”
In spite of a lack of promotion, the company says it’s pulled in 60,000 monthly active users, bout a third of whom use the product every day. The site’s content is created by more than 200 “artists” (a term taken from the ASMR community’s almost-too-clever “ASMRtist”), many of whom were poached from YouTube.
Google’s video service has, of course, been ground zero for the rise of the ASMR online phenomenon. And while Mlakar admits that it’s proven a valuable resource for the community (it was where he first learned of the concept), the co-founder believes there were still issues unserved by YouTube’s catch-all approach to online video.
“I think YouTube is great for discovery,” says Mlakar. “I discovered ASMR on there. But when you become a regular user, it becomes a problem. The main thing is the ads. If you’re listening to ASMR to fall asleep and you’re just about to doze off, then a loud commercial wakes you up, it’s really unpleasant.”
The other benefits of offering such a hyper-focused service include a better monetization model for creators. The service is available ad-free for free, but the company is working with creators to develop exclusive premium content deals, along with other features like tipping. Creators are vetted through a short approval process, and Tingles does police the videos. But while the app — and most ASMR proponents — are quick to point out that the phenomenon itself isn’t a sexual one, there are indeed “more erotic channels,” according to Mlakar.
For Tingles, ASMR is just the beginning. Mlakar describes the Android/iOS app as “basically the best place to find any video content that helps you relax and fall asleep,” and future plans include a larger push into other relaxation categories, like meditation/mindfulness.
Germany automaker Audi, Airbus and Italdesign presented Tuesday a scaled-down version of its vision of the future: a drone that can pluck the cab off of an autonomous electric vehicle and then fly off to its intended destination.
The companies showed off the flying taxi concept Tuesday during Drone Week in Amsterdam.
You can watch the whole video below that shows the different steps in the process.
To be clear, what the companies showed was a working prototype and one that isn’t big enough for human being to ride in. The prototype of “Pop.Up Next” was a 1:4 scale model.
Still, the companies provided a bullish vision of the future that they say could be just a decade away.
“Flying taxis are on the way. We at Audi are convinced of that,” Dr. Bernd Martens, Audi board member for sourcing and IT, and president of the Audi subsidiary Italdesign said in a statement. “More and more people are moving to cities. And more and more people will be mobile thanks to automation. In future, senior citizens, children and people without a driver’s license will want to use convenient robot taxis. If we succeed in making a smart allocation of traffic between roads and airspace, people and cities can benefit in equal measure.”
Audi said in a description under the YouTube video, that the flying taxi service could be deployed as “soon as the coming decade.”
To prepare, Audi is conducting tests in South America in cooperation with the Airbus subsidiary Voom to learn what an on-demand flight service might look like. Customers can book helicopter flights in Mexico City or Sao Paulo, while an Audi is at the ready for the journey to or from the landing site.
“Services like this help us to understand our customers’ needs better. Because in the future, flying taxis will appeal to a wide range of city dwellers. With Pop.Up Next we are simultaneously exploring the boundaries of what is technically possible. The next step is for a full-size prototype to fly and drive,” Martens said.
Audi is also supporting the Urban Air Mobility flying taxi project in Ingolstadt, an initiative aimed at preparing test operations for a flying taxi at Audi’s site.
H1Z1 has spent a couple months on PS4 in an open beta. But today, the Battle Royale game is officially making its debut on the PlayStation platform.
Much like Fortnite Battle Royale, which has swept the gaming world unlike almost any title before it, H1Z1 drops 100 players into a map where they must loot up and survive. Unlike Battle Royale, H1Z1 is relatively more realistic, with a much larger map, more drab colors, and a handful of drivable vehicles.
Interestingly, H1Z1 was one of the earlier Battle Royale games during the game type’s wave of popularity, catching the attention of pro gamers back in 2015. Back then, the game was only available via Steam.
Since, games like PUBG and Fortnite have grown wildly, forcing H1Z1 makers Daybreak to play a bit of catch up.
But today, H1Z1 goes officially live on the PS4, giving gamers who are sick of Fortnite’s bubbly world a chance to get into the Battle Royale world in a different way.
Plus, Daybreak has added in a Fortnite-style Battle Pass for the season, letting PS4 players unlock reward levels for $5.49. H1Z1 is also getting a couple new weapons, including a Sniper Rifle and an RPG, as well as an ARV that can fit a full team of five.
You can check out the launch trailer below:
Jake Bright is a writer and author in New York City. He is co-author of The Next Africa.
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Naspers announces $300 million initiative to support startups and tech in South Africa
Africa’s VC landscape is becoming more African with an increasing number of investment funds headquartered on the continent and run by locals, according to Crunchbase data summarized in this TechCrunch feature.
Drawing on its database and primary source research, Crunchbase identified 51 “viable” Africa-focused VC funds globally—defining viable as formally established entities with 7-10 investments or more in African startups, from seed to series stage.
Of the 51 funds investing in African startups, 22 (or 43 percent) were headquartered in Africa and managed by Africans.
Of the 22 African managed and located funds, 9 (or 41 percent) were formed since 2016 and 9 are Nigerian.
Four of the 9 Nigeria located funds were formed within the last year: Microtraction, Neon Ventures, Beta.Ventures, and CcHub’s Growth Capital fund.
The Nigerian funds with the most investments were EchoVC (20) and Ventures Platform (27).
Notably active funds in the group of 51 included Singularity Investments (18 African startup investments) Ghana’s Golden Palm Investments (17) and Musha Ventures (36).
The Crunchbase study also tracked more Africans in top positions at outside funds and the rise of homegrown corporate venture arms.
One of those entities with a corporate venture arm, Naspers, announced a massive $100 million fund named Naspers Foundry to support South African tech startups. This is part of a $300 million (1.4 billion Rand) commitment by the South African media and investment company to support South Africa’s tech sector overall. Naspers Foundry will launch in 2019.
The initiatives lend more weight to Naspers’ venture activities in Africa as the company has received greater attention for investments off the continent (namely Europe, India and China), as covered in this TechCrunch story.
“Naspers Foundry will help talented and ambitious South African technology entrepreneurs to develop and grow their businesses,” said a company release.
“Technology innovation is transforming the world,” said Naspers chief executive Bob van Dijk. “The Naspers Foundry aims to both encourage and back South African entrepreneurs to create businesses which ensure South Africa benefits from this technology innovation.”
After the $100 million earmarked for the Foundry, Naspers will invest ≈ $200 million over the next three years to “the development of its existing technology businesses, including OLX, Takealot, and Mr D Food…” according to a release.
In context, the scale of this announcement is fairly massive for Africa. According to recently summarized Crunchbase data, the $100 million Naspers Foundry commitment dwarfs any known African corporate venture activity by roughly 95x.
The $300 million commitment to South Africa’s tech ecosystem signals a strong commitment by Naspers to its home market. Naspers wasn’t ready to comment on if or when it could extend this commitment outside of South Africa (TechCrunch did inquire).
If Naspers does increase its startup and ecosystem funding to wider Africa— given its size compared to others—that would be a primo development for the continent’s tech sector.
If mobile money was the first phase in the development of digital finance in Africa, the next phase is non-payment financial apps in agtech, insurance, mobile-lending, and investech, according to a report by Village Capital covered here at TechCrunch.
In “Beyond Payments: The Next Generation of Fintech Startups in Sub-Saharan Africa,” the venture capital firm and their reporting partner, PayPal, identify 12 companies it determined were “building solutions in fintech subsectors outside of payments.”
Village Capital’s work gives a snapshot of these four sub-sectors — agricultural finance, insurtech, alternative credit scoring and savings and wealth — including players, opportunities and challenges, recent raises and early-stage startups to watch.
The report highlights recent raises by savings startup PiggybankNG and Nigerian agtech firm FarmCrowdy. Village Capital sees the biggest opportunities for insurtech startups in five countries: South Africa, Morocco, Egypt, Kenya and Nigeria.
In alternative credit scoring and lending it sees blockchain as a driver of innovation in reducing “both transaction costs and intermediation costs, helping entrepreneurs bypass expensive verification systems and third parties.”
The Founders Factory expanded its corporate-backed accelerator to Africa, opening an office in Johannesburg with the support of some global and local partners.
This is Founders Factory’s first international expansion and the goal is “to scale 100 startups across Sub-Saharan Africa in five years,” according the accelerator’s communications head, Amy Grimshaw.
Founders Fund co-founder Roo Rogers will lead the new Africa office. Standard Bank is the first backer, investing “several million funds over five years,” according to Grimshaw.
The Johannesburg accelerator will grow existing businesses through a bespoke six-month program, while an incubator will build completely new businesses focused on addressing key issues on the continent.
Founder Funds will hire over 40 full-time specialists locally, covering all aspects needed to scale its startups including product development, UX/UI, engineering, investment, business development and, growth marketing. This TechCrunch feature has more from Founders Fund management on the outlook for the new South Africa accelerator.
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Upload, the VR startup which was rocked by a sexual harassment suit exactly one year ago, is shutting down both its San Francisco office and its 20,000 sq. foot Los Angeles co-working space as it struggles to secure new funding, multiple sources tell TechCrunch.
All of the company’s LA employees were laid off yesterday. The company’s SF office lease has already been taken over. The startup’s VR-focused trade publication, UploadVR, which operates independently of the company’s other ventures, has not been affected yet, sources tell us.
The layoffs and office shut downs come as the company has had trouble raising new funding and managing its reputation following a bombastic lawsuit from the company’s former social media manager that landed the startup on the front-page of the New York Times and on a CNN special feature talking about the company’s toxic workplace environment.
The sexual harassment and wrongful termination lawsuit, which we first reported, alleged — among other things — that the company had a “kink room” with a bed in its office where male employees had sex. As the company wrestled with the fallout, at least one additional former female employee was also threatening to sue the company’s leadership over sexual harassment claims, a source tells us.
In the aftermath of the lawsuit, the company brought on CircleClick CEO Anne Ward as COO to turn things around at the troubled startup. Ward left the company just six weeks later, and soon sent a cease and desist letter threatening a restraining order against Upload CEO Taylor Freeman and President Will Mason after what she alleged was “repeated harassment.”
Though the initial lawsuit was later settled out of court, the bad behavior didn’t end there for Upload. In a subsequent incident, an employee at the startup was reported to management for having sex with a client in the office. That employee was not fired and the person who reported them later quit, we are told.
Despite few of their company’s previous investors wanting to have anything to do with them, the co-founders have managed to keep things afloat thanks to personal investments from a close friend of theirs, Oculus founder Palmer Luckey.
“Nobody else will touch them but the Nazi sympathizer,” a former Upload executive told TechCrunch.
Multiple sources tell us that Luckey has personally invested as much as $2.5 million in Upload to keep the company running after it spent through the last of a $4.5 million Series A which it had raised in late 2016 from Colopl, General Catalyst and others. The Oculus founder, who left Facebook nearly one year ago following an extended controversy swirling around his personal politics, has maintained a close relationship with the company’s leadership but has been reluctant to invest further.
Luckey did not respond to a request for comment. We’ve reached out to Upload for comment.
Update: Upload has published a blog post responding to this article and confirming the office closures and layoffs, while denying personal investment from Luckey.
Google is turning startup investor to further its goal of putting Google services like search, maps, and its voice assistant front and center for the next billion internet users in emerging markets. It has invested $22 million into KaiOS, the company that has built an eponymous operating system for feature phones that packs a range of native apps and other smartphone-like services. As part of the investment, KaiOS will be working on integrating Google services like search, maps, YouTube and its voice assistant into more KaiOS devices, after initially announcing Google apps for KaiOS-powered Nokia phones earlier this year.
“This funding will help us fast-track development and global deployment of KaiOS-enabled smart feature phones, allowing us to connect the vast population that still cannot access the internet, especially in emerging markets,” said KaiOS CEO Sebastien Codeville in a statement.
Our mobile world is dominated today by smartphones: there were about 1.6 billion of them sold last year. But feature phones have continued to move, too: it’s estimated that there were about 450 million-500 million of them shipped in 2017. And their sales are actually growing faster right now than their souped-up cousins.
KaiOS-powered phones play squarely in the latter category, and they are gaining traction in markets where feature phones still hold sway. In India, they have overtaken Apple’s iOS to become the second-most popular devices after Android handsets.
KaiOS tells us that there have been more than 40 million KaiOS phones shipped to-date, while data from Counterpoint research suggests its shipments grew 11,400 percent year-on-year to reach 23 million in Q1 2018. The research firm estimates that a more broad uptick in feature phone buying, fueled no doubt by Jio’s huge numbers and HMD Nokia, led to Android-based smartphone shipments declining 14 percent year-on-year in that same Q1 2018 period.
Google’s KaiOS investment could be seen as a way of introducing its services to feature phone users who might eventually graduate to smartphones. However, there is also scope for holding on to these users even as they stay in the feature phone category, which continues to evolve and become more functional.
“We’re excited to work with Google to deliver its services on more mobile devices,” said Codeville, the KaiOS CEO. “Having an intelligent voice assistant on an affordable mobile phone is truly revolutionary as it helps overcome some of the limitations a keypad brings.”
A Nokia device running KaiOS
KaiOS is a U.S.-based project that started in 2017, built on the ashes of Mozilla’s failed Firefox OS experiment, as a fork of the Linux codebase. Firefox OS was intended to be the basis of a new wave of HTML-5, low-cost smartphones. And while those devices and the wider ecosystem never really took off, KaiOS has fared significantly better.
KaiOS powers phones made by OEMs including Nokia (HMD), Micromax and Alcatel, and it works with carriers including Sprint and AT&T — it counts offices in North America, Europe and Asia. But its most significant deployment to date has been with India’s Reliance Jio, the challenger telco that disrupted the Indian market with affordable 4G data packages.
Reliance Jio offers its own range of KaiOS handsets, and coupling that with its low-cost data packages, KaiOS’ share of India’s phone market has reportedly jumped to 15 percent — overtaking Apple’s iOS in the process and putting it second behind only Android. (Jio’s own devices have actually increased the number of feature phones in India, such has been its impact in the country.)
That market share alone in a high-growth market like India is likely enough to pique Google’s interest.
“We want to ensure that Google apps and services are available to everyone, whether they are using desktops, smartphones, or feature phones.” said Anjali Joshi, VP of Product Management for Google’s Next Billion Users division, in a statement. “Following the success of the JioPhones, we are excited to work with KaiOS to further improve access to information for feature phone users around the world.”
Beyond this, the Next Billion business unit works on customizing the Google experience and services to fit the needs of new internet users in emerging markets, including the launch of new services like this neighborhoods app and a successful public WiFi program.
While Google continues to develop its Android smartphone platform, it has long been an advocate of expanding its services to other platforms, too, and that’s been the case with KaiOS.
In February, KaiOS announced that it would be adding Google Search, Google Maps and the Google Voice Assistant to the new Nokia 8110 feature phone, and it seems that this is the Google agreement that will be expanded to all models as part of Google’s investment.
To be clear, Google services are not the only ones on KaiOS. It added apps for Twitter and Facebook earlier this year, and it mixes dedicated KaiOS apps — WhatsApp is said to be coming — with others that are more basic HTML-5 web apps.
Google’s investment in KaiOS is the latest in a line of direct startup deals from the U.S. tech giant that sit alongside investments made by GV and CapitalG, its two investment arms. Google has also backed concierge service Dunzo and is partnering with the carrier Orange to make investments and potentially acquire startups in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
Google is quietly formulating a new strategy for China
Note: The original version of this post has been updated to provide more data around KaiOS shipments and Android shipment declines.
Silicon Valley is obsessed with unicorns, startups that reach a valuation of $1 billion valuation or more. But Aniyia Williams and her team over at Zebras Unite are more interested in zebras. Unlike unicorns, zebras are real animals. So, when applied to startups, zebras are the ones that bring in actual revenue.
When we talk about the greatest of all time (G.O.A.T.) in tech, it seems only reasonable that it would be a zebra, not necessarily a unicorn. Granted, it could be a zebra-unicorn blend, but it couldn’t be just be a unicorn.
The zebra movement is all-inclusive, Williams told me on an episode of the CTRL+T podcast. That’s regardless of race, gender, sexuality, ability status and so forth. Its focus is on startups building businesses that approach issues from a social impact lens and are focused on generating revenue, she said.
“We are optimizing for profitability over fundability,” Williams said.
We also chatted about Williams’ new organization, Black & Brown Founders, which aims to support black and Latinx founders in tech, and help them to become zebras.
Check it out.
May Mobility launched its first low-speed autonomous shuttle service in Detroit this summer. By March, the Ann Arbor, Michigan-based company will be operating in at least three U.S. cities.
The company, which just announced plans to expand to Columbus, Ohio, is planning to add another route in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It’s a rapid acceleration for a company that was founded less than two years ago.
May Mobility is different from other companies racing to deploy autonomous vehicles at a commercial scale. The startup, which was founded by veterans in the self-driving and automotive industry, has developed low-speed autonomous shuttles that are designed to run along a specific route in business districts or corporate and college campuses.
The company said it will bring four of its six-seat electric shuttles to Grand Rapids. The one-year pilot will begin March 2019.
This latest shuttle launch is part of a broader effort called the Grand Rapids Autonomous Mobility Initiative, a coalition of companies that includes Consumers Energy, French automotive supplier Faurecia, Gentex, Rockford Construction, Seamless and furniture maker Steelcase .
The aim of the program is to study how mobility impacts city infrastructure and prepare the community for autonomous vehicles. The program will also focus on how these autonomous vehicles improve or affect the mobility of elderly and disabled people.
The fleet will operate on a 3.2-mile section of an existing bus route that provides access to downtown and two of the city’s business districts. The route includes 22 stops, 30 traffic lights and 12 turns, including three left turns, according to the initiative.
Shuttles, which will be free for riders, will run complementary to the city’s existing DASH transportation fleet.
Fleet operations for the May Mobility vehicles will be housed at Rockford Construction’sWest Side offices within Circuit West, an area that boasts an innovative electric generation and distribution system.
May Mobility raised $11.5 million in seed funding in 2018 from BMW iVentures, Toyota AI and others. Trucks, Maven Venture and Tandem Ventures are also investors in the company.
Chinese AI company Mobvoi has consistently been one of the best also-rans in the smartwatch game, which remains dominated by Apple. Today, it launched a sequel to its 2016 TicWatch, which was a viral hit raising over $2 million on Kickstarter, and it unveiled a cheaper take on Apple’s AirPods.
The new TicWatch C2 was outed at a London event and is priced at $199.99. Unlike its predecessor, it has shifted from Mobvoi’s own OS to Google’s Wear OS. That isn’t a huge surprise, though, since Mobvoi’s newer budget watches and ‘pro’ watch have both already made that jump.
The C2 — which stands for classic 2 — packs NFC, Bluetooth, NFC and a voice assistant. It comes in black, platinum and rose gold. The latter color option — shown below — is thinner so presumably it is designed for female wrists.
However, there’s a compromise since the watch isn’t shipping with Qualcomm’s newest Snapdragon Wear 3100 chip. Mobvoi has instead picked the older 2100 processor. That might explain the price, but it will mean that newer Android Wear watches shipping in the company months have better performance, particularly around battery life. As it stands, the TicWatch C2 claims a day-two life but the processor should be a consideration for would-be buyers.
Mobvoi also outed TicPods Free, its take on Apple’s wireless AirPods. They are priced at $129.99 and available in red, white and blue.
The earbuds already raised over $2.8 million from Indiegogo — Mobvoi typically uses crowdfunding to gather feedback and assess customer interest — and early reviews have been positive.
They work on Android and iOS and include support for Alex and Google Assistant. They also include gesture-based controls beyond the Apple-style taps for skipping music, etc. Battery life without the case, which doubles as a charger, is estimated at 18 hours, or four hours of listening time.
The TicPods are available to buy online now. The TicWatch C2 is up for pre-sale ahead of a “wide” launch that’s planned for December 6.
Mobvoi specializes in AI and it includes Google among its investors. It also has a joint venture with VW that is focused on bringing Ai into the automotive industry. In China it is best known for AI services but globally, in the consumer space, it also offers a Google Assistant speaker called TicHome Mini.
After spending the last couple of weeks closing the deal to buy TimeWarner for $85 billion and buying ad firm AppNexus for up to $2 billion, today AT&T announced a key distribution move in its new bid to be a media powerhouse: it’s taking a strategic investment into Magic Leap, the high profile augmented reality startup, which will include becoming the exclusive “wireless distributor” of Magic Leap products in the U.S. starting this summer.
“When available for consumers, AT&T customers will be among the first to experience it in select AT&T stores in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, with more markets to follow,” AT&T said today.
The two companies have not revealed the financial terms of the stake. But Magic Leap last raised in a round in March of led by Sinapore’s Temasek that valued the startup at $6.3 billion, and the companies have confirmed that this completes the Series D round. The value of that round was ultimately $963 million, says PitchBook.
The two have also laid out some of the strategic terms. In addition to exclusive distribution when the first device, the Magic Leap One, Creator Edition, the investment gives AT&T exclusive rights to work with Magic Leap across a range of areas covering network access, content distribution and devices.
“AT&T is excited to pair our pioneering technologies, unmatched network, content platform, and vast customer ecosystem with Magic Leap’s efforts to build the next generation of computing,” said AT&T Communications CEO John Donovan, in a statement. “We’re designing and offering the future of entertainment and connectivity, and this exclusive arrangement – in combination with our 5G leadership position – will open up new opportunities and experiences.” Donovan becomes a board observer with this investment.
Magic Leap has raised more than $2 billion to develop its hardware and software, but it has yet to launch a product. However, that could be about to change. Magic Leap today streamed a demo and specs of the Magic Leap One, Creator Edition, the first commercial fruit of its labor, today at 11am Eastern time.
“We’ve joined with AT&T because we believe in a combined vision of expanding high-speed networks, edge computing, and deep integration with creative content,” said Rony Abovitz, Founder, President and CEO of Magic Leap, in a statement. “Coupling the strength of the evolving AT&T network with Magic Leap’s spatial computing platform can transform computing experiences for people.”
The partnership looks like it is set to coincide with the launch of Magic Leap’s first product, the Magic Leap One, which the company describes as a “lightweight, wearable computer that will enrich real world experience with digital content.” The Creator edition, a limited edition designed for developers and designers, is scheduled to ship later this year.
Magic Leap has raised $2.35 billion to date, and in that mix it has taken a number of strategic backers including Google (which has invested via GV and Alphabet), Alibaba and Axel Springer. With all of them wanting a piece of the action — assuming it will be a winner — AT&T is providing something specific in the mix.
Carriers play a key role in helping get portable devices into the hands of consumers. When the device is a hit — for example, as was the case with AT&T and the first generations of the iPhone, which it carried exclusively — the deal can be a huge win for both companies, as a partnership not only provides the carrier with a draw for new customers, but for the device maker, it’s able to offer its devices bundled with mobile subscriptions to actually use them. For both sides, reducing friction for consumers is tantamount.
But AT&T is playing on a couple of levels here. It and all telecoms carriers really lost out on the smartphone boom when it come to value-added services on top of basic mobile data connectivity and selling subsidised devices. Handset makers, those who make mobile operating systems and app makers have held the keys when it came to services and “owning” customers — by which I mean owning their wallets and spend.
AT&T — along with other carriers like Verizon (which owns us) — has been trying to take a different approach with media more recently though. Tapping into the fact that many media companies have not been run as well as they could have been, carriers are using their healthy balance sheets to buy up content assets so that they can try to have another go at winning over customers and their services spend, to offset their stagnating network access businesses.
On Thursday, Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee released a massive new trove of Russian government-funded Facebook political ads targeted at American voters. While we’d seen a cross section of the ads before through prior releases from the committee, the breadth of ideological manipulation is on full display across the more than 3,500 newly released ads — and that doesn’t even count still unreleased unpaid content that shared the same divisive aims.
Russia sought to weaponize social media to drive a wedge between Americans, and in an attempt to sway the 2016 election. They created fake accounts, pages and communities to push divisive online content and videos, and to mobilize real Americans.
Here's how: pic.twitter.com/JqKSm5saAi
— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) May 10, 2018
After viewing the ads, which stretch from 2015 to late 2017, some clear trends emerged.
Russia focused on black Americans
Many, many of these ads targeted black Americans. From the fairly large sample of ads that we reviewed, black Americans were clearly of particular interest, likely in an effort to escalate latent racial tensions.
Many of these ads appeared as memorials for black Americans killed by police officers. Others simply intended to stir up black pride, like one featuring an Angela Davis quote. One ad posted by “Black Matters” was targeted at Ferguson, Missouri residents in June 2015 and only featured the lyrics to Tupac’s “California Love.” Around this time, many ads targeted black Facebook users in Baltimore and the St. Louis area.
Some Instagram ads targeted black voters interested in black power, Malcolm X, and the new Black Panther party using Facebook profile information. In the days leading up to November 8, 2016 other ads specifically targeted black Americans with anti-Clinton messaging.
Not all posts were divisive (though most were)
While most ads played into obvious ideological agendas, those posts were occasionally punctuated by more neutral content. The less controversial or call-to-action style posts were likely designed to buffer the politically divisive content, helping to build out and grow an account over time.
For accounts that grew over the course of multiple years, some “neutral” posts were likely useful for making them appear legitimate and build trust among followers. Some posts targeting LGBT users and other identity-based groups just shared positive messages specific to those communities.
Ads targeted media consumers and geographic areas
Some ads we came across targeted Buzzfeed readers, though they were inexplicably more meme-oriented and not political in nature. Others focused on Facebook users that liked the Huffington Post’s Black Voices section or Sean Hannity.
Many ads targeting black voters targeted major U.S. cities with large black populations (Baltimore and New Orleans, for example). Other geo-centric ads tapped into Texas pride and called on Texans to secede.
Conservatives were targeted on many issues
We already knew this from the ad previews, but the new collection of ads makes it clear that conservative Americans across a number of interest groups were regularly targeted. This targeting concentrated on stirring up patriotic and sometimes nationalist sentiment with anti-Clinton, gun rights, anti-immigrant and religious stances. Some custom-made accounts spoke directly to veterans and conservative Christians. Libertarians were also separately targeted.
Events rallied competing causes
Among the Russian-bought ads, event-based posts became fairly frequent in 2016. The day after the election, an event called for an anti-Trump rally in Union Square even as another ad called for Trump supporters to rally outside Trump tower. In another instance, the ads promoted both a pro-Beyoncé and anti-Beyoncé event in New York City.
Candidate ads were mostly pro-Trump, anti-Clinton
Consistent with the intelligence community’s assessment of Russia’s intentions during the 2016 U.S. election, among the candidates, posts slamming Hillary Clinton seemed to prevail. Pro-Trump ads were fairly common, though other ads stirred up anti-Trump sentiment too. Few ads seemed to oppose Bernie Sanders and some rallied support for Sanders even after Clinton had won the nomination. One ad in August 2016 from account Williams&Kalvin denounced both presidential candidates and potentially in an effort to discourage turnout among black voters. In this case and others, posts called for voters to ignore the election outright.
While efforts like the Honest Ads Act are mounting to combat foreign-paid social media influence in U.S. politics, the scope and variety of today’s House Intel release makes it clear that Americans would be well served to pause before engaging with provocative, partisan ideological content on social platforms — at least when it comes from unknown sources.