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EU chief warns over ‘unfiltered’ hate speech and calls for Biden to back rules for big tech

By Natasha Lomas

In a speech to the European Parliament today marking the inauguration of U.S. president Joe Biden, the president of the European Commission has called for Europe and the U.S. to join forces on regulating tech giants, warning of the risks of “unfiltered” hate speech and disinformation being weaponized to attack and undermine democracies.

Ursula von der Leyen pointed to the shock storming of the U.S. capital earlier this month by supporters of outgoing president Donald Trump as an example of how wild claims being spread and amplified online can have tangible real-world consequences, including for democratic institutions.

“Just a few days ago, several hundred [Trump supporters] stormed the Capitol in Washington, the heart of American democracy. The television images of that event shocked us all. That is what happens when words incite action,” she said. “That is what happens when hate speech and fake news spread like wildfire through digital media. They become a danger to democracy.”

European institutions are also being targeted with “hate and contempt for our democracy spreading unfiltered through social media to millions of people”, she warned, pointing to similarly disturbing attacks that have taken place in the region in recent years. Such as an attempt by right-wing extremists in Germany to storm the Reichstag building last summer and the 2016 murder of U.K. politician Jo Cox by a fascist extremist.

“Of course, the storming of the [U.S.] Capitol was different. But in Europe, too, there are people who feel disadvantaged and are very angry,” she said, suggesting feelings of exclusion and injustice can make people vulnerable to believing the “rampant” conspiracy theories that platforms have allowed to circulate freely online, and which she characterized as “often a confused mixture of completely absurd fantasies”.

“We must make sure that messages of hate and fake news can no longer be spread unchecked,” she added, reiterating the case for regulating social media by pressing the case for imposing “democratic limits on the untrammelled and uncontrolled political power of the internet giants”.

The European Commission has already set out its blueprint for overhauling the region’s digital rulebook when it unveiled the draft Digital Services Act and Digital Markets Act last month. Although it won’t be including hard legal limits on disinformation in the package — preferring to continue with a voluntary, but beefed up code of conduct for content that falls into a grey area where it may be harmful but isn’t actually illegal.

Von der Leyen said the aim for the regulations is to ensure “if something is illegal offline it must also be illegal online”. The Commission has also said the tech policy package is about forcing platforms to take more responsibility for the content they spread and monetize.

But it’s not yet clear how the proposed laws will ultimately tackle the tricky issue of how assessments are made to remove (or reinstate) speech; and whether platforms will continue to make those judgements (under a regulator’s guidance and watchful eye), or whether they end up entirely independent of platform control.

What the Commission has suggested is closer to the former but the proposal has to go through the EU’s co-legislative process — so such details are likely to be debated and could be amended prior to adoption into law.

“We want the platforms to be transparent about how their algorithms work. We cannot accept a situation where decisions that have a wide-ranging impact on our democracy are being made by computer programs without any human supervision,” von der Leyen went on. “And we want it laid down clearly that internet companies take responsibility for the content they disseminate.”

She also reiterated the concern expressed in recent days about the unilateral actions taken by tech giants to close down Trump’s megaphone — echoing comments by political leaders across Europe earlier this month who dubbed the display of raw platform power, from companies like Twitter, as “problematic”; and said it must result in regulatory consequences for tech giants.  

“No matter how right it may have been for Twitter to switch off Donald Trump’s account five minutes after midnight, such serious interference with freedom of expression should be based on laws and not on company rules,” she said, adding: “It should be based on decisions of politicians and parliaments and not of Silicon Valley managers.”

In the speech, the EU president also expressed hope that the Biden administration will be inclined to arc toward Europe’s agenda on digital regulation — as part of the anticipated post-Trump reboot of EU-U.S. relations.

The Commission recently adopted a new transatlantic agenda in which it laid out a number of policy areas it hopes for joint-working with the U.S. — with tech governance key among the areas of hoped for policy cooperation.

Von der Leyen reiterated the idea that a joint Trade and Technology Council could be “a first step” toward the EU and US fashioning a “digital economy rulebook that is valid worldwide”.

“It is in this digital field that Europe has so much to offer the new government in Washington”, she suggested. “The path we have taken in Europe can be an example for approaches at international level. As has long been the case with the General Data Protection Regulation.

“Together we could create a digital economy rulebook that is valid worldwide: From data protection and privacy to the security of technical infrastructure. A body of rules based on our values: human rights and pluralism, inclusion and protection of privacy.”

While there’s evidently a keen appetite in the EU to reset U.S. relations post-Trump, it remains to be seen how much of a policy reboot the Biden administration will usher in, vis-à-vis big tech.

He has not been as vocal a critic of platform giants as other Democratic challengers for the presidency. And the Obama administration, which he of course served in, had very cosy ties to Silicon Valley.

Concerns have also been raised in recent days about Biden’s potential picks for a key appointment at the justice office — in light of antitrust probes of big tech versus the prospective appointees’ deep links to tech giants and/or promotion of historical mergers. So it hardly looks like a model for a full and clean reset.

While the tricky issue of pro-privacy reform of U.S. surveillance laws — which EU commissioners have warned will be needed to resolve the legal uncertainty clouding data transfers from the region to the U.S. (and which tech giants themselves have largely avoided in their own lobbying) — seems likely to need legislation from Congress, rather than being a change that could be driven solely by the Biden administration.

The chances of the incoming president being inclined to champion such a relatively wonky tech-policy issue when he has so much else in his “needs urgent attention” in-tray also seem relatively slim. But even slender odds can look promising after the Trump era.  

An argument against cloud-based applications

By Walter Thompson
Michael Huth Contributor
Professor Michael Huth (Ph.D.) is co-founder and CTO of Xayn and teaches at Imperial College London. His research focuses on cybersecurity, cryptography and mathematical modeling, as well as security and privacy in machine learning.

In the last decade we’ve seen massive changes in how we consume and interact with our world. The Yellow Pages is a concept that has to be meticulously explained with an impertinent scoff at our own age. We live within our smartphones, within our apps.

While we thrive with the information of the world at our fingertips, we casually throw away any semblance of privacy in exchange for the convenience of this world.

This line we straddle has been drawn with recklessness and calculation by big tech companies over the years as we’ve come to terms with what app manufacturers, large technology companies, and app stores demand of us.

Our private data into the cloud

According to Symantec, 89% of our Android apps and 39% of our iOS apps require access to private information. This risky use sends our data to cloud servers, to both amplify the performance of the application (think about the data needed for fitness apps) and store data for advertising demographics.

While large data companies would argue that data is not held for long, or not used in a nefarious manner, when we use the apps on our phones, we create an undeniable data trail. Companies generally keep data on the move, and servers around the world are constantly keeping data flowing, further away from its source.

Once we accept the terms and conditions we rarely read, our private data is no longer such. It is in the cloud, a term which has eluded concrete understanding throughout the years.

A distinction between cloud-based apps and cloud computing must be addressed. Cloud computing at an enterprise level, while argued against ad nauseam over the years, is generally considered to be a secure and cost-effective option for many businesses.

Even back in 2010, Microsoft said 70% of its team was working on things that were cloud-based or cloud-inspired, and the company projected that number would rise to 90% within a year. That was before we started relying on the cloud to store our most personal, private data.

Cloudy with a chance of confusion

To add complexity to this issue, there are literally apps to protect your privacy from other apps on your smart phone. Tearing more meat off the privacy bone, these apps themselves require a level of access that would generally raise eyebrows if it were any other category of app.

Consider the scenario where you use a key to encrypt data, but then you need to encrypt that key to make it safe. Ultimately, you end up with the most important keys not being encrypted. There is no win-win here. There is only finding a middle ground of contentment in which your apps find as much purchase in your private data as your doctor finds in your medical history.

The cloud is not tangible, nor is it something we as givers of the data can access. Each company has its own cloud servers, each one collecting similar data. But we have to consider why we give up this data. What are we getting in return? We are given access to applications that perhaps make our lives easier or better, but essentially are a service. It’s this service end of the transaction that must be altered.

App developers have to find a method of service delivery that does not require storage of personal data. There are two sides to this. The first is creating algorithms that can function on a local basis, rather than centralized and mixed with other data sets. The second is a shift in the general attitude of the industry, one in which free services are provided for the cost of your personal data (which ultimately is used to foster marketing opportunities).

Of course, asking this of any big data company that thrives on its data collection and marketing process is untenable. So the change has to come from new companies, willing to risk offering cloud privacy while still providing a service worth paying for. Because it wouldn’t be free. It cannot be free, as free is what got us into this situation in the first place.

Clearing the clouds of future privacy

What we can do right now is at least take a stance of personal vigilance. While there is some personal data that we cannot stem the flow of onto cloud servers around the world, we can at least limit the use of frivolous apps that collect too much data. For instance, games should never need access to our contacts, to our camera and so on. Everything within our phone is connected, it’s why Facebook seems to know everything about us, down to what’s in our bank account.

This sharing takes place on our phone and at the cloud level, and is something we need to consider when accepting the terms on a new app. When we sign into apps with our social accounts, we are just assisting the further collection of our data.

The cloud isn’t some omnipotent enemy here, but it is the excuse and tool that allows the mass collection of our personal data.

The future is likely one in which devices and apps finally become self-sufficient and localized, enabling users to maintain control of their data. The way we access apps and data in the cloud will change as well, as we’ll demand a functional process that forces a methodology change in service provisions. The cloud will be relegated to public data storage, leaving our private data on our devices where it belongs. We have to collectively push for this change, lest we lose whatever semblance of privacy in our data we have left.

Trump vetoes major defense bill, citing Section 230

By Taylor Hatmaker

Following through on his previous threat, President Trump has vetoed the $740 million National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), a major bill that allocates military funds each year.

Through tweets in early December, Trump said he would sink the NDAA if it wasn’t altered to include language “terminating” Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, an essential and previously obscure internet law that the president has had in his crosshairs for the better part of the year.

“Your failure to terminate the very dangerous national security risk of Section 230 will make our intelligence virtually impossible to conduct without everyone knowing what we are doing at every step,” Trump said in a statement on the veto.

“The Act fails even to make any meaningful changes to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, despite bipartisan calls for repealing that provision. Section 230 facilitates the spread of foreign disinformation online, which is a serious threat to our national security and election integrity. It must be repealed.”

Trump’s position on Section 230 and the NDAA was never particularly tenable. While the NDAA is a massive piece of legislation, the kind that rolls up many disparate things, altering it to somehow repeal Section 230 was never on the table. The

Trump’s position on Section 230 is extreme, even relative to many other members of his party. And while there is support for changing Section 230 on both sides of the aisle, Congress is far from a consensus on what needs to change. Still, throwing Section 230 out altogether is very unlikely to be the end result of whatever kind of reform Congress comes up with in the coming year.

The House plans to convene on Monday to override the president’s exercise of veto powers, which would require a two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress.

Google’s Antitrust Cases: A Guide for the Perplexed

By Gilad Edelman
The company is facing multiple lawsuits from the Department of Justice and three dozen states. Here’s what you need to know.

Ada Ventures closes first fund at $50M, investing in diverse founders tacking society’s problems

By Mike Butcher

A year ago this week Ada Ventures — a UK/Europe focused VC with an ‘impact twist’ aiming to invest in diverse founders tacking societal problems — launched on stage at Techcrunch Disrupt. (You can watch the video of that launch below).

Today Ada announces that it has closed its first fund at $50 million. Cornerstone LPs in the fund include Big Society Capital, an entity owned by the UK government, as well as the the British Business Bank.

Check Warner, a co-founding partner, said the raise was oversubscribed: “We weren’t even sure we’d be able to raise $30 million. And then to actually get to 38 million pounds then $50 million, which was over our initial hard cap of 35 is, is really, really big.” All of the fund was raised on video calls during the 2020 pandemic.

Geared as a ‘first-cheque’ seed fund, Ada is trying to tackle that thorny problem that to a large extent the VC industry itself created: the ‘mirroring’ that goes on when white male investors invest in other white men, thus ignoring huge swathes of society. Instead, it’s aiming to invest in the best talent in the UK and Europe, regardless of race, gender or background, with the specific aim of “creating the most diverse pipeline, and portfolio, on the continent”, while tackling issues including mental health, obesity, workers rights and affordable childcare.

It appears to be well on its way. In 2020, Ada invested in eight seed-stage companies tackling the above issues. Four of the eight companies have female CEOs. This brings the total portfolio size to 17, including the ‘pre-fund’ portfolio.

In terms of portfolio progress: Huboo Technologies raised a £14m Series A, which was led by Stride VC and Hearst Ventures; Bubble delivered tens of thousands of hours of free childcare to NHS staff; and Organise grew their members from 70,000 to more than 900,000, and campaigned for the government to provide support for the self-employed during COVID-19.

On Ada Lovelace Day this October, Ada launched its own Angel program, enabling five new Angel investors to write their first cheques. This is not dissimilar to similar Angel programs run by other VCs. It also has a network of 58 ‘Ada Scouts’ resulting in around 20% of deal flow, with two investments now made across the portfolio that were scout-sourced.

This is no ordinary scout network, however. Ada’s Scout community includes the leaders of Hustle Crew, a for-profit working to make the tech industry more inclusive, and Muslamic Makers, a community of Muslims in tech.

In 2021, Ada says it will continue to grow its network of Ada Scouts across the UK, with a focus on the LGBTQ+ community, disabled entrepreneurs, and regions outside of London.

And Scout network is not just ‘for show’, as Warner told me: “We have spoken to the Iranian Women’s Association and Islamic makers and all these groups that are underrepresented within tech and VC. And they bring us companies. And if we end up investing in these companies, we pay them both an upfront cash fee and also a carried interest share. So there are quite a few things that make it distinct from other scout programs. Many other scout programs just take existing investors like existing angels, and give them more capital and double up their investments. We’re actually enabling a whole new group of people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to get access to VC. We involve them in our due diligence process, we get their insight into markets that we wouldn’t necessarily understand, like the Shariya finance market, for example. So there are quite a few things that we’re doing differently. And we now have 58 of these scouts, who drive between 10 and 20% of our deal flow on any given month.”

Warner continued: “When we launched we couldn’t have predicted the seismic changes and tragedy brought on by Covid-19, or the social dislocation precipitated by the killing of George Floyd. These events have provided the backdrop of the first year of deployment from Ada Ventures Fund I. In light of these events, the Ada Ventures strategy feels more poignant — and urgent — than it has perhaps ever been.”

In an exclusive interview with TechCrunch, Warner and co-founder Matt Penneycard admitted the fund is not ‘labeled; as an ‘Impact fund’ but that it shares a similar orientation.

Penneycard said: “The difference, the difference is often in the eye of the beholder. In that, it’s the way the investor wants to bucket it. Some investors might see us as an impact fund if they want to, and that’s fine. Other investors see the massive financial arbitrage that you get with a fund like ours, just because you’re looking in very different places to other funds. So, you’ve got more coming in the top of the funnel, if you’ve got a decent process, you should get a better outcome. And so with some of our investors, that’s kind of one of the primary reasons they’re investing, they think we’re going to generate superior returns to other funds, because of where were are looking. It isn’t pure impact. It’s a real fund, it just happens to have the byproduct of quite deep, meaningful social impact.”

SingleStore, formerly MemSQL, raises $80M to integrate and leverage companies’ disparate data silos

By Ingrid Lunden

While the enterprise world likes to talk about “big data”, that term belies the real state of how data exists for many organizations: the truth of the matter is that it’s often very fragmented, living in different places and on different systems, making the concept of analysing and using it in a single, effective way a huge challenge.

Today, one of the big up-and-coming startups that has built a platform to get around that predicament is announcing a significant round of funding, a sign of the demand for its services and its success so far in executing on that.

SingleStore, which provides a SQL-based platform to help enterprises manage, parse and use data that lives in silos across multiple cloud and on-premise environments — a key piece of work needed to run applications in risk, fraud prevention, customer user experience, real-time reporting and real-time insights, fast dashboards, data warehouse augmentation, modernization for data warehouses and data architectures and faster insights — has picked up $80 million in funding, a Series E round that brings in new strategic investors alongside its existing list of backers.

The round is being led by Insight Partners, with new backers Dell Technologies Capital, Hercules Capital; and previous backers Accel, Anchorage, Glynn Capital, GV (formerly Google Ventures) and Rev IV also participating.

Alongside the investment, SingleStore is formally announcing a new partnership with analytics powerhouse SAS. I say “formally” because they two have been working together already and it’s resulted in “tremendous uptake,” CEO Raj Verma said in an interview over email.

Verma added that the round came out of inbound interest, not its own fundraising efforts, and as such, it brings the total amount of cash it has on hand to $140 million. The gives the startup money to play with not only to invest in hiring, R&D and business development, but potentially also M&A, given that the market right now seems to be in a period of consolidation.

Verma said the valuation is a “significant upround” compared to its Series D in 2018 but didn’t disclose the figure. PitchBook notes that at the time it was valued at $270 million post-money.

When I last spoke with the startup in May of this year — when it announced a debt facility of $50 million — it was not called SingleStore; it was MemSQL. The company rebranded at the end of October to the new name, but Verma said that the change was a long time in the planning.

“The name change is one of the first conversations I had when I got here,” he said about when he joined the company in 2019 (he’s been there for about 16 months). “The [former] name didn’t exactly flow off the tongue and we found that it no longer suited us, we found ourselves in a tiny shoebox of an offering, in saying our name is MemSQL we were telling our prospects to think of us as in-memory and SQL. SQL we didn’t have a problem with but we had outgrown in-memory years ago. That was really only 5% of our current revenues.”

He also mentioned the hang up many have with in-memory database implementations: they tend to be expensive. “So this implied high TCO, which couldn’t have been further from the truth,” he said. “Typically we are ⅕-⅛ the cost of what a competitive product would be to implement. We were doing ourselves a disservice with prospects and buyers.”

The company liked the name SingleStore because it is based a conceptual idea of its proprietary technology. “We wanted a name that could be a verb. Down the road we hope that when someone asks large enterprises what they do with their data, they will say that they ‘SingleStore It!’ That is the vision. The north star is that we can do all types of data without workload segmentation,” he said.

That effort is being done at a time when there is more competition than ever before in the space. Others also providing tools to manage and run analytics and other work on big data sets include Amazon, Microsoft, Snowflake, PostgreSQL, MySQL and more.

SingleStore is not disclosing any metrics on its growth at the moment but says it has thousands of enterprise customers. Some of the more recent names it’s disclosed include GE, IEX Cloud, Go Guardian, Palo Alto Networks, EOG Resources, SiriusXM + Pandora, with partners including Infosys, HCL and NextGen.

“As industry after industry reinvents itself using software, there will be accelerating market demand for predictive applications that can only be powered by fast, scalable, cloud-native database systems like SingleStore’s,” said Lonne Jaffe, managing director at Insight Partners, in a statement. “Insight Partners has spent the past 25 years helping transformational software companies rapidly scale-up, and we’re looking forward to working with Raj and his management team as they bring SingleStore’s highly differentiated technology to customers and partners across the world.”

“Across industries, SAS is running some of the most demanding and sophisticated machine learning workloads in the world to help organizations make the best decisions. SAS continues to innovate in AI and advanced analytics, and we partner with companies like SingleStore that share our curiosity about how data and analytics can help organizations reimagine their businesses and change the world,” said Oliver Schabenberger, COO and CTO at SAS, added. “Our engineering teams are integrating SingleStore’s scalable SQL-based database platform with the massively parallel analytics engine SAS Viya. We are excited to work with SingleStore to improve performance, reduce cost, and enable our customers to be at the forefront of analytics and decisioning.”

YC-backed Cashfree raises $35.3 million for its payments platform

By Manish Singh

Cashfree, an Indian startup that offers a wide-range of payments services to businesses, has raised $35.3 million in a new financing round as the profitable firm looks to broaden its offering.

The Bangalore-based startup’s Series B was led by London-headquartered private equity firm Apis Partners (which invested through its Growth Fund II), with participation from existing investors Y Combinator and Smilegate Investments. The new round brings the startup’s to-date raise to $42 million.

Cashfree kickstarted its journey in 2015 as a solution for restaurants in Bangalore that needed an efficient way for their delivery personnel to collect cash from customers.

Akash Sinha and Reeju Datta, the founders of Cashfree, did not have any prior experience with payments. When their merchants asked if they could build a service to accept payments online, the founders quickly realized that Cashfree could serve a wider purpose.

In the early days, Cashfree also struggled to court investors, many of whom did not think a payments processing firm could grow big — and do so fast enough. But the startup’s fate changed after Y Combinator accepted its application, even though the founders had missed the deadline and couldn’t arrive to join the batch on time. Y Combinator later financed Cashfree’s seed round.

Fast-forward five years, Cashfree today offers more than a dozen products and services and helps over 55,000 businesses disburse salary to employees, accept payments online, set up recurring payments and settle marketplace commissions.

Some of its customers include financial services startup Cred, online grocer BigBasket, food delivery platform Zomato, insurers HDFC Ergo and Acko and travel ticketing service provider Ixigo. The startup works with several banks and also offers integrations with platforms such as Shopify, PayPal and Amazon Pay.

Based on its offerings, Cashfree today competes with scores of startups, but it has an edge — if not many. Cashfree has been profitable for the past three years, Sinha, who serves as the startup’s chief executive, told TechCrunch in an interview.

“Cashfree has maintained a leadership position in this space and is now going through a period of rapid growth fuelled by the development of unique and innovative products that serve the needs of its customers,” Udayan Goyal, co-founder and a managing partner at Apis, said in a statement.

The startup processed over $12 billion in payments volumes in the financial year that ended in March. Sinha said part of the fresh fund will be deployed in R&D so that Cashfree can scale its technology stack and build more services, including those that can digitize more offline payments for its clients.

Cashfree is also working on building cross-border payments solutions to explore opportunities in emerging markets, he said.

“We still see payments as an evolving industry with its own challenges and we would be investing in next-gen payments as well as banking tech to make payments processing easier and more reliable. With the solid foundation of in-house technologies, tech-driven processes and in-depth industry knowledge, we are confident of growing Cashfree to be the leader in the payments space in India and internationally,” he said.

Steve Case’s Revolution is targeting $500 million for its fourth growth fund

By Connie Loizos

Revolution, the Washington, D.C.-based investment firm founded by AOL co-founder CEO Steve Case and former AOL senior exec Ted Leonsis, is raising $500 million for its fourth fund, shows a new SEC filing.

Asked about the effort earlier today, the firm declined to comment.

This new fund was expected. It has been more than four years since Revolution announced its third growth fund, a vehicle that closed with $525 million in capital commitments. That’s a longer time between funds than we’re seeing more broadly across the venture industry, where teams have tended to raise new funds approximately every two years, but Revolution’s pacing could tie to its mission. The firm tends to invest primarily in what it long ago dubbed “rise of the rest” cities, where the cost of living and talent is less extreme and where checks go a lot further as a result.

The outfit is also investing out of more than one fund at a time. In recent years, it formed a seed practice and has since raised two Rise of the Rest seed funds, the most recent of which closed last year with $150 million in capital commitments.

Presumably, the firm’s investors have further taken note of some recent exits for Revolution. Earlier this year, its Boston-based portfolio company DraftKings closed on a three-way merger and debuted on the Nasdaq. Meanwhile, BigCommerce, an Austin-based SaaS startup helping companies build, manage and market online stores, went public via a traditional IPO in early August and currently boasts a market cap of $4.2 billion. (Revolution provided the capital for the company’s Series C round in 2013 and continued to invest in subsequent rounds.)

Others of Revolution’s notable investments include Orchard, a tech platform that helps users sell their current home while simultaneously purchasing their next one and whose $69 million Series C round was led by Revolution in September; TemperPack, a maker of thermal liners meant to address the plastic waste that raised $31 million in Series C funding this past summer, including follow-on funding from Revolution; and sweetgreen, the fast-casual restaurant chain that has endured some ups and downs owing to the pandemic but that closed on $150 million in funding a year ago and which first received backing from Revolution back in 2013.

Last month, we talked at some length with Case, including about his involvement in the creation of Section 230 Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which helped create today’s internet giants.

We also talked at the time about whether COVID-19 will cause Silicon Valley to finally lose its gravitational pull. Said Case at the time, in comments not published previously:

“Obviously the jury is out. I think a lot of people who decided to leave Silicon Valley to shelter someplace else, most of those will end up returning. I don’t think you’ll see a mass exodus from the city, whether that be Silicon Valley or New York or Boston, which some have predicted.

I do think some of the people who decided to leave at least temporarily will decide to stay, and most of them will end up still working for their current company, in part because some of the tech companies like Facebook and Square and many others have have made it easier to work remotely. But some, once they get settled in another place, and their family is settled, will likely will decide to do something different [and] I think it could be a helpful catalyst in terms of these rise-of-the-rest cities that were showing some signs of momentum. This could be an accelerant.”

We had also talked with Case about data that suggests that women and other founders who are not in the networking flow of traditional venture firms are getting left behind as deals are being struck over Zoom. He’d also seen the data and was surprised by it. As he told us:

Yeah, that’s a concern. And it’s a concern about place. It’s also a concerned about people. If you just look at the the NVCA data, last year, 75% of venture capital went to just three states and more than 90% of venture capital went to men and less than 10% to women, even though women represent half our population. And last year, even though Black Americans are about 14% of the population, Black founders got less than 1% of venture capital. So if you just look at the data, it does matter where you live, it does matter what you look like, it does matter the kind of school you went to.

I would have thought that because of the pandemic and because suddenly, Zoom meetings for pitches were becoming increasingly commonplace . . .that that would open up the aperture for most venture capitalists. They would be more willing to take meetings with people in other places, and also be willing to get to reach out to some of the diverse communities that they haven’t traditionally have invested in.

Some of that has happened, for sure. We have seen more interest among coastal investors in opportunities in these in these rise-of-the-rest cities. I think the challenge more broadly, when you go beyond place toward people is what you hear from more of these venture capitalists. They say, ‘Yes, we understand that it’s a problem we need to be help solve. It’s also an opportunity we can potentially seize, because some of these entrepreneurs are going to build some really valuable companies. But we don’t really have the networks. We tend to be mostly situated where we live and have worked or went to school and also where we’ve previously made investments. So we just don’t have the networks in the middle of a country. We don’t have networks with Black founders,’ and so forth.

So that’s an area that we’re really focusing on now: how do we extend the networks. I do think most VCs realize they should be part of the solution, and not part of the problem.

Case mentioned during our call — ahead of the U.S. presidential election —  his longstanding friendship with now President-elect Joseph Biden. Case isn’t the only one at Revolution with ties to Biden, however. Ron Klain, an executive vice president at Revolution, previously served as Biden’s chief of staff when he was vice president and, as the world learned last week, Klain is again heading into politics after being chosen to serve as the White House chief of staff beginning in January.

Tech in the Biden era

By Taylor Hatmaker

President-elect Biden may have spent eight years in an administration that doted on the tech industry, but that long honeymoon, punctuated by four years of Trump, looks to be over.

Tech is on notice in 2020. The Russian election interference saga of the 2016 election opened the floodgates for social media’s ills. The subsequent years unleashed dangerous torrents of homegrown extremism and misinformation that either disillusioned or radicalized regular people. A cluster of tech’s biggest data brokers further consolidated power, buying up any would-be competitor they stumbled across and steamrolling everything else. Things got so bad that Republicans and Democrats, in uncanny agreement, are both pushing for tech regulation.

Suddenly, allowing the world’s information merchants to grow, unmolested, into towering ad-fed behemoths over the last decade looked like a huge mistake. And that’s where we are today.

Biden and big tech

Biden didn’t make attacking tech a cornerstone of his campaign and mostly avoided weighing in on tech issues, even as Elizabeth Warren stirred the big tech backlash into the campaign conversation. His attitude toward the tech industry at large is a bit mysterious, but there are some things we do know.

The president-elect is expected to keep the Trump administration’s antitrust case against Google on track, potentially even opening additional cases into Facebook, Amazon and Apple. But his campaign also leaned on former Google CEO Eric Schmidt for early fundraising, so the relationship to Google looks a bit more complex than the Biden team’s open contempt for a company like Facebook.

As Biden picked up the nomination and the months wore on, it became clear that Mark Zuckerberg’s chumminess with Trump’s White House was unlikely to continue into a Biden administration. By September, the Biden campaign had penned a scathing letter to Mark Zuckerberg denouncing Facebook as the “foremost propagator” of election disinformation, and that frustration doesn’t seem to have dissipated. His deputy communications director recently criticized Facebook for “shredding” the fabric of democracy. It appears that Facebook could come to regret the many decisions it’s made to stay in the Trump administration’s good graces over the last four years.

 

Still, it’s not doom and gloom for all tech — big tech isn’t everything. There are plenty of potential bright spots, from Biden’s climate plans (lack of Senate control notwithstanding), which could crack open a whole new industry and shower it in federal dollars, to his intention to revitalize the nation’s infrastructure, from telecommunications and transportation to energy-efficient housing. 

And antitrust legislation, usually framed as an existential threat to “tech” broadly, actually stands to benefit the startup scene, where the largest tech companies have walled off many paths to innovation with years of anti-competitive behavior. If Congress, states and/or the Justice Department manages to get anywhere with the antitrust actions percolating now — and there are many things percolating — the result could open up paths for startups that would prefer a more interesting exit than being bought and subsumed (best case) or shuttered (worst case) into one of five or so tech mega-companies.

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris is another wildcard. Hailing from tech’s backyard, Harris brings a distinctly Bay Area vibe to the office. Most interesting is Harris’s brother-in-law Tony West. West is Uber’s chief legal officer and played a prominent role in pushing for California’s Proposition 22, which absolved gig economy companies like Lyft and Uber from the need to grant their workers benefits afforded to full-time employees. Siding with organized labor, Harris landed on the other side of the issue.

The extent of her relationships in the tech world isn’t totally clear, but she apparently has a friendly relationship with Sheryl Sandberg, who was a frontrunner for a Treasury or Commerce position four years ago in the advent of a Hillary Clinton win. 

The Biden administration will also have all kinds of quiet ties to power players in the tech world, many of whom served in the Obama years and then made a beeline for Silicon Valley. Apple’s Lisa Jackson, formerly of Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency, and Jay Carney, a former Obama spokesman who sits comfortably as SVP of global corporate affairs at Amazon, are two examples there.

Transition names from tech

The Biden administration’s transition list is generously peppered with names from the tech industry, though some of them are likely grandfathered in from the Obama era rather than pulled directly for their more recent industry experience. The list named Matt Olsen, Uber’s chief trust and security officer, for his prior experience in the intel community under Obama rather than his ridesharing industry insights, for example.

The list doesn’t include any names fresh from Facebook or Google, but it does include four members from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and one from Eric Schmidt’s philanthropic project Schmidt Futures. The list also suggests a degree of continuity with the Obama era, with the inclusion of Aneesh Chopra, the first U.S. CTO, and Nicole Wong, a former deputy chief technology officer under Obama who previously worked at Twitter and Google. The transition also includes a smattering of names that served in the digital services agency 18F and some from the USDS, which borrows talent from the tech world to solve public problems.

Other names from the tech world include Airbnb’s Divya Kumaraiah and Clare Gallagher, Lyft’s Brandon Belford, Arthur Plews of Stripe, Dell CTO Ann Dunkin and quite a few more. These transition figures will help the administration fill the many open slots in a new government, but they’re less telling than who gets called to the cabinet. 

Tech in the cabinet? Maybe.

Beyond reading the tea leaves of the transition team and Biden’s previous statements here and there, we’re in for a wait. The administration’s picks for its cabinets will say a lot about its priorities, but for now we’re mostly left with the rumor mill. 

What does the rumor mill suggest? Meg Whitman, the former HP and eBay CEO most recently at the helm of failed short-form streaming platform Quibi, keeps coming up as a symbolic across-the-aisle pick for the Commerce Department, though Quibi’s spectacular dive probably doesn’t bode well for her chances.

Eric Schmidt’s name has bubbled up to lead some kind of White House tech task force, but that seems ill-fated considering the federal antitrust case against Google and the broader legislative appetite for doing something about big tech. But Alphabet board member Roger Ferguson, whose name has been floating around for Treasury Secretary, just stepped down from his current position at a finance firm, kicking up more speculation.

Seth Harris, who served in Obama’s Labor Department, made at least one list suggesting he could land a cabinet position. Harris, who is already involved in the Biden transition, also has the controversial distinction of proposing a “new legal category” of worker “for those who occupy the gray area between employees and independent contractors.” Lyft apparently cited his paper specifically after Prop 22 passed. With labor a hot issue in general right now — and Bernie Sanders himself potentially in the running for the same role — Harris would likely ignite a firestorm of controversy among labor activists if appointed to helm the department. 

On the other side of the coin, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra could be considered for a cabinet-level role in the Department of Justice. Becerra isn’t from the tech world, but as California’s AG he’s been stationed there and his department currently has its own antitrust case against Google simmering. In a recent interview with Bloomberg about antitrust issues under the Biden administration, Becerra denounced “behemoths” in the tech industry that stifle innovation, noting that state AGs have “taken the lead” on pressing tech companies on anti-competitive behavior.

“At the end of the day we all want competition, right?” Becerra said. “But here’s the thing, competition is essential if you want innovation.” Becerra, who succeeded Vice President-elect Kamala Harris when she left the Attorney General’s office for Congress, could also again follow in her footsteps, filling the vacant seat she will leave in the Senate come January.

All told, we’re seeing some familiar names in the mix, but 2020 isn’t 2008. Tech companies that emerged as golden children over the last ten years are radioactive now. Regulation looms on the horizon in every direction. Whatever policy priorities emerge out of the Biden administration, Obama’s technocratic gilded age is over and we’re in for something new.

Yeah, Apple’s M1 MacBook Pro is powerful, but it’s the battery life that will blow you away

By Matthew Panzarino

Survival and strategy games are often played in stages. You have the early game where you’re learning the ropes, understanding systems. Then you have mid-game where you’re executing and gathering resources. The most fun part, for me, has always been the late mid-game where you’re in full control of your powers and skills and you’ve got resources to burn — where you execute on your master plan before the endgame gets hairy.

This is where Apple is in the game of power being played by the chip industry. And it’s about to be endgame for Intel. 

Apple has introduced three machines that use its new M1 system on a chip, based on over a decade’s worth of work designing its own processing units based on the ARM instructions set. These machines are capable, assured and powerful, but their greatest advancements come in the performance per watt category.

I personally tested the 13” M1 MacBook Pro and after extensive testing, it’s clear that this machine eclipses some of the most powerful Mac portables ever made in performance while simultaneously delivering 2x-3x the battery life at a minimum. 

These results are astounding, but they’re the product of that long early game that Apple has played with the A-series processors. Beginning in earnest in 2008 with the acquisition of PA Semiconductor, Apple has been working its way towards unraveling the features and capabilities of its devices from the product roadmaps of processor manufacturers.  

The M1 MacBook Pro runs smoothly, launching apps so quickly that they’re often open before your cursor leaves your dock. 

Video editing and rendering is super performant, only falling behind older machines when it leverages the GPU heavily. And even then only with powerful dedicated cards like the 5500M or VEGA II. 

Compiling projects like WebKit produce better build times than nearly any machine (hell the M1 Mac Mini beats the Mac Pro by a few seconds). And it does it while using a fraction of the power. 

This thing works like an iPad. That’s the best way I can describe it succinctly. One illustration I have been using to describe what this will feel like to a user of current MacBooks is that of chronic pain. If you’ve ever dealt with ongoing pain from a condition or injury, and then had it be alleviated by medication, therapy or surgery, you know how the sudden relief feels. You’ve been carrying the load so long you didn’t know how heavy it was. That’s what moving to this M1 MacBook feels like after using other Macs. 

Every click is more responsive. Every interaction is immediate. It feels like an iOS device in all the best ways. 

At the chip level, it also is an iOS device. Which brings us to…

iOS on M1

The iOS experience on the M1 machines is…present. That’s the kindest thing I can say about it. Apps install from the App Store and run smoothly, without incident. Benchmarks run on iOS apps show that they perform natively with no overhead. I even ran an iOS-based graphics benchmark which showed just fine. 

That, however, is where the compliments end. The current iOS app experience on an M1 machine running Big Sur is almost comical; it’s so silly. There is no default tool-tip that explains how to replicate common iOS interactions like swipe-from-edge — instead a badly formatted cheat sheet is buried in a menu. The apps launch and run in windows only. Yes, that’s right, no full-screen iOS apps at all. It’s super cool for a second to have instant native support for iOS on the Mac, but at the end of the day this is a marketing win, not a consumer experience win. 

Apple gets to say that the Mac now supports millions of iOS apps, but the fact is that the experience of using those apps on the M1 is sub-par. It will get better, I have no doubt. But the app experience on the M1 is pretty firmly in this order right now: Native M1 app>Rosetta 2 app>Catalyst app> iOS app. Provided that the Catalyst ports can be bothered to build in Mac-centric behaviors and interactions, of course. But it’s clear that iOS, though present, is clearly not where it needs to be on M1.

Rosetta 2

There is both a lot to say and not a lot to say about Rosetta 2. I’m sure we’ll get more detailed breakdowns of how Apple achieved what it has with this new emulation layer that makes x86 applications run fine on the M1 architecture. But the real nut of it is that it has managed to make a chip so powerful that it can take the approximate 26% hit (see the following charts) in raw power to translate apps and still make them run just as fast if not faster than MacBooks with Intel processors. 

It’s pretty astounding. Apple would like us to forget the original Rosetta from the PowerPC transition as much as we would all like to forget it. And I’m happy to say that this is pretty easy to do because I was unable to track any real performance hit when comparing it to older, even ‘more powerful on paper’ Macs like the 16” MacBook Pro. 

It’s just simply not a factor in most instances. And companies like Adobe and Microsoft are already hard at work bringing native M1 apps to the Mac, so the most needed productivity or creativity apps will essentially get a free performance bump of around 30% when they go native. But even now they’re just as fast. It’s a win-win situation. 

Methodology

My methodology  for my testing was pretty straightforward. I ran a battery of tests designed to push these laptops in ways that reflected both real world performance and tasks as well as synthetic benchmarks. I ran the benchmarks with the machines plugged in and then again on battery power to estimate constant performance as well as performance per watt. All tests were run multiple times with cooldown periods in between in order to try to achieve a solid baseline. 

Here are the machines I used for testing:

  • 2020 13” M1 MacBook Pro 8-core 16GB
  • 2019 16” Macbook Pro 8-core 2.4GHz 32GB w/5500M
  • 2019 13” MacBook Pro 4-core 2.8GHz 16GB
  • 2019 Mac Pro 12-Core 3.3GHz 48GB w/AMD Radeon Pro Vega II 32GB

Many of these benchmarks also include numbers from the M1 Mac mini review from Matt Burns and the M1 MacBook Air, tested by Brian Heater which you can check out here.

Compiling WebKit

Right up top I’m going to start off with the real ‘oh shit’ chart of this piece. I checked WebKit out from GitHub and ran a build on all of the machines with no parameters. This is the one deviation from the specs I mentioned above as my 13” had issues that I couldn’t figure out so I had some Internet friends help me

As you can see, the M1 performs admirably well across all models, with the MacBook and Mac Mini edging out the MacBook Air. This is a pretty straightforward way to visualize the difference in performance that can result in heavy tasks that last over 20 minutes, where the MacBook Air’s lack of active fan cooling throttles back the M1 a bit. Even with that throttling, the MacBook Air still beats everything here except for the very beefy MacBook Pro. 

But, the big deal here is really this second chart. After a single build of WebKit, the M1 MacBook Pro had a massive 91% of its battery left. I tried multiple tests here and I could have easily run a full build of WebKit 8-9 times on one charge of the M1 MacBook’s battery. In comparison, I could have gotten through about 3 on the 16” and the 13” 2020 model only had one go in it. 

This insane performance per watt of power is the M1’s secret weapon. The battery performance is simply off the chart. Even with processor-bound tasks. To give you an idea, throughout this build of WebKit the P-cluster (the power cores) hit peak pretty much every cycle while the E-cluster (the efficiency cores) maintained a steady 2GHz. These things are going at it, but they’re super power efficient.

Battery Life

In addition to charting battery performance in some real world tests, I also ran a couple of dedicated battery tests. In some cases they ran so long I thought I had left it plugged in by mistake, it’s that good. 

I ran a mixed web browsing and web video playback script that hit a series of pages, waited for 30 seconds and then moved on to simulate browsing. The results return a pretty common sight in our tests, with the M1 outperforming the other MacBooks by just over 25%.

In fullscreen 4k/60 video playback, the M1 fares even better, clocking an easy 20 hours with fixed 50% brightness. On an earlier test, I left the auto-adjust on and it crossed the 24 hour mark easily. Yeah, a full day. That’s an iOS-like milestone.

The M1 MacBook Air does very well also, but its smaller battery means a less playback time at 16 hours. Both of them absolutely decimated the earlier models.

Xcode Unzip

This was another developer-centric test that was requested. Once again, CPU bound, and the M1’s blew away any other system in my test group. Faster than the 8-core 16” MacBook Pro, wildly faster than the 13” MacBook Pro and yes, 2x as fast as the 2019 Mac Pro with its 3.3GHz Xeons. 

Image Credits: TechCrunch

For a look at the power curve (and to show that there is no throttling of the MacBook Pro over this period (I never found any throttling over longer periods by the way) here’s the usage curve.

Unified Memory and Disk Speed

Much ado has been made of Apple including only 16GB of memory on these first M1 machines. The fact of it, however, is that I have been unable to push them hard enough yet to feel any effect of this due to Apple’s move to unified memory architecture. Moving RAM to the SoC means no upgradeability — you’re stuck on 16GB forever. But it also means massively faster access 

If I was a betting man I’d say that this was an intermediate step to eliminating RAM altogether. It’s possible that a future (far future, this is the play for now) version of Apple’s M-series chips could end up supplying memory to each of the various chips from a vast pool that also serves as permanent storage. For now, though, what you’ve got is a finite, but blazing fast, pool of memory shared between the CPU cores, GPU and other SoC denizens like the Secure Enclave and Neural Engine. 

While running many applications simultaneously, the M1 performed extremely well. Because this new architecture is so close, with memory being a short hop away next door rather than out over a PCIE bus, swapping between applications was zero issue. Even while tasks were run in the background — beefy, data heavy tasks — the rest of the system stayed flowing.

Even when the memory pressure tab of Activity Monitor showed that OS X was using swap space, as it did from time to time, I noticed no slowdown in performance. 

Though I wasn’t able to trip it up I would guess that you would have to throw a single, extremely large file at this thing to get it to show any amount of struggle. 

The SSD in the M1 MacBook Pro is running on a PCIE 3.0 bus, and its write and read speeds indicate that. 

 

Thunderbolt

The M1 MacBook Pro has two Thunderbolt controllers, one for each port. This means that you’re going to get full PCIE 4.0 speeds out of each and that it seems very likely that Apple could include up to 4 ports in the future without much change in architecture. 

This configuration also means that you can easily power an Apple Pro Display XDR and another monitor besides. I was unable to test two Apple Pro Display XDR monitors side-by-side.

Cooling and throttling

No matter how long the tests I ran were, I was never able to ascertain any throttling of the CPU on the M1 MacBook Pro. From our testing it was evident that in longer operations (20-40 minutes on up) it was possible to see the MacBook Air pulling back a bit over time. Not so with the Macbook Pro. 

Apple says that it has designed a new ‘cooling system’ in the M1 MacBook Pro, which holds up. There is a single fan but it is noticeably quieter than either of the other fans. In fact, I was never able to get the M1 much hotter than ‘warm’ and the fan ran at speeds that were much more similar to that of a water cooled rig than the turbo engine situation in the other MacBooks. 

Even running a long, intense Cinebench 23 session could not make the M1 MacBook get loud. Over the course of the mark running all high-performance cores regularly hit 3GHz and the efficiency cores hitting 2GHz. Despite that, it continued to run very cool and very quiet in comparison to other MacBooks. It’s the stealth bomber at the Harrier party.

In that Cinebench test you can see that it doubles the multi-core performance of last year’s 13” MacBook and even beats out the single-core performance of the 16” MacBook Pro. 

I ran a couple of Final Cut Pro tests with my test suite. First was a 5 minute 4k60 timeline shot with iPhone 12 Pro using audio, transitions, titles and color grading. The M1 Macbook performed fantastic, slightly beating out the 16” MacBook Pro. 

 

 

With an 8K timeline of the same duration, the 16” MacBook Pro with its Radeon 5500M was able to really shine with FCP’s GPU acceleration. The M1 held its own though, showing 3x faster speeds than the 13” MacBook Pro with its integrated graphics. 

 

And, most impressively, the M1 MacBook Pro used extremely little power to do so. Just 17% of the battery to output an 81GB 8k render. The 13” MacBook Pro could not even finish this render on one battery charge. 

As you can see in these GFXBench charts, while the M1 MacBook Pro isn’t a powerhouse gaming laptop we still got some very surprising and impressive results in tests of the GPU when a rack of Metal tests were run on it. The 16″ MBP still has more raw power, but rendering games at retina is still very possible here.

The M1 is the future of CPU design

All too often over the years we’ve seen Mac releases hamstrung by the capabilities of the chips and chipsets that were being offered by Intel. Even as recently as the 16” MacBook Pro, Apple was stuck a generation or more behind. The writing was basically on the wall once the iPhone became such a massive hit that Apple began producing more chips than the entire rest of the computing industry combined. 

Apple has now shipped over 2 billion chips, a scale that makes Intel’s desktop business look like a luxury manufacturer. I think it was politic of Apple to not mention them by name during last week’s announcement, but it’s also clear that Intel’s days are numbered on the Mac and that their only saving grace for the rest of the industry is that Apple is incredibly unlikely to make chips for anyone else.

Years ago I wrote an article about the iPhone’s biggest flaw being that its performance per watt limited the new experiences that it was capable of delivering. People hated that piece but I was right. Apple has spent the last decade “fixing” its battery problem by continuing to carve out massive performance gains via its A-series chips all while maintaining essentially the same (or slightly better) battery life across the iPhone lineup. No miracle battery technology has appeared, so Apple went in the opposite direction, grinding away at the chip end of the stick.

What we’re seeing today is the result of Apple flipping the switch to bring all of that power efficiency to the Mac, a device with 5x the raw battery to work with. And those results are spectacular.

The OS Big Sur Launch Might Have Slowed Down Macs Everywhere

By Samuel Axon, Ars Technica, Lee Hutchinson, Ars Technica
The issues affected users who didn't upgrade their software, and other Apple services too.

macOS Big Sur is now available

By Brian Heater

The day has finally arrived. The latest version of macOS is here, after a seemingly endless wait. That wasn’t just your imagination, either. Sure time is basically meaningless now, but this one did take a while to arrive, with nearly five months between its announcement at WWDC and today’s public release.

There are, no doubt, plenty of reasons for this. Among other things, this has been an usual year, to put it as benignly as possible. This also marks a pretty big annual update for the desktop operating system. And then, of course, there’s the fact that this is the first version of macOS expressly built for the company’s new Arm-based Macs — the single largest change to Apple hardware in roughly 14 years.

I’ve been running a beta of the operating system on one of my machines since June, along with developers and a smattering of brave souls. I’m not saying we’re heroes — but I’m also not not saying that. At the end of the day, it’s not for me to say.

The update brings a slew of design updates — many of which continue the longstanding trend of blurring the line between macOS and iOS. It’s a trend that may well intensify as Apple silicon ushers in the next era of Macs. At the very least, it makes sense from the standpoint of iOS having long ago taken the pole position in Apple’s software design. The mobile operating system has been the first to introduce many features that have eventually found their way onto the desktop.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Many of the changes are subtle. The menu bar is taller and more translucent, changing with different backgrounds and as the system toggles between light and dark mode. The Finder dock now floats a touch above the bottom of the screen and menus have a little more space to breathe. Windows offer a bit more space, as well, along with a smattering of new symbols scattered throughout first-party apps like Mail and Calendar.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

The shapes of the icons have changed to a more iOS-like squircle design, with subtle touches throughout — the Mail icon, for instant, sports the address of Apple’s HQ in barely visible text: “Apple Park, California 95014.” Like many of the other touches, the key is offering up a kind of stylistic consistency, both throughout Big Sur and across the Apple ecosystem.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

The most immediate and obvious change to the finder, however, is the addition of the Control Center. The feature is borrowed directly from iOS/iPadOS, bringing a simple, clean and translucent pane down to the right side of the screen. You can drag and drop the panels directly into the menu bar. It brings to mind the sort of control center functionality the company introduced with the Touch Bar, but more than anything the big buttons and sliders beckon you to reach out and touch the screen. It’s really hard to shake the feeling that the company is starting to lay the groundwork for future touchscreen Macs running Apple silicon.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

I won’t lie: I’ve never been a big Notification Center user. I understand why Apple thought to bring the center to the desktop several updates ago, but it’s just not as centralized as it is on mobile. Nor does it fit into my existing workflow. Apple has continued tweaking the feature — and it gets a pretty sizable overhaul here. Like much of the rest of the updates, it’s about how Apple uses space.

Now accessible by clicking the date and time in the menu bar (versus a devoted button), the two most appealing changes here are grouped notifications and widgets. Again borrowing from iOS, notifications are now stacked by group. Tapping the top of the pile will expand them down. You can “X” them out on the side to make them go away — but again, a swipe would be more satisfying. Also notable is the ability to interact with notifications. You can reply to messages or listen to podcasts straight from the river. It’s a nice addition for those who already use the feature as part of their workflow.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

The system also joins the latest version of iOS with the addition of new widgets into the Notification column. Currently the list includes first-party apps like Calendar, Weather and Podcasts, along with additional widgets available via the App Store. You can add and remove widgets and resize them. On a screen with enough real estate, it might be nice to pin them to the top, so they can stay open and anchored in place, while you’re working in other applications.

Sounds, too, have been updated throughout. The changes are mostly subtle, as in the case of the newly recorded startup chime. More pronounced are changes like moving a file, which has a nice humming sound — more pleasant that the old cold spring noise. Here’s a much better rundown of all of the sounds than I currently have time to put together:

A number of first-party apps get some key updates here. Safari is probably the biggest of the bunch, starting with the welcome page. You can set the background image, using something from your own library — or a pre-picked photo from Apple. It might be nice to have something a bit more dynamic, cycling through a series of handpicked images or using AI to choose the best from a library, but otherwise the implementation is good — and it’s nice to see something familiar when you open a new tab (in my very specific case, a rabbit who also lives rent-free in my apartment).

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Beyond that, home-page customizations include toggling between favorites, frequently visited sites, your reading list and even security reports, which tell you things like the number of trackers Safari has blocked. Clicking into that last bit offers up a more detailed profile of the specific trackers it blocked and which sites are doing the tracking. Apparently 80% of the sites I’ve visited with Safari on this computer use them — which, yikes.

Built-in translation in Safari is a nice step toward taking on Chrome — Google has been a longtime leader in translation services. Apple’s browser has great market share on mobile (thanks in no small part to being the default browser on iOS), but studies tend to put it at somewhere around eight to 10% of the desktop market share. Currently, however, the system is still in beta and the translation options are still limited, including: English, Spanish, Simplified Chinese, French, German, Russian and Brazilian Portuguese. Apple will no doubt continue to update that list.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

One piece that I do dig are website previews, which can be accessed by hovering over a tab. That’s a nice addition for those of us who tend to go overboard with tabs — which I have to imagine is many or most people, these days. Apple has also added site favicons to tabs, which should also help you identify them quicker.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Things have been improved in the backend as well, with quicker site rendering and better power efficiency. The company says you should be able to get up to three extra hours of battery streaming video on Safari versus Firefox and Chrome. Seems like a pretty big discrepancy, though there are, no doubt, advantages to using first-party software. Even if the company still has a steep hill to climb with regards to desktop market share. Maps is another place where Apple’s got some pretty stiff competition from Google. At last measure, Google Maps has something like 67% market share. Apple’s offering got off to an admittedly slow start out of the gate, but the company’s been pushing pretty hard to catch up to — and in a few spot surpass — Google.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Of course, many of these updates are the sort of things that will be easier to check out when there isn’t a pandemic happening. Meantime, things like the 360-degree Look Around (Apple’s Street View competitor) is a nice way to live vicariously. Indoor Maps, too, though the feature is still relatively limited. You can check it out in select spots like airports and indoor shopping malls. Other key additions include electric vehicle routing to plan trips around charging stages, cycling directions and mapped congestion zones for traffic in major cities.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

A handful of updates to Messages warrant mention here — many of which were also introduced with the latest version of iOS (a rare bit of cross-OS parity that could, perhaps, become more common going forward). In this case, it’s clear why the company would want to roll some of this stuff out all at once.

Messages is just more robust across the board on the desktop with this update. The list includes a Memoji editor and stickers, message effects like confetti and lasers and an improved photo chooser. Conversations can be pinned to the top of the app and group chats have been improved to include group photos, inline replies to specific messages and the ability to alert users with the @ symbol. It’s not quite a Slack replacement, nor is it trying to be one.

After months of beta, Big Sur is finally here. It boasts some key upgrades to apps and the system at large, but more importantly from Apple’s perspective, it lays the groundwork for the first round of Arm-powered Macs and continues its march toward a uniformity between the company’s two primary operating systems.

Apple will release macOS Big Sur on November 12

By Zack Whittaker

Apple’s upcoming desktop and laptop operating system, macOS Big Sur, will be released on November 12, the company announced today.

macOS Big Sur — which stays with the company’s California-themed naming scheme — will arrive with a new and refreshed user interface, new features, and performance improvements.

Much of the features in iOS 14 are porting over — including improved Message threading and in-line replies and a redesigned Maps app. The new Apple software also comes with a new Control Center, with quick access to brightness, volume, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth.

Safari also gets a much needed lick of paint. It comes with new privacy and security features, including an in-built intelligence tracking prevention that stops trackers following you across the web, and password monitoring to save you from using previously breached passwords.

If you’re wondering what macOS Big Sir is like to work on, TechCrunch’s Brian Heater took the new software for a spin in August.

macOS Big Sur will be supported on Macs and MacBooks dating back to 2013.

Read more:

Software companies are reporting a pretty good third quarter

By Alex Wilhelm

What a difference a week makes.

This time last week, in the wake of earnings from tech’s five largest American companies and early results from other software companies, it appeared that tech shares were in danger of losing their mojo.


The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. Read it every morning on Extra Crunch, or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.


But then, this week’s rally launched, and more earnings results came in. Generally speaking, the Q3 numbers from SaaS and cloud companies have been medium-good, or at least good enough to protect historically stretched valuations when comparing present-day revenue multiples to historical norms.

This is great news for yet-private startups that have had to deal with a recession, an uneven and at-times uncertain funding market, an election cycle and other unknowns this year. Wrapping 2020 with a market rally and strong earnings from public comps should give private software companies a halo heading into the new year, assisting them with both fundraising and valuation defense.

Of course, there’s still a lot more data to come in, markets are fickle and many SaaS companies will report next month, having a fiscal calendar offset by a month from how you and I track the year. But after spending time on the phone this week with JFrog’s CEO, BigCommerce’s CEO and Ping Identity’s CFO, I think things are turning out just fine.

Let’s get into what we’ve learned.

Growth and expectations

Kicking off, Redpoint’s Jamin Ball, a venture capitalist who unconsciously moonlights as the research desk for the The Exchange during earnings season, has a roundup of earnings results from this week’s set of SaaS and cloud stocks that reported. As you will recall, last week we were slightly unimpressed by its cohort of results.

Here’s this week’s tally:

As we can see, there was a single miss amongst the group in Q3. Unsurprisingly, that company, SurveyMonkey, was also one of three SaaS companies to project Q4 revenue under street expectations. My read of that chart is seeing a little less than 80% of the group that did project Q4 guidance that bests expectations is bullish, as were the Q3 results, which included a good number of companies that topped targets by at least 10%.

Inside of the data are two narratives that I want to explore. The first is about COVID-related friction, and the second is about COVID-related acceleration. Every company in the world is experiencing at least some of the former. For example, even companies that are seeing a boom in demand for their products during the pandemic must still deal with a sales market in which they cannot operate as they would like to.

For software companies, reportedly in the midst of a hastening digital transformation, the question becomes whether or not the COVID’s minuses are outweighing its pluses. We’ll explore the matter through the lens of three companies that The Exchange spoke with this week after they reported their Q3 results.

Ping Identity

Of our three companies this week, Ping Identity had the hardest go of it; its stock fell sharply after it dropped its Q3 numbers, despite beating earnings expectations for the period.

The company’s revenue fell 3%, while its annual recurring revenue (ARR) rose by 17%. Why did its stock fall if it came in ahead of expectations? You could read its Q4 guidance as slightly soft. In the above chart it’s marked as a slight beat, but its low-end came in under analyst expectations, creating the possibility of a projected miss.

Investors, betting on Ping’s move to SaaS being accretive both now and in the long-term, were not stoked by its Q4 forecast.

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