Podcast app Majelan pivots to premium audio content around personal growth

French startup Majelan is pivoting a year after launching a podcast player and service. The company, created by former Radio France CEO Mathieu Gallet and Arthur Perticoz, is ditching the podcast aggregation side of its business and focusing on premium audio content going forward.

Like many podcast startups, Majelan faced some criticism shortly after its launch. Aggregating free podcasts with premium content next to them à la Luminary is a controversial topic in the podcast community. Spotify has been going down the same path, but Spotify is also an order of magnitude bigger than any other podcast startup out there.

Some podcast creators have decided to remove their podcast feeds from Majelan to protest against that business model.

Podcasts remain an open format. Creators can create a feed, users can subscribe to that feed in their favorite podcast app. You don’t have to sign up to a particular service to access a particular podcast — everything is open.

“We have decided to stop aggregating free podcasts — free podcasts mean podcasts, period. For us, podcasts are RSS feeds, it’s an open world,” Perticoz said in a podcast episode. “We need an app that is more focused on payment. We can’t aggregate free podcasts given that our strategy is paid content.”

The result is a more focused service that is going to launch on July 7th in France. After a free trial, you have to subscribe for €5 to €7 per month, depending on the length of your subscription. You can then access a library of premium audio content — Majelan rightfully doesn’t call them podcasts.

“Going forward, we’re going to focus on original content, we’re going to focus 100% on paid content,” Gallet said in the same podcast episode.

And in order to be even more specific, Majelan will focus on personal growth, such as creativity, activism, mindfulness, innovation, entrepreneurship and health. According to the co-founders, some content will be produced in house, some content will be co-produced with other companies, and the startup will also acquire existing podcasts and repackage them for Majelan.

That move has been in the works for a while. The startup pitched it to its board of investors back in December. Premium subscriptions have worked well for movies, TV and music. Now let’s see if subscriptions will also take off with spoken-word audio.

Decrypted: iOS 13.5 jailbreak, FBI slams Apple, VCs talk cybersecurity

It was a busy week in security.

Newly released documents shown exclusively to TechCrunch show that U.S. immigration authorities used a controversial cell phone snooping technology known as a “stingray” hundreds of times in the past three years. Also, if you haven’t updated your Android phone in a while, now would be a good time to check. That’s because a brand-new security vulnerability was found — and patched. The bug, if exploited, could let a malicious app trick a user into thinking they’re using a legitimate app that can be used to steal passwords.

Here’s more from the week.


THE BIG PICTURE

Every iPhone now has a working jailbreak

Android update delivers new ‘Bedtime’ features focused on improving sleep

At Google’s 2018 I/O developer conference, the company debuted a new suite of “digital well-being” aimed at helping Android users better manage their screen time. At its 2019 event, it expanded its tools’ capabilities and improved the related parental controls. Although Google I/O isn’t taking place this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the company is once again refreshing its well-being toolset. This year, the focus is a timely one, as Google will roll out new bedtime tools to help people get better sleep.

Google reports seeing a rise in sleep-related search queries like “insomnia” and “can’t sleep” in April and May, as the coronavirus crisis led to increased stress and anxiety, which can disrupt sleep.

Android’s “Bedtime” mode, previously known as “Wind Down,” uses Do Not Disturb to silence calls, texts and notifications, while grayscale fades the colors on your phone to black and white, to reduce the draw to your screen. With the updates to this feature, Google is making it easier to customize when and how Bedtime mode is enabled.

Based on your bedtime schedule, you can now opt to have it automatically turn on after your phone is plugged into its charger. You can also add Bedtime mode to your Android phone’s Quick Settings, to instantly turn it on or off with a single tap. And if you need a few more minutes, you can choose to pause Bedtime mode without needing to adjust your schedule.

The update to Digital Wellbeing, which included the ability to automatically enable Bedtime mode when the phone is charging and add it to Quick Settings, actually rolled out earlier in May. But Google is announcing the features today as part of its other Bedtime mode changes.

The Clock app on Android is also being updated with a new Bedtime tab.

Here, you can set daily sleep and wake times. In the app, you’ll be able to see a preview of your calendar for the next day, and then tally the total number of hours of sleep you’d get. This way, you can adjust your bedtime if needed to sync up with tomorrow’s schedule — even if that means diverting from your typical bedtime schedule.

In addition, users will receive a reminder before bedtime and have the option to play calming sounds from Calm, Spotify, YouTube Music and other sources. If they have Digital Wellbeing installed, they can pair with Bedtime mode to limit the interruptions during sleep.

The app will also display how much time you’re spending and which apps you’ve used after your set bedtime.

Google additionally suggested users looking for better sleep can try the “Sunrise Alarm” option that gradually brightens your screen to help you wake up more gently. This visual alarm system will begin 15 minutes prior to your audio alarm. Users can also set their favorite songs as an alarm to make the alarm less jarring, Google recommends.

The sunrise alarm was first introduced with the Pixel 3 and Pixel Stand in 2018. But with the update, you will no longer need the stand to use the feature — it’s a part of the new Bedtime tab in the Clock app.

Related to today’s launch of new bedtime features, Google noted it recently added new YouTube bedtime reminders. It also supports a daily bedtime schedule in Android’s parental controls feature, Family Link.

The updated Bedtime experience is launching first on Pixel devices starting today, and will roll out to the Clock app and on other Android devices later this summer. Pixel devices will be getting a handful of other updates, as well, including Adaptive Battery.

Pixel 2 devices and newer will notify the user when the battery is set to run out, while throttling background usage to save on life. The excellent Recorder app can now be triggered with a “Hey Google” and transcripts can be saved directly to Google Docs.

The Personal Safety app introduced on the Pixel 4 is now coming to all devices, while the Pixel 3 will get car crash detection. There’s also a new Safety Check feature designed to send out alerts in potentially dangerous situations. Per Google:

For example if you’re about to go on a run or hike alone, safety check will make sure you made it back safely. If you don’t respond to the scheduled check-in, the app will alert your emergency contacts. In the event that you need immediate help or are in a dangerous situation, emergency sharing notifies all of your emergency contacts and shares your real-time location through Google Maps so they can send help or find you.

The Personal Safety app will also let users set notifications for crises, including natural disasters and other public safety concerns.

Global smartphone sales plummeted 20% in Q1, thanks to COVID-19

More dismal numbers confirm what we already knew: Q1 2020 was real rough for an already struggling smartphone category. Gartner’s latest report puts the global market at a 20.2% slide versus the same time last year, thanks in large part to fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Every single one of the global top-five manufactures saw large declines for the quarter, save for Xiaomi, which saw a slight uptick of 1.4%. The Chinese handset maker got a surprise bump, courtesy of international sales. Samsung and Huawei and Oppo all saw double-digit drop-offs at 22.7%, 27.3% and 19.1%, while Apple declined 8.2%. Other companies combined for a sizable 24.2% loss for Q1.

The reasons are ones we’ve gone over several times before, nearly all pertaining to the global pandemic. Chief among them are global stay at home orders and general economic uncertainly. Issues with the global supply chain have no doubt been a factor, as well, as Asia was the first to get hit with the virus.

All of this comes in addition to an already plateauing/declining smartphone market. Analysts had expected that the arrival of 5G would help stem the tide a bit — but, well, some stuff happened in there. Notably, Apple’s slide wasn’t as bad as it might have been thanks to a strong start to the year.

“If COVID-19 did not happen, the vendor would have likely seen its iPhone sales reached record level in the quarter. Supply chain disruptions and declining consumer spending put a halt to this positive trend in February,” Gartner’s Annette Zimmermann said in a release. “Apple’s ability to serve clients via its online stores and its production returning to near normal levels at the end of March helped recover some of the early positive momentum.”

Overall, I suspect that recovery won’t be instantaneous for the market. The future of COVID-19 still feels largely uncertain as countries have begun the process of reopening, and a pricey investment still may not be in the cards for many who are struggling to make ends meet. 

This Week in Apps: Facebook launches trio of app experiments, TikTok gets spammed, plus coronavirus impacts on app economy

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the Extra Crunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support and the money that flows through it all.

The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 204 billion downloads and $120 billion in consumer spending in 2019. People are now spending three hours and 40 minutes per day using apps, rivaling TV. Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus.

In this Extra Crunch series, we help you keep up with the latest news from the world of apps, delivered on a weekly basis.

This week we’re continuing to look at how the coronavirus outbreak is impacting the world of mobile applications, with fresh data from App Annie about trends playing out across app categories benefiting from the pandemic, lockdowns and societal changes. We’re also keeping up with the COVID-19 contact-tracing apps making headlines, and delving into the week’s other news.

We saw a few notable new apps launch this week, including HBO’s new streaming service HBO Max, plus three new app experiments from Facebook’s R&D group. Android Studio 4.0 also launched this week. Instagram is getting better AR tools and IGTV is getting ads. TikTok got spammed in India.

Meanwhile, what is going on with app review? A shady app rises to the top of the iPhone App Store. Google cracks down on conspiracy theory-spreading apps. And a TikTok clone uses a pyramid scheme-powered invite system to rise up the charts.

COVID-19 contact-tracing apps in the news 

  • Latvia: Reuters this week reported that Latvia aims to become one of the first countries to launch a smartphone app, Stop Covid, using the new toolkit created by Apple and Alphabet’s Google to help trace coronavirus infections.
  • Australia: The role of the country’s Covidsafe app in the recovery appears to be marginal, The Guardian reports. In the month since its launch, only one person has been reported to have been identified using data from it. A survey even found that Australians were more supportive of using telecommunications metadata to track close contacts (79%) than they were of downloading an app (69.8%). In a second survey, their support for the app dropped to 64%. The app has been maligned by the public debate over it and technical issues.
  • France: The country’s data protection watchdog, CNIL, reviewed its contact-tracing app StopCovid, finding there were no major issues with the technical implementation and legal framework around StopCovid, with some caveats. France isn’t using Google and Apple’s contact-tracing API, but instead uses a controversial centralized contact-tracing protocol called ROBERT. This relies on a central server to assign a permanent ID and generate ephemeral IDs attached to this permanent ID. CNIL says the app will eventually be open-sourced and it will create a bug bounty. On Wednesday, the app passed its first vote in favor of its release.
  • Qatar: Serious security vulnerabilities in Qatar’s mandatory contact-tracing app were uncovered by Amnesty International. An investigation by Amnesty’s Security Lab discovered a critical weakness in the configuration of Qatar’s EHTERAZ contact-tracing app. Now fixed, the vulnerability would have allowed cyberattackers to access highly sensitive personal information, including the name, national ID, health status and location data of more than one million users.
  • India: India’s contact-tracing app, Aarogya Setu, is going open-source, according to Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology Secretary Ajay Prakash Sawhney on Tuesday. The code is being published on GitHub. Nearly 98% of the app’s more than 114 million users are on Android. The government will also offer a cash bounty of $1,325 to security experts who find bugs or vulnerabilities.
  • Switzerland: Several thousand people are now testing a pilot version of Switzerland’s contact-tracing app, SwissCovid. Like Lativia, the app is one of the first to use Apple and Google’s contact-tracing API. Employees at EPFL, ETH Zurich, the Army and select hospitals and government agencies will be the first to test the Swiss app before its public launch planned for mid-June.
  • China: China’s health-tracking QR codes, embedded in popular WeChat and Alipay smartphone apps, are raising privacy concerns, Reuters reports. To walk around freely, people must have a green rating. They also now have to present their health QR codes to gain entry into restaurants, parks and other venues. These efforts have been met with little resistance. But the eastern city of Hangzhou has since proposed that users are given a color-coded health badge based on their medical records and lifestyle habits, including how much they exercised, their eating and drinking habits, whether they smoked and how much they slept the night before. This suggestion set off a storm of criticism on China’s Weibo, a Twitter-like platform.

Scandit raises $80M as COVID-19 drives demand for contactless deliveries

Enterprise barcode scanner company Scandit has closed an $80 million Series C round, led by Silicon Valley VC firm G2VP. Atomico, GV, Kreos, NGP Capital, Salesforce Ventures and Swisscom Ventures also participated in the round — which brings its total raised to date to $123M.

The Zurich-based firm offers a platform that combines computer vision and machine learning tech with barcode scanning, text recognition (OCR), object recognition and augmented reality which is designed for any camera-equipped smart device — from smartphones to drones, wearables (e.g. AR glasses for warehouse workers) and even robots.

Use-cases include mobile apps or websites for mobile shopping; self checkout; inventory management; proof of delivery; asset tracking and maintenance — including in healthcare where its tech can be used to power the scanning of patient IDs, samples, medication and supplies.

It bills its software as “unmatched” in terms of speed and accuracy, as well as the ability to scan in bad light; at any angle; and with damaged labels. Target industries include retail, healthcare, industrial/manufacturing, travel, transport & logistics and more.

The latest funding injection follows a $30M Series B round back in 2018. Since then Scandit says it’s tripled recurring revenues, more than doubling the number of blue-chip enterprise customers, and doubling the size of its global team.

Global customers for its tech include the likes of 7-Eleven, Alaska Airlines, Carrefour, DPD, FedEx, Instacart, Johns Hopkins Hospital, La Poste, Levi Strauss & Co, Mount Sinai Hospital and Toyota — with the company touting “tens of billions of scans” per year on 100+ million active devices at this stage of its business.

It says the new funding will go on further pressing on the gas to grow in new markets, including APAC and Latin America, as well as building out its footprint and ops in North America and Europe. Also on the slate: Funding more R&D to devise new ways for enterprises to transform their core business processes using computer vision and AR.

The need for social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic has also accelerated demand for mobile computer vision on personal smart devices, according to Scandit, which says customers are looking for ways to enable more contactless interactions.

Another demand spike it’s seeing is coming from the pandemic-related boom in ‘Click & Collect’ retail and “millions” of extra home deliveries — something its tech is well positioned to cater to because its scanning apps support BYOD (bring your own device), rather than requiring proprietary hardware.

“COVID-19 has shone a spotlight on the need for rapid digital transformation in these uncertain times, and the need to blend the physical and digital plays a crucial role,” said CEO Samuel Mueller in a statement. “Our new funding makes it possible for us to help even more enterprises to quickly adapt to the new demand for ‘contactless business’, and be better positioned to succeed, whatever the new normal is.”

Also commenting on the funding in a supporting statement, Ben Kortlang, general partner at G2VP, added: “Scandit’s platform puts an enterprise-grade scanning solution in the pocket of every employee and customer without requiring legacy hardware. This bridge between the physical and digital worlds will be increasingly critical as the world accelerates its shift to online purchasing and delivery, distributed supply chains and cashierless retail.”

This Week in Apps: Facebook takes on Shopify, Tinder considers its future, contact-tracing tech goes live

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the Extra Crunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support and the money that flows through it all.

The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 204 billion downloads and $120 billion in consumer spending in 2019. People are now spending three hours and 40 minutes per day using apps, rivaling TV. Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus.

In this Extra Crunch series, we help you keep up with the latest news from the world of apps, delivered on a weekly basis.

This week we’re continuing to look at how the coronavirus outbreak is impacting the world of mobile applications. Notably, we saw the launch of the Apple/Google exposure-notification API with the latest version of iOS out this week. The pandemic is also inspiring other new apps and features, including upcoming additions to Apple’s Schoolwork, which focus on distance learning, as well as Facebook’s new Shops feature designed to help small business shift their operations online in the wake of physical retail closures.

Tinder, meanwhile, seems to be toying with the idea of pivoting to a global friend finder and online hangout in the wake of social distancing, with its test of a feature that allows users to match with others worldwide — meaning, with no intention of in-person dating.

Headlines

COVID-19 apps in the news

  • Fitbit app: The fitness tracker app launched a COVID-19 early detection study aimed at determining whether wearables can help detect COVID-19 or the flu. The study will ask volunteers questions about their health, including whether they had COVID-19, then pair that with activity data to see if there are any clues that could be used to build an early warning algorithm of sorts.
  • U.K. contact-tracing app: The app won’t be ready in mid-May as promised, as the government mulls the use of the Apple/Google API. In testing, the existing app drains the phone battery too quickly. In addition, researchers have recently identified seven security flaws in the app, which is currently being trialed on the Isle of Wight.

Apple launches iOS/iPadOS 13.5 with Face ID tweak and contact-tracing API

Apple this week released the latest version of iOS/iPadOS with two new features related to the pandemic. The first is an update to Face ID which will now be able to tell when the user is wearing a mask. In those cases, Face ID will instead switch to the Passcode field so you can type in your code to unlock your phone, or authenticate with apps like the App Store, Apple Books, Apple Pay, iTunes and others.

The other new feature is the launch of the exposure-notification API jointly developed by Apple and Google. The API allows for the development of apps from public health organizations and governments that can help determine if someone has been exposed by COVID-19. The apps that support the API have yet to launch, but some 22 countries have requested API access.

Google highlights accessible locations with new Maps feature

Google has announced a new, welcome and no doubt long-asked-for feature to its Maps app: wheelchair accessibility info. Businesses and points of interest featuring accessible entrances, bathrooms and other features will now be prominently marked as such.

Millions, of course, require such accommodations as ramps or automatic doors, from people with limited mobility to people with strollers or other conveyances. Google has been collecting information on locations’ accessibility for a couple years, and this new setting puts it front and center.

The company showed off the feature in a blog post for Global Accessibility Awareness Day. To turn it on, users can go to the “Settings” section of the Maps app, then “Accessibility settings,” then toggle on “Accessible places.”

This will cause any locations searched for or tapped on to display a small wheelchair icon if they have accessible facilities. Drilling down into the details where you find the address and hours will show exactly what’s available. Unfortunately it doesn’t indicate the location of those resources (helpful if someone is trying to figure out where to get dropped off, for instance), but knowing there’s an accessible entrance or restroom at all is a start.

The information isn’t automatically created or sourced from blueprints or anything — like so much on Google, it comes from you, the user. Any registered user can note the presence of accessible facilities the way they’d note things like in-store pickup or quick service. Just go to “About” in a location’s description and hit the “Describe this place” button at the bottom.

The Trash app’s new features can create AI-edited music videos and more

The team behind Trash, an app that uses artificial intelligence to edit your video footage, launched a number of new features this week that should make it more useful for anyone — but especially independent musicians.

I wrote about the startup last summer, when CEO Hannah Donovan told me that her work as Vine’s general manager convinced her that most people will never feel like they have the technical skills to edit a good-looking video.

That’s why she and her co-founder Genevieve Patterson (the startup’s chief scientist) created that technology can analyze multiple video clips, identifying the most interesting shots and stitching it all together into a fun video.

Since then, Trash has been bringing on more creators before opening up to a general audience last fall. Donovan explained that while she’d expected users to create “hyper-polished influencer videos,” the opposite has been true.

“The content on Trash is very personal, very authentic, very real,” she said. “For lack of better words, it’s what you’d see in your [Snapchat or Instagram] Stories.”

Trash is giving users more capabilities this week with the launch of Styles. This allows them to identify the type of video they want to create — whether it’s a recap (vacation recaps are big right now), a narrative video or something more artsy. The results are tailored accordingly, and then the user still has the option to further tweak things, for example by moving clips around.

Trash music video style

Image Credits: Trash


There’s also a style for music videos. Many Trash videos already combine videos and music, but Donovan said this style is specifically designed for independent musicians who may not have editing skills, but who still need to create music videos — especially YouTube has become one of the main ways people discover new music.

“The music video is more important than it’s ever been,” she argued.

Trash can’t give those musicians professional, studio-quality footage, but currently, everyone — no matter how famous — is largely limited to shooting themselves at home on smartphones right now. And even after the pandemic, Donovan expects the trend to continue.

“You’re seeing that in commercial videos as well, incorporating elements like text messaging,” she said. “What we’re seeing now is just this huge blend where it doesn’t matter [and you can mix] real life and virtual life, this hyper-polished, big-budget stuff and a super DIY, shot-on-an-iPhone aesthetic.”

To check it out, you can watch a playlist of some of the initial music videos created on Trash. The startup has also launched Trash for Artists, where musicians can upload their songs to create music videos and promo videos, while also offering them up as a soundtrack for other Trash users.

In addition to launching the new features, Trash also graduated last week from Snap’s Yellow accelerator program. (Other investors include the National Science Foundation, Japan’s Digital Garage and Dream Machine, the fund created by former TechCrunch Editor Alexia Bonatsos.)

Extra Crunch Live: Join Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg for a live Q&A May 26 at 2pm ET/11am PT

Hans Vestberg, CEO of Verizon Communications, is a busy man. He’s also a business man. He’s a busy businessman, but has graciously made time to join us for an episode of Extra Crunch Live, our ongoing speaker series for Extra Crunch members.

We’re thrilled to have Vestberg as a guest on the show! The episode will air on May 26 at 2pm ET/11am PT.

Full disclosure: Verizon is the parent company to TechCrunch, which means that Vestberg is our boss’s boss’s boss’s boss.

Vestberg was previously CEO at Ericsson and joined Verizon as chief technology officer and EVP of network and technology in April of 2017. In June of 2018, the company announced that Vestberg would succeed Lowell McAdams as CEO of Verizon Communications. The promotion was made official that August.

Vestberg is unlike some of our previous guests on Extra Crunch Live — VCs like Kirsten Green, Roelof Botha and Charles Hudson and entrepreneurs like Mark Cuban. Vestberg is an operator at the helm of one of the world’s biggest corporations, and, as such, provides a unique perspective on adaptation strategies during the coronavirus pandemic.

Not only can attendees plan to hear about how Verizon is thinking both short and long-term about the effects of this pandemic on business, but also about how things are changing internally at the company, from re-opening offices to keeping morale high.

Vestberg leads a company with thousands of employees and can help founders understand how to manage a company at scale, particularly during a time when decisions are being made quickly and the stakes are high.

We’re also interested in talking to Vestberg about the company’s 5G rollout. 5G technology has huge implications for startups, especially as video conferencing and high-bandwidth communication formats become more popular in the midst of physical distancing.

Oh, another important thing! We’re not going to be the only ones asking questions. Extra Crunch members can also ask their questions directly in the Zoom call. So make sure you come prepared! If you’re not already a member, you can join Extra Crunch here.

Again, this episode of Extra Crunch Live with Hans Vestberg goes down on May 26 at 2pm ET/11am PT. You can find the full details below the jump.