Thu, 10 May 2018 21:14:32 +0000
For Apple, this year’s Global Accessibility Awareness Day is all about education
Following Apple’s education event in Chicago in March, I wrote about what the company’s announcements might mean for accessibility. After sitting in the audience covering the event, the big takeaway I had was Apple could “make serious inroads in furthering *special* education as well.” As I wrote, despite how well-designed the Classroom and Schoolwork apps seemingly are, Apple should do more to tailor their new tools to better serve students and educators in special education settings. After all, accessibility and special education are inextricably tied. It turns out, Apple has, unsurprisingly, considered this.
Note: This is the final article in a three-part series on valuation thoughts for common sectors of venture-capital investment. The first article, which attempts to make sense of the SaaS revenue multiple, can be found here; the second, on public marketplaces can be found here.
Over the past year, the VC-backed hardware category got a big boost — Roku was the best-performing tech IPO of 2017 and Ring was acquired by Amazon for a price rumored to exceed $1 billion. In addition to selling into large, strategic markets, both companies have excellent business models. Ring sells a high-margin subscription across a high percentage of its customer base and Roku successfully monetizes its 19 million users through ads and licensing fees.
In the context of these splashy exits, it is interesting to consider the key factors that have made for valuable hardware companies against a backdrop of an investment sector that has often been maligned through the years, as I’m sure we’ve all heard the trope that “hardware is hard.” Despite this perception, hardware investment has grown much faster than the overall VC market since 2010, as shown below.
A large part of this investment growth has to do with the fact that we’ve seen larger exits in hardware over the past few years than ever before. Starting with Dropcam’s* $555 million acquisition in 2014, we’ve seen a number of impressive outcomes in the category, from large acquisitions like Oculus ($2 billion), Beats ($3 billion) and Nest ($3.2 billion) to IPOs like GoPro ($1.2 billion), Fitbit ($3 billion) and Roku* ($1.3 billion)**. Unfortunately for the sector, a few of these companies have underperformed since exit; notably, GoPro and Fitbit have both cratered in the public markets.
As of April 3, 2018, both stocks traded at less than 1x trailing revenue, a far cry from the multiples of forward revenue given to other tech companies. Roku, on the other hand, continues to perform as a stock market darling, trading at approximately 6x trailing revenue and a market cap of $3.1 billion. What sets them so far apart?
The simple answer is their business model — Roku generates a significant amount of high gross margin platform revenue, while GoPro and Fitbit are reliant on continued hardware sales to drive future business, a revenue stream that has been stagnant to declining. However, Roku’s platform is one successful hardware business model; in this article I’ll explore four others — Attach, Replacement, Razor and Blades and Chunk.
“Attaching” a high gross margin annuity stream from a subscription to a hardware sale is a goal for many hardware startups. However, this is often easier said than done — as it’s critical to nail the alignment of the subscription service to the core value proposition of the hardware.
For example, Fitbit rolled out coaching, but people buy Fitbit to track activity and sleep — and this mismatch resulted in a low attach rate. On the other hand, Ring’s subscription allows users to view past doorbell activity, which aligns perfectly with customers looking to improve home security. Similarly, Dropcam sold a subscription for video storage, and at an approximate 40 percent attach rate created a strong economic model. Generally, we’ve found that the attach rate necessary to create a viable business should be at least in the 15-20 percent range.
Unlike the “Attach” business model that sells services directly related to improving the core functionality of the hardware device, “Platform” business models create ancillary revenue streams that materialize when users regularly engage with their hardware. I consider Roku or Apple to be in this category; by having us glued to our smartphones or TV screens, these companies earn the privilege of monetizing an app store or serving us targeted advertisements. Here, the revenue stream is not tied directly to the initial sale, and can conceivably scale well beyond the hardware margin that is generated.
In fact, AWS is one of the more successful recent examples of a hardware platform — by originally farming out the capacity from existing servers in use by the company, Amazon has generated an enormously profitable business, with more than $5 billion in quarterly revenue.
Despite the amazing economics of Apple’s App Store, as of the company’s latest quarterly earnings report, less than 10 percent of their nearly $80 billion in quarterly revenue came from the “Services” category, which includes their digital content and services such as the App Store.
What really drives value to Apple is the replacement rate of their core money-maker — the iPhone. With the average consumer upgrading their iPhone every two to three years, Apple creates a massive recurring revenue stream that continues to compound with growth in the install base. Contrast this with GoPro, where part of the reason for its poor market performance has been its inability to get customers to buy a new camera — once you have a camera that works “well enough” there is little incentive to come back for more.
Razor and Blades
The best example of this is Dollar Shave Club, which quite literally sold razors and blades on its way to a $1 billion acquisition by Unilever. This business model usually involves a low or zero gross margin sale on the initial “Razor” followed by a long-term recurring subscription of “Blades,” without which the original hardware product wouldn’t work. Recent venture examples include categories like 3D printers, but this model isn’t anything new — think of your coffee machine!
Is it still possible to build a large hardware business if you don’t have any of the recurring revenue models mentioned above? Yes — just try to make thousands of dollars in gross profit every time you sell something — like Tesla does. At 23 percent gross margin and an average selling price in the $100,000 range, you’d need more than a lifetime of iPhones to even approach one car’s worth of margin!
So, while I don’t think anyone would disagree that building a successful hardware business has quite literally many more moving parts than software, it’s interesting to consider the nuances of different hardware business models.
While it’s clear that in most cases, recurring revenue is king, it’s difficult to say that any of these models are intrinsically more superior, as large businesses have been built in each of the five categories covered above. However, if forced to choose, a “Platform” model seems to offer the most unbounded upside as it’s indicative of a higher engagement product and isn’t indexed to the original value of the product (some people certainly spend more on the App Store than on the iPhone purchase).
While it’s easy to take a narrow view of VC-hardware investing based on the outcome of a few splashy tech gadgets, broadening our aperture just a bit shows us that large hardware businesses have been built across a variety of industries and business models, and many more successes are yet to come.
*Indicates a Menlo Ventures investment
**Initial value at IPO
Thu, 10 May 2018 19:30:45 +0000
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I don’t think anyone would disagree that building a successful hardware business has quite literally many more moving parts than software.
Earlier this year, Verizon quietly launched a new startup called Visible, offering unlimited data, minutes, and messaging services for the low, low price of $40.
To subscribe for the service, users simply download the Visible app (currently available only on iOS) and register. Right now, subscriptions are invitation only and would-be subscribers have to get an invitation from someone who’s already a current Visible member.
Once registration is complete, Visible will send a sim card the next day, and, once installed, a user can access Verizon’s 4G LTE network to stream videos, send texts, and make calls as much as their heart desires.
Visible says there’s no throttling at the end of the month and subscribers can pay using internet-based payment services like PayPal and Venmo (which is owned by PayPal).
The service is only available on unlocked devices — and right now, pretty much only to iPhone users.
“This is something that’s been the seed of an idea for a year or so,” says Minjae Ormes, head of marketing at Visible. “There’s a core group of people from the strategy side. There’s a core group of five or ten people who came up with the idea.”
The company wouldn’t say how much Verizon gave to the business to get it off the ground, but the leadership team is comprised mostly of former employees, like Miguel Quiroga the company’s chief executive.
“The way I would think about it.. we are a phone service in the platform that enables everything that you do. The way we launched and the app messaging piece of it. You do everything else on your phone and a lot of time if you ask people your phone is your life,” said Ormes. The thinking was, “let’s give you a phone that you can activate right from your phone and get ready to go and see how it resonates.”
It’s an interesting move from our corporate overlord (Verizon owns Oath, which owns TechCrunch), which is already the top dog in wireless services, with some 150 million subscribers compared with AT&T’s 141.6 million and a soon-to-be-combined Sprint and T-Mobile subscriber base of 126.2 million.
For Verizon, the new company is likely about holding off attrition. The company shed 24,000 postpaid phone connections in the last quarter, according to The Wall Street Journal, which put some pressure on its customer base (but not really all that much).
Mobile telecommunications remain at the core of Verizon’s business plans for the future, even as other carriers like AT&T look to dive deeper into content (while Go90 has been a flop, Verizon hasn’t given up on content plans entirely). The acquisition of Oath added about $1.2 billion in brand revenue (?) to Verizon for the last quarter, but it’s not anywhere near the kind of media juggernaut that AT&T would get through the TimeWarner acquisition.
Verizon seems to be looking to its other mobile services, through connected devices, industrial equipment, autonomous vehicles, and the development of its 5G network for future growth.
Every wireless carrier is pushing hard to develop 5G technologies, which should see nationwide rollout by the end of this year. Verizon recently completed its 11 city trial-run and is banking on expansion of the network’s capabilities to drive new services.
As the Motely Fool noted, all of this comes as Verizon adds new networking capabilities for industrial and commercial applications through its Verizon Connect division — formed in part from the $2.4 billion acquisition of Fleetmatics, that Verizon bought in 2016 along with Telogis, Sensity Systems, and LQD Wifi to beef up its mobile device connectivity services.
Meanwhile, upstart entrants to challenge big wireless carriers are coming from all quarters. In 2015, Google launched its own wireless service, Project Fi, to compete with traditional carriers and Business Insider just covered another would-be wireless warrior, Wing .
Founded by the team that created the media site Elite Daily, Wing uses Sprint cell-phone towers to deliver its service.
David Arabov and co-founder Jonathan Francis didn’t take long after taking a $26 million payout for their previous business before getting right back into the startup fray. Unlike Visible, Wing isn’t a one-size-fits-all plan and it’s a much more traditional MVNO. The company has a range of plans starting at $17 for a flip-phone and increasing to an unlimited plan at $27 per month, according to the company’s website.
As carriers continue to face complaints over service fees, locked in contracts, and terrible options, new options are bound to emerge. In this instance, it looks like Verizon is trying to make itself into one of those carriers.
Tue, 08 May 2018 17:46:41 +0000
The many twists and turns of hardware
Earlier this year, Verizon quietly launched a new startup called Visible, offering unlimited data, minutes, and messaging services for the low, low price of $40. To subscribe for the service, users simply download the Visible app (currently available only on iOS) and register. Right now, subscriptions are invitation only and would-be subscribers have to get an […]
In a move seemingly designed specifically to frustrate law enforcement, Apple is adding a security feature to iOS that totally disables data being sent over USB if the device isn’t unlocked for a period of 7 days. This spoils many methods for exploiting that connection to coax information out of the device without the user’s consent.
The feature, called USB Restricted Mode, was first noticed by Elcomsoft researchers looking through the iOS 11.4 code. It disables USB data (it will still charge) if the phone is left locked for a week, re-enabling it if it’s unlocked normally.
Normally when an iPhone is plugged into another device, whether it’s the owner’s computer or another, there is an interchange of data where the phone and computer figure out if they recognize each other, if they’re authorized to send or back up data, and so on. This connection can be taken advantage of if the computer being connected to is attempting to break into the phone.
USB Restricted Mode is likely a response to the fact that iPhones seized by law enforcement or by malicious actors like thieves essentially will sit and wait patiently for this kind of software exploit to be applied to them. If an officer collects a phone during a case, but there are no known ways to force open the version of iOS it’s running, no problem: just stick it in evidence and wait until some security contractor sells the department a 0-day.
But what if, a week after that phone was taken, it shut down its own Lightning port’s ability to send or receive data or even recognize it’s connected to a computer? That would prevent the law from ever having the opportunity to attempt to break into the device unless they move with a quickness.
On the other hand, had its owner simply left the phone at home while on vacation, they could pick it up, put in their PIN and it’s like nothing ever happened. Like the very best security measures, adversaries will curse its name while users may not even know it exists. Really, this is one of those security features that seems obvious in retrospect and I would not be surprised if other phone makers copy it in short order.
Had this feature been in place a couple of years ago, it would have prevented that entire drama with the FBI. It milked its ongoing inability to access a target phone for months, reportedly concealing its own capabilities all the while, likely to make it a political issue and manipulate lawmakers into compelling Apple to help. That kind of grandstanding doesn’t work so well on a seven-day deadline.
It’s not a perfect solution, of course, but there are no perfect solutions in security. This may simply force all iPhone-related investigations to get high priority in courts, so that existing exploits can be applied legally within the seven-day limit (and, presumably, every few days thereafter). All the same, it should be a powerful barrier against the kind of eventual, potential access through undocumented exploits from third parties that seems to threaten even the latest models and OS versions.
Tue, 08 May 2018 07:30:56 +0000
Verizon stealthily launched a startup offering $40-per-month unlimited data, messaging and minutes
In a move seemingly designed specifically to frustrate law enforcement, Apple is adding a security feature to iOS that totally disables data being sent over USB if the device isn't unlocked for a period of 7 days. This spoils many methods for exploiting that connection to coax information out of the device without the user's consent.
Yariv Bash, the chief executive of drone delivery startup Flytrex, wants to make drone delivery “as easy as using your iPhone“.
Flytrex chief executive Yariv Bash
Meanwhile, Ran Krauss, the CEO of Airobotics, has helped his startup raise over $70 million for its mission to bring the autonomous revolution to the drone industry.
Both men are leading two Israeli companies at the forefront of innovation in drone technologies and both will be onstage with us in Tel Aviv for our inaugural event in “startup nation”.
Bash’s Flytrex claims that it was the first in the world to deploy a fully operational, regulatory approved drone delivery service. Before he began working on the drone business, he led the non-profit Lunar X-Prize entrant SpaceIL.
Airobotics chief executive Ran Krauss
Since leaving Ben Gurion University, Krauss has founded four companies including Airobotics. Bladeworx was a provider of aerial photography, imaging and processing for unmanned drones, while ParaZero looked at improving automated parachute deployment.
His first company, WiSec, provided information for opening Israel’s network of shelters in case of a bomb attack.
Early bird tickets are still on sale so don’t miss out on the chance to hear Krauss and Bash discuss what comes next for commercial drones.
TechCrunch will focus on these types of technologies and beyond, all of which are compounding to change the mobility industry as we know it. Reserve your seat on our website now.
Aside from signature TechCrunch programming, our inaugural conference in Tel Aviv will feature a robust exhibition area where the cream of the startup crop will demo their products. If you’re an early stage startup and you want to get in front of the best of Tel Aviv’s startup community, you should grab an exhibitor table for just 1700 ILS directly on our website.
Sat, 28 Apr 2018 19:00:19 +0000
iOS will soon disable USB connection if left locked for a week
Yariv Bash, the chief executive of drone delivery startup Flytrex, wants to make drone delivery “as easy as using your iPhone“. Meanwhile, Ran Krauss, the CEO of Airobotics, has helped his startup raise over $70 million for its mission to bring the autonomous revolution to the drone industry. Both men are leading two Israeli companies at […]
I entered the world of venture investing a dozen years ago. Little did I know that I was embarking on a journey to master the art of balancing contradictions: building up experience and pattern recognition to identify outliers, emphasizing what’s possible over what’s actual, generating comfort and consensus around a maverick founder with a non-consensus view, seeking the comfort of proof points in startups that are still very early, and most importantly, knowing that no single lesson learned can ever be applied directly in the future as every future scenario will certainly be different.
I was fortunate to start my venture career at a fund specializing in funding “Frontier” technology companies. Real-estate was white hot, banks were practically giving away money, and VCs were hungry to fund hot startups.
I quickly found myself in the same room as mainstream software investors looking for what’s coming after search, social, ad-tech, and enterprise software. Cleantech was very compelling: an opportunity to make money while saving our planet. Unfortunately for most, neither happened: they lost their money and did little to save the planet.
Fast forward a decade, after investors scored their wins in online lending, cloud storage, and on-demand, I find myself, again, in the same room with consumer and cloud investors venturing into “Frontier Tech”. The are dazzled by the founders’ presentations, and proud to have a role in funding turning the seemingly impossible to what’s possible through science. However, what lessons did they take away from the Cleantech cycle? What should Frontier Tech founders and investors be thinking about to avoid the same fate?
Coming from a predominantly academic background, I was excited to be part of the emerging trend of funding founders leveraging technology to make how we generate, move, and consume our natural resources more efficient and sustainable. I was thrilled to be digging into technologies underpinning new batteries, photovoltaics, wind turbines, superconductors, and power electronics.
To prove out their business models, these companies needed to build out factories, supply chains, and distribution channels. It wasn’t long until the core technology development became a small piece of an otherwise complex, expensive operation. The hot energy startup factory started to look and feel mysteriously like a magnetic hard drive factory down the street. Wait a minute, that’s because much of the equipment and staff did come from factories making components for PCs; but this time they were making products for generating, storing, and moving energy more renewably. So what went wrong?
Whether it was solar, wind, or batteries, the metrics were pretty similar: dollars per megawatt, mass per megawatt, or multiplying by time to get dollars and mass per unit energy, whether it was for the factories or the systems. Energy is pretty abundant, so the race was on to to produce and handle a commodity. Getting started as a real competitive business meant going BIG: as many of the metrics above depended on size and scale. Hundreds of millions of dollars of venture money only went so far.
The onus was on banks, private equity, engineering firms, and other entities that do not take technology risk, to take a leap of faith to take a product or factory from 1/10th scale to full-scale. The rest is history: most cleantech startups hit a funding valley of death. They need to raise big money while sitting at high valuations, without a kernel of a real business to attract investors that write those big checks to scale up businesses.
How are Frontier-Tech companies advantaged relative to their Cleantech counterparts? For starters, most aren’t producing a commodity…
Frontier Tech, like Cleantech, can be capital-intense. Whether its satellite communications, driverless cars, AI chips, or quantum computing; like Cleantech, there is relatively larger amounts of capital needed to take the startups the point where they can demonstrate the kernel of a competitive business. In other words, they typically need at least tens of millions of dollars to show they can sell something and profitably scale that business into a big market. Some money is dedicated to technology development, but, like cleantech a disproportionate amount will go into building up an operation to support the business. Here are a couple examples:
- Satellite communications: It takes a few million dollars to demonstrate a new radio and spacecraft. It takes tens of millions of dollars to produce the satellites, put them into orbit, build up ground station infrastructure, the software, systems, and operations needed to serve fickle, enterprise customers. All of this while facing competition from incumbent or in-house efforts. At what point will the economics of the business attract a conventional growth investor to fund expansion? If Cleantech taught us anything, it’s that the big money would prefer to watch from the sidelines for longer than you’d think.
- Quantum compute: Moore’s law is improving new computers at a breakneck pace, but the way they get implemented as pretty incremental. Basic compute architectures date back to the dawn of computing, and new devices can take decades to find their way into servers. For example, NAND Flash technology dates back to the 80s, found its way into devices in the 90s, and has been slowly penetrating datacenters in the past decade. Same goes for GPUs; even with all the hype around AI. Quantum compute companies can offer a service direct to users, i.e., homomorphic computing, advanced encryption/decryption, or molecular simulations. However, that would one of the rare occasions where novel computing machine company has offered computing as opposed to just selling machines. If I had to guess; building the quantum computers will be relatively quick; building the business will be expensive.
- Operating systems for driverless cars: Tremendous progress has been made since Google first presented its early work in 2011. Dozens of companies are building software that do some combination of perception, prediction, planning, mapping, and simulations. Every operator of autonomous cars, whether they are vertical like Zoox, or working in partnerships like GM/Cruise, have their own proprietary technology stacks. Unlike building an iPhone app, where the tools are abundant and the platform is well-understood, integrating a complete software module into an autonomous driving system may take up more effort than putting together the original code in the first place.
How are Frontier-Tech companies advantaged relative to their Cleantech counterparts? For starters, most aren’t producing a commodity: it’s easier to build a Frontier-tech company that doesn’t need to raise big dollars before demonstrating the kernel of an interesting business. On rare occasions, if the Frontier tech startup is a pioneer in its field, then it can be acquired for top dollar for the quality of its results and its team.
Recent examples are Salesforce’s acquisition of Metamind, GM’s acquisition of Cruise, and Intel’s acquisition of Nervana (a Lux investment). However, as more competing companies get to work on a new technology, the sense of urgency to acquire rapidly diminishes as the scarce, emerging technology quickly becomes widely available: there are now scores of AI, autonomous car, and AI chip companies out there. Furthermore, as technology becomes more complex, its cost of integration into a product (think about the driverless car example above) also skyrockets. Knowing this likely liability, acquirers will tend to pay less.
Creative founding teams will find ways to incrementally build interesting businesses as they are building up their technologies.
I encourage founders, and investors to emphasize the businesses they are building through their inventions. I encourage founders to rethink plans that require tens of millions of dollars before being able to sell products, while warning founders not to chase revenue for the sake of revenue.
I suggest they look closely at their plans and find creative ways to start penetrating, or building exciting markets, hence interesting businesses, with modest amounts of capital. I advise them to work with investors who, regardless of whether they saw how Cleantech unfolded, are convinced that their $$ can take the company to the point where it can engage customers with an interesting product with a sense for how it can scale into an attractive business.
Thu, 26 Apr 2018 13:13:15 +0000
Ran Krauss and Yariv Bash, leaders at two of Israel’s hottest drone startups, are joining us in Tel Aviv
Shahin Farshchi Contributor Shahin Farshchi is a partner at Lux Capital. More posts by this contributor Investing in frontier technology is (and isn’t) cleantech all over again The dos and don’ts of crafting frontier-tech companies I entered the world of venture investing a dozen years ago. Little did I know that I was embarking on […]
The headphone jack could still have a future in an iPhone. These leaked pics show an iPhone SE 2 with a glass back and headphone jack. Like the current iPhone SE, the design seems to be a take on the classic iPhone 5. I dig it.
The leak also states the upcoming device sports wireless charging, which puts it in line with the iPhone 8 and iPhone X.
Rumors have long stated that Apple was working on an updated iPhone SE. The original was released in March 16 and updated a year later with improved specs. With a 4-inch screen, the iPhone SE is the smallest iPhone Apple offers and also the cheapest.
WWDC in early June is the next major Apple event and could play host for the launch of this phone. Last month, around the iPhone SE’s birthday, Apple held a special event in a Chicago school to launch an education-focused iPad. It’s logical that Apple pushed the launch of this new iPhone SE to WWDC to give the iPad event breathing room.
While Apple cut the headphone jack from its flagship devices, the SE looks to retain the connection. It makes sense. The low-cost iPhone is key for Apple in growing markets across the world where the last two models helped grow iOS’s market penetration. This is Apple’s low-cost offering and thus suggests Apple doesn’t expect buyers to also spring for its wireless earbuds.
If released at WWDC or later in the year, the iPhone SE looks to serve consumers who enjoy smaller phones with headphone jacks. That’s me.
Thu, 19 Apr 2018 17:00:24 +0000
Investing in frontier technology is (and isn’t) cleantech all over again
The headphone jack could still have a future in an iPhone. These leaked pics show an iPhone SE 2 with a glass back and headphone jack. Like the current iPhone SE, the design seems to be a take on the classic iPhone 5. I dig it. The leak also states the upcoming device sports wireless […]
Meet Daisy. Apple’s latest recycling robot was revealed, not coincidentally, a few days before Earth Day, in a press announcement summing up the company’s recent environmental accomplishments. The new ‘bot is an update to Liam, the recycling robot the company announced back in 2016.
Daisy was developed in-house by Apple engineers, using some of Liam’s parts — a recycling of sorts. The industrial robot is able to disassemble nine different versions of the iPhone, sorting all of their reusable components in the process. In all, Daisy is capable of taking apart a full 200 iPhones in a given hour, proving a solid alternative to traditional methods that can destroy valuable components in the process. Any connection to HAL 3000, however, is surely coincidental.
Along with Daisy, Apple’s also using the occasion to announce GiveBack, an addition to its recycling program. For every device customers turn in or trade from now until April 30, the company will make a donation to Conservation International, a Virginia-based environmental nonprofit. Eligible devices will still qualify for an in-store or gift card credit.
For good measure, there’s also a new Apple Watch challenge coming for Earth Day, encouraging people to get outside on Sunday and enjoy the planet. The announcements come a week after Apple announced that it had achieved its goal of powering its global facilities with 100 percent renewable energy.
Mon, 16 Apr 2018 13:59:02 +0000
Leaked iPhone pics show glass back and headphone jack
Meet Daisy. Apple’s latest recycling robot was revealed, not coincidentally, a few days before Earth Day, in a press announcement summing up the company’s recent environmental accomplishments. The new ‘bot is an update to Liam, the recycling robot the company announced back in 2016. Daisy was developed in-house by Apple engineers, using some of Liam’s […]
This weekend, former Apple engineer and consumer gadget legend Tony Fadell penned an op-ed for Wired. In it, he argued that smartphone manufacturers need to do a better job of educating users about how often they use their mobile phones, and the resulting dangers that overuse might bring about.
Take healthy eating as an analogy: we have advice from scientists and nutritionists on how much protein and carbohydrate we should include in our diet; we have standardised scales to measure our weight against; and we have norms for how much we should exercise.
But when it comes to digital “nourishment”, we don’t know what a “vegetable”, a “protein” or a “fat” is. What is “overweight” or “underweight”? What does a healthy, moderate digital life look like? I think that manufacturers and app developers need to take on this responsibility, before government regulators decide to step in – as with nutritional labelling. Interestingly, we already have digital-detox clinics in the US. I have friends who have sent their children to them. But we need basic tools to help us before it comes to that.
Plenty of studies have shown that too much screen time and internet/smartphone addiction can be damaging to our health, both physically and psychologically. And while there are other players involved in our growing dependence on our phones (yes, I’m talking to you, Facebook), the folks who actually build those screens have ample opportunity to make users more aware of their usage.
In his article, Fadell brings up ways that companies like Apple could build out features for this:
You should be able to see exactly how you spend your time and, if you wish, moderate your behaviour accordingly. We need a “scale” for our digital weight, like we have for our physical weight. Our digital consumption data could look like a calendar with our historical activity. It should be itemised like a credit-card bill, so people can easily see how much time they spend each day on email, for example, or scrolling through posts. Imagine it’s like a health app which tracks metrics such as step count, heart rate and sleep quality.
With this usage information, people could then set their own targets – like they might have a goal for steps to walk each day. Apple could also let users set their device to a “listen-only” or “read-only” mode, without having to crawl through a settings menu, so that you can enjoy reading an e-book without a constant buzz of notifications.
9to5Mac brought up a Bloomberg piece from February that not only shows Apple’s capability to build out this feature, but their willingness to do so for young people, with a reported new feature that would let parents see how much time their kids are staring at their screens.
Unlike Facebook, which has tweaked its algorithm to prioritize meaningful connection over time spent on the platform, Apple’s revenue is not dependent on how much you use your phone. So, maybe we’ll see a digital health feature added to Apple products in the future.
Mon, 09 Apr 2018 13:16:11 +0000
Apple has a new iPhone recycling robot named ‘Daisy’
This weekend, former Apple engineer and consumer gadget legend Tony Fadell penned an op-ed for Wired. In it, he argued that smartphone manufacturers need to do a better job of educating users about how often they use their mobile phones, and the resulting dangers that overuse might bring about. Take healthy eating as an analogy: […]
Apple is doing it again. The company just unveiled a new version of the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus. It has a bright red enclosure and a black front. A portion of Apple’s proceeds will fund HIV/AIDS grants from the Global Fund.
Other than that, it’s an iPhone 8. You’ll get the exact same features and components as in other iPhone 8 models. The iPhone 8 is also available in gold, silver and (“space”) gray. Alas, there’s still no rose gold option.
When Apple unveiled the red version of the iPhone 7, many people didn’t understand why Apple put white bezels at the front of the device. Red and black seem like a good match. That’s why some people even bought screen protectors with black borders to fix this.
This year, Apple is switching to black. It’s interesting to see that Apple waits around 6 months before launching red versions of its iPhones. It could be a way to foster sales in the middle of a product cycle.
The red iPhone 8 is going to start at $699 with 64GB just like regular iPhone 8 models. There will be 256GB versions too. Pre-orders start tomorrow and you’ll be able to buy it in Apple stores on Friday.
For iPhone X users, Apple is launching a dark red leather folio. Apple is also sharing some numbers about its partnership with (PRODUCT)RED. Since 2006, Apple has donated $160 million to the Global Fund through limited edition iPods, iPhones and accessories.
Thu, 05 Apr 2018 15:57:40 +0000
Tony Fadell is worried about smartphone addiction
Apple is doing it again. The company just unveiled a new version of the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus. It has a bright red enclosure and a black front. A portion of Apple’s proceeds will fund HIV/AIDS grants from the Global Fund. Other than that, it’s an iPhone 8. You’ll get the exact same […]
A year ago, I visited the Apple campus in Cupertino to figure out where the hell the new Mac Pro was. I joined a round-table discussion with Apple SVPs and a handful of reporters to get the skinny on what was taking so long.
The answer, it turns out, was that Apple had decided to start completely over with the Mac Pro, introduce completely new pro products like the iMac Pro and refresh the entire MacBook Pro lineup. The reasoning given at the time on the Mac Pro was basically that Apple had painted itself into an architecture corner by being aggressively original on the design of the bullet/turbine/trash-can shaped casing and internal components of the current Mac Pro. There was nothing to be done but start over.
The secondary objective to that visit was to reassure pro customers who had not had news of updates in some time that Apple was listening, was working to deliver products for them and generally still cared.
Now, one year later, I was invited back to Apple to talk to the people most responsible for shepherding the renewed pro product strategy. John Ternus, vice president of Hardware Engineering, Tom Boger, senior director of Mac Hardware Product Marketing, Jud Coplan, director of Video Apps Product Marketing and Xander Soren, director of Music Apps Product Marketing.
The interviews and demos took place over several hours, highlighting the way that Apple is approaching upgradability, development of its pro apps and, most interestingly, how it has changed its process to help it more fully grok how professionals actually use its products.
After an initial recap in what they’d done over the past year, including MacBooks and the iMac Pro, I was given the day’s first piece of news: the long-awaited Mac Pro update will not arrive before 2019.
When we got the news that it wouldn’t arrive in 2017, there was some implicit messaging that 2018 was not guaranteed either (we were told “not this year,” but not “definitely next year”). This time around, Boger was succinct: the promised Mac Pro will be a 2019 product.
“We want to be transparent and communicate openly with our pro community, so we want them to know that the Mac Pro is a 2019 product. It’s not something for this year.” In addition to transparency for pro customers, there’s also a larger fiscal reason behind it.
“We know that there’s a lot of customers today that are making purchase decisions on the iMac Pro and whether or not they should wait for the Mac Pro,” says Boger.
This is why Apple wants to be as explicit as possible now, so that if institutional buyers or other large customers are waiting to spend budget on, say iMac Pros or other machines, they should pull the trigger without worry that a Mac Pro might appear late in the purchasing year.
But there have been some other very interesting things going on at Apple since our last Mac Pro update, and they’re shaping the future of all of its pro products.
Pro Workflow Team
In that discussion a year ago, Apple SVP Phil Schiller acknowledged that pro customers, including developers, were hungry for evidence that Apple was paying attention to their needs.
“We recognize that they want to hear more from us. And so we want to communicate better with them. We want them to understand the importance they have for us, we want them to understand that we’re investing in new Macs — not only new MacBook Pros and iMacs but Mac Pros for them, we want them to know we are going to work on a display for a modular system,” Schiller said.
Now, it’s a year later and Apple has created a team inside the building that houses its pro products group. It’s called the Pro Workflow Team, and they haven’t talked about it publicly before today. The group is under John Ternus and works closely with the engineering organization. The bays that I’m taken to later to chat about Final Cut Pro, for instance, are a few doors away from the engineers tasked with making it run great on Apple hardware.
“We said in the meeting last year that the pro community isn’t one thing,” says Ternus. “It’s very diverse. There’s many different types of pros and obviously they go really deep into the hardware and software and are pushing everything to its limit. So one thing you have to do is we need to be engaging with the customers to really understand their needs. Because we want to provide complete pro solutions, not just deliver big hardware, which we’re doing and we did it with iMac Pro. But look at everything holistically.”
To do that, Ternus says, they want their architects sitting with real customers to understand their actual flow and to see what they’re doing in real time. The challenge with that, unfortunately, is that though customers are typically very responsive when Apple comes calling, it’s not always easy to get what they want because they may be using proprietary content. John Powell, for instance, is a long-time logic user and he’s doing the new Star Wars Han Solo standalone flick. As you can imagine, taking those unreleased and highly secret compositions to Apple to play with on their machines can be a sticking point.
So Apple decided to go a step further and just begin hiring these creatives directly into Apple. Some of them on a contract basis but many full-time, as well. These are award-winning artists and technicians that are brought in to shoot real projects (I saw a bunch of them walking by in Apple Park toting kit for an on-premise outdoor shoot). They then put the hardware and software through their paces and point out sticking points that could cause frustration and friction among pro users.
Ternus says that they wanted to start focused, then grow the team and disciplines over time.
“We’ve been focusing on visual effects and video editing and 3D animation and music production, as well,” says Ternus. “And we’ve brought in some pretty incredible talent, really masters of their craft. And so they’re now sitting and building out workflows internally with real content and really looking for what are the bottlenecks. What are the pain points. How can we improve things. And then we take this information where we find it and we go into our architecture team and our performance architects and really drill down and figure out where is the bottleneck. Is it the OS, is it in the drivers, is it in the application, is it in the silicon, and then run it to ground to get it fixed.”
This information has allowed Apple to make machines like the iMac Pro more performant, but also to enable creative users to stay in their flow and keep them moving forward. From personal experience, I can say that the times I felt most frustrated as a professional photographer using a Mac are when I had to wait. When you’re taken out of your rhythm, it creates layers of frustration that can add up to you wanting to flee the platform.
“These aren’t necessarily always fundamental performance issues,” notes Ternus. “These aren’t things that you’d find in a benchmark or an automated test flow. You know we have examples where we find something… like it’s a window that a 3D animator uses frequently to make some fine tweaks. The windows are not super graphically intensive in terms of processing and stewing but we have found an issue where that window was taking like 6 to 10 seconds to open and they’re doing that 100 times a day, right? Like ‘I can’t work on a machine like this, it’s too slow,’ so we dig in and we figure out what it was.
“In that case we found something in the graphics driver was not right, and once you know where to look and you fix it, it completely changes the kind of live-on-ability for that system — the productivity for that user completely changed.”
This kind of workflow analysis has enabled Apple to find and fix problems that won’t be solved by throwing more hardware at them. An in-depth analysis of how workflow is affected by the whole stack of hardware and software has, Ternus says, helped them to really understand the pain points. He stresses that it’s not just Apple’s applications that they’re testing and working to help make better. Third-party relationships on this are very important to them and the workflow team is helping to fix their problems faster too.
“We’ve gone from just, you know, engineering Macs and software to actually engineering a workflow and really understanding from soup to nuts, every single stage of the process, where those bottlenecks are, where we can optimize that,” says Boger. “And to JT’s point, because we build the hardware, the firmware, the operating system, the software, and have these close relationships with third parties, we can attack the entire stack and we can really ferret out where we are — we can optimize for performance.”
But the Pro Workflow Team isn’t just there to fix current bugs. It’s also empowered to make improvements on future products, like the Mac Pro.
“What’s really powerful through this exercise is that it’s helping us to kind of map out where we’re headed,” says Ternus. “Because we’re really digging in these workflows and figuring out how are the ways we can improve these in the future, and then that can help shape our future plans, as well.”
I ask, specifically, whether this means that the Mac Pro will be shaped by this team’s work.
“So it’s definitely influencing the architecture of where we’re going, what we’re planning for,” says Tom Boger. “We’re getting a much deeper understanding of our pro customers and their workflows and really understanding not only where the state of the art is today but where the state of the art is going, and all of that is really informing the work that we’re doing on the Mac Pro and we’re working really hard on it.”
I’m also curious about whether the process over the last year has changed the timeline on the Mac Pro. To be blunt: Is this the original story arc of the Mac Pro’s development, or are we looking at a roadmap that has a fundamentally different timeline than one year ago.
“I don’t think that the timeline has fundamentally changed,” says Ternus. “I think this is very much a situation where we want to measure twice and cut once, and we want to make sure we’re building a really well thought-out platform for what our pro customers are doing today. But also with an eye towards what they’re going to be doing in the future, as well. And so to do that right, that’s what we’re focusing on.”
While there are no further details on the exact shape that the Mac Pro will take, Boger says they are still very much in the modular mindset.
“As we said a year ago, working on modular was inherently a modular system and in looking at our customers and their workflows obviously that’s a real need for our customers and that’s the direction we’re going,” says Boger.
“Well, it’s a need for some of them,” adds Ternus. “I want to be clear that the work that we’re doing as a part of the workflow team is across everything. It’s super relevant for MacBook Pros, it’s super relevant for iMacs and iMac Pros and in the end I think it helps us in dialogue with customers to figure out what are the right systems for you. There is absolutely a need in certain places for modularity. But it’s also really clear that the iMac form factor or the MacBook Pros can be exceptionally good tools.”
What shape that modularity takes is another matter entirely, of course. I know some people have been pining for the days of internal expansion card configurations with standardized hardware — and maybe that is the way that this will go. But on Tuesday I also got a tour of the editing suites where Mac hardware and software is pushed to the limits, including extensive use of eGPU support, and a different vision emerges.
First, we visit the room where they record new instruments for Logic and Garage Band and then on to an edit bay used by the Pro Workflow Team to put Final Cut Pro through its paces.
Throughout, the idea of modularity was omnipresent. An iMac Pro with two iPad Pros hooked up to it allows for direct control, shortcuts and live access to the Logic manual, all while you’re mixing a song on the main device: an eGPU with a MacBook Pro running a live edit of an 8K stream with color grading and effects applied.
External GPUs plugged into MacBook Pros, in my opinion, is going to be an enormous shift in the way that people think about portables. I got a live demo of a graphics stress test running on a MacBook Pro natively, then on one and then two external GPUs. The switching is nearly seamless, depending on the age of the app, and some modern rendering software can use all three in concert. It’s one of those things that works exactly the way you think it would, and it leans heavily on Thunderbolt 3.
Whether that informs the shape of individual machines in Apple’s future lineup I don’t know, but it’s certainly the way Apple is looking at the pro ecosystem. It’s not just MacBook Pro, iMac Pro, Mac Pro — it’s the enabling force of eGPUs, it’s iPad Pros as input devices, purpose-built extensions and portable workstations. And it’s even iPhone, as Logic and Final Cut Pro are both completely compatible with GarageBand and iMovie. You can start a project and continue it on iOS while traveling, then put it right back into your pro machine when you’re back and continue riffing. It’s Apple leaning into its advantages of having control of this stuff to the bolts.
With pros, Apple has three options. It can maintain the same amount of locked-down, tight-lipped comms it applies to its consumer products, where it still feels the reveal is everything.
It can utilize a “whisper campaign” of on-background commentary, quiet liaisons with the developer and professional communities that filter outward in order to quell rumors or allay fears.
Or, it can choose to engage in a meaningful way with pros on their actual workflows and ingest their pain points as actionable intel that helps them head off issues before they become headlines or Medium posts or viral Twitter threads. That’s what the Pro Workflow Team is all about.
One allegory I see here is when companies hire people to help fix structural problems or improve diversity, but then do not empower them to effect change.
In this case it’s heartening to see that there is a straight line between the pros that Apple has hired, the conversations it’s having with contractors who come in to contribute and proactive action taken on products. The work of the Pro Workflow Team is directly affecting the development of the new Mac Pro. And the iMac Pro, Final Cut Pro and macOS. They sit doors away from the engineering team running through real footage and mixing real tracks to figure out what’s working and what’s not. And they use a mixture of software, not just Apple’s first-party stuff.
This also includes liaising with external mainstays like Adobe to figure out what their major pain points are and figuring out ways to fix them.
This isn’t the expected culture of covert insularity in which Apple waits for the complaints to hit critical mass or someone to take it up as a cause before it’s addressed. Frankly, a developer shouldn’t have to complain to someone like me to get a company like Apple to change its mind. They should have their own representatives.
And Apple can still have its reveal. All we currently know about the Mac Pro is that it’s modular and that it’s being shaped by the feedback from those pros in-house, as well as external conversations with developers and professional users.
My recent conversations with Apple (including the ones cited in this piece, but not those alone) lead me to believe that they know they kept going on a path with pro customers that they felt was working long after it had, in fact, begun to erode. I’m not exactly sure what the timeline was, but given the fact that the Mac Pro won’t arrive until 2019, I’m guessing just before the round-table discussion a year ago.
As a side note, by the way, I wouldn’t expect to see any more info about Mac Pro at WWDC in June. Maybe Apple will surprise on that front, but I think for anything further about Mac Pro we’re going to have to wait for next year.
In an interesting confluence of themes, I also believe that they had the same revelation recently in the education market. Apple’s second go-round at capturing a big chunk of that market ran aground not on the quality of its hardware or onboard software, but on the tools that were used to deploy and manage that hardware in under-resourced school districts that had already begun to commit to web systems. Apple is starting anew there, as it has begun doing in the pro market over the last year with refreshed hardware and a new approach to addressing performance and operation issues. An interesting note, too, that when it wanted to figure out how to turn the education market around what did it do? Hired teachers and educators to tell them how it works in the real world.
As depressing as it has been to see professionals believe that Apple was getting ready to give them up, I find this an interesting and exciting thing to watch. It is very, very hard for a company like Apple — whose reputation is built on myth building — to admit that it was mistaken. And it’s even harder to then change course with billions of dollars’ worth of revenue at stake.
I’m sure it gives a bunch of people at Apple heartburn, but it’s fascinating for me because I don’t have to pull it off.
Wed, 04 Apr 2018 13:20:15 +0000
Apple releases a red iPhone 8
A year ago, I visited the Apple campus in Cupertino to figure out where the hell the new Mac Pro was. I joined a round-table discussion with Apple SVPs and a handful of reporters to get the skinny on what was taking so long. The answer, it turns out, was that Apple had decided to […]
According to a new report from Bloomberg, Apple could be working on new gestures for its iPhones. In addition to normal touch gestures, iOS could detect when you hover your finger over the screen to trigger some actions.
When Steve Jobs introduced the first iPhone, he spent quite a bit of time demonstrating the multitouch interface. You could touch the screen with your finger without applying any pressure, which was already something new back then. You could also swipe your finger on the screen, use multiple fingers in order to pinch to zoom or rotate a photo.
Starting with the iPhone 6S, Apple also introduced another gesture with 3D Touch. By applying some pressure on the screen, you can preview a photo or an email, open a shortcut menu and more. The iPhone detects multiple levels of pressure so that you can first preview and then open a document.
According to Bloomberg, upcoming iPhones could also detect touchless gestures right above the display. It’s unclear how Apple plans to use those new gestures when it comes to software implementation. This feature won’t be ready for this year’s new iPhones.
Bloomberg also says that Apple has been experimenting with curved iPhones. But they won’t look like the Samsung Galaxy S9 as Apple is thinking about a banana-shaped iPhone from top to bottom.
Finally, Bloomberg confirms KGI Securities’ report about this year’s iPhone lineup. Apple is working on three new devices — an updated iPhone X, a new iPhone that looks like an iPhone X but is cheaper thanks to an LCD display, and a larger version of the updated iPhone X.
The larger version could feature a 6.5-inch OLED display. This number seems insane given that the first iPhone only had a 3.5-inch screen. But people spend so much time on their phone that there should be a market for this huge phone.
Wed, 21 Mar 2018 19:23:45 +0000
Apple’s 2019 Mac Pro will be shaped by workflows
According to a new report from Bloomberg, Apple could be working on new gestures for its iPhones. In addition to normal touch gestures, iOS could detect when you hover your finger over the screen to trigger some actions. When Steve Jobs introduced the first iPhone, he spent quite a bit of time demonstrating the multitouch […]
It’s moved beyond tradition and into the realm of meme that Apple manages to dominate the news cycle around major industry events, all while not actually participating in said events. CES rolls around and every story is about HomeKit or its competitors; another tech giant has a conference and the news is that Apple updated some random subsystem of its ever-larger ecosystem of devices and software .
This is, undoubtedly, planned by Apple in many instances. And why not? Why shouldn’t it own the cycle when it can — it’s only strategically sound.
This week, the 2018 Game Developers Conference is going on and there’s a bunch of news coverage about various aspects of the show. There are all of the pre-written embargo bits about big titles and high-profile indies, there are the trend pieces and, of course, there’s the traditional ennui-laden “who is this event even for” post that accompanies any industry event that achieves critical mass.
But the absolute biggest story of the event wasn’t even at the event. It was the launch of Fortnite and, shortly thereafter, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds on mobile devices. Specifically, both were launched on iOS, and PUBG hit Android simultaneously.
The launch of Fortnite, especially, resonates across the larger gaming spectrum in several unique ways. It’s the full and complete game as present on consoles, it’s iOS-first and it supports cross-platform play with console and PC players.
This has, essentially, never happened before. There have been stabs at one or more of those conditions on experimental levels, but it really marks a watershed in the games industry that could serve to change the psychology around the platform discussion in major ways.
For one, though the shape of GDC has changed over the years as it relates to mobile gaming, it’s only recently that the conference has become dominated by indie titles that are mobile centric. The big players and triple-A console titles still take up a lot of air, but the long tail is very long and mobile is not synonymous with “casual gamers” as it once was.
“I remember the GDC before we launched Monument Valley,” says Dan Gray of Monument Valley 2 studio ustwo. “We were fortunate enough that Unity offered us a place on their stand. Nobody had heard of us or our game and we were begging journalists to come say hello, it’s crazy how things have changed in four years. We’ve now got three speakers at the conference this year, people stop you in the street (within a two-block radius) and we’re asked to be part of interviews like this about the future of mobile.”
Zach Gage, the creator of SpellTower, and my wife’s favorite game of all time, Flipflop Solitaire, says that things feel like they have calmed down a bit. “It seems like that might be boring, but actually I think it’s quite exciting, because a consequence of it is that playing games has become just a normal thing that everyone does… which frankly, is wild. Games have never had the cultural reach that they do now, and it’s largely because of the App Store and these magical devices that are in everyone’s pockets.”
Alto’s Odyssey is the followup to Snowman’s 2015 endless boarder Alto’s Adventure. If you look at these two titles, three years apart, you can see the encapsulation of the growth and maturity of gaming on iOS. The original game was fun, but the newer title is beyond fun and into a realm where you can see the form being elevated into art. And it’s happening blazingly fast.
“There’s a real and continually growing sense that mobile is a platform to launch compelling, artful experiences,” says Snowman’s Ryan Cash. “This has always been the sentiment among the really amazing community of developers we’ve been lucky enough to meet. What’s most exciting to me, now, though, is hearing this acknowledged by representatives of major console platforms. Having conversations with people about their favorite games from the past year, and seeing that many of them are titles tailor-made for mobile platforms, is really gratifying. I definitely don’t want to paint the picture that mobile gaming has ever been some sort of pariah, but there’s a definite sense that more people are realizing how unique an experience it is to play games on these deeply personal devices.”
Mobile gaming as a whole has fought since the beginning against the depiction that it was for wasting time only, not making “true art,” which was reserved for consoles or dedicated gaming platforms. Aside from the “casual” versus “hardcore” debate, which is more about mechanics, there was a general stigma that mobile gaming was a sidecar bet to the main functions of these devices, and that their depth would always reflect that. But the narratives and themes being tackled on the platform beyond just clever mechanics are really incredible.
Playing Monument Valley 2 together with my daughter really just blew my doors off, and I think it changed a lot of people’s minds in this regard. The interplay between the characters and environment and a surprisingly emotional undercurrent for a puzzle game made it a breakout that was also a breakthrough of sorts.
“There’s so many things about games that are so awesome that the average person on the street doesn’t even know about,” says Gray. “As small developers right now we have the chance to make somebody feel a range of emotions about a video game for the first time, it’s not often you’re in the right place at the right time for this and to do it with the most personal device that sits in your pocket is the perfect opportunity.”
The fact that so many of the highest-profile titles are launching on iOS first is a constant source of consternation for Android users, but it’s largely a function of addressable audience.
I spoke to Apple VP Greg Joswiak about Apple’s place in the industry. “Gaming has always been one of the most popular categories on the App Store,” he says. A recent relaunch of the App Store put gaming into its own section and introduced a Today tab that tells stories about the games and about their developers.
That redesign, he says, has been effective. “Traffic to the App Store is up significantly, and with higher traffic, of course, comes higher sales.”
“One thing I think smaller developers appreciate from this is the ability to show the people behind the games,” says ustwo’s Gray about the new gaming and Today sections in the App Store. “Previously customers would just see an icon and assume a corporation of 200 made the game, but now it’s great we can show this really is a labor of love for a small group of people who’re trying to make something special. Hopefully this leads to players seeing the value in paying up front for games in the future once they can see the craft that goes into something.”
Snowman’s Cash agrees. “It’s often hard to communicate the why behind the games you’re making — not just what your game is and does, but how much went into making it, and what it could mean to your players. The stories that now sit on the Today tab are a really exciting way to do this; as an example, when Alto’s Odyssey released for pre-order, we saw a really positive player response to the discussion of the game’s development. I think the variety that the new App Store encourages as well, through rotational stories and regularly refreshed sections, infuses a sense of variety that’s great for both players and developers. There’s a real sense I’m hearing that this setup is equipped to help apps and games surface, and stayed surfaced, in a longer term and more sustainable way.”
In addition, there are some technical advantages that keep Apple ahead of Android in this arena. Plenty of Android devices are very performant and capable in individual ways, but Apple has a deep holistic grasp of its hardware that allows it to push platform advantages in introducing new frameworks like ARKit. Google’s efforts in the area with ARCore are just getting started with the first batch of 1.0 apps coming online now, but Google will always be hamstrung by the platform fragmentation that forces developers to target a huge array of possible software and hardware limitations that their apps and games will run up against.
This makes shipping technically ambitious projects like Fortnite on Android as well as iOS a daunting task. “There’s a very wide range of Android devices that we want to support,” Epic Games’ Nick Chester told Forbes. “We want to make sure Android players have a great experience, so we’re taking more time to get it right.“
That wide range of devices includes an insane differential in GPU capability, processing power, Android version and update status.
“We bring a very homogenous customer base to developers where 90 percent of [devices] are on the current versions of iOS,” says Joswiak. Apple’s customers embrace those changes and updates quickly, he says, and this allows developers to target new features and the full capabilities of the devices more quickly.
Ryan Cash sees these launches on iOS of “full games” as they exist elsewhere as a touchstone of sorts that could legitimize the idea of mobile as a parity platform.
“We have a few die-hard Fortnite players on the team, and the mobile version has them extremely excited,” says Cash. “I think more than the completeness of these games (which is in and of itself a technical feat worth celebrating!), things like Epic’s dedication to cross-platform play are massive. Creating these linked ecosystems where players who prefer gaming on their iPhones can enjoy huge cultural touchstone titles like Fortnite alongside console players is massive. That brings us one step closer to an industry attitude which focuses more on accessibility, and less on siloing off experiences and separating them into tiers of perceived quality.”
“I think what is happening is people are starting to recognize that iOS devices are everywhere, and they are the primary computers of many people,” says Zach Gage. “When people watch a game on Twitch, they take their iPhone out of their pocket and download it. Not because they want to know if there’s a mobile version, but because they just want the game. It’s natural to assume that these games available for a computer or a PlayStation, and it’s now natural to assume that it would be available for your phone.”
Ustwo’s Gray says that it’s great that the big games are transitioning, but also cautions that there needs to be a sustainable environment for mid-priced games on iOS that specifically use the new capabilities of these devices.
“It’s great that such huge games are transitioning this way, but for me I’d really like to see more $30+ titles designed and developed specifically for iPhone and iPad as new IP, really taking advantage of how these devices are used,” he says. “It’s definitely going to benefit the App Store as a whole, but It does need to be acknowledged, however, that the way players interact with console/PC platforms and mobile are inherently different and should be designed accordingly. Session lengths and the interaction vocabulary of players are two of the main things to consider, but if a game manages to somehow satisfy the benefits of all those platforms then great, but I think it’s hard.”
Apple may not be an official sponsor of GDC, but it is hosting two sessions at the show, including an introduction to Metal 2, its rendering pipeline, and ARKit, its hope for the future of gaming on mobile. This presence is exciting for a number of reasons, as it shows a greater willingness by Apple to engage the community that has grown around its platforms, but also that the industry is becoming truly integrated, with mobile taking its rightful place alongside console and portable gaming as a viable target for the industry’s most capable and interesting talent.
“They’re bringing the current generation of console games to iOS,” Joswiak says, of launches like Fortnite and PUBG, and notes that he believes we’re at a tipping point when it comes to mobile gaming, because mobile platforms like the iPhone and iOS offer completely unique combinations of hardware and software features that are iterated on quickly.
“Every year we are able to amp up the tech that we bring to developers,” he says, comparing it to the 4-5 year cycle in console gaming hardware. “Before the industry knew it, we were blowing people away [with the tech]. The full gameplay of these titles has woken a lot of people up.”
Tue, 20 Mar 2018 15:00:23 +0000
iOS could detect when you hover your finger over the screen
It’s moved beyond tradition and into the realm of meme that Apple manages to dominate the news cycle around major industry events, all while not actually participating in said events. CES rolls around and every story is about HomeKit or its competitors; another tech giant has a conference and the news is that Apple updated […]
One of the better 360-degree cameras out there just got a lot better: The Insta360 One, a standalone 4K 360 camera with a built-in iPhone or Android hardware connector now supports FlowState onboard stabilization. This provides much better automatic stabilization than the Insta360 One supported at launch, and enables a bunch of new editing and formatting features that really improve the value proposition of the $299 gadget.
As you can see above, FlowState allows you to do a lot more with your footage after the fact, including creating smooth pans across footage for exporting to more standard vertical and wide-angle formats (since it’s very rare that people actually watch all that much true 360-degree footage). The changes make Insta360’s device a lot more like the Rylo camera in use, and more suitable for action sports and other adventure-friendly uses.
Users can now add transition points in the mobile app to create dynamic camera angle changes, and also set object or person active tracking. There’s a hyper lapse feature that speeds up time for pulling more action out of even leisurely bike rides, and you can also take over manually to basically direct the experience as if you were shooting it in real time with a traditional video camera, including doing things like zooming.
This update will be pushed out via the updated Insta360 app, and will require a firmware update for existing cameras. It’s a big upgrade for existing users, and a compelling reason to pick this up if you’re looking for something that’s easy to use, compatible with a range of mounts (it has a standard tripod screw mount in its base) and relatively affordable (cheaper than a GoPro Hero 6).
Thu, 08 Mar 2018 20:51:36 +0000
Mobile gaming is having a moment, and Apple has the reins
One of the better 360-degree cameras out there just got a lot better: The Insta360 One, a standalone 4K 360 camera with a built-in iPhone or Android hardware connector now supports FlowState onboard stabilization. This provides much better automatic stabilization than the Insta360 One supported at launch, and enables a bunch of new editing and […]
Samsung’s new Galaxy S9 may not quite live up to the iPhone X when it comes to Samsung’s implementation of a Face ID-style system or its odd take on AR emoji. But that’s not going to matter much to Samsung device owners — not only because the S9 is a good smartphone overall — but because Android users just aren’t switching to iPhone, at least not like they used to. In fact, Android users have higher loyalty than iOS users do, according to a new report today from Consumer Intelligence Research Partners (CIRP).
The research firm found that Android brand loyalty has been remaining steadily high since early 2016, and remains at the highest levels ever seen.
Today, Android has a 91 percent loyalty rate, compared with 86 percent for iOS, measured as the percentage of U.S. customers who stayed with their operating system when they upgraded their phone in 2017.
From January 2016 through December 2017, Android loyalty ranged from 89 to 91 percent (ending at 91 percent), while iOS loyalty was several percentage points lower, ranging from 85 to 88 percent.
Explains Mike Levin, partner and co-founder of CIRP, users have pretty much settled on their brand of choice at this point.
“With only two mobile operating systems at this point, it appears users now pick one, learn it, invest in apps and storage, and stick with it. Now, Apple and Google need to figure out how to
sell products and services to these loyal customer bases,” he said.
That’s also why both companies have increasingly become focused on services, as they try to extract larger revenues from their respective user bases. For Apple, that’s been a win, financially speaking — it saw record revenue from services in November, suggesting growth in things like Apple Music, Apple Pay, iCloud, AppleCare and App Store.
For Android users, the higher brand loyalty could be chalked up to their ability to switch to different styles of new phones, without having to leave Android — thanks to its distribution across a variety of manufacturers’ handsets. That gives users the freedom to try out new experiences, without giving up their investments in purchased apps, or the time they’ve spent learning their way around Android, for that matter.
It’s worth noting that Android hasn’t always led in user loyalty as it does now. CIRP has been tracking these metrics for years, and things used to be the other way around.
In 2013, for example, iPhone owners were found to be more loyal than Android users. But that shifted the following year, and Android has risen ever since. (By the way, if you click through to read the comments on that linked AllThingsD article from 2013, it’s a quite a trip. Remember when people cared so much about their choice of smartphone it led to commenting wars? Ah, the good ol’ days.)
All that being said, the rate of switching is different from the total number of people switching, the firm also pointed out. And looking at the numbers from that perspective changes things.
“We know Android has a larger base of users than iOS, and because of that larger base, the
absolute number of users that switch to iOS from Android is as large or larger than the
absolute number of users that switch to Android from iOS,” said Levin.”Looking at absolute number of users in this way tends to support claims that iOS gains more former Android users,
than Android does former iOS users.”
Tue, 06 Mar 2018 22:27:33 +0000
Insta360 One gets a massive upgrade with FlowState stabilization
Samsung's new Galaxy S9 may not quite live up to the iPhone X when it comes to Samsung's implementation of a Face ID-style system or its odd take on AR emoji. But that's not going to matter much to Samsung device owners -- not only because the S9 is a good smartphone overall, but because Android users just aren't switching to iPhone anymore.
Whether you’re a developer who’s working on mobile apps, or just someone enjoying the millions of apps available for your phone, today is a very special day.
It’s the 10-year anniversary of the original iPhone SDK. I don’t think it’s an understatement to say that this release changed a lot of people’s lives. I know it changed mine and had a fundamental impact on this company’s business. So let’s take a moment and look back on what happened a decade ago.
There are a lot of links in this piece, many of which were difficult to resurrect on today’s web. Make sure you take the time to explore! I’ve also tried to avoid technical jargon, so even if you don’t know your Swift from a hole in the ground, you can still follow along.
Touching the Future
For many of us, holding that first iPhone at the end of June 2007 was a glimpse of the future. We all wanted to know what was inside the glass and metal sitting in our pockets.
Apple had told us what the device could do but said very little about how it was done. We didn’t know anything about the processor or its speed, how much memory was available, or how you built apps. In many ways, this new device was a black, and silver, box.
As developers, we wanted to understand this device’s capabilities. We wanted to understand how our software design was about to change. We were curious and there was much to learn.
And learn we did. We called it Jailbreaking.
Breaking out of jail
The first iPhone app created outside of Apple.
Discoveries happened quickly. It took just a matter of weeks before the filesystem was exposed. A couple of months later, the entire native app experience was unlocked. Development toolchains were available and folks were writing installers for native apps.
This rapid progress was made possible thanks to the tools used to build the original iPhone. Apple relied on the same infrastructure as Mac OS. They chose a familiar environment to expedite their own development, but that same familiarity allowed those of us outside Cupertino to figure things out quickly.
For example, much of the software on the iPhone was created using Objective-C. Mac developers had long used a tool called
class-dump to show the various pieces of an app and learn how things communicated with each other. After getting access to the first iPhone’s apps and frameworks, this software gave great insight into what Apple had written.
The most important piece was a new thing called
UIKit. It contained all the user interface components, like buttons and table views. Since they were similar to the ones we’d used on the Mac, it took little effort to make items for taps and scrolling.
Another important piece of the puzzle was the operating system: Unix. This choice by Apple meant that a lot of open source software was immediately available on our iPhones. We could use it to build our apps, then copy them over to the phone, and, most likely, view the content of LatestCrash.plist in /var/logs/CrashReporter.
I distinctly remember the first time I got a shell prompt on my iPhone and used
uname to see the system information. I was home.
Early app development
I was not alone. Thousands of other developers were finding that the inside of this new device was just as magical as the outside. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to hear that there was an explosion of iPhone app development.
One of the pivotal moments for the burgeoning community came at an independent developer conference called C4. Held in August 2007, many of the attendees had the new device and were discovering its capabilities. Most of us were also experienced Mac developers. We had just been to WWDC and heard Apple’s pitch for a “sweet solution”.
Amid this perfect storm, there was an “Iron Coder” competition for the “iPhone API”. The conference organizer, Jonathan “Wolf” Rentzsch, asked us to “be creative”. We were.
On the other hand, the native apps blew us away. The winner of the contest was a video conferencing app written by Glen and Ken Aspeslagh. They built their own front-facing camera hardware and wrote something akin to FaceTime three years before Apple. An amazing achievement considering the first iPhone didn’t even have a video camera.
But for me, the app that came in second place was the shining example of what was to come. First, it was a game and, well, that’s worked out pretty well on mobile. But more importantly, it showed how great design and programming could take something from the physical world, make it work seamlessly on a touch screen and significantly improve the overall experience.
Lucas Newman and Adam Betts created the Lights Off app a few days before C4. Afterwards, Lucas helped get me started with the Jailbreak tools, and at some point he gave me the source code so I could see how it worked. Luckily, I’m good at keeping backups and maintaining software: your iPhone X can still run that same code we all admired 10 years ago!
Lucas Newman presenting Lights Off at C4. (Source: John Gruber)
If you’re a developer who uses Xcode, get the project that’s available on GitHub
. The project’s Jailbreak folder contains everything Lucas sent me. The Xcode project adapts that code so it can be built and run – no changes were made unless necessary. It’s much easier to get running than the original
, but please don’t complain about the resolution not being 1-to-1
In the code you’ll see things like a root view controller that’s also an application delegate: remember that we were all learning how to write apps without any documentation. There’s also a complete lack of properties, storyboards, asset catalogs, and many other things we take for granted in our modern tools.
If you don’t have Xcode, you’re still in luck. Long-time “iPhone enthusiast” Steve Troughton-Smith sells an improved version on the App Store. I still love this game and play it frequently: Its induction into iMore’s Hall of Fame is well-deserved.
Now I was armed with tools and inspiration. What came next?
The Iconfactory’s first apps
The first version of Twitterrific on the iPhone. And pens. And slerp.
In June 2007, we had just released version 2.1 of our wildly popular Mac app for Twitter. It should have be pretty easy to move some Cocoa code from one platform to another, right?
The first version of Twitterrific on the iPhone. And pens. And slerp.
Not really. But I was learning a lot and having a blast. The iPhone attracted coders of all kinds, including our own Sean Heber.
In 2007, Sean was doing web development and didn’t know anything about Objective-C or programming for the Mac. But that didn’t stop him from poking around in the
class-dump headers with the rest of us and writing his first app.
But he took it a step further with a goal to write an app for every day of November 2007 (inspired by his wife doing NaNoWriMo.) He called it iApp-a-Day and it was a hit in the Jailbreak community. The attention eventually landed him a position at Tapulous, alongside the talented folks responsible for the iPhone’s first hit franchise: Tap Tap Revenge.
Over the course of the month, Sean showed that the iPhone could be whatever the developer wanted it to be. Sure, it could play games, but it could also keep track of your budget, play a tune, or help you hang a painting.
Both Sean and I have archives of the apps we produced during this period. The code is admittedly terrible, but for us it represents something much greater. Reading it brings back fond memories of the halcyon days where we were experimenting with the future.
There were a lot of surprises in that early version of UIKit. It took forever to find the XML parser because it was buried in the OfficeImport framework. And some important stuff was completely missing: there was no way to return a floating point value with Objective-C.
There were also strange engineering decisions. You could put arbitrary HTML into a text view, which worked fine with simple tags like
<b>, but crashed with more complex ones. Views also used
LKLayer for compositing, which was kinda like the new Core Animation in Mac OS Leopard, but not the same. Tables also introduced a new concept called “cell reuse” which allowed for fast scrolling, but it was complex and unwieldy. And it would have been awesome to have view controllers like the ones just released for AppKit.
But that didn’t stop us from experimenting and learning what we could do. And then something happened: we stopped.
A real SDK
Twitterrific’s design at the App Store launch.
Apple had worked its butt off to get the iPhone out the door. Those of us who were writing Jailbreak apps saw some warts in that first product, but they didn’t matter at all. Real artists ship. Only fools thought it sucked.
Everyone who’s shipped a product knows that the “Whew, we did it!” is quickly followed by a “What’s next?”
Maybe the answer to that question was influenced by all the Jailbreaking, or maybe the managers in Cupertino knew what they wanted before the launch. Either way, we were all thrilled when an official SDK was announced by Steve Jobs, a mere five months after release of the phone itself.
The iPhone SDK was promised for February of 2008, and given the size of the task, no one was disappointed when it slipped by just a few days. The release was accompanied by an event at the Town Hall theater.
Ten years ago today was the first time we learned about the Simulator and other changes in Xcode, new and exciting frameworks like Core Location and OpenGL, and a brand new App Store that would get our products into the hands of customers. Jason Snell transcribed the event for Macworld. There’s also a video.
Our turn to be real artists
After recovering from all the great news, developers everywhere started thinking about shipping. We didn’t know exactly how long we would have, but we knew we had to hustle.
In the end, we had about four months to get our apps ready. Thanks to what The Iconfactory learned during the Jailbreak era, we had a head start understanding design and development issues. But we still worked our butts off to build the first iPhone’s Twitter app
Just before the launch of the App Store, Apple added new categories during its annual design awards ceremony. We were thrilled to win an ADA for our work on the iPhone.
How thrilled? The exclamation I used while downloading the new SDK was the same as getting to hold that silver cube.
After that, we were among the first apps to be featured in the App Store and ranked high in the early charts. We knew we were a part of something big. Just not how big.
The journey continues
The second version of Twitterrific and some guy.
The Iconfactory’s first mobile app entered a store where there were hundreds of products. There are now over 2 million.
We now sell mobile apps for consumers and tools for the designers & developers who make them. We now do design work for mobile apps at companies large, medium, and
We now develop mobile apps for a select group of clients. (Get in touch if you’d like to be one of them.) A lot can happen in a decade.
But one thing hasn’t changed. Our entire team is still proud to be a part of this vibrant ecosystem and of the contributions we make to it. Here’s to another decade!
Thu, 01 Mar 2018 12:00:56 +0000
Android beats iOS in smartphone loyalty, study finds
Craig Hockenberry Contributor Share on Twitter Craig Hockenberry has been creating software since 1976 and is a principal at the Iconfactory It’s the 10-year anniversary of the original iPhone SDK. I don’t think it’s an understatement to say that this release changed a lot of people’s lives. I know it changed mine and had a fundamental […]
Microsoft today launched Soundscape, a new iOS app that aims to give people who are blind or visually impaired a greater awareness of their surrounding by using 3D cues.
It’s worth stressing that the app isn’t about replacing guide dogs or canes. Instead, it’s all about enriching people’s perception of their surroundings. A guide dog can’t tell you that your favorite store is right around the corner if you’re in an unfamiliar city or what street you are on, after all. With the app, users can set audio beacons for destinations and landmarks. Using GPS and the built-in compass in the phone, the app then generates its spatial audio cues. The mapping data is provided by OpenStreetMap.
“Obstacle avoidance is not the problem, we have a dog, a cane and our blindness skills for that,” said Erin Lauridsen, Access Technology Director, LightHouse for the Blind in San Francisco in a blog post today. “The gap is knowing where things are and being able to decide what’s of interest.”
The app offers three modes: ‘locate’ tells you where you are, ‘around me’ calls out four points of interest around you and ‘ahead of me’ provides the names of five landmarks in front of you.
If some of this sounds familiar, that’s probably because Microsoft has been working on this project for quite a while now. Back in 2014, the team was working with Windows Phone handsets and was experimenting with bone-conduction headsets. At the time, Microsoft was also hoping to use sensors and beacons in cities to provide additional information like bus arrival times. Today, Windows Phone is no more and the requirement of using a bone-conduction headset has been removed, but the general idea behind Soundscape has always remained the same.
If you want to see the app in action, take a look at this video (and put on headphones to get the spatial audio effects).
Tue, 27 Feb 2018 15:09:24 +0000
The day that changed your phone forever
Microsoft today launched Soundscape, a new iOS app that aims to give people who are blind or visually impaired a greater awareness of their surrounding by using 3D cues. It’s worth stressing that the app isn’t about replacing guide dogs or canes. Instead, it’s all about enriching people’s perception of their surroundings. A guide dog […]
According to a Forbes report, Israeli company Cellebrite is now able to unlock some very recent iPhones. Cellebrite is a well-known company that sells mobile forensics tools to extract data from locked devices.
While early versions of iOS weren’t really secure, this has changed quite a lot in recent years. All iOS devices now ship with a secure enclave, all data is encrypted if you use a passcode and there are multiple security checks when you boot and use your device.
In other words, if you don’t have the passcode, you’re going to have a hard time getting your hand on the data on the device. Many firms try to find vulnerabilities to unlock mobile devices. It has become a lucrative industry as intelligence agencies often pay forensics companies to unlock mobile devices.
Those forensics methods often lag behind. For instance, it’s quite easy to find a device to unlock an iPhone 6 running iOS 8. But if Forbes’ report and Cellebrite’s website are right, governments can now pay Cellebrite to unlock an iPhone 8 running iOS 11. It’s also worth noting that Cellebrite can unlock recent Android devices as well.
It’s unclear if it works with the most recent version of iOS 11 (11.2.6) or just the operating system version that was available back in September (11.0). It’s also unclear if it works with all iOS devices or if it only works with some devices. Forbes found a warrant that mentions an unlocked iPhone X.
This is a cat-and-mouse game, and Apple engineers are now probably working hard to fix all the vulnerabilities they can find. As always, if you don’t want to let authorities read your personal data, you should keep your devices up-to-date.
In addition to new features, security patches protect you against the most common attacks. And malicious hackers might use the same vulnerabilities against you.
Tue, 27 Feb 2018 10:00:31 +0000
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According to a Forbes report, Israeli company Cellebrite is now able to unlock some very recent iPhones. Cellebrite is a well-known company that sells mobile forensics tools to extract data from locked devices. While early versions of iOS weren’t really secure, this has changed quite a lot in recent years. All iOS devices now ship […]
It could be said that the first few years of this current tech boom were fueled by mostly harmless, relatively easy products—websites for sharing your photos, for looking up stuff, for connecting with old friends. And the people who made them were seen as mostly good people.
Yet this feel-good perception has slowly and then suddenly disappeared. Users have begun to regard once trusted sites with suspicion over issues of privacy. The same reporters who previously lavished unthinking praise on every new startup now search with equal enthusiasm for scandals and mistakes. Those once harmless social networks, now at a scale unprecedented in human history, no longer look so innocent. The acronym we have for what were once upstarts or underdogs—Facebook to Amazon to Netflix to Google—hints at the now ominous nature of their place in the world, F.A.N.G.
What happened was success. What happened was not that power corrupts, but rather, as the biographer Robert Caro would say, what happened is that power revealed.
Cornelius Vanderbilt began his career in shipping in the early 1800s alongside a man named Thomas Gibbons who fought a monopoly (successfully) all the way to the United States Supreme Court, a case considered a landmark ruling in U.S. commerce. Decades and billions of dollars later, Vanderbilt would famously say, “What do I care about the law? Haint I got the power?”
This is the nature of world-altering success. It’s easy to be good when the stakes (and the valuations) are low. We can count on it as an immutable law of history: in any space where fame and fortune and power are up for grabs, Machiavelli eventually makes his appearance. Even if you started as the little guy or you were certified as a B Corp or put ‘Don’t Be Evil’ in your public filing documents.
In present day, I like to think of this before and after picture of Jeff Bezos as a good example of the arc of a successful businessman or woman, one that is timeless and perennial. At first, you have a skinny nerdy guy who just wanted to sell us books over the computer, and fended off lawsuits by mega-retailers like Barnes & Noble and Wal-Mart for the privilege. Now, twenty or so years later, he’s jacked like a Terminator—the physical manifestation of his trillion-dollar company which has eaten the world—and his influence is now distributed through one of the most prestigious newspapers in the country…which he owns.
We could compare two photos of Andrew Carnegie and see the same thing.
Perhaps what’s set Silicon Valley apart—the difference between Elon Musk and John D. Rockefeller, Elizabeth Holmes and Jay Gould—is that it believes, since the disruption” is orchestrated from behind a computer, it’s not the same. That it was somehow cleaner than coal or oil or steel. This is naive. Disruption is painful. People get hurt. And someone has to do that hurting.
It’s called creative destructionfor a reason.
Good comes from it, but it’s not without its costs—to society or to the people who make it their living.
The ability to willfully seek out this destruction on a massive scale is, in its own way, a skill. Not all of us have it. It’s probably better than most of us do not. But certain people do. There are people who tastelessly start a business designed to put bodegas out of business (as one recent start up attempted) and there are people like Steve Jobs who artfully and heartlessly delivered a mortal blow to Eastman Kodak, a 129 year old company, with one addition to his design for the iPhone. And we cheered him for it. Between these two types, there is a Travis Kalanick who saw taxicab drivers not as solid middle class citizens, like many of us mistakenly did, but as a cabal of overpaid, rent-seeking obstacles to be broken apart and put out of work. Indeed, many of the early Uber investors I would speak to about Travis would remark that his greatest strength was his intense will to power. It was this unquestioning drive that allowed him to blow past technological hurdles, monopoly power, local regulations, unions, and in some cases, mob-controlled taxi companies.
It can’t be said that power changedTravis. That’s the whole point. It didn’tchange him and that was the problem. He was such a natural fighter that he fought everything, and thus, ensured his own downfall.
In my study of the billionaire Peter Thiel over the last year for my book ConspiracyI found that he was one of the few from Silicon Valley who understood this as a precondition to success and was willing to openly discuss all of it. If you read Zero to One, it’s all there: the necessity of secrets, the drive to monopoly, owningthe future. He quotes Emerson, “weak men believe in luck, strong men believe in cause and effect.” Or as the deeply competitive Thiel supposedly said after a chess match, “Show me a good loser and and I’ll show you a loser.”
You can see in Peter’s own development, a hardening that mirrors the evolution of the startup scene. His first company, PayPal, began in an attempt to create a kind of early cryptocurrency and as it got more successful, ended up, in one famous anecdote, having to debate whether to accept payments from pornographers and then after 9/11, whether they were hiding money for terrorists. Facebook, his best investment, went from a fun place for college students to share party photos to connecting the world to being a distributor of fake news. And Palantir, which he founded with PayPal’s anti-fraud technology, began as a big data company…that is now used for drone strikes and SEAL Team Six raids. Success raised their profiles, which raised the stakes.
And Peter’s merciless plot to destroy Gawker (itself a former startup that had become an enormously powerful media company)? Thiel was caught off guard when Gawkerouted him as gay in 2007. There was a time he looked to resolve things amicably with Gawker. One Gawkereditor would tell me about meeting Thiel in 2008 and finding him almost painfully naive about the media business, thinking that he could appeal to personal relationships to get gossip journalists to back up. By 2012, he had hardened, sold a billion dollars in Facebook stock, and become convinced that Gawkerwas an obstacle to his business plans, as well as his vision for the future and needed to be crushed. Part of that cold-eyed calculation was the belief that Gawker’s power as a media outlet could not be met effectively in the marketplace of ideas, but rather had to be met with the power of his bank account. Which is what he did. It took nearly a decade, but at the end Gawkerfell and he remained standing. A $300 million dollar company with 300+ employees ceased to exist.
Morality aside, there is something nakedly bold about that kind of exercise of power. Just as there is in Mark Zuckerberg’s track record of first wooing and then crushingpotential competitors. Ask Twitter. Ask Snapchat. Ask Zynga. Ask Meerkat. Ask Google Plus. Few have gone against Facebook and walked away—and those that have, do with a permanent limp. Which, by the way, is Zuckerberg’s obligation to his shareholders.
I’m not saying this to praise these kinds of moves, but in fact to wash away the vestiges of naivete which allow them to happen unchecked. One of Gawker’s editors would say in a documentary about Peter Thiel’s plot, “It was scarcely believable that something so cinematically vindictive and conspiratorial and underhanded could have actually happened.”
Certainly that disbelief is exactly whyit happened. “We live in a world where people don’t think conspiracies are possible,” Thiel would tell me in an interview. “We tend to denounce ‘conspiracy theories’ because we are skeptical of privileged claims to knowledge and of strong claims of human agency. Many people think they are not possible, that they can’t be pulled off.”
The robber baron type of today and yesterday live in a world where the opposite belief is true, and where power is raw and real and there to be used in furtherance of such conspiracies. Too many others, as Gawker was, are misled by their own cynicism and virtue-signaling. They forget how the world works. Gawkercertainly did, or they would not have acted so recklessly or indiscriminately, not only outing married men with children and tweeting things like this, but deliberately making enemies like Peter Thiel—men who accrued real power—and expecting that there would never be a reckoning.
An immutable law of history: actions have consequences. There is the apocryphal storyabout Vanderbilt after he was cheated by two business partners in Nicaragua and lost his license to operate in the country. He sent them a letter, “Gentlemen: You have undertaken to cheat me. I won’t sue you, for the law is too slow. I’ll ruin you. Yours truly, Cornelius Vanderbilt.”
Power is sought so it can be wielded. Just as no one builds a multi-billion dollar empire without some sort of savage determination and intense will to power (otherwise they would have stopped at some earlier point, taken their winnings and gone home), no one accumulates power and then declines to use it in the face of existential threats—of which Thiel counted Gawkeras one to his business interests. A Mark Zuckerberg or an Elon Musk doesn’t build an empire and allow others to encroach on their borders. And yet, it says something about our reflective, childlike understanding of the minds of these people that we condemn, the Koch Brothers or George Soros for various schemes, without stopping to think about whythey are doing these things. It’s not simply to save on their taxes, I’ll tell you that. It’s because they have those same “privileged claims to knowledge” and “strong claims of human agency,” that Peter was talking about.
They are trying to own the future, or direct it where they want to go. Sometimes we’ll agree with their attempts—such as when Mark Zuckerberg donated $100 million to New Jersey schools—and other times we’ll be shocked and upset—as people have been with many of Peter Thiel’s when he set up scholarships for dropouts, funded seasteading, and of course, destroyed a media outlet.
I would argue that this only a taste of what is to come. Silicon Valley was place of a generational—perhaps epoch-level—transfer of power. Nick Denton, the founder of Gawker, himself once observed that New York gossip had transitioned from from Zuckerman (as in Mortimer Zuckerman, the media tycoon and former owner of the New York Daily News) to Zuckerberg. It’s true, and he, and, we, the public, are now experiencing what that will mean.
The press, the public, and politicians need to understand this rising force if they wish to put up guardrails against it or put it to good use solving society’s problems. By understand, I don’t mean clutch at pearls constantly, I mean understandit they way we recognize a riptide or the ferocity of a wild animal. Artists need to understand it too, and create works that teach lessons about it.
I enjoyed Nick Bilton’s book on Ross Ulbricht, the creator of the Silk Road, for this reason. It’s the story of a boy who ached to do something important and massive, who built a libertarian marketplace where anything could be bought and sold, and did not stop for a second to think of the consequences. It was fun at first, like a kid sneaking around his parents’ restrictions. But this is not kid business, and the savagery soon begins to ooze through. Ross is challenged with questions, with the sticky ethical dilemmas inherent in this small but growing illicit operation. What does he do after the first overdose of one of his customers? How does he sleep with that on his conscience? And the first time he’s told of one user robbing another? Now Silk Road users want to use the site for arms dealing? Can they sell cyanide?
Each step, each decision, takes one further from the incorporeal realm and into the brutishness of the Hobbesian world, a world of Social Darwinism. What steps will he take to evade and deceive the police or the agencies that seek to stop him? How will he hide the wealth that has come pouring in? How does it feel to spend money you know came from enabling someone else’s suicide? Ross was one day simply sitting in his room, dreaming his plans on a keyboard, and then another day he had to decide whether to order a contract hit on an employee who threatened to unravel his ambitious attempt to change how society works. He can’t be stopped, he won’t be stopped—what he is doing is too important. The savagery of ordering not just one murder but six would eventually put Ulbricht in a federal prison cell. And indeed he stands now as a cautionary tale, a kind of true story of how one breaks bad. Or rather, fully becomes the bad, as they already were.
I wrote about Thiel’s arc from technology investor to Straussian power broker for that same reason. I think we need a wakeup call about how this all works, what kind of forces have been unleashed by the gold rush of California, just as powerful forces and names like Hearst and Stanford and Huntington were unleashed in the original Gold Rush.
Because we ignore them at our peril.
Ryan Holiday is the bestselling author of Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue
Mon, 26 Feb 2018 09:00:42 +0000
Microsoft Soundscape helps the visually impaired navigate cities
Contributor Contributor More posts by this contributor The dinner that destroyed Gawker One week in Las Vegas It could be said that the first few years of this current tech boom were fueled by mostly harmless, relatively easy products—websites for sharing your photos, for looking up stuff, for connecting with old friends. And the people […]
While some carmakers and others worry about Google’s domination in mapping and how that will play out in the auto industry, we are continuing to see announcements that point, if not to Google’s influence growing, its place in the market and how some may be testing the waters for more.
Today, Ford announced that it is integrating the Waze traffic and navigation app into its Sync 3 AppLink platform, making the app usable and navigable with touch and voice commands (“Talk to Waze”) through the in-car display system for the first time globally to all iPhone. Availability will start in April.
AppLink services are notable in that they help create a more seamless experience for smartphone users, to essentially access their apps on their car dashboards in the same way that they would on their phones. The bonus is that you get a larger screen and the use of your car’s sound system — making for a more natural and easier experience. In addition to the voice commands, users will get extra features such as additional navigation support with estimated carpool lane arrival times.
“We know that people enjoy a range of navigation apps to help them reach their destination safely and more efficiently and have worked closely with partners to make this happen,” said Don Butler, executive director, Connected Vehicle and Services, in a statement. “With the SYNC 3 AppLink platform, drivers can access their favourite apps safely and seamlessly while keeping their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel.”
The move is a long time in coming. The effort was actually first announced a year ago, at Mobile World Congress, by way of SmartDeviceLink, the consortium started by Ford and Toyota (and including other carmakers) to build more seamless bridges between smartphone apps and in-car displays. Ford has had availability for Waze for Android, meanwhile, since last year. Then, Ford hinted in January of this year that the integration was finally coming.
There are several other apps getting announced in the AppLink update today. Namely, the audio-on-demand podcast app Acast; the BPme gas stations finder and payment app; Radioplayer; and Cisco’s WebEx meetings app are all also coming to the platform. But given that there are over 100 million users of Waze, making it the world’s biggest navigation app based on crowdsourced information, it’s the more significant of the group.
The move is an important step for both Ford and Google for other reasons, too.
For Ford, it will help make its Sync 3 service more attractive to would be car buyers and existing owners (Ford says its 2018 model year vehicles running SYNC 3 version 3.0 or greater will be able to run Waze on its touch screen at launch. Other SYNC 3-enabled Ford vehicles can receive an over-the-air update or an update via USB to enable Waze functionality.) Ford tells me that there are currently 2 million AppLink users worldwide, which is a relatively small number considering that annually there are over 6 million Ford vehicles sold each year, and that AppLink has been around for years.
There are already a number of other navigation services available for Sync 3 and AppLink, with the selection varying by region. (In the UK, for example, options include Glympse, Sygic and Cityseeker.) But there is nothing currently on the market with the brand pull and use of Waze. Given that navigation is one of the more popular services on AppLink, having Waze availability is an important option.
For Google, the deal will mean more Waze usage, which in turn will help the app perform better. And it gives the company some more headway into the market at a time when reports are surfacing of tensions between it and automakers. Notably, a Ford spokesperson tells us that Ford is the first OEM to integrate Waze, and Ford is the first to integrate Waze for iOS for in-vehicle use.
“Waze works as a personal heads-up from 100 million of your friends on the road – and now that will include the many Ford drivers who will be able to safely access our app while on the move through the car display,” said Jens Baron, product lead, In-Car Applications, Waze, in a statement. “Waze is more than just red lines on the map. It reflects a huge community of drivers on the go, outsmarting traffic together all around the world.”
The Waze/AppLink deal seems a far cry from the big partnership that Google and Ford tried to strike to develop autonomous cars, back in 2015 and early 2016.
That deal, apparently, never really took off in part because of differences over what form the partnership should take, a slow “frenemy” approach of sniffing each other out or something much bigger from the start. Sources have told us, and other reports also allege, that this helped contribute to Mark Fields stepping down as CEO of Ford.
In that context, it’s interesting to consider that this Waze integration is finally rolling out. It’s but a step for Waze iPhone app users, but one that could help lay the groundwork for or signal more trust and collaboration between the two down the road.
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While some carmakers and others worry about Google’s domination in mapping and how that will play out in the auto industry, we are continuing to see announcements that point, if not to Google’s influence growing, its place in the market and how some may be testing the waters for more. Today, Ford announced that it […]
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Ford adds Waze to its Sync 3 AppLink for iOS users
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