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Apple said to be testing a switch to USB-C for future iPhones

It’s neither surprising, nor necessarily new scuttlebutt, but one of the most reliable Apple news scoopers of all time has chimed in to say that Apple is indeed at least serious enough about a potential switch from Lightning to USB-C on future iPhones that it’s doing testing with models equipped with the latter connector.

Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman said that Apple has been testing iPhone prototypes with USB-C ports in recent months, and that it’s also working on an adapter that would allow iPhones equipped with the more ubiquitous connector to still work with accessories designed with Lightning in mind.

Don’t chuck those Lightning cables in the trash just yet: Gurman’s report says that the earliest this could possibly happen is 2023, as the design for the current new iPhones likely arriving fall 2022 are set with Lightning on board like their predecessors.

As Bloomberg notes, a big driver for considering this change could be the EU ruling from April that approved a requirement that consumer electronics companies adopt USB-C as a common wired connection standard. Apple could theoretically work around the requirement in other ways, but standardizing USB-C as the connector of choice across all their devices would probably also be a win for them in the consumer satisfaction department, especially after moving to using it in other mobile devices like the most recent iPad and iPad Pro tablets.

Dropping Lightning would be a headache in other ways, for both Apple and consumers: It would mean Apple loses out on licensing fees and parts supply revenue for third parties looking to get official “MFI” status for iPhone accessories, and it would mean iPhone users have to either replace existing Lightning accessories or go with the rumored adapter. Plus, AirPods also still rely on Lightning for the time being, so you still can’t shift to a fully USB-C lifestyle.

USB-C is also one of the most confusing connector technologies out there in terms of the different types of cables it terminates. An older USB-C cable might provide exclusively power transfer, for instance, and very low wattage to boot. The situation has gotten a bit easier to parse with more recent cables and devices, though, so at least the possibility would exist for people to streamline their charger and cable mix.

Selfishly, I want Apple to do this because I obsess over the arithmetic of how many cables and chargers I need to pack on trips to keep all my kit charged with a necessary, but minimal, amount of redundancy. As with any reports detailing work at this stage of development, however, there’s always the chance Apple could abandon this development direction and go with Lightning again in 2023 and beyond, however, dooming us to a more complicated cable nest for the foreseeable future.

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Technology

Amazon’s Alexa app feature lets customers option to scan their shopping receipts for cashback rewards

It’s been said that no one uses Alexa for voice-based shopping. But retail giant still sees the potential for Alexa as a shopping companion — just in a different way. That’s why this month the company quietly rolled out a new feature designed to boost consumers’ use of Alexa’s Shopping Lists: cashback offers.

The company confirmed to TechCrunch it introduced “Alexa Shopping List Savings,” which puts rebate offers from brands and manufacturers directly into consumers’ hands through the Alexa app, its mobile companion app for Echo device owners. The company says the offers will be displayed in the Alexa Shopping List section within the app and then can be used across retail stores nationwide to help customers save money.

To use the feature, you’d first select the offers of interest and activate them in the app, then visit your favorite grocery store, drug store, or chain store to buy the product, the Amazon website explains in an FAQ. The details about the offers around how they can be applied are also available in the app, Amazon notes. When you’ve completed your purchase, shoppers claim their rebate by taking a photo of the store receipt that shows the store’s name, location, date and time of purchases, product price and total, then submit it to Amazon through the app. Customers also have to scan the barcode on the product itself to complete the process.

Amazon will send the rebate to the customer via their Amazon Gift Card account. This process may take up to a week but typically takes just 24-48 hours, Amazon says. The Gift Card balance can be used to shop across tens of millions of eligible products on Amazon.

Image Credits: Amazon

As you may expect, this system provides Amazon with a treasure trove of customer shopping data beyond just the offers customers were interested in and were redeeming.

The website notes that by choosing to participate in the Alexa Shopping List Savings program, customers are agreeing to share their personal information and data with Amazon:

… we will get any information you provide, including receipt images and information we may extract from those receipts, and the offers you activate. You understand and acknowledge that your personal information may be shared with Amazon’s service providers.

The data will be used and shared per Amazon’s privacy policy terms, the site notes. Further details were not provided.

Broadly, this business model is not unique to Amazon. Other apps offer similar tools to turn customers’ retail store receipts into “free” gift cards. (They’re not really free — you paid with your data!) For instance, apps like Fetch Rewards, Ibotta, Checkout51 and others make money through affiliate commissions, through the resale of customers’ anonymized data or both, then share some of that revenue back with the customer in the form of cash back or gift cards.

Like rival apps, Amazon’s offers tend to be the same sort of grocery rewards you’d see elsewhere. This includes consumer packaged goods, health and beauty items, baby items, canned food and more — not fresh groceries or other retail categories, like electronics or apparel.

Of course, some people don’t mind sharing their data with businesses in exchange for rewards or cash back — top apps like Fetch and Ibotta have millions of users, in fact. But consumers should be aware that Amazon’s privacy policy makes no promises of anonymizing any data nor does it explain in detail exactly how this data will be put to use.

The feature is live in the Amazon Alexa mobile app today.

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Technology

Snap snaps up database developer KeyDB to make its infrastructure more snappy

As Snapchat’s app continues to grow, the company is turning to the open source community to help further improve its technology infrastructure. This morning, Snap announced it’s acquiring Toronto-based KeyDB, the developer of an open source, high-performance database, for an undisclosed sum.

The startup’s six-person team, including its co-founders John Sully and Ben Schermel, will join Snap’s infrastructure team following the deal’s close, and will work to improve Snap’s caching technology and its sizable engineering workloads, the company says.

A Y Combinator-backed startup, KeyDB touted its solution as being a faster alternative to Redis, offering a focus on things like multithreading, memory efficiency and high throughput. For Snap, it sees the advantage in bringing the technology — and the team’s expertise — in-house to help the company reduce its operational costs across teams and to free up engineering bandwidth. This also allows Snap to focus more on building out other core Snapchat experiences, the company said.

A Snap spokesperson told TechCrunch that KeyDB’s technology will be of significant use across all of Snap, including its monetization and Spotlight platforms. The latter is Snapchat’s short-form video product and a rival to TikTok, which is now a key part of Snap’s business.

KeyDB’s multithreaded database utilizes Redis data structures, flash storage and replication, and runs at Snap scale, the company noted. It’s also an open source project that has a large community, with more than 3 million public downloads.

Fortunately for other engineers, Snap says it will continue the open source project and will also open source KeyDB’s Pro and Enterprise offerings following the acquisition. This will allow the company to continue to benefit from the broader community contributions, we’re told, but will also help Snap to better establish its own presence within the open source community and establish relationships with more developers.

Plus, as Snap’s engineers merge their own internal improvements into the KeyDB project, the company believes it will be able to help solve challenges across the broader community.

Going forward, visitors to the KeyDB GitHub repository will be redirected to the Snap GitHub repository.

The KeyDB team, meanwhile, will continue to work from Toronto, where Snap already has a sizable office that includes, among others, its Bitmoji team.

Snap has been fairly acquisitive over the past year or so, with many of its recent mergers and acquisitions being focused on underlying technologies. In 2021, for instance, Snap bought 3D mapping developer Pixel8earth for $7.6 million, fitting technology startup Fit Analytics for $124 million, location data startup StreetCred, mind-controlled headband maker NextMind and an AR startup to power Spectacles, WaveOptics, for $541.8+ million.

The company had disclosed the prices for FitAnalytics and WaveOptics in an SEC filing due to their size, but said all 2021 acquisitions in aggregate only totaled $266.1 million. The company would not discuss KeyDB’s price, but Crunchbase reports the company was seed-funded with $1.3 million.

Categories
Technology

Amazon’s Alexa app now asks customers to scan their shopping receipts for cashback rewards

It’s been said that no one uses Alexa for voice-based shopping. But retail giant still sees the potential for Alexa as a shopping companion — just in a different way. That’s why this month the company quietly rolled out a new feature designed to boost consumers’ use of Alexa’s Shopping Lists: cashback offers.

The company confirmed to TechCrunch it introduced “Alexa Shopping List Savings,” which puts rebate offers from brands and manufacturers directly into consumers’ hands through the Alexa app, its mobile companion app for Echo device owners. The company says the offers will be displayed in the Alexa Shopping List section within the app and then can be used across retail stores nationwide to help customers save money.

To use the feature, you’d first select the offers of interest and activate them in the app, then visit your favorite grocery store, drug store, or chain store to buy the product, the Amazon website explains in an FAQ. The details about the offers around how they can be applied are also available in the app, Amazon notes. When you’ve completed your purchase, shoppers claim their rebate by taking a photo of the store receipt that shows the store’s name, location, date and time of purchases, product price, and total, then submit it to Amazon through the app. Customers also have to scan the barcode on the product itself to complete the process.

Amazon will send the rebate to the customer via their Amazon Gift Card account. This process may take up to a week, but typically takes just 24-48 hours, Amazon says. The Gift Card balance can be used to shop across tens of millions of eligible products on Amazon.

Image Credits: Amazon

As you may expect, this system provides Amazon with a treasure trove of customer shopping data beyond just the offers customers were interested in and were redeeming.

The website notes that by choosing to participate in the Alexa Shopping List Savings program, customers are agreeing to share their personal information and data with Amazon:

“…we will get any information you provide, including receipt images and information we may extract from those receipts, and the offers you activate. You understand and acknowledge that your personal information may be shared with Amazon’s service providers.”

The data will be used and shared per Amazon’s privacy policy terms, the site notes. Further details were not provided.

Broadly, this business model is not unique to Amazon. Other apps offer similar tools to turn customers’ retail store receipts into “free” gift cards. (They’re not really free — you paid with your data!) For instance, apps like Fetch Rewards, Ibotta, Checkout51, and others make money through affiliate commissions, through the resale of customers’ anonymized data, or both, then share some of that revenue back with the customer in the form of cashback or gift cards.

Like rival apps, Amazon’s offers tend to be the same sort of grocery rewards you’d see elsewhere. This includes consumer packaged goods, health and beauty items, baby items, canned food, and more — not fresh groceries or other retail categories, like electronics or apparel.

Of course, some people don’t mind sharing their data with businesses in exchange for rewards or cashback — top apps like Fetch and Ibotta have millions of users, in fact. But consumers should be aware that Amazon’s privacy policy makes no promises of anonymizing any data nor does it explain in detail exactly how this data will be put to use.

The feature is live in the Amazon Alexa mobile app today.