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Snapchat launches privacy-safe Snap Kit, the un-Facebook platform

Today Snapchat finally gets a true developer platform, confirming TechCrunch’s scoop from last month about Snap Kit. This set of APIs lets other apps piggyback on Snap’s login for signup, build Bitmoji avatars into their keyboards, display public Our Stories and Snap Map content, and generate branded stickers with referral links users can share back inside Snapchat. Snap Kit’s big selling point is privacy — a differentiator from Facebook. It doesn’t even let you share your social graph with apps to prevent a Cambridge Analytica-style scandal.

Launch partners include Tinder bringing Bitmojis to your chats with matches, Patreon letting fans watch creators’ Stories from within its app, and Postmates offering order ETA stickers you can share in Snapchat that open the restaurant’s page in the delivery app. Developers that want to join the platform can sign up here.

Snap Kit could help the stumbling public company colonize the mobile app ecosystem with its buttons and content, which could inspire Snapchat signups from new users and reengagement from old ones. “Growth is one of our three goals for 2018, so we absolutely hope it can contribute to that, and continue to strengthen engagement, which has always been a key metric for us” Snap’s VP of product Jacob Andrea tells me. That’s critical since Snapchat sunk to its lowest user growth rate ever last quarter under the weight of competition from Instagram and WhatsApp.

“There have been areas inside of our products where we’ve really set standards” Andreou explains. “Early, that was seen in examples like Stories, but today with things like how we treat user data, what we collect, what we share when people login and register for our service . . . Snap Kit is a set of developer tools that really allow people to take the best parts of our products and the standards that we’ve set in a few of these areas, and bring them into their apps.”

This focus on privacy manifests as a limit of 90 days of inactivity before your connection with an app is severed. And the login features only requires you bring along your changeable Snapchat display name, and optionally, your Bitmoji. Snap Kit apps can’t even ask for your email, phone number, location, who you follow, or who you’re friends with.

“It really became challenging for us to see our users then use other products throughout their day and have to lower their expectations. . . having to be ok with the fact that all of their information and data would be shared” Andreou gripes. This messaging is a stark turnaround from four years ago when it took 10 days for CEO Evan Spiegel to apologize for security laziness causing the leak of 4 million users’ phone numbers. But now with Facebook as everyone’s favorite privacy punching bag, Snapchat is seizing the PR opportunity.

“I think one of the parts that [Spiegel] was really excited about with this release is how much better our approach to our users in that way really is — Without relying on things like policy or developer’s best intentions or them writing perfect bug free code, but instead by design, not even exposing these things to begin with.”

Yet judging by Facebook’s continued growth and recovered share price, privacy is too abstract of a concept for many people to grasp. Snap Kit will have to win on the merits of what it brings other apps, and the strength of its partnerships team. Done right, Snapchat could gain an army of allies to battle the blue menace.

Snapvengers Assemble

Snap’s desire to maintain an iron grip on its ‘cool’ brand has kept its work with developers minimal until now. Its first accidental brush with a developer platform was actually a massive security hazard.

Third-party apps promising a way to secretly screenshot messages asked users to login with their Snapchat usernames and passwords, then proceeded to get hacked, exposing some users’ risqué photos. Snap later cut off an innocent music video app called Mindie for finding a way to share to users’ Stories. Last year I wrote how A year ago I wrote that “Snap’s anti-developer attitude is an augmented liability”, as it’d need help to populate the physical world with AR.

2017 saw Snap cautiously extend the drawbridge, inviting in ads, analytics, and marketing developer partners to help brands be hip, and letting hacker/designers make their own AR lenses. But the real transition moment was when Spiegel said on the Q4 2017 earnings call that “We feel strongly that Snapchat should not be confined to our mobile application—the amazing Snaps created by our community deserve wider distribution so they can be enjoyed by everyone.”

At the time that meant Snaps on the web, embedded in news sites, and on Jumbotrons. Today it means in other apps. But Snap will avoid one of the key pitfalls of the Facebook platform: over-promising. Snap Deputy General Counsel for Privacy Katherine Tassi tells me “It was also very important to us that there wasn’t going to be the exchange of the friends graph as part of the value proposition to third party developers.”

How Snap Kit Works

Snap Kit breaks down to four core pieces of functionality that will appeal to different apps looking to simplify signup, make communication visual, host eye-catching content, or score referral traffic. Developers that want access to Snap Kit must pass a human review and approval process. Snap will review their functionality to ensure they’re not doing anything shady. Once authorized, they’ll have access to these APIs:

  • Login Kit is the foundation of Snap Kit. It’s a OAuth-style alternative to Facebook Login that lets users skip creating a proprietary username and password by instead using their Snapchat credential. But all the app gets is their changeable, pseudonym-allowed Snapchat display name, and optionally, their Bitmoji avatar to use as a profile pic if the user approves. Getting that login button in lots of apps could remind people Snapchat exists, and turn it into a fundamental identity utility people will be loathe to abandon.
  • Creative Kit is how apps will get a chance to create stickers and filters for use back in the Snapchat camera. Similar to April’s F8 launch of the abilitu to share from other apps to Instagram and Facebook Stories, developers can turn content like high scores, workout stats and more into stickers that users can overlay on their Snaps to drive awareness of the source app. Developers can also set a deep link where those stickers send people to generate referral traffic, which could be appealing to those looking to tap Snap’s 191 million teens.
  • Bitmoji Kit lets developers integrate Snapchat’s personalized avatars directly into their app’s keyboard. It’s an easy way to make chat more visually expressive without having to reinvent the wheel. This follows the expansion of Friendmoji that feature avatars of you and a pal rolling out to the iOS keyboard. But Bitmoji Kit means developers do the integration work instead of having to rely on users installing anything extra.
  • Story Kit allows developers to embed Snapchat Stories into their apps and websites. Beyond specific Stories, apps can also search through public Stories submitted to Our Story or Snap Map by location, time, or captions. That way, a journalism app could surface first-hand reports from the scene of breaking news or a meme app could pull in puppy Snaps. Snap will add extra reminders to the Our Story submission process to ensure users know their Stories could appear outside of Snapchat’s own app.

One thing that’s not in Snap Kit, at least yet, is the ability to embed Snapchat’s whole software camera into other apps which TechCrunch erroneously reported. Our sources mistakenly confused Creative Kit’s ability to generate stickers as opposed a way to share whole stories, which Andreou called “an interesting first step” for making Snapchat the broadcast channel for other apps.

Additional launch partners include bringing Bitmoji to Quip’s word processor, RSVP stickers from Eventbrite, GIF-enhanced Stories search in Giphy, Stories from touring musicians in Bands In Town, Storytelling about your dinner reservation on Quandoo, music discovery sharing from SoundHound, and real-time sports score sharing from ScoreStream.

 

 

When asked why Snapchat was building Snap Kit, Andreou explained that “We think that giving people more tools to be able to express themselves freely, have fun and be creative, both on Snapchat and other apps is a good thing. We also think that helping more people outside of Snapchat learn about our platform and our features is a good thing.”

Snap needs all the help it can get right now. If other apps are willing to be a billboard for it in exchange for some of its teen-approved functionality, Snapchat could find new growth channels amidst stiff competition.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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Rumored full mouse and keyboard support for Xbox One could change the gaming landscape

Microsoft may be readying a new weapon that could shift the balance in the interminable console wars: the mouse. Wait, you say, didn’t they promise that years ago, and aren’t there peripherals already available? Kind of. But going whole hog into PC-style controls allows Microsoft to create powerful synergies with Windows, performing a flanking maneuver against arch-rival Sony.

Mouse and keyboard is, of course, the control method of choice for many games on PC, but it has remained elusive on consoles. Some fancy accessories have made it possible to do it, and years ago Microsoft said it would be adding in mouse support to games on its console, but the feature has in practice proved frustratingly limited. More on-screen pointing has been done with Wiimotes by far.

Windows Central got hold of an internal presentation ostensibly from Microsoft that details what could be a full-court press on the mouse and keyboard front, which is one the company is uniquely suited to attempting.

In fact, you may very rightly wonder why it hasn’t been attempted before now. The trouble isn’t implementing it but the changes that have to be made downstream of that implementation.

One of these things? Why not?

For one thing, hardly any games will support the control method out of the box. They’ve all been made with very specific hardware in mind and it’s nontrivial to add a pointer to menus, change relative camera movement to absolute movement, and so on.

And for another, mouse and keyboard is simply a superior form of input for some games. Certainly for the likes of real-time strategy and simulations, which involve a lot of menus and precise clicking — which accounts for the relative lack of those on consoles. But more importantly in the gaming economy, first-person shooters are massively dominated by mouse users.

That may sound sort of like a gauntlet thrown to the ground between PC and console players, but this argument has played out before many times and the mouse and keyboard players always come out on top, often by embarrassing margins.

Usually that doesn’t present a big problem, since, for example, competitive Call of Duty leagues are pretty much all on console. You just don’t have match-ups between mice and controllers.

That’s starting to change, however, with the introduction of major cross-platform games like Fortnite. When you have Xbox, Switch, and PC players all on the same server, the latter arguably has a huge advantage for a number of reasons.

You don’t bring an analog stick to a sniper fight.

And on the other hand, the Xbox One is lagging behind the PlayStation 4 in sales and in attractive exclusives. A fresh play that expands the Xbone into a growing niche — say, pro and competitive gaming — would be a huge boon just about now.

That’s why the document Windows Central received makes so much sense. The presentation suggests that all Windows-compatible USB mice and keyboards will work with Xbox One, including wireless ones that work via dongle. That would change the game considerably, so to speak.

The devices would have to report themselves and be monitored, of course: it wouldn’t do for a game to think it’s receiving controller input but instead getting mouse input. And that leaves the door open to cheating and so on as well. So device IDs and such will be carefully monitored.

Whether and how to implement mouse and keyboard controls will still be left entirely to the developer, the slides note, which of course leaves us with the same problems as before. But what allowing any mouse to be used does, combined with a huge amount of players doing so on a major property like Fortnite, is create a sort of critical mass.

Right now the handful of players with custom, expensive setups to mouse around in a handful of games just isn’t enough for developers to dedicate significant resources to accommodating. But say a few hundred thousand people decide to connect their spare peripherals to the console? All of the sudden that’s an addressable market — it provides a competitive advantage to be the developer that supports it.

Mouse support may also provide the bridge that enables the longstanding Microsoft fantasy of merging its Xbox and Windows ecosystems at least in part. It unifies the experience, allows for improved library sharing, and generally shifts the Xbox One from a dedicated console to essentially a standardized low-cost, high performance gaming PC.

This may have the further effect of helping put pressure on Valve and its Steam store, which dominates the PC gaming world to the point of near monopoly. Being able to play on Xbox or Windows, share achievements and save games, have gameplay parity and so on — this is the kind of compelling multi-platform experience Microsoft has been flirting with for years.

Imagine that: a Microsoft ecosystem that spans PCs and consoles, embraces competitive gaming at all levels, and is easy and simple to set up. Sony would have little recourse, having no desktop business to leverage, and Valve’s own attempts to cross the console divide have been largely abortive. In a way it seems like Microsoft is poised for a critical hit — if only it manages to take advantage of it.

Will this just be the latest chapter in the long story of failed mouse support by consoles? Or is Microsoft laying the groundwork for a major change to how it approaches the gaming world? We didn’t see anything at E3 this year, so the answer isn’t forthcoming, but Microsoft may be spurred by this leak (assuming it’s genuine) to publicize the program a bit more and speak in more concrete terms how this potential shift would take place.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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Chirp brings Twitter to Apple Watch

Twitter’s history of being a bit unfriendly to developers building third-party clients hasn’t frightened off Will Bishop. The young Australian developer recently released a version of Twitter for Apple Watch called Chirp, in order to fill the void created by Twitter pulling its official app last fall. (Let’s see how long it will last, shall we?)

Bishop says he was already interested in building for Apple Watch before Chirp, having previously developed a micro version of Reddit called Nano. Afterwards, he heard from a lot of people asking for a Twitter watch app, he says.

“Seeing as so many people were disappointed when Twitter pulled their official app, it only made sense to at least try,” Bishop says of building Chirp. “A lot of people think using your watch for more than 30 seconds is ridiculous, but I figure if people want to use it, let them.”

The Apple Watch hasn’t served to become a sizable new app platform for developers, and actually saw a number of bigger names pull their dedicated Watch apps last year besides just Twitter, like Amazon, Google Maps, Instagram, Slack, TripAdvisor, eBay, and others. Instead, users tend to interact with their Watch through notifications – not by launching apps directly and tapping the tiny screen. It just doesn’t make that much sense for anything more than a quick reply, as your iPhone is likely nearby and does a better job.

But Chirp could fill the role of needing to quickly reply to Twitter notifications, like @mentions or DMs.

The app lets you interact with Twitter from the Apple Watch’s interface, including browsing your timeline, catching up on trends, viewing people’s individual profiles, and favoriting and replying to tweets, and more.

In an updated released over the weekend, the app now also adds support for reading and replying to Direct Messages and using Twitter Lists.

These features are available via Chirp’s paid tier, Chirp Pro, which is a pay-what-you-want upgrade starting at $1.99 and going up to $4.99 USD.

In addition to DMs and Lists, Chirp Pro lets you post and reply to tweets, search for users and tweets, and view more than five trends.

In other words, if you want to actually use Twitter not just view it from your wrist, you’ll want Chirp Pro.

Despite having a niche user base, attention detail has been paid here – Chirp even lets you customize the Watch app’s user interface by toggling on or off various elements like Images, the Retweet Counter, Like Counter, Retweet & Like Buttons, and Timestamps. This helps to reduce screen clutter, which is useful given the area Chirp has to work with.

Because of how Chirp is designed, Bishop said the app isn’t as impacted by the forthcoming API changes as other clients.

“The new API restrictions are mainly for the activity APIs, streaming in particular. However, the watch does not support streaming anyway, so fortunately I am not [impacted],” he said. “The only API I was affected by were the changes to the direct messaging API,” Bishop added, noting this is why Chirp didn’t have messaging right away.

Bishop says he plans to keep Chirp free, as “downloads mean more to me than money,” he says. But he hopes people who like using it will pay to unlock the expanded features. The app competes with Tweetbot, Twitterrific, and Bluebird on Apple Watch.

To use Chirp, download the iOS app and add it to your Apple Watch.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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Meru Health wants to make mental health care more accessible

Getting mental health services can be burdensome. And if you’re already going through a tough time, you’re probably looking for help sooner than later. But based on the current landscape, it can take months to find the right therapist who also takes your insurance.

This is where Meru Health hopes to come in. By providing its service as a benefit for employers to offer to their employees, Meru Health can operate as a first line of treatment where people can get help in a matter of weeks, Meru Health co-founder and CEO Kristian Ranta told TechCrunch.

Ranta, who lost his brother to suicide a few years ago, said there are “unfortunately lots of people suffering from depression and who are vulnerable to burnout.”

It’s true. Worldwide, more than 300 million people suffer from depression and 260 million suffer from anxiety disorders, according to the World Health Organization.

Meru Health offers an eight-week treatment program for depression, burnout and anxiety. The program, currently led by five licensed therapists, utilizes both cognitive behavioral therapy, behavioral activation and mindfulness-based intervention. Provided as an employee benefit, Meru Health only charges companies if the patients report feeling any better.

Meru Health’s current customers include WeWork and the Palo Alto Medical Foundation. To date, Meru Health says 75 percent of the people who go through its program report symptom reduction.

Other startups working in the mental health space include Pacifica and Lantern, a mental health startup that offers tools to deal with stress, anxiety and body image. To date, Lantern has raised more than $20 million in funding. Another one is Talkspace, which aims to be an alternative to traditional therapy.

Down the road, Meru Health may make its service available to everyday consumers, but right now, Ranta said the focus is on selling to larger employers and doing clinical research. Meru Health is also looking to bring on board a doctor to help with medication management and, possibly, even providing prescriptions, Ranta said. Meru Health, which is currently participating in Y Combinator, envisions bringing on a medical doctor post-YC.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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