By adaptive - May 16th, 2016

YouTube begins beta testing a new messenger service, as Apple tries to steady the ship with a massive investment on the ride-hailing front. Genius or desperate? Andrew Tolve reports.

In the news

Apple has had a rough go of it in China lately. Sales are down 26% in the last quarter, the popularity of the iPhone is on the slide, and the Chinese government just shut down the company’s online movie and e-book services for undisclosed violations. Apple’s answer? A $1-billion investment in Didi Chuxing, the largest ride-hailing service in China. 

Apple is usually loath to make large investments like this in external companies, preferring to develop in-house technologies and then use its superior design aesthetic and marketing power to overtake competitors. But joining forces with a company that has a foothold in 400 Chinese cities, with about 300 million users, as Didi does, may help Apple shore up support for its other products at a critical time in Apple-Chinese relations. 

Also, it’s no secret that Apple intends to create (or is already creating) a self-driving Apple Car, and the data it can gather from Didi may help in that endeavor. Apple CEO Tim Cook is scheduled to visit Chinese leaders to smooth tensions and rally local troops later in May.

In the money

General Motors made a $500-million investment in ridesharing company Lyft in January 2016. In March it acquired self-driving tech company Cruise Automation for a reported $1 billion. Now it’s clear what they were up to: GM and Lyft revealed that they plan to have a fleet of self-driving taxis on the road within a year. No cabbies behind the wheel, just an unmanned Chevy Bolt with a pink “glowstache” in the windshield. Lyft users will be able to opt in or out for the pilot on their smartphones. Pilot city still TBD.

Education tech startup Nearpod raised 9.2 million in Series A funding. The company’s goal is transform the smartphone from the ultimate source of scholastic distraction into the most powerful education device around. Nearpod offers teachers a spectrum of digital content in its online marketplace; once teachers select a plan, students slide their smartphones into Nearpod devices and away they go, interacting with digital content as the app tracks their performance metrics.

In other news

YouTube rolled out a new messaging service that allows users to chat with family and friends as they share videos. The move comes at a time when every social platform wants to tap the popularity of mobile video, from Facebook to SnapChat to Instagram to newcomers like Fullscreen. YouTube hopes that its new messaging service will encourage users on app for longer, rather than pasting YouTube videos into other social platforms. The feature is in beta testing with select users now. No word yet on timing for full deployment.

Google launched Gboard for iOS, a free app that allows users to add a Google search button to their keyboards. One click of the button and a Google search bar pops up inside whatever app is in use at the time, be it iPhone Messages or Facebook or what have you. Users thus no longer have to leave an app and open up Safari to search Google and then return to the previous app. It can all happen in one place. Video here

The European Competition Commission put the kibosh on a proposed merger of O2 UK and Three UK, which would have reduced the number of major mobile network operators in the UK from four to three. The Commission was worried such an event would encourage businesses to jack up prices and limit customer choices. O2 and Three UK’s parent company Hutchison are yet to comment.

Sprint wants to make smartphone payment plans more flexible for businesses. With Sprint’s new Business Share More, companies no longer pay expensive individual plans for each employee. Instead, they select anywhere from 20GB up to 1000GB of total data for their business, then divide that up among employees as they see fit. Companies can allot different amounts of data, talk and text for each employee, allowing for greater control of who gets what across the organization. 

Facebook is preparing to introduce 360 Photos, a new feature that turns static panorama shots into dynamic photos that revolve around as users slide past them in the newsfeed. Gear VR users can simply turn their heads and watch as the panorama unfurls around them. 

Finally, Apple Music may be rife with problems — an overly complicated user interface and a habit of deleting songs from users’ hard drives to name two — but the music streaming service continues to grow faster than its competitors, including Spotify, thanks in part to competitive price offerings. The latest: All students enrolled at colleges and universities, including Masters students, will get 50% off their monthly plans. The Apple Music student plan is available immediately in all markets. Apple is working on an Apple Music update to address existing problems by summertime.

The Mobile Digest is a biweekly lowdown on the world of mobile, combining Open Mobile Media analysis with information from industry press releases.

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