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Week-in-Review: Apple’s shipping a refresh for its worst device, but why?

Posted by on Jun 2, 2019 in Apple, iPod touch, TC, Week in Review | 0 comments

Hello, weekend warriors. This is Week-in-Review where I get hopped up on caffeine and scour the hundred of stories that emerged on TechCrunch this week and surface my favorites for your reading pleasure.

First, an update on my newsletter last week: I dove into Trump’s Huawei ban and talked about some of the ill effects it could spell for American tech companies caught in the fray. Well, it looks like China is starting to build a list of “unreliable” foreign firms, most likely the partners that are severing ties with Huawei. This might just be a preliminary step, but I’m sure U.S. companies on the list won’t be psyched to be at the frontlines of a massive trade war/ tech cold war…

Onto this week’s topic, which is a new iPod from Apple. There’s really not much to it, it’s an iPod Touch with an A10 chipset, so why do I think this was even vaguely interesting?

Nobody was expecting an update for this device, it hadn’t been updated since 2015 and it remains Apple’s last pocketable mobile device without access to a mobile network. It’s the dumbest device Apple sells — a total anomaly — so why throw it a new refresh? As with every perplexing move that Apple makes lately, it comes down to how the Cupertino giant is acquiring customers and making revenue in 2019.

It doesn’t take much scouring through Apple’s marketing materials to understand who the new iPod Touch is for, the answer hits you in the face, it’s for kids. It’s a starter iPhone.

The company needs to wrench more revenue from high-value users buying their most expensive devices, but that equation doesn’t bode well for the youngest Apple users getting their first device. When the iPod Touch was last refreshed in 2015, the iPhone 6S had just been announced and 2-year carrier contract deals meant you could get your hands on one for $199. That’s not the case anymore.

In 2016, an oft-quoted study declared 10.3-years-old as the average age that kids got their first smartphone, there hasn’t been anything too serious done since then but it’s not unreasonable to suspect that number has gone anywhere but down. Parents are likely already on the fence about taking the plunge on the device that comes even earlier than a smartphone and devices running Android are cheaper and more plentiful. While Apple has maintained the $329 entry price of the iPad, the iPad Mini has jumped in price and the higher-end iPads are more expensive than ever.

The crazy thing is that as Apple and Google’s cloud services are getting more sand-boxed, it’s becoming more and more likely that these first devices could determine what operating system a kid sticks with once they have more of a say in what smartphone they’re getting. Where are their photos stored? What can they play the games they’ve already bought? At a certain point, will higher upfront costs for these entry-level devices hamper iOS growth further down the road?

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It’s all just an interesting head-scratcher, but more fundamentally while Apple is trying to wrench more cash out of its hardware acolytes, it still can’t afford to shy away from low-cost devices that entice people into high-cost services. In this way its torn between two strategies, and left in this strange evolutionary stage where it has to ensure it doesn’t screw itself over down the road.

Something like Apple Arcade could theoretically be a great sell for parents, games can be played offline and there are none of the pesky in-app purchases, but that only works when the parents aren’t buying a bargain Android tablet in the first place.

We’ll see how much Apple continues to support older hardware with its iOS 13 release Monday, but we’ll also see how much they continue to build out features and products to get kids engaged with Apple and iOS earlier and earlier. Likely with the goal of keeping them away from the cheap stuff that their skyrocketing hardware prices might push them towards.

What to expect at Apple’s WWDC 2019

On to the rest of the week’s news…

JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images

Trends of the week

Here are a few big news items from big companies, with green links to all the sweet, sweet added context.

  • Your Uber rating is: go order a Lyft
    Every Uber driver has a horror story and there’s a decent chance that for a lot of Uber drivers those horror stories involve some of the same riders. The company announced this week that they’re just straight-up banning some of the lowest-rated users, though it sounds like you’ll get a few warnings to clean up your act before any action takes place. Previously, drivers have faced potential deactivations if they drop below a 4.6 rating, but there’s no specific word on what the threshold is for unruly riders.
  • RIP: BBM
    This generation of tech giants has been riding high for the better part of the past decade, but it’s important to remember that everything has a way of crumbling. Case in point, Blackberry Messaging officially shut down on Friday. You can read more about the gradual degradation of the once-ubiquitous platform in our story.
  • Google harshes legal weed’s mellow
    Google is chasing after weed smokers and the reefer inclined with its latest announcement that companies can’t sell weed products through their apps if they’re downloaded off the Play Store. The apps will still be able to exist and showcase products, but the apps can’t host a shopping cart for users. The company isn’t leading the way in being a narc, Apple had already banned in-app purchases like these.
  • Leap Motion throws up its hands
    After $94 million in funding, missed opportunities and Apple acquisition offers, Leap Motion is packing its hand-tracking tech away and shipping it to London, after being acquired by UK-based UltraHaptics for a reported $30 million. That number might not sound too awful, but considering Leap Motion’s status as the rising star of the consumer tech world not too long ago, it’s hard to see the exit as anything but a disappointing end for the startup.

PreShow facial recognition

GAFA Gaffes

How did the top tech companies screw up this week? This clearly needs its own section, in order of awfulness:

  1. Amazon punts taking stance on facial recognition
    [Amazon defeated shareholder’s vote on facial recognition by a wide margin]
  2. Apple gets defensive after Supreme Court ruling:
    [Apple’s new App Store website takes aim at antitrust anti-competitive claims]

NOAH BERGER/AFP/Getty Images

Extra Crunch

Our premium subscription service had another week of interesting deep dives. TechCrunch’s Kate Clark wrote about Slack’s odd beginnings as a weird little online game studio called Tiny Speck and how some of the young startup’s storied investors weren’t thrilled about its dramatic pivot into enterprise messaging.

The Slack origin story: How a whimsical online game became an enterprise software giant

“With the support of more than $15 million in venture capital funding — all before the game began beta testing — Tiny Speck hired more than 40 employees, wrote hundreds of lines of code and concocted big dreams for its zany, whimsical and absurdist universe.”

Here are some of our other top reads this week for premium subscribers. This week TechCrunch writers talked a bit about SoftBank, and how to get VCs fighting over your startup idea…

Want more TechCrunch newsletters? Sign up here.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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With new raise, Unity could nearly double valuation to $6 billion

Posted by on May 9, 2019 in Augmented Reality, Gaming, John Riccitiello, TC, unity-technologies, virtual reality | 0 comments

Unity Technologies, the company behind one of the world’s most popular game engines, could nearly double its reported valuation in a new round of funding.

The company has filed to raise up to $125 million in Series E funding according to a Delaware stock authorization filing uncovered by Prime Unicorn Index and reviewed by TechCrunch. If Unity closes the full authorized raise it will hold a valuation of $5.96 billion.

A Unity spokesperson confirmed the details of the document.

The SF company builds developer tools that allow game-makers to build titles and deploy them on consoles, mobile and PC. More than half of all new games are built using the platform. Customers pay for the platform per developer once their projects reach a certain scale.

Unity’s competitors include Fortnite-maker Epic Games, which has been able to rapidly acquire startups and game studios in the past two years fueled by the profits of their blockbuster hit.

Unity most recently closed $400 million in Series D funding led by Silver Lake, a “big chunk” of which went toward purchasing the shares of longtime employees and earlier investors. The round left the company’s valuation north of $3 billion. The company, founded in 2003, has raised more than $600 million to date.

The company’s previous backers include Sequoia, DFJ Growth and Silver Lake Partners.

Earlier this year, Cheddar reported that Unity was eyeing a 2020 IPO, though the company did not comment on the report.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Apple News+ is a great deal, but what does ‘full access’ really mean?

Posted by on Mar 26, 2019 in Apple, apple news, journalism, Media, TC | 0 comments

Curious whether you should cancel your existing magazine subscription and just subscribe to Apple News+?

Apple certainly seems to believe News+ is an outsized bargain for you. The company’s claim that it would cost users $8,000 to get annual access to the publications they are giving readers for $9.99 per month suggests that they see News+ giving consumers the full value of these publications’ subscriptions.

While it may provide access to most of these publications’ editorial content, due to the curated nature of the platform, it still might be a challenge for you to actually see all of these stories as you scroll and click through the app. News+ is still a great bargain for consumers, but the company has done little to transparently communicate what the service is not.

Apple and individual publications (such as ours) struck their own deals. Terms were dictated in ways that probably made publishers believe that there wouldn’t be much attrition from core subscription products, but little of that matters when consumer perceptions aren’t managed.

Apple doing little to convey what users won’t see when they open the News+ tab is unfortunate, but it’s far more detrimental to publications earnestly looking to expand their user bases, not cannibalize subscriptions. Complicated deal terms don’t make for the prettiest keynote slides, but if consumers are left to make their own assumptions, they’ll likely just assume what Apple has told them is the truth, that they are getting “full access.”

As a subscriber, how are you supposed to know if your pricier Wall Street Journal digital subscription is any different from what is available on News+? Don’t look for fine print on the Apple News+ landing page, don’t look in the app itself, in fact; this information doesn’t seem to be available anywhere in Apple’s communications. The best rundown I’ve seen so far is this newsletter from CNN’s Brian Stelter, which suggests the paper is “trying to have it both ways,” letting News+ users access the full scope of the day’s content through search, though much of it won’t organically surface from Apple’s curation and will only be available for a limited time. Most users signing up for News+ likely won’t realize this.

Though the minutiae of “full access” is somewhat unclear, Apple is better than most at distilling complicated deal terms into something snappy, and I think it’s fair to say that non-print subscribers signing up for News+ will cancel existing subscriptions unless the reasons not to are thrown directly in their face by the publications.

Some are trying to do just that, but it’s not easy to surface caveats in the wake of a major Apple announcement.

The New Yorker’s editor, Michael Luo, laid out some of the differences between what access full subscribers would be getting to the magazine’s content compared to News+ subscribers, and it seems to boil down to the fact that “most” web content isn’t included in the deal alongside, some digital services like crossword puzzles.

A journalist’s thread with a dozen or so retweets won’t achieve the reach that Apple can, and the underlying points embody the frustrations that Apple seemed to implicitly suggest News+ was a total replacement for these publications’ subscriptions when they juxtaposed the massive $8,000 per year slide with the $9.99 monthly price of News+.

While plenty of these publications are seemingly stuck in News+ for the time being thanks to the initial terms of the Texture acquisition (which served as the basis for Apple’s new service), for the sake of securing newcomers with more flexible terms and poaching high-profile holdouts like The New York Times, it seems that Apple should be a bit more transparent to consumers about what all this new news service is and is not.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Google is reportedly shutting down its in-house VR film studio

Posted by on Mar 14, 2019 in daydream, Google, virtual reality | 0 comments

Google is shutting down its Emmy Award-winning VR film division, Spotlight Stories, after six years of building out content, Variety reports.

We’ve reached out to Google for confirmation.

“Google Spotlight Stories means storytelling for VR. We are artists and technologists making immersive stories for mobile 360, mobile VR and room-scale VR headsets, and building the innovative tech that makes it possible,” the group’s site reads.

The Spotlight Stories team was part of the company’s Advanced Technologies and Products (ATAP) group. Much like Facebook’s ill-fated Oculus Story Studio, there was never a big focus on monetizing what was being created internally.

The studio’s best-received work, “Pearl,” was nominated for an Academy Award and won an Emmy in 2017. The group also worked with Wes Anderson to bring a VR behind-the-scenes featurette on the making of his film “Isle of Dogs.” In November, the group released its last major work, “Age of Sail,” a narrative film that could be watched on mobile and high-end VR systems.

Google has made significant investments in AR and VR, but has allowed competitors like Facebook and Apple to surpass their consumer efforts.

Google’s efforts on its VR program went full throttle in 2016 and early 2017 while the company sought to keep pace with Samsung which was aggressively hocking mobile hardware it had built alongside Oculus. It’s rumored the company made significant changes to its immersive divisions after Apple introduced ARKit in mid-2017, aggressively shifting resources from its VR division to AR projects like its ARCore mobile augmented reality platform.

The company has not updated its Daydream View VR headset since 2017, the company has ceded most of its ground to Oculus as its allowed products like Lenovo’s Daydream View to die on the shelf as its failed to make updates to its platform or direct significant resources to bringing new content on board. Now, with the reported shutdown of Spotlight Stories, the company is now making it clear that they don’t think building their own content is the right approach either.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Apple sends out invites for March 25 ‘special event’

Posted by on Mar 11, 2019 in Apple, Events, TC | 0 comments

Apple sent out invites to reporters this afternoon for a March 25 special event at the Steve Jobs Theater in Cupertino.

Reports have suggested that the company will focus its keynote on the content side of its business. The invite offers some pretty heavy-handed hints that the video content service will be on full display at the event, mainly a film reel countdown timer that eventually reveals the phrase “It’s show time.”

Apple has been seeding a ton of TV shows and delivering plenty of announcements about the content that it has in the pipeline, but we’ve strangely heard quite little about the underlying platform or subscription that Apple has planned beyond media reports.

There’s also been some discussion about a subscription business for Apple News being announced here, but given the somewhat overt marketing references to the video service, the news product might either not be quite ready or could be playing second fiddle to the video announcements. Speaking of back burner, hardware announcements feel unlikely, though AirPower and a second-generation AirPods feel long overdue.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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