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Tesla Cybertruck reservations hit 146,000

By Kirsten Korosec

Tesla has received 146,000 reservations to order the Tesla Cybertruck, pulling in some $14.6 million in deposits just two days after the company’s CEO Elon Musk unveiled the futuristic and angled vehicle.

Reservations require a $100 refundable deposit. How many of those deposits will convert to actual orders for the truck, which is currently priced between $39,900 and $69,900, is impossible to predict. And there will likely be plenty of speculation over the next two years. Production of the tri-motor variant of the cybertruck is expected to begin in late 2022, Tesla said.

Musk tweeted Saturday that 146,000 Cybertruck orders have been made so far. Of those, 41% picked the most expensive tri-motor option and 42% of future customers chose the dual motor version. The remaining 17% picked the cheapest single-motor model.

146k Cybertruck orders so far, with 42% choosing dual, 41% tri & 17% single motor

Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 23, 2019

The Tesla Cybertruck, which Musk unveiled in dramatic fashion at the Tesla Design Center in Hawthorne, Calif., has been polarizing with skeptics heaping on the criticism and supporters pushing back in kind. Even Tesla fans at the Cybertruck event, which TechCrunch attended, seemed torn with some praising it and others wishing Musk had created something a bit more conventional.

The vehicle made of cold-rolled steel and features armored glass that cracked in one demonstration and an adaptive air suspension.

Tesla said it will offer three variants of the cybertruck. The cheapest version, a single motor and rear-wheel drive model, will cost $39,900, have a towing capacity of 7,500 pounds and more than 250 miles of range. The middle version will be a dual-motor all-wheel drive, have a towing capacity of more than 10,000 pounds and be able to travel more than 300 miles on a single charge. The dual motor AWD model is priced at $49,900.

The third version will have three electric motors and all-wheel drive, a towing capacity of 14,000 pounds and battery range of more than 500 miles. This version, known as “tri motor,” is priced at $69,900.

China Roundup: Y Combinator’s short-lived China dream

By Rita Liao

Hello and welcome back to TechCrunch’s China Roundup, a digest of recent events shaping the Chinese tech landscape and what they mean to people in the rest of the world. Last week, we looked at how Alibaba and Tencent fared in the last quarter; the talk in Silicon Valley and Beijing this week is on Y Combinator’s sudden retreat from China. We will also discuss the enduring food delivery war in the country later.

Brief adventure in the East

The storied Silicon Valley accelerator Y Combinator announced the closure of its China unit just a little over a year after it entered the country. In a vague statement posted on its official blog, the organization said the decision came amid a change in leadership. Sam Altman, its former president who hired legendary artificial intelligence scientist Lu Qi to initiate the China operation, recently left his high-profile role to join research outfit OpenAI. With that, YC has since refocused its energy to support “local and international startups from our headquarters in Silicon Valley.”

What was untold is the insurmountable challenge that multinationals face in their attempt to win in a wildly different market. Lu Qi, who wore management hats at Baidu and Microsoft before joining YC, was clearly aware of the obstacles when he said in an interview (in Chinese) in May that “multinational corporations in China have almost been wiped out. They almost never successfully land in China.” The prescription, he believes, is to build a local team that’s given full autonomy to make decisions around products, operations, and the business.

A former executive at an American company’s China branch, who asked to remain anonymous, argued that Lu Qi’s one-man effort can’t be enough to beat the curse of multinationals’ path in China. “All I can say is: Lu has taken a detour. Going independent is the best decision. When it comes to whether Chinese startups are suited for mentorship, or whether incubators bring value to China, these are separate questions.”

What’s curious is that YC China seemed to have been given a meaningful level of freedom before the split. “Thanks to Sam Altman and the U.S. team, who agreed with my view and supported with much preparation, YC China is not only able to enjoy key resources from YC U.S. but can also operate at a completely independent capacity,” Lu said in the May interview.

Moving on, the old YC China team will join Lu Qi to fund new companies under a newly minted program, MiraclePlus, announced YC China via a Wechat post (in Chinese). The initiative has set up its own fund, team, entity and operational team. The deep ties that Lu has fostered with YC will continue to benefit his new portfolio, which will receive “support” from the YC headquarters, though neither party elaborated on what that means.

Alibaba’s food delivery nemesis

The food delivery war in China is still dragging on two years after the major consolidation that left the market with two major players. Meituan, the local services company backed by Tencent, has managed to attain an expanding share against Alibaba-owned Ele.me. According to third-party data (in Chinese) provided by Trustdata, Meituan accounted for 65.1% of China’s overall food delivery orders during the second quarter, steadily rising from just under 60% a year ago. Ele.me, on the other hand, has lost nearly 10% of the market, slumping to 27.4% from 36% a year ago.

In terms of monetization, Meituan generated 15.6 billion yuan ($2.2 billion) in revenue from its food delivery segment in the quarter ended September 30. That dwarfs Ele.me, which racked up 6.8 billion yuan ($970 million) during the same period. Both are growing north of 30% year-over-year.

meituan dianping

Source: Meituan

This may not be all that surprising given Alibaba has arguably more imminent battles to fight. The e-commerce leader has been consumed by the rise of Pinduoduo, which has launched an assault on China’s low-tier cities with its ultra-cheap products and social-driven online shopping experience. Meituan, on the other hand, is fixated on beefing up its main turf of on-demand neighborhood services after divesting its costly bike-sharing endeavor. 

When both contestants have the capital to burn through — as they have demonstrated through heavily subsidizing customers and restaurants — the race comes down to which has greater control of user traffic. Meituan holds a competitive edge thanks to its merger with Dianping, a leading restaurant review app akin to Yelp, back in 2015. Dianping today operates as a standalone brand but its food app is deeply integrated with Meituan’s delivery services. For example, hundreds of millions of users are able to place Meituan-powered food delivery orders straight from Dianping.

Alibaba and Meituan used to be on more friendly terms just a few years ago. In 2011, the e-commerce giant participated in Meituan’s $50 million Series B financing. Before long, the two clashed over control of the company. Alibaba is known to impose a heavy hand on its portfolio companies by taking up majority stakes and reshuffling the company with new executives. That’s because Alibaba believes that “only when you operate can you generate synergies and really create exponential value,” said vice chairman Joe Tsai in an interview. Whereas if you just make a financial investment, you’re counting an internal rate of return. You’re not creating real value.”

Ele.me lived through that transformation. As of September, Alibaba has reportedly (in Chinese) completed replacing Ele.me’s management with its pool of appointed personnel. Ele.me’s founder Zhang Xuhao left the company with billions of yuan in cash and joined a venture capital firm (in Chinese).

Meituan’s founder Wang Xing had more unfettered pursuits. In a later financing round, he refused to accept Alibaba’s condition for portfolio companies to eschew Tencent investments, a strategy of the giant to hobble its archrival. That botched the partnership and Alibaba has since been gradually offloading its Meituan shares but still held onto small amounts, according to Wang in 2017, “to create trouble” for Meituan going forward.

This Week in Apps: Honey’s $4B exit, a new plan for iOS 14, Apple’s new developer resource

By Sarah Perez

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the Extra Crunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support, and the money that flows through it all. What are developers talking about? What do app publishers and marketers need to know? How are politics impacting the App Store and app businesses? And which apps are everyone using?

This week, we’re looking at several major stories, including the whopping $4 billion PayPal just spent on browser extension and mobile app maker, Honey, as well as the release of the Apple Developer app, a new plan for iOS 14, Google Stadia’s launch, AR gaming’s next big hit (or flop?), e-commerce app trends, Microsoft’s exit from voice assistant mobile apps, and so much more.

Plus, did you hear the one about the developer who got kicked out from his developer account by Apple, leaving his apps abandoned?

Headlines

Apple to overhaul iOS development strategy after buggy iOS 13 launch

apple ios 13Apple’s iOS 13 release was one of its worst, in terms of bugs and glitches. Now Apple is making an internal change to how it approaches software development in an effort to address the problem. According to Bloomberg, Apple’s Software chief Craig Federighi and other execs announced its plans at an internal meeting. The new process will involve having unfinished and buggy features disabled by default in daily builds. Testers will then have to optionally enable the features in order to try them. While this change focuses on making internal builds of the OS more usable (or “livable”), Apple hopes that over time it will improve the overall quality of its software as it will give testers the ability to really understand what’s supposed to now be working, but isn’t. The testing changes will also apply to iPadOS, watchOS, tvOS, and macOS, the report said.

Apple launches the Apple Developer App

Apple rebranded and expanded its existing WWDC app to become a new Apple Developer app that can stay with its 23 million registered developers year-round. Instead of only including information about the developer event itself, the app will expand to include other relevant resources — like technical and design articles, developer news and updates, videos and more. It also will offer a way for developers to enroll in the Apple Developer program and maintain their membership. Apple says it found many developers were more inclined to open an app than an email, and by centralizing this information in one place, it could more efficiently and seamlessly deliver new information and other resources to its community.

PayPal buys Honey for $4 billion

PayPal has made its biggest-ever acquisition for browser extension and mobile app maker, Honey. TechCrunch exclusively broke the news of the nearly all-cash deal, noting that Honey currently has 17 million monthly actives. But PayPal was interested in more than the user base — it wanted the tech. The company plans to insert itself ahead of the checkout screen by getting involved with the online shopping and research process, where customers visit sites and look for deals. Honey’s offer-finding features from its mobile app will also become part of PayPal and Venmo’s apps in the future.

Cloud gaming expands with Google Stadia launch

Cloud-based gaming could benefit from the growing investment in 5G. Google Stadia, which launched this week, is a big bet on 5G in that regard. Though the early reviews were middling, Google believes the next generation of gaming will involve continuous, cross-device play, including on mobile devices. This trend was already apparent with the successes of cross-platform games like Fortnite, Minecraft, Roblox, and PUBG, for example. Meanwhile, console makers like Microsoft are working to build out their own cloud infrastructure to compete. (Microsoft’s xCloud launches in May 2020.) Google could have a head start, even if Stadia today feels more like a beta than a finished product. But one question that still arises is whether Google is serious about gaming, or only sees Stadia as a content engine for YouTube?

Microsoft kills Cortana mobile apps

Microsoft this week belatedly realized it can’t compete with the built-in advantages that Siri and Google Assistant offer users, like dedicated buttons, hands-free voice commands, workflow building and more. The company decided to shut down its Cortana mobile applications on iOS and Android in a number of markets, including Great Britain, Australia, Germany, Mexico, China, Spain, Canada, and India. Any bets on when the U.S. makes that list?

SF Symbols expands

Inside Prosus Ventures’ $4.5 billion bet on India

By Manish Singh

Prosus Ventures last week filed a hostile offer for British food delivery startup Just Eat, an attempt to defeat a unanimous rejection from its board and simultaneously fend off a bid from rival Takeaway.

The giant Naspers spinoff said it was willing to pay as much as $6.3 billion in cash to lure Just Eat, one of Europe’s largest foodtech players.

Prosus’ major bet on online food startups shouldn’t come as a surprise; the recently-listed subsidiary, whose parent firm has invested in companies in more than 90 nations, has shown a great appetite for food delivery startups globally.

How deeply Prosus believes in foodtech is perhaps on display in emerging markets such as India, one of the most buzziest nations for the investment firm, where the unit economics doesn’t work yet for almost any internet startup and probably won’t for another few years.

Prosus Ventures’ investments in food delivery startups globally

Last year, South Africa-based Naspers led a $1 billion financing round for Indian food delivery startup Swiggy. The investment firm contributed $716 million to the round, just shy of the roughly $750 million that Swiggy’s chief rival, Zomato, has raised in its 11 years of existence.

TechCrunch spoke with Larry Illg, CEO of Prosus Ventures and Food, and Ashutosh Sharma, head of investments for India at the venture firm, to understand how significant foodtech is for the investment firm and the bets it is making in India.

Swiggy

“We had a thesis on food delivery globally,” said Illg, describing the company’s first search for a food delivery company in India. “We knew that at least one big player will be there in India in the future. We went around the town and spoke to a lot of startups.”

And then they found Swiggy. But, Illg said, it was a very different Swiggy from the one that currently dominates the Indian market. “So here was a food delivery startup that was already profitable. The only challenge was that it was operational in just six cities in India.”

And thus began Naspers’ journey to convince Swiggy to expand its service nationwide. Now operational in more than 130 cities around the country, Swiggy today competes with Zomato, UberEats, and Ola-owned FoodPanda (now known as Ola Foods).

Prosus Ventures’ Sharma, who heads India business, cautioned that it is early for food startups in India. “I want to say we are on day one, but it might as well be day zero. The number of smartphone users in India who are ordering food online is still less than 2%,” he said.

But even this nascent category has attracted some tough competitors. While UberEats and Ola’s Foods are struggling to make a significant dent, Swiggy and Ant Financial-backed Zomato are locked in an intense battle.

Both companies, according to industry reports, are losing more than $20 million each month. Zomato was burning about $45 million each month a year ago, Info Edge, a publicly-listed investor in the startup revealed in its recent earnings call with analysts.

Illg is not really bothered with the frenzy cash burn in India’s food delivery market, and said Prosus has no shortage of cash, either.

That cash might come in handy very soon. A source at Zomato told TechCrunch that the company is in talks to raise as much as $550 million in a round led by Ant Financial .

TechCrunch reported earlier this year that Zomato is quietly setting up its own supply chain to control the raw material its restaurant partners use. Two sources familiar with Zomato say the food delivery startup is thinking of expanding beyond delivering food items.

Earlier this year, Swiggy announced that its delivery fleet can now move just about anything from one part of the city to another. The service, called Swiggy Go, is currently limited to select cities. Zomato plans to replicate this, sources say. Neither of these developments have been previously reported.

Additionally, cloud kitchens are current area of focus for Swiggy. This week, the company announced it has established more than 1,000 cloud kitchens in the country, more so than any of its rivals.

Illg said cloud kitchens are crucial for a country like India, which has a low density of restaurants. “We have the visibility of all the market dynamics,” he said. “We can look at a location, comb through the data and know what kind of restaurants and food supplies would work there.”

Facebook prototypes Favorites for close friends microsharing

By Josh Constine

Facebook is building its own version of Instagram Close Friends, the company confirms to TechCrunch. There are a lot people that don’t share on Facebook because it can feel risky or awkward as its definition of “friends” has swelled to include family, work colleagues and distant acquaintances. No one wants their boss or grandma seeing their weekend partying or edgy memes. There are whole types of sharing, like Snapchat’s Snap Map-style live location tracking, that feel creepy to expose to such a wide audience.

The social network needs to get a handle on microsharing. Yet Facebook has tried and failed over the years to get people to build Friend Lists for posting to different subsets of their network.

Back in 2011, Facebook said that 95% of users hadn’t made a single list. So it tried auto-grouping people into Smart Lists like High School Friends and Co-Workers, and offered manual always-see-in-feed Close Friends and only-see-important-updates Acquaintances lists. But they too saw little traction and few product updates in the past eight years. Facebook ended up shutting down Friend Lists Feeds last year for viewing what certain sets of friends shared.

Then a year ago, Instagram made a breakthrough. Instead of making a complicated array of Friend Lists you could never remember who was on, it made a single Close Friends list with a dedicated button for sharing to them from Stories. Instagram’s research found 85% of a user’s Direct messages go to the same three people, so why not make that easier for Stories without pulling everyone into a group thread? Last month I wrote that “I’m surprised Facebook doesn’t already have its own Close Friends feature, and it’d be smart to build one.”

How Facebook Favorites works

Now Facebook is in fact prototyping its version of Instagram Close Friends called Favorites. It lets users designate certain friends as Favorites, and then instantly post their Story from Facebook or Messenger to just those people instead of all their friends, as is the default.

The feature was first spotted inside Messenger by reverse engineering master and frequent TechCrunch tipster Jane Manchun Wong. Buried in the Android app is the code that let Wong generate the screenshots (above) of this unreleased feature. They show how when users go to share a Story from Messenger, Facebook offers to let users post it to Favorites, and edit who’s on that list or add to it from algorithmic suggestions. Users in that Favorites list would then be the only recipients of that post within Stories, like with Instagram Close Friends.

 

A Facebook spokesperson confirmed to me that this feature is a prototype that the Messenger team created. It’s an early exploration of the microsharing opportunity, and the feature isn’t officially testing internally with employees or publicly in the wild. The spokesperson describes the Favorites feature as a type of shortcut for sharing to a specific set of people. They tell me that Facebook is always exploring new ways to share, and as discussed at its F8 conference this year, Facebook is focused on improving the experience of sharing with and staying more connected to your closest friends.

Unlocking creepier sharing

There are a ton of benefits Facebook could get from a Favorites feature if it ever launches. First, users might share more often if they can make content visible to just their best pals, as those people wouldn’t get annoyed by over-posting. Second, Facebook could get new, more intimate types of content shared, from the heartfelt and vulnerable to the silly and spontaneous to the racy and shocking — stuff people don’t want every single person they’ve ever accepted a friend request from to see. Favorites could reduce self-censorship.

“No one has ever mastered a close friends graph and made it easy for people to understand . . . People get friend requests and they feel pressure to accept,” Instagram director of product Robby Stein told me when it launched Close Friends last year. “The curve is actually that your sharing goes up and as you add more people initially, as more people can respond to you. But then there’s a point where it reduces sharing over time.” Google+, Path and other apps have died chasing this purposefully selective microsharing behavior.

Facebook Favorites could stimulate lots of sharing of content unique to its network, thereby driving usage and ad views. After all, Facebook said in April that it had 500 million daily Stories users across Facebook and Messenger, the same number as Instagram Stories and WhatsApp Status.

Before Instagram launched Close Friends, it actually tested the feature under the name Favorites and allowed you to share feed posts as well as Stories to just that subset of people. And last month Instagram launched the Close Friends-only messaging app Threads that lets you share your Auto-Status about where or what you’re up to.

Facebook Favorites could similarly unlock whole new ways to connect. Facebook can’t follow some apps like Snapchat down more privacy-centric product paths because it knows users are already uneasy about it after 15 years of privacy scandals. Apps built for sharing to different graphs than Facebook have been some of the few social products that have succeeded outside its empire, from Twitter’s interest graph, to TikTok’s fandoms of public entertainment, to Snapchat’s messaging threads with besties.

Instagram Threads

A competent and popular Facebook Favorites could let it try products in location, memes, performances, Q&A, messaging, live streaming and more. It could build its own take on Instagram Threads, let people share exact location just with Favorites instead of just what neighborhood they’re in with Nearby Friends or create a dedicated meme resharing hub like the LOL experiment for teens it shut down. At the very least, it could integrate with Instagram Close Friends so you could syndicate posts from Instagram to your Facebook Favorites.

The whole concept of Favorites aligns with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s privacy-focused vision for social networking. “Many people prefer the intimacy of communicating one-on-one or with just a few friends,” he writes. Facebook can’t just be the general purpose catch-all social network we occasionally check for acquaintances’ broadcasted life updates. To survive another 15 years, it must be where people come back each day to get real with their dearest friends. Less can be more.

Daily Crunch: Tesla unveils its futuristic Cybertruck

By Anthony Ha

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 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. Behold, the Tesla Cybertruck is here

Elon Musk has unveiled a vehicle that looks like it was ripped straight out of a post-apocalyptic science fiction movie.

The Tesla Cybertruck is made of cold-rolled steel, armored glass (which cracked in one demonstration at yesterday’s event) and adaptive air suspension. The cheapest version — a single-motor and rear-wheel drive model — will cost $39,900.

2. Twitter will finally let you turn on two-factor authentication without giving it a phone number

After countless tales of people having their phone numbers and inbound messages hijacked by way of SIM swapping, it’s clear that SMS just isn’t the right solution for sending people secondary login codes. And yet for many years, it’s been the mandatory go-to on Twitter — you could switch to another option later, but you had to give Twitter a phone number to turn it on in the first place.

3. Y Combinator abruptly shutters YC China

Startup accelerator Y Combinator has abandoned plans to establish a branch in China. The company cites a general change in strategy, but the firm’s silence on the complexity and controversy of working with China right now suggests there’s more at play.

4. Hyundai and Seoul set to test self-driving cars on city roads starting next month

Seoul will provide smart infrastructure to communicate with the vehicles, including connected traffic signals, and will also relay traffic and other info as frequently as every 0.1 seconds to the Hyundai vehicles.

5. Alphabet’s X details a garbage-sorting bot that’s part of its plan to make robots an everyday thing

X — formerly Google X — focuses exclusively on ambitious “moonshots,” a.k.a. tech you’d expect to find in science fiction (a recurring theme in today’s newsletter), not a real product in development. For example: A robot that can sort through office trash.

6. OutVoice officially launches its freelancer payment tools

The startup, which allows editors to pay freelance writers and photographers with the push of a button, has also raised seed funding from content monetization startup Coil.

7. Morgan Stanley’s ‘Teflon banker’ talks direct listings and much more

Michael Grimes, a banker for 32 years — 25 of them with Morgan Stanley — has played a role in the IPOs of Salesforce, LinkedIn, Workday and hundreds of other companies. In an interview, Grimes told us why he supports direct listings. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

VTEX, an e-commerce platform used by Walmart, raises $140M led by SoftBank’s LatAm fund

By Ingrid Lunden

E-commerce now accounts for 14% of all retail sales, and its growth has led to a rise in the fortunes of startups that build tools to enable businesses to sell online. In the latest development, a company called VTEX — which originally got its start in Latin America helping companies like Walmart expand their business to new markets with an end-to-end e-commerce service covering things like order and inventory management, front-end customer experience and customer service — has raised $140 million in funding, money it will be using to continue taking its business deeper into more international markets.

The investment is being led by SoftBank, specifically via its Latin American fund, with participation also from Gávea Investimentos and Constellation Asset Management. Previous investors include Riverwood and Naspers; Riverwood continues to be a backer, the company said.

Mariano Gomide, the CEO who co-founded VTEX with Geraldo Thomaz, said the valuation is not being disclosed, but he confirmed that the founders and founding team continue to hold more than 50% of the company. In addition to Walmart, VTEX customers include Levi’s, Sony, L’Oréal and Motorola . Annually, it processes some $2.4 billion in gross merchandise value across some 2,500 stores, growing 43% per year in the last five years.

VTEX is in that category of tech businesses that has been around for some time — it was founded in 1999 — but has largely been able to operate and grow off its own balance sheet. Before now, it had raised less than $13 million, according to PitchBook data.

This is one of the big rounds to come out of the relatively new SoftBank Innovation Fund, an effort dedicated to investing in tech companies focused on Latin America. The fund was announced earlier this year at $2 billion and has since expanded to $5 billion. Other Latin American companies that SoftBank has backed include online delivery business Rappi, lending platform Creditas and property tech startup QuintoAndar.

The common theme among many SoftBank investments is a focus on e-commerce in its many forms (whether that’s transactions for loans or to get a pizza delivered), and VTEX is positioned as a platform player that enables a lot of that to happen in the wider marketplace, providing not just the tools to build a front end, but to manage the inventory, ordering and customer relations at the back end.

“VTEX has three attributes that we believe will fuel the company’s success: a strong team culture, a best-in-class product and entrepreneurs with profitability mindset,” said Paulo Passoni, managing investment partner at SoftBank’s Latin America fund, in a statement. “Brands and retailers want reliability and the ability to test their own innovations. VTEX offers both, filling a gap in the market. With VTEX, companies get access to a proven, cloud-native platform with the flexibility to test add-ons in the same data layer.”

Although VTEX has been expanding into markets like the U.S. (where it acquired UniteU earlier this year), the company still makes some 80% of its revenues annually in Latin America, Gomide said in an interview.

There, it has been a key partner to retailers and brands interested in expanding into the region, providing integrations to localise storefronts, a platform to help brands manage customer and marketplace relations, and analytics, competing against the likes of SAP, Oracle, Adobe and Salesforce (but not, he said in answer to my question, Commercetools, which builds Shopify -style API tools for mid and large-sized enterprises and itself raised $145 million last month).

E-commerce, as we’ve pointed out, is a business of economies of scale. Case in point: While VTEX processes some $2.5 billion in transactions annually, it makes a relatively small return on that — $69 million, to be exact. This, plus the benefit of analytics on a wider set of big data (another economy of scale play), are two of the big reasons VTEX is now doubling down on growth in newer markets like Europe and North America. The company now has 122 integrations with localised payment methods.

“At the end of the day, e-commerce software is a combination of knowledge. If you don’t have access to thousands of global cases you can’t imbue the software with knowledge,” Gomide said. “Companies that have been focused on one specific region are now realising that trade is a global thing. China has proven that, so a lot of companies are now coming to us because their existing providers of e-commerce tools can’t ‘do international.’ ” There are very few companies that can serve that global approach and that is why we are betting on being a global commerce platform, not just one focused on Latin America.”

Here’s why the Tesla Cybertruck has its crazy look

By Matt Burns

Elon Musk revealed the Cybertruck last night, saying it looks like nothing else on the market. That’s true, but the Cybertruck shares several key features with an unlikely pickup — the first-generation Honda Ridgeline.

Both the Cybertruck and Honda Ridgeline are built differently from standard pickups. They employ a unibody design, much like what’s used in most passenger vehicles. Instead of a body sitting on a frame, the Cybertruck and Ridgeline are built around what is essentially a metal cage. A unibody truck makes sense for Tesla, which doesn’t want a large, bulky frame under the body. Tesla wants batteries under the vehicle and uses the body to protect them.

Because of the unibody pickup design, the vehicle has to employ a key design element to enable high-capacity towing: a sail pillar.

Most often, a vehicle’s towing capacity is limited by body design rather than engine strength. Towing places a lot of stress on the vehicle’s frame. Want to pull more? Make a beefier frame under the truck. But with the unibody Tesla Cybertruck, to increase the towing capacity, it had to use as big of a sail pillar as possible, explaining the unconventional design.

A vehicle naturally wants to twist. Think of wringing out a washcloth. In a body-on-frame design, the engine rests on a large frame, which absorbs a lot of the stresses. In a unibody design, vertical supports help, and are employed throughout, starting with an A pillar by the windshield and ending with a D pillar in the rear window of SUVs.

With a body-on-frame design, like what’s used in most pickups, the force from a trailer rests on the frame. Most of the energy is absorbed in the structure located under the body of the truck. The truck’s cab is decoupled from the bed, allowing the cab and bed to move relative to one another and better compensate for the stress on the frame.

In a unibody design, like in the Cybertruck, Ridgeline or most SUVs, the body is subjected to the same forces, but has to use the body to prevent twisting. The buttress-like sail pillar helps absorb the energy and prevent the truck from twisting.

Unibody SUVs have D pillars — the vertical supports at the rear of the vehicle — where pickups do not. This D pillar is needed to prevent the unibody from twisting and flexing when under load. But without the D pillar in a unibody pickup, a sail pillar connects the C pillar to the rear of the truck, achieving a similar result.

The first-generation Honda Ridgeline had a modest sail pillar, but Honda was able to ditch the feature for the second generation by reinforcing critical points throughout the unibody.

Honda described the redesign like this:

The rear frame structure of the 2017 Ridgeline is vitally important to the overall structural rigidity of the body, to collision safety performance and to the Ridgeline’s hauling and towing capability. Utilizing fully boxed frame members for the body sides and rear tailgate frame, the truss-style rear inner construction contributes to the new Ridgeline’s more conventional three-box design profile—allowing for the elimination of the buttress-style body structure in the forward portion of the upper bed on the previous model—while contributing to a 28-percent gain in torsional rigidity versus the previous model. Also, the U-shaped rear frame member serves as a highly rigid mounting structure for the rear tailgate, allowing for a highly precise tailgate fit.

The Chevrolet Avalanche also used a sail pillar to compensate for the lack of a D pillar. To make the Avalanche, Chevy took a full-size Suburban SUV and cut off the rear quarter.

It’s unclear if Tesla unveiled the final version of the Cybertruck. We still have significant questions. And if it’s not the final design, there’s a chance Tesla will be able to use some of Honda’s tricks to reduce the flying buttresses and produce a more conventional pickup design.

Hyundai and Seoul set to test self-driving cars on city roads starting next month

By Darrell Etherington

Hyundai has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the city of Seoul to begin testing six autonomous vehicles on roads in the Gangnam district beginning next month, BusinessKorea reports. The arrangement specifies that six vehicles will begin testing on 23 roads in December. Looking ahead to 2021, there will be as many as 15 of the cars, which are hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles, testing on the roads.

Seoul will provide smart infrastructure to communicate with the vehicles, including connected traffic signals, and will also relay traffic and other info as frequently as every 0.1 seconds to the Hyundai vehicles. That kind of real-time information flow should help considerably with providing the visibility necessary to optimize safe operation of the autonomous test cars. On the Hyundai said, they’ll be sharing information too — providing data around the self-driving test that will be freely available to schools and other organizations looking to test their own self-driving technology within the city.

Together, Seoul and Hyundai hope to use the partnership to build out a world-leading downtown self-driving technology deployment, and to have that evolve into a commercial service, complete with dedicated autonomous vehicle manufacture by 2024.

We have five questions about Tesla’s Cybertruck

By Matt Burns

Tesla just unveiled its first pickup truck, and the Cybertruck gets a lot of things right. The look is polarizing, but from a truck perspective, it’s capable, practical and relatively affordable compared to other pickups. Of course, all those qualifiers come with an asterisk. Tesla didn’t say when it will hit the market and past Tesla vehicles have been hit with delays and missing features.

Now that the dust has settled, some questions stick out. Is the design final or how will Tesla have to change it to meet regulations? Tesla says the Cybertruck has a maximum range of 500 miles, but how will that change once a trailer is behind it? And what’s the size? It looks significantly longer than a full-size Ford F-150. Why does it have super glass and who does Tesla expect to buy it?

How does the design need to change to meet safety regulations?

There are many safety regulations throughout the world. Each market has slightly different variations. Does the current design meet these regulations? What changes are expected to meet these regulations?

The tires look to stick out from the wheel-wells, and that’s not allowed. The vehicle seems to lack a pedestrian-friendly front bumper. Where are the windshield wipers and turn signals and side mirrors?

How does load affect the range?

Weight kills range — in electric and gas vehicles. In my F-150 Ecoboost, when towing a large camper, my mpg drops from 19 mpg to 10 mpg. Where I can generally get around 700 miles on a tank, when towing a camper, I get about 400 miles.

Tesla seems to be addressing this in a few ways. One, adding another motor should increase the efficiency and help increase range, and the Cybertruck will be offered with two and three motors. Two, an air suspension is better suited to handle the added weight on the rear axle, allowing the vehicle to distribute the weight better.

What are the vehicle dimensions?

The Cybertruck looks massive. During the presentation, it’s showed next to several other vehicles, including a Ford F-150 SuperCrew with a five-and-a-half-foot bed. The Cybertruck looks significantly longer and wider.

I drive a Ford F-150 SuperCrew with a six-and-a-half-foot bed. It’s longer than a standard parking spot. It’s very long and hard to park, even in suburban parking spots. I worry the Cybertruck will be even harder to park — though the tough exterior will help door dings.

If the Cybertruck is longer and wider than a standard pickup truck, it will need additional lights to drive on U.S. roads. The U.S. government mandates any vehicle wider than 80 inches must have five orange safety lights to illustrate the width. The Cybertruck showed during the presentation lacked these lights.

Why super glass?

The Cybertruck is a unibody design, something Elon talked up extensively throughout the introduction. A unibody vehicle distributes stress throughout the body instead of a decoupled frame. But unibody trucks are not new, and there are several on the market, including the Honda Ridgeline. None have bulletproof glass.

With more stress hitting the body, durable glass is wanted to help handle the pressure.

But why extra-strong glass? Adding extra-durable glass seems like a waste of weight, and Tesla didn’t explain the justification outside of saying it’s cool.

What’s the target market?

Who does Tesla expect to buy the Cybertruck?

For construction companies, the massive (and necessary) sail pillar is polarizing and impractical, as it limits the utility of the bed. Plus, Tesla doesn’t like owners wrenching on their vehicles, which could hamper on-the-spot repairs construction companies generally employ.

For those hauling trailers, the Cybertruck’s range is dramatically less than what’s possible with gasoline and diesel engines and will be even less once under load.

For the weekend DIY, the Cybertruck appears to be extremely long, limiting its appeal as a daily driver when it needs to navigate parking lots and city streets.

Eventually, Tesla will answer the questions above as the Cybertruck nears release.

Tesla all-electric ATV makes a surprise debut at Cybertruck event

By Darrell Etherington

Tesla CEO Elon Musk definitely didn’t have the most issue-free presentation during last night’s Cybertruck unveil, but he did pull off a pretty impressive ‘one more thing moment’ – revealing a surprise all-electric all-terrain vehicle (ATV) that Tesla created to pair with its futuristic pickup.

The Tesla electric ATV didn’t get a lot of time to shine on its own, and instead was used primarily to demonstrate how the Tesla Cybertruck bed and active suspension works for loading up cargo, but it’s a real enough thing that Tesla made sure to point out that you can charge the electric four-wheeler right from the Cybertruck while the ATV is loaded in the bed.

Musk didn’t reveal anything about pricing or availability regarding the ATV, but a demo drive did actually drive it up on stage and load it into the bed, so it’s real enough to be functional. Like the Cybertruck itself, it also featured a body design with a lot of intersecting flat planes and angels, and it was done up in matte black, which makes it look like the ATV version of a stealth bomber.

In the past, Musk has discussed the idea of electric motorcycles, dismissing Tesla’s interest in the category in favor of electric bikes. Musk said that a motorcycle was not in the cards at a Tesla shareholder meeting in 2018, and also floated the idea of doing an e-bike instead that same year.

An ATV is a very different kind of vehicle – designed more for utility and recreation than for road use, but it’ll be interesting to see what kind of consumer launch Tesla has in mind for such a vehicle. A ‘Cybertruck: ATV Edition’ would probably incur a lot of demand.

Tesla’s Cybertruck is made of the same stainless steel alloy that SpaceX is using for Starship

By Darrell Etherington

Tesla CEO Elon Musk unveiled the much-anticipated Cybertruck electric pickup in LA on Thursday, and the vehicle is obviously getting a lot of attention for its eye-catching and unique design. It looks more like a rover designed for space exploration than a truck — and the analogy in this case is particularly fitting, because the Cybertruck is clad in the same stainless steel alloy that Musk’s other company SpaceX will use as the skin of its forthcoming Starship spaceship.

“It is, it is literally bulletproof to a nine millimeter handgun,” Musk said onstage during the unveiling. “That’s how strong the skin is — it’s ultra-hard, cold-rolled stainless steel alloy that we’ve developed. We’re going to be using the same alloy in the Starship rocket, and in the Cybertruck.”

Musk had previously revealed at an event unveiling the full-height Starship Mk1 prototype that it would go with stainless steel for the outer shell, with an additional glass tile covering layer for the half of the space craft that will endure the highest heat from re-entry (the ship is designed to essentially belly-flop down through Earth’s atmosphere prior to landing). The Super Heavy booster that the Starship will ride atop during its exit will be clad entirely in stainless steel. The reasoning for going with that material was a combination of cost and effectiveness, as it’s actually remarkably good at withstanding and shedding high heat.

Using the same stainless steel alloy across both Tesla and SpaceX will obviously provide some cost efficiencies — especially if the Cybertruck manages to become a high-volume production vehicle (unlikely because of its controversial design, but perhaps possible based on the economics if Tesla can stick to the price points it revealed onstage). There’s another way that the Cybertruck could benefit SpaceX’s work, and Elon alluded to it on Twitter ahead of the event — Mars will need ground transportation, too.

Yes, Musk said in a tweet that the “pressurized edition” of the Cybertruck will be the “official truck of Mars.” As always with Elon, sometimes it’s difficult to suss out exactly where the line is between jokes and actual plans with what he tweets, but I think in this instance he actually means this literally, at least at this stage in the game.

A Cybertruck rover for astronaut use on Mars could theoretically benefit both Tesla and SpaceX because of efficiencies in cross-production and engineering, and as the stainless steel alloy case illustrates, one of the big benefits of designing things for space has always been that the resulting technology often turns out to have really beneficial applications on Earth, too.

What we learned on our Tesla Cybertruck ride

By Kirsten Korosec

After Elon Musk had left the stage Thursday evening, the crowd — still excited and a little stunned from the Tesla Cybertrunk reveal — converged to the back doors that led outside where a gigantic queue quickly formed.

Media got their own area, the VIPs another, and finally, the other invited guests were in the main, and much longer line. Everyone was waiting for a ride in the Tesla Cybertruck, and TechCrunch was among those who captured the ride.

The ride was short; just a skosh over two minutes overall. But it was long enough to take note of several features. The dash, which looks like sandstone, is actually a kind of compressed paper. A 17-inch screen is mounted in the center.

tesla cybertruck dash

The pickup bed, called the vault, is lit up and visible. But if the lockable storage was closed, the window would no longer be visible. Instead, the rear mirror provides streaming video to allow the driver to see behind the vehicle.

Check out the video for the whole ride, which included a quick moment of acceleration just past 60 miles per hour.

Tesla accidentally busted two windows on the Cybertruck while demonstrating how tough they are

By Greg Kumparak

Well, I don’t think that was supposed to happen.

In what was one of the more surreal product launches I’ve seen, Tesla debuted its $39,900 Cybertruck pickup tonight. After running through some specs and hitting the truck’s door with a sledge hammer, Elon asked an onstage companion (Tesla’s lead designer, Franz von Holzhausen) to demonstrate the strength of the Tesla “Armor Glass” by throwing a solid metal, baseball-sized ball at the driver side window.

It… did not go well.

While the glass didn’t completely shatter, it did appear to crack from edge to edge.

“Oh my [bleeping] God,” Musk laughs. “Well, maybe that was a little too hard.”

So they tried it again on the rear passenger window… and it cracked too. “Room for improvement,” Musk says with a shrug.

Was this a gag? A “Hah hah! Just kidding, here’s a test on the real glass!” sort of thing? Nope. Elon stood in front of the truck, two broken windows and all, and completed the presentation.

While no one would expect most standard windows to stand up to a test like this, even Elon seemed surprised by the results. “We threw wrenches, we threw everything,” he said on stage. “We even literally threw a kitchen sink at the glass, and it didn’t break. For a little weird reason it broke now, I don’t know why.”

“We’ll fix it in post,” he followed up with a laugh, then moved on to talking about the car’s suspension. The video went private on Tesla’s YouTube channel about 30 seconds after the live stream was over.

And with that, the undeniable truth that is “live demos never work” lives on.

tesla cybertruck

 

Behold, the Tesla Cybertruck is here

By Kirsten Korosec

Elon Musk revealed Thursday evening the Tesla Cybertruck, a futuristic vehicle that seemed stripped straight out of a post-apocalyptic-era movie.

The Tesla Cybertruck, which Musk unveiled in dramatic fashion and to the hoots and hollers of invited guests at the Tesla Design Center in Hawthorne, Calif., is made of cold-rolled steel, armored glass that did crack in one demonstration and adaptive air suspension.

When the vehicle first came out people cheered and gasped. Some wondered out loud if this was really the cybertruck Musk had been promising. Others seemed disappointed it wasn’t a more market-ready truck. But as Musk began rolling through the specs — first the body, then the performance and finally the price — the enthusiasm in the crowd began building.

By the time Musk uttered “one more thing,” the crowd was frenzied and fully committed to the ride he was taking them on. And then an ATV rolled out onto the stage and the crowd went wild.

Later, while hundreds stood in line for a chance to take a two-minute ride in the cybertruck, the most common phrase from invited guests was “It’s growing on me.” Whether it will “grow on them” is unclear. All of the invited guests at the event, and those watching online, will have a couple of years (at least) to decide if it’s grown on them enough to buy.

One, two, three motors

Tesla will offer three variants of the cybertruck. The cheapest version, a single motor and rear-wheel drive model, will cost $39,900, have a towing capacity of 7,500 pounds and more than 250 miles of range. The middle version will be a dual-motor all-wheel drive, have a towing capacity of more than 10,000 pounds and be able to travel more than 300 miles on a single charge. The dual motor AWD model is priced at $49,900.

The third version will have three electric motors and all-wheel drive, a towing capacity of 14,000 pounds and battery range of more than 500 miles. This version, known as “tri motor,” is priced at $69,900.

Musk touted the acceleration of the Cybertruck as well, showing a video at one point of the truck beating a Porsche 911 off the line. Musk said the “tri motor” version can travel from 0 to 60 miles per hour in less than 2.9 seconds. The single-motor rear-wheel drive model is the slowest off the line, with a 0 to 60 mph acceleration of less than 6.5 seconds.

tesla cybertruck

Tesla CEO Elon Musk revealed the Tesla Cybertruck on Thursday, November 21, 2019

Tesla said customers can put down a $100 deposit. They’ll be able to complete their configuration as production nears in late 2021. Tri-motor AWD production is expected to begin in late 2022.

Musk has talked about producing an all-electric pickup truck for years now. In December, Musk resurrected the idea, saying that Tesla might have a prototype to unveil in 2019.

Musk mentioned on Twitter in April 2017 the desire to produce a pickup truck, before the first Model 3 sedans had been handed over to customers and the CEO had entered production hell. At the time, Musk tweeted that a pickup truck would be unveiled in 18 to 24 months.

If Tesla were to hit that mark it would be bringing its electric truck to market after GM and Rivian have started delivering their products.

Rivian is expected to begin vehicle production of its electric R1T pickup truck in the second half of 2020. GM CEO Mary Barra said Thursday during an investor conference that the automaker plans to bring an electric pickup truck to market in 2021. Ford also is planning an electric F-150 truck.

It’s unclear how much demand there will be for electric pickup trucks. However, the demand for gas and diesel-powered trucks is growing. Large trucks account for 14.4% of new vehicle sales through October, compared to 12.6% in 2015, according to Edmunds.

Midsize trucks accounted for 3.7% of new vehicle sales through October, compared to 1.5% in 2014.

Automakers are keen to tap into that growth because trucks and SUVs tend to have higher profit margins than sedans. And those margins could continue to increase if automakers can keep costs down.

The average transaction price of a full-size truck (gas and diesel) crossed $50,000 for the first time in September, and continues to climb, according to Jessica Caldwell, the executive director of insights at Edmunds. The average transaction price of a full-size truck was $50,496 in October, and a midsize truck was $36,251.

Y Combinator abruptly shutters YC China

By Devin Coldewey

Prolific startup accelerator Y Combinator has abandoned plans to establish a branch of the program in China. The company cites a general change in strategy, but a deafening silence on the complexity and controversy of working with China right now suggests there’s more at play.

In a short blog post, YC leadership explained that “as we worked to establish YC China, we had a change in leadership,” viz. the replacement of CEO Sam Altman with Geoff Ralston in May. This apparently led to a complete about-face on YC’s China strategy.

Qi Lu, hired a little more than a year ago to lead the YC China effort, is departing to run his own program, MiraclePlus. And Chinese companies will still be welcome at Y Combinator “— but as part of our U.S. program.”

A Y Combinator representative confirmed that it has no involvement with MiraclePlus or Qi Lu whatsoever, and that the company will no longer have any local presence in China at all.

It’s hard to accept at face value this vague explanation for such a costly, high-profile retreat.

Altman said when announcing Qi’s hiring that he had been trying to recruit him “for years.” As for the program itself, Altman said that “China has been an important missing piece of our puzzle” and that they would be building “a long-term local organization that will combine the best of Silicon Valley and China.”

That there is no mention of the uncertain international politics and U.S.-China relations right now, nor the explosive situation in Hong Kong, or ongoing human rights issues elsewhere in the country, seems a deliberate choice to make this move seem as ordinary as possible. But those things are major questions for anyone looking to do business in China, and it’s hard to believe none had any bearing on the decision to abruptly pack up and leave a major enterprise behind.

It seems like with a company like Y Combinator, it would be easy enough to provide a modicum of transparency and say that there was a mismatch in culture, or the logistics weren’t working out, or they ended up forwarding too many of the companies to the YC prime location anyway.

Perhaps that information was not deemed material for a public statement, but it only leaves inquiring minds to speculate. Was there pressure from this or that quarter? Is the culture at YC changing? Are other Altman-era projects being abandoned? Did the company gain anything at all by this boondoggle?

For such a major endeavor by one of the most prominent tech communities in Silicon Valley, this highly guarded and obviously incomplete account of its total abandonment seems strange and inadequate. We’ll be looking into it further.

Netgear’s Meural Canvas II is a better version of the best home gadget for photographers

By Darrell Etherington

Netgear has released the first updated Canvas digital art from from Meural since acquiring the company last September, and the next-generation connected frame comes with some decent quality-of-life improvements as well as a new, additional size. It’s not a dramatic change from the original Meural Canvas, but it means that a product that was already great is now even better.

The Meural Canvas II from Netgear comes in two sizes, including a smaller 16×24-inch frame that provides a 21.5-inch diagonal picture (starting at $399.95), and a 19×29-inch frame with a 27-inch diagonal display (starting at $599.95). Both screens are 1080P full HD resolution, and both feature ambient light sensors (which are relocated to a better location under the mat that surrounds the screen for improved light detection) that will automatically adjust the brightness of your image to make it appear more natural and less like a screen.

The Canvas II features built-in Wi-Fi, which is also upgraded with this generation (Netgear, which makes routers and other Wi-Fi products, seems to have brought its expertise to bear here) and they offer new Ethernet connectivity, as well as full-size SD ports. They also can hang either vertically or horizontally, and a new accessory mount for this generation (sold separately) allows for even easier switching between the two orientations via simple rotation.

For the virtual art collector

Meural is controlled primarily from the Meural companion app, though you can also access a web interface to accomplish much of the same thing from a desktop browser. The app features curated collections of artwork, which is available both via a paid monthly subscription and via direct, one-time purchases. One of the changes that the Meural service has undergone is that the subscription membership now gets you some, but not all, of the art available — some premium content is still an additional charge. It’s definitely not as good from the user’s perspective as when everything was free once you’d paid the subscription fee, but paying monthly still nets you 20GB of cloud storage for uploading your own art, discounts on the stuff that is available for purchase and access to a much larger library than you get without any membership.

Subscriptions go for either $8.95 per month, or $69.95 per year, and they’re probably plenty to satisfy most casual art lovers who just want some recognizable or interesting works to adorn their walls, and want to be able to change that on a fairly regular basis. And when you use the art provided through Meural’s various collections, you can take a look at credits and descriptions right on the display — available quickly via a motion control swipe up gesture made possibly by the sensors built into the frame.

A note on those motion controls — they allow you to navigate between artwork, and even change playlists and access a menu of other options related to the frame. Basically, you wave your hand near the bottom of the Meural to make this work, and it’s great when it does work, but it definitely takes some learning to figure out how and where to swipe to make it reliably respond. It’s convenient that it’s an option, but controlling the display with the iOS or Android app is a lot more pleasant, generally speaking.

The built-in library that Meural provides is definitely a selling point, and Meural is regularly adding new art collections, both for paid purchases and to build out the library of those works available included in the subscription. It just added a bunch through a new partnership with Marvel, in fact, including movie posters from a long list of their cinematic universe releases.

For the amateur/enthusiast/pro photographer

The primary reason I think the Meural Canvas II is a fantastic product has very little to do with its subscription-based art collection, however. Instead, it’s all about the flexibility and convenience that the Canvas provides when it comes to displaying your own photos. It’s incredibly easy to upload your photos from your mobile device or your desktop, and you can organize them in playlists, add descriptions and titles, and crop them manually or have the frame crop them automatically to display in its 16×9 aspect ratio.

As a display for your own photos, the Meural Canvas II is hard to beat: It’s a lot more flexible and cost effective than getting high-quality prints made, as you can rotate them out as often as you feel like, and the display’s color rendering and matte finish, while obviously not as good as a professional photo print, is nonetheless very pleasing to the eye. When you take as many photos as we collectively do now, but seldom have anywhere to show them off, the Canvas provides the perfect opportunity to ensure they have a great place to shine at home.

The included SD card reader means it’s easy to load up images and put them on the Canvas locally, but I also found that uploading from whatever Wi-Fi-connected device I had access to around the house was easy and fast (again, seems like Netgear’s core expertise came into play here). The ability to quickly change the orientation, which is fast and simple even without the rotation mount accessory, is another big plus for your own photos, as it means you can show off both portraits and landscapes.

Oh, and the ability to load your own artwork isn’t limited to just your photography, of course — any image in a standard format, including animated GIFs, can work on the Meural, which means it’s really only limited by the scope of what’s available on the internet.

Bottom line

Between the frame options, which you can swap out for different color options eventually when they’re sold separately, and the ability to upload your own content to the Canvas, it’s easily the most customizable piece of home decor you can find right now. For some, opting to move up to something like Samsung’s The Frame TV might be a better option, but that’s much larger, much more expensive, much heavier for mounting and not as flexible when it comes to playlists and your own curation of art to display.

The Meural Canvas II provides largely the same visual experience as the generation it replaces, but the other improvements make this a much better product overall, with faster, more reliable Wi-Fi connectivity, improved motion controls, more flexible on-device storage and new mounting options. If you like some variety in your wall art, or you’ve just been trying to figure out how to do something interesting with all those pictures you take, the Meural Canvas II is a great option.

Camp Grounded Digital Detox returns after founder’s death

By Josh Constine

Summer camp for adults and beloved tech-free weekend getaway Camp Grounded ground to a halt in 2017. Its big-hearted founder Levi Felix who’d espoused the joys of trading screens for nature walks was tragically killed by brain cancer at just age 32. Left in his wake was mourning community who’d lost their digital detox rally just as everyone was realizing the importance of looking up from their phones.

As an attendee, I’d been impressed by how the founder (known as Professor Fidget Wigglesworth at camp) used playfulness and presence to transport us back to childhood, before we got hooked on the Internet. But he also broke people’s addiction to shame, mandating that anyone who screwed up in a sports game or talent show announce “I’m awesome”, and be met with a cheer from the crowd, “your awesome!”

Luckily, one of Felix’s elementary school friends Forest Bronzan wants to write a happier ending to this story. Almost three years after it went into hibernation follow its creator’s death, Bronzan has acquired Camp Grounded and its parent company Digital Detox .

Camp Grounded will relaunch in May 2020 as two back-to-back weekend retreats at Northern California’s gorgeous Camp Mendocino. Attendees will again leave their devices in Tech Check lockers run by hazmat-suit wearing staffers, assume nicknames, and stop the work talk. They’ll get to play in the woods like technology never existed, indulging in Camp Grounded favorites from archery to arts & crafts to bonfire singalongs about enthusiastic consent. However, to simplify logistics, Camp Grounded won’t hold sessions in New York, North Carolina, or Texas any more.

The company will also organize more four-hour Unplugged Nights in cities around the country where partiers can switch off their phones and make new friends. The idea is to give a broader range of people a taste of the Grounded lifestyle in smaller doses. Those interested in early access to tickets for all of Digital Detox’s events can sign up here.

Camp Grounded’s Tech Check staffers confiscate attendees’ devices upon their arrival. Image Credit: Daniel N. Johnson

Meanwhile, Digital Detox will start a new business of education and certifications for K-12 schools, coaching teachers and parents on how to gently reduce students’ screentime. Schools will pay per student like a Software-As-A-Service model. Through research by a few PhDs, the company will recommend proper rules for using tech in and out of the classroom to minimize distraction, and empathetic penalties for violations.

The obvious question to ask, though, is if Bronzan is just some business guy coming to coin off the anti-tech trend and Felix’s legacy. “I’m not Apple coming in and buying the company. This isn’t a tech acquisition” Bronzan insists at a coffee shop in San Francisco. “I knew Levi before anyone else knew Levi. We went trick-or-treating and played in school band together. I want to the first Digital Detox summit, and brought my company year after year. I’ve been involved from the begginning, seeing Levi’s passion and inspiration.”

Levi Felix and Forest Bronzan (from left) in 1996

Fidget had an innately soothing camp counselor vibe to him that Bronzan doesn’t quite capture. He’d previously built and sold Email Aptitude, a CRM and email agency, not an event or education business. But he truly seems to mean well, and he’s earned the support of Digital Detox’s team.

“My mission was to find someone that was as excited and ferocious as Levi and I were when we started Digital Detox to further it as a movement” says Brooke Dean, Felix’s wife and co-founder. “It was imperative that the person running DD and CG had actually experienced the magic. This person had to be more than a lover of camp and nature, they also needed the hard skills and successful track record of running a company. Forest is stable, business-minded and also finds value in that very unique magic.”

Bronzan tells me the acquisition includes a cash component (“We’re not talking eight figures”) and a capital investment in the business, both funded by his email company’s exit. Two other individuals and one company had also expressed interest. Dean and Felix’s brother Zev will retain equity in the company, and she’ll stay on the board of directors. The trio are launching the Levi Felix Foundation that will donate money to brain cancer research.

While moving into education might seem like a left turn for Digital Detox after throwing events since 2012, Dean says “Levi was planning on going back to school and was deeply interested in being an academic in this field. We always believed that there needed to be evidence in order to convince the masses that being outside and connecting with other human beings ‘IRL’ is critical to our health and longevity.”

Some alarming stats the organization has already uncovered include:

  • 77% of people check or pretend to check their phone to avoid talking to others
  • 38% feel less connected to their partner or close friend due to cell phone use
  • Nearly 20% check their phone while having sex

“We want to eventually be the central source of tools on how tech is affecting lives and relationships at all age levels” Bronzan tells me. It’s zeroing in on how compulsive behaviors like endless scrolling increase anxiety and depression, and how parents glued to their devices train children to not be present. The father of two kids under age five, Bronzan knows a weekend at camp in your 20s or 30s is too little too late to seriously address the crisis of fractured attention.

Digital Detox’s new CEO says he’s heartened by the progression of some of Felix’s ideals, as with the Time Well Spent movement. The screentime dashboards launched by tech companies don’t do enough to actually change people’s actions, he says, though “They’re at least making some effort.” Digital Detox plans to launch a comprehensive quiz to determine how addicted you are to your phone, and Bronzan says he’d happily work with tech giants to integrate his company’s research.

 

On the camp for adults front, we’ve seen Burning Man go mainstream but lose some of what made it special including a lack of cell phone reception. It’s now common to see people on the playa staring at their phones, talking about work, and stressed about the clock — all of which are prohibited at Camp Grounded. Festivals like Coachella seem to get more corporate and less mindful each year. That leaves plenty of open space for Digital Detox to fill with purposeful breaks from the default world.

Bronzan also wants to introduce more surprise and serendipity to the event calendar. Camp Grounded will experiment with a “Mystery Trip” where eight to ten people sign up to be whisked away, only receiving a confidential briefing package the day before they show up. The point is to extract people from their routines where unhealthy habits manifest. Without connectivity, Camp Grounded hopes people will forge new connections in their minds, and with each other.

The top 1% of app store publishers drive 80% of new downloads

By Sarah Perez

The current app store ecosystem doesn’t favor the indie developer. According to new data from Sensor Tower, the top 1% of publishers globally accounted for a whopping 80% of the total 29.6 billion app downloads in the third quarter of 2019. That means just 20%, or 6 billion, downloads are left for the rest of the publishers.

This bottom 99%, which equates to roughly 784,080 publishers, averaged approximately 7,650 downloads each during the quarter. To put that in context, that’s less than one-thousandth of a percent of the downloads Facebook generated in the quarter (682M).

The data should not be all that surprising, given that larger, social platforms like Facebook and YouTube already serve audiences of over a billion. But it is concerning how uneven the market for new apps remains, especially considering that the number of available apps continues to expand, which makes the competition even more difficult.

The report notes there were over 3.4 million apps available across the App Store and Google Play in 2018, up 65% from the 2.2 million apps available in 2014. But the number of apps that were able to achieve at least 1,000 installs has been declining over that same period — from 30% to 26%.

Focusing only on games, the top 1% of publishers — or 1,080 out of a total 108,000 publishers — saw 9.1 billion downloads out of the total 11.1 billion, or 82%. This averages out to more than 8.4 million installs each. The remaining 18% of downloads, or 2 billion, were shared among the remaining 106,920 publishers. That averages out to around 18,000 downloads each.

When apps were analyzed by revenue, the gap was wider. Just 1,526 publishers generated $20.5 billion out of the total $22 billion in revenue in the quarter. Meanwhile, the remaining $1.5 billion was split among 151,056 publishers, averaging out around $9,990 each.

In terms of games revenue alone, the 445 publishers that make up the top 1 percent generated $15.5 billion in revenue, or 95% of all revenue, with the remaining $800 million split between the 44,029 publishers in the bottom 99%. This averages out to around $18,100 each.

None of these are new trends, Sensor Tower also notes. There hasn’t been much fluctuation in the top 1% share of installs or revenue for years. That means the large majority of publishers will compete for a minority of new users and installs.

Image credits: Sensor Tower

 

GM will bring an electric truck to market in 2021

By Kirsten Korosec

GM CEO Mary Barra said Thursday that the automaker will bring its first electric truck to market in the fall of 2021.

The comments were made Thursday during GM’s investor day. Later this evening, Tesla, which also plans to start selling an electric truck in 2021, will reveal its “cybertruck” at an event in Hawthorne, Calif. Reuters first reported the news.

“General Motors understands truck buyers and… people who are new coming into the truck market,” Barra said during the investor conference, explaining the company’s rationale for the move.

GM’s foray into electric trucks has been public before. Last month, the Detroit Free Press reported the that GM’s Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant would remain open to produce an electric pickup under a deal between the UAW and the automaker.

This is the first time the company has provided a timeline.

Several other companies are expected to bring electric trucks to the marketplace in the next several years, including newcomer Rivian, Tesla and Ford.

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