COVID-19 crisis spurs triple-digit growth for refurbishing startup Back Market

While a number of startups have been hard hit by efforts to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus, refurbishing firm Back Market is showing increased growth globally.

The Paris -based startup encourages customers to send in their old devices so they can be refurbished and resold into the e-commerce secondhand market. The growth achieved in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis is partly due to increased laptop sales as people seek better devices to work remotely.

For people who are unsure whether refurbished products are reliable, Back Market permits customers to send in old devices, exchange them for newer versions and pay the difference. CEO Thibaud Hug de Larauze said this payback service is currently possible only in France, but starting in Q2, it will be available in other markets.

Founded in 2014, Back Market has raised a total of €48 million in funding over two rounds, most recently a Series B in June 2018. The company is profitable and reportedly still has money to spend from its last funding round.

“We don’t release the gross merchandise volume, but it’s a three-digit growth rate,” Hug de Larauze told TechCrunch. “We saw an increase in demand for laptops, printers and other devices needed for working at home. Demand for refurbished phones is going down as people seek to get the first necessity items, like food for their situation.”

Over the past two weeks, Back Market saw skyrocketing demand from Italy, a nation with a high coronavirus death toll where citizens were warned they would be confined to their homes for four weeks.

Another factor that helped the platform’s growth: Smartphone brands like Apple and Samsung closed their retail stores, a move that turned Back Market into a major supply channel. While offline retailers and carriers are shut down in Europe, Hug de Larauze says Chinese offline retailers and refurbishing factories are starting to get back to work.

Apple accidentally confirms the existence of an unreleased product, AirTags

Whoops! Apple inadvertently revealed the existence of an unreleased product, AirTags, in a support video uploaded to its YouTube account today. The video, “How to erase your iPhone,” offers a tutorial about resetting an iPhone to factory settings. Around the 1:43 mark, it instructs users to turn off “Find my iPhone” as part of the process. On the Settings page that then appears, another option for “Enable Offline Finding” is shown, and beneath that, the text references AirTags by name.

Specifically, it says: “Offline finding enables this device and AirTags to be found when not connected to Wi-Fi or cellular.”

The discovery was first spotted by the eagle-eyed blog Appleosophy.

Apple has since pulled the video. (A copy of the video is embedded below.)

AirTags, essentially Apple’s Tile competitor, were already known to be in the works. Based on details and assets found in Apple’s iOS code, AirTags are believed to be small tracking tiles with Bluetooth connectivity that can be used to find lost items — just like Tile.

The difference is that Apple’s AirTags will benefit from deeper integration with iOS, including within its “Find My” app. There, the tags will show up in a new “Items” tab allowing you to keep track of items that tend to get lost or stolen — like your keys, wallet or even your bike.

According to reports from MacRumors, the tags will feature a removable CR2032 coin cell battery, also similar to Tile.

Apple’s intention to copy Tile’s concept has not gone unnoticed by Tile.

The company on Wednesday told a congressional panel that Apple’s anticompetitive behavior has “gotten worse, not better.”

During the hearing, Tile referenced Apple’s plans to integrate its own product into the “Find My” app. Tile and other Bluetooth trackers won’t be able to do the same. They also have to ask for background location access repeatedly, while Apple’s AirTags, presumably, will not. That gives Apple’s own product an advantage as it owns the platform.

Apple has been asked for comment.

Image credits: Apple, via YouTube; MacRumors 

Estimote launches wearables for workplace-level contact tracing for COVID-19

Bluetooth location beacon startup Estimote has adapted its technological expertise to develop a new product designed specifically at curbing the spread of COVID-19. The company created a new range of wearable devices that co-founder Steve Cheney believes can enhance workplace safety for those who have to be colocated at a physical workplace even while social distancing and physical isolation measures are in place.

The devices, called simply the “Proof of Health” wearables, aim to provide contact tracing – in other words, monitoring the potential spread of the coronavirus from person-to-person – at the level of a local workplace facility. The intention is to give employers a way to hopefully maintain a pulse on any possible transmission among their workforces and provide them with the ability to hopefully curtail any local spread before it becomes an outsized risk.

The hardware includes passive GPS location-tracking, as well as proximity sensors powered by Bluetooth and ultra-wide band radio connectivity, a rechargeable battery, and built-in LTE. It also includes a manual control to change a wearer’s health status, recording states like certified health, symptomatic, and verified infected. When a user updates their state to indicate possible or verified infection, that updates others they’ve been in contact with based on proximity and location-data history. This information is also stored in a health dashboard that provides detailed logs of possible contacts for centralized management. That’s designed for internal use within an organization for now, but Cheney tells me he’s working now to see if there might be a way to collaborate with WHO or other external health organizations to potentially leverage the information for tracing across enterprises and populations, too.

These are intended to come in a number of different form factors: the pebble-like version that exists today, which can be clipped to a lanyard for wearing and displaying around a person’s neck; a wrist-worn version with an integrated adjustable strap; and a card format that’s more compact for carrying and could work alongside traditional security badges often used for facility access control. The pebble-like design is already in production and 2,000 will be deployed now, with a plan to ramp production for as many as 10,000 more in the near future using the company’s Poland-based manufacturing resources.

Estimote has been building programmable sensor tech for enterprises for nearly a decade and has worked with large global companies, including Apple and Amazon . Cheney tells me that he quickly recognized the need for the application of this technology to the unique problems presented by the pandemic, but Estimote was already 18 months into developing it for other uses, including in hospitality industries for employee safety/panic button deployment.

“This stack has been in full production for 18 months,” he said via message. “We can program all wearables remotely (they’re LTE connected). Say a factory deploys this – we write an app to the wearable remotely. This is programmable IoT.

“Who knew the virus would require proof of health vis-a-vis location diagnostics tech,” he added.

Many have proposed technology-based solutions for contact tracing, including leveraging existing data gathered by smartphones and consumer applications to chart transmission. But those efforts also have considerable privacy implications, and require use of a smartphone – something that Cheney says isn’t really viable for accurate workplace tracking in high-traffic environments. By creating a dedicated wearable, Cheney says that Estimote can help employers avoid doing something “invasive” with their workforce, since it’s instead tied to a fit-for-purpose device with data shared only with their employers, and it’s in a form factor they can remove and have some control over. Mobile devices also can’t do nearly as fine-grained tracking with indoor environments as dedicated hardware can manage, he says.

And contact tracing at this hyperlocal level won’t necessarily just provide employers with early warning signs for curbing the spread earlier and more thoroughly than they would otherwise. In fact, larger-scale contact tracing fed by sensor data could inform new and improved strategies for COVID-19 response.

“Typically, contact tracing relies on the memory of individuals, or some high-level assumptions (for example, the shift someone worked),” said Brianna Vechhio-Pagán of John Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Lab via a statement. “New technologies can now track interactions within a transmissible, or ~6-foot range, thus reducing the error introduced by other methods. By combining very dense contact tracing data from Bluetooth and UWB signals with information about infection status and symptoms, we may discover new and improved ways to keep patients and staff safe.”

With the ultimate duration of measures like physical distancing essentially up-in-the-air, and some predictions indicating they’ll continue for many months, even if they vary in terms of severity, solutions like Estimote’s could become essential to keeping essential services and businesses operating while also doing the utmost to protect the health and safety of the workers incurring those risks. More far-reaching measures might be needed, too, including general-public-connected, contact-tracing programs, and efforts like this one should help inform the design and development of those.

Apple releases iOS and iPadOS 13.4 with trackpad support

Apple has released software updates for the iPhone, the iPad, the Apple Watch, the Apple TV and the Mac. The biggest changes are on the iPad. Starting today, you can pair a mouse or trackpad with your iPad and use it to move a cursor on the display.

Apple unveiled trackpad support for iPadOS when it announced the new iPad Pro last week. While the company plans to sell a new Magic Keyboard with a built-in trackpad, you don’t need to buy a new iPad or accessory to access the feature.

When you pair a trackpad and start using it, Apple displays a rounded cursor on the screen. The cursor changes depending on what you’re hovering over. The cursor disappears and highlights the button you’re about to activate. It looks a bit like moving from one icon to another on the Apple TV.

If you’re moving a text cursor for instance, it becomes a vertical bar. If you’re resizing a text zone in a Pages document, it becomes two arrows. If you’re using a trackpad, iPadOS supports gestures that let you switch between apps, open the app switcher and activate the Dock or Control Center.

In addition to trackpad support, iOS and iPadOS 13.4 add a handful of features. You can share an iCloud Drive folder with another iCloud user — it works pretty much like a shared Dropbox folder.

There are nine new Memoji stickers, such as smiling face with hearts, hands pressed together and party face. Apple has tweaked buttons to archive/delete, move, reply and compose and email in the Mail app.

Additionally, Apple added the ability to release a single app binary on all App Stores, including the iOS and Mac App Store. It means that developers can release a paid app on the Mac and the iPhone — and you only have to buy it once.

macOS 10.15.4 adds Screen Time Communication Limits, a feature that already exists on iOS. It lets you set limits on Messages and FaceTime calls.

When it comes to watchOS, version 6.2 adds ECG support for users in Chile, New Zealand and Turkey. Apple now lets developers provide in-app purchases for Apple Watch apps as well.

All updates also include bug fixes and security patches. Head over to the Settings app on your devices to download and update your devices if you haven’t enabled automatic software updates.

Apple releases iOS and iPadOS 13.4 with trackpad support

Apple has released software updates for the iPhone, the iPad, the Apple Watch, the Apple TV and the Mac. The biggest changes are on the iPad. Starting today, you can pair a mouse or trackpad with your iPad and use it to move a cursor on the display.

Apple unveiled trackpad support for iPadOS when it announced the new iPad Pro last week. While the company plans to sell a new Magic Keyboard with a built-in trackpad, you don’t need to buy a new iPad or accessory to access the feature.

When you pair a trackpad and start using it, Apple displays a rounded cursor on the screen. The cursor changes depending on what you’re hovering over. The cursor disappears and highlights the button you’re about to activate. It looks a bit like moving from one icon to another on the Apple TV.

If you’re moving a text cursor for instance, it becomes a vertical bar. If you’re resizing a text zone in a Pages document, it becomes two arrows. If you’re using a trackpad, iPadOS supports gestures that let you switch between apps, open the app switcher and activate the Dock or Control Center.

In addition to trackpad support, iOS and iPadOS 13.4 add a handful of features. You can share an iCloud Drive folder with another iCloud user — it works pretty much like a shared Dropbox folder.

There are nine new Memoji stickers, such as smiling face with hearts, hands pressed together and party face. Apple has tweaked buttons to archive/delete, move, reply and compose and email in the Mail app.

Additionally, Apple added the ability to release a single app binary on all App Stores, including the iOS and Mac App Store. It means that developers can release a paid app on the Mac and the iPhone — and you only have to buy it once.

Also, macOS 10.15.4 adds Screen Time Communication Limits, a feature that already exists on iOS. It lets you set limits on Messages and FaceTime calls.

When it comes to watchOS, version 6.2 adds ECG support for users in Chile, New Zealand and Turkey. Apple now lets developers provide in-app purchases for Apple Watch apps, as well.

All updates include bug fixes and security patches. Head over to the Settings app on your devices to download and update your devices if you haven’t enabled automatic software updates.