Snapchat Just Did Something Crazy. It Beat Expectations

 

Snapchat has a reputation. Yes, for sexting, but also for its inability to impress investors. That narrative changed on Tuesday after Snap Inc. scored a massive beat on its quarterly earnings report, recapping revenue and user growth 2017.

 

To the surprise of investors, Snap reported that both its user growth and revenue growth are accelerating. The company brought in $285.7 million, beating expectations of $252.8 million. The app now reaches 187 million daily active users, up from 178 million in the last quarter and a bump of 18 percent year over year. 

SEE ALSO: Snapchat opens Snap Store in app. Yes, there's a Streaks hat.

Snap CEO Evan Spiegel pointed to his willingness to change the company and the product. 

“Our work during 2017 is proof that we aren’t afraid to make big changes for the long-term success of our business," Spiegel said in his prepared remarks. "We redesigned the Snapchat application, transitioned our Snap Ad business to an auction model, and made changes to our team to improve productivity and collaboration."

These financial and growth achievements come after months of a declining stock, news of top talent leaving the company, and concern of older users fleeing to Facebook's Instagram Stories. The highly anticipated redesign, teased to analysts at its third quarter earnings call, has been met with criticism from early users. 

And yet, Snap is soaring. The company's stock shot up by more than 27 percent in after-hours trading. 

 

 

 

"Nice revenue quarter," one of the analysts said on the call before asking more about the growth and ad opportunities. 

"Congrats on the solid results," Matt Diamond of Deutsche Bank said later in the call. 

Snapchat executives emphasized that not every quarter may look this glorious. 

"We are a brand business, and we do believe that the brand business seasonally peaks in the fourth quarter," said Drew Vollero, Snap's chief financial officer. He also noted that the company's revenue from Spectacles, its video camera sunglasses, should decrease in the coming quarters. It brought in $8 million in the first quarter of 2017. 

Of course, not every high number is great. Snap continues to have high spending, losing nearly $350 million in the fourth quarter of 2017. At least, spending is lowering from the previous quarters, and Spiegel acknowledged that the company had rapid hiring. Over the last two years, Snap hired more than 2,400 employees, about 100 per month. Now, Snap is focused on developing the in-house talent.

"While it was critical to build our team to keep pace with the growth of our business, it has become clear that we can now unlock substantially more productivity simply by changing the way that we work and by continuing to build an inclusive and creative culture," Spiegel's prepared remarks reads. 

'Chopping a lot of wood' = Android

Android helped drive Snapchat's growth over the past year. The retention rate of new Snapchat users on Android increased by nearly 20 percent compared to the year prior, according to Spiegel's prepared remarks. On the call, Spiegel emphasized that he has been preaching that focus for awhile, and it has paid off. 

"On the DAU side obviously," Spiegel said with a laugh, "in 2017 we talked a lot about Android ... streaming is making a huge different. I think that's a great step in the right direction, especially with the redesign. We've been chopping a lot of wood on that." 

Snapchat's other big investment is a redesign. So far, the app's redesign is out to 40 million Snapchat users, Spiegel said in the call, and it's expected to reach all users by the end of the first quarter. Users who have the redesign told Mashable last month that they weren't happy but some acknowledged it simply takes some adjustment.

The redesign is faring well, according to Spiegel. The prepared remarks included that during these tests its been increasing Snapchat usage among older users. 

"Compared to the old design, core metrics around content consumption and time spent in the redesigned application are disproportionately higher for users over the age of 35, which bodes well for increasing engagement among older users as we continue to grow our business," Spiegel's prepared remarks reads. 

Money moves

Adding and retaining users is great to keep eyes and attention on Snapchat, but the driver of Snap's business is good advertising. Snap has been opening up its ad system to be easier to use and more accessible. 

Snap doesn't want to completely open themselves up, but they're growing and offering more products. For example, advertisers can buy a Promoted Story and says users are watching their Stories for more than 10 seconds on average. 

"Anyone can buy through our platform and buy advertisement," said Imran Khan, Snap's chief strategy officer. "With our strength in the millennial market ... we're really excited with what we can offer. That's a great way to grow our business without compromising potential privacy issues." 

Snap Maps, the app's visualization of curated Stories on a map of the world, also has the potential to add ads, whether it be ads within Stories or Promoted Stories on the map. But that remains untapped, and Spiegel told analysts there's "nothing to share on that front." 

"We’re trying to stay way ahead of the curve."

Snap is also continuing to grow Discover, its network of media partners including Mashable. Discover itself generated $100 million in revenue for its dozens of partners in 2017. Starting this week, Snapchat launched its Stories for the Winter Olympics with NBC, BuzzFeed, and the International Olympics Committee as official partners. 

But one narrative that Spiegel continues to stress is Snapchat isn't just for TV-like content. The core focus is friends. 

“What we’re trying to say is there’s a really big difference between talking to your friends on the telephone and broadcasting on a TV channel," Spiegel said. "For us, as we evolve the product, this allows us to reinforce the great things about our communication product." 

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has a similar mission with a new focus on "meaningful" connections and the rise of Facebook Watch. But Spiegel's feelings are summed up quite nicely with this line from the call: "We’re trying to stay way ahead of the curve."

Magic Leap Finally Unveils Mixed Reality Headset: Here’s What We Know

The wait is over.

It’s here. In an email this morning, secretive startup Magic Leap gave the public a first look at the mixed reality headset it’s been developing for more than five years.

The first version of the headset to be available for purchase, called the “Magic Leap One Creator Edition,” is aimed at software developers. The headset and its “creator portal” platform will ship to developers sometime in 2018, according to the Magic Leap website.

Pricing for the developer edition or eventual consumer version remains unavailable.

The company touts “digital lightfield” glasses, or “Lightwear,” that trick your brain into seeing unnatural 3D objects that aren’t really there. A cord tethers the glasses to a “Lightpack” you wear on your hip that delivers standalone, portable computing power.

This light field filters a thinner piece of light to create the illusory images you can see and interact with through hand gestures. Magic Leap is also offering a remote with haptic feedback and six degrees of freedom.

 

Key tech specs are still unavailable at this point. We don’t know the headset’s battery life or how wide its field of view is.

Rolling Stone’s Brian Crecente did test out the headset before the announcement and estimated “the viewing space is about the size of a VHS tape held in front of you with your arms half extended.”

“Like Microsoft’s HoloLens, which uses a different sort of technology to create mixed reality, Magic Leap’s Lightwear doesn’t offer you a field of view that matches your eyes,” Crecente writes. “Instead, the Magic Leap creations appear in a field of view that is roughly the shape of a rectangle on its side.”

Magic Leap refused to tell Crecente the headset’s battery life. Magic Leap’s competitor, the Microsoft HoloLens mixed reality headset, lasts for 5.5 hours during average use and 2.5 hours when pushed to its limits, according to The Verge.

 

Notably, the Magic Leap One’s glasses are connected via a cord to an external computer. On the other hand, the HoloLens achieves standalone computing without relying on an external source.

It’s possible Magic Leap could offer a more affordable alternative to the $3,000 Microsoft HoloLens Developer Edition. But they will also have to contend with the range of apps, developers and businesses already using the HoloLens.

Not to mention, a new HoloLens with improved computing power and a more immersive display is expected in 2019 or earlier, The Verge reports.

 

Here are some initial reviews of the Magic Leap One.

This week, Magic Leap gave Pitchfork and Rolling Stone exclusive early looks at the headset. Both writers were impressed with the tech.

Rolling Stone’s Crecente experienced a demo of a sci-fi wonderland and a virtual AI assistant that comes baked in the headset.

From Rolling Stone:

“At another point, a wall in the room suddenly showed the outline of a door with bright white light shining through it. The door opened and a woman walked in.

She walked up to me, stopping a few feet away, to stand nearby. The level of detail was impressive, though I wouldn’t mistake her for a real person, there was something about her luminescence, her design, that gave her away. While she didn’t talk or react to what I was saying, she has the ability to. Instead, Miller had her on manual control, running her face through a series of emotions: smiling, angry, disgusted. I noticed that when I moved or looked around, her eyes tracked mine. The cameras inside the Lightwear was feeding her data so she could maintain eye contact. It was a little unnerving and I found myself breaking eye contact eventually, to avoid being rude.

One day, this human construct will be your Apple Siri, Amazon Alexa, OK Google, but she won’t just be a disembodied voice, she will walk with you, look to you, deliver AI-powered, embodied assistance.”

Pitchfork’s Marc Hogan tried out an interactive musical experience called Tónandithat’s the result of a more than four year collaboration between Magic Leap and Icelandic band Sigur Rós. Magic Leap also told him music was key to the company’s vision.

 

 

 

 

 

From Pitchfork:

“There’s a nervous hum, and then I see a group of little sprites floating around in front of me. The jellyfish-like creatures seem to match the waveform of the music I’m hearing through headphones. Encouraged to explore with my hands, I reach out, causing the waveforms to alter shape—both visually and in the audio playback, like a SoundCloud embed that’s somehow alive, three-dimensional, and responding to my movements.”

Magic Leap, founded in 2011 and based in Florida, has raised $1.9 billion from the likes of Google and Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba. Today, the company enjoys a $6 billion valuation.

Image Credit: Magic Leap

HTC Unveils New Vive Pro Headset & Wireless Adapter

Increased resolution without a cord.

It’s been nearly two years since HTC first introduced the Vive VR headset, opening up an entirely new world of room-scale VR that’s had us dodging arrows and bumping into furniture ever since. Now the Vive is getting an upgrade. Addressing some of the complaints we’ve had over the years, the new Vive Pro is now lighter, more balanced, has a higher resolution, and is just more fun.

According to HTC during a CES press event, one of the most important factors for consumers when deciding on whether to purchase a VR headset is resolution. Resolution matters—and that’s why the Vive Pro is increasing resolution of the dual-OLED Samsung displays to 2880 x 1600 combined, a 78% increase in resolution over the current Vive headset.

Early hands-on demos with the Vive Pro were promising. You could immediately see the bump in resolution and a significant reduction in the screen door effect, enhancing immersion, and making reading text and graphics overall sharper. The resolution increase puts the Vive Pro ahead of the Oculus Rift and Windows “Mixed Reality” headsets.

 

 

 

 

 

In addition to the resolution increase, HTC directly addressed the second biggest complaint about VR headsets—that damn cord. Unveiled immediately after taking the wraps off the Vive Pro, HTC unveiled the Vive Wireless Adapter. No longer do we need to have that long cord shooting out from our head to the PC. The Vive Wireless Adapter features Intel’s WiGig technology and integrates with both Vive and Vive Pro. Swapping headsets with the adapter is as simple as switching the input cables.

The VR wireless experience operates in the interference-free 60Ghz band, which means lower latency and better performance. The Vive Wireless Adapter will ship in Summer to customers worldwide. While we’ve seen HTC make significant investments in developing new technology to complement the Vive with accessories like the tracker and other peripheral devices, going wireless with this Vive adapter is the one device we’ve all been waiting for.

While resolution and wireless capability were the big announcements for Vive at CES, the Vive Pro also packs a few more enhancements to get excited about. HTC refreshed the headstrap, adding a sizing dial for a more balanced experience and a simple way to decrease weight on the front of the headset. Honestly, the size dial was our favorite part of the Audio Deluxe Strap that Vive created as an add-on last year.

The Vive Pro also has built-in headphones now. The headphones have a built-in amplifier that provide richer sound and overall make getting in an out of VR easier for everyone. Additional improvements include dual microphones with active noise cancellation and dual front-facing cameras designed to empower developer creativity. Vive Pro will be compatible with both SteamVR 1.0 and 20.0 tracking, which means you’ll be able to use up to four base stations and increase your trackable space up to 10m x 10m.

Overall the headset looks less clunky than the original and has a blue color tint throughout much of the headset now. HTC is promising Vive Pro upgrades this quarter with full availability later this year. No information yet on pricing. The current Vive will remain on sale throughout 2018.

Alongside the Vive Pro upgrade and Wireless Adapter unveil, HTC is also improving its Viveport app shopping experience with Viveport VR. Instead of a traditional 2D catalog, Viveport VR content is now delivered in fully immersive interactive previews, which are pretty much interactive glimpses of content that give you a room-scale preview of an experience. Vive also rolled out an upgrade to its native VR video player today, Vive Video, partnering up with Vimeo to bring new features and UI upgrades. In the new Vive Video experience, a curated selection of Vimeo content will be made available to browse and view in a highly optimized native VR experiences within Vive Video-compatible headsets.

Lenovo Unveils Standalone Daydream VR Headset

The Mirage Solo is a standalone device that gets rid of the cord.

Back in May, we got our first demo of Google’s WorldSense technology. It was a glimpse into the future of what VR headsets will look like as standalone devices. HTC and Lenovo were both announced as partners—but HTC soon backed out to focus on the Chinese market with their Vive Focus inside-out tracked standalone headset. That left Lenovo still in the game. And true to form, Lenovo has finally unveiled the one and only standalone Daydream VR headset—the Lenovo Mirage Solo with Daydream.

Announced at CES 2018, the Mirage Solo combines everything we expect from a VR headset, packaged all into one device. No more being tethered to wires, PCs or phones. Utilizing Google’s WorldSense motion-tracking technology and the Google Daydream VR platform, you can move around and explore VR without any external sensors. It’s a pretty big deal and we’re glad that it’s finally here.

Getting rid of external sensors while still tracking your position is a hard problem to solve. Headsets like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive have these sensors and the headsets are also plugged into your PC, unless of course you have a Vive Wireless Adapter like the one revealed Monday at CES. But for the most part, you need sensors and cords. The Lenovo Mirage however uses WorldSense’s inside-out positional tracking technology, which means the headset can mirror real life by tracking its position in space through built-in tracking cameras and sensors.

With up to seven hours of use on a single charge, the Lenovo Mirage Solo headset is expected to handle some serious extended periods of continuous use. The company claims that the headset is designed to fit nearly any size wearer comfortably. There are quick-release buttons for visor adjustments, adjustable dials and size accommodations for nearly every face shape, visual aid and head proportion.

The design is sleek and simple, rocking two inside-out tracking cameras on the front of the headset. The actual head strap itself looks very close in design to that of the PlayStation VR headset, which isn’t a complaint since I still feel that the PSVR is one of the more comfortable designs. Because most headsets bear an excess of weight towards the front, a strap like this will likely even load distribution and balance to reduce strain/weight on the front of your face.

The Lenovo Mirage Solo has a 110° field-of-view with QHD displays (2560 x 144) and rocks a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 with 4GB of RAM. The headset has an expandable microSD card slot, 3.5 mm audio jack, and weighs roughly 1.42 lbs.

While the headset itself has 6DOF tracking, we are still left with a 3DOF controller. The wireless Daydream controller is identical to the one that comes with the Daydream View headset, sporting a clickable trackpad, app and home buttons, and a volume rocker, you can change the controller’s function from app to app. Besides a navigation controller, it can also serve as a baseball bat, steering wheel or whatever fits the app’s purpose.

In addition to launching a standalone VR headset, Lenovo also unveiled their Mirage VR180 camera that’s built to capture VR images and videos to be easily shared through native integration with YouTube and Google Photos.

The Lenovo Mirage Solo starts at under $400.00 and is expected to be available in the second quarter of this year.