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Neo.Tax raises $10M to help startups access R&D tax credits

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For most people, mention of the word “taxes” conjures up unpleasant things like tedious processes, mountains of paperwork and shelling out a lot of money to the government.

But one startup is on a mission to make taxes less…well, dreadful and an actual benefit. Mountain View, California-based Neo.Tax wants to apply machine learning to business taxes, upgrading them “from an ancient pain into a modern advantage.” Or in other words, it wants to make it easier for small businesses and startups to turn taxes from a liability into an asset. 

Its first product is designed to help such businesses to claim an IRS R&D tax credit that could result in $250,000 back in their pockets. The credits tend to be fairly easy for most software-based startups to qualify for, given the current IRS rules for what qualifies as “research.” But the process can still be daunting to some.

In line with that, Neo.Tax has teamed up with Mercury, a digital bank geared toward startups, so that fintech can offer the product to its own customers.

Or as Neo.Tax co-founder Steve Yarbrough puts it: “Neo.Tax is like having a former IRS Agent walking our customers through the process.” In addition to the technology, customers get “white-glove” support, the company adds.

The founding team behind Neo.Tax is notable in that each of the entrepreneurs have interesting — but diverse — backgrounds that are well-suited to develop this kind of software. Firas Abuzaid holds a PhD from Stanford University. The company jokes that he is automating the brain of a former IRS Agent, Stephen Yarbrough, which has been productized by a former Intuit product manager, Ibrahim. 

The trio’s innovative approach has caught the attention of investors for the second time in two years. Today, Neo.Tax is announcing that it has raised $10 million in a Series A funding round led by Infinity Ventures with participation from Google Ventures, Acrew Capital and Fin Venture Capital, in addition to participation from the existing backers — Uncork Capital, Floodgate, Liquid 2 Ventures and Lux Capital. It raised a $3 million seed round in June of 2020.

Neo.Tax was incorporated in July 2019 but the founding team came together in April 2020.

“Our goal is to truly automate taxes, and through automation and intelligence turn taxes into a modern advantage for businesses,” Ibrahim said. “We are taking one of a business’ most painful problems, taxes, and not just marginally improving it, we are reinventing the entire process for companies.”

In 2021, Neo.Tax saw its revenue grow 3x and its goal is to have over 5x growth in 2022. While it has been profitable in the past, it is now more focused on growth, including adding to its team. This time last year, the company had nine employees. Today, it has 20, and is “actively” hiring across all teams.

The startup plans to also use its capital towards building “better software” and on improving its core tax automation technology. It’s also putting some money toward brand and market awareness.

Its sweet spot is early-stage startups, including buzzy fintech Pipe, Stedi, Base Ten, Taika, Casa and Hatch Card.

Looking ahead, Neo.Tax is starting to focus more on accountants. It plans to release a product later this year that aims to take an accountant’s workflow of preparing a client’s taxes from 10-15 hours to just 10-15 minutes. It is also gearing its software toward “fintech partners” that are focused on building the modern CFO tech stack. 

The company believes it is in the right place at the right time. The pandemic increased the importance of extending a business’ runway and also, a record number of companies have been formed since it began. Also, the government introduced more tax credits to help support businesses during the pandemic.

“So there was a larger opportunity to help businesses navigate this complexity — and simplify it,” said CEO Ibrahim. “Whenever the tax code gets more complex — and it’s always getting more complex — that’s a perfect job for software.” 

Infinity Ventures co-founder Jay Ganatra said he was drawn to the quality of the Neo.Tax team and their vision.

“It’s rare to find a team that has all of the perfect ingredients – a PM from Quickbooks, a machine-learning PhD, and the head of tax credit audit for the IRS – to solve a very large and pressing problem,” he wrote via email. “Combine that with a clear roadmap for building a differentiated business tax platform over the next decade and the decision was easy to invest.”

His firm also “loves” that the company is very focused on embedded tax as a distribution strategy.

“With the cost of direct acquisition increasing across the board, Neo.Tax‘s ability to offer their services within platforms that already have thousands of businesses who need their product was really attractive,” Ganatra added. “This strategy can also only be applied if you can scale rapidly with your distribution partners. The ML platform that the team has built is top notch and allows for automated filings, which means that it’s just as easy for us to do ten thousand of these as it is just ten.”

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Software Development

Insify is modernizing insurance, but this time for SMEs

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Meet Insify, an insurtech startup that raised a $17 million (€15 million) Series A round led by Accel. The company wants to modernize the insurance market. Instead of focusing on the consumer market like many insurtech startups, Insify has picked a different path. It’s a pure B2B play as Insify focuses on Europe’s small and medium companies.

In addition to Accel, Visionaries Club, existing investors Frontline Ventures and Fly Ventures, and several business angels also participated in the round.

Originally started in the Netherlands, Insify founder and CEO Koen Thijssen previously worked on Bloomon, a flower e-commerce startup. After selling this company to Bloom & Wild, he wanted to fix a pain point that he encountered while building Bloomon — business insurance hasn’t changed much and can slow you down.

With Insify, companies that are just getting started can get a property and casualty insurance without much effort. The company currently mostly relies on direct subscriptions on its website. More recently, it has started embedding its insurance products in other products, such as Bol.com.

Insify tries to price its insurance contracts thanks to several data sources so that you don’t have to fill out complicated forms. Its insurance products are backed by Munich Re. So far, 1,500 companies have become Insify clients.

The startup focuses on small companies because it’s an underserved markets. Freelancers or teams of 2, 5 or 10 people don’t have a ton of options. Insurers mostly serve this market through brokers. And those brokers sometimes aren’t very responsive.

“Legacy insurers and brokers find it more complex to service small businesses than consumers, yet premiums are much lower than with medium-size or large businesses. Hence, the segment of freelancers and small businesses has long been neglected,” Koen Thijssen said.

If you want to get started as a freelancer and you already have found your first client, chances are you’ll need to share your insurance contract before you can close the deal. With Insify, you don’t have to wait several days to receive your insurance document.

“Overall, we see a very large opportunity in Embedded Insurance, especially in the segment of small businesses, and have made this one of our strategic priorities,” Koen Thijssen said.

So it sounds like Insify has found a way to address an underserved market with a good distribution strategy. In the future, Insify plans to expand to other products, such as life insurance, and other markets around Europe.

Image Credits: Insify

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Software Development

If crypto companies are going to spend this much money, can we at least get an 11th F1 team?

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Tracking the influx of tech money into Formula 1, a racing series famous for its high costs and reputation-laundering for authoritarian governments, has been a fun game in recent years.

Tech concerns, flush with capital and power, have poured money into F1 teams and F1 branding because they can afford it — and the sport has a global fanbase. Put money into F1, and you get global exposure to a certain degree.

So it’s not a surprise that watching the Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant F1 Team — yes, that’s its real name — unveil its new car today, I noticed that the new set of wheels had a Crypto.com sticker on it. I was also reminded that IT and consulting giant Cognizant is one of the team’s leading sponsors.

Nor is it surprising that Oracle just signed up for a half-decade with Red Bull’s team — now called Oracle Red Bull Racing — to the reported tune of around $100 million per year. It was previously a sponsor. Now it’s the leading sponsor, apart from the drinks company. Oracle’s logo is rather large on the new team car.

What else? Ah yes, Ferrari’s F1 team just landed a deal with Palantir, it announced today.

I could go on and on. Mercedes’ F1 team is backed by TeamViewer, AMD and CrowdStrike. McLaren’s F1 team is backed by everyone, including Webex, Splunk, Alteryx, DataRobot and Smartsheet, among others. Lots of tech money is already in my beloved racing circuit, in other words.

But the Crypto.com branding on the new Aston Martin got me thinking. Tezos, another company in the blockchain space, backs McLaren and Red Bull, while FTX backs Mercedes and more. That means that there’s already a good amount of crypto capital in the F1 space, not just money from traditional technology firms.

I have an idea. In light of the news that Binance is putting $200 million into the Forbes SPAC deal, TV ads for crypto trading and more, it’s time for a bold blockchain company to succeed where so many others have failed: building a new F1 team.

Admit it, it’s brilliant. Tech companies have been content to merely work with F1 teams thus far, perhaps bringing some tech along with their checkbook. But crypto companies appear hellbent on making a big splash now. So why not cut the crap and really get the money flowing?

Crypto.com spent more than $100 million sponsoring F1 for five years. Cool. But cooler would be to have a Crypto.com F1 team. Or a Coinbase F1 team. Or a Binance F1 team. Or an FTX F1 team. C’mon y’all, dream bigger than naming a stadium or not paying a dividend!

Blockchains are, to the firm believers, the future of much of the economy. If that expectation is going to hold up, certainly we’ll see crypto-backed F1 teams in time, right? So why not get a jump on the matter?

Time to put some fiat where the token beliefs really are and get us an 11th team. I volunteer as a mascot if this happens. I will even wear a silly costume. Let’s go!



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Software Development

Remote work and events startup twine acquires YC-backed Glimpse to launch on Zoom

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Twine, a company that provides networking tools for virtual events and remote teams, will soon bring its services to Zoom thanks to its just-closed acquisition of the Y Combinator-backed startup, Glimpse, which had developed a “speech matching” platform designed for virtual events. Glimpse’s idea was to offer a way to facilitate the connections that typically took place at real-world events, and bring them online by matching attendees within video chats using A.I. intelligence. Recently, Glimpse had been testing a new integration that would allow event hosts to add speed networking to their Zoom meetings, webinars and events.

This integration is powered by Zoom’s new “Breakout Room” APIs, which Glimpse and a handful of others had early access to. Though both companies were working in a similar space of working to connect people remotely, Glimpse’s Zoom integration put them ahead of twine in terms of product development. Plus, twine co-founder and CEO Lawrence Coburn admits his company had even lost some deals to Glimpse.

With this acquisition, Glimpse’s technology will become available to twine’s customer base, including its plans to expand to reach the broader Zoom user base.

In the next few weeks, a small group of apps built using Zoom’s new breakout room APIs will be added to its app store, the Zoom App Marketplace, which today houses dozens of apps either designed to work within the Zoom client itself, or expand its capabilities in other ways. The forthcoming “twine for Zoom” product will be among them, giving customers access to matching tools, networking and virtual watercooler tools that can be used not only for virtual events, but also other types of meetings, like company socials, all-hands meetings, new hire onboardings, community meetups, and more.

“We’ve admired the Glimpse team and products from afar for a long time, and we are thrilled to be teaming up with them,” Coburn said. “What they’ve managed to build within the Zoom ecosystem is nothing short of remarkable, with game-changing impact for remote teams and virtual events.”

Though a relatively young company with only a small amount of revenue, Glimpse had grown to 150 customers and had a waitlist of 700 more businesses interested in using its platform. These ranged from edtech companies to VCs to even enterprise clients. The latter appealed most to twine, which already had larger companies using its tools, including Amazon, Microsoft and eBay, for example.

“What Glimpse is doing with Breakout Rooms is groundbreaking; it’s exactly the reason we created the Zoom App Marketplace to begin with,” said Ross Mayfield, Product Lead Zoom Apps & Integrations, in a statement. “I look forward to seeing the twine team bring twine for Zoom to market,” he added.

Glimpse had participated in startup accelerator Y Combinator’s winter 2020 batch and had seed-stage investment from both YC and Maven Ventures. Its co-founders, Helena Merk and Brian Li, will remain on retainer to be available to twine during the transition. However, its team of three employees is joining twine, which now has 16 people full-time. The acquisition terms aren’t being disclosed, as this is a small exit, given the early nature of both companies. However, we understand this to be an all-stock deal in the seven-figure range.

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Software Development

Join Curve Finance’s Michael Egorov at the DeFi and the Future of Programmable Money Summit

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Whether you’re already a conquering whale, about to dip your toes into a stablecoin pool or merely crypto-curious, DeFi and the Future of Programmable Money is the place to be on March 30, 2022. During this day-long virtual summit, you’ll hear from and engage with the top minds and visionaries in the wild world of alternative finance.

If there’s an 800-pound gorilla in the crypto-verse, it’s Curve Financial, and we’re thrilled to announce that Michael Egorov, the company’s founder and CEO, will grace the stage and share his deep expertise. More about that in a moment.

A no token zone: Attending DeFi and the Future of Programmable Money is free, but you must register to reserve your spot. The summit is in partnership with Sommelier Finance — a leading crypto project created to automate decentralized finance trading — co-founded by Zaki Manian.

Curve is a decentralized exchange (DEX) liquidity pool on Ethereum, and it’s designed for extremely efficient stablecoin trading. Prior to founding Curve, Egorov co-founded both NuCypher and LoanCoin, worked at LinkedIn, earned a PhD in Physics at the Swinburne University of Technology and graduated from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology.

Since launching its first stablecoin pool in January 2020 — with $1 million total value locked (TVL) — Curve’s growth and dominance has been impressive. By the end of 2021, its TVL hit $20 billion making it the biggest DeFi project in the world by this metric.

Currently, roughly 86 percent of Curve’s $3 billion token supply (CRV) is locked in different types of DeFi protocols. The resulting competition over declining liquidity has spawned an entire ecosystem and spurred what experts call the “Curve Wars.”

Egorov is a DeFi superstar, and he’ll take the virtual stage with three other mighty minds — Andre Cronje, co-founder of Fantom Protocol; Taariq Lewis, founder of Volume and Ivangbi, builder of narratives at Gearbox and LobsterDAO — for this must-see session:

What is the state of DeFi today and why is it thriving — What’s currently happening in DeFi and what’s making the ecosystem thrive? Find out what projects you should be following and understand where the next wave of growth will originate.

You can check the event agenda to see the other crypto topics and experts we have in store.

DeFi and the Future of Programmable Money is free and takes place on March 30. Register here to reserve your seat today. You don’t want to miss Egorov’s expert take on the current and future state of DeFi, because when an 800-pound gorilla speaks, it pays to listen.

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Software Development

Instagram rolls out ‘Your activity’ and ‘Security checkup’ features worldwide

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Instagram is introducing a rolling out a “Your activity” tab that allows users to see and manage their activity on the app. The company started testing the feature late last year and is now rolling it out to all users worldwide. The new tab allows users to bulk delete their content and interactions. This includes posts, stories, reels, comments, likes, story sticker reactions and more. Users will also be able to sort and filter their content and interactions by date and search for past comments, likes and stories replies from specific date ranges, all within the new display.

You can also find content that you’ve recently deleted or archived, check out your search history, see the links you’ve visited and the amount of time you’ve spent on the platform. To access the new tab, you need to go to your profile and tap the menu in the upper right corner and then select “Your activity.”

Instagram is also rolling out its “Security checkup” feature to everyone worldwide. The company began testing the feature last summer for people whose accounts may have been hacked. Security Checkup guides users through the steps needed to secure their accounts.  You can check login activity, review profile information, confirm the accounts that share login information and also update your account recovery information, such as a phone number or email address. You can complete your security checkup by going into your settings.

Image Credits: Instagram

The company also revealed that it’s testing a way for users to ask their friends to confirm their identities in order to regain access to their accounts. The feature works by first entering a previous password that you’ve used to access your account. Then, you’ll need to choose two friends on Instagram who can confirm your identity. When you send a request for help, the users will need to respond within 24 hours. If both of the friends confirm your identity within 24 hours, you’ll be able to create a new password. If they don’t, you get another chance to choose two different friends. Instagram says it will have more to share about this feature soon.

In addition to these new features, Instagram recently introduced a new profile banner that will display a user’s upcoming livestreams a few weeks ago. The company also launched an early test of creator subscriptions in the United States. Select creators are now able to offer their followers paid access to exclusive Instagram Live videos and Stories. Creators can choose their own price point for access to their exclusive content. Paid subscribers will be marked with a special badge, differentiating them from unpaid users in the sea of comments. Instagram isn’t the only social media platform looking to experiment with subscriptions, as TikTok has also confirmed that it’s testing support for paid subscriptions.



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How to ruin the metaverse? Build it around profit and centralization

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Reading back through a transcript from Facebook’s investor-disappointing fourth-quarter earnings call has solidified my perspective that we need a third-party, benevolent central entity for the metaverse. A sort of central digital clearinghouse that can transport me from place to place, inclusive of the platform-locked areas that will inevitably come to constitute a portion of our online selves.


The Exchange explores startups, markets and money.

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The concept of the metaverse is flexible, with companies, individuals and dreamers coming up with differing exact formulations of the idea. Still, we need somewhere to meet, so after reading a host of shots at this particular goal, I think it’s fair to say that the metaverse is a connected digital environment that is inherently social and based around individual identity.

Digging into that definition, the metaverse will be connected in that it’s online and likely dynamic, digital in that it is purely synthetic, inherently social in that it revolves more around human-to-human interaction than solo activities, and based around individual identity as it seems generally agreed that folks are going to have some form of self in the mix. Avatars, NFTs, pick your poison.

Facebook parent company Meta is all-in on the concept, with new hardware and software for the metaverse costing the social networking giant a mint. You can understand why Meta wants to win the metaverse, with its core apps seemingly late in their maturity cycles and younger, more nimble foes in the social space doing to Facebook what Facebook did to a prior generation of consumer networking applications.

Meta needs to win the next cycle to maintain its growth, especially in light of privacy changes on iOS that are showing up in its business results. So, metaverse.

From a corporate perspective, Meta’s drive to win the nascent if not-really-new concept of the metaverse makes sense. From a consumer perspective, I’m not stoked about Facebook winning.

Profits, centralization and the metaverse

The story of Facebook’s progression to Meta is — compressing mightily — this: It’s a social network that added more users over time from an artificially constrained genesis (college students) before morphing into a collection of major social applications built through acquisitions, then to a shared data-core with different social apps positioned on top. Today, it’s a mega-corp with slowing core business and big hopes about the future.

Meta’s metaverse plans are, from that timeline, not small. They matter in that the company’s future growth is predicated on their success. This means that whatever Meta builds will have a strong monetization angle. Which, thanks to the company’s DNA, is fair to presume will center around advertising and a unique identity likely tied to the company’s existing account system.

Not to bang the blockchain drum this early in the day, but Meta’s metaverse plans are a bit too centralized for my tastes. Even more, I don’t want to participate in more ad-driven activities, which Meta would likely include in its metaverse future. I am already suffering from advertising poisoning, in which seeing an advert for your company in a multimedia environment makes me hate your brand, regardless of how well-targeted the promotion may be. Leave me alone.

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Software Development

After seeing 200%+ ARR growth, Occupier raises $10.5M to become the OS for corporate real estate teams

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The COVID-19 pandemic has created all sorts of real estate issues for companies as it forced so many employees to work from home, leaving empty space all over the globe.

And while there is no shortage of technology out there for landlords, there are fewer options for commercial real estate tenants and brokers.

Enter Occupier. The New York-based startup has developed lease management software for commercial real estate tenants and brokers. This is particularly timely, considering how many businesses are having to make tough decisions about how to use their space as the pandemic rages on. The company’s original focus was on offices as an asset class but has expanded over time to include any business that has a real estate strategy –– from healthcare clinics to retailers to warehouses.

And today, Occupier is announcing it has raised $10.5 million in a Series A funding round.

OMERS Ventures and Stage 2 Capital co-led the investment, which included participation from existing backers Alate Partners and Metaprop. The raise brings the total raised by Occupier since its 2018 inception to $15.5 million.

Founded in 2018 by commercial real estate industry and proptech veterans Matt Giffune, Andrew Flint and Erik Pearson, Occupier says it’s on a mission to help organizations “make smarter real estate decisions for their business.” Its software is designed to automate the lease administration process, lease accounting and transaction management.

It’s also aimed at helping organizations remain in compliance with new lease accounting guidelines that were effective for public companies in 2021 and will impact private companies this year.

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and coinciding recent changes to federal lease accounting standards combined have forced companies to have more ownership over their real estate, noted Occupier co-founder Matt Giffune.

“Tenants are in a phase of adaptation as they re-evaluate their real estate strategy, and thus their adoption of digital solutions,” he said. “Office occupiers started experimenting with hybrid work models, restaurateurs began adopting ghost kitchens and retailers continued exploring omni-channel models.”

As such, the pandemic affected Occupier’s business in ways the company could not have predicted, Giffune said. Suddenly, companies had empty space for which they had to find creative uses.

“More and more tenants began searching for commercial real estate tech solutions to help them solve the problem of unlocking the data in their lease portfolio and then evaluating that to make better real estate decisions for their business,” he added. “What Occupier does is allow brokers and heads of real estate to sign a lease agreement, then automate the management of critical dates and clauses, while the accounting team compliantly recognizes that lease then closes the books, all on one platform.”

While the company declined to reveal hard revenue figures, it did say that it saw over 200% year over year growth in annual recurring revenue (ARR). It has more than 130 customers across a variety of verticals, including Bluestone Lane Coffee, Afterpay, Shake Shake, Gorillas, DraftKings, [solidcore] and Bonobos.

Image Credits: Occupier

Legacy software companies typically focused on a single module, which can create silos of work and disparate sets of data, noted Giffune.

“Here at Occupier, we are building a single source of truth with a modern and intuitive interface, accessible by every stakeholder in a business that requires access to real estate data,” he said. “Our software is enabling tenants to collaborate on the entire lease life cycle.”

The company plans to use its new capital in part toward doubling its current 26-person headcount over the next year.

“Our near-team focus is to build the most user-friendly lease management and accounting platform for the masses,” Giffune said. “Long term, we will look to provide our customers with access to third-party data sources within Occupier that inform real estate decisions and drive more efficient workflows.”

Fun fact about the startup: Other than two of its co-founders, its board is female.

Michelle Killoran, a principal at OMERS Ventures, told TechCrunch that her firm has long recognized that the commercial real estate sector “was ripe for disruption.”

“The pandemic created a seismic shift in terms of the speed at which companies started looking for ways to optimize their real estate. And not just as it relates to flexible working — think about retail outlets, restaurants, health clinics,” she said. “Occupier just had the right business model, with the right team, at the right time in the market — they ticked all the boxes for us from the get-go.”

 She believes that Occupier is different from other technology aimed at tenants and brokers because it connects all stakeholders.

“Lots of offerings out there are a threat to brokers — so why would they use it?”

In the long term, OMERS fully expects to see a decline in traditional, massive corporate headquarters and an uptick in smaller offices spread across larger geographic areas, with more frequent changes. 

“For retail and warehouses, there continues to be a shifting landscape these businesses need to adapt to in near real time,” Killoran said. “For all of these reasons, it’s imperative that businesses, not just real estate professionals, have access to reliable, transparent data. And Occupier gives them just that.”

Stage 2 Capital’s Liz Christo believes Occupier has the potential to be the operating system for real estate teams.

“In addition to the operating platform angle for companies, Occupier has a CRM for brokers,” she told TechCrunch. “As more customers use Occupier, they invite their brokers in and those brokers in turn are exposed to the software and can enable usage by more of their clients — a true virtuous cycle.”

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Samsung kills the Note, so the Galaxy S22 Ultra can fly

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The Note is dead. After more than a decade, Samsung has officially closed the book on the transformative phablet. The brand will still exist, but only in a kind of liminal marketing capacity. “We’re thinking more and more of the Note as the experience,” a rep told me on a recent briefing call.

As the Note is laid to rest, a familiar figure emerged from the shadows of today’s Unpacked event. Like a well-worn soap opera plot where a character tragically dies, but the actor (still under contract) emerges — deus ex machina — as the identical twin the writers never cared to set up on previous seasons. This, friends, is the Galaxy S22 Ultra.

The premium end of the Galaxy S line could easily do the Lucille Ball/Harpo Marx mirror bit with its tragically departed sibling. In the lead up to today’s event, I had the opportunity to fiddle around with (and photograph) the new device. I wasn’t entirely sure from early images, but having now used the product a bit, I can confidently tell you that the Galaxy S22 Ultra is a Note in every sense but name.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

It’s true that the company has spent the last several generations blurring the lines. The Galaxy S line kept creeping up in size, culminating with the addition of S Pen functionality last year on the Ultra model. Of course, S Pen compatibility without the S Pen slot is — to put it politely — inconvenient. So you go and add a stylus slot into the phone and bam, you’ve basically got another Note on your hands. In spite of the two lines’ shared DNA, the look and feel of this is 100% Note, right down to the rounded edges.

I’d have gone with the Samsung Galaxy S22 Note — or hell, just the Galaxy Note 22. My suspicion is that there’s stronger brand recognition with Galaxy Note than Galaxy S, but I’m no marketing expert. If I was, I would probably have a yacht with a name like “Top of the Funnel” or something. But alas, someone at Samsung decided the Galaxy S line was strong enough to absorb the Note brand into quiet oblivion. Well, aside from the aforementioned references to the “Note experience” as a sort of vague descriptor for the world of stylus-based notetaking.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Branding is complicated and Samsung makes a lot of phones. With its foldables graduating to flagship status, the company is opting to consolidate things a bit on that front, and ultimately absorbing the Note into the Galaxy S line made more sense than the other way around. It’s not a full Note takeover of the S devices, however. Stylus function is still Ultra-only, and the company tells me it’s likely to stay that way, in order to maintain a line between the models.

The Note line has been extremely effective in re-popularizing the stylus in a post-iPhone world — more so than I think most of us ever expected. But at the end, it’s still a relatively niche piece of the overall smartphone puzzle. And, among other things, adding the Wacom digitizer to the display panel and integrating the stylus adds to the cost of the product.

At $1,199, the S22 Ultra’s price sits between the Note 20 and Note 20 Ultra ($100 closer to the former). Fittingly, so too does the 6.8-inch display. The QHD+ sports a 120Hz refresh rate — a nice feature found across the S22 line (with the S22+ and S22 running 6.1 and 6.6 inches, respectively). Spec-wise, this thing is robust — as one might hope for when paying a grand plus a couple hundred.

Here in the States, you’re getting the new Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 processor. That’s one of those deals that’s going to vary based on market, as will the generous 5,000mAh battery you’re getting here. That’s paired with 8GB of RAM and either 128 or 256GB of storage. The rear camera system is more than enough to set off your trypophobia.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

There’s a 12-megapixel ultra-wide, a pair (right and left) of telephotos at 10-megapixels apiece — with one sporting 100x Space Zoom and a wide angle at 108-megapixels, which utilizaes non-binning to merge nine pixels into one. The camera can shoot 8K video at 24 frames a second or 4K at 60 FPS. The system features improved low-light shots and video, as well as a new depth map for improved portrait mode shots. The standard S22 and S22+, meanwhile, reduce the rear camera system down to three (ultra-wide, wide and a single tele with 30x space zoom). All three feature a 40-megapixel front-facing camera.

The phones sport Gorilla Glass Invictus for improved protection, coupled with an Armour Aluminum frame. The systems also utilize plastics made “partially” from repurposed fishing nets, as part of the company’s broader push toward more sustainable hardware production. Says Samsung:

These devices will reflect our ongoing effort to eliminate single-use plastics and expand the use of other eco-conscious materials, such as recycled post-consumer material (PCM) and recycled paper. With this transformation, the future of Galaxy technology will bring leading product design and deliver better environmental impact.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

The new S22 models go up for preorder today and will be on sale February 22. In additional to the $1,119 Ultra, the S22 and S22+ start at $799 and $999, respectively. A trio of new tablets were also announced at today’s show. The Galaxy Tab S8, S8+ and S8+ are up for preorder today and will run $1,099., $899 and $699, respectively.

 

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Google Duo’s video chat app gains a SharePlay-inspired feature called ‘live sharing’

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Google is introducing its own take on Apple’s SharePlay feature for FaceTime with today’s launch of a new “live sharing” feature for users of its Google Duo video calling service. In Google’s case, however, the interactive, co-viewing experience is not nearly as robust or as broadly available as Apple’s. It only works with a handful of Google and Samsung apps, for starters. And, at launch, it’s a Samsung exclusive.

The changes were announced as part of Samsung’s Galaxy Unpacked event, where the smartphone maker presented its new Galaxy S22 series and Galaxy Tab S8 series devices. Related to this, Google also shared a handful of updates to its own apps, like Duo, as well as YouTube, and others.

Google Duo’s live sharing feature stood out as being one of the more notable changes as it addresses a similar use case as SharePlay, even if it feels like a watered-down variation. Like SharePlay, Duo’s live sharing also ties into the pandemic-induced trend of spending more time interacting with friends, family and colleagues remotely over video calls. Today, people want to be able to do more than just talk on video chats. They also want to be able to watch content together, interact with the same apps, and share their screens. Duo addresses these needs to some extent, but without the broad ecosystem of third-party app integration that SharePlay offers.

With the Duo update, users will be able to brainstorm new ideas using Google’s digital whiteboard Jamboard, share photos with Gallery, share notes with Samsung Notes, search for locations in Google Maps, and watch videos together on YouTube, Google says.

By comparison, Apple’s SharePlay out of the gate worked with far more apps and services, including many top streaming services like Disney+, NBA, TikTok, Twitch, Paramount+ and Showtime, as well as Apple’s own apps like Apple TV+, Apple Music and Apple Fitness. Unfortunately, Google declined to say if it has any intentions of making Duo a more feature-rich service over time, when asked. There was no news of a developer API platform, either.

“There are no current plans we can share at the moment beyond what was initially shared,” a spokesperson told us, when pressed for more details.

But the company did note that it would not be a Samsung exclusive in the long term. The feature is launching first on the latest Samsung devices, including the Galaxy S22 and Tab S8. It will soon roll out to other Samsung devices and Pixel devices, followed by other Android devices later in 2022.

In addition to Duo’s live sharing, another update brings YouTube users the ability to view a preview of YouTube videos in Messages to better decide whether to watch the video now or later. Users can tap to play the video without leaving the chat, as well. This feature will be coming to all Android phones, with an exception of Android (Go edition) devices.

Also, the new Galaxy S22 series and Galaxy Tab S8 series devices will now no longer require users to download a separate app for Voice Access, as it will be built-in. And devices will support Google’s new personalized design language, Material You, the company said.

 

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