Ian Small, former head of TokBox, takes over as Evernote CEO from Chris O’Neill

Former TokBox head Ian Small is replacing Chris O’Neill as CEO of Evernote, the note-taking and productivity app company said this morning. In a blog post, Small said that the leadership change was announced to employees this morning by Evernote’s board. “We are all hugely appreciative of the energy and dedication Chris has shown over the last three years, and in particular for putting Evernote on solid financial footing so we can continue to build for the future,” he wrote.

Small added, “When Stepan Pachikov founded Evernote, he had a vision for how technology could augment memory and how an app could change the way we relate to information at home and at work. Evernote has been more successful at making progress towards Stepan’s dreams than he could have imagined, but Stepan and I both think that there is more to explore and more to invent.”

O”Neill had been Evernote’s CEO since 2015, when he took over the position from co-founder Phil Libin. Small previously served as CEO of TokBox, which operates the OpenTok video calling platform, from 2009 to 2014, and then as its chairman from 2014 to July of this year.

O’Neill’s departure as CEO is the latest significant leadership shift for Evernote, which has withstood several key executive departures over the last few months. In early September, we reported that the company had lost several senior executives, including CTO Anirban Kundu, CFO Vincent Toolan, CPO Erik Wrobel, and head of HR Michelle Wagner, as it sought funding in a potential down-round from the unicorn valuation it hit in 2012. According to TechCrunch’s sources, Evernote had struggled to grow its base of paid users and active users, as well as enterprise clients, for the last six years.

Then a few weeks later, Evernote announced that had to lay off 54 people, or about 15 percent of its workforce. O’Neill wrote a blog post about the company’s future growth strategy, including streamlining specific functions like sales so it could focus on product development and engineering.

Lime hires its first chief business officer amid push into car-sharing

After four months “on the beach,” per his LinkedIn profile, Uber’s former global head of business and corporate development has a new gig. Lime has hired David Richter (pictured) as its first-ever chief business officer and interim chief financial officer.

Based in San Francisco, Richter will be overseeing the bike- and e-scooter-sharing startup’s business operations. Richter spent more than four years at Uber leading the ride-hailing giant’s global business development, corporate development, experiential marketing, autonomous vehicle alliances and brand relevance teams. He left in May after expressing frustrations with a series of departures in his group, according to The Information.

“As Lime continues to grow, David will bring in unparalleled expertise, particularly in the realm of business development and corporate partnerships, as well as in managing our overall business strategy and deal flow,” Lime co-founder and chief executive officer Toby Sun said in a statement. “His leadership experience, coupled with his keen understanding of the fast-moving shared mobility industry will be a huge advantage to our company as we continue to expand our global footprint.”

Lime is said to be completing the fundraising circuit right now, asking investors for a valuation north of $3 billion. The company, which entered the unicorn club in June, has raised a total of $467 million to date from GV, Andreessen Horowitz, IVP, Section 32, GGV Capital and more.

The company is using the buckets of capital to expand beyond bikes and scooters. Last Monday, rumors emerged that it was planning a brick-and-mortar push. The company confirmed that it would indeed build scooter “lifestyle stores” in major U.S. and international markets, starting with Santa Monica, Calif.

The next day on stage at the JD Power Automotive Roundtable, Lime announced its official foray into car-sharing. The company has since applied for a car-sharing permit in Seattle and plans to rent out small electric vehicles, which it’s calling “transit pods,” by the end of the year.

According to Axios, Lime plans to spend $50 million on the pods, which will cost $1 for consumers to start, plus an additional 40 cents per minute.

“You can expect electric vehicles to be an additional micro-mobility option for Lime riders to choose from within the Lime app soon,” a spokesperson for Lime said in a statement provided to TechCrunch. “More details on timing, specs of the vehicle, locations for the first rollout, etc. will be announced in the coming weeks.”

Lime launched in 2017 and has since recorded 11.5 million scooter and bike rides.

YC-backed Observant uses the iPhone’s infrared depth sensors to analyze user emotions

Observant has found a new way to use the fancy infrared depth sensors included on the iPhone X, XS and XR: analyzing people’s facial expression in order to understand how they’re responding to a product or a piece of content.

Observant was part of the winter batch of startups at accelerator Y Combinator, but was still in stealth mode on Demo Day. It was created by the same company behind bug-reporting product Buglife, and CEO Dave Schukin said his team created it because they wanted to find better ways to capture user reactions.

We’ve written about other startups that try to do something similar using webcams and eye tracking, but Schukin (who co-founded the company with CTO Daniel DeCovnick) argued that those approaches are less accurate than Observant’s — in particular, he argued that they don’t capture subtler “microexpressions,” and they don’t do as well in low-light settings.

In contrast, he said the infrared depth sensors can map your face in high levels of detail regardless of lighting, and Observant has also created deep learning technology to translate the facial data into emotions in real time.

Observant has created an SDK that can be installed in any iOS app, and it can provide either a full, real-time stream of emotional analysis, or individual snapshots of user responses tied to specific in-app events. The product is currently invite-only, but Schukin said it’s already live in some retail and e-commerce apps, and it’s also being used in focus group testing.

Observant

Of course, the idea of your iPhone capturing all your facial expressions might sound a little creepy, so he emphasized that as Observant brings on new customers, it’s working with them to ensure that when the data is collected, “users are crystal clear how it’s being used.” Plus, all the analysis actually happens on the users’ device, so no facial footage or biometric data gets uploaded.

Eventually, Schukin suggested that the technology could be applied more broadly, whether that’s by helping companies provide better recommendations, introduce more “emotional intelligence” to their chatbots or even detect sleepy driving.

As for whether Observant can achieve those goals when it’s only working on three phones, Schukin said, “When we started working on this almost a year go, the iPhone X was the only iPhone [with these depth sensors]. Our thinking at the time was, we know how Apple works, we know how this technology propagates over time, so we’re going to place a bet that eventually these depth sensors will be on every iPhone and every iPad, and they’ll be emulated and replicated on Android.”

So while it’s too early to say whether Observant’s bet will pay off, Schukin pointed to the fact that these sensors have expanded from one to three iPhone models as a sign that things are moving in the right direction.

The corpse of Kodak coughs up another odd partnership

Kodak isn’t feeling very well. The company, which sold off most of its legacy assets in the last decade, is licensing its name to partners who build products like digital cameras and, most comically, a cryptocurrency. In that deal, Wenn Digital bought the rights to the Kodak name for an estimated $1.5 million, a move that they hoped would immediately lend gravitas to the crypto offering.

Reader, it didn’t. After multiple stories regarding the future of the coin it still has not hit the ICO stage. Now Kodak is talking about another partnership, this time with a Tennessee-based video and film digitization company.

The new product is essentially a rebranding of LegacyBox, a photo digitization company that has gone through multiple iterations after a raft of bad press.

“The Kodak Digitizing Box is a brand licensed product from AMB Media, the creators of Legacy Box. So yes, we’ve licensed the brand to them for this offering,” said Kodak spokesperson Nicholas Rangel. Not much has changed between Kodak’s offering and LegacyBox. The LegacyBox site is almost identical to the Kodak site and very similar to another AMB media product, Southtree.

The product itself is a fairly standard photo digitization service, although Southtree does have a number of complaints, including a very troubling case of missing mementos. The entry-level product is a box into which you can stuff hundreds of photos and videos and have them digitized for a fee.

Ultimately it’s been interesting to see Kodak sell itself off in this way. Like Polaroid before it, the company is now a shell of its former self and this is encouraging parasitical partners to cash in on its brand. Given that Kodak is still a household name for many, it’s no wonder a smaller company like AMB wants hitch itself to that star.

At long last, pet portraits with background blur are possible on the iPhone XR

The new iPhones have some great new photography features, but the XR lacks a couple, for instance portrait mode for non-people subjects, owing to its sadly having only the one camera. So last year! Fortunately third-party camera app Halide is here to help you get that professional-looking bokeh in your doggo shots.

There’s more to this than simply the lack of a second camera. As you know, because you read my article, The future of photography is code — and the present too, really. What’s great about this is that features that might otherwise rely on specific hardware, a chip or sensor, can often be added in software. Not always, but sometimes.

In the case of the iPhone XR, the lack of a second camera means depth data is very limited, meaning the slack has to be taken up with code. The problem was that Apple’s machine learning systems on there are only trained to recognize and create high-quality depth maps of people. Not dogs, cats, plants or toy robots.

People would be frustrated if the artificial background blur inexplicably got way worse when it was pointed at something that wasn’t a person, so the effect just doesn’t trigger unless someone’s in the shot.

The Halide team, not bound by Apple’s qualms, added the capability back in by essentially taking the raw depth data produced by the XR’s “focus pixels” and applying their own processing and blur effect to make sure it doesn’t do weird things. It works on anything that can realistically be separated from the background — pets, toy robots, etc. — because it isn’t a system specific to human faces.

As they write in a blog post explaining some of this at length, the effect isn’t perfect, and because of how depth data is sent from the camera to the OS, you can’t preview the function. But it’s better than nothing at all, and maybe people on Instagram will think you shelled out for the XS instead of the XR (though you probably made the right choice).

The update (1.11) is awaiting Apple approval and should be available soon. If you don’t already own Halide, it costs $6. Small price to pay for a velvety background blur in your chinchilla pics.