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Spider-Cat is already shaping up to be the real hero of Spider-Man: Miles Morales

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Spider-Man: Miles Morales is coming to the PS4 and PS5 on November 12th, but this week we got a glimpse of the game’s most important feature by far: Spider-Cat.

Yes, Spider-Cat is real and they can absolutely be your friend and crime-fighting partner.

The big reveal comes courtesy of a gameplay video from Game Informer that shows Morales following up on a bodega robbery. The exact plot isn’t fully explained, but it seems the bodega owner has a cat (also named Spider-Man) who was taken during the crime. Morales dutifully heads off to rough up the bad guys, and in the process retrieves our feline friend, who is apparently then unlocked as part of an optional costume for the player.

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Spider-Cat doesn’t just chill out in your backpack, though. Once suited up with its own mask, it will even deliver finishers to bad guys, leaping at them with claws of furry fury.

Honestly, it looks like just a pitch-perfect little extra for the game, exactly in keeping with the tone of Spider-Man and his New York home. Cats are such a staple of the city’s bodegas that there are Instagram and Twitter accounts documenting their exploits (which are mainly: hanging out and looking cute). Now if only some NPCs can approach Spider-Cat and declare that it “takes a pet, like no problem,” things will really be looking up for 2020.

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Gen Z spends 10% more time in non-game apps than older users

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A new report released today by App Annie digs into how Gen Z consumers engage with their smartphones and mobile apps. According to data collected in Q3 2020, Gen Z users spend an average of 4.1+ hours per month in non-gaming apps, or 10% longer than older demographics. They also engage with apps more often, with 20% more sessions per user in non-gaming apps at 120 sessions per month per app, compared with older groups.

This app engagement data is only a view into Gen Z trends but is an incomplete analysis as it only focuses on select markets, including the U.S., U.K., Brazil, France, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, South Korea and Turkey. It also included only data collected from Android devices, which doesn’t provide as full a picture.

App Annie found that Gen Z is more likely to use games than older users, but they don’t access them as often or use them as long. Those ages 25 and older actually spent nearly 20% longer in their most-used games and accessed them 10% more frequently. Both demographics spent more total time gaming than using non-game apps, on a monthly basis.

Image Credits: App Annie

One breakout in the games category for Gen Z users, however, was the casual arcade game Among Us!, which just became the third-most played game worldwide, thanks to its team-based multiplayer features and the surge of Twitch streams. When Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez played the game on Twitch last night, it became one of the biggest-ever Twitch streams, peaking at 435,000 concurrent viewers.

Other popular Gen Z games include Match-3 games like Candy Crush Saga and Toon Blast, action games like PUBG Mobile and Free Fire, and casual simulation games like Minecraft Pocket Edition and Roblox.

Image Credits: App Annie

The report also examined what apps Gen Z users prefer across a range of non-game categories across both iOS and Android.

TikTok and Snapchat, in particular, stood out as the top over-indexed social and communication apps among Gen Z in 9 out of the 10 markets analyzed for this report. This comes on the heels of Snap’s blowout earnings yesterday, where the social app topped analyst expectations and saw daily user growth climb 4% to 238M.

Discord is also seeing strong growth, particularly in France, as mobile and remote gaming has become an epicenter of social interactions during the pandemic.

Image Credits: App Annie

Among entertainment apps, Twitch was the top over-indexed app in 6 out of the 10 markets for Gen Z users, though live streaming niconico was popular in Japan.

App Annie found that finance and shopping apps haven’t yet reached a broad Gen Z audience, but are demonstrating promising growth.

Image Credits: App Annie

Few finance apps over-index with Gen Z, though the demographic tends to interact with non-bank fintech apps like Venmo, Monzo, and DANA. In South Korea, a top app was peer-to-peer payments app Toss, which also offers loans, insurance and credit.

Top Gen Z fashion apps, meanwhile, included Shein, ASOS, Shopee and Mercari.

Overall, active Gen Z users are rising faster across the markets analyzed, compared with older groups, with emerging markets like Indonesia and Brazil, seeing the most growth.

Image Credits: App Annie

App Annie noted that Gen Z is becoming one of the most powerful consumer segments on mobile, as 98% own a smartphone and have an combined estimated spending power of $143 billion annually.

“Gen Z has never known a world without their smartphone. They see the world through this mobile first lens,” said Ted Krantz, CEO, App Annie, in a statement about the report’s findings.

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Descript, Andrew Mason’s platform to edit audio by editing text, now lets you edit video, too

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Descript, the latest startup from Groupon co-founder Andrew Mason, made a splash in the world of audio last year with a platform for easy audio editing based on how you edit written documents, adding features like an AI-based tool that uses a recording of you to let you create audio of any written text in your own voice.

Today the startup is moving into the next phase of its growth. It is launching Descript Video, with a set of tools to take screen recordings or videos and then create titles, transitions, images, video overlays or edits on them with no more effort than it takes to edit a Word document. It also features live collaboration links so that multiple people can work on a file at the same time — similar to a Google Doc — by way of links that you can share with others to the file itself.

You work with video on Descript in the same way you do audio: you upload the raw material onto the Descript platform, which then turns it into text. Then you add new features, or remove sections, or add in new parts, by adding in widgets or cutting out or adding in written words.

The video tools are launching today as part of Descript’s freemium service, with basic price tiers of  free, $12 and $24 per month depending on which features you take.

Descript’s launch comes at a key moment in the world of tech. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, video was already king of the content hill, thanks to advances in streaming, broadband speeds, processors on devices, a proliferation of services, and society’s inclination to lean back and watch things in their leisure time.

Yes, some people still read. And podcasts, recorded books, and other formats have definitely led to a kind of renaissance for audio. But video cuts through all of that when it comes to time spent online and consumer engagement. Like cats, it seems we’re just attracted by moving objects.

Now we have another added twist. The pandemic has become the age of video in the worlds of work, learning and play, with platforms like Zoom, Meet, Teams and WebEx taking on the role of conference room, quick coffee, dinner party, pub, and whatever other place you might have chosen to meet people before Covid-19 came along.

“We are increasingly living in a video-first world,” Mason said the other week from his house in the Bay Area, over a Zoom call. All of that means not just a ton of video, but a ton of video creators, counting not just the 50 million or so making content for Twitch, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat and the rest, but also any one of us that is snapping a moving picture and posting it somewhere either for fun or for pay.

Video was always on the cards for Descript, Mason added, but it made sense first to focus on audio tools. That was in part because Descript itself was a spin-off from Detour (a detour from Detour, as it happens), an audio-guide business that was sold to Bose, and so sound was the focus.

“There is so much to build, so we wanted to start with some version of the product, and then add features in concentric circles of addressable markets,” said Mason. 

And that essentially is how the company sees the opportunity for selling a video editing product as an extension of an audio-editing tool. People who produce content for podcasts also often produce videos, and those who got their start on a platform like YouTube are now expanding their footprints with recorded word. Sometimes there is distinct material created for one platform or the other, but oftentimes there are excerpts repurposes, or full versions of audio from video turned into podcasts.

YouTubers or podcasters, meanwhile, have something in common with the average person: everyone is using technology now to produce content, but not everyone knows how to work with it on a technical level if you need to cut, edit or manipulate it in any way.

Descript’s aimed at professionals and prosumers, but actually it also follows in the vein of tools that let people build websites without needing to know HTML or have special design experience; or use any piece of software without having to build the functionality before using it. With all of the advances in actual tech, that idea has come a long way in modern times.

“Before I got into tech I was a music major. I got a degree in music tech and worked in a recording studio. I’ve been using these tools since I was a kid and know them super well,” Mason said. “But our approach has been to think of us like Airtable. We want to be part of that modern class of SaaS products that don’t mean you need to make a tradeoff between power and ease of use.”

Tools in this first build of the video include not just the ability to import video from anywhere that you can edit, but also a screen recorder that you can use to record excerpts from other places, or indeed your whole screen, which then can either be edited as standalone items, or as part of larger works. Things like this seem particularly aimed at the new class of “video producers” that are actually knowledge workers creating material to share with colleagues or customers.

While Overdub — the feature that uses natural language processing to let you create a “deepfake” of your own voice to overlay new audio into a recording by typing something out — work very smoothly on an audio recording, where you would be hard-pressed to notice where the changes have been made, on video cuts work out as small jumps, and Overdubs simply come out as added audio in the video. While audio and video jumps are pretty commonplace these days in videos these days, I imagine that the company is likely working on a way to smooth that out to mirror the audio experience as it is today.

Descript today is used by a number of big-name content publishers, including NPR, Pushkin Industries, VICE, The Washington Post and The New York Times, although Mason declined to disclose how many users it has in total.

At some point, however, numbers will tell another kind of story: just how much traction Descript is getting among the masses of competition in the field. Platforms like Zoom and Google’s are also adding in more editing tools, and there are a plethora of others building easy to use software to better work with audio and video, from Otter.ai through to Scribe, Vimeo, Adobe, Biteable and more.

In the meantime, Descript has caught the eye of some important backers, raising some $20 million to date from investors including Andreessen Horowitz and Redpoint.

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Secureframe raises $4.5M to help businesses speed up their compliance audits

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While certifications for security management practices like SOC 2 and ISO 27001 have been around for a while, the number of companies that now request that their software vendors go through (and pass) the audits to be in compliance with these continues to increase. For a lot of companies, that’s a harrowing process, so it’s maybe no surprise that we are also seeing an increase in startups that aim to make this process easier. Earlier this month, Strike Graph, which helps automate security audits, announced its $3.9 million round and today, Secureframe, which also helps businesses get and maintain their SOC 2 and ISO 27001 certifications, is announcing a $4.5 million round.

Secureframe’s round was co-led by Base10 Partners and Google’s AI-focused Gradient Ventures fund. BoxGroup, Village Global, Soma Capital, Liquid2, Chapter One, Worklife Ventures, and Backend Capital. Current customers include Stream, Hasura and Benepass.

Image Credits: Secureframe

Shrav Mehta, the company’s co-founder and CEO, spent time at a number of different companies, but he tells me that the idea for Secureframe was mostly born during his time at direct-mail service Lob.

“When I was at Lob, we dealt with a lot of issues around security and compliance because we were sometimes dealing with very sensitive data, and we’d hop on calls with customers, had to complete thousand-line security questionnaires, do exhaustive security reviews, and this was a lot for a startup of our size at the time. But it’s just what our customers needed. So I started to see that pain,” Mehta said.

Secureframe co-founder and CEO Shrav Mehta

Secureframe co-founder and CEO Shrav Mehta

After stints at Pilot and Scale AI after he left Lob in 2017 — and informally helping other companies manage the certification process — he co-founded Secureframe together with the company’s CTO Natasja Nielsen.

“Because Secureframe is basically adding a lot of automation with our software — and making the process so much simpler and easier — we’re able to bring the cost down to a point where this is something that a lot more companies can afford,” Mehta explained. “This is something that everyone can get in place from day one, and not really have to worry that, ‘hey, this is going to take all of our time, it’s going to take a year, it’s going to cost a lot of money.’ […] We’re trying to solve that problem to make it super easy for every organization to be secure from day one.”

The main idea here is to make the arcane certification process more transparent and streamline the process by automating many of the more labor-intensive tasks of getting ready for an audit (and it’s virtually always the pre-audit process that takes up most of the time). Secureframe does so by integrating with the most-often used cloud and SaaS tools (it currently connect to about 25 services) and pulling in data from them to check up on your security posture.

“It feels a lot like a QuickBooks- or TurboTax-like experience, where we’ll essentially ask you to enter basic details about your business. We try to autofill as much of it as possible from third-party sources — then we asked you to connect up all the integrations your business uses,” Mehta explained.

The company plans to use much of the new funding to staff up and build out these integrations. Over time, it will also add support for other certifications like PCI, HITRUST and HIPAA.

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