Niantic is working with Hasbro on a Pokémon GO-style Transformers game

Niantic has encouraged the world to roam the streets as Pokémon trainers and wizards… next up? Time to transform and roll out.

80’s mega toy Transformers is the latest IP to partner with Niantic to build a map-heavy, geolocation-centric game.

Details are still a bit light, but here’s just about everything we know:

  • It’ll be called Transformers: Heavy Metal. They’ve put up a pre-registration page here.
  • It’s being built in collaboration with Hasbro, TOMY, and Seattle game team Very Very Spaceship.
  • Players will be a part of the “will join the Guardian Network, a group of humans who have banded together with the Autobots in a war against the Decepticons”
  • It’s built on Niantic’s Lightship platform, the same underlying engine that powers Pokémon GO, Harry Potter Wizards Unite, and the still in-development Catan: World Explorers.
  • When’s it arriving? Nothing too specific yet, but it’ll launch in “select markets” soon, and then globally “later this year”. This staged rollout tends to be Niantic’s approach; Pokémon GO landed first in Japan, while Catan was quietly rolled out in New Zealand last year.

They’ve only released a bit of concept art so far, and it suggests gameplay not unlike GO and Wizards Unite:

Image Credits: Niantic

Will this one take over the world the way Pokémon GO did in the summer of 2016? Maybe not — that one hit a lot of the right notes at the right time, the perfect blend of novelty and nostalgia. But Wizards Unite has found enough of an audience that it’s still in active development two years after launch, so it seems Niantic sees room for more map-centric games.

Dark Sky iOS app and website are likely shutting down at the end of 2022

After Apple acquired Dark Sky in March of 2020, we all knew the super-granular weather app was probably headed for shutdown. But while the company announced that the Android app would go dark in July of the same year, things were left a bit more open-ended for the iOS app. There would be “no changes” for Dark Sky on iOS, they said, “at this time.”

A year later, a small update to the Dark Sky blog (as pointed out by 9to5mac) seems to be putting a new expiration date on the Dark Sky iOS App, API, and website. Writes co-founder Adam Grossman:

Support for the Dark Sky API service for existing customers will continue until the end of 2022. The iOS app and Dark Sky website will also be available until the end of 2022.

It’s worth noting that there’s a little room for interpretation there, in that they don’t explicitly say it will shut down at the end of 2022 — just that they’re committing to running it until the end of 2022, perhaps suggesting its fate after that is in flux. We’ve reached out to Apple for clarification on that point — but until we hear back, we’re taking this as a heads up that shutdown is on the horizon.

On the upside, this is actually an extension for the API and the Dark Sky website. The website was previously scheduled to shutdown in August of 2020; the API, meanwhile, was scheduled to be shuttered at the end of 2021.

This news comes just a few days after Apple announced an overhaul to iOS’ built-in Weather app during WWDC.

Here’s everything Apple announced at the WWDC 2021 keynote

It’s that time again! This morning Apple kicked off its annual Worldwide Developer Conference the same way it does each year: a keynote jammed to the brim with all the new stuff coming to its various devices.

Didn’t have time to tune in to the liveblog or watch the stream? We get it. That’s why we’ve boiled all of the biggest news down to the bulletpoints for you below. Skim at your leisure!

iOS 15

WWDC iOS overview screen

Craig Federighi started things off with details on the latest major update to iOS, noting that this release focuses on four points: staying connected, finding focus, using intelligence, and exploring the world. iOS 15 will roll into public beta in July, with a full release “this fall.”

FaceTime updates

  • Spatial audio: When using a compatible audio setup, spatial audio will make it seem more like your friends voices are coming from their on-screen position.
  • Voice isolation: Better (and toggle-able) voice isolation for when you’re FaceTiming from a loud environment.
  • Portrait mode: The portrait mode from the camera app is coming to FaceTime — in other words, pretty background blurring.
  • FaceTime links: You’ll now be able to generate shareable FaceTime links to let others (including desktop and Android users via the browser!) join FaceTime calls.
  • SharePlay: Shared audio/video streams to allow you to listen to music, watch video (select video partners initially, including Disney+, Hulu, HBO Max, and TikTok), and control apps in sync with friends. You can pushed the shared videos to your AppleTV, keeping it all synced up between devices and households.

“Focus” mode

  • You’ll be able to shift your phone into different, customizable modes — like “work”, where only your work related apps will show up, or “personal” which could tuck all those work apps and widgets to the background. Vacation mode, activate!
  • Notifications batching: You can now tell iOS to batch less important notifications together, delivering them all at a specific time (like after you’ve woken up, rather than letting them trickle in throughout the night.)

Live Text

WWDC 2021 - Photos - Live Text

The camera can now recognize text in photos (handwritten or printed) and make it selectable, searchable, copy/pastable, etc. It can recognize things beyond text, as well, including animal breeds, landmarks, etc.

Apple Wallet

Apple is incorporating home, office, and hotel keys into Apple Wallet, allowing you to unlock compatible doors in those places with your phone. You’ll be able to check into select hotels, for example, and have your room key show up on your phone as soon as your room is ready.

They’re also working with the TSA (in select states, at first) to put an encrypted copy of your state driver’s license (!) in Wallet that will be accepted at security screenings.

Apple Maps

Image Credits: Apple

Maps is getting a details-focused overhaul, with the addition of 3D elevation maps, 3D rendered landmarks, crosswalks, bikelanes, etc.

Apple Maps is also taking some cues from Google Maps, including a mode that has you use the camera to scan nearby buildings to more precisely orient the phone and help you figure out which direction you’re supposed to go at the beginning of a walk.

AirPods Updates

  • Conversation mode: AirPods Pro will now allow you to boost the volume of voices (and control the volume of ambient noise) of those around you when you’re having a face-to-face conversation in a noisy environment.
  • Find My: AirPods will now work with the Find My app even when they’re in the case, and will be able to alert you if you leave them behind.
  • Spatial audio is coming to tvOS and M1-powered Macs

iPadOS

  • iPadOS will get home screen widgets. They’re pretty similar to the ones you’ve seen on iOS, with the addition of a much bigger widget option because, well, bigger screen.
  • The “App Library” concept is making its way from iOS to iPadOS, as well.
  • A new multitasking menu will (hopefully) simplify the way you handle multitasking on iPadOS, moving the system away from the easily-forgotten gestures currently required.
  • The Notes app will now let you @ mention someone in a shared note to get their attention on a change, and highlight changes when you come back to a shared doc. “Quick Notes”, meanwhile, will let you create a note from anywhere by swiping up from the bottom right corner of the screen.
  • Translate: iPadOS will get a system-wide text translation option, along with an app for translating in-person conversations in real time.
  • Swift Playgrounds will now let you build apps on the iPad and submit them to the App Store.
  • Public beta in July, full release “this fall.”

Security Updates

  • Mail app will now automatically obscure your IP address/location from those invisible tracking pixels marketers love to tuck into emails
  • An “App Privacy Report” option in settings will now summarize how often any given app accesses your location, photos, etc to hopefully flag any unexpected behaviors.
  • Siri’s speech recognition will now happen on-device, keeping the audio recordings off of Apple’s servers and allowing for Siri commands without an internet connection
  • You’ll be able to add recovery contacts to your iCloud account, allowing you to select friends who can help you get back into your iCloud account if you get locked out. You’ll also be able to pick “Legacy” contacts who can request access to your iCloud data should you pass away.

Health updates

  • Your iPhone can now analyze your gait, step timing, etc to analyze your “walking steadiness” to hopefully flag if your fall risk is increasing over time.
  • A “Trends” summary in the health app will highlight patterns in your step counts, heart rate, etc
  • New “Health sharing” options will let you securely share health data with people you care about — like that of your parents, or your kids.

watchOS

  • watchOS will now be able to help track your respiratory rate (how many breaths you take per minute), and note how you might breath differently throughout the day (like when you’re sleeping). They’re also adding new workout modes to the activity tracking engine, including Tai Chi and Pilates.
  • A new “Portraits” watchface will use your portrait-mode photos to create a neat, layered-looking clock layout

  • Text input is getting a subtle overhaul on watchOS, with the “Scribble” handwriting recognition being incorporated right into the text view. You use the crown to place the text cursor, then draw the letters/symbols you want right on top of your text.
  • Public beta in July, full release “this fall.”

Siri goes to third party devices

Apple says it’s opening up Siri to third party manufacturers and their devices, allowing Siri to live on things like ecobee thermostats beginning later this year.

macOS

  • The next major release of macOS will be called macOS Monterey
  • All of the aforementioned SharePlay stuff — which allows you to watch video and listen to music in sync with friends over FaceTime — is coming to macOS.
  • Universal control” will let you use one keyboard/mouse setup to control multiple macs and iPads, automatically recognizing when a new compatible device is placed nearby. Put an iPad next to your Macbook, and bam — it automatically extends, turning the two devices into one big canvas.
  • Macs are getting AirPlay, allowing you to send AirPlay content to your Mac’s display like you might an AppleTV.
  • The “Shortcuts” automation system from iOS is coming to macOS, allowing you to quickly drag-and-drop together scripts to do the things you find yourself doing often. (If you’re already using macOS’ automator system, it’ll still be supported for now.)
  • Safari is getting a UI overhaul; tabs are being made smaller, and they’re introducing a “tab groups” system to keep things organized. Tab groups will automatically sync between iCloud devices.
  • Public beta in July, full release “this fall.”

Dev stuff

Though its called the Worldwide Developer Conference, Apple tends to keep the keynote focused largely on the consumer-facing stuff and save the most technical bits for the week’s many breakout sessions. They did touch on a few developer highlights, though, including:

  • New APIs to hook into things like SharePlay, Focus, etc.
  • iOS is getting a built-in 3D object scanning system that developers can tie into their apps, allowing them to integrate 3D scanning-style functionality without having to reinvent that wheel.
  • Devs will now be able to build multiple App Store product pages for the same app — with different icons, screenshots, etc — to see which one resonates best.
  • TestFlight — the service for privately distributing pre-release/beta apps on Apple’s phone/tablet/watch operating systems — is coming to macOS.

read more about Apple's WWDC 2021 on TechCrunch

Stack Overflow acquired by Prosus for $1.8 Billion

The legendary Q&A website for programmers (and probably one of the most copy-and-pasted sites on the Internet) Stack Overflow is being acquired. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Prosus (the primary shareholder of Chinese gaming mega co/WeChat developer, Tencent) will acquire Stack Overflow for $1.8 billion.

Update: Prosus confirms the $1.8 billion number in a press release here.

While perhaps not a name everyone recognizes, Prosus — the international assets holding arm of South Africa’s Naspers — is something of a giant. In 2001, parent company Naspers bought a 46.5% stake in Tencent for $32 million dollars. Earlier this year they sold a 2% stake of Tencent for nearly $15 billion.

Stack Overflow co-founders Jeff Atwood and Joel Spolsky shared the following shortly after the news broke:

Spolsky elaborated in a blog post (aptly titled “Kinda a big announcement”) on his personal site, writing:

Today we’re pleased to announce that Stack Overflow is joining Prosus. Prosus is an investment and holding company, which means that the most important part of this announcement is that Stack Overflow will continue to operate independently, with the exact same team in place that has been operating it, according to the exact same plan and the exact same business practices. Don’t expect to see major changes or awkward “synergies”. The business of Stack Overflow will continue to focus on Reach and Relevance, and Stack Overflow for Teams. The entire company is staying in place: we just have different owners now.

Story developing….

 

 

Shef raises $20M to expand its homemade meal delivery marketplace

It’s still a bit of a legal maze, but more cities are coming around to the idea of letting local home chefs bring in more income by selling homecooked meals to those nearby.

Shef is a marketplace meant to help these home chefs connect with customers, handle orders, and get the food delivered — and they’ve just raised $20M to get it done.

The company is announcing its Series A round this morning, led by Andreessen Horowitz and backed by Y Combinator, Craft Ventures, M13, and a bevy of celebrities including Padma Lakshmi, Chef Aarón Sánchez, Katy Perry, Tiffany Haddish, Orlando Bloom, and NBA All-Star Andre Iguodala.

As part of the round, Andreessen Horowitz GP (and former OpenTable CEO) Jeff Jordan will join Shef’s board.

Because of varying local laws, Shef works a bit differently from market to market. In some places, for example, they’re able to tap local delivery networks to get meals the last mile; in others, chefs handle deliveries themselves.

Across all markets, though, the ordering process boils down to: pick a chef, order what you want a few days in advance (everything is done via pre-orders so chefs know exactly what they’ll need each day — it’s not an on-a-whim kind of thing), then heat it up upon arrival.

Image Credits: Shef

But whether or not a service like this is even allowed to exist varies from place to place. Even in California where a relatively new statewide law allows home cooks to sell their goods, the final say (and the details of the implementation) comes down to each county. In many places, “homecooking” still requires getting access to a commercial kitchen.

Shef co-founders Alvin Salehi and Joey Grassia don’t shy away from the legal challenges — in a chat earlier this week, they told me that they expect much of the funds they raised to go toward two things: figuring out how to get services like theirs legalized in more markets (they’ve hired Danielle Merida, former General Counsel for TaskRabbit, to help there), and to onboard chefs as those new markets come online.

The company says they currently have over 12,000 home chefs on their wait list, with that number ballooning as the pandemic shuttered restaurants around the country. Each chef they bring on to the platform goes through a 150-step onboarding process, including a food safety certification exam and food quality assessment.

“We want to be able to expand the services to as many people as possible, because so many people need it,” Salehi tells me. “But it takes resources to be able to do that effectively, and most importantly, to do that safely.”

Shef is currently live in the Bay Area, Austin, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Seattle, and New York, with plans to roll out in new markets… well, as soon as they can.

Raising a round? AngelList Venture CEO Avlok Kohli will share insights at TC Early Stage

What’s it like raising a round in 2021? How has it changed over the last few months, as some glimmer of normalcy seems, at least, within reach? What do early-stage founders (and investors!) need to know about the current state of the industry?

Few are in a better place to outline this than Avlok Kohli, the CEO of AngelList Venture who will let you know at TC Early Stage on July 8-9. With more than $2.2 billion in assets under management and over 5,000 startups funded on the platform, AngelList has data-driven insights that just about no one else could offer. Kohli joined AngelList Venture as CEO in mid-2019, giving him a remarkably unique view of the industry through a particularly wild time.

Kohli also knows what it’s like to be a founder, having been in that seat multiple times. In 2014 he founded Fastbite, a low-cost meal delivery service; in 2015, he sold it to Square. He dove back in with a daily house cleaning service called Fairy in 2017, and sold it to Postmates at the beginning of 2019.

We’re super excited to announce that Avlok Kohli will join us at TC Early Stage on July 8-9 to get us all up to speed on the state of play in early-stage investing.

TC Early Stage is our event series all about startups that are… well, early stage. From raising money to marketing the right way to just getting people to care, we go deep on the topics that matter most to founders.

We’ll kick this session off with a presentation from Kohli on the state of early-stage investing, then we’ll get right into audience Q&A and try to get your most burning questions answered live.

TC Early Stage: Marketing & Fundraising goes down on July 8th and 9th — and because it’s virtual, you can attend right from the comfort of your couch. Or office chair. Or a hammock. We don’t care, just come watch. Get your tickets here!

Whatnot raises $50M to let people sell Pokémon cards, Funko Pops, and more via livestream

Whatnot exists with one primary goal in mind: to give people a place to buy and sell collectibles (like Pokémon cards, sports cards, pins, etc) in a safe, authenticated way.

The company started out with intentions of being a GOAT/StockX-style resale marketplace, where the products up for sale lived on neat little pages with row after row of static images. As they started experimenting with other formats, they found one that really seemed to catch on: livestream sales. Think QVC or the Home Shopping Network… but instead of hosts in huge studios selling jewelry and patio furniture, it’s users with smartphones selling Charizard cards and Yoda figurines.

Image Credits: Whatnot

I first wrote about Whatnot last year. In the short time since, the company has raised three increasingly large rounds: $4 million in December, $20 million in March, and, as of this morning, another $50 million.

While Whatnot still offers the more standard product pages to give sellers a 24/7 presence on the site, the livestreaming side of things has become the primary driver — by far. Co-founder Grant LaFontaine tells me that livestreaming is currently “95% of the focus”; it’s where most of their sales are happening, and what users seem to care most about.

Another thing users seem to care about? Sports cards. Whatnot opened up the site to sports card sellers in January, and it almost immediately took over as the site’s best selling category. The one category now accounts for “millions of dollars” in sales each month, the company says.

 

The Whatnot team itself is growing quickly as well. When I first spoke to them, it was just a handful of employees; by January of this year, they were up to ten. Today it’s 45 fulltimers. By the end of the year, says Grant, they expect to be nearing one hundred.

While anyone can sell on Whatnot’s marketplace, only users that have been vetted/invited can sell via livestream. This helps to keep fraud low; sellers know that if they try to sneak in fake cards or rip anyone off, their access to livestreaming — and thus their audience — could vanish.

The company tells me that this Series B round was led by Anu Hariharan of Y Combinator Continuity fund, and backed by Andreessen Horowitz, Animal Capital, and a number of angels.

 

Future Family raises $9M to make fertility treatments more accessible and expand its clinic network

Future Family, a company we’ve written about a few times over the years, makes fertility treatments more accessible. They pre-negotiate terms with fertility clinics to ensure there are no surprise fees, convert the often substantial upfront costs into a monthly payment plan and give each user a dedicated Fertility Coach to help them navigate their journey.

This morning the company is announcing that it has raised a $9 million round of funding as it expands the network of clinics it works with.

The company last raised $10 million in a Series A back in 2018, and they’re positioning this round as an extension of that — a “Series A-1”, as they’re calling it — rather than a whole new round.

As I’ve written before, Future Family was inspired by founder Claire Tomkins’ own experiences:

Future Family was born out of Claire Tomkins’ own experiences with the complexities and costs of fertility treatments. After spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on treatments involved with having her first child (with much of the cost coming as a surprise only revealed once the process had begun), Claire set out to build a better way. Future Family partners with clinics to work out all the pricing ahead of time and pays the bill upfront, ensuring there are no billing surprises down the road.

Image Credits: Claire Tomkins, Future FamilyClaire tells me that, as it did for just about everyone, 2020 brought a whole new set of challenges for the company. In the early days of the pandemic, as a million questions about COVID-19 emerged, many fertility clinics closed their doors. And even as the clinics began reopening, with little certainty about where things might be in nine months, many patients understandably held off.

“It was definitely a tough year,” she says, “but I think we’re emerging in a good place.”

2021 is already looking like a different story, Claire tells me. “People had to sit on the sidelines,” she says. “People who have wanted to go forward with treatment, and now have waited 12 or more months… it’s gotten very busy.” According to their numbers, Claire expects the second half of 2021 to hit “record levels of activity.”

To help with the sudden spike in demand, the company is adding more fertility clinics to its network, including CCRM — a fertility group with locations in Minneapolis, Houston, Denver, San Francisco and a number of other major metros.

OpenUnit raises a $1M seed round to be the online face of self-storage

How are mom-and-pop self-storage facilities meant to keep up with the tech offered by the massive, ever-growing chains?

That’s a key part of the idea behind OpenUnit, a team I first wrote about in August of last year. You bring the storage units, they bring the website, payment processing, and backend tools you need to manage them. They don’t charge facility owners a monthly subscription fee, instead taking a cut of each payment as the payments processor.

OpenUnit has now raised a $1M seed round, and acquired the IP of a fellow YC company along the way.

Since we last heard from OpenUnit, they’ve been expanding to locations around the US and Canada and now have a waitlist over 800 facilities deep, the team tells me.

Image Credits: OpenUnit

OpenUnit co-founder Taylor Cooney was quick to point out that this seed round is as much about strategic partnerships as it is about the money. Neither Taylor nor co-founder Lucas Playford had much to do with the storage industry until a knock at the door led them down a rabbit hole. As I wrote back in August:

“…Taylor’s landlords came to him with an offer: they wanted to sell the place he was renting, and they’d give him a stack of cash if he could be out within just a few days. Pulling that off meant finding a place to keep all of his stuff while he looked for a new home, which is when he realized how antiquated the self-storage process could be.”

Of the 20+ investors participating in the round, 6 are from the self-storage industry, from prior/current facility owners to the Director of the Canadian Self Storage Association. For some of them, it’s their first time investing in a tech or software company — but all potentially bring something to the table beyond money.

Of course, that’s not to say they’re just letting that money sit around. They’ve grown the team from just Taylor and Lucas up to five, and are still looking to grow. Meanwhile, Taylor tells me that the company has acquired the IP of fellow Y Combinator W20 batchmate Affiga, a product that aimed to automatically provide insights about a new customer after a transaction is made.

Writes Taylor: “As self-storage companies move services like rentals, leases, and payments online, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for them to ‘know’ their customers. We see the integration into our product as a way to help self-storage operators bridge the gap between their online and in-store customer experiences, where the personal touch tends to be lost.”

Affiga initially shutdown its operations back in 2020. After OpenUnit realized they wanted something similar in their product, they set out to buy rather than build. “With a decade in e-commerce under their belt,” Taylor tells me, “their founder had a much better approach to this then we would’ve come up with.”

So what’s next? Besides getting more people off the waitlist and onto the platform, they’re exploring other opportunities, including potentially providing loans to facilities looking to expand or renovate. Because OpenUnit is both the management platform and the payments provider, they have deep insights on how a facility is doing; they know how much a location makes, how punctual their customers are with payments, etc. Take that data and mash it up with insights on what improvements can increase revenue, and it seems like a pretty straightforward formula.

This round includes investment from Garage Capital, Advisors Fund, Insite Property Group, SquareFoot co-founder Jonathan Wasserstrum, and a number of angel investors.

Hardware hacker brings online multiplayer to the original Game Boy

Move over, Xbox and PlayStation. A new foe has appeared in the world of online multiplayer gaming! It’s the… uh, Game Boy. As in that unbreakable, gray, 4.19Mhz tank from 1989.

While the Game Boy has had a handful of locally multiplayer games since the beginning, using it meant physically connecting your Game Boy to another Game Boy via an accessory called the link cable. If you wanted to play some Nintendo with someone further than a few feet away… well, you’d just have to wait a few decades.

In a wildly impressive display of skill, hardware hacker stacksmashing has managed to reverse engineer the Game Boy’s link cable protocol and effectively trick it into working across the Internet. The Game Boy connects through the link cable hooked into a Raspberry Pi to a custom desktop client, which in turn pings an online game server that acts as the bridge between you and your opponent(s). The Game Boy thinks it’s talking to any other ol’ Game Boy, unaware of the fact that it’s actually communicating with a server that could be halfway around the world.

The first game they’ve got working? Tetris!

 

Getting any given game to work (imagine trading a Pokémon you caught in 1998 with someone across the Internet!) will require that game’s unique communication protocols to be reverse engineered, so it’s only Tetris for now. Fortunately, stacksmashing has opened up the source code for all the various components that have been built so far, so there’s something of a foundation to build upon. And because the whole thing is no fun without anyone to play with, there’s also a Discord channel just for finding others who’ve gone down this rabbit hole. There’s even a custom PCB in the works ($15, with pre-orders expected to ship by June) that’ll handle the connection between the link cable and the Raspberry Pi, removing the need for you to shred a link cable to expose its wires and make this work.

Stacksmashing also recently made headlines by cracking open and modifying Apple’s AirTags, as well as turning the Game Boy into a (hilariously underpowered) Bitcoin miner.