Trump calls for 6G cellular technology, because why the heck not

We’ve been covering the battle for 5G between the U.S. and China for some time. The White House has made 5G technology a national security priority, and industry leaders have followed up that charge with additional investment in the fledgling technology.

What 5G exactly is though remains mostly a mystery. Is it new bandwidth? Edge computing? Decentralized cloud processing technology? Autonomous vehicles? Something else? I get pitched a dozen stories a day about the “5G revolution” and no one can tell me exactly what’s in it for me other than long presentations in hotel ballrooms about bandwidth (ironically, often without any cell reception).

So imagine my surprise this morning when Trump tweeted that U.S. companies need to work harder and faster on building out the tech behind 5G, but also in the process called for …. 6G technology.

I want to just say that no, 6G isn’t a thing. I have only received one PR pitch for 6G in the last few months, which said: “Waveguide over copper runs at millimeter frequencies(about30 GHz to 1 THz) and is synergistic with 5G/6G wireless. A type of vectoring is applied to effective separate the many modes that can propagate within a telephone cable.” No, not a thing.

But it could be a thing. Maybe the government is secretly pioneering the next generation of the next generation of telecom technology. Or maybe, just maybe, our president, branding expert that he is, realized that if you are going to sell 5G, you might as well inflate the number to 6G and really get people’s taste buds salivating.

No comment from cleaning supplies company Seventh Generation, but if I were them, I’d be getting worried.

Global smartphone growth stalled in Q4, up just 1.2% for the full year: Gartner

Gartner’s smartphone marketshare data for the just gone holiday quarter highlights the challenge for device makers going into the world’s biggest mobile trade show which kicks off in Barcelona next week: The analyst’s data shows global smartphone sales stalled in Q4 2018, with growth of just 0.1 per cent over 2017’s holiday quarter, and 408.4 million units shipped.

tl;dr: high end handset buyers decided not to bother upgrading their shiny slabs of touch-sensitive glass.

Gartner says Apple recorded its worst quarterly decline (11.8 per cent) since Q1 2016, though the iPhone maker retained its second place position with 15.8 per cent marketshare behind market leader Samsung (17.3 per cent). Last month the company warned investors to expect reduced revenue for its fiscal Q1 — and went on to report iPhone sales down 15 per cent year over year.

The South Korean mobile maker also lost share year over year (declining around 5 per cent), with Gartner noting that high end devices such as the Galaxy S9, S9+ and Note9 struggled to drive growth, even as Chinese rivals ate into its mid-tier share.

Huawei was one of the Android rivals causing a headache for Samsung. It bucked the declining share trend of major vendors to close the gap on Apple from its third placed slot — selling more than 60 million smartphones in the holiday quarter and expanding its share from 10.8 per cent in Q4 2017 to 14.8 per cent.

Gartner has dubbed 2018 “the year of Huawei”, saying it achieved the top growth of the top five global smartphone vendors and grew throughout the year.

This growth was not just in Huawei “strongholds” of China and Europe but also in Asia/Pacific, Latin America and the Middle East, via continued investment in those regions, the analyst noted. While its expanded mid-tier Honor series helped the company exploit growth opportunities in the second half of the year “especially in emerging markets”.

By contrast Apple’s double-digit decline made it the worst performer of the holiday quarter among the top five global smartphone vendors, with Gartner saying iPhone demand weakened in most regions, except North America and mature Asia/Pacific.

It said iPhone sales declined most in Greater China, where it found Apple’s market share dropped to 8.8 percent in Q4 (down from 14.6 percent in the corresponding quarter of 2017). For 2018 as a whole iPhone sales were down 2.7 percent, to just over 209 million units, it added.

“Apple has to deal not only with buyers delaying upgrades as they wait for more innovative smartphones. It also continues to face compelling high-price and midprice smartphone alternatives from Chinese vendors. Both these challenges limit Apple’s unit sales growth prospects,” said Gartner’s Anshul Gupta, senior research director, in a statement.

“Demand for entry-level and midprice smartphones remained strong across markets, but demand for high-end smartphones continued to slow in the fourth quarter of 2018. Slowing incremental innovation at the high end, coupled with price increases, deterred replacement decisions for high-end smartphones,” he added.

Further down the smartphone leaderboard, Chinese OEM, Oppo, grew its global smartphone market share in Q4 to bump Chinese upstart, Xiaomi, and bag fourth place — taking 7.7 per cent vs Xiaomi’s 6.8 per cent for the holiday quarter.

The latter had a generally flat Q4, with just a slight decline in units shipped, according to Gartner’s data — underlining Xiaomi’s motivations for teasing a dual folding smartphone.

Because, well, with eye-catching innovation stalled among the usual suspects (who’re nontheless raising high end handset prices), there’s at least an opportunity for buccaneering underdogs to smash through, grab attention and poach bored consumers.

Or that’s the theory. Consumer interest in ‘foldables’ very much remains to be tested.

In 2018 as a whole, the analyst says global sales of smartphones to end users grew by 1.2 percent year over year, with 1.6 billion units shipped.

The worst declines of the year were in North America, mature Asia/Pacific and Greater China (6.8 percent, 3.4 percent and 3.0 percent, respectively), it added.

“In mature markets, demand for smartphones largely relies on the appeal of flagship smartphones from the top three brands — Samsung, Apple and Huawei — and two of them recorded declines in 2018,” noted Gupta.

Overall, smartphone market leader Samsung took 19.0 percent marketshare in 2018, down from 20.9 per cent in 2017; second placed Apple took 13.4 per cent (down from 14.0 per cent in 2017); third placed Huawei took 13.0 per cent (up from 9.8 per cent the year before); while Xiaomi, in fourth, took a 7.9 per cent share (up from 5.8 per cent); and Oppo came in fifth with 7.6 per cent (up from 7.3 per cent).

Xiaomi’s Mi 9 includes a triple lens rear camera and wireless charging

Mobile World Congress, the mobile industry’s annual shindig, is next week but Xiaomi can’t wait reveal its newest top-end phone. The Chinese company instead picked today to unveil the Mi 9.

Once again Xiaomi’s design ethic closely resembles Apple’s iPhone with a minimal bezel and notch-like front-facing camera but Xiaomi has gone hard on photography with a triple lens camera.

There are two models available with the regular Mi 9 priced from RMB 2999, or $445, and the Mi 9SE priced from RMB 1999, or $300. A premium model, the Transparent Edition, includes beefed-up specs for RMB 2299, $342.

The phone runs on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855 chipset and the headline feature, or at least the part that Xiaomi is shouting about most, is the triple lens camera array the back of the device. That trio combines a 48-megapixel main camera with a 16-megapixel ultra-wide-angle camera and a 12-megapixel telephoto camera, Xiaomi said. The benefits of that lineup is improved wide-angle shots, better quality close-up photography and performance in low-light conditions, according to the company.

The premium Mi 9 model, the Transparent Edition, sports 12GB of RAM and 256GB internal storage and features a transparent back cover

There’s also a ‘supermoon’ mode for taking shots of the moon and presumably other night sky images, while Xiaomi touts an improved night mode and, on the video side, 960fps capture and advanced motion tracking. We haven’t had the chance to test these out, which is worth noting at this point.

Xiaomi also talked up the battery features of the Mi 9, which ships with an impressive 3300mAh battery that features wireless charging support and Qi EPP certification meaning it will work with third-party charging mats. Xiaomi claims that the Mi 9 can charge to 70 percent in 30 minutes, and reach 100 percent in an hour using 27W wired charging.

Alongside the Mi 9, it unveiled its third three wireless charging products — a charging pad (RMB 99, $15), a car charger (RMB 169, $25) and a 10,000mAh wireless power bank (RMB 149, $22.)

Xiaomi, as ever, offers a range of different options for customers as follows:

  • Mi 9 with 6GB and 128GB for RMB 2999, $445
  • Mi 9 with 8GB and 128GB for RMB 3299, $490
  • Mi 9 with 12GB and 256GB for RMB 3999, $595
  • Mi 9SE with 6GB and 128GB for RMB 1999, $300
  • Mi 9SE with 6GB and 128GB for RMB 2299, $342 (Transparent Edition)

Notably, the Mi 9 goes on sale February 26 — pre-orders open this evening — with the SE version arriving on March 1. As expected, the launch market is China but you can imagine that India — where Xiaomi is among the top players — and other global launches will follow.

Xiaomi said it plans to announce more products on Sunday, the eve of Mobile World Congress. It recently teased a foldable phone so it’ll be interesting to see if it will follow suit and join Samsung, which had its first foldable phone outed by a leak.

 

TCL leaks foretell a weird future for foldable phones

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.

Instagram’s fundraiser stickers could lure credit card numbers

Mark Zuckerberg recently revealed that commerce is a huge part of the 2019 road map for Facebook’s family of apps. But before people can easily buy things from Instagram etc., Facebook needs their credit card info on file. That’s a potentially lucrative side effect of Instagram’s plan to launch a Fundraiser sticker in 2019. Facebook’s own Donate buttons have raised $1 billion, and bringing them to Instagram’s 1 billion users could do a lot of good while furthering Facebook’s commerce strategy.

New code and imagery dug out of Instagram’s Android app reveals how the Fundraiser stickers will allow you to search for nonprofits and add a Donate button for them to your Instagram Story. After you’ve donated to something once, Instagram could offer instant checkout on stuff you want to buy using the same payment details.

Back in 2013 when Facebook launched its Donate button, I suggested that it could add a “remove credit card after checkout” option to its fundraisers if it wanted to make it clear that the feature was purely altruistic. Facebook never did that. You still need to go into your payment settings or click through the See Receipt option after donating and then edit your account settings to remove your credit card. We’ll see if Instagram is any different. We’ve also asked whether Instagrammers will be able to raise money for personal causes, which would make it more of a competitor to GoFundMe — which has sadly become the social safety net for many facing healthcare crises.

Facebook mentioned at its Communities Summit earlier this month that it’d be building Instagram Fundraiser stickers, but the announcement was largely overshadowed by the company’s reveal of new Groups features. This week, TechCrunch tipster Ishan Agarwal found code in the Instagram Android app detailing how users will be able search for nonprofits or browse collections of Suggested charities and ones they follow. They can then overlay a Donate button sticker on their Instagram Story that their followers can click through to contribute.

We then asked reverse-engineering specialist Jane Manchun Wong to take a look, and she was able to generate the screenshots seen above that show a green heart icon for the Fundraiser sticker plus the nonprofit search engine. A Facebook spokespeople tells me that “We are in early stages and working hard to bring this experience to our community . . . Instagram is all about bringing you closer to the people and things you love, and a big part of that is showing support for and bringing awareness to meaningful communities and causes. Later this year, people will be able to raise money and help support nonprofits that are important to them through a donation sticker in Instagram Stories. We’re excited to bring this experience to our community and will share more updates in the coming months.”

Zuckerberg said during the Q4 2018 earnings call last month that “In Instagram, one of the areas I’m most excited about this year is commerce and shopping . . . there’s also a very big opportunity in basically enabling the transactions and making it so that the buying experience is good.” Streamlining those transactions through saved payment details means more people will complete their purchase rather than abandoning their cart. Facebook CFO David Wehner noted on the call that “Continuing to build good advertising products for our e-commerce clients on the advertising side will be a more important contributor to revenue in the foreseeable future.” Even though Facebook isn’t charging a fee on transactions, powering higher commerce conversion rates convinces merchants to buy more ads on the platform.

With all the talk of envy spiraling, phone addiction, bullying and political propaganda, enabling donations is at least one way Instagram can prove it’s beneficial to the world. Snapchat lacks formal charity features, and Twitter appears to have ended its experiment allowing nonprofits to tweet donate buttons. Despite all the flack Facebook rightfully takes, the company has shown a strong track record with philanthropy that mirrors Zuckerberg’s own $47 billion commitment through the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. And if having some relatively benign secondary business benefit speeds companies toward assisting nonprofits, that’s a trade-off we should be willing to embrace.

ChargedUp picks up £1.2M seed to grow its mobile charging network across UK

ChargedUp, a U.K. startup that offers a mobile charging network that takes inspiration from bike-sharing, has closed £1.2 million in seed investment. Leading the round is Sir John Hegarty’s fund The Garage, and the ex-Innocent Smoothie founders fund JamJar. The funding will be used to grow the offering across the U.K. and for international expansion.

Founded by Hugo Tilmouth, Charlie Baron, Hakeem Buge and Forrest Skerman Stevenson, ChargedUp has set out to solve the dead mobile phone battery problem with a charging network. However, rather than offer fixed charging points, the team has developed a solution that lets you rent a mobile charging pack from one destination and return it at different location if needed. That way, mobile phone use remains mobile.

“It’s annoying and inconvenient to be out and about with a dying phone battery,” says CEO Hugo Tilmouth. We’ve all been there and I was inspired to do something about it through my own experiences. I was at a cricket match at London’s Lord’s Cricket Ground and waiting for a call for a last round interview with a large tech firm, and was running very low on charge! I ended up having to leave the cricket ground, buy a power bank and then rode a Boris Bike home and the light bulb went off in my head! Why not combine the flexibility of the sharing economy with the need of a ‘ChargedUp’ phone!”.

The solution was to create multiple distribution points across a city, located in the venues where people spend most of their time. This includes cafes, bars and restaurants. “Our solution uses an app to enables users to find the nearest stations, unlock a sharable power bank, and then return it to any station in the network and only pay for the time they use. Our goal is to be never five minutes from a charge,” adds Tilmouth

In the next six months, ChargedUp says it will expand its network of over 250 vending stations in London’s bars, cafes and restaurants across to other large metropolitan areas in the U.K. Last month, the young startup partnered with Marks and Spencer to trial the platform in its central London stores. If the trial is successful, ChargedUp says it could lead to providing its phone charging solution to all M&S customers by the end of 2019.

“Since launch we have delivered over 1 million minutes of charge across the network, and our customers love the service,” says Tilmouth. “Like the sharing scooter and bike companies, we operate a time based model. We simply charge our users a simple price of 50p per 30 mins to charge their phones. We also make revenue from the advertising space both on our batteries and within our app”.

With regards to competition, Tilmouth says ChargedUp’s most direct competitor is the charging lockers found in some public spaces, such as ChargeBox. “We do not see this as a viable alternative to ChargedUp as users are forced to lock their phones away preventing them from using them while it charges. They are also prone to theft and damage. We are also differentiated by our use of green energy offsetting throughout the network,” he says.

Meanwhile, in a statement investor Sir John Hegarty talks up the revenue opportunities beyond rentals, which includes advertising, rewards and loyalty. “At its simplest, ChargedUp addresses a massive need in the market, mobile devices running out of power. But more than that, ChargedUp provides advertisers with a powerful medium that connects directly with their audience at point of purchase,” he says.

Prior to today’s seed round, ChargedUp received investment from Telefonica via the Wayra accelerator and Brent Hoberman’s Founders Factory.

Apple is selling the iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 in Germany again

Two older iPhone models are back on sale in Apple stores in Germany — but only with Qualcomm chips inside.

The iPhone maker was forced to pull the iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 models from shelves in its online shop and physical stores in the country last month, after chipmaker Qualcomm posted security bonds to enforce a December court injunction it secured via patent litigation.

Apple told Reuters it had “no choice” but to stop using some Intel chips for handsets to be sold in Germany. “Qualcomm is attempting to use injunctions against our products to try to get Apple to succumb to their extortionist demands,” it said in a statement provided to the news agency.

Apple and Qualcomm have been embroiled in an increasingly bitter global legal battle around patents and licensing terms for several years.

The litigation follows Cupertino’s move away from using only Qualcomm’s chips in iPhones after, in 2016, Apple began sourcing modem chips from rival Intel — dropping Qualcomm chips entirely for last year’s iPhone models. Though still using some Qualcomm chips for older iPhone models, as it will now for iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 units headed to Germany.

For these handsets Apple is swapping out Intel modems that contain chips from Qorvo which are subject to the local patent litigation injunction. (The litigation relates to a patented smartphone power management technology.) 

Hence Apple’s Germany webstore is once again listing the two older iPhone models for sale…

Newer iPhones containing Intel chips remain on sale in Germany because they do not containing the same components subject to the patent injunction.

“Intel’s modem products are not involved in this lawsuit and are not subject to this or any other injunction,” Intel’s general counsel, Steven Rodgers, said in a statement to Reuters.

While Apple’s decision to restock its shelves with Qualcomm-only iPhone 7s and 8s represents a momentary victory for Qualcomm, a separate German court tossed another of its patent suits against Apple last month — dismissing it as groundless. (Qualcomm said it would appeal.)

The chipmaker has also been pursing patent litigation against Apple in China, and in December Apple appealed a preliminary injunction banning the import and sales of old iPhone models in the country.

At the same time, Qualcomm and Apple are both waiting the result of an antitrust trial brought against Qualcomm’s licensing terms in the U.S.

Two years ago the FTC filed charges against Qualcomm, accusing the chipmaker of operating a monopoly and forcing exclusivity from Apple while charging “excessive” licensing fees for standards-essential patents.

The case was heard last month and is pending a verdict or settlement.

Wattpad’s latest deal will turn its stories into TV shows and movies in Korea

Wattpad’s ambitions to grow beyond a storytelling community for young adults took another leap forward today with the announcement of a new partnership that will help expand its reach in Asia. The company has teamed up with Huayi Brothers in Korea, who will now be Wattpad’s exclusive entertainment partner in the region. The two companies will co-produce content sourced from Wattpad’s community, as it’s adapted for film, TV and other digital media projects in the country.

Development deals like this are not new to Wattpad at this point.

In the U.S., the storytelling app made headlines for bringing the teen hit “The Kissing Booth” to Netflix, which shot up to become the No. 4 movie on IMDb for a time.

Wattpad also recently announced a 2nd season for “Light as a Feather,” which it produces with AwesomenessTV and Grammnet for Hulu.

It additionally works with eOne, Sony, SYFY, Universal Cable Productions (a division of NBCUniversal), and Germany’s Bavaria Fiction.

Outside the U.S., Wattpad has 26 films in development with iflix in Indonesia.

And WattPad’s feature film “After,” based on Anna Todd’s novel, will arrive in theaters on April 12.

Key to these deals is Wattpad’s ability to source the best content from the 565 million some stories on its platform. Do to so, it uses something it calls its “Story DNA Machine Learning technology,” which helps to deconstruct stories by analyzing things like sentence structure, word use, grammar and more in order to help identify the next big hits using more than just readership numbers alone.

The stories it identifies as promising are then sent over to content specialists (aka human editors) for further review.

This same combination of tech and human curation has been used in the past to help source its writing award winners and is now being used to find the next stories to be turned into novels for its new U.S. publishing arm, Wattpad Books.

In addition to its hit-finding technology, studios working with Wattpad also have a way to reach younger users who today are often out of touch with traditional media, as much of youth culture has shifted online.

These days, teens and young adults are more likely to know YouTube stars than Hollywood actors. They’re consuming content online in communities like Reddit, TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, and elsewhere. And when it comes to reading, they’re doing more of that online, too – whether that’s through chat fiction apps like Hooked or by reading Wattpad’s longer stories.

Wattpad says it now has 70 million uses worldwide, who now spend 22 billion combined minutes per month engaged with its website and app.

With the Korean deal, Wattpad is further growing its international footprint after several other moves focused on its international expansions.

For example, today’s news follows Wattpad’s raise of $51 million in funding from Tencent; its appointment of its first Head of Asia for Wattpad Studios, Dexter Ong, last year; and its hiring of its first GM of India, Devashish Sharma, who is working with local partners to turn its stories into movies, TV, digital and print in the region.

Huayi Brothers Korea hasn’t announced any specific projects from the Wattpad deal at this point, but those will follow.

“Wattpad’s model is the future of entertainment, using technology to find great storytellers and bring them to an international audience,” said, Jay Ji, CEO, Huayi Brothers Korea, in a statement. “In an era of entertainment abundance, working with Wattpad means access to the most important things in the industry: a data-backed approach to development, and powerful, proven stories that audiences have already fall in love with,” he said.

Daily Crunch: Apple’s subscription fix

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 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. Apple’s iOS update makes it easier to get to your subscriptions

Moving the Manage Subscriptions menu so that it’s just one click away from your App Store profile might seem like a minor change, but it was needed: As more mobile apps have adopted subscriptions as a means of generating revenue, it’s become critical to ensure consumers know how to turn off their subscriptions.

Plus, Apple is expected to launch some subscriptions of its own, namely for its streaming video and news services.

2. Instagram confirms that a bug is causing follower counts to change

Don’t panic! Instagram says it’s “aware of an issue that is causing a change in account follower numbers for some people right now” and is “working to resolve this as quickly as possible.”

3. Autonomous truck startup TuSimple hits unicorn status in latest round

Today, TuSimple is taking three to five fully autonomous trips per day for customers on three different routes in Arizona.

4. Sixteen percent of US adults own a smartwatch

The latest figures out of NPD show a continued uptick in smartwatch sales here in the States. The category has been a rare bright spot in an overall flagging wearable space, and the new numbers show gains pretty much across the board.

5. JibJab, one of the first silly selfie video makers, acquired by private equity firm Catapult Capital

Founded in 1999 by brothers Evan and Gregg Spiridellis after they saw “an animated dancing doodie streaming over a 56K modem,” JibJab’s big break came during the 2004 presidential campaign, when its satirical “This Land” racked up more than 80 million views.

6. Eight Sleep unveils The Pod, a bed that’s smarter about temperature

Eight has been focused on bed temperature for a while, first by offering a smart mattress cover and then a smart mattress that allows owners to adjust the surface temperature and even set different temperatures for different sides of the bed. But The Pod goes even further, with a smart temperature mode that will change bed temperature throughout the night to improve your sleep.

7. Ubisoft and Mozilla team up to develop Clever-Commit, an AI coding assistant

Clever-Commit is an assistant that learns from your code base’s bug and regression data to analyze and flag potential new bugs as new code is committed.

Instagram is now testing a web version of Direct messages

Insta-chat addicts, rejoice. You could soon be trading memes and emojis from your computer. Instagram is internally testing a web version of Instagram Direct messaging that lets people chat without the app. If, or more likely, when this rolls out publicly, users on a desktop or laptop PC or Mac, a non-Android or iPhone or that access Instagram via a mobile web browser will be able to privately message other Instagrammers.

Instagram web DMs was one of the features I called for in a product wish list I published in December alongside a See More Like This button for the feed and an upload quality indicator so your Stories don’t look crappy if you’re on a slow connection.

A web version could make Instagram Direct a more full-fledged SMS alternative rather than just a tacked-on feature for discussing the photo and video app’s content. Messages are a massive driver of engagement that frequently draws people back to an app, and knowing friends can receive them anywhere could get users sending more. While Facebook doesn’t monetize Instagram Direct itself, it could get users browsing through more ads while they wait for replies.

Given Facebook’s own chat feature started on the web before going mobile and getting its own Messenger app, and WhatsApp launched a web portal in 2015 followed by desktop clients in 2016, it’s sensible for Instagram Direct to embrace the web too. It could also pave the way for Facebook’s upcoming unification of the backend infrastructure for Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram Direct that should expand encryption and allow cross-app chat, as reported by The New York Times’ Mike Isaac.

Mobile reverse-engineering specialist and frequent TechCrunch tipster Jane Manchun Wong alerted us to Instagram’s test. It’s not available to users yet, as it’s still being internally “dogfooded” — used heavily by employees to identify bugs or necessary product changes. But she was able to dig past security and access the feature from both a desktop computer and mobile web browser.

In the current design, Direct on the web is available from a Direct arrow icon in the top right of the screen. The feature looks like it will use an Instagram.com/direct/…. URL structure. If the feature becomes popular, perhaps Facebook will break it out with its own Direct destination website similar to https://www.messenger.com, which launched in 2015. Instagram began testing a standalone Direct app last year, but it’s yet to be officially launched and doesn’t seem exceedingly popular.

Instagram’s web experience has long lagged behind its native apps. You still can’t post Stories from the desktop like you can with Facebook Stories. It only added notifications on the web in 2016 and Explore, plus some other features, in 2017.

Instagram did not respond to requests for comment before press time. The company rarely provides a statement on internal features in development until they’re being externally tested on the public, at which point it typically tells us “We’re always testing ways to improve the Instagram experience.” [Update: Instagram confirms to TechCrunch it’s not publicly testing this, which is its go-to line when a product surfaces that’s still in internal development.]

After cloning Snapchat Stories to create Instagram Stories, the Facebook-owned app decimated Snap’s growth rate. That left Snapchat to focus on premium video and messaging. Last year Instagram built IGTV to compete with Snapchat Discover. And now with it testing a web version of Direct, it seems poised to challenge Snap for chat too.