StoreKit 2 in iOS 15 delivers better customer service experience

Apple with the release of iOS 15, iPadOS 15, watchOS 8 and tvOS 15 introduced StoreKit 2, a set of APIs that provide developers with convenient tools for managing digital purchases and ultimately providing a better experience for customers.

Building on the original StoreKit, StoreKit 2 uses Swift-based APIs and new language features to help developers market and manage their wares and services. Apple announced availability of the APIs in an update to its developers webpage on Wednesday.

Among the new features offered are tools that allow developers to determine product entitlements and offer eligibility, access a history of in-app purchase transactions and quickly check subscription status, the company says. Further, the APIs present the same information as new App Store server APIs.

On the customer service end, StoreKit 2 enables users to request refunds and manage subscriptions with in-app options. App Store server APIs also provide enhanced issue resolution features like the ability to confirm purchase details during a customer support call and extending the renewal date of a user’s subscription, Apple says.

App Store server notifications have also been improved to provide real-time information on in-app purchases including subscriptions. New notification types like subscription expirations and redemptions allow developers to to take action at opportune moments. Additionally, app makers can enter a URL in App Store Connect to receive server notifications in the App Store sandbox environment, Apple says. The updated server notifications are listed as “coming soon.”

With the new APIs, developers will be able to access data from, and offer assistance to, Apple device users running the latest iOS 15, iPadOS 15, watchOS 8 and tvOS 15 software. Apple released its slate of major operating system updates on Monday, with macOS Monterey expected to arrive in the coming weeks.

Crypto asset management platform Cobo bags $40M Series B

Cobo, a Singapore-based crypto asset management platform, raised a $40 million Series B to accelerate the development of decentralized finance as a service (DFaaS).

The round was co-led by DST Global, A&T Capital and IMO Ventures.

The company will use its proceeds for the development of DeFi as a service (DFaaS) infrastructure and its existing custody services such as wallet as a service (WaaS), trading and staking as a service (StaaS). The funding will also be used to apply for regulatory licenses to ensure strict compliance to the relevant anti-money laundering (AML) and counter the financing of terrorism (CFT) requirements.

Amid the growing interest for cryptocurrencies among Asian investors, institutional investors and retail investors are seeking diversification options to hedge against inflation and other risks, the company said in its statement.

“With interest in the crypto revolution soaring across Asia, it’s high time to expand blockchain infrastructures to meet the rising demand, especially as we’re seeing growing enthusiasm among institutions,” said the company CEO and co-founder Discus Fish, also known as Shixing Mao. “In the past, we’d witness crypto applications evolve from Bitcoin to DeFi and now NFTs … Ultimately, this fundraising takes us another step closer to Cobo’s foundational vision of empowering 1 billion users to access crypto.”

Cobo was founded in 2017 with a mission to bridge the gap between crypto and users, both retail and institutional, for increasing access to blockchain for all. Cobo’s founders are CEO Discus Fish, the co-founder of F2Pool, and CTO Changhao Jiang, a former platform engineer at Facebook and Google who co-founded Chinese encrypted digital wallet Bihang.

“As blockchain technology and innovation advances, we are observing a wave of increasing institutional demand,” said Jasmine Zhang, partner of A&T Capital.

DeFi typically requires professional managers including fund managers or C-level executives to interact directly with cryptocurrency lending protocols like Curve, Compound, Uniswap and AAVE, the company CEO said. Unlike those existing DeFi platforms, Cobo’s DeFi as a service (DFaaS) allows the institutional investor users to empower staff, even computerized bots, to perform operations of various risks, the company CEO told TechCrunch. Low-risk operations can be automated by bots, whereas high-risk operations such as moving large sums still require multisignature confirmations by managers and/or CXOs, he added.

Cobo’s DFaaS infrastructure underpins its multisignature crypto wallet platform and crypto asset custodial services for retail and institutional investors, respectively. Cobo has served more than 300 institutional clients, including Deribit, F2Pool, BitMart and Pionex through its custody services such as Cobo Custody and DFaaS with a cumulative transaction volume of $20 billion. Its retail investor clients use Cobo Wallet.

Cobo, which also has offices in Hong Kong and Seattle, raised a $13 million Series A round in October 2018 to enter new international markets.

Cobo supports more than 50 public chains, over 1,000 tokens and serves a total of 75,000 high-net-worth individuals, the company CEO said.

iPhone 13's Cinematic mode shown off in music video

A pair of music videos shot on iPhone 13 offer a glimpse at the handset’s filmmaking prowess, with the shorts focusing on Apple’s new Cinematic mode.

Ahead of Friday’s iPhone 13 release, YouTuber Jonathan Morrison this week paired with Julia Wolf and Ariel View to shoot music videos that test the handset’s Cinematic mode capabilities, among other features.

Posted to Morrison’s “Jonathan & Friends” channel on Monday, “Falling in Love” follows Wolf as she sings her track while strolling through the streets of Claremont, Calif. Interspersed throughout the video are behind-the-scenes style shots showing Morrison filming Wolf with an iPhone 13.

A good portion of the clip is captured with Cinematic mode, a new-for-2021 feature that automatically blurs the background of video footage.

Available on all iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro models, Cinematic mode mimics professional videography techniques by adding depth of field effects to recognized subjects on the fly. Software algorithms are used to detect and focus on people, pets and objects, which are made to stand out against blurred background.

Cinematic mode can also rack focus depending on information gathered about a scene. The feature is capable of anticipating when another subject enters the frame, for example, and can detect when someone turns away from the camera. Importantly, focus can be manually adjusted in post when using Apple software like iMovie and Final Cut Pro.

As noted in early iPhone 13 reviews, Cinematic mode is restricted to 1080p at 30 frames per second, limiting its appeal to serious videographers.

The effect is rather convincing in “Falling in Love,” with a reasonably authentic looking bokeh applied to cars, shops and buildings as Wolf walks past. Cinematic mode begins to fall down in dimly-lit scenes, however, with noticeable artifacts and blending issues appearing around Wolf’s head and hair.

Morrison’s second video, a cover of Ed Sheeran’s “Shivers” performed by View, highlights the lowlight problems.

The video features musicians performing in the middle of a street against the backdrop of a setting sun. A tough scene to capture even under normal circumstances, Cinematic mode is sometimes unable to find focus. It appears that the feature is having difficulty delineating borders in the low contrast lighting, an issue that the system seems to compensating for by widening its subject blur parameters. The result is a fuzzy halo around View’s silhouette.

That said, the video’s dynamic range is impressive thanks to support for Dolby Vision grading.

Daring Fireball’s John Gruber highlighted Morrison’s work earlier today.

Beyond Cinematic mode, iPhone 13 packs in a suite of new hardware and software camera features including better sensors and lenses, enhanced image stabilization, improved Night Mode capabilities, Photographic Styles and, for “Pro” models, ProRes codec support. Earlier on Wednesday, photographer Austin Mann touted iPhone 13 Pro’s macro feature — enabled through the ultra wide lens — as a selling point for the handset.

The whole package: How plastics and sustainability startups achieve success

The amount of plastic pouring into our oceans is set to triple by 2040, and the bulk of the un-recycled plastic in the world is generated by an enormous industry: consumer packaged goods (CPG). The world is rife with waste from such goods, but as people become more aware and look to minimize the waste they produce, tech startups are coming up with novel solutions to help people and companies meet their sustainability goals.

At TechCrunch Disrupt this week, we spoke with Svanika Balasubramanian, the co-founder and CEO of rePurpose Global, a “plastic credits” platform dedicated to making planetary action accessible; Brian Bushell, the co-founder and CEO of by Humankind, a personal care brand designed around reducing single-use plastic waste; and Lauren Singer, founder and CEO of Package Free, an online retailer that sells products that help us to live a zero or low-waste lifestyle.

“People want to behave sustainably, but above that, they want products that they love. They want products that work for them, and they don’t want to sacrifice the quality or the convenience that they had before.”

The founders discussed how they plan to eliminate plastic and create valuable businesses at the same time, and shared insights about growing and succeeding in the sustainable tech space.

Here are the 5 Startup Battlefield finalists at Disrupt 2021

Over the last two days, 20 companies took the stage in TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield in a bid to win $100,000 and the Startup Battlefield cup. They had six minutes to present their pitch decks and answered six minutes of questions from noted investors and executives.

The judges and TechCrunch editors evaluated the companies and selected five finalists:

These companies will take the stage one more time on Thursday, September 23, the final day of TechCrunch Disrupt 2021. This time around, they’ll have six minutes to pitch and will take nine minutes of questions from some of the best investors and execs in Silicon Valley.

Wish them luck.

Tatum

Tatum is a blockchain infrastructure startup that wants to make it much easier to develop your own blockchain-based product. The company operates a platform-as-a-service product so that you don’t have to manage your own nodes and learn how to interact with each client.

Nth Cycle

Nth Cycle has developed an electro-extraction system that stands at less than 1,000 square feet and can process 5 tons of material per day – a key differentiator from big, traditional recyclers that use hydro- and pyrometallurgical techniques that require more capital and generate a greater footprint. The system can accept “black mass,” a powdery waste substance that’s generated from the battery recycling process, and turn that waste into valuable minerals like nickel, cobalt and manganese.

Koa

Koa sees an opportunity to bring banking services to more people in Kenya. Its first product is a savings app that allows consumers to deposit, save and earn interest on their money. Since beta launching in April 2021, the company has onboarded around 5,000 customers who use its savings product. But with savings being the lowest-hanging fruit for fintech apps, the CEO says the plan for Koa is to offer more products along the line.

Cellino

Cellino, a company developing a platform to automate stem cell production, combines AI technology, machine learning, hardware, software — and yes, lasers! — to democratize access to cell therapies. It aims to bring down costs associated with the manufacturing of human cells while also increasing yields.

Adventr

After launching in beta in August 2020, Adventr created a user-friendly interface where anyone can drag and drop elements to make interactive videos. Thousands of users have built interactive experiences, from space-themed children’s education modules to promotional videos for luxury fashion clients like Marc Jacobs and LVMH.

India’s Oyo to file for $1 billion IPO

Indian budget hotel chain startup Oyo is looking to file for an initial public offering as soon as next week, people familiar with the matter told TechCrunch, joining a handful of firms in the world’s second largest market that are working to explore the public markets.

The seven-year-old startup, founded by 27-year-old Ritesh Agarwal, is planning to raise as much as $1.2 billion in the IPO and seek a valuation of over $11 billion, the people said, requesting anonymity discussing private matters.

The aforementioned terms could slightly change in the next few days and the startup may take an additional few days to file the paperworks, the people said.

Like Zomato, and a handful of firms including Paytm and PolicyBazaar, Oyo plans to list on Indian stock exchanges, one person said.

The firm, which counts SoftBank, Lightspeed Partners, and Airbnb among its investors and was most recently valued at $9.6 billion, had about $780 million to $800 million in the bank as of three months ago (per Agarwal’s public comment at a recent conference) and raised $660 million in debt in July.

Oyo, which recently raised about $5 million in a strategic investment from Microsoft, operates in nearly three dozen countries. The startup, one of the most valuable in the South Asian nation, has a developed an operating system of sorts to help hoteliers accept digital bookings and payments. Oyo, using its technology stack, helps hoteliers determine the best price for a room and helps them with discoverability and integrations with third-party hotel booking services such as booking.com and MakeMyTrip.

Like most others in the travel and hospitality business, Oyo was severely hit by the pandemic, but has recovered considerably in recent months.

Most of the startup’s revenue today comes from a handful of markets including India, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Europe that have relaxed their lockdown restrictions as more people get vaccinated.

In an interview with Bloomberg TV in July, Agarwal had said the startup was “already operating like a public company,” but declined to share whether it was looking to list anytime soon. The company has not commented on any IPO plans beyond this.

SEC Regional Director Erin Schneider talks SPACs, Coinbase, and what startups could do better

If startups were looking for more specifics about crypto lending, new rules by which blank-check companies might have to abide, or whether the SEC views NFTs (non-fungible tokens) as securities, they didn’t get any this week from Erin Schneider, the regional director of the SEC’s powerful San Francisco office.

While speaking at TechCrunch Disrupt 2021, Schneider — whose team has helped wring settlements out of Theranos, Elon Musk and, more recently, the app analytics company App Annie — was clear from the outset that she was limited in what she could say.

She did, however, share insight into her personal thinking about a range of these issues, which, given her position, seems very much worth listening to (watch the full interview with Schneider below).

For starters, we asked Schneider about Coinbase’s now-shelved crypto lending product, and why BlockFi, a crypto lending company, has been grappling with state regulators that want it to stop offering its own interest-bearing products (the SEC — a federal agency — put the kibosh on Coinbase’s plans).

Schneider said startups should expect to abide by both federal regulations and state regulations, which can differ widely depending on the state. But she also used the question to answer something she wasn’t asked: Can financial products like Coinbase’s proposed offering confuse consumers? Her answer to this was, no surprise, resoundingly affirmative.

I do think over the last couple years, we’ve seen companies that started out calling [themselves] very disruptive, but they’re starting to add on features that look very similar to traditional financial structures, and especially in that sort of situation, the risk for investor confusion is high. [So] any regime, via the state or a federal regime, is going to look very closely at how these companies are advertising their products and what regimes they are subject to, because I do think there’s potential for investor risks and investor confusion.

Apple deprecates TLS 1.0 and 1.1 with iOS 15, macOS 12, more

Apple this week continued work to deprecate Transport Layer Security 1.0 and 1.1 from its various operating systems, replacing the long-in-the-tooth security protocols with more modern versions.

The company first announced plans to transition away from early versions of TLS in 2018, saying Safari would move to TLS version 1.2 and 1.3 in 2020. Those changes were implemented in initial betas of iOS 13.4 and macOS 10.15.4.

Explaining the shift in 2018, Apple software engineer Christopher Wood described TLS as a critical internet security protocol for protecting web traffic as it moves between clients and servers. Despite handling sensitive data, legacy versions date back to 1999.

As noted by Apple today, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) deprecated TLS 1.0 and 1.1 as of March 25, 2021. The IETF approved the next iteration of TLS, version 1.3, in 2018.

Apple urges developers to build in support for TLS 1.3, calling it “faster and more secure.” Apps that currently use TLS 1.0 or 1.1 are asked to transition to TLS 1.2 or later. Developers who have enabled App Transport Security (ATS) on all connections do not need to make additional changes to their app, as the feature requires connections secured with modern TLS certificates.

Rashida Jones, David Oyelowo join cast of Apple TV+ original 'Wool'

Apple added Rashida Jones and David Oyelowo to the cast of upcoming Apple TV+ dystopian series “Wool,” adding to a list of big names already attached to the production.

Jones and Oyelowo join Tim Robbins and Rebecca Ferguson in the show based on Hugh Howey’s New York Times bestselling “Silo” series, reports Deadline.

“Wool” takes place in a ruined world where people are forced underground to survive. The story revolves around a community living in a silo that goes hundreds of stories into the earth.

Oyelowo will play Holston, the Silo’s sheriff, while Jones is set to play his wife Allison. Allison works alongside Ferguson’s character the silo’s IT department, which is headed by Bernard (Robbins).

Jones, perhaps best known for her roles in “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation,” recently starred in Netflix comedy “#BlackAF” and lended her voice to Fox’s “Duncanville.” She was the lead in Apple TV+ original “On the Rocks,” directed by Sofia Coppola and co-starring Bill Murray.

A seasoned British actor with multiple credits to his name, Oyelowo put in a commanding performance as Martin Luther King, Jr. in 2014’s “Selma,” directed by Ava DuVernay.

“Wool” will be penned by Emmy-nominated screenwriter Graham Yost (“Band of Brothers,” “Justified”) and directed by Academy Award nominee Morten Tyldum (“Defending Jacob,” “The Imitation Game”). Ferguson, Yost, Tyldum and Howey will executive produce alongside Remi Aubuchon, Nina Jack and Ingrid Escajeda.