Hike 4.0 Update Brings Chat Search, New Themes, and More

Hike, a popular messaging app, has released what it claims to be its ‘biggest update ever’, bringing the app version up to 4.0. The firm also announced that it has crossed the 20 billion messages per month milestone. It also claimed that the number has doubled in less than a year, since the previous announcement of 10 billion messages per month in August last year.

Hike 4.0, which is already available for Android users via Google Play, is claimed to be five times faster that its previous versions and is “designed for the next billion Indian consumers”. The company says the latest update is optimised for low-end smartphones and for those handsets that are having poor network connections.

The Hike 4.0 update also brings new app design, including seven new chat themes. Also new is ‘Sticker Suggestions’, which would recommend stickers from Hike’s 5,000 sticker catalogue as the users type on the keyboard. The app now also allows up to 500 members in a single group chat and the ability to create multiple admins for a group.

Also new is the option to ‘Like’ users’ status and profile pictures, as well as the ability to post photos on the timeline and clear the timeline. Users can also search for messages inside a particular chat.

Hike 4.0 features a section called News, which would give Hike users news and information in less than 100 characters. The company claims to have over a million daily active users for the News service within 24 hours of its launch. While the updated app is already available for Android users, it would reach iOS users by next week.

“We’re extremely excited to bring hike 4.0 to the market. It’s been 6 months in the making and it’s a really big update from it’s predecessors. One can immediately tell the difference on how quick 4.0 is within a few minutes of using it and with the update we’ve also brought a ton of new features to the market including Sticker Suggestions, 100 MB files, Photo Filters amongst a host of others. We can’t wait for users across India to upgrade to hike 4.0,” said Kavin Bharti Mittal CEO & Founder, Hike.

Angry Birds Creator Rovio to Lay Off 260 Employees Worldwide

Angry Birds hitmaker Rovio is letting go of 260 employees. This was announced by the company on Wednesday in a press release. These layoffs will take place across the company’s operations the world over barring those working on the production of The Angry Birds Movie in the United States and Canada.

“While we have gathered good momentum this year, especially with the launch of the Angry Birds 2 game – downloaded nearly 50 million times in its first month of release – fundamental changes are needed to ensure Rovio succeeds in its global ambitions to be the leading entertainment company with mobile games at its heart,” says Rovio’s CEO Pekka Rantala in the statement. “This is personally a difficult decision. However, it is certain that a leaner and more agile Rovio is absolutely necessary to move forward and take the company to new successes in the future. We will work with and support all our employees through this period of change.”

(Also see: I Hate Angry Birds 2 – and I’m Addicted to It)
In spite of hitting 50 million downloads with Angry Birds 2, the layoffs do come as a bit of a shock, showing that the level of success needed to keep a company like Rovio going is extremely high. With efforts in merchandise, amusement parks and cartoons among other things, it’s but obvious that there’s an attempt to go back to its roots and focus on what’s central to the company.

“Rovio’s growth and eagerness to explore new business opportunities over the past few years has been exceptional,” Rantala adds. “As a result, we did too many things. In our current financial condition we must now put focus on where we are at our best: in creating magnificent gaming experiences, in producing an amazing animation movie and in delighting our fans with great products.”

Ola Offers Benefits to Drivers to Switch to CNG Vehicles

Taxi hailing app Ola on Wednesday said it will offer benefits worth up to Rs. 1,00,000 to enable its driver partners to switch to CNG vehicles.

The move will help the Bengaluru-based firm comply with a Supreme Court ruling that says commercial vehicles cannot ply in Delhi unless converted to the single fuel mode of CNG.

As part of ‘Ola Green Pragati Week’ from August 26 to September 1, Ola will bring together driver-partners as well as financing and car manufacturer partners under one roof, it said in a statement.

Drivers in the city to purchase a new CNG car with benefits of up to Rs. 1,00,000, including a discount of up to Rs. 60,000 in partnership with dealers of manufacturers like Maruti, Hyundai, and Tata Motors, it added.

“We are committed to CNG adoption in the state of Delhi. The intention behind coming up with this scheme is to create an opportunity for all those drivers who are planning to buy new cars or willing to exchange their old cars to consider buying a CNG vehicle and contribute to a clean and green Delhi,” said Deep Singh, Ola Business Head (North).

With this, livelihoods of thousands of driver partners on the Ola platform will be protected and they can continue to work as entrepreneurs with Ola, he added.

A majority of cars on the Ola platform in Delhi are already on CNG. In the last one week, Ola added about 3,000 CNG vehicles to its fleet in the city.

The SoftBank-backed company has about 25,000 cabs in Delhi which are registered on its platform.

Faasos Online Food-on-Demand Firm Shifting to App-Only Model in India

Online food-on-demand company Faasos on Wednesday said it is moving to a “mobile app only” service in the country.

The platform has 800,000 downloads and the company expects to hit a million downloads in a couple of weeks, the company said in a statement.

“Faasos has built a niche place for itself in the food ordering space across top 10 cities in India. Surprisingly, even tier-II cities have shown tremendous traction for ordering via the app which led to 97 percent of our delivery sales coming from the mobile app,” said Revant Bhate, head of marketing at Faasos.

The company believes that being app only lends itself well to the changing menu over breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner, along with location-based delivery times, and location.

In terms of the products on offer, the business has recently expanded its offerings, and is among a limited list of breakfast delivering services across India.

The company has recently started delivering tea with snacks in Mumbai, a service that will soon be rolled out in Pune and Bengaluru as well.

In terms of expansion in tier-II cities, Faasos has made inroads in Indore and Baroda, the statement added. Faasos has a strong offline supply chain and distribution coupled with the technology to connect all loose ends together, which has enabled them to generate revenues with bigger margins, Bhate said, adding, “all this is not possible when someone orders via a phone call or through a website.”

Vysor Puts Your Android Device on Your Computer – Here's How to Use It

There are plenty of ways to mirror your Android device onto your computer – and now there’s one more. But sadly most aren’t as straightforward and convenient as we would like. Koushik Dutta, a well-known Android developer, has attempted to make the process simpler with his new app called Vysor. We tested the app and found it as good as advertised.

Vysor aims to make it easier for one to beam Android device’s onscreen activities as well as corresponding controls to a computer. And it does so without using a data connection, but over a USB cable. You need to install the Vysor Chrome extension and connect your Android device to the computer using a USB cable. If the device has ADB (Android Device Bridge) enabled on it, Vysor will be able to detect it. If it doesn’t, you can manually add it by clicking the Find devices option in Vysor. Your device may prompt you with a confirmation dialogue box, tap Ok.

In case you don’t have ADB enabled on your device, go to Settings > About Device and tap on the Android build number seven times, which as you might know, enables the developer mode on Android devices. Once you get a confirmation, go back to Settings, and now you’ll see the Developer options. Go inside, and switch the toggle next to USB debugging as enabled. This will activate ADB on your device.

vysor_2.jpg

Once you have managed to get both devices to talk to each other, Vysor will open a new window where you can see your smartphone’s screen mirrored and you can control it too. There seems to a small but acceptable lag in mirroring.

Another interesting feature of Vysor is Sync. You can find it in the welcome screen of the app. It gives users the ability to share their on-screen activity and controls with their friends over the Internet. Clicking on the Sync button will give you a URL, which you can share with people. The idea behind the app is to allow developers with an improved simulation tool, and give them the ability to push apps and make changes in real time. If you’re not into Android app development, you can still make use of Vysor while seeking help from your friends.

India Funding Roundup: RevX, EazyDiner, Qyk, rBus, Icustommadeit

RevX
Mumbai-based digital media technology company Komli Media India Pvt Ltd has spun out its CRM re-marketing platform RevX into a separate company and secured $4 million (roughly Rs. 26.4 crores) in funding, VCCircle reported. Komli’s existing investors Norwest Venture Partners, Nexus Venture Partners, Helion Venture Partners, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, and Peepul Capital participated in the funding round. The firm said it has 30 customers and plans to launch globally soon.

EazyDiner
Online food startup EazyDiner raised $3 million (roughly Rs. 19.9 crores) from Saama Capital and existing investor DSG Consumer Partners, ET reported. Launched in 2014, the online portal was founded by food writer and TV host Vir Sanghvi. It lets users book a table at a restaurant, or get recommendations and make instant bookings by calling on the EazyConcierge service. The service is presently available in Mumbai and Delhi/ NCR region, and has apps for Android and iOS. Every booking made through the service comes with a special deal, such as a complimentary dessert or beverage, or a discount.

Qyk
Hyper-local professional services marketplace Qyk announced a $1 million (roughly Rs. 6.6 crores) pre-series A investment led by GrowX Ventures, an early stage investment firm. Existing seed investors – Tracxn Labs, Powai Lake Ventures, and Sahil Barua, Co-founder, Delhivery, also participated in this round. Qyk enables freelancers and professionals to grow their business by reaching out to new and interested customers. The app, currently available on Android, uses algorithms to intelligently match demand and supply based on parameters like specific requirements, location, availability, and budget. Qyk was founded by IIT alumni Deepak Singhal, Sangharsh Boudhh, Shobhit Singhal, and Anubhav Sahoo, who have previously worked with companies like Ola, InMobi, Practo and Deutsche Bank. The Bengaluru-based firm launched operations in March 2015, and has a 70 member team, with over 10,000 professionals listed on the platform in over 100 categories.

rBus
Mumbai-based rBus, an online AC bus pooling portal for intra-city travel has raised an undisclosed amount in seed funding from India Quotient, People Group founder Anupam Mittal and other investors, VC circle reported. Founded in 2012 by Anshul Khandelwal and Siddharth Sharma, the firm believes that a smart bus system can solve urban mobility problems in the world today, without additional investments in infrastructure or technology. The service is currently available in 11 routes across Mumbai, and caters to over 500 commuters.

Icustommadeit
Pune-based iCustommadeit, an online marketplace to buy artisanal creations made by a curated list of professionals, has raised $250,000 (roughly Rs. 1.6 crores) in its third angel round from a group of individual investors including Aparna Pittie, Aditya Pethe, Vidisha Vaidya, Ravi Kant Sharma. Founded in August 2013, the firm has raised total equity funding of $650,000 (roughly Rs. 4.3 crores) so far. The platform lists bespoke goods in categories like jewellery, furniture and home decor, clothing and accessories, and more. Buyers can contact the creators to make a custom request using the firm’s internal messaging system, and collaborate with the creator during the process.

Uber and University of Arizona Partner on Mapping, Self-Driving Cars

Uber is partnering with the University of Arizona to develop mapping technology as the ride-hailing company expands its research of driverless car technology.

The partnership announced Tuesday between the San Francisco-based company and the university includes a $25,000 (roughly Rs. 16.5 lakhs) grant to UofA’s College of Optical Sciences.

“We’ll work with some of the leading experts in lens design here at the university to improve the imagery of what we capture and use to build out mapping and our safety features,” said Brian McClendon, vice president of advanced technology for Uber. Uber will test mapping vehicles on Tucson roads.

McClendon wouldn’t elaborate on how many Uber employees would be working with university researchers but said he considers this a long-term collaboration.

“I think the College of Optical Sciences is one of the leading in the world, and we are looking for improving the technologies that mapping and driverless vehicles are dependent on, and this is a great place to start,” McClendon said.

Gov. Doug Ducey hailed the new partnership during a news conference at the university Tuesday.

“It’s in Arizona’s best interest to embrace new technology,” Ducey said. “This is about economic growth. It means new jobs, new research opportunities here at the UofA.”

Ducey has been a big proponent of Uber since taking office in January. The Republican governor stopped state regulators from enforcing regulations that required Uber drivers to have commercial insurance and licenses, saying the policy wasn’t working and was hampering job creation. Then he backed a bill overhauling rules for ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft. The new law, which Ducey signed in April, removed regulatory roadblocks to the growing services.

In June, Ducey praised Uber at the formal opening of a new customer service center in Phoenix that is expected to eventually employ several hundred people. Ducey said at the time that Uber creates jobs and helps grow the economy, and the state should be helping it, not hindering it.

Uber has made other efforts to boost its research into driverless cars.

The company partnered with Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh in February on a driverless car research lab. In March, Uber also bought digital mapping specialist deCarta, which provides maps for many consumer products, including General Motors’ OnStar system.

TuneIn Radio App Starts Paid Tier With MLB, Soccer, Audiobooks

TuneIn, the app that gives users free access to thousands of live radio stations around the world, is launching an $8-a-month premium subscription service that throws in ad-free listening, audiobooks and live play-by-play coverage of Major League Baseball and soccer from the Premier League and the Bundesliga.

The seemingly disparate offer caters to listeners who have varied tastes, says TuneIn CEO John Donham. That could be news in the morning, music at night, live sports whenever a good game is on, and a good book for long commutes.

“It turns out people want more than just one thing,” he says.

The package is meant to emulate the kind of mix one gets from satellite radio giant Sirius XM: premium sports, talk shows and commercial-free music. “We’re out to build a worldwide version of that,” Donham says.

The offer launches in the US on Tuesday, as well as in Canada, where it’ll cost 9 Canadian dollars a month, and in the UK, where it’ll be 6 pounds a month.

The offer adds 40,000 audiobooks from HarperCollins, Penguin Random House and Scholastic to the few dozen public-domain books already in the app. New titles include Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild,” Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” and George R.R. Martin’s “A Game of Thrones.”

Ad-free listening is initially tailored to 600 Internet radio stations. Terrestrial radio stations in the US and abroad are planned to be added in the next few months, Donham says.

When a DJ cuts to a commercial break, TuneIn knows how long an ad break will be, and for paying subscribers, it will insert a song of roughly the right length that would fit the station’s genre. Plugging the ad break of terrestrial stations with a song is a technical problem that will take a little more time to work out, he says.

Launching a paid tier in addition to its free ad-supported service is born from the desire to add more content to the site that cannot be paid for simply with ads, Donham says, adding that reducing the number of ads played could actually help push prices up.

“If you reduce the number of ads by 10 percent, the value of each ad would go up,” he says.

Rio De Janeiro City Council Votes to Ban Uber

Rio de Janeiro on Tuesday became the latest city to move against Uber as its city council voted to ban unregulated ride-sharing services.

The decision still needs to be approved and signed by the Mayor Eduardo Paes within the next 15 days to become law.

In a statement, San Francisco-based Uber Technologies Inc said it would continue to operate normally in the city and that the vote was one against technology and the right of citizens to choose how they get around. The company also said it had not been included in discussions about the law.

Rio follows Brazil’s largest city, Sao Paulo, and its capital, Brasilia, in moving to ban Uber, whose mobile app enables users to summon Uber drivers for rides. A number of cities in the United States as well as India and Europe have also moved to ban Uber.

Taxi drivers complain that Uber drivers are not properly regulated and have fewer overhead costs, giving them an unfair advantage.

The Rio vote, 42-1 in favour with five abstentions, dictates that only cars that are regulated by the city are allowed to drive around the city picking up passengers, effectively banning Uber drivers, who currently are not regulated. If the law is passed drivers found breaking the law could be fined BRL 2,000 (roughly Rs. 36,300).

More than a thousand taxi drivers protested against Uber in Rio in July, blocking roads and stalling traffic during morning rush hour.

University Student Pleads Guilty to Making Android Spy App

A Carnegie Mellon University student who hoped to sell enough malicious software to infect 450,000 GoogleAndroid smartphones pleaded guilty Tuesday to a federal law meant to prevent hacking of phones and computers.

But how many phones were actually infected by Morgan Culbertson’s malicious creation remained a mystery after his court appearance before a federal judge in Pittsburgh. Infected phones could be remotely controlled by others and used to spy and secretly take pictures without the phone owner’s knowledge, as well as to record calls, intercept text messages and otherwise steal information the owners downloaded on the devices.

Culbertson, 20, of Churchill, faces up to 10 years in prison and $250,000 (roughly Rs. 1.65 crores) in fines when he’s sentenced December 2. But he’ll likely face probation or a short prison term under sentencing guidelines that will take into account his lack of a criminal record.

Culbertson is one of 12 people charged by US authorities, and the fourth to plead guilty so far, in the worldwide take down of the Darkode.com cybercriminal marketplace.

A total of 70 people have been targeted for allegedly using the cybercriminal marketplace where hackers bought and sold malicious software, and otherwise advertised schemes to infect computers and cellphones with software that could cripple or illegally control the devices.

“I committed the crime, so I am responsible,” Culbertson told Senior US District Judge Maurice Cohill Jr. on Tuesday and apologized to those whose phones were affected by the malware.

“I understand what I did was wrong and I take full responsibility,” Culbertson said. “I would like in the future to use may skills to help protect people.”

Culbertson said he has taken a leave of absence from Carnegie Mellon, where he’s completed his sophomore year. He previously interned for a cyber-security firm in California’s Silicon Valley.

Assistant US Attorney Jimmy Kitchen said Culbertson worked online with a man identified only as “Mike from the Netherlands” to create Dendroid, the malware that was secretly linked to Android phone apps available for purchase through Google Play.

Culbertson developed the “binder” – or computer code used to hide Dendroid on the apps – with another unidentified man, then “bought out” Mike’s share of the operation and planned to sell 200 to 300 copies of the malware on Darkode.com for $400 (roughly Rs. 26,400) a copy, Kitchen said.

Culbertson expected each person who bought Dendroid would be able to infect about 1,500 phones with it, or 300,000 and 450,000 phones total.

Culbertson also tried to sell the “source code” that would enable others to make their own copies of Dendroid for $65,000 (roughly Rs. 42,90,000) and at an online auction for $10,000 (roughly Rs. 6,60,000), but defense attorney Emily McNally said that never happened.

Kitchen wouldn’t say how many Dendroid copies Culbertson actually sold.

McNally said Culbertson personally used a copy to infect and control about two dozen phones, though some of those were Culbertson’s and were controlled for testing how Dendroid worked.