Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the TechCrunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support and the money that flows through it all.
The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 204 billion downloads and $120 billion in consumer spending in 2019. People are now spending three hours and 40 minutes per day using apps, rivaling TV. Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus.
There was so much wrong with Quibi’s premise that it’s sometimes hard to even know where to start. But at the core, its problem was that it fundamentally misunderstood how, when and why users would watch video on their phones.
The company’s thinking was that you could fund high-production value content ($100K/minute, yikes) then chop it up into smaller “bites,” add a technology layer, then call this a reinvention of cinema.
The reality is there was little demand for this sort of content, and it didn’t fit with how people want to be entertained on their phones.
When people want to appreciate high-quality filmmaking (or even TV production), they tend to want a bigger screen — they’ve spent money for their fancy high-def or 4K TV, after all. Pre-COVID, they might even pay to go a movie theater. On mobile, the production value of content is far less of a concern, if it even registers.
Quibi also misunderstood what users want to watch in terms of video on their phones when they have a few minutes to kill.
By positioning its app in this space, it had to compete with numerous and powerful sources for “short-form” content — existing apps like YouTube, TikTok, Facebook (e.g. News Feed content, Watch feeds), Instagram Stories, Snapchat and so on. This is content you don’t have to get invested in, since you’re just distracting yourself from a few minutes of boredom. It’s not a time or place to engage with a longer story — chopped or otherwise.
Quibi also cut the length of content to serve its artificial limitations — at the expense of story quality and enjoyment.
A reality show dumbed down to just its highlights is almost unwatchable, as it exposes the editors’ machinations and manipulations that are better hidden among longer stretches of fluff. And there was simply no reason to cut down movies — like Quibi’s “The Dangerous Game,” for example — into pieces. It didn’t elevate the storytelling; it distracted from it. And if you wanted a quick news update (e.g. Quibi’s “Daily Essentials”), you didn’t need a whole new app for that.
Quibi content may have been considered “high quality,” but it often wasn’t good. (I still can’t believe I sat through an episode of “Dishmantled,” where chefs had to recreate dishes of food that were thrown in their face. And Quibi had the nerve to shame YouTube’s low-quality and lack of talent?!)
Quibi also wanted to charge for its service, but its catalog wasn’t designed for families, with content that ranged from kids to adult programming. It didn’t offer parental controls. This immediately limited its competitiveness.
At launch, Quibi also limited itself to the phone, which meant it limited your ability to use the phone as a second screen while you watched a show. (There was no PiP support). TechCrunch has been writing about phones as the second screen for the better part of a decade, often with a focus on startups. But in Quibi’s case, it killed the second screen experience, seemingly forgetting that people text friends, order food, check Twitter and peek in on other apps while a TV show plays in the background. Did it really think that a reboot of “Punk’d” deserved our full attention?
Quibi naturally blamed COVID for its failure to thrive. It had imagined a world where users had ample time to kill while out and about: commuting on the subway, standing in long lines, that sort of thing.
But even this premise was flawed. It would have eventually caught up to Quibi, too; COVID just accelerated it. The issue is that Quibi imagined the U.S. as only a swath of urban metros where public transportation is abundant and standing in lines is the norm. In reality, more than half (52%) the U.S. is described as suburban, 27% is urban and 21% is rural. Non-urban commuters often drive themselves to work. Sure, they could stream Quibi during those commutes, but not really look at it. So why burn high-production value on them? And standing in long lines, believe it or not, is not actually that common in smaller cities and towns, either. If it only takes two minutes to grab a coffee or a burrito before you hop back in your car, do you really want to start a new show?
So where would that have left Quibi? Hoping for Gen Z’ers attention as they lounge around their bedrooms looking for something to do? And yet it wanted to appeal to these kids using Hollywood A-Listers they don’t even know? As COVID pressed down, it left Quibi in competition with (often arguably better) content that streamed natively on the TV from apps like Netflix, HBO, Hulu, Prime Video, Disney+, and others where you could binge through seasons at once instead of waiting every week for a new “quick bite” to drop.
There’s more, so much more that could still be said, including the fact that a former eBay and HP CEO may not be the right person to lead a company that wanted to dazzle a younger demographic. Or how its video-flipping TurnStyle feature was clever, but added complexity to filmmaking, and was not enough of a technological leap to build a business around. Or how, no matter how much money it had raised, it was still not enough, compared with the massive budgets of competitors like Netflix and Amazon.
In the meantime, TikTok still isn’t banned.
Snapchat’s maker was forecast to bring around $555 million in revenues in Q3 but posted $679 million instead, a 52% YoY increase, in a surprise earnings beat. EPS were an adjusted $0.01, beating an expected loss of $0.04. The company also grew daily active users by 4% (11 million) to 249 million, an 18% YoY increase. Snap’s net loss of $200 million was a 12% improvement over last year, too.
As a result of the earnings, shares jumped nearly 30% the next day and its valuation cracked $50 billion for the first time, a record high.
During earnings, the company touted it now reaches 90% of the Gen Z population and 75% of millennials in the U.S., U.K. and France. User growth was attributed to new products, including Profiles, Minis, Lens creation tools and AR ads. In particular, Snap leveraged the Facebook ad boycott to reach out to brands that wanted to “realign their marketing efforts” with companies that “share their corporate values,” the company said.
Snap also just launched its TikTok competitor, Sounds on Snapchat, which lets users add licensed music to their Stories.
Image Credits: Sensor Tower
Image Credits: Lux
The developers of popular pro iPhone camera apps Halide and Spectre this week launched their latest creation, the Halide Mark II camera app. The new interface has been designed for one-handed operation and includes a range of new features.
These include a new gesture-based automatic and manual switcher; tactile touch for enabling and disabling features like exposure warnings, focus peaking, and loupe as you adjust exposure or focus; an overhauled manual mode; new dynamic labeling of controls and actions to explain features to new users; support for the edge-to-edge interface of the iPhone 12 models; a redesigned reviewer with a full metadata read-out; in-app memberships for photo lessons; and over 40 more changes.
A new “Coverage” feature can take a photo with Smart HDR 2/3 and Deep Fusion for maximum quality and computational processing as well as a RAW file — with only a slight delay between captures.
Image Credits: Lux
Halide Mark II also uses machine learning to process an iPhone RAW file in the app (ProRAW) with 17 steps, including detail enhancement, contrast and color adjustment and more. This feature, called Instant RAW, intelligently develops the file to get the best possible results.
And the app includes top pro tools, like a new waveform and color exposure warnings (zebras) that use XDR (Extended Dynamic Range) 14-bit RAW sampling, for accurate exposure previews and readings.
The app is $36 (currently $30 during a promo period) if you want to only pay once. Otherwise it’s $11.99 per year on subscription (currently $9.99 per year if you lock in the price now during the promo period). Subscribers to the membership plan also get perks, like custom icons. Existing Halide 1 users, unbelievably, are upgraded for free but are asked to support the app with a membership.
Aaand here it is..!!!
— Cyril Diagne (@cyrildiagne) October 22, 2020
A new app called ClipDrop launches on iOS, Android, macOS and Windows as a new sort of “copy and paste” experience. The app uses state-of-the-art vision AI to copy images from your desktop with a screenshot to any other app (e.g. Docs, Photoshop, Canva, etc.) and it allows you to extract anything — objects, people, drawings or text.
The mobile app lets you snap photos of real-world items and then digitally transfer them to other apps or websites. In the below demo, the company shows how you could “clip” an image of an article of clothing using the camera, then import the photo into a document.
The company also just released a plugin for Photoshop that lets you drop the image into its app as a new layer with an editable mask.
The app is $39.99 per year (until November 2020, when it ups to $79.99 per year.)
Image Credits: Adobe
As part of Adobe’s virtual MAX 2020 conference this week, the company launched the first public version of its Illustrator vector graphics app on the iPad and brought its Fresco drawing and painting app to the iPhone. In time, the company plans to bring more effects, brushes and AI features to Illustrator. Fresco 2.0, meanwhile, includes new smudge brushes and support for personalized brushes, among other things.
Designed for landlords, Airbnb owners or other vacation rental property owners, Party Squasher offers a hardware device and paired mobile app that counts the number of people at your house by counting the mobile phones in or around a house. The phones can be counted even if they’re not connected to the home’s Wi-Fi.
Because the device doesn’t include cameras or microphones, it’s ideal for ensuring that renters aren’t hosting large (and these days, potentially illegal) parties without violating privacy.
In the event that a large gathering is present, you’re sent a text or email so you can take action.
The device is $249 and the app charges a $199 per year subscription.
Remember App Clips?
— Paul Haddad (@tapbot_paul) October 22, 2020
Quibi made their “episodes” 11 minutes to avoid paying union writers. Everyone should MC Hammer dance on their grave.
— Jawn Wick (@LukeXCunningham) October 21, 2020
Omg I forgot to turn her app time limits back on pic.twitter.com/wrzSTGizWA
— Sarah Perez (@sarahintampa) October 22, 2020
The No. 1 game in the App Store is now Among Us!.
Can you guess why?
— The Recount (@therecount) October 21, 2020
On first screening, the network assumed it had a disaster on its hands. It was a quiet cartoon — more of a meditation on seasonal depression than a proper holiday film. The pacing was slow, it was voiced by a cast of amateur children and the soundtrack amounted to little more than the jazz piano stylings of a mustachioed North Beach hipster nicknamed “Dr. Funk.”
Worst of all, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” actively railed against the commercialization of the season, primarily in the form of an extended monologue from the blanket-wielding Linus set in the context of Jesus’s nativity.
“[The executives said], ‘We’ll play it once and that will be all. Good try,’ ” producer Lee Mendelson told me in an interview back in 2006. “[Director Bill Melendez] and I thought we had ruined Charlie Brown forever when it was done. We kind of agreed with the network. One of the animators stood up in the back of the room — he had had a couple of drinks — and he said, ‘It’s going to run for a hundred years,’ and then fell down. We all thought he was crazy, but he was more right than we were.”
“A Charlie Brown Christmas” has, of course, endured. The 25-minute animated special has aired on network television every year since its 1965 debut. It ran on CBS until 2000 and then on ABC each year subsequently, including special broadcasts on its 40th and 50th anniversaries on 2005 and 2015, respectively. For its 55th anniversary, it won’t appear on network TV at all.
In October, Apple acquired the exclusive rights to the special, as part of its ongoing, billion-dollar Apple TV+ push. The deal with Wildbrain, Peanuts Worldwide and the now-late Mendelson’s production company makes Apple’s streaming platform the exclusive rights holder for Peanuts content. That means that subsequent specials “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” and “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” will see a similar fate.
It’s become a familiar story in the era of streaming. Last year HBO Max locked down exclusive access to new episodes of “Sesame Street,” though that specific deal allowed for episodes to air on PBS at a later date. There’s a bit of a loophole here, too. The Peanuts deal requires Apple to offer the specials for free for a limited window. The “Great Pumpkin” will be free through the service from October 30 until November 1, “Thanksgiving” will be made available from November 25 to the 27 and “Christmas” will come decidedly earlier this year, from December 11 to the 13.
“[Peanuts creator Charles Schulz] would say things like, ‘I never thought it would be around 25 years later,’ ” his widow Jean Schulz told me in an interview for that same piece. “One of the reasons that Christmas is so great is that back in 1965 there were no VCRs or DVDs, so you saw that show once, and you had to wait a whole year to see it again. And when it came on, it still held up. It was still charming.”
More than a half of a century later, the special still qualifies as both. It’s a perfect artifact of American popular culture that is very much both a product of its own era and a gentle protest against it. Of course, all of the things that Linus warned us about back in 1965 have only compounded in the intervening decades. The media landscape, too, has transformed several times since then.
In a world in which change is the only constant, watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas” on TV has been something to rely on. This year, the short becomes the latest bit of content to get shoveled up in the great streaming wars of 2020, as media companies fight tooth and nail for back catalogues.
Cast as the perennial cynic and antagonist football mover, Lucy Van Pelt tells the titular character, “Look, Charlie, let’s face it. We all know that Christmas is a big commercial racket.” That, at least, hasn’t changed.
New numbers from Canalys point to a strong growth in smart speaker shipments in Mainland China this year. The market is on track to grow 2020, having gotten the COVID-19 pandemic mostly under control in recent months. The rest of the world — much of which continues to struggle with the virus — is only expected to see a 3% growth this year.
The global market will return to greater growth, per the firm, with numbers hitting 163 million units in 2021, marking a 21% growth overall. In spite of a slow down in purchasing non-essentials, a prolonged shutdown in many areas should lead more consumers to consider the possibility of introducing new devices into their homes — or replacing older and outdated units.
The last couple of months have been fairly busy for such products. Amazon, Google and Apple have all announced refreshes or additions to their smart speaker line. Google recently refreshed its baseline Home devices with new hardware and a new name, as the Nest Audio. Various Echo devices were updated as well, and Apple has finally introduced the long-awaited — and significantly less expensive — HomePod mini.
Image Credits: Canalys
Canalys notes that Apple is the only one of the big three U.S. companies sell their own smart speakers in Mainland China, and the new price point could help the company build more of a footprint in the market.
“The US $99 price segment is pretty much a no-mans-land in China, yet adequate to appeal to Apple’s user-base,” analyst Cynthia Chen says in a release. “Apple should take this opportunity to drive the uptake of its music and other services consumed at home.”
Three months on since the former founders of SoundCloud launched their e-bike subscription service, Dance they are today announcing the close of a $17.7 million (€15 million) Series A funding round led by one of the larger European VCs, HV Holtzbrinck Ventures.
Founded by Eric Quidenus-Wahlforss (ex-Soundcloud), Alexander Ljung (ex-Soundcloud) and Christian Springub (ex-Jimdo), Dance has ambitions to offer its all-inclusive service subscription package into expanded markets across Europe and eventually the US. Dance is currently operating the invite-only pilot of its e-bike subscription in Berlin, with plans for a broader launch, expanded accessibility and availability and new cities next year.
Rainer Märkle, general partner at HV Holtzbrinck Ventures said in a statement: “The mobility market is seeing a huge shift towards bikes, strongly fueled by the paradigm shift of vehicles going electric. Unfortunately, the majority of e-bikes on the market today have some combination of poor design, high upfront costs, and cumbersome maintenance. We analyzed the overall mobility market, evaluated all means of transport, and crunched the numbers on all types of business models for a few years before we found what we were looking for. Dance is by the far the most viable future of biking, bridging the gap between e-bike ownership and more ‘joyful’ accessibility to go places.”
E-bikes tend to be notoriously expensive to purchase and a hassle to repair. That said, startups like VanMoof and Cowboy have brought an Apple -esque business model to the market which is fast bringing the cost of full ownership down.
Most commuters are put off cycling the average 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) commute but e-bikes make this distance a breeze. Dance sits in that half-way house between owning an expensive bike and having to hunt down a rentable ebike or electric scooter close to your location.
Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought individual, socially distanced, transport into sharp relief. UK sales of e-bikes have boomed, seeing a 230% surge in demand over the summer. This has happened at the same time as EU governments have put in more than 2300km of bike lanes, with the UK alone pledging £250 million in investment.
Quidenus-Wahlforss said the startup has been “inundated with positive responses from around the world since we announced our invite-only pilot program.”
Dance’s subscription model includes a fully assembled e-bike delivered to a subscriber’s door within 24 hours. This comes with maintenance, theft replacement insurance, a dedicated smartphone app, concierge services, GPS location tracking and unlocking capabilities.
The Coalition for App Fairness (CAF), a newly formed advocacy group pushing for increased regulation over app stores, has more than doubled in size with today’s announcement of 20 new partners — just one month after its launch. The organization, led by top app publishers and critics, including Epic Games, Deezer, Basecamp, Tile, Spotify and others, debuted in late September to fight back against Apple and Google’s control over app stores, and particularly the stores’ rules around in-app purchases and commissions.
The coalition claims both Apple and Google engage in anti-competitive behavior, as they require publishers to use the platforms’ own payment mechanisms, and charge 30% commission on these forced in-app purchases. In some cases, those commissions are collected from apps where Apple and Google offer a direct competitor. For example, the app stores commission Spotify, which competes with Google’s YouTube Music and Apple’s own Apple Music.
The group also calls out Apple more specifically for not allowing app publishers any other means of addressing the iOS user base except through the App Store that Apple controls. Google, however, allows apps to be sideloaded, so is less a concern on that platform.
The coalition launched last month with 13 app publishers as its initial members, and invited other interested parties to sign up to join.
Since then, CAF says “hundreds” of app developers expressed interest in the organization. It’s been working through applications to evaluate prospective members, and is today announcing its latest cohort of new partners.
The apps also hail from a number of app store categories, including Business, Education, Entertainment, Developer Tools, Finance, Games, Health & Fitness, Lifestyle, Music, Navigation, News, Productivity, Shopping, Sport and Travel.
The new partners include: development studio Beonex, health app Breath Ball, social app Challenge by Eristica, shopping app Cladwell, fitness app Down Dog Yoga, developer tool Gift Card Offerwall, game maker Green Heart Games, app studio Imagine BC, business app Passbase, music app Qobuz, lifestyle app QuackQuack and Qustodio, game Safari Forever, news app Schibsted, app studio Snappy Mob, education app SpanishDict, navigation app Sygic, app studio Vertical Motion, education app YARXI, and the Mobile Marketing Marketing Association.
With the additions, CAF now includes members from Austria, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, India, Israel, Malaysia, Norway, Singapore, Slovakia, Spain, United Kingdom and the United States.
The new partners have a range of complaints against the app stores, and particularly Apple.
SpanishDict, for instance, was frustrated by weeks of rejections with no recourse and inconsistently applied policies, it says. It also didn’t want to use Apple’s new authentication system, Apple Sign-In, but Apple made this a requirement for being included on the App Store.
Passbase, a Sign In With Apple competitor, also argues that Apple applied its rules unfairly, denying its submission but allowing its competitors on the App Store.
While some of the app partners are speaking out against Apple for the first time, others have already detailed their struggles publicly.
Eristica posted on its own website how Apple shut down its seven-year-old social app business, which allowed users to challenge each other to dares to raise money for charity. The company claims it pre-moderated the content to ensure dangerous and harmful content wasn’t published, and employed human moderators, but was still rejected over dangerous content.
Meanwhile, TikTok remained on the App Store, despite hosting harmful challenges, like the pass out challenge, cereal challenge, salt and ice challenge and others, Eristica says.
Apple, of course, tends to use its policies to shape what kind of apps it wants to host on its App Store — and an app that focused on users daring one another may have been seen as a potential liability.
That said, Eristica presents a case where it claims to have followed all the rules and made all the changes Apple said it wanted, and yet still couldn’t get back in.
Down Dog Yoga also recently made waves by calling out Apple for rejecting its app because it refused to auto-charge customers at the end of its free trial.
Wow! Apple is rejecting our latest update because we refuse to auto-charge at the end of our free trial. They can choose to steal from their customers who forget to cancel, but we won't do the same to ours. THIS IS A LINE THAT WE WILL NOT CROSS. pic.twitter.com/s9HwD4ay4h
— Down Dog (@downdogapp) June 30, 2020
The issue, in this case, wasn’t just that Apple wants a cut of developers’ businesses, it also wanted to dictate how those businesses are run.
Another new CAF partner, Qustodio, was among the apps impacted by Apple’s 2018 parental control app ban, which arrived shortly after Apple introduced its own parental control software in iOS.
The app developer had then co-signed a letter asking Apple to release a Screen Time API rather than banning parental control apps — a consideration that TechCrunch had earlier suggested should have been Apple’s course of action in the first place.
Under increased regulatory scrutiny, Apple eventually relented and allowed the apps back on the App Store last year.
Not all partners are some little guy getting crushed by App Store rules. Some may have run afoul of rules designed to protect consumers, like Apple’s crackdown on offerwalls. Gift Card Offerwall’s SDK, for example, was used to incentivize app monetization and in-app purchases, which isn’t something consumers tend to welcome.
Despite increased regulatory pressure and antitrust investigations in their business practices, both Apple and Google have modified their app store rules in recent weeks to ensure they’re clear about their right to collect in-app purchases from developers.
Meanwhile, Apple and CAF member Epic Games are engaged in a lawsuit over the Fortnite ban, as Epic chose to challenge the legality of the app store business model in the court system.
“Apple must be held accountable for its anticompetitive behavior. We’re committed to creating a level playing field and fair future, and we’re just getting started,” CAF said in an announcement about the new partners. It says it’s still open to new members.
The 2020 iPad Air comes at an interesting time in Apple’s release cycle. The iPad Pro is still strong from a specs perspective but is now technically a half generation or so behind in CPU. The new pro models won’t arrive for (theoretical) months.
So what you end up with is a device that shares the design philosophy of the iPad Pro and inherits some of its best features while simultaneously leaping ahead of it in raw compute power. This makes the Air one of the better overall values in any computing device from Apple in some time. In fact, it’s become obvious that this is my top choice to recommend as a casual, portable computer from Apple’s entire lineup including the MacBooks.
The clean new design has a thin, pleasantly colored simplicity to it. It matches the new iPhone 12 aesthetic quite well. The smoothly bullnosed corners and dusty blue peened finish make this one of the better looking iPads since the original. For years, Apple moved to try to “pull” the casing of the iPads around the back, making it disappear. This new design is a nice balance between the original’s frank simplicity and the new iPad Pro direction. A bit less sharp-edged and a bit more ‘friendly’ while still crisp.
One thing that I love a lot about the Air is that it lives up to its name and clocks in at the lightest weight of any of Apple’s portables at 1.0lb flat. This plus the Magic Keyboard is just such a killer portable writing machine it’s wild.
Apple didn’t fix the camera position on this, something that still stinks about the iPad Pro because you have to use Face ID to unlock it and your hand is always in the way in landscape mode. Instead, they straight up ditched the entire True Depth camera and Face ID altogether and tucked Touch ID into the power button.
The initial scanning process to set up a finger seemed ever so slightly more reluctant to grab my fingerprint here than it used to on the home button. My guess is that it’s to do with the oblong shape of the sensor or its housing. But once it was scanned and input, I’m happy to report that it works exactly as well if not better than any iPhone home button version. I set a finger on my left hand here because I only use iPads in horizontal mode. But if you aren’t a keyboard person and are doing a lot of reading, the right hand would be appropriate.
I actually found this to be a more natural feeling activation gesture than swiping up only to remember that my hand is in the way and having to move it and look at the camera. If the camera was placed along the horizontal edge of the iPad Pro or even in the corner I might feel differently. But as a compromise so that Apple doesn’t have to ship a True Depth camera in this unit, it works plenty fine.
The surface of the Touch ID button is covered by an opaque sapphire crystal cover that blends well with the casing but allows the print to be read through it.
Once you have the iPad Air unlocked, it falls right into the ‘X’ style navigation system. Swipes to open and navigate and move around. This is great because it brings near parity of navigation across Apple’s device lineup (minus the iPhone SE.)
The camera is fine. Do you shoot pictures on an iPad? Really you do? Wow, interesting, ok. Maybe buy the iPad Pro which has a full LiDAR array, a Wide and an Ultra Wide lens. Great for artists, scanning, reference work etc. On the iPad Air the camera is just fine but is really a formality. It can be used in all of those ways and the quality is on par, but it’s there because it has to be there.
Those of you that travel with an iPad and an iPhone will be happy to know that you can charge an iPhone from the USB-C port on the iPad Air. And yep, it works fine with USB-C hubs and card readers too.
The iPad Air has 4GB of RAM where the iPad Pro 2020 has 6GB. It has a Liquid Retina display, but no ProMotion 120hz refresh. The lack of ProMotion is unfortunate but understandable. It requires another whole layer of display technology that is quite a bit more expensive. Having gotten used to it now I would say that on a larger screen like this it’s easily the best excuse for spending the extra $150-200 to bump up to the 11” Pro model. It’s just really damn nice. If you’ve never had one, you’ll be a lot less likely to miss this obviously.
But it also has an A14 Bionic chip where the iPad Pro 2020 models are still on the A12Z. Because that ‘Z’ is related to the fact that it has an extended number of graphics cores (8-core CPU/8-core GPU), the performance gap isn’t as big as you’d think.
Though the iPad Air edges out the iPad Pro in single-core performance, the multi-core numbers are essentially on parity. This speaks to the iPad Pro being tuned to handle multiple processes in simultaneous threads for processing images and video. If you’re running Photoshop or Premiere Rush or LumaFusion on an iPad, you want the Pro. For most other uses, you’re gonna be just fine with the Air.
I do really wish that the Air started at 128GB instead of 64GB for the base $599 price. Apple has finally gotten the iPhone to a great place for minimum storage across the lineup, and I wish that the iPad Air matched that. If a ton of space is important to you, it’s important to note that you cannot get anything over 256GB in this unit, unlike the iPad Pro that is offered up to 1TB.
The two speaker system in the iPad Air is arranged in the much better horizontal array but it’s hal the amount that are in the iPad Pro and it shows. It’s a bit less loud overall but honestly the top volume is still way more than you need for typical iPad viewing distance.
Much of what I wrote about using Apple’s iPad Pro over the course of 10,000 miles of travel applies directly here. I still find it to be a great experience that, once you’ve adjusted for workflows, is just as powerful as any laptop. The additional features that have shipped in iOS 14 since that review have only made the iPad a better platform for legitimate work.
And now you get the Gen 2 pencil and the fantastic Magic Keyboard in an iPad outside of the Pro lineup and it honestly adds a ton of the utility.
Here’s my advice: Buy this if you want a portable iPad Pro to use alongside a MacBook or desktop computer for those times you don’t want to carry or can’t carry it. If you want an iPad Pro as your only computer, get the big iPad Pro but probably wait until they update that one in a few months.
Netflix plans to give users in India access to its service at no charge for a weekend as part of a test to expand its reach in the country, a top company executive said Tuesday.
The American streaming giant, which today reported a slow users growth for the quarter that ended in September, recently stopped offering a first-month complimentary access to new users in the U.S. But the company plans to keep experimenting with new ways to lure potential in many parts of the world, said Greg Peters, COO and Chief Product Officer at Netflix on the company’s earnings call.
One of those new ways is giving away access to Netflix at no charge to customers for a weekend in different markets, he said. The company has picked India, where it competes with Disney, Amazon, and technically three-dozen additional services, as the first market where it will test this idea and “will see how that goes,” from there, he said.
“We think that giving away everyone in a country access to Netflix for free for a weekend could be a great way to expose a bunch of new people to the amazing stories that we have, the service and how it works … and hopefully get a bunch of those folks to sign up,” he said, without sharing exactly when the company will roll out this new test in India. (It had not at the time of publishing.)
This won’t be the first time Netflix uses India as a test bed to explore new ideas. The company first flirted with the idea of a $2.7 mobile-only monthly plan in New Delhi before introducing it as a permanent tier in the country last year and then nearly a dozen markets. It has since tested even more pricing plans in the country.
India emerged as the largest open battleground for Silicon Valley and Chinese firms searching for their next billion users in the past decade. Disney, Amazon, Google, Apple, Spotify and several other firms offer a range of their services at a much affordable price range in India, the world’s second largest internet market.
The company, which earmarked $420 million to develop and license content in India by end of 2020 last year, is also deepening its collaboration with other industry players in the country.
It recently partnered with Reliance Jio Platforms, India’s largest telecom operator, to bundle its app on the Indian firm’s fiber broadband and mobile data plans. The company has also partnered with several financial institutions in India to make payment processing easier for users in the country, it said. “We expect [more payment options] will have retention benefits. All of these initiatives are important and work in concert with our big investment in local originals to improve the Netflix experience for our members,” the company said in a letter to shareholders (PDF).
Apple HomePod owners, starting today, will be able to use the newly announced “Intercom” feature to send messages between their HomePod smart speakers. The feature, which arrives via a software update, brings this and several other new features to Apple’s smart speakers, including those introduced at Apple’s event last week where the company debuted its $99 HomePod mini.
Of these, Intercom is the most notable update, as it helps the HomePod catch up to rival smart speakers, like those from Apple and Google, which have offered similar broadcast messaging systems for years.
But in Apple’s case, Intercom doesn’t just send a user’s voice message — like “dinner’s ready!” or “time to go!” — across the family’s HomePod speakers. It’s also meant to work across Apple’s device ecosystem, by adding support for iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and even AirPods and CarPlay.
This could be a competitive advantage for HomePod, particularly because Amazon — which leads the U.S. market with its affordable Echo devices — no longer has its own smartphone business.
However, Apple says Intercom’s expanded support for other devices isn’t being rolled out today. Instead, it will arrive through further software updates later this year.
To use Intercom, HomePod owners with multiple devices can say things like:
“Hey Siri, Intercom, Has anyone seen my glasses?”
“Hey Siri, tell everyone, Dinner is ready.”
“Hey Siri, Intercom to the kitchen, Has the game started?”
And to reply, users can say something like “Hey Siri, reply, Yes.”
In addition to the new support for Intercom, the software update also introduces deeper integration with Apple Maps and iPhone, the ability to set and stop timers and alarms from any HomePod, the ability to continue listening to a podcast with multiuser support, and more.
The deeper integration means HomePod owners can now ask Siri for information about traffic conditions, as well as nearby restaurants and businesses. A Siri suggestion will then automatically appears in Maps on your iPhone so the route is available as soon as you get in the car.
HomePod owners can also now ask Siri to search the web, which then sends results to the iPhone.
Two other new features will arrive later this year, including the ability to connect one HomePod (or more) to Apple TV 4K for stereo, 5.1 and 7.1 surround, and Dolby Atmos for movies, TV, games and more.
The other upcoming feature, called Personal Update, will soon let you ask Siri “what’s my update” or “play my update,” to get all the info you need to start your day, including news, weather, calendar events, and any reminders.
For all of the investors preaching that augmented reality technology will likely be the successor to the modern smartphone, today, most venture capitalists are still quite wary to back AR plays.
The reasons are plentiful, but all tend to circle around the idea that it’s too early for software and too expensive to try to take on Apple or Facebook on the hardware front.
Meanwhile, few spaces were frothier in 2016 than virtual reality, but most VCs who gambled on VR following Facebook’s Oculus acquisition failed to strike it rich. In 2020, VR did not get the shelter-in-place usage bump many had hoped for largely due to supply chain issues at Facebook, but VCs hope their new cheaper device will spell good things for the startup ecosystem.
To get a better sense of how VCs are looking at augmented reality and virtual reality in 2020, I reached out to a handful of investors who are keeping a close watch on the industry:
Some investors who are bullish on AR have opted to focus on virtual reality for now, believing that there’s a good amount of crossover between AR and VR software, and that they can make safer bets on VR startups today that will be able to take advantage of AR hardware when it’s introduced.
“Besides Pokémon Go I don’t think we have seen the engagement numbers needed for AR,” Boost VC investor Brayton Williams tells TechCrunch. “We believe VR is still the largest long-term opportunity of the two. AR complements the real world, VR creates endless new worlds.”
Most of the investors I got in contact with were still fairly active in the AR/VR world, but many still disagreed whether the time was right for VR startups. For Jacob Mullins of Shasta Ventures, “It’s still early, but it’s no longer too early.” While Gigi Levy-Weiss of NFX says that the market is “sadly not happening yet,” Facebook’s Quest headsets have shown promise.
On the hardware side, the ghost of Magic Leap’s formerly hyped glory still looms large. Few investors are interested in making a hardware play in the AR/VR world, noting that startups don’t have the resources to compete with Facebook or Microsoft on a large-scale rollout. “Hardware is so capital intensive and this entire industry is dependent on the big players continuing to invest in hardware innovation,” General Catalyst’s Niko Bonatsos tells us.
Even those that are still bullish on startups making hardware plays for more niche audiences acknowledge that life had gotten harder for ambitious founders in these spaces, “the spectacular flare-outs do make it harder for companies to raise large amounts with long product release horizons,” investor Tipatat Chennavasin notes.
Responses have been edited for length and clarity.
What are your general impressions on the health of the AR/VR market today?
We’re seeing some progress in VR and some of that is happening because of the Oculus ecosystem. They continue to improve the hardware and have a growing catalog of content. I think their onboarding and consumption experience is very consumer-friendly and that’s going to continue to help with adoption. On the consumer side, we’re seeing some companies across gaming, fitness and productivity that are earning and retaining their audiences at a respectable rate. That wasn’t happening even a year ago so it may be partially a COVID lift but habits are forming.
The VR bets of several years ago have largely struggled to pan out, if you were to make a startup investment in this space today what would you need to see?
Companies to watch are the ones that are creating cool experiences with mobile as the first entry point. Wave VR, Rec Room, VRChat are making it really easy for consumers to get a taste of VR with devices they already own. They’re not treating VR as just another gaming peripheral but as a way to create very cool, often celebrity-driven, content. These are the kinds of innovations that makes me optimistic about the VR category in general.
Most investors I chat with seem to be long-term bullish on AR, but are reticent to invest in an explicitly AR-focused startup today. What do you want to see before you make a play here?
In both AR/VR, a founder needs to be both super ambitious but patient. They’ll need to be flexible in thinking and open to pivoting a few times along the way. Product-market fit is always important but I want to see that they have a plan for customer retention. Fun to try is great, habit-forming is much better. Gaming continues to do pretty well as a category for VC dollars but it’d be interesting to see more founders look at making IRL sports experiences more immersive or figuring out how to enhance remote meeting experiences with VR to fix Zoom fatigue.
There have been a few spectacular flare-outs when it comes to AR/VR hardware investments, is there still a startup opportunity in AR/VR hardware?
Hardware is so capital intensive and this entire industry is dependent on the big players continuing to invest in hardware innovation. Facebook and Microsoft seem to be the main companies willing to spend here while others have backed away. If we expand our thinking for a minute, maybe the first real mainstream breakthrough AR/VR consumer experience isn’t visual. For VR, it might be the mobile experiences. For AR maybe AirPods or AirPod-like devices are the right entry point for consumers. They’re in millions of people’s ears already and who doesn’t want their own special-agent-like earpiece? That’s where founders might find some opportunity.
Google was clearly anticipating today’s U.S. Department of Justice antitrust complaint filing – the company posted an extensive rebuttal of the lawsuit to its Keyword company blog. The post, penned by SVP of Global Affairs and Google Chief Legal Officer Kent Walker, suggests that the DOJ’s case is “deeply flawed” and “would do nothing to help consumers,” before going into a platform-by-platform description of why it thinks its position in the market isn’t representative of unfair market dominance that would amount to antitrust.
Google’s blog post is even sprinkled with GIFs – something that’s pretty common for the search giant when it comes to its consumer product launches. These GIFs include step-by-step screen recordings of setting search engines other than Google as your default in Chrome on both mobile and desktop. These processes are both described as “trivially easy” by Walker in the post, but they do look like a bit of an own-goal when you notice just how many steps it takes to get the job done on desktop in particular, including what looks like a momentary hesitation in where to click to drill down further for the “Make Default” command.
Image Credits: Google
Google also reportedly makes reference to companies choosing their search engine as default because of the quality of their service, including both Apple and Mozilla (with a link drop for our own Frederic Lardinois). Ultimately, Google is making the argument that its search engine isn’t dominant because of a lack of viable options fostered by anti-competitive practices, but that instead it’s a result of building a quality product that consumers then opt in to using from among a field of choices.
The DOJ’s full suit dropped this morning, and an initial analysis suggests that this scrutiny is perhaps inopportunely timed in terms of its proximity to the election to actually have any significant teeth. There is some indication that a more broad, bipartisan investigation with support from state level attorney generals on both sides of the aisle could follow later, however, so it’s not necessarily all just going to go away regardless of election outcome.
Gowalla is coming back.
The startup, which longtime TechCrunch readers will likely recall, was an ambitious consumer social app that excited Silicon Valley investors but ultimately floundered in its quest to take on Foursquare before an eventual $3 million acquihire in 2011 brought the company’s talent to Facebook.
The story certainly seemed destined to end there, but founder Josh Williams tells TechCrunch that he has decided to revive the Gowalla name and build on its ultimate vision by leaning on augmented reality tech.
“I really don’t think [Gowalla’s vision] has been fully realized at all, which is why I still want to scratch this itch,” Williams tells TechCrunch. “It was frankly really difficult to see it shut down.”
After a stint at Facebook, another venture-backed startup and a few other gigs, Williams has reacquired the Gowalla name, and is resurrecting the company with the guidance of co-founder Patrick Piemonte, a former Apple interface designer who previously founded an AR startup called Mirage. The new company was incubated inside Form Capital, a small design-centric VC fund operated by Williams and Bobby Goodlatte .
Founders Patrick Piemonte (left) and Josh Williams (right). Image credit: Josh Williams.
Williams hopes that AR can bring the Gowalla brand new life.
Despite significant investment from Facebook, Apple and Google, augmented reality is still seen as a bit of a gamble with many proponents estimating mass adoption to be several years out. Apple’s ARKit developer platform has yielded few wins despite hefty investment and Pokémon Go — the space’s sole consumer smash hit — is growing old.
“The biggest AR experience out there is Pokémon Go, and it’s now over six years old,” Williams says. “It’s moved the space forward a lot but is still very early in terms of what we’re going to see.”
Williams was cryptic when it came to details for what exactly the new augmented reality platform would look like when it launches. He did specify that it will feel more like a gamified social app than a social game, though he also lists the Nintendo franchise Animal Crossing as one of the platform’s foundational inspirations.
A glimpse of the branding for the new Gowalla. Image credit: Josh Williams
“It’s not a game with bosses or missions or levels, but rather something that you can experience,” Williams says. “How do you blend augmented reality and location? How do you see the world through somebody else’s eyes?”
A location-based social platform will likely rely on users actually going places, and the pandemic has largely dictated the app’s launch timing. Today, Gowalla is launching a waitlist, Williams says the app itself will launch in beta “in a number of cities” sometime in the first-half of next year. The team is also trying something unique with a smaller paid beta group called the “Street Team,” which will give users paying a flat $49 fee early access to Gowalla as well as “VIP membership,” membership to a private Discord group and some branded swag. A dedicated Street Team app will also launch in December.
Genies, has updated its software development kit and added Giphy and Gucci as new partners to enable their users to create personalized Genie avatars.
The company released the first version of its sdk in 2018 when it raised a $10 million to directly challenge Snap and Apple for avatar dominance. Now, with the latest update, the company said it has managed to create a new three dimensional rendering that can be used across platforms — if developers let Genies handle the animation.
Genies has already managed to sign up many of the biggest names in entertainment to act as their official manager through their Genies talent agency. These include celebrities like Shawn Mendes, Justin Bieber, Cardi B, and Rihanna. Genies also locked in deals with the National Football League’s player’s association along with Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association.
Now, those celebrities and athletes can monetize exclusive digital goods made by Genies on platforms like Gucci and Giphy and the fashion house and meme generator can now give users their own digital identity to play around with.
“Over the past year, our technology has been sharpened by the exacting creative demands of celebrities. This advanced Genies’ march to be the go-to avatar globally,” said Akash Nigam, Genies CEO and co-founder, in a statement. “What was previously a celebrity exclusive experience, is now broadly available for consumers to use as their virtual portable identities. By opening up to the masses, we’ve now created an opportunity for tastemakers to forge new, unique relationships with their audiences through avatar digital goods.”
The SDK integrations are still highly curated and tailored (there’s a lot of heavy lifting that Genies needs to do with each one). For instance, Gucci users can try on the latest designs and the company will sell digital goods on its platform created by Genies. Giphy users will use their avatars as gifs on its site and through its distribution network.
“Our Avatar Agency has served as the go-to platform for thousands of artists, and with our next-gen, highly expressive and dynamic 3D Genie, we will further solidify our position as the universal digital identity,” said Izzy Pollak, Director of Avatar SDK at Genies. “For celebrities and everyday users alike, it unlocks new arenas and verticals for users to cultivate their avatars in. On top of traditional 2D environments like mobile apps and websites, Genies can now live in AR/VR platforms, games, and in use cases or SDK partner platforms that demand a 360-degree rendering of the digital goods they purchase,”
In the suit, the Justice Department is expected to argue that Google used anticompetitive practices to safeguard its monopoly position as the dominant force in search and search-advertising, which sit at the foundation of the company’s extensive advertising, data mining, video distribution, and information services conglomerate.
It would be the first significant legal challenge that Google has faced from U.S. regulators despite years of investigations into the company’s practices.
A 2012 attempt to bring the company to the courts to answer for anti-competitive practices was ultimately scuttled because regulators at the time weren’t sure they could make the case stick. Since that time Alphabet’s value has skyrocketed to reach over $1 trillion (as of today’s share price).
Alphabet, Google’s parent company, holds a commanding lead in both search and video. The company dominates the search market — with roughly 90% of the world’s internet searches conducted on its platform — and roughly three quarters of American adults turn to YouTube for video, as the Journal reported.
In the lawsuit, the Department of Justice will say that Alphabet’s Google subsidiary uses a web of exclusionary business agreements to shut out competitors. The billions of dollars that the search giant collects wind up paying mobile phone companies, carriers and browsers to make the Google search engine a preset default. That blocks competitors from being able to access the kinds of queries and traffic they’d need to refine their own search engine.
It will be those relationships — alongside Google’s insistence that its search engine come pre-loaded (and un-deletable) on phones using the Android operating system and that other search engines specifically not be pre-loaded — that form part of the government’s case, according to Justice Department officials cited by the Journal.
The antitrust suit comes on the heels of a number of other regulatory actions involving Google, which is not only the dominant online search provider, but also a leader in online advertising and in mobile technology by way of Android, as well as a strong player in a web of other interconnected services like mapping, online productivity software, cloud computing and more.
MOUNTAIN VIEW, UNITED STATES – 2020/02/23: American multinational technology company Google logo seen at Google campus. (Photo by Alex Tai/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
A report last Friday in Politico noted that Democrat Attorneys General would not be signing the suit. That report said those AGs have instead been working on a bipartisan, state-led approach covering a wider number of issues beyond search — the idea being also that more suits gives government potentially a stronger bargaining position against the tech giant.
A third suit is being put together by the state of Texas, although that has faced its own issues.
While a number of tech leviathans are facing increasing scrutiny from Washington, with the US now just two weeks from Election Day, it’s unlikely that we are going to see many developments around this and other cases before then. And in the case of this specific Google suit, in the event that Trump doesn’t get re-elected, there will also be a larger personnel shift at the DoJ that could also change the profile and timescale of the case.
In any event, fighting these regulatory cases is always a long, drawn-out process. In Europe, Google has faced a series of fines over antitrust violations stretching back several years, including a $2.7 billion fine over Google shopping; a $5 billion fine over Android dominance; and a $1.7 billion fine over search ad brokering. While Goolge slowly works through appeals, there are also more cases ongoing against the company in Europe and elsewhere.
Google is not the only one catching the attention of Washington. Earlier in October, the House Judiciary Committee released a report of more than 400 pages in which it outlined how tech giants Apple, Amazon, Alphabet (Google’s parent company) and Facebook were abusing their power, covering everything from the areas in which they dominate, through to suggestions for how to fix the situation (including curtailing their acquisitions strategy).
That seemed mainly to be an exercise in laying out the state of things, which could in turn be used to inform further actions, although in itself, unlike the DoJ suit, the House report lacks teeth in terms of enforcement or remedies.
TikTok returns to Pakistan, Apple launches a music-focused streaming station and SpaceX launches more Starlink satellites. This is your Daily Crunch for October 19, 2020.
The big story: Pakistan un-bans TikTok
The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority blocked the video app 11 days ago, over what it described as “immoral,” “obscene” and “vulgar” videos. The authority said today that it’s lifting the ban after negotiating with TikTok management.
“The restoration of TikTok is strictly subject to the condition that the platform will not be used for the spread of vulgarity/indecent content & societal values will not be abused,” it continued.
This isn’t the first time this year the country tried to crack down on digital content. Pakistan announced new internet censorship rules this year, but rescinded them after Facebook, Google and Twitter threatened to leave the country.
The tech giants
Apple launches a US-only music video station, Apple Music TV — The new music video station offers a free, 24-hour live stream of popular music videos and other music content.
Google Cloud launches Lending DocAI, its first dedicated mortgage industry tool — The tool is meant to help mortgage companies speed up the process of evaluating a borrower’s income and asset documents.
Facebook introduces a new Messenger API with support for Instagram — The update means businesses will be able to integrate Instagram messaging into the applications and workflows they’re already using in-house to manage their Facebook conversations.
Startups, funding and venture capital
SpaceX successfully launches 60 more Starlink satellites, bringing total delivered to orbit to more than 800 — That makes 835 Starlink satellites launched thus far, though not all of those are operational.
Singapore tech-based real estate agency Propseller raises $1.2M seed round — Propseller combines a tech platform with in-house agents to close transactions more quickly.
Ready Set Raise, an accelerator for women built by women, announces third class — Ready Set Raise has changed its programming to be more focused on a “realistic fundraising process” vetted by hundreds of women.
Advice and analysis for Extra Crunch
Are VCs cutting checks in the closing days of the 2020 election? — Several investors told TechCrunch they were split about how they’re making these decisions.
Disney+ UX teardown: Wins, fails and fixes — With the help of Built for Mars founder and UX expert Peter Ramsey, we highlight some of the things Disney+ gets right and things that should be fixed.
Late-stage deals made Q3 2020 a standout VC quarter for US-based startups — Investors backed a record 88 megarounds of $100 million or more.
(Reminder: Extra Crunch is our subscription membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)
US charges Russian hackers blamed for Ukraine power outages and the NotPetya ransomware attack — Prosecutors said the group of hackers, who work for the Russian GRU, are behind the “most disruptive and destructive series of computer attacks ever attributed to a single group.”
Stitcher’s podcasts arrive on Pandora with acquisition’s completion — SiriusXM today completed its previously announced $325 million acquisition of podcast platform Stitcher from E.W. Scripps, and has now launched Stitcher’s podcasts on Pandora.
Original Content podcast: It’s hard to resist the silliness of ‘Emily in Paris’ — The show’s Paris is a fantasy, but it’s a fantasy that we’re happy to visit.
The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.
Apple is expanding its investment in music with today’s launch of “Apple Music TV.” The new music video station offers a free, 24-hour live stream of popular music videos and other music content, including exclusive video premieres, curated music video blocks, live shows, fan events, chart countdowns and guest appearances.
The service doesn’t have its own dedicated app, but is instead offered as a new feature within two of Apple’s existing entertainment apps. At launch, you can watch Apple Music TV from within the Browse tab of either the Apple Music app or the Apple TV app. (Accessible via apple.co/AppleMusicTV).
While Apple Music is a paid subscription service, Apple Music TV will be free to users in the U.S., the company says.
To kick off its launch, Apple Music TV today began with a countdown of the top 100 most-streamed songs ever across all of Apple Music, based on U.S. data.
During brief tests of the new service, we found it to be a fairly basic — though uncensored and ad-free — experience. The video stream only offered artist and song details at the beginning, instead of as the music played. It also didn’t take advantage of the integration with Apple Music to offer additional features to paying subscribers — like being able to favorite the song or add it to a playlist, for instance.
The stream would stop when the Apple Music app was closed, as it didn’t support background play.
Image Credits: Apple
There also weren’t any on-screen tools to share what you were watching via a social media post. You had to dig to find the “share” button under the three-dot, “more” menu. This would give you a link to tweet, but wouldn’t pre-fill it with text or hashtags, like the artist name or song.
While listening, you could stop the live stream and then return after a short pause. But after a bit, the stream disconnects and the thumbnail of the paused music video reverts to the placeholder Apple Music TV image. When live, the text and icons will be shown in red. They revert to white when you’ve disconnected, as a visual cue.
Despite its simplicity, Apple Music TV gives Apple an immediate new home for its music-related original content, which over the years has included exclusive interviews, concert films and more. It also provides Apple with another advantage when it goes to negotiate with artists for their premieres, as it introduces an additional platform for reaching an artist’s fans — not only with the premiere itself, but by offering artists blocks of airtime leading up to their next debut that they can use to promote their releases.
The new station can also leverage content produced for the Apple Music 1 (formerly Beats 1) radio station, as it goes about running these promotions.
For example, on Thursday, October 22, Apple Music TV will promote the upcoming release of Bruce Springsteen’s “Letter to You” with music video blocks featuring his greatest videos, plus an exclusive interview with Zane Lowe, and a special live stream fan event.
Apple says that Apple Music 1 won’t be producing exclusive content for the live-streamed station, but instead will run the video content it already produces across its radio stations — Apple Music 1, Apple Music Country, and Apple Music Hits — as interstitial content on Apple Music TV.
Fridays, meanwhile, will focus on new music. This Friday, October 23, at 9 AM PT, Apple Music TV will showcase two new exclusive video premieres — Joji’s “777” and SAINt JHN’s “Gorgeous.”
Apple Music TV’s biggest advantage, of course, is the fact that it’s freely accessible to millions of Apple device owners.
But it may struggle for traction as it lacks the features that make other live stream fan events or premieres engaging — like group chats or direct interactions with creators.
Instead, it’s more like a traditional TV broadcast — even MTV-like — compared with other online destinations where artists today connect with fans and promote their albums, like YouTube, VEVO or, more recently, Facebook, which just this year launched music videos.
Apple didn’t say if it planned to expand the new station outside the U.S.
Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the TechCrunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support and the money that flows through it all.
The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 204 billion downloads and $120 billion in consumer spending in 2019. People are now spending three hours and 40 minutes per day using apps, rivaling TV. Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus.
In this series, we help you keep up with the latest news from the world of apps, delivered on a weekly basis.
Apple hosted its iPhone event this week, where it introduced the new iPhone 12… and the iPhone 12 mini, the iPhone 12 Pro and the iPhone 12 Pro Max — effectively plugging all the holes in the market. With the release of the four new iPhones, app developers will have a range of devices to build for, from small to very large — the 12 Pro Max, for example, introduces the iPhone’s biggest-ever screen and the highest resolution, at nearly 3.5M pixels.
It also, of course, includes serious camera improvements, from a redesign of the three-lens system to including a new deeper telephoto camera, now a 65 mm-equivalent instead of 52 mm, as on previous models. There’s also an improved wide-angle lens, larger sensor, the addition of sensor-level image stabilization and a revamped Night Mode. Photographers will appreciate the new Apple ProRAW format, as well. (More on that here).
The iPhone 12 mini, meanwhile, aims to serve the customer base that prefers a smaller phone, like the iPhone SE, but without sacrificing functionality.
All the devices share some key features, including 5G connectivity, the new MagSafe connector for wireless charging and snap-on magnetic accessories, OLED displays and the A14 chip. They also have a more classic look, with straight edges that allow for additional antennas, providing next-gen wireless connectivity.
One of the bigger differences, however, between the Pro models and the regular iPhone 12 is the addition of the LiDAR Scanner, which is also found in the latest iPad Pro. The scanner measures how long it takes for light to reach an object and reflect back. The new depth-sensing technology has big implications for AR, as it allows augmented reality objects to interact with objects in the real world. AR apps will be more user-friendly, too, as they won’t need to first scan the room to place the AR object in the real world. It can be placed instantly.
Apple is leveraging the sensor for the iPhone 12 Pro camera to offer up to 6x faster focus in low-light conditions. Developers, meanwhile, can leverage lidar for use cases like AR-enabled games that work in the real world, social media (like Snapchat’s new lidar-powered Lens), home design and improvement apps involving room scans, spatial layout planning (like JigSpace), better AR shopping experiences and more.
The company also announced an affordable version of its HomePod smart speaker, the $99 HomePod Mini. The item works best for those fully locked inside the Apple universe, as it will stream a handful of music services, but not one of the most popular — Spotify. However, Apple also introduced a nifty feature for the HomePod devices, Intercom, which lets you send announcements across the speakers. While Apple and Google have offered a similar feature for their smart speakers, Intercom also works across other Apple devices, including iPhone, iPod, AirPods and even CarPlay. (What, no Mac?)
If Apple isn’t too late to capture smart speaker market share, the new speaker could see more users adopting smart home devices they can voice control through the HomePod Mini.
During the event, Apple also subtly snubbed its nose at Epic’s Fortnite with the announcement that
League of Legends: Wild Rift would be coming to iPhone 12 to take advantage of its new 5G capabilities and A14 Bionic chip.
Mycons is a new app that makes it easier for users, including non-designers, to create and buy custom icons for their iOS home screen makeovers. In the app’s “Icon Studio,” users can create icons by swapping out the background, choosing a symbol and placing it on the icon accordingly. You can also create a whole set of icons in a batch export. If you don’t feel like designing your own, you can opt to purchase premade packs instead.
The app is a free download with a one-time, in-app purchase to unlock the fully functionality of the icon designer. The icon packs, which include different variations and matching wallpaper, range from $7.99-$9.99.
Spotify’s new iOS 14 widget
Image Credits: TechCrunch screenshot of Spotify widget
It’s here! The widget a number of people have waited for since the launch of the new version of iOS has arrived.
The widget, which arrives in the latest version of the Spotify iOS app, comes in two sizes. The smaller widget will display just your most recently listened to item, while the medium-sized widget will instead show the five most recent items — four in a horizontal row and the most recent at the top. In that case, you can actually tap on the small thumbnail for which of the five you want to now stream to be taken directly to that page in the Spotify app. The widget also automatically updates its background color to match the thumbnail photo.
I began my career at Oracle in the mid-1980s and have since been around the proverbial block, particularly in Silicon Valley working for and with companies ranging from the Fortune 50 to global consulting companies to leading a number of startups, including the SaaS company I presently lead. Throughout my career, I’ve carved out a niche not only working with technology companies, but focused on designing and implementing global compensation programs.
In short, if there’s two things I know like the back of my hand, it’s tech and how people are paid.
The compensation evolution I’ve witnessed over these past 35+ years has been dramatic. Among other things, there has been a fundamentally seismic shift in how women are perceived and paid, principally for the better. Some of it, in truth, has been window dressing. It’s good PR to say you’re a company with a strong culture focused on diversity, as it helps attract top talent. But the rubber meets the road once hires get past the recruiter. When companies don’t do what they say, we see mass exoduses and even lawsuits, as has recently been the case at Pinterest and Carta.
So with the likes of Intel, Salesforce and Apple publicly committed to gender pay equity, there’s nothing left to see here, right? Actually, we’re not even close. Yes, the glass ceiling is cracking. But significant, largely unaddressed gaps remain relative to the broader scope of long-tail compensation for women, especially at startups, where essential measures of economic reward such as stock options in companies are often not even part of the conversation around pay parity.
As a baseline, while progress is evident, gender pay is an unfinished product to say the least. Recently the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found white women earn 83.3% as much as their white male counterparts, while African-American women earn 93.7% compared to men of their same race. Asian women made 77.1% and Hispanic women earned 85.1% as much respectively.
According to Payscale, the ratio of the median earnings of women to men has decreased by just $0.07 since 2015, and in 2020, women make $0.81 for every dollar a man makes. Long term, in calculating presumptive raises given over a 40-year career, women could lose as much as $900,000 over the duration of a career.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Even if we solely left the gender pay gap to just a cash salary disparity, there is something further to see here. However, to quote a famous pitchman, “But wait, there’s more!” And the more — at least in my mind — is far more troubling.
As innovative startups from Silicon Valley to New York’s Silicon Alley and beyond continue to reshape the business landscape, guess how most of them are able to lure bright, entrepreneurial minds? It’s certainly not salary, as when a company has nothing beyond a great idea and maybe a lead to a VC on Sand Hill Road, there’s no fat paycheck or benefits package to offer. Instead, they dangle the proverbial carrot of stock/equity compensation.
“Look, we know you can get $180,000 a year from Apple but we’ll give you $48,000 a year plus 1,000 shares presently valuated at $62 per share. Our board — which is packed with studs from the Bay Area — is expecting that to soar within two years! Wait ‘til we go public!”
This is the pitch, at least if you’re a promising male. But women, historically, have tended to get left out of this lucrative reward package for varying reasons.
How has this happened? Beyond just a furtherance of business culture, while there have been legislative steps taken to address inequities in public company compensation and stock dispersal, there are no regulations as to how private companies distribute or manage the appreciation of stock. And, as we all know, the appreciation can be potentially massive.
It makes sense. Many companies and even naïve job-seekers consider equity as the “third pillar” of compensation beyond titles/compensation (which come hand-in-hand) and benefits. Shares of startups are just not top-of-mind — often ignored or misunderstood — by many who look at gender pay inequities, although that could not be more misguided.
A recent study published in the “Journal of Applied Psychology” found a gender gap for equity-based awards ranging from 15%-30% — even beyond accounting for typical reasons women historically earn less than men, including differences in occupation and length of service at a company. Keep in mind many of these companies will go on to massive valuations, and for some, lucrative IPOs or acquisitions.
It’s a problem I recognized long ago, and it is largely why I agreed to lead our Bay Area startup on behalf of our New York-based parent company AST. I found a commitment to a genuinely equitable culture instilled by a shared moral compass, a belief that companies who care about gender equity perform better and provide better returns, and a conviction that diversity brings unique perspectives, drives talent retention, builds a stronger culture and aids client satisfaction.
In speaking with industry colleagues, I know it’s something CEOs, both men and women, are dedicated to addressing. I believe creating a broader picture of compensation is essential for startups, global conglomerates and every company in between. If you are in a position of leadership and recognize this is a challenge in need of addressing at your company, here are some steps I recommend you implement:
One of the first reports we created is a Pay Comparison Report so there are tools anyone in management can easily use to review stock grants made to all employees and ensure equity between people of different ethnicities or gender. It’s not that hard if you care to look.
When I was graduating from college and Ronald Reagan was in office, we were talking about the potential for women to break the glass ceiling. Now, many years later, somehow we’ve managed to develop lights you can turn on and off by clapping and most of us are walking around with the power of a supercomputer in our hands. Is it really asking too much that we require gender pay equity, including all three compensation pillars (cash, benefits and stock), to be a priority?
With thousands of gyms across the country forced to close down during the pandemic, there’s been an unprecedented opportunity for fitness companies pitching an at-home solution. This moment has propelled public companies like Peloton to stratospheric highs — its market cap is about to eclipse $40 billion — but it has also pushed venture capitalists towards plenty of deals in the fitness space.
Future launched with a bold sell for consumers, a $150 per month subscription app that virtually teamed users up with a real life fitness coach. Leaning on the health-tracking capabilities of the Apple Watch, the startup has been aiming to build a platform that teams motivation, accountability and fitness insights.
Close to 18 months after announcing a Series A led by Kleiner Perkins, the startup tells TechCrunch they’ve closed a $24 million Series B led by Trustbridge Partners with Caffeinated Capital and Kleiner Perkins participating again.
Amid the at-home fitness boom, Future has seen major growth of its own. CEO Rishi Mandal says that the company’s growth rate has tripled in recent months as thousands of gyms closed their doors. He says shelter-in-place has merely accelerated an ongoing shift towards tech-forward fitness services that can help busy users find time during their day to exercise.
”The operating thesis of the company is that modern life is inherently crazy not just during pandemic times but in normal times,” Mandal says. “The idea of having a set routine is a complete fallacy.”
At $149 per month, Future isn’t aiming for mass market appeal the same way other digital fitness programs being produced by Peloton, Fitbit or Apple are. It seems to be more squarely aimed at users that could be a candidate for getting a personal trainer but might bot be ready to make the investment or don’t need the guided instruction so much as they need general guidelines and some accountability.
As the startup closes on more funding, the team has big goals to expand its network. Mandal aims to have 1,000 coaches on the Future platform by this time next year. Reaching new scales could give the service a chance to tackle new challenges. Mandal sees opportunities for Future to expand its coaching services beyond fitness as it grows, “there’s a real opportunity to help people with all aspects of their health.”
The AirBuddy app is celebrating another successful Apple week by opening up preorders on v2.0. The original, which arrived in early 2019, brought a pop-up to the Mac when a pair of AirPods were brought near — bringing simple ecosystem integration to the desktop before Apple did.
The update, which is set to arrive arrive on November 11, brings even deeper integration. At the top of the list is a quick status menu featuring all connected Apple and Beats devices. That includes the iPhone, iPad and the Apple Watch, along with other Macs that have the latest version of the $10 software installed. The devices are group together based on how they’re paired with one another — so, a set of AirPods connected to an iPhone will appear near that device in the menu.
— AirBuddy (@airbuddyapp) October 14, 2020
The update also brings device usage over the past 12 or 24 hours including listening time, call time and whether one of the buds in an AirPods pair is losing charge more quickly than the other. Users can also switch between AirPods Pro’s normal, noise canceling and transparency modes directly from the desktop.
Those who purchased the original version of the app will get the upgrade for free if they purchased it this year. If you bought it last year, you can get the new one for half-off.