1. Snapchat rolls out a new Group Video Chat feature for up to 16 people
Shortly following the launch of its first brand campaign, Snapchat has announced a new Group Video Chat capability that allows up to 16 people to video call all at once. The new feature is similar to Facebook Messenger’s Group Video Chat and Houseparty, a teen-centric video chat app. Users can access the new feature by tapping on the video camera icon in a Group Chat. Once a member starts a video chat, each member of the group will receive a notification inviting them to join. Users also have the option to use lenses, voice-calls or text messages that others can read while talking.
Implications: Snapchat has recognised the potential of video calling. Though the new capability will likely be embraced by users, it does not address larger user concerns around the app. Backlash around the Snapchats redesign continues to grow, which has resulted in over 1.2 million users signing a petition and celebrities leaving the app. Though Snapchat shows promising growth, and has brought the chronological feature back to some users, its current challenges are substantial.
2. Instagram prepares to launch Nametags, a scannable QR code feature for the Instagram Stories camera
Instagram will soon launch a new QR code feature called Nametags, which lets users create an image that others can scan with the Instagram Stories camera to follow them. Similar to Snapchat’s QR Snapcodes, Nametags makes it easier for users to visually promote their Instagram account. The scannable images can be created by tapping the new QR scanner button and can then be personalised by adding a color gradient, emoji or augmented reality face filter to the background (see the demo here).
Implications: The feature gives users a new reason to use Instagram Stories over Snapchat. Nametags give influencers and marketers a creative way to promote their Instagram accounts across a number of channels (e.g. social, OOH, merchandise). Furthermore, if Instagram opens the option for Nametags to link out to other content, as seen with Snapcodes, it could be used to link to articles, promotions, 360 videos and more.
3. Tinder tests its first video-based feature called Loops
Tinder announced it is testing its first video-based feature, called Loops, on iOS devices in Canada and Sweden. As the name suggests, Loops is a two-second GIF-like looping video format (similar to Boomerang from Instagram) that can be added alongside a user’s profile photos. To use the feature, users have to tap the “Add Media” button to upload a video from their iOS Camera Roll. In addition to the new format, Tinder is also testing the ability to upload nine pieces of media, as opposed to the standard six, across a smaller subset of users in Canada and Sweden.
Implications: The new feature has been introduced at a time when competition between dating apps is growing. Though Tinder is not the first dating app to experiment with video, Loops may help to differentiate the app further, as video has the potential to show more of a user’s personality, which could increase the likelihood of a match. Whether the new feature will be embraced by users is yet to be seen.
4. Amazon announces music and live radio for Alexa Routines
Amazon Echo users in the U.S. can now add music and live radio to Alexa Routines, a tool that lets users achieve multiple actions through a single command. With a Routine, a user is able to assign a custom utterance (e.g. “Alexa, work time”) to perform a number of tasks simultaneously (e.g. “Alexa, turn on the lights” and “Alexa, news briefing”). The capability can now include music from a specific artist, playlist, album or station from streaming services like Amazon Music, Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn. Amazon also released Alexa Announcements, which lets users broadcast voice messages on other Echo devices connected to the same network.
Implications: Amazon is using Alexa Routines to move human-AI assistant interaction beyond a single command. While voice app usage continues to grow, music streaming is still one of the favored use cases for smart speaker devices. The integration of music in Routines represents Amazon’s determination to make music an integral part of the Echo experience given competition from Spotify, which recently went public and is allegedly developing a smart speaker device.
5. Uber acquires bike-share startup Jump Bikes
Uber acquired the electric bike-sharing startup Jump Bikes (previously Social Bikes) for an undisclosed amount. In January, Jump and Uber partnered to launch Uber Bike, which let Ubers users book Jump bikes via its app. Given the intense competition the bike-sharing space is seeing, Jump’s decision to sell was a result of Uber’s ability to help realise the company vision both in terms of speed and scale. Though the service only exists in San Francisco, Uber plans to expand the bike-share service across other cities and has opened a waitlist for users who wish to be notified.
Implications: Owning a bike-sharing service will help Uber to manage the growing threat of e-scooter services on its ride-share business, especially for trips under three miles. Internationally, the acquisition places Uber in a strong position as competitors across Asia have already begun to enter the bike-share and e-scooter market: Ola in India, Grab in Singapore, and Didi and Meituan Dianping in China.
6. Apple will reportedly replace Intel processors in Macs with its own custom-made chips by 2020
Apple is reportedly planning to replace Intel processors in Mac computers with its own custom-made chips by 2020. The initiative is part of Apple’s larger strategy to make its devices work seamlessly, further integrating hardware and software platforms. Inside Apple’s product portfolio, Intel chips are some of the only major processor components that were designed outside of the company. While the transition of hardware is expected to take place in 2020, changes in its software to unify iOS and macOS platforms has begun.
Implications: Custom-made chips would allow Apple to release new product models within its own timeline, as opposed to relying on Intel’s processor roadmap. This would allow greater control and integration across its product portfolio, which is key given Apple’s growing interest in mixed reality, augmented reality and artificial intelligence. Additionally, using the custom-made chip would make Apple the only major computer manufacturer to utilise its own processor, as other manufactures (e.g. Dell, HP and Lenovo) rely on Intel chips.