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YC-Backed Taskpipes Is SaaS To Simplify Using Lots Of (Other) SaaS Platforms

If there was a neat label for startups whose

raison d’ĂȘtre is to take the strain out of dealing with other startup services thenTaskpipes would be wearing that badge proudly on its lapel.

The YC-backed, U.K. founded b2b startup is attacking what it says is a growing data-management problem for businesses — created by the proliferation and adoption of SaaS platforms. So, in other words, those shiny, cloud-based platforms which promise to streamline your business processes by taking various data-processing tasks off your hands are actually introducing a new headache by fragmenting your data across multiple silos.

That means businesses using multiple SaaS platforms are having to engage in manual data-wrangling when they need to work across these different data buckets, or pull data-sets into other pieces of software for processing. It’s this SaaS-generated data-processing headache that Taskpipes has seized on as another business opportunity.

Its solution, another SaaS platform (obviously), makes it easier for business to grab data from these various third party repositories and set up rules to perform whatever data processing operations they need done. So yes, it’s SaaS platforms all the way down.

“Taskpipes is an online platform that allows you to automate these repetitive and regular time-consuming tasks that people do to manipulate data, to basically connect different platforms together,” co-founder Fraser Atkins tells TechCrunch.

“It automates repetitive data processing tasks that people normally do in Excel. Maybe you have a load of data stuck in your ecommerce platform and the only way you can get that into you accounting software is by downloading a raw CSV data, dumping it into Excel, performing a filter to remove a load of data you don’t want, then sorting the data, reformating the columns to then upload it into your accounting software.”

“The number of SaaS platforms is just exploding,” he adds. “It’s been totally ridiculous recently. And although each SaaS platform makes that specific aspect of your business more powerful it then means whereas before you ran everything through a few spreadsheets, now you have your data in all these different places.

“When you download the data from one of these platforms and you want to put it into the other one the data’s obviously not compatible.”

Isn’t it a bit hard to automate the bespoke manual pieces of data processing that businesses need to do to tie up their usage of various SaaS platforms? Atkins says not, given that the series of steps businesses are performing to get one set of data into a compatible format for processing elsewhere are always the same — and can therefore be defined as processing rules in Taskpipes to be run automatically after you’ve set them up once (thereby cutting out tedious and time-consuming manual repetition). So its pitch to businesses is time- and efficiency-savings.

Isn’t this much like macros in Excel? It is, concedes Atkins. But Taskpipes is targeting its SaaS platform at people who aren’t capable of writing VBA macros or indeed Python scripts — offering a simple interface that even non-Excel whizzkids in the business should be able to get to grips with.

“We’re like the central node in this network of all your different data. Because whereas maybe five years ago you’d have most of your data in an Excel spreadsheet, maybe a couple of SQL databases, now people have their data across all these different third party platforms so how do I get my data from Mixpanel into Salesforce without having to either spend ages writing the integration code or having to do it manually every single day through Excel.”

It’s also aiming to improve on macros by offering more granular controls. “The problem that macros present is that they’re really opaque, they’re really hard to edit afterwards, and they also can’t do really cool things — you couldn’t set a macro up very easily to run every single day,” he adds. “You couldn’t integrate it with these different platform and so we feel that we bring a lot more functionality than a lot of the existing solutions which people are basically hacking through Excel at the moment.”

The Taskpipes beta was launched around seven weeks ago, and thus far it has a “handful” of paying customers across a range of industries. It currently supports any platform that can export data to CSV format. But next up it’s planning to expand to add integrations with third party platform APIs so it can fully automate pulling data down, excising the need for humans to upload the raw data. So cutting out another step.

“Where we want to move with this, and the next stage we see in product development, is actually providing integrations — so we automatically pull your data from Salesforce, we pull your data from your Shopify store and we automatically upload it to your accounting software, to your Mixpanel account — so that getting data from one platform to another is no longer a hassle,” he says.

“We sometimes explain the concept to people and they come back to us and say ‘oh, that’s basically like IFTTT for data processing isn’t it?’. That’s a nice way of putting it,” he adds.

On the competitor front, Atkins nameselastic.io, which self bills as ‘integration platform as a service’ — which is presumably one label for this type of layered service that manages other services. The difference between elastic.io and Taskpipes is the latter is aiming its platform at people with no technical background. “We want to make this completely accessible because the people who are doing this manually at the moment are the people who are the non-technical people. So they are the people we’re targeting,” says Atkins.

Funding wise, Taskpipes has pulled in around $140,000 so far, via YC and also a small portion of that seed coming from the U.K.-based Entrepreneur First accelerator program which it also went through. The team is presenting at YC’s Winter demo day this month, and will be looking to raise more funding to build out those API integrations and scale up its SaaS for managing SaaS use

YC -Backed Akido Labs Provides A Standardized API Layer For Hospital App Developers

Many hospitals in America have made the switch to electronic health records (EHR) systems to manage patient medical information in the last couple of decades. This is supposed to make record-keeping easier and more efficient, but the systems are different for each hospital and often can’t communicate with each other. This makes it hard for health app developers to design apps that run on each unique system.

Currently, if an app uses patient health information, the app developer has to not only spend months convincing the hospital bureaucracy to integrate its EHR system with the developer’s app, but the developer also has to design the app a specific way to work within that unique system in order to get it to send the needed data. This is obviously too expensive and time-intensive for most app developers.

Y Combinator-backed Akido Labs is a third-party service that helps health IT app developers simplify the process within each hospital records system. Akido Labs co-founders Hugh Gordon, Jared Goodner and Prashant Samant previously started theUniversity of Southern California’s D-Health Lab, USC Health System’s digital innovation arm. Gordon was in medical school at the time and noticed the inefficiencies in the current health system.

Research led the founders to conclude they should start with building an easier way for apps to hook into each hospital records system. “We realized this was the biggest problem for companies that want to write software for hospitals today,” Gordon said.

Akido Labs essentially provides the “technical plumbing” for health IT apps. It does this by working with each individual hospital to build a standardized API layer around each system so the developers don’t have to.

“We get to know the hospital systems and can work with CIOs to get things up and running for the vendors,” Prashant said.

The startup has a current commitment from over 200 hospitals throughout the U.S., with several hundred more in the works. USC’sKeck Health system will be among the centers to use Akido as an app vendor integration platform.

How To Play VC Poker With Billions In The Pot

d ve a direct effect on late-stage investors, who are most aware of these final prices and are concerned with exiting their investments in a timely manner. But it also matters to earlier-stage investors.

While VCs always care about those final exit prices, they care far more about getting their portfolio companies to their next round of financing. VCs at each stage of the pipeline are deeply cognizant of the valuations that will be offered in the next stage. The high valuations being offered by late-stage investors leads to higher valuations from growth-stage investors, and then from early-stage u investors all the way to seed funds.f

With a massive pot, unicorn poker players are willing to put up equally massive bets.
In The Event Of A Hard Landing

Of course, that excellent exit market can suddenly turn south for any number of geopolitical and business cycle reasons. Unfortunately, late-stage investors are put in a tough place during changing market conditions due to the lack of liquidity offered by startup equity.

Public investments are elastic – any investor can buy one share or one million of them at will. As market conditions change, then so can the size of your stake in a company. Think that a typhoon hitting Thailand may affect the availability of Apple’s new watch? Sell the stock. Your timing doesn’t even have to be impeccable to make money, so long as your thinking is ahead of the rest of the market.

This is precisely the opposite of private company investments. Here, you have a window of opportunity to get your money into a company during its fundraise. Miss the window, and you may never get another opportunity to invest. Once in, you have little ability to change your ownership either up or down. It’s a one shot bet in private equity versus a continuous one in the public markets, greatly increasing the risk of these investments. If you close an investment on Thursday, your whole thesis could blow up by Monday. There is nothing you can do about that.

Late-stage investors are not venture capitalists. They are often public market investors who aren’t finding great opportunities in the stock market due to those high stock prices, and are thus looking for pre-IPO companies that are “assured bets” and trying to invest in them early. They need downside protection since their goal is not to get a 100x return on one of their investments, but to get a 20% return with high probability and little risk of capital loss.

And it is here that we see where the bets are being made. So long as the technology sector continues its fast-paced growth, all of those investments will continue to make sense at the valuations we have been seeing. But if something changesgtt, then all of those investors are locked into assets with few places to offload them. That matters less with a $20 million early-stage round, but it can have serious repercussions with a $400 million late-stage investment.

Most investors are clearly betting that the market we are seeing is going to continue for some time. Every investment firm has the ability to fold and walk away, but the pot is so large right now. With unicorn poker though, that pot can suddenly vanish without a trace. Investment firms are taking calculated risks – let’s hope they are holding a flush and not a high card.

Swifty Teaches Apple’s New Programming Language On Your iPhone

Last summer, Apple surprised almost everyone at WWDC with the announcement of Swift, a new programming language for iOS and Mac development.

The language feels like something Apple would invent. Like several of the languages currently popular in web development, it has a concise, readable syntax that’s easier to pick up than Apple’s older language, Objective-C. It was engineered by Apple’s compiler experts, so in addition to being compatible with existing code and Cocoa libraries, it’s also faster by some metrics.

But even though Apple’s tagline for the language is that it “lets everyone build amazing apps,” no novice is going to pick up Swift and get to coding full-on iOS or Mac apps without some guidance.

To that end, Apple and its developer community have done a heck of a job getting lessons out there. The same week Swift was announced, Apple released a version of Xcode with support for the language, released a free book detailing the syntax and launched a blogwith posts detailing updates and best practices. Even the beloved Stanford iOS course shifted from Objective-C to Swift.

For those just starting their journey into the world of coding, however, those resources are still intimidating to jump into. Enter Swifty, an app that provides an interactive set of tutorials that gradually guide you through the basics of Swift on your iPhone or iPad.

There are more than 200 tutorials in Swifty, starting with the very basics of variables and data types and progressing to the essentials of object-oriented programming. Obviously the iPhone keyboard isn’t the best tool for cranking out lines of code (especially if you’re just starting out), so creator Johannes Berger came up with an interesting interface that looks and feels like coding while actually acting more like an interactive quiz.

Each tutorial in Swifty starts with a one-to-three-sentence explanation of a new concept or an important aspect of a concept previously covered. Below, you’re shown a few lines of pre-written code, with a blank field where some vital name, type or value is missing. When you tap it, it lets you choose from several options. If you choose one of the correct options (sometimes it gives you several that work to demonstrate different output), it “runs” the code and shows the result.

Now, the output from the “console” at the bottom of the screen is pre-written — you’re not actually writing working code in the app. But the format quickly gets you comfortable with the look of Swift code and things like naming and accepted styles for creating blocks of code in functions or classes. While it might be a bit difficult for me to judge given my prior experience with the language and coding in general, I think most novices could jump into Xcode’s “Playgrounds” and muck around with simple text-based projects after an hour or two of using Swifty.

It’s clear that a lot of work went into making Swifty as accessible as possible, and that the app is worth the $2.99 to unlock every lesson if you spend some time on public transit that you’d like to use to become more familiar with Swift. If you’re not sure about the app (or even learning the language itself), you can make your way through the app’s first 13 tutorials for free.

Facebook Plans To Turn Messenger Into A Platform

Next week at its F8 developer conference, Facebook will announce new ways for third parties to offer experiences through its Messenger app, according to multiple sources. Facebook hopes to make Messenger more useful, after seeing Asia’s chat apps WeChat and Line succeed as platforms that go beyond just texting with friends.

At first, Facebook will focus on how third parties can build ways for content and information to flow through Messenger. Depending on the success of the early experiments, Facebook may then mull bringing more utilities to Messenger.

While the Messenger platform is said to be a major part of F8 by all the sources, it’s unclear exactly what form the third-party integrations will take. Considering what WeChat and Line have done, there are plenty of opportunities including ways for businesses to communicate or share content directly with users, or options for richer friend-to-friend content sharing.

The platform is likely to start slow, with Facebook working with preferred partners, but it may eventually open to more developers. Facebook declined to comment on this story.
Avoiding Spam

Facebook is looking to recreate the best parts of its earlier web platform efforts without repeating its mistakes.

Facebook’s web canvas thrived with games, as it let users quickly bring their identity and friends to third-party experiences. And its Open Graph protocol connected people’s apps back to their Facebook profiles. Both were popular because they helped developers find an interested audience. That’s something especially tough now in the mobile era, as the app stores have become highly competitive and overcrowded.

Facebook Game Spam, circa 2010

The problem was that the web platform became so overrun with game spam that Facebook had to reduce its virality. Eventually, it withered as engagement shifted to phones during a time when Facebook was confused and slow moving on mobile. Open Graph got a rotten reputation for over-sharing, as it auto-published news, music and video consumption to the News Feed Ticker.

Learning from those experiences, Facebook is likely to be careful not to let spam slip into its relatively pristine Messenger app.
Inspired By Asia’s Monolithic Chat Apps

Until now, Messenger has been almost entirely a Facebook experience. Websites can integrate a Send button that lets users send the URL privately to a friend. But otherwise, Messenger focuses on letting users send and receive texts, phone calls, photos, videos, stickers, voice clips and money, all through Facebook’s own systems.

Facebook subtly hinted new developer capabilities for its chat app would be in store for F8, as it told me that Messenger would have announcements at the conference. And Messenger head David Marcus told Wired last year that he’s intrigued by how businesses and people communicate directly, citing the poor experience many have with touch-tone phone numbers and airline customer service. Facebook previously offered a little-known way for users to send private messages to Facebook business Page admins.

For Messenger’s platform, Facebook is said to have eyed Line and WeChat. They were pioneers in using their frequently used instant messaging apps as the centers of mobile interfaces that act as monolithic portals. Snapchat is another messaging app that’s recently explored a platform approach.

Line’s platform page

Japanese messenger Line includes a “More” tab with access to a Sticker Shop for buying premium emoji to share through Line, Line Pay for making quick transactions in brick-and-mortar stores, and featured collections of Line companion apps and games. Those apps range from homemade emoji makers that let you send your face to friends, Line Toss for photo sharing, Line Brush for drawing, Line Card for sending greeting cards, Line Camera for making collages, B612 for jazzing up selfies, and Line WebToon for reading manga.

Snapchat Discover

Line also lets users follow Official Accounts that let them receive content directly from celebrities, entertainment properties, news organizations, and brands like Paul McCartney, The Walking Dead, Manchester United, and the BBC. Compared to the constant barrage of posts to their Facebook and Twitter accounts, Line Official Accounts are designed for lower-volume, higher-signal, direct communication with fans.

Snapchat has pursued a premium, glossy content strategy with its Discover page. Major media outlets like Comedy Central, CNN, Vice and ESPN can offer up Snap-formatted photos, articles, and videos with interstitial ads. Meanwhile, WhatsApp has seen its Send buttons drive massive traffic for media properties by letting users push URLs to friends through WhatsApp messages.

Facebook could take inspiration from any of these apps. An option would be for Facebook to let third-parties help people create and share richer content like embellished photos through Messenger. Facebook already released its own Stickered For Messenger companion app for slapping stickers on photos and sending them to friends.

Alternatively, Facebook could allow users to follow or visit official accounts. That might help them stay current with things they love that might get lost in the News Feed, or communicate with businesses directly in a way that’s more efficient than a phone call. One more possibility is that Facebook might try to make it easier for web and mobile content properties to gain viral traffic via Messenger. Facebook’s own News Feed could get better ways for people to push stories they see to Messenger.

Facebook Stickered For Messenger

China’s WeChat platform has centered more around commerce. Users can buy movie tickets, pay for taxis and more through the messaging app.

While content is said to be the focus of Facebook’s initial Messenger platform efforts, it could expand into commerce eventually if third-party experiences gain traction. Just this week, Facebook added a way to make freefriend-to-friend payments through Messengerby adding a debit card. With a native payment interface already in Messenger, it would be easier for Facebook to build in more commerce opportunities.

China’s WeChat offers commerce experiences in its app. Via Benedict Evans

With well over 500 million users, Facebook Messenger has become one of the most popular apps in the world. While Facebook’s main app is essentially a version of its website ported to the small screen, Messenger was built for mobile. Facebook is something you lazily browse with little intent, whereas Messenger is designed for taking action and getting things done. For some around the world, Messenger has become the primary way they use Facebook. Improving content inside it could make sense for users who aren’t glued to the News Feed.

Facebook’s mission for Messenger as of late has been to make it “more useful, expressive and delightful,” according to its payments feature’s product manager Steve Davis. Now it’s ready to ask for some help from outside the walls of 1 Hacker Way.

Medium Now Lets You Write Posts From Its iOS App

Medium writing iOS

Popular blogging platform and publisherMedium has announced that the latest update to its iOS app will finally let users compose posts from their iPhone or iPad.

It’s a feature that many fans of the platisher (publorm?) have been begging the company for from day one. It’s landing in the wake of another recent update, which let you start writing an outline or short post in an editor located at the top of the page. Both changes encourage more writing by lowering the bar for how much work is “expected from” the person writing a post.

In fact, one of the use cases most frequently mentioned with regards to a theoretical (until this point) compose feature in the mobile app is that it could be used in place of the infamous “tweetstorms” plaguing Twitter since Marc Andreessen introduced them when he joined the service in early 2014.

Instead of manually stringing together a series of tweets to make a larger point, one could jump into Medium (which is already built on Twitter identities), put 150-250 words together, and quickly come back to Twitter with a beautifully formatted post.

This Box Bruteforces Your iPhone PIN Without Triggering The 10-Guess Limit

Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 5.21.45 PM

A simple PIN might keep your iPhone safe from the prying hands of a curious toddler or a drunk friend. But slap that thing in a robot that exists for no reason but to try every possible PIN one-by-one, and it’ll crack it right open.

These machines have existed for a while, but this one is particularly crazy: if you’ve got your iPhone set to clear all of its data after 10 failed guesses, it’ll try to exploit its way past that.

Note the “try” in that last sentence: while we’re still waiting on confirmation from Apple on this one, there’s a good chance that the trickery at play here only works if you’re on a build of iOS older than iOS 8.1.1 (Shipped November 2014). Apple’s notes for 8.1.1mention patching a bug (CVE-2014-4451) that could circumvent the “the maximum number of failed passcode attempts”; it’s not clear if that’s the same bug at play here, though it seems likely.

Here’s the device in use, via MDSec, who was able to obtain the bruteforcer for around $300:

It can be a bit hard to tell what’s going on in the video, so here’s what you’re looking at:
On the left is the iPhone, splayed open for direct access to its internals
On the right is the bruteforcing box.
The iPhone’s internal battery appears to be disconnected, giving the bruteforce box the ability to cut the iPhone’s power instantly
Each time the device makes a guess, it sends it to the iPhone over USB. (It makes its first guess in the video above at 0:30)
If the guess fails, an optical sensor strapped to the screen recognizes it, and…
In a split second, the bruteforce box cuts the power and forces the iPhone to shut down before it can write the failed attempt to memory.
The iPhone resets, and the box is free to try again.
When the optical sensor detects a successful entry (like the one at 1:53 in the video above), the box stops guessing, logs the correct PIN, and starts beeping to get the attention of whoever was using it.

Because each failed attempt requires a reset, each run takes roughly 44 seconds. If it fails until the very last try on a 4-digit password, that’s 4.5 days of bruteforcing. That’s not exactly Hollywood spy movie speed hackery — but if they’ve outright stolen your phone and really want to see what’s inside, it’s plenty quick.

So, how can you protect your device from this?
Update. If this isn’t fixed in iOS 8.1.1 or 8.2 (and it seems likely that it is), you can bet that Apple is rushing to patch this one now that this video is floating around.
Use a longer password. As JWZ points out: at 44 seconds per try, a 4-digit pin take up to 4 1/2 days to crack. A 7-digit pin takes up to 12 years.

We’ve reached out to Apple for comment on the status of the exploit at play in the video, but have yet to hear back.

Apple Researching Taptic Feedback For Keyboards With No Physical Keys

Apple has a new patent application that modifies one of their existing inventions based on one of their newly announced techs: Taptics. The application, published by the USPTO today (via Patently Apple) features a virtual keyboard design that resembles the current Magic Trackpad accessory in its construction, with a smooth piece of aluminum used instead of physical buttons. Virtual buttons without touch-based input are used instead, and Apple employs haptics to provide feedback for key presses.

Its own taptic version of haptic feedback could theoretically be used in the way it’s employed with the new Force Touch trackpadApple has created for its MacBook and 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro. This would allow users to get the sensation that they were actually pressing physical keys, even though the keyboard itself would have no mechanical movement, which would answer one of the biggest criticisms users have of virtual keyboards.

Apple could also then offer up user customizations for the input device, configurable via software, the way it has on the Force Touch trackpad. You might be able to select different “depth” of key press sensations, depending on preference, or use Force Touch (secondary, deeper presses) to activate features like special characters, accents for other languages, or for triggering function keys.

Virtual input for things like standalone or MacBook keyboards has a lot in the way of potential benefits – imagine a keyboard that never needs dusting, or even thinner MacBooks thanks to the elimination of the need to build-in key travel. It’s also just less mechanically complex, which should make for longer life without failure. Apple’s recent advances with taptics could finally mean that this kind of keyboard is possible without the drawbacks of eliminating the physical typing sensation, which would differentiate it from other efforts to do the same.

We’ve already seen many predict that taptics will come to the iPhone and iPad next, but Apple’s tech is also a logical next step for its hardware keyboards, too.

Apple Researching Taptic Feedback For Keyboards With No Physical Keys

Apple has a new patent application that modifies one of their existing inventions based on one of their newly announced techs: Taptics. The application, published by the USPTO today (via Patently Apple) features a virtual keyboard design that resembles the current Magic Trackpad accessory in its construction, with a smooth piece of aluminum used instead of physical buttons. Virtual buttons without touch-based input are used instead, and Apple employs haptics to provide feedback for key presses.

Its own taptic version of haptic feedback could theoretically be used in the way it’s employed with the new Force Touch trackpadApple has created for its MacBook and 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro. This would allow users to get the sensation that they were actually pressing physical keys, even though the keyboard itself would have no mechanical movement, which would answer one of the biggest criticisms users have of virtual keyboards.

Apple could also then offer up user customizations for the input device, configurable via software, the way it has on the Force Touch trackpad. You might be able to select different “depth” of key press sensations, depending on preference, or use Force Touch (secondary, deeper presses) to activate features like special characters, accents for other languages, or for triggering function keys.

Virtual input for things like standalone or MacBook keyboards has a lot in the way of potential benefits – imagine a keyboard that never needs dusting, or even thinner MacBooks thanks to the elimination of the need to build-in key travel. It’s also just less mechanically complex, which should make for longer life without failure. Apple’s recent advances with taptics could finally mean that this kind of keyboard is possible without the drawbacks of eliminating the physical typing sensation, which would differentiate it from other efforts to do the same.

We’ve already seen many predict that taptics will come to the iPhone and iPad next, but Apple’s tech is also a logical next step for its hardware keyboards, too.

Quid Raises $39M More To Visualize Complex Ideas

Quid just announced that it has raised $39 million Series D.

Quid describes itself as “the artificial intelligence company that accelerates research and insights to address the world’s most complex issues.” More specifically it points to its ability to process millions of documents and create a visual map of the results — for example helping a business visualize the online response to a product launch.

The company, by the way, was once the owner of what we called the most pretentious startup website ever — by now, though the typeface descriptions have now been replaced with a marketing pitch for the technology, and quotes from customers like Hyundai, Microsoft, and the Boston Consulting Group.

When we wrote about the company back in 2010, it was focused on tracking emerging technologies, but it seems to have broadened its scope since then. Quid now says it has signed up 80 clients since launching the current platform at the beginning of last year.

The new funding was led by Liberty Interactive Corporation, with participation from ARTIS Ventures, Buchanan Investments, Subtraction Capital, Tiger Partners, Thomas H. Lee Limited Family Partnership II, Quid board member Michael Patsalos-Fox and Quid chairman Charles Lho.

Tesla Says It Will Now Be “Impossible To Run Out Of Range Unintentionally” In A Model S

A few days ago, Elon Musk pledged to “end range anxiety” for Model S owners by way of an over-the-air software update.

Today, he’s detailed how he plans to do that.

The short version: the Model S will now run constant calculations (regardless of whether or not you’re using the built in turn-by-turn system) on how far you are from a supercharger.

If you are about to drive too far from a supercharger to make it back to one, the car will warn you. “This makes it effectively impossible for a driver to run out of range unintentionally”, says Musk. “You’ll have to confirm you want to, actually. Twice.”

The Model S already tries to estimate how much charge you’ve got left on your battery; it’ll also tell you how far you are from the nearest supercharger. This update really just ties those two points together, as well as some outside data, to put a big ol’ warning sign up when you’re about to drive just a littletoo far.

The system will also now have a built-in trip planner, which allows you to route long distance trips with superchargers in mind. The range estimator here will factor in things like the additional energy needed for climbing up windy mountain passes, as well as real-time data like high-wind speed.

Story developing

In Emerging Markets, Internet Blamed For Having Negative Impact On Morality

A new study out this morning from Pew Research takes a deep dive into the impact that internet access is having on emerging markets, especially in terms of how it’s shaping public opinion.

Today, tech companies like Facebook and Google have made significant investments in bringing internet access to developing countries, the former withinitiatives like Internet.org designed to offer free mobile internet access in select geographies, and the latter with aerial projects like its Project Loon balloons or high-flying drones that would provide internet access to previously unconnected regions. But whether or not the region’s citizens will ultimately view these moves as helpful or appreciated, has yet to be examined.

While most of those reading sites like TechCrunch generally view the internet and the access to information it provides as an overall positive, we can sometimes gloss over the realities that come alongside having a network that allows everyone in the world the ability to connect. In more recent years, we’ve seen the network abused as a tool that’s allowed the government to spy on its own citizens, as well as a place where people can anonymously harass and threaten others with violence, while hiding behind the safety of their keyboards and mobile screens.

Despite these downsides, most would rather have internet access than be without it. But will the same hold true for those who are just now being connected for the first time? Will they eventually share these sentiments?

According to Pew Research’s study, which examined technology use in 32 emerging and developing nations, people’s thoughts on the benefits of internet access were mixed. Those Pew spoke with were more likely to say that the internet is a negative influence on morality, and were divided on its effect on politics. At the same time, they saw its advantages when it came to education, and to some extent, valued its effects on personal relationships and the economy.

In these emerging markets, Pew says that a median of 64% of the general population, including non-internet users, say the internet is a positive influence on education, and 53% feel the same about its influence on personal relationships. 52% believe it’s also a positive impact on the economy. However, only 29% say the internet is a good influence on morality – and a further 42% go so far as to say it’s a bad influence.

These sentiments, notes Pew, are fairly consistent across the countries it studied. And there was no country where the internet was viewed as positively influencing morality.

What’s interesting is that those who gain internet access are more likely to feel positive about its societal influences. For instance, 65% of internet users in the emerging markets believe the internet is a positive for personal relationships, while only 44% of non-internet users would agree. In addition, the more highly educated share this viewpoint, too, with 6 in 10 believing in the positive influence on this matter, while only 44% of those with less education feel the same.

Facebook, from a business perspective, is right to invest in spreading its network’s reach, Pew’s new data also supports. It seems that, once connected, those in developing regions embrace socializing online as their preferred digital activity with 86% contacting friends and family, and 82% joining a social networking site. Among the internet users in these countries, 82% use sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Meanwhile, fewer users take advantage of the internet to get political news (54%), get health information (46%), or get information on government or services (42%). Fewer still use their newfound access for things related to career or commerce, like job hunting (35%), making payments (22%), shopping (15%) or taking online classes (13%).

It’s unfortunate, though, that Pew’s research didn’t dig further into the questions users had about the internet and its impacts on morality – the report doesn’t mention the specific problems people believed the internet was to blame for, or the types of services or activities that helped to erode morality as a whole.

But given that the majority of users quickly turn to online socializing after gaining access to the web, there a likely some connection between people’s online social behavior and this shared belief. With the absence of face-to-face connections and the pressures that come with abiding by a society’s rules, people feel freer online. And that can mean they’re also freer to abuse others and to share their true thoughts, even those they wouldn’t admit to in public. Those behavioral changes could influence people to think of the internet as a largely more negative force when it comes to morality.

The full report, which also details how users get connected, as well as what sorts of activities they engage in on a per country basis, is available here. It’s worth noting that even though the internet is affecting more people’s lives in these regions, large numbers are still without access – across the 32 countries studied, only 44% use the internet at least occasionally, compared with 87% of U.S. adults.

Shuddle Raises $9.6M For Its Uber-Style Service For Kids And Seniors

As Uber continues to extend is well-funded tentacles into ever-more categories of transportation, a startup focusing on children and elderly people has raised some money of its own to compete. Shuddle, a car service and app founded one of the co-founders of Sidecar and aiming its service on minors and seniors, is today announcing a Series A round of $9.6 million led by RRE Ventures.

Existing investors Comcast Vento res, Forerunner Ventures, Accel Partners and angels also chipped in. The total amount raised by Shuddle is now $12 million.

CEO and founder Nick Allen (who left Sidecar in 2013) tells me that the funding will be used to expand the company’s business both in the Bay Area — its only market since coming out of beta in October 2014 — as well as into new markets.

“We are at capacity for the service today,” he says. “We are adding new drivers every week and we have grown five times in ride volume since coming out of beta.” He says new cities will be announced in the next couple of months. The service now has some 200 drivers on is books.

Shuddle sets itself apart from services like Uber in a couple of different ways: In addition to specialised insurance specifically designed for minor and elderly passengers and drivers that need to drive and accompany them outside of the car (more on that below), Shuddle makes people go through extra training and two different sets of background and reference checks before they can become drivers on the platform.

Right now the “vast majority” of its 200 drivers are only women, he says. And this in itself makes Shuddle a notable and often welcome alternative.

“Women have been largely excluded as drivers by other services because the experience can be unsafe,” he says. “They don’t know who they are picking up or where they are going. Women are attracted to our value proposition. These drives are in the daytime, you know it’s someone who isn’t threatening. It really is different and women are responding to this.”

He says that people who are signing up to drive on the Shuddle service include teachers and nannies “who are doing this kind of thing anyway so this fits into the routine.”

On top of this, there are differences in how the service presents itself to customers. To use Shuddle you need to pay a $9 membership fee each month to cover things like driver training and screening. Allen says that the per-ride fee is typically 15% more expensive than UberX “to compensate drivers for extra training.”

And while services like Lyft and Uber have built their credibility on being on-demand, Shuddle typically books for rides between 24 hours and one week in advance.

No plans yet to add on-demand into the mix, he says, because of the nature of what Shuddle does, which can include not just collecting passengers, but physically going into schools or other places to sign them in or out. But one thing they are looking at is a carpooling-style service, which is handy considering this is one way that parents today typically work around endless ferrying obligations.

All the same, Shuddle competes directly with the likes of Uber to drive kids and elderly people from points A to B — services like Uber and Lyft are already used in this way, and Allen tells me in fact that he came up with the idea for Shuddle when he was still at Sidecar.

“I saw parents using sidecar in LA for the purpose of driving their kids around, but we didn’t have the right insurance and the service just wasn’t built for that,” he says. “But I started talking to parents and they really emphasized how much of a pain point this was.” Indeed, as a parent myself that has to juggle work and small kids with activities every day of the week — I can attest to this first hand.

It’s the extra attention that attracted the extra investment.

“Nearly every parent struggles with getting their kid(s) from point A to point B because they often need to be in two places at once. Shuddle solves this problem,” said Steve Schlafman, Principal at RRE Ventures, in a statement. “RRE Ventures is incredibly excited to partner with Shuddle to bring safe, reliable and trustworthy transportation to millions of families across America.” The VC has funded other e-commerce marketplaces aimed at specific verticals before, including Bark & Co.

U.K. Gov’t Aims Cash At Driverless Cars, Internet Of Things And Digital Currencies

Giving his final budget before the U.K. general election this May, and inevitable sales pitch to the U.K. electorate, Chancellor George Osborne has announced several tranches of cash for nascent technologies — including £100 million for driverless car technology; £40 million for research into the Internet of Things; and £10 million to go towards investigating the “future potential” of digital currency technology.

The budget also set out plans for a so-called ‘Google tax’ on diverted profits. So, should a Conservative (or Tory-led) government be elected to office later this year we can expect to see it taking extra money off Silicon Valley-based tech giants and putting some of that cash to work to try developing homegrown alternatives to SV tech.

There’s precious little detail about how these tech-focused cash injections will be spent at this point, beyond specifying they are intended for research initiatives. This is really about listing (and quantifying) a few tech priorities for a future Tory government.

After (fixed and mobile) broadband, which Osborne pledged £600 million for in this budget, driverless car tech comes out top of the tech priorities list. (Although he also announced £140 million for research into “infrastructures and cities of the future” — aka smart cities — which is pretty vague but will likely shake out into technology investments of some sort.)

The focus on driverless car tech is not surprising, given it’s been an area of interest for the current coalition government for some time. It named it as an infrastructure investment priority at the end of 2013, and following that up with an official robotics strategy document last summer which talked up testing autonomous vehicles in the wild.

U.K. driverless technology testing centres are also being set up and relevant regulations reviewed. Most recently a government reportgave the green light for hands-free driverless car tech to be tested on U.K. public roads. The government has also previously announced £19 million in funding to help establish driverless car testing centres around the U.K.

When it comes to the Internet of Things, Osborne didn’t put much meat on the bones of the budget funding announcement. The IoT was generally dubbed “the next stage of the information revolution”, and the Chancellor unboxed the hackneyed connected fridge cliche during the speech — albeit managing to make it make even less sense than it normally does.

“So should – to use a ridiculous example – someone have two kitchens, they will be able to control both fridges from the same mobile phone,” he said.

Urban transport and medical devices were also mentioned in relation to IoT.

Digital currencies, which are pegged for a modest investment, didn’t get any direct mention in the speech. But speaking at Disrupt London last October, Ed Vaizey, the U.K.’s minister for the digital economy, noted the government is keeping an open mind here and “looking at opportunities”.

“We want to make these e-payments faster, quicker, we want to make it as safe as possible. And we want to look at the kind of technologies that the digital currencies use to allow end systems to operate in a de-centralized way, with no intermediaries. We want to look at how the new technologies can benefit consumers and the wider economy. So that’s something the Treasury is very interested in,” Vaizey added at the time.

PlayStation’s Vue Live Streaming Cord-Cutter TV Service Launches In The U.S.

PlayStation is officially debuting its live streaming video service in the U.S. today, launching PlayStation Vue in New York, Chicago and Philadelphia with pricing beginning at $50 per month. The on-demand and live-streaming video service includes content partners like Fox News, AMC and Turner Broadcasting and offers channels like CBS, Discovery, Animal Planet, Syfy, Food Network and many more, depending on the package you select.

Vue was originally announced late last year, and is intended to turn the PlayStation family of home consoles into a more powerful all-in-one media solution, in addition to their role as gaming devices. In addition to live broadcast and on-demand content, Vue also offers trending channels, granular personalization over the interface, cloud-stored DVR for recording tagged shows for instant storage for up to 28 days post-air date, without storage limits, and new discovery tools.

Packages don’t require any kind of commitment beyond a month, and come in three flavours at launch. Access is $50 and provides CBC, Fox and NBC as well as over 45 additional networks. Core offers all that, plus regional sports networks and more movie channels at $60 per month. An Elite offering is $70, provides access to everything in the other two packages, and also offers an additional 25 “lifestyle, music and family channels.”

It’s available on both PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 consoles, but only in New York, Chicago and Philadelphia at launch. There’s a wider launch planned for later this year, and Sony also intends to bring Vue to iPad and other devices in addition to its own hardware.

Vue comes alongside other over-the-top services, including Sling TV, and ahead of a similar service from Apple reportedly launching this fall.

With $1 Million In New Funding, Dattch Lesbian Dating App Rebrands To Her

Dattch, the Pinterest-inspired dating app for queer women, has today re-launched with a new name (Her) as well as $1 million in new funding from investors such as Reddit’s Alexis Ohanian, YC’s Garry Tan and Michael Birch.

Founder Robyn Exton said that people too often thought Dattch stood for some combination of ‘dyke’ or ‘butch’ or ‘snatch’, and that ‘Her’ more closely represents the evolution of the product. “We are all Her,” said Exton. For the record, Dattch originally stood for ‘Date Catch.’

“I actually thought it was a rather clever combination of words at the time, but almost everyone thought it stood for ‘snatch,'” said Exton.

But it’s not only the name that has been given a makeover.

Her employs more of a match-based approach to communication than the old Dattch did. In the old version of the app, users could interact with other users profiles with total freedom, liking pictures or comments or sending direct messages. Users could see every person who had visited their profile and receive notifications for every like and message.

On Her, users only enter into a conversation when both parties have liked something on that users profile.

Exton says that 75 percent of the time, that was the usual behavior they were seeing on Dattch, so the shift made sense during the re-branding.

Her also focuses a good deal of attention on editorial content, offering up cool event and activity ideas where queer women can meet and connect. Exton told TechCrunch that the team is curating the content themselves, receiving local info from event partners and working with journalists in various markets to write informative community pieces.

Her is currently available in the UK, Ireland, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland and Miami, with half a million matches made on the platform.

Fradio’s New App Lets Anyone Be A DJ, Broadcast Live Radio To Friends And Fans

A new application called Fradio is officially launching today, offering a service that allows anyone to become a DJ, broadcasting their favorite tracks to their friends or fans, and even talking over the tunes with a push of a button in order to engage their audience. The app, which is backed by Australian music service Guvera, is making its debut at the SXSW music festival in Austin where a number of artists, including Steve Aoki, A-Trak, and Crookerwill, be among its first testers.

Guvera may not be a household name here in the U.S., like competitors Spotify, Beats, or Rdio may be. But that’s because the service’s focus to date has been on emerging markets. Launched in 2008, and backed by $45 fromAMMA, Guvera has largely been targeting the “rest of the world” with its service, including regions like Southeast Asia, India, and Latin America, for example.

Today, the service is live in 20 markets, but is most popular in India and Indonesia, where it has music licensing deals with both major and local labels.

In more recent months, the company has been working to expand its footprint to other regions. It signed a deal with Lenovo last year to get its app pre-installed on millions of smartphones in over 60 markets. And just this year, Guvera scooped up the U.K. music service Blinkbox when its former owner, retail giant Tesco, unloaded it alongside their TV, books, and movie-on-demand offerings.

That deal brought an additional 2.5 million customers to Guvera, which now claims a user base of nearly 9 million.

Like several of its streaming competitors, the company charges customers for access to its premium, on-demand service at $9.99 per month – the same as Spotify. However, in emerging markets, it has also experimented with different models, including day-, week- and month-long passes to the premium product.

With the new app Fradio, the idea is to give Guvera another entry point into the more fiercely competitive streaming industry in the U.S. and other developed markets, by offering a differentiated experience. Unlike apps which let users build out custom playlists, Fradio users can not only create their own playlists, but they can broadcast them live, in real-time, to listeners. And they can introduce the tracks or chat with their fans with a press of button, which softens the music in the background, allowing for a DJ-like experience.

While this may appeal to would-be DJ’s who want to share music with friends, the larger goal is to get artists on board. By using Fradio, they would have another means of engaging with their fans – and that’s something the company may also want to monetize in the future, it says, which would give the artists access to a different kind of revenue sharing deal as well.

“We see this as a real opportunity for rewarding artists,” explains Guvera CTO Damien King, speaking to us from SXSW in Austin. “There’s been a lot of talk about how music streaming services are not providing enough value to artists – so this is part of our strategy. We have a number of things we’re doing in 2015 that are trying to address payments to artists,” he says.

At present, Guvera brings in revenue through its subscription service, video and audio ads played for its free users, and through its branded channels on Guvera. These channels let companies market their own products and services in the service. For example, a Beats channel would let you browse new headphones while listening to a curated playlist. But when Guvera’s deals with music labels come up for renewal, the company wants to negotiate on different sorts of revenue share deals for artists, too – including those for the “live performances” where artists talk to their fans via Fradio.

Guvera’s licensing deals vary by market, but it has the major labels on board in most markets. In the U.S., it has longtime partner Universal’s support, as well as Sony, but Warner is still being signed.

Fradio, which has been in beta testing since the fall, is now publicly available as a free download for iOS and Android, and will offer a Guvera subscription ($9.99/mo USD) through in-app purchase. This will also allow Fradio DJ’s to re-arrange track order and take requests, among other things. Without the subscription, DJ’s can only use pre-populated playlists from Fradio instead of building their own, nor can they really engage their fans. That encourages conversions to the premium product, the company believes.

“We think radio needs to come into 2015,” says King. “The younger generation wants something more interactive…they want something where they can chat together, listen to music together, and where they can interact with their artists. We believe it’s much more compelling than existing radio.te”

Launcher, The Banned iOS Widget That Let You Launch Other Apps, Is Back

With iOS 8, Apple introduced a way for mobile applications to add widgets to its Notification Center that offered snapshots of information, like today’s weather, stock quotes, headlines, and more. But one clever app called Launcher took advantage of the new functionality to turn its widget into a tool that allowed you to tap to launch other apps installed on your phone. Last fall, Apple booted the app from the App Store for unknown reasons. But starting today, Launcher has returned, nearly unchanged, indicating a slight relaxing of the rules on Apple’s side.

Apple, explains Launcher’s creator Greg Gardner, is “now okay with the concept,” he says of receiving permission to bring his app back to the iTunes App Store.

In case you missed it the first time around,the Launcher app itself offered little functionality beyond configuring its included widget. The idea was to offer a way for you to add shortcuts to your most-used applications and various tasks (e.g. like placing a phone call or posting a tweet) to the Notification Center in iOS 8.

For instance, you could add a button for calling your most-often-dialed FaceTime contact, or a shortcut for directions to your most-frequented routes, and more. The company also offered an upgrade to a paid version that removed the “Sponsored Launcher” spot, which served as a promotional tool to market other apps.

We theorized once that the Sponsored spot may have contributed to the App Store ban, but what it really came down to was Apple’s policies around how it intended Notification Center widgets to be used. At the time of Launcher’s ban, it seems Apple hadn’t anticipated some of the more innovative use cases for its widget technology.

That problem reared its head again when Apple rejected, then later approved,calculator widgets like the popular one from PCalc, for example.

According to Gardner, the new version of his Launcher app basically offers the same functionality as the one Apple previously rejected. It even includes the Sponsored app, which users can pay $3.99 to remove.

Gardner explains that after being banned from the App Store, he continued to test what Apple found acceptable by submitting new apps based off Launcher functionality. Most of these were also rejected, except for one called “Music Launcher” whose rejection was overturned in December and was then released in January. Apparently, this app was allowed because it didn’t actually launch other apps – it only called the MediaPlayer API to start music.

In other words, until recently, Apple still had a problem with apps that solely existed as tools to launch other apps via a widget interface.

But a few weeks ago, Gardner says he resubmitted a stripped-down version of Launcher that only allowed you to set up launchers to call, email, FaceTime and message others, which he dubbed “Contact Launcher.” It, too, was initially rejected but was later overturned after a lengthy appeals process. With that approval in hand, the developer returned to Apple and asked why Contact Launcher was allowed, but Launcher itself was not.

With the first approval setting a precedent of sorts, Apple re-reviewed Launcher and made the decision to allow it back in the App Store, too. While the app is officially slated to appear live in all markets on Thursday, it has popped up early in Japan, Korea, and China just before midnight their time. Because of the press attention it had previously received, the app has now been downloaded by a number of users in the regions where it’s available,prompting Gardner to have to disclose its public debut a day earlier than he anticipated.

Gardner says he doesn’t really know why Apple changed its mind, but speculates that, based on what an App Store reviewer once said, the company starts off with a more conservative stance regarding how new iOS features are to be used, and then loosens up its policies over time.

Launcher really was a handy tool for getting to your most-used apps and tasks quickly, and it will be nice to put it to use again. When Launcher goes live in your market, you’ll be able to download it from the homepagehere or directly from the iTunes App Storehere. The new version also now allows paying users to make the icons smaller and hide the labels to make the widget more compact, the company notes.

Head-To-Head Mobile Fantasy App Draft Raises $3.5 Million Led By Upfront Ventures

We all know that fantasy sports is a huge and growing business. But when it comes to fantasy sports on mobile, most apps are just companion experiences used by fantasy sports players to track how their teams are doing. A new fantasy sports app called Drafthopes to change that, and has raised $3.5 million in Series A funding to do so.

Draft was founded by Jeremy Levine and Nicolo Giorgi, the guys who had previously built daily fantasy sports site StarStreet andsold it to Draftkings last year. After that acquisition closed in August, the two wasted no time in moving onto their next venture.

The Draft team hoped to create a real-money fantasy gaming experience that was built specifically for mobile. Levine notes that most daily fantasy players are doing their picks on a desktop with several browser windows open and spreadsheets to track the value of players each day. But that doesn’t translate very well to the smaller screen.

For Draft, the founders wanted to take all the fun of daily fantasy sports games but make it easy to enjoy on a smartphone. To make the game appealing on mobile, Levine and his team borrowed some of the mechanics of popular turn-based games and applied them to the real-money fantasy sports world.

So they drew inspiration from games like Words With Friends, Draw Something, and QuizUp, all of which rely on asynchronous turn-based gameplay between challengers. In Draft, players take turns drafting players against one another to see who can assemble the best team.

“It’s like Words With Friends, but instead of making a word, you’re drafting a team,” Levine told me.

Users can either play for free — if they’re not confident in their team — or match up to play for real money. Players can choose from different stakes and levels of payout, from a $5.50 match with a $10 prize to a $55 wager which pays out $100 to the winner.

The app launched on iOS in December, but already it’s attracted the interest of investors to the tune of $3.5 million. That funding was led by Upfront Ventures, and includes participation from Advancit Capital, David Tisch’s BoxGroup, The Chernin Group, and Nas’ QueensBridge Venture Partners. With the new capital, the founders hope to grow the team from four to nine in the coming months, mostly looking to hire iOS developers and engineers.

Facebook Introduces Free Friend-To-Friend Payments Through Messages

When you chat with friends about settling debts or splitting the bill, Facebook doesn’t want you to have to open another app like PayPal or Venmo to send them money. So today it unveiled a new payments feature for Facebook Messenger that lets you connect your Visa or Mastercard debit card and tap a “$” button to send friends money on iOS,Android, and desktop with zero fees. Facebook Messenger payments will roll out first in the U.S. over the coming months.

Facebook And PayPal: Frenemies?

Rather than lean on a payments company like PayPal to power the feature, Facebook built it from the ground up from its experience processing over 1 million payments a day through its ads and games platforms. Transactions and payment info are encrypted, and Facebook says “These payment systems are kept in a secured environment that is separate from other parts of the Facebooknetwork and that receive additional monitoring and control,” from an anti-fraud team.

By making payments part of its oft-used messaging service rather than a standalone app, Facebook is looking to edge out dedicated P2P payment competitors like Venmo/PayPal, Google Wallet, and Square Cash, which people open less frequently. That’s the same strategy as the Square Cash-powered Snapcash feature Snapchat launched in November.

PayPal gave a statement (emphasis mine) saying:

We have had a great relationship withFacebook since 2008 and currently work closely together to deliver easy payments on a global scale for its games and ads businesses.

PayPal has always taken a partnership approach to payments and we will continue to work with Facebook and many other companies on new payments experiences that make it easier for people to send and receive money on both thePayPal and Braintree platforms.

When I asked a PayPal spokesperson if the company views Facebook Messenger payments as a “competitor,” they carefully avoided that word but eventually admitted “it does have similar technology and does a similar thing to what Venmo does.” While Venmo makes transfers with most debit cards free, Facebook’s free service will undercut PayPal’s 2.9 percent plus $0.30 fee per transaction from debit cards.

“We’re not building a payments business here,” Facebook’s product manager on the feature Steve Davis tells me. Instead, Davis says the goal is to offer P2P payments for free to make Messenger “more useful, expressive and delightful.” Since Facebook makes so much money on ads, $3.59 billion in Q4, it doesn’t have to monetize payments directly. Facebook just needs to keep people locked into its platform and seeing News Feed ads by making Messenger as helpful as possible.

Payments In Messenger

TechCrunch was the first to report Facebook was building peer-to-peer payments into Messenger back in October when we attained hacked screenshots dug out of Messenger’s code by developer Andrew Aude. Since then, I’ve heard from several sources that Facebook was doing intense internal testing of the feature.

In the meantime, Facebook worked with PayPal, Braintree and Stripe to power auto-fill of billing details for e-commerce checkouts, and built a Buy button for making purchases from the News Feed.

Davis says the product evolved from a different initial but was cagey about exactly how long Facebook has been working on the feature. He did note that it was well in the works when the company poached PayPal president David Marcus to run its Messenger division.

“We wanted to test this and make sure we had really hit a high bar because money is extremely important.” Now its payments in Messenger is ready for a gradual public rollout stateside. Here’s how it works.

Once users get the feature, they’ll see a “$” button in the Messenger message composer next to the options to send a photo or sticker. When they tap it, Facebook will ask them to enter their debit card info. Users won’t have to fiddle with finding and entering bank account and routing info, making it easier than some alternatives, but they can only use Visa and Mastercard debit cards. Facebook decided against allowing credit cards because they would entail fees and it didn’t want users to get charged if they didn’t understand.

For extra security, users are prompted to set an in-app payments passcode or Apple TouchID fingerprint to confirm transfers, though they can opt out of this extra authentication in the settings. If users already have a debit card on file with Facebook from gaming, ads or donations, they can use that, too.

Once the $ button is tapped, users enter the dollar amount and hit Pay. The money is instantly taken from their debit account and delivered to the recipient’s debit account. Facebook never holds the money, though the receiver’s bank will usually take a few days to make the funds available as is standard. Both users see a confirmation message detailing the transfer status and time.

In case anything looks fishy, Facebook will ask users some extra financial security questions before a transfer goes through. Afterwards, users can see all their previous payments and funds received in the Payments History section of Messenger’s settings.

“It’s obviously not a feature you’re going to use 10 times a day,” say Davis. “But when you do need to send money, this is probably going to be the best way to do it.”

Convenience Is King

Davis explains that “conversations about money are already happening on Messenger,” as people chat about bar tabs, splitting dinner bills, and sharing the cost of an Uber. “What we want to do is make it easy to finish the conversation in the same place you started. You don’t have to switch to another app,” Davis tells me.

Now the question is whether this is the first step towards Messenger becoming a more full-featured experience. Messenger could follow the trend of monolithic chat apps of Asia like WeChat that let you make payments, e-commerce purchases, hail taxis and more. Messenger is going to have announcements at next week’s f8 developer conference, and we could see more platform ambitions from it then.

While only in the U.S. for now, if Facebook opened up Messenger payments internationally, it could help migrant workers send money home much cheaper than through high-fee remittance services. But for now, Facebook says it just wants to get friend-to-friend payments right in the States. “We’ll consider where to take it after that once we get everything nailed down,” says Davis.

When people’s money is at stake, there’s no room for bugs.

Satellite operators find common voice for future communications

Chief executives of the world’s leading satellite operators met recently at the Satellite 2015 Conference in Washington, USA, to announce that henceforth, they will work with a common voice to detect the future of satellite communications. The world’s only CEO-driven satellite organisation also known as ESOA, is expanding to include satellite operators from the ITU’s region 1, namely Europe, the Middle East, Africa and the Commonwealth of Independent States, CIS.

At the conference, ESOA Chairman, and CEO of Eutelsat, Michel de Rosen, highlighted the importance of the sector’s executives attached to leading a coordinated and impactful response to the global challenges and opportunities it faces.

According to him, “the issues our industry faces matter for the hundreds of millions of people who benefit from our services. We will better secure the future of our sector in the connected world by coming together in a broader forum to define a shared vision and work together to make it a reality.

Preserving access to our spectrum at WRC15 is currently our number one priority and a goal shared by all satellite operators. We will have a louder voice by joining forces to ensure our users don’t lose out and our massive investments are not in vain.”

Adapting to new trends

Rosen explained that they were conscious of two important trends in telecommunications: increased demand for rich media video content and increased take-up of mobile data services. Both trends are heading towards unmanageable congestion for networks that will result in massive user delays, poor quality content and a more critical digital divide than exists today.

These developments are also happening against a backdrop of increased vulnerability of terrestrial fixed infrastructure. The Satellite operators also indicated that thousands of HDTV channels being transmitted are pioneering Ultra High Definition broadcasting and facilitating backhaul and mobility services across hundreds of countries across the globe.

Leading the charge to protect spectrum

The operators were of the opinion that geographic expansion of ESOA is also in response to the overwhelming push on satellite operators to combine their efforts and lead the charge to protect highly sought-after spectrum and retain their place as high value contributors to digital markets.

ESOA is a Brussels-based trade association whose membership brings together all European, Middle-East and African satellite operators and supporting members including service providers, manufacturers and launch service providers. Set up in 2002, the association’s mission is to provide a unified voice and a platform for collaboration for satellite operators to ensure the continued success of the sector and to broaden the opportunities for policymakers to leverage satellite services to fulfil their objectives.