Among many updates coming to iOS 15, Apple Maps will receive a number of upgrades that will bring more detailed maps, improvements for transit riders, AR experiences and other changes to the platform. The improvements build on the new map Apple begin rolling out two years ago, which had focused on offering richer details, and — in response to user feedback and complaints — more accurate navigation.
Since then, Apple Maps has steadily improved.
The new map experience has since launched in the U.S., U.K., Ireland and Canada and will now make its way to Spain and Portugal, starting today. I will then arrive in Italy and Australia later this year, Apple announced during its keynote address during its Worldwide Developer Conference on Monday.
In addition, Apple said iOS 15 Maps will include new details for commercial districts, marinas, buildings, and more. Plus, Apple has added things like elevation, new road colors and labels, as well as hundreds of custom designed landmarks — for example, for places like the Golden Gate Bridge.
Apple also built a new nighttime mode for Maps with a “moonlit glow,” it said.
For drivers, Apple added new road details to the map, so it can help drivers as they move throughout a city to better see and understand important things like turn lanes, medians, bus and taxi lanes, and other things. The changes are competitive with some of the updates Google has been making as of late to its own Google Maps platform, which brought street-level details in select cities. These allowed people — including those navigating on foot, in a wheelchair, on a bike, or on a scooter, for example — to better see things like sidewalks and intersections.
Apple is now catching up, saying it, too, will show features like crosswalks and bike lanes.
It will also render things like overlapping complex interchanges in 3D space, making it easier to see upcoming traffic conditions or what lane to take. These features will come to CarPlay later in the year.
For transit riders, meanwhile, Maps has made improvements to help users find nearby stations.
Users can now pin their favorite lines to the top, and even keep track on their Apple Watch so they don’t have to pull out their phone. The updated Maps app will automatically follow your transit route and notify you when it’s time to disembark, making the app more competitive to third-party apps often favored by transit takers, like Citymapper, for instance.
When you exit your station, you can also now hold up your iPhone to scan the buildings in the area and Maps will generate an accurate position, offering direction in augmented reality. This is similar to the Live View AR directions Google announced last year.
This feature is launching in select cities in 2021 with more to come in the year ahead, Apple said.
If you love voice messaging, you’ll love Squad
Squad used to be an app that connected people with similar interests for in-person meetups. Then the coronavirus pandemic hit. While most social apps thrived under these conditions — people craved digital connection more than ever — Squad couldn’t operate.
Founder Isa Watson didn’t know how long the world would be in shutdown. Instead of waiting for a return to normalcy, she shifted the scope of the app entirely.
Today, Squad relaunches as an audio-based social app that aims to help users deepen their relationship with their existing circle of close friends. Squad is an audio-only app, but don’t worry — it’s not another Clubhouse wannabe. Instead, it functions as a news feed of voice message updates from your closest friends, which expire after 24 hours.
You can add up to twelve friends to your “squad,” and once you post an update, your squad members can emoji react or send a private voice message in response — these also expire after a day, encouraging users to be more open about what they share. Soon, Squad will support phone calls, but there currently isn’t functionality for group calls or group audio messaging. But, users might be incentivized to talk on the phone via Squad rather than a typical call, since you can add a title to your call. That way, your squad member knows why you’re calling before they pick up.
“There’s a big gap in the social landscape, because most of the tools are discovery platforms, broadcast platforms, and personal branding platforms,” Watson said. “There’s a huge opportunity for us to come in and help people maintain stronger connections with the people that they enjoy the most.”
Posting a voice update feels more genuine than a curated Instagram shot or a crafted Facebook status update (and Facebook is decidedly uncool among Gen Z and millennials). As the popularity of apps like Dispo show, young people are responding well to ephemeral, authentic social media experiences. But the audio-only medium could be a hard sell for people who aren’t already sending voice messages on WhatsApp or iMessage. However, while Squad’s initial rollout will be domestic, there’s great potential for an app like this outside of the US, where voice messaging is more popular.
“A lot of the conversations that would happen on text message are now happening in an asynchronous audio type of way,” Watson added. “So we expect that to continue to penetrate further into our habits.”
Watson raised a $3.5 million seed round in 2019, and she was featured on TechCrunch with advice on raising venture capital as a woman of color in Silicon Valley. Despite changing the direction of her app, her investors — which include Michael Dearing (Harrison Metal), Aaron Levie (Box), Katrina Lake (StichFix), Jen Rubio (Away), and Christian Butterfield (Flickr) — remain supportive. Watson secured another million dollars of funding after the seed round, bringing Squad’s funding to a total of $4.5 million to date.
“One thing [the investors] said to me was, ‘Isa, you’ve been talking about this shift in social for years now, and people told you you were crazy, that social was all figured out and there was nothing that was going to happen,’” Watson said. “Now, people are buying into that change.”
Even though Squad isn’t a Clubhouse competitor, the rise of audio-only media is a good sign for the app’s ability to crack a saturated social market (so many social apps are trying to compete with Clubhouse, it’s a miracle we don’t yet have audio-only Tinder speed dating). In Squad’s beta test, 87.5% of users completed the onboarding process. Still, Squad falls victim to the same accessibility issues that plague Clubhouse and many of its clones. As of yet, Squad doesn’t support captioning, though Watson says this is something the company has discussed and hopes to implement down the road. Not only could captioning broaden Squad’s audience, but it could also further differentiate the app from messaging giants like iMessage and WhatsApp.
Still, if you’re someone who loves to send voice messages in your group chats, you might want to get your friends on Squad. Currently, the app is invite-only with a waitlist. Once you’re off the waitlist, you get three invites. If you post for five days straight, you get three more invites, and if someone you invited signs up, you get two more invites as well. This continues until you round out your twelve-member squad.
Inspired by founder’s childhood asthma, NuvoAir raises $12M to tackle respiratory illnesses
You might well have a sleep app that tracks your sleep. I use Sleep Cycle, and have found it has started to even tell me when I cough during the night. It turns out you can run machine learning over how you might cough in the night, to detect changes in the way you cough. That data could inform people with ongoing respiratory illnesses and help them manage their health.
This is part of the idea behind NuvoAir, which uses both an app to listen to your night-time coughing and other health data to do just that.
The Boston-based startup has now raised $12 million in a Series A funding led by London-based AlbionVC,
Perhaps because the COVID-19 pandemic made people more aware of respiratory complaints, NuvoAir claims it experienced 500% growth in the first quarter of 2021.
The round was also participated in by KAYA (formerly Enern), Amino Collective and existing shareholders Spiltan, Industrifonden and Novartis Pharma AG (dRx Capital).
How NuvoAir ai works is by combining the data from a Bluetooth-enabled spirometer that remotely monitors lung function; a sensor that attaches to asthma and COPD inhalers; and an integration with Fitbit devices. It also includes data from NuvoAir Cough, which assesses changes in nighttime coughing.
Its business model is enabling health plans, insurance companies, and healthcare systems to reduce the cost of managing their most severe respiratory patients, and also managing the care they provide.
Furthermore, it’s able to be used in the clinical trial business, where it licenses the technology to pharma companies or contract research organizations on a per user basis.
NuvoAir says over 500 million people globally suffer from chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma, cystic fibrosis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). And it costs around $300 billion a year to manage these conditions. The company claims its solution reduces urgent consultations by more than 39%.
In some way, NuvoAir is comparable to companies like Livongo (tracks Diabetes, raised $235M) and Omada Health (tracks chronic illness, raised $256.5M). All these companies are using increasing amounts of data about our health to manage ongoing illnesses.
The funding will be used to accelerate the expansion of the NuvoAir digital care platform in the US and Europe; advance the development of new products and services; and support NuvoAir’s partner and customer base for decentralized clinical trials around the world.
Lorenzo Consoli, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of NuvoAir told me: “As a child, I suffered from severe asthma. I was hospitalized a few times and my parents were really scared when that happened. My grandmother died because of COPD and other family members, unfortunately, had severe respiratory conditions as well. On top of that, my young son has asthma. So I have naturally been drawn to respiratory health and have always felt the current health systems are not designed to help patients on a day-to-day basis, but only when patients end up in the hospital, which is always too late. But honestly, it was only when, by chance, in 2012 I joined the digital health team of Novartis Respiratory Franchise that I realized how much technology and healthcare were meant to be together. It was an eye-opener for me to realize that certain digital biomarkers could tell whether patients were responding to treatment or predict whether they might be hospitalized… Equipped with those insights and with my prior experience as a patient, I decided in 2016 to take on the challenge of improving respiratory health, and NuvoAir was born.”
Dr. Christoph Ruedig, Partner at AlbionVC said: “We’re proud to be able to support NuvoAir, one of the few digital health companies active in both Europe and the US. The company has built an impressive respiratory disease management ecosystem with strong clinical evidence and a scalable care model that benefits patients, payers and providers.”
G2 raises $157M for its software review service
This morning G2, a company that provides an online software review and information database, announced that it has raised a $157 million Series D. Per a release the company shared with TechCrunch in advance of its news, G2 is now worth more than $1 billion, making it a unicorn in modern parlance.
Permira led the round via its growth fund, while prior venture capital firms IVP, Emergence, and Accel also contributed. The investment also included capital from LinkedIn, which previously invested, and corporate venture dollars from both HubSpot and Salesforce.
The round caught our eye not due to its scale — nine-figure rounds are a daily occurrence in today’s super-heated venture capital market — but due to the interesting position that G2 and its rivals occupy in the technology space. They provide a guide of sorts to various software niches, not only exposing a number of competing services in a single space, but also some signal about what service might be a good pick.
For the immensely deep and immensely wide software market, offering potential buying entities — all companies, in other words — directions when it comes to software buying decisions is a position of power. And one that comes with a unique set of challenges.
G2 cannot simply provide lists of competing software products and user reviews. It needs to command a position of trust; if its users are worried that commercial interests are clouding its ratings and lists, the company’s core product could be compromised.
So, that’s what TechCrunch asked G2 CEO Godard Abel to discuss.
In response to our question regarding balancing G2’s commercial interests and review purity, Abel said that “whether a software vendor pays G2 or not has no impact on their rating on G2 and their placement in our category rankings which are 100% algorithmic and data-driven.” That’s a good start.
Abel went on to say that G2 verifies all reviews, checks the “business identity” of reviewers via their online profiles, and uses “NLP and AI to score and validate all reviews including preventing any reviews by competitors or employees of a vendor.” And, the CEO added, G2 has humans in the loop for verification as well.
The process seems reasonable, but the company and its rivals like Capterra will need to manage market trust as they continue to scale.
On that front, the CEO expanded a bit on the growth metrics that it disclosed as part of its release. In that document the company said that it added “700 paying customers for its Marketing Solutions in the past 12 months.” TechCrunch wanted to know what percent growth that number represented, and what portion of G2’s revenues come from that particular business line.
Per Abel, the customer number represented a 45% growth rate, and that that “piece of [its] business represents the bulk of [its] current revenue.”
Parsing that a little, seeing 45% customer growth in a majority revenue line implies healthy growth. We lack several data points that we’d need to convert that customer growth figure into revenue expansion itself, sadly.
With lots of new cash in the bank, G2 has plenty of space to keep growing. Its CEO highlighted international investment as a place where he intends to invest, citing “exceptionally strong growth across Europe and Asia as our international software buyer traffic and revenue have been nearly doubling.” And Abel said that his company will also “accelerate” its coverage of the software market with its new capital, along with investments into data work to improve G2’s recommendation engine.
G2 itself is now valued like a company that’s on an IPO path, which means that the standards we’ll hold it to have reached their zenith.
Memory.ai, the startup behind time-tracking app Timely, raises $14M to build more AI-based productivity apps
Time is your most valuable asset — as the saying goes — and today a startup called Memory.ai, which is building AI-based productivity tools to help you with your own time management, is announcing some funding to double down on its ambitions: it wants not only to help manage your time, but to, essentially, provide ways to use it better in the future.
The startup, based out of Oslo, Norway, initially made its name with an app called Timely, a tool for people to track time spent doing different tasks. aimed not just at people who are quantified self geeks, but those who need to track time for practical reasons, such as consultants or others who work on the concept of billable hours. Timely has racked up 500,000 users since 2014, including more than 5,000 paying businesses in 160 countries.
Now, Memory.ai has raised $14 million as it gears up to launch its next apps, Dewo (pronounced “De-Voh”), an app that is meant to help people do more “deep work” by learning about what they are working on and filtering out distractions to focus better; and Glue, described as a knowledge hub to help in the creative process. Both are due to be released later in the year.
The funding is being led by local investors Melesio and Sanden, with participation from Investinor, Concentric and SNÖ Ventures, who backed Memory.ai previously.
“Productivity apps” has always been something of a nebulous category in the world of connected work. They can variously cover any kind of collaboration management software ranging from Asana and Jira through to Slack and Notion; or software that makes doing an existing work task more efficiently than you did it before (eg Microsoft has described all of what goes into Microsoft 365 — Excel, Word, Powerpoint, etc. — as “productivity apps”); or, yes, apps like those from Memory.ai that aim to improve your concentration or time management.
These days, however, it feels like the worlds of AI and advances in mobile computing are increasingly coming together to evolve that concept once again.
If the first wave of smartphone communications and the apps that are run on smartphone devices — social, gaming, productivity, media, information, etc. — have led to us getting pinged by a huge amount of data from lots of different places, all of the time, then could it be that the second wave is quite possibly going to usher in a newer wave of tools to handle all that better, built on the premise that not everything is of equal importance? No-mo FOMO? We’ll see.
In any case, some bigger platform players also helping to push the agenda of what productivity means in this day and age.
For example, in Apple’s recent preview of iOS 15 (due to come out later this year) the company gave a supercharge to its existing “do not disturb” feature on its phones, where it showed off a new Focus mode, letting users customize how and when they want to receive notifications from which apps, and even which apps they want to have displayed, all organized by different times of day (eg work time), place, calendar items, and so on.
“Today, iPhone plays so many roles in our lives. It’s where we get information, how people reach us, and where we get things done. This is great, but it means our attention is being pulled in so many different directions and finding that balance between work and life can be tricky,” said Apple’s Craig Federighi in the WWDC keynote earlier this month. “We want to free up space to focus and help you be in the moment.” How well that gets used, and how much other platforms like Google follow suit, will be interesting to see play out. It feels, in any case, like it could be the start of something.
And, serendipitously — or maybe because this is some kind of zeitgeist — this is also playing into what Memory.ai has built and is building.
Mathias Mikkelsen, the Oslo-based founder of Memory.ai, first came up for his idea for Timely (which had also been the original name of the whole startup) when he was working as a designer in the ad industry, one of those jobs that needed to track what he was working on, and for how long, in order to get paid.
He said he knew the whole system as it existed was inefficient: “I just thought it was insane how cumbersome and old it was. But at the same time how important it was for the task,” he said.
The guy had an entrepreneurial itch that he was keen to scratch, and this idea would become the salve to help him. Mikkelsen was so taken with building a startup around time management, that he sold his apartment in Oslo and moved himself to San Francisco to be where he believed was the epicenter of startup innovation. He tells me he lived off the proceeds of his flat for two years “in a closet” in a hacker house, bootstrapping Timely, until eventually getting into an accelerator (500 Startups) and subsequently starting to raise money. He eventually moved back to Oslo after two years to continue growing the business, as well as to live somewhere a little more spacious.
The startup’s big technical breakthrough with Timely was to figure out an efficient way of tracking time for different tasks, not just time worked on anything, without people having to go through a lot of data entry.
The solution: to integrate with a person’s computer, plus a basic to-do schedule for a day or week, and then match up which files are open when to determine how long one works for one client or another. Phone or messaging conversations, for the moment, are not included, and neither are the contents of documents — just the titles of them. Nor is data coming from wearable devices, although you could see how that, too, might prove useful.
The basic premise is to be personalised, so managers and others cannot use Timely to track exactly what people are doing, although they can track and bill for those billable hours. All this is important, as it also will feed into how DeWo and Glue will work.
The startup’s big conceptual breakthrough came around the same time: Getting time tracking or any productivity right “has never been a UI problem,” Mikkelsen said. “It’s a human nature problem.” This is where the AI comes in, to nudge people towards something they identify as important, and nudge them away from work that might not contribute to that. Tackling bigger issues beyond time are essential to improving productivity overall, which is why Memory.ai now wants to extend to apps for carving out time for deep thinking and creative thinking.
While it might seem to be a threat that a company like Apple has identified the same time management predicament that Memory.ai has, and is looking to solve that itself, Mikkelsen is not fazed. He said he thinks of Focus as not unlike Apple’s work on Health: there will be ways of feeding information into Apple’s tool to make it work better for the user, and so that will be Memory.ai’s opportunity to hopefully grow, not cannibalize, its own audience with Timely and its two new apps. It is, in a sense, a timely disruption.
“Memory’s proven software is already redefining how businesses around the world track, plan and manage their time. We look forward to working with the team to help new markets profit from the efficiencies, insights and transparency of a Memory-enabled workforce,” said Arild Engh, a partner at Melesio, in a statement.
Kjartan Rist, a partner at Concentric, added: “We continue to be impressed with Memory’s vision to build and launch best-in-class products for the global marketplace. The company is well on its way to becoming a world leader in workplace productivity and collaboration, particularly in light of the remote and hybrid working revolution of the last 12 months. We look forward to supporting Mathias and the team in this exciting new chapter.”
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