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Step aside WhatsApp; there is a new sheriff in town

Osama Habib

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“Come, Watson, come, the game is afoot.”

This phrase from the famous fictional detective character Sherlock Holmes sums up the fierce race between the popular WhatsApp messenger and other rivals, who have gained spectacular demand in the past few months.

In recent weeks and even months, the founders of WhatsApp have noticed with alarm a growing trend among many of its dedicated users to shift to other messenger apps on mobile phones such as Signal and Telegram.

The reasons behind the surge in the number of users of the new apps can be attributed to many reasons, starting from WhatsApp’s intention to alter its privacy act on February 8, to the mounting resentment of  U.S. President Donald Trump supporters after several leading tech and platform companies decided to ban the president from using any leading social media outlet under the pretext that Trump could incite violence.

 No matter what the real motives behind the rising demand for new apps, WhatsApp’s board of directors are facing their biggest challenge: Keeping their loyal users who have exceeded 2.5 billion accounts around the world.

However, this task may not be easy to achieve in a short period of time as many dedicated users of platforms now see an abundant and wide range of apps on mobile phones.

Just like in life, people are willing to change their habits and routine.

People may be willing to drop a certain brand of coffee or chocolate if any company succeeded in convincing the consumers that their products are as good as any item on the shelves of supermarkets.

This same simple principle can be applied to apps because in the eyes of the people, these apps have turned into a useful tool to communicate with people and even promote products.

We in the tech industry remember when Facebook acquired WhatsApp for $19 billion in February 2014.

The price tag has even stunned many tech companies around the world, with some wondering if WhatsApp really worth all this money and was it a good investment?

“For months, the company had been tracking WhatsApp obsessively using Onavo, a VPN and data analytics app, whose data showed that the messaging app was not just a rising competitor, but a potential Facebook killer,” according to one article.

According to the Associated Press, Encrypted messaging apps Signal and Telegram are seeing huge upticks in downloads from Apple and Google’s app stores. Facebook-owned WhatsApp, by contrast, is seeing its growth decline following a fiasco that forced the company to clarify a privacy update it had sent to users.

Mobile app analytics firm Sensor Tower said last week that Signal saw 17.8 million app downloads on Apple and Google during the week of Jan. 5 to Jan. 12. That’s a 61-fold increase from just 285,000 the previous week. Telegram, an already-popular messaging app for people around the world, saw 15.7 million downloads in the Jan. 5 to Jan. 12 period, roughly twice the 7.6 million downloads it saw the previous week.

WhatsApp, meanwhile, saw downloads shrink to 10.6 million, down from 12.7 million the week before.

“Experts believe the shift may reflect a rush of conservative social media users seeking alternatives to platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and the now-shuttered right-wing site Parler. The mainstream sites suspended President Donald Trump last week and have tightened enforcement on violent incitement and hate speech,” AP said.

Parler, meanwhile, was unceremoniously booted from the internet after Apple and Google banned it from their app stores for failing to moderate incitement.

Amazon then cut Parler off from its its cloud-hosting service. Experts worry that these moves could lead to more ideological splintering and further hide extremism in the dark corners of the internet, making it harder to track and counteract.

“WhatsApp didn’t do itself any favors when it recently told users that if they don’t accept a new privacy policy by Feb. 8, they’ll be cut off. The notice referenced the data WhatsApp shares with Facebook, which while not entirely new, may have struck some users that way,” the agency said.

But despite the surge in the download of new apps, Whatsapp is still by far the most popular messaging app of the three, and so far there’s no evidence of a mass exodus.

Sensor Tower estimates that Signal has been installed about 58.6 million times globally since 2014. In that same period Telegram has seen about 755.2 million installations and whatsapp a whopping 5.6 billion – almost eight times as many as Telegram.

But time will tell if the new boys will be able to gain the same momentum.

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Volvo Cars goes full electric by 2030, placing emphasis toward online sales

Yehia El Amine

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Swedish automaker Volvo announced on Tuesday plans to become a fully electric car company by 2030, a company statement reported.

According to Volvo, the automaker intends to only sell fully electric cars and phase out any car in its global portfolio with an internal combustion engine, including hybrids. The company’s transition towards becoming a fully electric car maker is part of its ambitious climate plan, which seeks to consistently reduce the life cycle carbon footprint per car through concrete action.

“To remain successful, we need profitable growth. So instead of investing in a shrinking business, we choose to invest in the future – electric and online,” said Håkan Samuelsson, chief executive. “We are fully focused on becoming a leader in the fast-growing premium electric segment.”

This move comes at a time where the electric vehicle charging station market witnesses a massive hike, with MarketsandMarkets reporting that by Level of Charging (Level 1, Level 2 & Level 3, by Charging Infrastructure (Normal Charge, Type-2, CCS, CHAdeMO and Tesla Supercharger), and DC fast charging, including fast and ultra-fast – is projected to grow from 2,115,000 units in 2020 to reach 30,758,000 units by 2027, at a CAGR of 46.6 percent.

“Factors such as growing demand for energy-efficient commuting and governments supporting electric vehicles through subsidies & tax rebates have led to automakers adopting to electric vehicles and growth of electric vehicle charging stations market,” the report said.

Adding, “Growing concerns over increased pollution by the automotive industry is the prime reason government bodies are promoting electric vehicles over conventional ones. They have recognized the need for promoting energy-efficient vehicles to reduce the increasing pollution.”

Volvo’s decision also builds on the expectation that legislation as well as a rapid expansion of accessible high quality charging infrastructure will accelerate consumer acceptance of fully electric cars.

To attract and encourage people to buy electric vehicles and electric vehicle charging stations, government bodies of various countries are introducing incentives that include large-scale discounts, lower electricity cost for charging, lower set-up cost of EV chargers, and subsidies for setting up EV chargers which, in some countries, may go up to one-third of setup cost.

Volvo Cars’ move towards full electrification comes together with an increased focus on online sales and a more complete, attractive, and transparent consumer offers under the name Care by Volvo. All fully electric models will be available online only.

According to the Swedish automaker, the 2030 ambition represents an acceleration of Volvo Cars’ electrification strategy, driven by strong demand for its electrified cars in recent years and a firm conviction that the market for combustion engine cars is a shrinking one.

“There is no long-term future for cars with an internal combustion engine,” said Henrik Green, chief technology officer. “We are firmly committed to becoming an electric-only car maker and the transition should happen by 2030. It will allow us to meet the expectations of our customers and be a part of the solution when it comes to fighting climate change.”

Volvo Cars launched its first fully electric car, the XC40 Recharge, in markets around the globe last year. Later today the company will reveal its second fully electric car, a new model in the 40 Series.

In coming years Volvo Cars will roll out several additional electric models, with more to follow. Already by 2025, it aims for 50 percent of its global sales to consist of fully electric cars, with the rest hybrids. By 2030, every car it sells should be fully electric.

According to the company statement, Volvo Car Group recorded an operating profit of $1 billion, a drop from its $1.69 billion in 2019. In parallel, revenue over the period amounted to $31.17 billion in 2020, a decline from the previous year’s $32.52 billion.

For the full year of 2020, global sales reached 661,713 cars (705,452 in 2019), a decline of 6.2 percent.

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Autodesk announces executive leadership team hires

Inside Telecom Staff

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Autodesk

Autodesk, the CAD/CAM software titan, announced Thursday the hiring of Debbie Clifford as chief financial officer and Raji Arasu as chief technology officer.

The corporation makes software products and services for the architecture, engineering, construction, manufacturing, media, education, life science and entertainment industry sectors, and has been an industry leader for decades.

“We are thrilled to welcome both Debbie and Raji – two dynamic and accomplished executives – to Autodesk,” said Andrew Anagnost, CEO, and president of Autodesk.

“Debbie and Raji bring deep leadership experience and a passion for customer success,” he added. “Their addition to our executive leadership team – along with Diana Colella, who was recently appointed to lead our Media & Entertainment group – will inject fresh perspectives into our company and towards our goal of delivering the world’s leading design and make platform.”

Clifford, who currently serves as chief financial officer at SurveyMonkey, returns to Autodesk – where she spent 13 years in various financial leadership roles – and brings with her expanded financial, strategic, and operational experience. She will oversee all aspects of Autodesk’s finance, accounting, tax, treasury, operations, and investor relations teams.

Clifford serves on the board of Harmonic, a video technology and services company, and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of California Los Angeles, and a Master’s in Business Administration from Stanford Graduate School of Business.

“Accepting the CFO position at Autodesk is like coming home,” said Clifford. “I’m excited to reconnect with the exceptionally talented finance organization and help accelerate the next phase of Autodesk’s growth. I am thrilled to be back and can’t wait to get started.”

Arasu will join Autodesk from Intuit, where she serves as senior vice president of platform engineering. She will oversee and be responsible for Autodesk’s technology strategy and ensure alignment against long-term innovation priorities and short-term technology imperatives. Arasu will replace current Autodesk CTO Scott Borduin, who announced his intent to retire last year.

Raji Arasu is a technology executive with over 25 years of experience focused primarily on eCommerce, marketplaces, payments, and fintech systems. She specializes in leading through transformative change across people, product, platform, and process to accelerate customer benefits and revenue growth.

At Intuit, Arasu helped shape the platform strategy and technology culture, led its cloud journey and expanded foundational core capabilities that amplified the pace of innovation for Intuit’s customers. Prior to Intuit, Arasu served as Chief Technology Officer for StubHub and held leadership roles at eBay.

Arasu has received public recognition for technology leadership, promoting diversity, and mentoring women to be successful leaders in technology. She serves on the board of directors for NIC Inc. and MediaAlpha Inc.

“Autodesk has long been one of the world’s most innovative companies and I’m thrilled for the challenge and opportunity to lead a world-class team of technologists,” said Arasu. “It’s an exciting time to join the company as we seek to deliver solutions that enable our customers to make an impact and achieve better outcomes for their products, their businesses, and the world.”

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About Autodesk

Autodesk makes software for people who make things.Ranging from driving a high-performance car, working in a towering skyscraper, using a smartphone, or making a blockbuster film, the company may well have played a role in the design.

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AI-enhanced measurements company acquired by MindMed

Inside Telecom Staff

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AI-enhanced measurements

MindMed, an innovative psychedelic drug developer, has bought HealthMode, a machine-learning digital medicine company.

MindMed, the psychedelic medicine biotech company, announced in a release that it closed its acquisition of HealthMode, a digital medicine and therapeutics startup that uses Artificial Intelligence (AI)-enabled digital measurement to increase the precision and speed of clinical research and patient monitoring.

The combination of these two companies will foster advancement and development of the growing area of psychedelic medicine for psychiatric uses in post-trauma, addiction treatment and a variety of other mental illness problems.

“The HealthMode acquisition marks the start of MindMed 2.0 as we seek to not only build a drug development company for psychedelic medicines, but also a comprehensive mental health technology platform to one day potentially launch these transformative medicines to patients in a scalable manner,” MindMed co-founder and CEO J.R. Rahn said in a statement.

The acquisition will help build a full stack digital mental health platform for psychedelic medicines; Ex-Pfizer Digital Medicine Executive Dr. Daniel R. Karlin and former Google AI/ML industry veteran Bradford Cross added to MindMed executive team, the companies said in a joint release.

MindMed discovers, develops, and deploys psychedelic inspired medicines and therapies to address addiction and mental illness. The company is assembling a compelling drug development pipeline of innovative treatments based on psychedelic substances including Psilocybin, LSD, MDMA, DMT and an Ibogaine derivative, 18-MC.

The MindMed executive team brings extensive biopharmaceutical experience to the company’s groundbreaking approach to developing the next generation of psychedelic inspired medicines and therapies.

HealthMode drives progression to next-generation clinical trials by developing and delivering AI-enhanced measurement methods for clinical trials. Its client partners represent a diverse set of stakeholders, from clinical researchers and drug developers at large pharmaceutical companies to academic medical centers, to startups entering the space.

The company’s AI-enhanced measurement techniques improve understanding of phenotype; streamline and provide assurance for screening and eligibility; provide early detection and mitigation of adverse events; and serve as sensitive, specific, objective, and low participant burden efficacy endpoints.

These measurements allow for meaningful integration of clinical trial data with real-world evidence and provide the basis for movement toward patient-specific measures.

Better measurement tools and the platforms to support them help HealthMode’s partners make data informed decisions, reduce uncertainty around enrollment and outcomes, de-risk development, and increase the speed at which novel therapeutics reach patients in need, according to HealthMode.

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