Moment Pro Camera app brings big camera controls to your phone

Moment, the company that brought you the best glass for your mobile device, now gives you DSLR-like controls with their Pro Camera app. Features include full manual adjustment over ISO, shutter speed, white balance, image format and more.

It should be noted that if you don’t have a shiny new device you won’t be able to use the app to its full potential as some of its key features include 3D touch, dual lens control, RAW image format, 120 and 240 fps and 4K resolution.

Moment says the app is for “anyone looking for pro, manual controls on their phone.” Being one of TechCrunch’s resident image makers, I figured I should take the app out for a spin and pit it against the stock camera app. I enlisted my photogenic friend, Jackie, to be my muse.

Scrolling through the manual settings was very easy and the UI never felt fumbly. The histogram is nice to have and utilizes that iPhone notch well. The app doesn’t have portrait mode, however, which Jackie and I would have loved, because, who doesn’t love that buttery (fake) bokeh — amirite? Manipulating the exposure in video mode was equally as easy. The app didn’t have an audio meter or level settings, so folks recording dialog or VO need to plan accordingly. Luckily, our shoot didn’t need it since we were shooting slow-mo.

For a couple extra bucks you can get the same manual controls, audio levels, + RAW with ProCam 5. But if you’re already invested in the Moment Lens ecosystem and primarily shoot photography, the upgrade could be a worthwhile addition.

You can save photos in HEIF, JPG, RAW and TIFF format. For video, you have the option to shoot in 24, 30, 60, 120 and 240 fps in either 720p, 1080p or 4K resolution. Free to try; $2.99 iOS and $1.99 Android to upgrade.

HTC’s blockchain phone is real, and it’s arriving later this year

HTC isn’t gone just yet. Granted, it’s closer than it’s ever been before, with a headcount of fewer than 5,000 employees worldwide — that’s down from 19,000 in 2013. But in spite of those “market competition, product mix, pricing, and recognized inventory write-downs,” the company’s still trucking on.

And while its claim to being “the leading innovator in smart phone devices,” is up for debate, the Taiwanese manufacturer has never shied away from a compelling gimmick. Announced earlier this year, the Exodus definitely fits the bill. The “world’s first major blockchain phone” is still shrouded in mystery, though the company did reveal a couple of key details this week at RISE in Hong Kong intended to keep folks interested while it irons out the rest of the product’s hiccups.

Chief among the reveals is an admittedly nebulous release date of Q3 this year. It’s hardly specific, but it does make the phone a little bit more real — unlike the images, which are still limited to the above blueprint picture at press time.

Here’s a quote from the company’s chief crypto officer, a position that really exists.

In the new internet age people are generally more conscious about their data, this a perfect opportunity to empower the user to start owning their digital identity. The Exodus is a great place to start because the phone is the most personal device, and it is also the place where all your data originates from. I’m excited about the opportunity it brings to decentralize the internet and reshape it for the modern user.

Prior to the launch, the company is partnering with the popular blockchain title, CryptoKitties. The game will be available on a small selection of the company’s handsets starting with the U12+. “This is a significant first step in creating a platform and distribution channel for creatives who make unique digital goods,” the company writes in a release tied to the news. “Mobile is the most prevalent device in the history of humankind and for digital assets and dapps to reach their potential, mobile will need to be the main point of distribution. The partnership with Cryptokitties is the beginning of a non fungible, collectible marketplace and crypto gaming app store.”

The company says the partnership marks the beginning of a “platform and distribution channel for creatives who make unique digital goods.” In other words, it’s attempting to reintroduce the concept of scarcity through these decentralized apps. HTC will also be partnering with Bitmark to help accomplish this.

If HTC is looking for the next mainstream play to right the ship, this is emphatically not it. That said, it could be compelling enough to gain some adoption among those heavily invested enough in the crypto space to pick up a handset built around the technology.

HTC promises more information on the device in “the coming months.”

Facebook was never ephemeral, and now its Stories won’t have to be

Before Snapchat made social media about just today, Facebook made it about forever. The 2011 “Timeline” redesign of the profile and keyword search unlocked your past, encouraging you to curate colorful posts about your life’s top moments. That was actually an inspiration for Snapchat, as its CEO Evan Spiegel wrote in its IPO announcement that “We learned that creativity can be suppressed by the fear of permanence.”

Now Facebook is finding a middle ground by optionally unlocking the history of your Stories that otherwise disappear after 24 hours. Facebook will soon begin testing Stories Highlights, the company confirmed to TechCrunch. Similar to Instagram Stories Highlights, it will let you pick your favorite expired photos and videos, compile them into themed collections with titles and cover images and display them on your profile.

The change further differentiates Facebook Stories from the Snapchat Stories feature it copied. It’s smart for Facebook, because highly compelling content was disintegrating each day, dragging potential ad views to the grave with it. And for its 150 million daily users, it could make the time we spend obsessing over social media Stories a wiser investment. If you’re going to interrupt special moments to capture them with your phone, the best ones should still pay dividends of self-expression and community connection beyond a day later.

Facebook Stories Highlights was first spotted by frequent TechCrunch tipster Jane Manchun Wong, who specializes in generating screenshots of unreleased features out of the APK files of Android apps. TechCrunch inquired about the feature, and a Facebook spokesperson provided this statement: “People have told us they want a way to highlight and save the Stories that matter most to them. We’ll soon start testing highlights on Facebook – a way to choose Stories to stay on your profile, making it easier to express who you are through memories.”

These Highlights will appear on a horizontal scroll bar on your profile, and you’ll be able to see how many people viewed them just like with your Stories. They’ll default to being viewable by all your friends, but you can also restrict Highlights to certain people or make them public. The latter could be useful for public figures trying to build an audience, or anyone who thinks their identity is better revealed through their commentary on the world that Stories’ creative tools offer, opposed to some canned selfies and profile pics.

Facebook paved the way for Highlights by launching the Stories Archive in May. This automatically backs up your Stories privately to your profile so you don’t have to keep the saved versions on your phone, wasting storage space. That Archive is the basis for being able to choose dead Stories to show off in your Highlights. Together, they’ll encourage users to shoot silly, off-the-cuff content without that “fear of permanence,” but instead with the opportunity. If you want to spend a half hour decorating a Facebook Story with stickers and drawing and captions and augmented reality, you know it won’t be in vain.

Facebook Stories constantly adds new features, like this Blur effect I spotted today

While many relentlessly criticize Facebook for stealing the Stories from Snapchat, its rapid iteration and innovation on the format means the two companies’ versions are sharply diverging. Snapchat still lacks a Highlights-esque feature despite launching its Archive-style Memories back in July 2016. Instead of enhancing the core Stories product that made the app a teen phenomenon, it’s concentrated on Maps, gaming, Search, professional Discover content, and a disastrously needless redesign.

Facebook’s family of apps seized on the stagnation of Snapchat Stories and its neglect of the international market. It copied whatever was working while developing new features like Instagram’s Superzoom and Focus portrait mode, the ability to reshare public feed posts as quote tweet-style Stories and the addition of licensed music soundtracks. While writing this article, I even discovered a new Facebook Stories option called Blur that lets you shroud a moving subject with a dream-like haze, as demonstrated with my dumb face here.

The relentless drive to add new options and smooth out performance has paid off. Now Instagram has 400 million daily Stories users, WhatsApp has 450 million and Facebook has 150 million, while Snapchat’s whole app has just 191 million. As Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom admitted about Snapchat, “They deserve all the credit.” Still, it hasn’t had a megahit since Stories and AR puppy masks. The company’s zeal for inventing new ways to socialize is admirable, though not always a sound business strategy.

At first, the Stories war was a race, to copy functionality and invade new markets. Instagram and now Facebook making ephemerality optional for their Stories signals a second phase of the war. The core idea of broadcasting content that disappears after a day has become commoditized and institutionalized. Now the winner will be declared not as who invented Stories, but who perfected them.

Apple releases new iPad, FaceID ads

Apple has released a handful of new ads promoting the iPad’s portability and convenience over both laptops and traditional paper solutions. The 15-second ads focus on how the iPad can make even the most tedious things — travel, notes, paperwork, and ‘stuff’ — just a bit easier.

Three out of the four spots show the sixth-generation iPad, which was revealed at Apple’s education event in March, and which offers a lower-cost ($329 in the U.S.) option with Pencil support.

The ads were released on Apple’s international YouTube channels (UAE, Singapore, and United Kingdom).

This follows another 90-second ad released yesterday, focusing on FaceID. The commercial shows a man in a gameshow-type setting asked to remember the banking password he created earlier that morning. He struggles for an excruciating amount of time before realizing he can access the banking app via FaceID.

There has been some speculation that FaceID may be incorporated into some upcoming models of the iPad, though we’ll have to wait until Apple’s next event (likely in September) to find out for sure.

Samsung forecasts slowing profit growth for Q2, missing analyst estimates

Samsung has put out earnings guidance for its Q2 which indicate quarterly growth at its slowest for more than a year — as a lack of new ideas to sell high end smartphones drags on the company’s bottom line.

The electronics maker is reporting estimated profit of 14.8 trillion Korean won (USD$13.2BN) on revenue of 58 trillion Korean won (USD$51.9BN) for the quarter.

Samsung’s expectation just misses an average estimate of 14.9 trillion won from 18 analysts polled by Thomson Reuters, and shares in the company are down just over 2 per cent on the earnings guidance news.

The Q2 forecast compares to profit of 15.64 trillion Korean Won (USD$14BN) on revenue of 60.56 trillion Korean Won (USD$54.2BN) for its Q1 — when Samsung reported a record operating profit off the back of growth in its semiconductor business plus the early global launch of its flagship Galaxy S9 smartphone.

Despite that Q1 high, it had prepared investors for a Q2 slowdown — warning in April of challenging conditions ahead, citing weakness in the display panel segment and a decline in profitability on the mobile side, amid rising competition in the high-end smartphone segment.

At the same time, the global smartphone market is shrinking — even in China, the erstwhile growth engine for smartphones after Western markets saturated. So Samsung’s smartphone business is facing a dual squeeze from shrinking sales opportunities and rising competition from the likes of China’s Huawei and Xiaomi — two rival Android device makers that have been carving out additional marketshare.

Meanwhile, Samsung’s main rival for high end smartphone profits, Apple, beat analyst estimates of iPhones shipments in its Q2 in May, despite an earlier miss in the holiday quarter — showing the staying power of its high end smartphone brand and a positive, if slow burn, response to how it’s iterating its mobile business, with the iPhone X.

Returning to Samsung, the positive story for the company — continued record growth for its chip business — is still not filling the smartphone-shaped profit hole in its books, even as restarting momentum in the smartphone segment is looking increasingly tough in a very tough market

The Galaxy S9 is a solid smartphone but serving up more of the same equals diminishing returns in the fiercely competitive Android space. And investors look circumspect, with shares in Samsung down around 12% this year.

One wild card on the device innovation front: Samsung has been teasing its R&D work to build a foldable smartphone for multiple years. Ahead of Apple’s iPhone X flagship launch last year Samsung suggested it was targeting 2018 to finally release a product.

However this is also a risky strategy given the obvious manufacturing challenges, and — beyond that — question marks over whether a foldable smartphone is really the type of mainstream innovation that could fire up major momentum among high end handset buyers or be viewed as a niche gimmick.

 

ZTE replaces its CEO and other top execs

A number of top executives are out at ZTE as the phone maker works to fulfill the requirements of U.S.-imposed restrictions. Among the big changes up top is new CEO Xu Ziyang, who formerly headed up the company’s operations in Germany. A new CFO, CTO and head of HR have been named, as well, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The move comes a few days after company slowly began to resume some business operations on a one-month waver, following a seemingly D.O.A. seven-year export ban. The ban was announced back in April, after the company failed to appropriately punish top employees over Iran/North Korean trade violations.

Trump, however, was quick to toss the company a lifeline, citing potential job loss in China. The President’s willingness to bail out ZTE has been met with staunch criticism by many, including members of his own party. A bipartisan push in Congress to reinstitute the ban began in Congress last month. Many of the issues appear to stem from ties to the Chinese government that also put Huawei in hot water with U.S. security orgs.

For now, however, the company appears to be springing back to life, as it rushes to comply with the most recent laundry list of restrictions. The moves come in the wake of a $1 billion fine and the effective freeze on operations as the company mulled a way forward without relying on products from U.S. businesses like Google and Qualcomm.

In that time, ZTE has lost billions, and grappled with other…inconveniences. Of course, even with these changes, the company isn’t out of the woods just yet. In addition to on-going financial issues, security and other concerns could be enough to put consumers in the U.S. and other countries off the company altogether.

Facebook quietly relaunches apps for Groups platform after lockdown

Facebook is becoming a marketplace for enterprise apps that help Group admins manage their communities.

To protect itself and its users in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook locked down the Groups API for building apps for Groups. These apps had to go through a human-reviewed approval process, and lost access to Group member lists, plus the names and profile pics of people who posted. Now, approved Groups apps are reemerging on Facebook, accessible to admins through a new in-Facebook Groups apps browser that gives the platform control over discoverability.

Facebook confirmed the new Groups apps browser after our inquiry, telling TechCrunch, “What you’re seeing today is related to changes we announced in April that require developers to go through an updated app review process in order to use the Groups API. As part of this, some developers who have gone through the review process are now able to access the Groups API.”

Facebook wouldn’t comment further, but this Help Center article details how Groups can now add apps. Matt Navarra first spotted the new Groups apps option and tipped us off. Previously, admins would have to find Group management tools outside of Facebook and then use their logged-in Facebook account to give the app permissions to access their Group’s data.

Groups are often a labor of love for admins, but generate tons of engagement for the social network. That’s why the company recently began testing Facebook subscription Groups that allow admins to charge a monthly fee. With the right set of approved partners, the platform offers Group admins some of the capabilities usually reserved for big brands and businesses that pay for enterprise tools to manage their online presences.

Becoming a gateway to enterprise tool sets could make Facebook Groups more engaging, generating more time on site and ad views from users. This also positions Facebook as a natural home for ad campaigns promoting different enterprise tools. And one day, Facebook could potentially try to act more formally as a Groups App Store and try to take a cut of software-as-a-service subscription fees the tool makers charge.

Facebook can’t build every tool that admins might need, so in 2010 it launched the Groups API to enlist some outside help. Moderating comments, gathering analytics and posting pre-composed content were some of the popular capabilities of Facebook Groups apps. But in April, it halted use of the API, announcing that “there is information about people and conversations in groups that we want to make sure is better protected. Going forward, all third-party apps using the Groups API will need approval from Facebook and an admin to ensure they benefit the group.”

Now apps that have received the necessary approval are appearing in this Groups apps browser. It’s available to admins through their Group Settings page. The apps browser lets them pick from a selection of tools like Buffer and Sendible for scheduling posts to their Group, and others for handling commerce messages.

Facebook is still trying to bar the windows of its platform, ensuring there are no more easy ways to slurp up massive amounts of sensitive user data. Yesterday it shut down more APIs and standalone apps in what appears to be an attempt to streamline the platform so there are fewer points of risk and more staff to concentrate on safeguarding the most popular and powerful parts of its developer offering.

The Cambridge Analytica scandal has subsided to some degree, with Facebook’s share price recovering and user growth maintaining at standard levels. However, a new report from The Washington Post says the FBI, FTC and SEC will be investigating Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and the social network’s executives’ testimony to Congress. Facebook surely wants to get back to concentrating on product, not politics, but must take it slow and steady. There are too many eyes on it to move fast or break anything.

All charges against ex-Vungle CEO Zain Jaffer, including lewd act on a child, dismissed by judge

All charges against former Vungle CEO Zain Jaffer, including a sexual abuse of a child, have been dropped. According to a statement from Jaffer’s representatives, San Mateo County Judge Stephanie Garratt dismissed the charges today. Jaffer was arrested last October and charged with several serious offenses, including a lewd act on one of his children, child abuse and battery on a police officer.

The dismissal is confirmed by San Mateo County Superior Court’s online records. The case (number 17NF012415A) had been scheduled to go to jury trial in late August.

Jaffer, whose full name is Zainali Jaffer, said in a statement that:

Being wrongfully accused of these crimes has been a terrible experience, which has had a deep and lasting impact on my family and the employees of my business. Those closest to me knew I was innocent and were confident that all of the charges against me would eventually be dismissed. I want to thank the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office for carefully reviewing and considering all of the information and evidence in this case and dropping all the charges. I am also incredibly grateful for the continued and unwavering support of my wife and family, and look forward to spending some quality time with them.

Vungle, the fast-rising mobile ad startup Jaffer co-founded in 2011, removed him from the company immediately after they learned about the charges in October. TechCrunch has contacted Vungle and the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office for comment.

Benchmark’s Mitch Lasky will reportedly step down from Snap’s board of directors

Benchmark partner Mitch Lasky, who has served on Snap’s board of directors since December 2012, is not expected to stand for re-election to Snap’s board of directors and will thus be stepping down, according to a report by The Information.

Early investors stepping down from the board of directors — or at least not seeking re-election — isn’t that uncommon as once-private companies grow into larger public ones. Benchmark partner Peter Fenton did not seek re-election for Twitter’s board of directors in April last year. As Snap continues to navigate its future, especially as it has declined precipitously since going public and now sits at a valuation of around $16.5 billion. Partners with an expertise in the early-stage and later-stage startup life cycle may end up seeing themselves more useful taking a back seat and focusing on other investments. The voting process for board member re-election happens during the company’s annual meeting, so we’ll get more information when an additional proxy filing comes out ahead of the meeting later this year.

Benchmark is, or at least was at the time of going public last year, one of Snap’s biggest shareholders. According to the company’s 424B filing prior to going public in March last year, Benchmark held ownership of 23.1% of Snap’s Class B common stock and 8.2% of Snap’s Class A common stock. Lasky has been with Benchmark since April 2007, and also serves on the boards of a number of gaming companies like Riot Games and thatgamecompany, the creators of PlayStation titles flower and Journey. At the time, Snap said in its filing that Lasky was “qualified to serve as a member of our board of directors due to his extensive experience with social media and technology companies, as well as his experience as a venture capitalist investing in technology companies.”

The timing could be totally coincidental, but an earlier Recode report suggested Lasky had been talking about stepping down in future funds for Benchmark. The firm only recently wrapped up a very public battle with Uber, which ended up with Benchmark selling a significant stake in the company and a new CEO coming in to replace co-founder Travis Kalanick. Benchmark hired its first female general partner, Sarah Tavel, earlier this year.

We’ve reached out to both Snap and a representative from Benchmark for comment and will update the story when we hear back.

India’s Cashify raises $12M for its second-hand smartphone business

Cashify, a company that buys and sells used smartphones, is the latest India startup to raise capital from Chinese investors after it announced a $12 million Series C round.

Chinese funds CDH Investments and Morningside led the round which included participation from Aihuishou, a China-based startup that sells used electronics in a similar way to Cashify and has raised over $120 million. Existing investors including Bessemer Ventures and Shunwei also took part in the round.

This new capital takes Cashify to $19 million raised to date.

The business was started in 2013 by co-founders Mandeep Manocha (CEO), Nakul Kumar (COO) and Amit Sethi (CFO) initially as ‘ReGlobe.’ The business gives consumers a fast way to sell their existing electronics, it deals mainly in smartphones but also takes laptops, consoles, TVs and tablets.

“When we began we saw a lot of transaction for phone sales moving from offline to online,” Manocha told TechCrunch in an interview. “But consumer-to-consumer [for used devices] is highly opaque on price discovery and you never know if you’re making the right decision on price and whether the transaction will take place in the timeframe.”

These days, the company estimates that the average upgrade cycle has shifted from 20 months to 12 months, and now it is doubling down.

With Cashify, sellers simply fill out some details online about their device, then Cashify dispatches a representative who comes to their house to perform diagnostic checks and gives them cash for the device that day. The startup also offers an app which automatically carries out the checks — for example ensuring the camera, Bluetooth module, etc all work — and offers a higher cash payment for the user since Cashify uses fewer resources.

 

A sample of the Cashify Q&A for selling a device.

Beyond its website and app, Cashify gets devices from trade-in programs for Samsung, Xiaomi and Apple in India, as well as e-commerce companies like Flipkart, Amazon and Paytm Mall.

Used device acquired, what happens next is interesting.

The startup has built out a network of offline merchants who specialize in selling used phones. Each phone it acquires is then sold (perhaps after minor refurbishments) to that network, so it might pop up for sale anywhere in India.

With this new money, Cashify CEO Manocha said the company will develop an online resale site that will allow anyone to buy a used phone from the company’s network. Devices sold by Cashify online will be refurbished with new parts where needed, and they’ll include a box and six-month warranty to give a better consumer experience, Manocha added.

Today, Cashify claims to handle 100,000 smartphones a month, but it is planning to grow that to 200,000 by the end of this year. Cashify said its devices are typically low-end, those that retail for sub-$300 when new. A large part of that push comes from the online site, but the startup is also enlarging its offline merchant network and working to reach more consumers who are actually selling their device. That’s where Manocha said he sees particular value in working with Aihuishou.

Cashify is also developing other services. It recently started offering at-home repairs for customers and Manocha said that adding Chinese investors — and Aihuishou in particular — will help it with its sourcing of components for the repairs service and general refurbishments.

Cashify estimates that the used smartphone market in India will see 90 million phones sold this year, with as many as 120 million trading by 2020. That’s close to the 124 million shipments that analysts estimate India saw in 2017, but with surprisingly higher margins.

A reseller can make 10 percent profit on a device, Manocha explained, and Cashify’s own price elasticity — the difference between what it buys from consumers at and what it sells to resellers for — is typically 30-35 percent, he added. That’s more than most OEMs, but that doesn’t take into account costs on the Cashify side which bring that number down.

“When I sell to a reseller, the margins aren’t that exciting which is why we want to sell direct to consumers,” the Cashify CEO said.

The startup has plenty going on at home in India, but already it is considering overseas possibilities.

“We will focus on India for at least next 12 months but we have had discussions on markets that would make sense to enter,” Manocha, explaining that the Middle East and Southeast Asia are early frontrunners.

“We are working very closely with one of the Chinese players and figuring out if we can do some business in Hong Kong because that’s the hub for second-hand phones in this part of the world,” he added.