Wij willen met u aan tafel zitten en in een openhartig gesprek uitvinden welke uitdagingen en vragen er bij u spelen om zo, gezamelijk, tot een beste oplossing te komen. Oftewel, hoe kan de techniek u ondersteunen in plaats van dat u de techniek moet ondersteunen.

SpaceX is going to launch a Falcon Heavy rocket for only the third time ever tonight, should all go according to the current mission plan. The launch, set to take place during a four-hour launch window that opens at 11:30 PM EDT (8:30 PM PDT) [UPDATE: The launch is now targeting 2:30 AM EDT (11:30 PM PDT), which still falls within the four-hour launch window] tonight, will lift off from Launch Complex 39A at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center.

On its first-ever nighttime launch, Falcon Heavy’s STP-2 mission will carry a cargo made up of a number of payloads from commercial customers, as well as from the U.S. Department of Defence, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA. The mission involves putting 24 different spacecraft into orbit, along three separate orbital paths. One of the is an experimental research satellite for the Air Force Research Laboratory, and NASA’s payload includes four different experimental craft, which the agency detailed this month.

It’ll also carry LightSail 2, a crowdfunded spacecraft spearheaded by Bill Nye’s Planetary Society, which will make its way through space using the literal solar wind beneath its massive sail. SpaceX is also re-using Falcon Heavy boosters for the first time, with side boosters used on the Arabsat-6A mission flown in April, and it’ll attempt to recover all three first-stage rockets via landings at Cape Canaveral and aboard its drone landing pad barge.

The launch will be streamed live above, with the feed getting started around 15 minutes prior to scheduled launch window opening.


TechCrunch

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. The Raspberry Pi Foundation unveils the Raspberry Pi 4

While the Raspberry Pi first started as a simple computer designed to teach kids how to code, it has become a versatile device with many different use cases.

When it comes to physical design, the Raspberry Pi 4 Model B looks like the previous flagship model. It’s a single-board computer with a lot of connectors that is the size of a deck of cards. But everything has been updated.

2. Echo Show 5 review

Brian Heater says that if you’re looking for a smart home hub to double as an alarm clock, the Lenovo Smart Clock is your best bet. But if video playback and chat are important, Amazon’s got you covered.

3. Google’s new media literacy program teaches kids how to spot disinformation and fake news

The company is launching six new media literacy activities for the curriculum that will teach kids things like how to avoid a phishing attack, what bots are, how to verify that information is credible, how to evaluate sources, how to identify disinformation online, spot fake URLs and more.

4. Who’s going to use the big bad Libra?

If you’ve been wondering who’s actually going to use Facebook’s proposed cryptocurrency, Jon Evans has some thoughts.

5. The power of Ravelry’s stance against white supremacy reaches beyond the knitting community

This weekend, Ravelry enacted a policy that explicitly bans support of Donald Trump and his administration in content posted to the site, including project entries, patterns, forum posts and profiles.

6. Transitioning from engineering to product with Adobe’s Anjul Bhambhri

An interview with the vice president of platform engineering at Adobe. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

7. This week’s TechCrunch podcasts

The Equity team discusses the role VCs have played in the development of Facebook’s Libra, Original Content reviews the Netflix series “When They See Us” and most importantly, Mixtape is back with a conversation with Uber’s Meena Harris.


TechCrunch

Not long ago, people in China would need to visit a posh, stylish mall for luxury shopping. That’s rapidly changing as high-end brands race to embrace digital channels, which aren’t just the obvious options of ecommerce platforms or brand-owned sites. In China, Louis Vuitton, Cartier, Bulgari and other luxury brands are now connecting and selling to millions of customers through WeChat .

Many know WeChat as China’s largest messaging app, and perhaps how it has over time morphed into an all-in-one ecosystem that lets one chat, run errands, hire services, and shop for an infinite list of things. Now the flurry of different products people find on WeChat may include a $ 10,000-plus purse.

The trend, according to Pablo Mauron, partner and managing director for China at Digital Luxury Group, a luxury marketing agency, reflects WeChat’s huge potential as an app tailored to transactions and services.

“I think WeChat is finally becoming what it’s supposed to be for luxury brands, which is not just a social media app,” Mauron told TechCrunch over a phone interview. “One [function] could be for customers to buy the product. Another could be for brands to build a loyalty program. Customers can pre-order a product or set up an appointment with the [offline] store.”

Indeed, according to a new report from market research firm Gartner L2, 60% of the fashion luxury brands it surveyed have at least one WeChat store, surging from just 36% in 2018.

Like Facebook, WeChat allows businesses to set up their online shops. The Chinese app now boasts more than 1 billion monthly users, but these people aren’t readily exploitable as customers. WeChat, unlike Alibaba, isn’t a marketplace and does not have a central search engine that indexes all the merchants selling over its platform.

A WeChat store is thus more comparable to a site store — it exists in the online universe but requires a lot of marketing before consumers stumble upon it. People may discover Wechat stores by scanning a QR code at a brick-and-mortar outlet, clicking on an ad embedded in an online article or through a slew of other creative ways that merchants devise.

Loyalty building

Despite the challenges in driving traffic, WeChat stores hold great appeal to brands for they offer a large toolbox for boosting customer loyalty, observed Mauron.

Shoppers can, for instance, talk to shop assistants over WeChat or check their membership status with just a few taps on the screen. It’s the social prowess of WeChat that separates it from entrenched ecommerce candidates like Alibaba and JD.com, which focus more on transactions. In a way, WeChat is not directly taking on Alibaba but playing a complementary role by providing customer relationship management (CRM) capabilities.

louis vuitton china

Screenshot of Louis Vuitton’s WeChat mini app for customers in China

A lot of these service-oriented features are powered by so-called “mini programs,” which are essentially stripped-down versions of native apps that run within a super app such as WeChat. As the Gartner L2 report points out, the rise in WeChat store adoption is linked to the increased use of mini programs by luxury brands.

A total of 69% the luxury brands in the sample group have at least one mini program. The adoption rate among fashion-focused luxury brands grew from 40% in 2018 to 70% in 2019, while the watch and jewelry category climbed from 36% to 62% over the same time period.

“WeChat is becoming the most appealing option for brands that want to think about CRM, ecommerce strategies or simply other value-added services without having to rely on external partners,” Mauron suggested, referring to Alibaba, JD and others that are traditionally the more popular choices for digital sales.

From social to shopping

While WeChat imposes certain rules on sellers, it’s built a reputation for being more laissez-faire compared to conventional ecommerce companies. For one, WeChat doesn’t (yet) take commissions from ecommerce transactions as online marketplaces normally do. As Mauron noted, “Tencent’s business model is not so much about making money out of the mini program transactions.”

On the other hand, WeChat’s e-wallet WeChat Pay benefits from processing transactions happening inside the chat app where Alibaba’s Alipay isn’t available.

That’s a crucial development because WeChat Pay has been for the most part associated with micropayments, thanks to a series of early campaigns that encouraged people to send cash-filled digital packets to each other, a tradition deep-rooted in a culture of exchanging cash during holidays.

Alipay, by contrast, is more extensively used for online shopping given its ties to Alibaba.

With the rise of mini app-enabled ecommerce, however, people are starting to use WeChat Pay for big-item purchases too.

“This allows WeChat to take market share in online payments. That’s the other big battle, which is between Alipay and WeChat Pay,” said Mauron.

As of January, Alipay had at least 1 billion monthly active users through its own app and mobile wallet partners around the world. WeChat doesn’t break out the user number for its e-wallet but said daily transaction volume passed 1 billion in 2018.


TechCrunch

There is so much to write about Libra, and so much which has already been written misses the mark, mostly, I think, because most pundits haven’t spent much time in the developing world, which is very clearly the target market here. Just look at its launch video:

I’ve seen apocalyptic reactions warning of Libra ushering in a new dystopia: the alleged logic appears to be 1) Libra will immediately conquer the world 2) Libra comes from Facebook 3) Facebook is evil 4) it’s the end of the world! I am most baffled by that first postulate. If you’re a rich Westerner, there are already dozens of payment systems out there, most of which offer huge advantages compared to Libra, such as reversible / contestable transactions, frequent-flier miles, and credit lines.

I’ve seen dozens of technical and regulatory and political and high-level analyses of Libra, many of which are worthwhile, but so far, little which has dwelt on its actual intended users, according to the white paper: the unbanked. That isn’t quite the category for whom Libra is something new, interesting, and important. But no one else seems to be talking about this. It’s strange to see this cornucopia of hotly argued reactions which go deep on pretty much everything but its actual users.

The white paper cites 1.7 billion people as “unbanked,” a number which is … questionable. Its source is the 2017 World Bank Global Findex database. “Aha,” you might think, “that sounds pretty definitive and recent,” and it does — but the same source also notes that 515 million people became “banked” between 2014 and 2017. By the time Libra actually launches, the “1.7 billion unbanked” might have dropped by fully half. Not because of banks: because of mobile money providers.

From its birth with M-Pesa in East Africa, mobile money has expanded massively worldwide. Orange Money in West Africa, Ovo in Indonesia, Paytm in India, and of course WeChat and Alipay in China: money on your phone is nothing at all new in most of the developing world.

This might make you think that Libra already has a legion of competitors who speak the local languages, understand the markets, and have pervasive distribution, just as in the rich world — but no. The whole point of Libra, after all, is that it’s not a local currency, but a global currency, which is both its competitive advantage and its Achilles heel. And its true market isn’t the unbanked per se; it’s people who might have a mobile money account, but no straightforward access to any global currency.

Why would that access matter? Because international remittances, transfers to the developing world from (usually) family members in the rich world, total half a trillion dollars a year, much of which is sent by slow, high-fee processors such as Western Union. The Libra whitepaper, accordingly, prominently cites “remittances” in its problem statement …

… but makes only a few handwavey mentions of exchanges. Why does that matter? Because remittances are indeed a huge market but as I’ve argued before, “yes, it’s great if you can send five thousand FaceCoin to your family in Ghana for an 0.1% fee. But then your family in Ghana has to somehow convert them to cedis at an exchange — a task which is, as of this writing, likely to be slower, much clumsier, far more user-hostile, and very possibly even more expensive than the usual medium(s) of remittances.”

“So what,” you might think, “doesn’t matter if the local businesses take Libra.” But a) it’s very hard to get every local business in a developing country to accept a new payment method b) eventually they too will have to pay exchange fees, in order to pay local taxes. (Before any dreamers suggest governments accept taxes in Libra and use it as a national currency, I assure you they won’t be eager to give up all control over their monetary supply.)

So for truly mass adoption, especially for business and institutional transactions, the exchange experience will be absolutely key. There’s a lot of competition in the remittance space, and they usually handle the actual currency exchange for you. It seems like Facebook is implicitly relying on the marketplace to provide highly competitive, liquid, effective, efficient, well-publicized Libra-to-local exchanges in every nation where it is used. Maybe. But that’s asking for a lot.

On the smaller scale, though — individuals and families — Libra makes a lot more sense. It won’t replace M-Pesa, but I don’t think it’s trying to. Instead Libra wants to be to mobile money what the US dollar is to the Kenyan shilling. Libra could become the global mobile reserve currency, maybe not for institutions, but for individuals. And on that level, exchanges are less important.

The US dollar is acceptable, and transferable, in small amounts almost everywhere around the world; there’s hardly a poor country where it doesn’t act as a de facto shadow currency. (I’ve been to places where taxi drivers are experts on the various different issuances of the US $ 20 because some are easier to counterfeit than others.) Furthermore, it’s often hoarded purely because it’s hard currency, unlike the local currency — consider Venezuela, or Zimbabwe, even Argentina.

I expect the same will be true of Libra. Individuals won’t need to open an account at any exchange; instead they’ll follow the Local Bitcoins model, and just transfer Libra to a local moneychanger, who will receive their Libra and send back local currency in exchange for — hopefully — a very competitive fee.

If that happens, if Facebook’s sheer size and reach makes that option near-universally available, then even if Libra doesn’t catch on in the rich world, or with businesses and institutions, then for the first time ever, individuals and families around the world will be able to receive, save, spend, and exchange a global hard currency, immediately, across borders, using only their phones, for fees (hopefully) drastically less than e.g. Western Union — without having to deal with the volatility, limited utility, and user-hostility of decentralized cryptocurrencies. That would be a huge deal, and a great good thing.

It’s by no means guaranteed. Much about Libra remains uncertain. It will somehow have to crack the extremely tough nut of the identity problem. And while not technically part of Facebook, it still comes from Facebook, a company increasingly despised by politicians and regulators (and journalists), which is at least one strike against it from the beginning, and makes many people question the true motives behind Libra.

But let’s not throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. If Libra manages to succeed, at scale, it will be massively important and highly important to an enormous number of people around the world. Be skeptical, by all means. Be concerned about privacy. Ask pointed questions. Remain well aware that it is not a decentralized solution and may never be. I’m with you: I’m a well-documented harsh critic of Facebook myself.

But in your rush to outrage and condemnation — as righteous as those might feel — please don’t ignore Libra’s potential to do a whole lot of good for many millions of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable. Do you think a decentralized, permissionless, censorship-resistance version would be better? I agree! Call me when one is anywhere near as usable as Libra is likely to be.


TechCrunch

This week, a young, New York-based startup called Alma raised $ 8 million in funding to expand its “co-practicing community of therapists, coaches, and wellness professionals,” which it first launched from a space on Madison Avenue last fall.

As CNN was first to report, the company is charging psychiatrists, psychologists, clinical social workers and acupuncturists $ 165 per month to become Alma members, which comes with services like billing and scheduling and even a matchmaking service that purports to connect professionals with patients. They also pay an hourly rate to book identically outfitted rooms that can be used interchangeably.

CNN called the company a WeWork for therapists, but Alma and its venture backers are hardly alone in seeing promise in more specialized co-working spaces, which have proliferated as their best-known peer in the co-working craze, WeWork, has itself set up all over the globe. According to one estimate, the number of global coworking spaces, thought to be around 14,000 in 2017, is expected to reach 30,000 by 2022.

One of these outfits — one backed early on by WeWork itself — is The Wing, a nearly three-year-old startup that describes itself as a members-only community full of work and community spaces designed for women. (It dropped its practice of not admitting men as members or guests after a Washington, D.C. man brought a gender-discrimination lawsuit against the firm that sought damages of up to $ 12 million.) Though the startup has critics who worry that it advances only women who can afford to pay a few hundred dollars per month for a membership, investors have already given it nearly $ 120 million in funding.

They’re betting that women want to work and share ideas and see powerful female speakers alongside other women who are members. But investors and entrepreneurs are betting on broader trends, too. For one thing, it’s clear that commercial real estate owners need new ways to occupy underutilized space as our lives move increasingly online.

Greater numbers of people are also becoming freelance workers, a trend that shows no signs of stopping. According to the Freelancers Union, 3.7 million more people started freelancing between 2014 and 2018 for an estimated total of 56.7 million America freelancers. That’s a huge segment of the working population.

Perhaps it’s no wonder that Spacious, a three-year-old, New York-based company that turns restaurants into co-working spaces during the afternoon, is backed by some of the best investors in the business, including Baseline Ventures. (Other companies taking advantage of underused space include Breather and Flexe.)

More interesting is a newer trend of spaces built out for specific groups of people. Therapists is just the newest that we’ve heard, but there are plenty of others. L.A. alone is home to Glitch City, a 24-hour co-working space that caters to indie game developers; The Hatchery Press, for writers; and Paragon Spaces, for those working in the cannabis industry. Elsewhere, it’s possible to find with co-working spaces for people in the construction industry, and spaces for tech companies with on-demand workforces, and spaces for people committed to a zero-waste lifestyle.

It’s probably too early to say whether the niche spaces are any more sticky than more general co-working spaces like the fashionable spots that WeWork sells. Having been part of a long-standing, not-for-profit writers’ collective in San Francisco for roughly a decade — and aware that numerous of my former office mates continue to be a part of that community — this editor would guess that they are. They’re also far less scalable, presumably.

But the much bigger question — for WeWork and the growing number of more focused startups to emerge in recent years — is whether enough people can justify the cost of working in their spaces when the economy invariably hits the skids.

It’s easier to imagine this happening with communities of doctors or other professionals who, through sheer dint of working together, can defray their costs and generate more business for themselves. For the rest, only time will tell. Either way, VCs have a lot of money to put to work and plenty are willing to gamble that right now, at least, there are few limits on where the trend can go.


TechCrunch

Harry Potter: Wizards Unite (think Pokémon GO, but with wands and giant spiders instead of pokéballs and Pikachus) officially launched earlier this week, but with a catch: it was only available in the US, UK, Australia, and New Zealand.

Why? Amongst other reasons, a country-by-country rollout helps Niantic ensure that their servers stay stable. By spreading the launch out over time, they’re (hopefully) able to figure out where potential server scaling issues might be before half the world is yelling on Twitter.

Niantic used a similar rollout strategy with Pokémon GO — even still, their servers had trouble staying up. The viral popularity of the game smashed headfirst into its unproven first draft network architecture, and outages were widespread for weeks. It was weeks before GO expanded beyond a handful of countries, with many places not getting the game for months.

Fortunately for any would-be wizards out there, it seems like HP:WU’s rollout will be a bit quicker. Two days after the official launch, the game is landing in 25 new regions today. Here’s the list:

  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Brunei Darussalam
  • Canada
  • Denmark
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Iceland
  • India
  • Indonesia
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Luxembourg
  • Malaysia
  • Mexico
  • Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Papua New Guinea
  • Philippines
  • Portugal
  • Singapore
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland

I chatted with Niantic CEO John Hanke about the game’s launch on ExtraCrunch – you can find that here.


TechCrunch

Netflix is testing out a new feature that could mean you never have to stop watching, not even while you work – it’s a pop-out video player, similar to the one you may be used to from iOS and macOS for any website or app that supports Safari’s native video player. Basically, that means you can choose to ‘pop out’ the video and then reposition it anywhere on your screen for a picture-in-picture effect that remains visible over any other apps you might be using.

The streaming company told Engadget, which found this experimental feature, that it’s only a test, but you can see why this might be a useful feature for users. Netflix could offer this already to iOS and Mac users using built-in system tools, but because it uses is own player (in part likely for copyright protection), it instead has to build its own feature. The benefit of this is that it should be coming to both Windows PCs and Macs should it graduate from being an experiment to being a full-fledged product.


TechCrunch

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