By adaptive - April 4th, 2016

SnapChat reinvents itself with Chat 2.0, as drone deliveries step into primetime. Andrew Tolve reports.

In the news

Hawthorne, a small desert town on the western hem of Nevada, laid claim to a major piece of mobile history: Site of the first fully autonomous FAA-approved urban drone delivery in the U.S. Given Hawthorne’s population of 3269 and its sandy surroundings, “urban” may be a touch of a stretch here. Nonetheless, drone startup Flirtey’s six-rotor drone successfully navigated a half-mile route through Hawthorne without a single human intervention and dropped down its package successfully on its mark on a populated street — a milestone that many assumed e-retailer Amazon would lay claim to first. Flirtey worked in partnership with the University of Nevada and NASA, among others, on the project. There’s still a long way to go (and a lot of regulations to work through) before autonomous mobile delivery systems are greenlit for everyday action, but as the Flirteys website promises, one day soon “Flirteys in the sky will look as normal as delivery trucks on the road.”

In the money

SnapChat spent roughly $100 million to acquire Bitstrips, a Toronto-based company that allows users to create and exchange personalized emojis called Bitmojis. Lots of head scratching ensued until SnapChat rolled out a new suite of capabilities, including the ability to send and receive Bitmojis, a few days later. SnapChat also launched a sweeping upgrade to its social media platform under the moniker Chat 2.0. The new suite of tools intends to transform SnapChat from an app that (mostly) teenagers use to exchange (naked) disappearing pictures of each other into a robust chat platform. Users can leave video and voice messages; can audio call anyone with whom they’re exchanging messages; and can send and receive GIFS and stickers including traditional emojis, personalized emojis courtesy of Bitstrips, and a bevy of other cutesy artsy add-ons.

Embattled BlackBerry had another rough quarter, with revenue down nearly 200 million from the same quarter last year. The company also posted a net loss of $238 million in its Q4 compared to a net income of $28 million in 2015. Ouch. Even the perpetually optimistic John Chen, Blackberry’s CEO, sounded glum on the earnings call, noting that smartphone sales were bad, distribution was worse, and the company’s flagship Priv smartphone had underperformed.

In other news

An undisclosed third party helped the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations hack into the iPhone of San Bernardino terrorist Syed Farook, ending a looming court battle between the U.S. federal government and Apple over data privacy, security, and encryption. The case was likely to find its way all the way up to the Supreme Court. No more. The FBI is yet to surrender its hacking method to Apple; instead, it is further testing it on an iPhone and iPad in a murder case in Arkansas.

At Microsoft’s annual Build conference, the company launched the new concept of “Conversation as a Platform.” The idea is to offer developers access to machine learning and recognition tools, like speech recognition via Cortana, to build apps that can learn about their surroundings and engage with people in a one-on-one manner. The first offering of this new platform is the Cortana Intelligence Suite.

Microsoft also launched a new application programming interface called Microsoft Graph that allows developers to easily integrate business intelligence and data from Microsoft, like calendar info or document retrieval. Apps can now also integrate out-of-office status and changes to email addresses. Good news for business app developers.

The Oculus Rift virtual reality headset has finally shipped to its first backers on Kickstarter. Those who pre-ordered the device back in January 2016 are next on the list to receive the most powerful VR device on the market today. Oculus founder Palmer Luckey had the honors of delivering the first device by hand to a man in Anchorage, Alaska.

As expected, Apple launched the new iPhone SE at its mid-year product launch. The phone has a 4-inch screen and is an upgrade to the 5s model that debuted back in 2013. The company also took the wrapping off a new and smaller version of the iPad Pro, paired down from 12.9 inches to 9.7 inches.

Finally, Nintendo announced that its first smartphone app, Miitomo, is on its way to the U.S. with the U.K. and much of Europe soon to follow. The game allows users to create avatars called “Miis” (you may recall these dorky little buggers from the Wii console) and fashion them however users wish. Then, the Miis go out and interact with other Miis, reciting pre-recorded answers to questions like What’s your favorite TV show? If you were expecting Super Mario levels of excitement, we suggest you look elsewhere.

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

Andrew Tolve is a regular contributor to Open Mobile Media.

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