apps

Amazon Echo devices can now make Skype calls

Video chat was always one of Echo Show and Spot’s biggest selling points. But until now, the products have been tethered to Amazon’s own software. This week, however, the company took another big step in its ongoing relationship with Microsoft by adding Skype calling to mix. Now just about every Echo device past and present are able to make calls using the popular platform. Your Echo/Plus/Dot, et al. will be able to do so via voice using a command like, “Alexa Skype Mom.” Echos with displays, meanwhile, will offer up the full video Skype experience. Users can also ask Alexa to dial a phone number via Skype. It’s a solid partnership for the two companies. Amazon could use better chat support and Microsoft hasn’t made much headway with Cortana-enabled devices. This is also a bit of a blow fo...

Plastiq raises $27M at 2X+ value to let you pay for anything on credit

“I wasn’t asking to pay in Bitcoin!” Plastiq CEO and co-founder Eliot Buchanan recalls with a laugh. “I went to pay part of my tuition at Harvard and I was told that they didn’t (and never would) accept credit card. It was inconvenient and seemed odd. Credit cards had been around for 50 years.” That set off the a light bulb in his head. “Why couldn’t I use a credit card to pay for this important bill? So, I set out to solve my own problem.” Whether you’re trying to pay your rent or tuition on credit, or you have a business and want to invest in a new opportunity or get a better rate by paying vendors up front, Plastiq can help. For a flat 2.5 percent fee, you pay Plastiq through their credit card, and it issues the proper wire transfer, check, or deposit for up to $500,000 on your behalf t...

WhatsApp could wreck Snapchat again by copying ephemeral messaging

WhatsApp already ruined Snapchat’s growth once. WhatsApp Status, its clone of Snapchat Stories, now has 450 million daily active users compared to Snapchat’s 188 million. That’s despite its 24-hour disappearing slideshows missing tons of features, including augmented reality selfie masks, animated GIFs, or personalized avatars like Bitmoji. A good-enough version of Stories conveniently baked into the messaging app beloved in the developing world where Snapchat hasn’t proved massively successful. Snapchat actually lost total daily users in Q2 and Q3 2018, and even lost Rest Of World daily users in Q2 despite that being where late-stage social networks rely on for growth. That’s why it’s so surprising that WhatsApp hasn’t already copied the other big Snapchat feature, ephemeral messaging. Wh...

China’s hottest news app Jinri Toutiao announces new CEO

You may not have heard of ByteDance, but you probably know its red-hot video app TikTok, which gobbled up Musical.ly in August. The Beijing-based company also runs a popular news aggregator called Jinri Toutiao, which means “today’s headlines” in Chinese, and the app just assigned a new CEO. At a company event on Saturday, Chen Lin, an early ByteDance employee, made his first appearance as Toutiao’s new CEO. That means Toutiao’s creator Zhang Yiming has handed the helm to Chen, who previously headed product management for the news app. Zhang’s not going anywhere though. A company spokesperson told TechCrunch that he remains as the CEO of ByteDance, which operates a slew of media apps besides TikTok and Toutiao to lock horns with China’s tech giants Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent. The story of...

Hong Kong is adding QR code payments to its subway stations

A new dispatch from our ‘QR Codes Are Very Much Alive In Asia’ reporting program: Hong Kong’s subway system will soon allow its commuters to pay by scanning QR codes thanks to a deal with Alibaba that was announced this week. The partnership — which is with Alibaba’s Ant Financial affiliate — will see scan-to-pay enabled at 91 MTR metro stations starting in mid-2020. Commuters will simply use Ant’s Alipay app to scan a code at the turnstile and then go on with their trip as usual. They’ll be able to top up their balance inside the app, as well as through traditional methods. MTR also covers rail, buses and more but it isn’t clear if and when this payment option will be extended beyond subways. Hong Kong already offers convenient cash-free payments using its Octopus card system, which has b...

Sweet Escape connects travelers to photographers for truly Insta-worthy holiday pics

The rise of smartphone cameras and social media in recent years has fuelled a new level of marking and sharing memories using photos, but one startup is betting that people are prepared to go the next level and spend money to hire professional photographers to make their photos even better. Focused on travel, Sweet Escape is an Indonesia-based startup that to work with over 2,000 photographers across over 400 cities in some 100 countries. The idea is simple. If you’re traveling — overseas or locally — and want high quality photos of your trip, or just part of it, you can use Sweet Escape to find and book out a local snapper for you and your group. Photo shoots last for two hours and are charged at $300, Sweet Escape founder David Soong told TechCrunch in an interview, while activities vary...

Discover the next messaging giant at Disrupt Berlin

Truecaller may already be a familiar name, but many of you probably don’t know that it’s slowly becoming a significant messaging app. That’s why I’m excited to announce that Truecaller co-founder and CEO Alan Mamedi will join us at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin. Truecaller first started as a call screening app. Some countries are more affected than others. But it’s clear that text and call spam is the most intrusive form of spam. The Swedish company then leveraged this user base to quietly turn the app into a full-fledged messaging app with one focus in particular — India. With the acquisition of Chillr, the company shows that it wants to recreate a sort of WeChat for India. The company launched payment features — Truecaller Pay lets you pay other Truecaller users as well as pay your bills. Ev...

Chappy, the Bumble-backed dating app for gay men, inks partnership with GLAAD

Chappy, the dating app for gay men, has today announced a partnership with GLAAD. As part of the partnership, Chappy will make a donation to GLAAD for each conversation initiated on the dating app, from now throughout 2019. The company won’t disclose the amount of the donation, but said that it hopes to raise “hundreds of thousands of dollars.” Chappy launched in 2017 to give gay men an authentic, discrimination-free way to connect with one another. The app uses a sliding scale to let users indicate what they’re looking for in a relationship, ranging from ‘Cute’ to ‘Sexy.’ The app has more than 650,000 registered users, and has seen more than 1 billion swipes. Chappy is backed by Bumble and controlled by Bumble shareholders, falling under the Badoo umbrella of dating apps. Last month, Bumb...

Facebook Portal needs more. At least it just added YouTube

To offset the creepiness of having Facebook’s camera and microphone in your house, its new Portal video chat gadget needs best-in-class software.  Its hardware is remarkably well done, plus Messenger and the photo frame feature work great. But its third-party app platform was pretty skimpy when the device launched this week. Facebook is increasingly relying on its smart display competitors to boost Portal’s capabilities. It already comes with Amazon Alexa inside. And now, Google’s YouTube is part of the Portal app platform. “Yes, YouTube.com is available through an optional install in the ‘Portal Apps’ catalog” a Facebook spokesperson tells me. You can open it with a “Hey Portal” command, but there currently seems to be no way to queue up specific videos or control playback via voice. The ...

Sneaker marketplace GOAT announces an AR-centric Black Friday giveaway

Black Friday giveaways have become a tradition for online sneaker marketplace GOAT. Today it’s announcing the details of this year’s campaign, which will be its first to incorporate augmented reality. Director of Communications Liz Goodno described this as “the largest digital sneaker event of the year.” The company says it will be offering more than 1,000 prizes, including sneakers like the Air Jordan 1 Retro High OG Shattered Backboard, KAWSx Air Jordan 4 Retro Black, Pharrell x BBC x NMD Human Race Trail Heart/Mind, plus curated sneaker packs and up to $10,000 in GOAT credit. You can enter the drawing anytime between now and 11:59pm Pacific on Thursday, November 22, with the winners notified at noon on Black Friday. All participants will receive 100 tickets, but you can earn bonus ticke...

Facebook connects Russia to 100+ accounts it removed ahead of mid-terms

The 115 accounts Facebook took down yesterday for inauthentic behavior ahead of the mid-term elections may indeed have been linked to the Russia-based Internet Research Agency, according to a new statement from the company. It says that a site claiming association with the IRA today posted a list of Instagram accounts it had made which included many Facebook had taken down yesterday, and it also has since removed the rest. The IRA was previously llabeled as responsible for using Facebook to interfere with US politics and the 2016 Presidential election. Facebook’s head of cyber security policy Nathaniel Gleicher issued this statement to TechCrunch: “Last night, following a tip off from law enforcement, we blocked over 100 Facebook and Instagram accounts due to concerns that they were linked...

Atomico promotes Sophia Bendz to Partner where she’ll focus on Nordic investments

“I was hired when I was 8 months pregnant, so kudos to Niklas for betting on someone who was pregnant,” Sophia Bendz tells me. “That meant I was working a couple of hours per week in my first year and then I ramped up my engagement and now I’m at a point where I’m fully committed. So it feels like it’s been a sort of organic journey that has happened”. The former Spotify Global Director of Marketing (and Spotify employee no.7) is being unveiled as the newest Partner at venture capital firm Atomico . For the last two and a half years, she’s been Executive-in-Residence at the London-based venture capital firm co-founded by Skype founder Niklas Zennström, helping portfolio companies with marketing strategy and recruitment. Since 2011, Bendz, who is Swedish, has also been an increasingly activ...